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Trip Report

Train 79 The Carolinian

June 9 2009

by Bruce Jones

Consist:  P42 engine
              Baggage Car
              Business Class (I was here)
              Food Service Car/Lounge
              Coaches (4, I believe, but not as many as usual)

I have taken this trip many times in past years and reported those here, but I have since moved to far southwestern Virginia to a small town that is very much like a combination of Mayberry and Hooterville, no insult meant to the fine people here. Thus I don't get to ride many trains anymore. The nearest station is three hours away in Charleston WV, and someday they might have a new train from DC and Richmond to Bristol VA/TN (a combo of state and stimulus money will pay for a train to Lynchburg, VA for now, but negotiations are under way). I was in Northern Va. on a mini-vacation and decided to ride down to my former hometown of Richmond.

I have to emphasize that the following report is not meant to slam Amtrak or be picky, but it will sound that way. I love trains and only want the best for all concerned. Some of the things I encountered I have little tolerance for after 38 years of Amtrak's existence.

I meant to travel on the previous day, but luck was on my side and I couldn't make it. That train was 46 minutes late and only got worse as the day wore on. My train was precisely on time and off we went. We kept very good time and was only a few minutes late into Richmond. An Attendant greeted me at the door as I boarded the Business Class car near the front of the train and right in front of the food service car, which is odd because that train used to have the FS car in the middle of the train, unlike other trains which had the FS car in front of or behind the BC car. Amtrak has changed that policy and now puts the FS car in the middle of the train, so I guess the powers that be decided to shake things up with The Carolinian.

The car was somewhat crowded, about 70% full. I finally found a seat by the window where a woman (keep this in mind) had just gotten off in Alexandria. I didn't have to worry about a seat mate: the other (seat) cushion was gone. You see as usual trains south of DC in the NEC (Northeast Corridor, from Boston MASS. to Newport News VA) get the leftover hand-me downs. This was no exception, and the uncomfortably worn blue seats and faded curtains showed their age of an Amfleet I circa late 1990's rebuild. I have seen Amfleet II coaches on The Carolinian and Palmetto with video, music and leg rests. Not today. We did have foot rests unlike the poor folks in Cattle. My friend jokingly called the Business Class "Baggage Class" because it was right behind the Baggage Car, little did she know how accurate she was! While it was only a small extra fee, it would be nice to see Amtrak's new cash windfall put to good use. Maybe when some of the fleet gets overhauled later this year, we'll get the good cars from above DC in the NEC. I know because I have ridden trains there and the equipment is usually much nicer.

The BC car was very clean this time for a change, and the restroom superb, another surprise. The Attendant, after just escorting me on board, later panicked and thought I was supposed to have gotten off in Alexandria because the old seat check was still there. She later brought me a tiny pillow that would fit in my pocket and offered me ONE soda, and said not to ask her again, that was my last chance. The papers were gone. Ditto for the FS car. It was only open for a whopping hour out of a two hour trip. I thought Amtrak had stopped that nonsense of opening and closing the snack bar, but I was wrong again. A passenger was later upgraded to BC and thought it was "fantastic." I would hate to see what the coaches looked like.

It is possible that the Attendant had to cover both the Business Class and food service cars, thus the reason for it closing so much, just a guess. You never know with the bean counters, possibly another attempt at saving on employee counts. There was the usual one attendant working all the coaches. The conductor wasn't rude to me personally, but was surly.

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