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Trip Report

Fort Worth to Croton-Harmon in 3 Days

June 21, 2008


I had flown from New York City to DFW for the NRHS Convention in Ft. Worth, TX, with events there as well as in Dallas and the surrounding area. Back in March I had decided to fly out and to return by train.

One of the big convention trips, the Quanah Zephyr, operated over BNSF on Saturday, June 21. I had decided to skip it, as I had been unable to obtain a reservation on Amtrak #22 for Sunday when many others would be returning from the Convention. Thus back in March I had elected to return on June 21. Although my ticket was from Ft. Worth, I rode the 10am Trinity Railway Express regional train to Dallas. There I would spend some more time on the DART light rail and McKinney Avenue Transit Authority [historic trolleys] before boarding #22, the Texas Eagle, due to depart there at 3:40pm.

My plan was to ride #22 to St. Louis [STL] where it was scheduled to arrive at 7:39am, spend over 7 hours there and take Lincoln Service #304 on to Chicago. Thus I wanted to check my suitcase to St. Louis at the Fort Worth station. However, when I arrived there a sign had been posted that the ticket office would not open until 10am. This was due to the very late arrival of #21 early that morning--the ticket office staff needed some rest. I also learned that my train #22 would originate at Fort Worth [FTW]—indeed it was encouraging to see the equipment parked in the station. Passengers enroute from points further south would be bussed to FTW.

So, I took my suitcase and joined the other passengers on TRE’s 10am train to Dallas that had a rather full load in its 2 cars with a big turnover of riders along the way. At Dallas I attempted to check my bag but the baggage agent strongly advised against it as he thought #22 might be very late (the previous day’s train was running 7 hours late) and I might have to stay on to Chicago instead of getting the 3pm Lincoln Service train from St. Louis. He kindly held the suitcase until my return about 3pm.

The station’s interior was rather crowded and outside in the shade a group of about 25 boy scouts and their leaders awaited the train. Also on hand were two wagons of checked baggage, including one loaded with the scouts’ duffel bags. Around 3:20 I went to the platform and waited in a shady spot so as to photograph the train’s arrival. I need not have hurried. Several freight trains passed; our train was right behind one of them which stopped for a few minutes. Still no hurry as the Amtrak conductor must hand throw a switch before the train can enter its station track. Actual arrival was at 4:48 (due at 3:20). While waiting many of the passengers were telling stories about the delays on their southbound trips and the boy scouts would count, “Freight train #1,etc.,” for each passing freight. They also gestured to the engineers to sound the horn which most did with big waves.

It was good to be on board the cool train. The car to which I was directed for “St. Louis” was empty so I had my pick of the seats. It did pick up more riders and although the conductor cautioned that the train would be full during the night, I still had the double seat the next morning. The crew was affable and the conductor said, “Glad to have you on board,” when collecting my ticket.

The Texas Eagle now features the Cross Country Café that supposedly offers lighter fare throughout the day. Unfortunately I didn’t have the opportunity to sample it for either meal. Shortly after departure from Dallas the Steward came on the PA to advise everyone that all reservations for dinner are taken so there is no point in coming to the diner. I went forward anyway and noted that only one end of the rebuilt Superliner diner was in use, staffed by two employees and a cook downstairs. When I asked, “Where am I going to eat?,” the Steward mentioned that food is available downstairs in the Sightseer lounge car. This was a surprise as the timetable states this car is unstaffed and that the Cross-Country Café must be used for food and beverage service. I gather the concept does not work on well-loaded trains so the lounge car was staffed after all. The attendant did a brisk business including my diner and a nightcap.

At Dallas a young fellow dressed in short sleeve shirt and with no luggage told the baggageman he must get to Chicago. The conductor got a reservation and price by cellphone and told him to board and he’d sell him a cash fare. The guy then said he really needed to get to New York and was discouraged from boarding as Train 48 was said to be sold out the next few nights. He did board and wandered about the train all night; I overheard him asking some passengers for money. Later, we passed #21 at Gladewater, TX, running about 10 hours, 20 minutes late. Its engineer said, “Never have I been so far behind schedule.” Ours chuckled and said, “Oh yes you have.” Soon we caught up with yet another UP freight which we followed to Longview and then waited outside the station while it changed crew there.

I slept OK but not as good as usual as the car was quite cold and I didn’t have a jacket with me. The following morning [June 22] I entered the diner at the 6:45 scheduled opening time only to be told they aren’t yet ready and to wait in the lounge car with all the other folks. “The car had no water and we’ve been bringing water from other cars like a couple of pack mules.” As expected, the lounge car was full of people awaiting the breakfast announcement. Figuring there was no way I’d get in, I settled for an “AmMcmuffin” and coffee in the lounge car. The breakfast announcement came at 7am, followed by “If we’re full, take a number and we’ll call you.” The first of the numbers was called at 8:15, an hour later, and the last at 9:15. Glad I didn’t wait. Clearly, the staffing of this car was totally inadequate to handle the passenger load. One conductor was heard on the radio asking what could be done as many passengers were complaining. Nothing could be done except to tell them to use the lounge car.

Around 7:40 the conductor announced that we’re now 4 hours late due to more freight train delays during the night. He added that many more freight trains were being sent over our route by Union Pacific due to the Midwest flooding. This was another beautiful day and I noted some interesting rock formations as well as high water in a nearby river as we passed through the area at the breakneck speed of about 40 mph. Luckily we weren’t going any faster as the train went into emergency near MP 68 at 9:20. Two guys were drunk and attempted a drive along the tracks. They got stuck at a crossing and were lucky we stopped in time. A 53-minute delay ensued while the necessary formalities were completed and a UP truck arrived at the scene to inspect the tracks. As we slowly passed the scene at 10:13, the Washington County Sheriff was seen writing a summons. Now we ran at normal track speed as the freight trains were far ahead of us.

Soon we ran along the Mississippi south of St. Louis. It was quite high with much adjacent land flooded. Some of the tributaries were so high the water was nearly up to the railroad bridges. Closer to St. Louis we ran along some streets, passing the St. Louis Lionel Model RR Club along the way. Some of the members were outside waiving.

Our Texas Eagle reached STL at 12:28 (7:39). The platform was full of dirt and pebbles and the entire location is a construction area. The new station building appears near completion but the platforms are not yet ready. It’s a rather long structure with 10 bus bays for Greyhound at one end, the waiting room with about 75 seats in the center, followed by the escalators and elevators leading to the bridge over the tracks. The builders have spent money on such things as colored glass windows but have provided only about 75 seats in the waiting room.

A local resident met me at the train and took me on a fast tour over the new Shrewsbury extension of the Metrolink light rail line. My plan had been to cover that somewhat intensively and then to ride as far east into Illinois as time would permit. In view of the late arrival we just rode to Shrewsbury, took a few photos and returned to East Riverfront station for a view of the very high Mississippi River. We also stopped at Sunnen, the only station on the new branch having a grade crossing. The branch is built to high standards, starting with a flying junction just beyond the Forest Park station.

We returned to the so-called “second temporary Amtrak station” at 2:45pm. I said goodbye to my friend and boarded Lincoln Service train #304 for Chicago. The train consisted of Engine 77(P42), an Amfleet I business class/café car and 3 Horizon Fleet coaches. The first coach was used for “locals,” the second for Chicago passengers and the third for those boarding along the way, mainly at Springfield. The “Chicago” coach was nearly full and the conductor advised the entire train eventually would be full. Departure from STL was on time at 3pm and we rapidly headed east over the Mississippi, then turning north for a fast run through open farm country. The trip was uneventful until 4:57pm, the time we were due in Springfield. At that point we stopped south of the city although I could see the Capitol building in the distance. After stopping for a few minutes, we entered the detour route that was a single track 10mph line with some sharp curves. We passed houses and a little league game in progress and brush was scraping against the train in places. Review of the map suggested this was some IC(CN) and later Wabash trackage. We reached the Springfield stop at 5:30 and departed at 5:35. The stop was at a grade crossing with a large coach bus stopped nearby. About 60 boarded here and all were ushered into the rear coach. Shortly before reaching this location I spotted the Capitol building directly down a street, perhaps a mile away. After more slow running we reached CP X183—Ridgley, made a back up move and regained our regular route on the “GM&O” at 6:23. Thus the delay had been over an hour. I was told that a tower operator handed up train orders at this location.

My only previous trip over this line had been a night ride on the GM&O train called The Mail back around 1957. I had taken The Limited which left Chicago about 11:30 and stopped over in Joliet for about 11 hours. The Mail got me to St. Louis about 5:30am; it was a long train of mail cars with but one coach on the rear. I recall having awakened at Bloomington to see some railroad facilities; today there are none. However, there is much new construction in progress near the station and a new Discovery Museum is adjacent.

After Bloomington we got up to good speed (presumably 79 mph) and were overtaking traffic on I-55 and Historic Route 66. But soon an announcement was made that we would enter a siding at a place called Mazonia to allow Amtrak #307 to pass. We then would back out of the siding and continue north. Actually this was not a siding but a branch line heading northwest. Train 307 was a little late and the delay cost us 24 minutes, which subsequently proved to be the cause of missing the Lake Shore Limited.

Once underway again, 25 passengers were concerned as to whether train 48 would be held at Chicago. The conductor advised that he would do his best but on some trips #48 had not been held for the late arrival of his train. He made a few calls and later told us that our train would not be held. After some slow running and stopping at junctions, we pulled into Chicago’s Union Station at 10:14. The station was as #48 had departed. I was the first of many angry passengers to reach the Customer Service office. The agent was helpful and offered me a room at the Swissôtel on Wacker Drive plus cab fare and $30 in spending money. She also got me a roomette on Monday’s Lake Shore to replace the one I had reserved on Sunday’s train. No complaints

Monday, June 23: The view out the window confirmed another beautiful day. Giving me a free day in Chicago is like turning a child loose in a candy shop or ice cream store: where do you start? I decided to call friends who might be around for lunch or dinner and to inquire about the location of a camera shop as I was nearly out of film. First I took a cab to Union Station to leave my suitcase in the Amtrak Lounge. After a full day in the city I met a friend for dinner at the famous Berghoff Restaurant on Adams Street that had been closed but now has reopened under new management. Both our meals were quite good.

We returned to Union Station about 7:45. After checking email on the slow computer in the Metropolitan Lounge, I claimed my suitcase and awaited the 8 pm boarding of the Lake Shore Limited. Soon one of the staff members invited passengers to board. She led the way to the gate and pointed to the train. The L&N open platform car, “Ohio River” was on the rear. Ahead of that were the usual 4 Amfleet II coaches, the Horizon Fleet lounge car, the Amfleet II lounge now used as a diner, 3 Viewliner sleepers, the baggage car and 2 P42 locomotives, elephant style. I was in Room 1 of the middle sleeper. After getting settled in, I headed to the diner where 10 passengers already were enjoying the wine and cheese party. The tables were set with dishes containing two types of cheese and grapes. The waiters then gave a choice of 3 wines, sparkling cider and a few other items. I enjoyed two glasses of an Australian white wine along with interesting conversation with a couple from Berkeley, CA, who have traveled throughout the world. They had wanted to use the California Zephyr from Emeryville to Chicago but learned through friends that it was being terminated at Denver because of the floods. As a result they flew to Chicago but rode the Lake Shore to New York as they were determined to go by train for at least part of the trip. About 9:45 I returned to my room to do some reading, noting that the Texas Eagle, due at 2:11pm, was just arriving on a nearby track.

At 10:01pm the train started moving and we kept right on going with no slowdowns. I asked the attendant to open the upper berth so I could keep my stuff downstairs and climbed in after the South Bend stop at 11:41 (really 12:41 eastern time.) The next thing I recall was the motion of departing from a stop which turned out to be Cleveland. To my surprise we were but 10 minutes late. After resting another 45 minutes, I got dressed and headed to the diner for breakfast. There I met two friends who were returning from the NRHS Convention and had made the quick connection from the Texas Eagle last night. We ordered from Xerox copies of the menus which featured omelets (sorry, fresh out), scrambled eggs with sausage or turkey links, French toast or continental. The eggs were freshly made and very good as was the service and the conversation. While in the diner, the train stopped at Erie, PA, now about 20 minutes down.

After breakfast I walked through the coach section to find a ¾ full train. Quite a few were heading to Buffalo and Rochester with a large number to Albany, many of whom probably would change to the Boston train. The Buffalo-Depew stop consumed 9 minutes and we were 12 minutes late leaving there. Since this train has a programmed hour, 15-minute layover at Albany, we should easily be on time if nothing serious should happen along the CSX route. There were a few stops east of Rochester for a freight train and some trackwork but no serious delays. Soon we were running at 79 mph along the Mohawk River that looked a little muddy but not as bad as the Mississippi. Lunch was nothing spectacular as the diner was out of many items, even for the first sitting. We were just a few minutes late at Schenectady and reached Albany [ALB] 12 minutes early at 3:28.

The eastbound Lake Shore is not scheduled out of ALB until 4:55 so we had to sit there for an hour and 27 minutes. The crew explained that all this time is scheduled “to help keep the train on time.” Now that the Boston section no longer is switched out, all that happens at ALB is that some passengers detrain, others board and some baggage is unloaded. Delaying the New York passengers an hour and 15 minutes for this should be considered unacceptable. On this particular day the “Boston Section” was represented by buses in both directions because of CSX track work scheduled to start in late March for two months but not yet completed.

Departure from ALB was on time at 4:55. I was not paying attention but we had been delayed along the way and the Poughkeepsie arrival was 29 minutes late. I came to focus on this when I heard the Metro-North dispatcher urging the engineer to give him a good move as he was holding a Metro-North train at Poughkeepsie so we could run ahead. Unfortunately, we had lost our slot and around Beacon had to run at slow speed while 4 Metro-North and one Amtrak northbound trains passed us. One track was out of service for a few miles south of Beacon for concrete tie installation. Arrival at my home station of Croton-Harmon was at 7:28 (6:51), just in time to miss the last motor-coach connection to my condo, thereby necessitating a taxi ride.

Overall I had enjoyed the trip. I believe #48 should have been held for #304 at CHI but cannot complain about how Amtrak eventually handled the situation. And the free day in Chicago was an extra bonus.

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