OTOL Southern California RailFest 2009
July 13-25, 2009
Photos by Piotr Dzwonek, Patrick Galligan, Lynn Hammond, Eric Minton,
Jishnu Mukerji, Chris Stephens, and Jack Suslak.
Chapter 12: Thursday, July 23, 2009
On our eleventh day, the eight of us continued in transit on the Southwest Chief through Arizona, New Mexico, and Colorado.
Chapter 12.0: Amtrak SOUTHWEST CHIEF, Train #4, Los Angeles, CA to Chicago, IL (continued)
During the night we made stops at Needles, CA, Kingman, AZ, and Williams Junction, AZ. We arrived at Flagstaff, AZ at 5:11 AM and left 5:19 AM, so we were only eight minutes off the advertised. Remember that in Arizona they don't observe Daylight Savings, so we were still technically on Pacific Daylight Time. I was well aware of the Flagstaff stop, having not slept very well that night. Not long after our stop in Winslow a6 6:17 AM (eight minutes down), those who were awake went to have breakfast. While we were at breakfast, Fred put our beds up and converted our rooms to daytime mode.
We crossed into New Mexico and Mountain Daylight Time at 8:30 AM MDT. Shortly after this, we arrived at Gallup, NM. We left there on time at 8:51 AM. I took a nap through New Mexico as I had not slept well the night before. I was surprised when I awoke that we were already approaching Albuquerque. A lot of schedule padding is provided there. We arrived in Albuquerque at 11:14 AM, 58 minutes early! The timetable has a 43 minute layover, but since we were so early we had one hour 41 minutes our train would be sitting idle.
Bill left the station entirely and went to have lunch at a local Subway restaurant. The rest of us walked around on the station platforms and also explored the inside of the Alvarado Transportation Center. We also took a peek at the displays of Native American wares, located under a shelter separate from the station.
A rail yard just south of the station is used to store and service RailRunner equipment. I was surprised that the Transportation Center does not officially contain any facilities for RailRunner, other than a large map in the bus terminal, and a kiosk on the platform showing a map and the schedule. I had expected to see a ticket office or machines, and some human presence for information purposes given the railroad is popular enough to now run seven days a week. It turns out that RailRunner encourages passengers to buy tickets online, and offers a discount for those who do so. Otherwise, cash and credit card sales are handled on board.
Also using that yard is a spare Amtrak locomotive. Today it was used to back a private car onto our train. We watched as the Vista Canyon became part of our consist. We did not see any passengers get on or off this car, so we figured it was just being deadheaded somewhere.
Finally tired of walking around during our long dwell, we all boarded the train and waited for departure. We left Albuquerque on time at 12:55 PM. Very soon after departure seven of us went to have lunch. Bill stayed behind since he had already eaten lunch. As soon as we sat down in the diner, we passed by a RailRunner train headed in the opposite direction towards downtown Albuquerque and onward to Belen.
The next station stop was Lamy, NM, where we arrived on time at 2:00 PM. However, we lost head end power soon after arrival. Having to wait until the engine was rebooted, we did not leave until 2:15 PM, now a quarter hour late. The next excitement of the day came about ten minutes after we left Lamy. We had a scheduled meet with our counterpart, the westbound Southwest Chief, Train #3. The meet is scheduled to take place at Canoncito. We had to wait a few minutes on a siding for #3 to pass, and then we were moving once again.
At 4:12 PM, those of us who have never been to Las Vegas could finally say we've been there... although it was the wrong one. There's nothing exciting in Las Vegas, NM. We made a two minute stop there, and we were again on our way, now running almost half an hour late.
We left our next station stop (and the last one in New Mexico), Raton, at 6:12 PM, 40 minutes off the advertised. Our timekeeping was deteriorating, but we'd learned from previous trips that the timetables have plenty of recovery time built in. After Raton, we began to climb the Raton Pass, another highlight of the Southwest Chief's trip. Unlike the Cajon Pass in California, we could appreciate this one in daylight.
During our crossing of the Raton Pass, we went to dinner. We therefore got to enjoy the scenery from the dining car. Near the end of the Pass, we entered the state of Colorado. Our arrival at the Trinidad, CO station heralded the end of the day's biggest excitement. We left there at 7:10 PM, 39 minutes late. Dinner was served promptly, and we were back at our accommodations by 8 PM.
As the sun was setting for the day, we arrived in La Junta, CO. This is a crew change point, so there was a scheduled ten minute dwell here. We were told we could step off the train here, but since we were late we were warned not to venture too far away. We also found that La Junta contains some schedule padding, as our 8:23 PM arrival was only ten minutes late. We left at 8:33, still ten minutes down.
After we stretched our legs one last time, and with no further scenery visible, we got ready to call it a night. Our attendants put down our beds for the second and final night of this trip. We made our next station stop at Lamar, CO at 9:22 PM (seven minutes off) before we set our watches ahead one hour to Central Daylight Time in anticipation of crossing from Colorado into Kansas overnight.
Chapter 13: Friday, July 24, 2009
Only half of the people who started out Day 12 would be with us by the time it was over. The day would begin in the wee hours on the Southwest Chief in Kansas, and it didn't end until we were on the Lake Shore Limited heading across Indiana. In between we had a short break in the long distance train travel as we spent some time in Chicago.
Chapter 13.0: Amtrak SOUTHWEST CHIEF, Train #4, Los Angeles, CA to Chicago, IL (continued)
Those who slept well on our second night out on the Chief missed the Kansas station stops at Garden City, Dodge City, Hutchinson, Newton, Topeka, and Lawrence. When we awoke and went to breakfast at 6:30 AM (CDT), we were already in the eastern part of Kansas, and approaching Kansas City. Before we would get there, we made a refueling stop at BNSF Railway's Argentine Yard in Kansas City, KS. Most freight trains, as well as all Southwest Chief runs, make this necessary stop. The time for this activity is built into the timetables. We were there roughly ten minutes before proceeding.
As soon as we left the yard and got back on the mainline, we were also crossing the border between Kansas City, KS and Kansas City, MO. About another ten minutes of travel brought us to our station stop at Kansas City Union Station at 7:24 AM, two minutes early. A few of us decided to step off the train there and stretch our legs. As we did so, the many passengers who were ending their journeys at Kansas City filed past us towards the stairs and elevator leading to a walkway into the station. Imagine our surprise when one of our own, Bill, was among those people, his suitcase rolling behind him. We didn't know what to make of his sudden departure, but a short side note here will suffice to explain.
Bill, who is as much a fan of flying on airplanes as he is of riding on trains, considers himself notorious for making plans and then changing them multiple times. When we all had boarded the Southwest Chief in Los Angeles, he had already made a few changes to his plans, but he (and we) expected that he would be riding all the way to Chicago with us. He then would leave the group and fly back to Philadelphia from O'Hare Airport. He had still left open the possibility of getting off the train in Kansas City and flying from there, but only if we were running very late, so late that he would effectively miss that last flight from Chicago. It turns out that during our stop at Argentine Yard, he checked on his personal mobile device and found that the weather predictions for both Chicago O'Hare and Philadelphia Airports called for rain. Rather than risking poor takeoff and landing conditions that would most likely delay his intended flight, Bill decided to beat the bad weather and fly out of Kansas City, ironically with a stopover in Chicago (Midway Airport). He made his new reservations online as we were pulling into the Kansas City station, and then he quickly packed up and detrained, with only enough time to say a quick goodbye to those of us who happened to be standing on the platform. Bill went through the Kansas City station, got a taxicab, and was at the airport by 8:10 AM. He made both segment of his flights, and got back to Philadelphia a little before 3 PM, with enough time to get back to his home in New Jersey and have dinner with his wife.
Meanwhile, the rest of us stood around on the platform. The actual station is a pretty far walk across an elevated walkway from the platform, so we did not dare leave trainside as we only had a scheduled 19 minute dwell here. Besides the activity on the platform for our train, on the adjacent track was Amtrak's Missouri River Runner, Train 314, which we watched depart on time for St. Louis and other intermediate stops in its namesake state. Also during our time in the station, the Vista Canyon that we had picked up in Albuquerque was taken off the train here.
Our Southwest Chief, now down to seven Fest participants, departed from Kansas City at 7:57 AM, twelve minutes down. We figured the delay was due to removal of the private car. Our train had only one other stop in Missouri at La Plata, where we called at 10:13 AM, now 16 minutes off the schedule. I was in text message and phone contact with Bill, who had by now gotten to Chicago. I offered to take care of Bill's gratuity to our attendant since he hadn't had time to do so with his quick exit in Kansas City. We also informed Fred that Bill's room was vacant, so he could make it up ahead of time if he wanted to. Our group very briefly used Bill's larger Bedroom as a place to sit and chat for a while. It was, after all paid for all the way to Chicago.
Eventually we crossed into the southeastern corner of Iowa, where we made one stop at Fort Madison at 11:33 AM, now 22 minutes off the advertised. Just after Fort Madison, we crossed our final state line on this train, as we entered Illinois by crossing over the Mississippi River.
Around 12:30 PM we crossed on a short bridge over another BNSF mainline used by the California Zephyr, and then turned east parallel to it. We then turned onto a connecting track, effectively leaving the former Santa Fe mainline and entering the former Burlington Northern mainline. We would follow the latter route into Chicago. Very soon we came to a stop in Galesburg, IL at 12:35 and left there at 12:39, putting us almost half an hour late.
Lunchtime came at 1 PM as we had our final meal with this train and crew. From the dining car we saw the town of Kewannee, IL, and then at 1:28 PM we made our station stop at Princeton, IL. Back in our accommodations, Steve informed us that he had decided to detrain in Naperville, where he would visit his father before going home later that evening to Chicago. He also told our attendant to be sure our car would platform at that station.
Meanwhile, our stop at Mendota, IL was 28 minutes late at 1:49 PM. We passed through the town of Sandwich, IL at 2:14 and then around 2:30 we entered Chicago commuter territory as we passed the Aurora Transportation Center on our left. We did not see any METRA trains sitting in the yard, since it was the middle of a work day. At 2:38 PM we passed the westbound California Zephyr, Train 5, on its way to Denver, Salt Lake City, and Northern California. We then said our goodbyes to Steve, as he prepared to detrain in Naperville. We got there at 2:41, three minutes early, proving there is plenty of padding in the schedule between Mendota and Naperville. Steve left us and had a short wait for a METRA train to take him to his next destination.
Our final approach into Chicago saw us pass a few METRA trains in both directions. We passed the La Grange Road station at 2:55. We came to a final stop at Chicago Union Station at 3:16, four minutes early. Another long distance trip was in the books, and it went rather well! We went into the Metropolitan Lounge and stored our luggage there.
Looking back on this trip, we were handled well by this dining car crew, who seemed more than ready to take care of our group of eight (seven for some meals). Our sleeper attendants once again varied in their performance, with those in the 0431 car pleased with Fred, while in the 0430 car they were not happy with their attendant. Overall it was a very scenic trip, with mountain passes, major cities, and a Mississippi River crossing en route. The only thing unpleasant for us in the 0431 car was the odor from the bathrooms that kept on wafting through the car's ventilation system. As we had encountered on the previous long distance trains on this journey, being up to 40 minutes late at one point of the trip meant nothing as schedule padding brought us into our destination ahead of schedule.
Chapter 13.1: In Chicago
The six remaining participants of the Fest decided to go for an early pizza dinner at Giordano's, a two block walk east of Union Station. Although it was well before dinnertime, the place was very crowded. Still our pizzas came within a reasonable time and we enjoyed them. After dinner, we said goodbye to the Hammonds, who had to return to Union Station in order to catch the Capitol Limited home to Cleveland. Jishnu, who would be on the Lake Shore Limited with us, elected to return to the station as well and make use of the Metropolitan Lounge.
Piotr, Michael, and I went to ride the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) Pink Line. It was a first for Piotr, and I hadn't ridden this line since it was a branch of the Blue Line. Therefore our travel over the Paulina Street Connector would be new trackage for all. Although by my unofficial definition that three people constitutes the minimum requirement for a Fest, this was not an official trip. Someday when we have a larger group in Chicago able to ride, we'll do it again.
From Giordano's, we walked one more block east to the Quincy station on the Loop Elevated, and just missed a Pink Line train. Naturally luck would have it that several Orange Line and Purple Line trains came before another Pink Line train showed up at 5:48, despite the fact that it was well into the evening rush hour by now.
Our elevated subway trip took 24 minutes outbound to the end of the line at 54th Avenue in Cermak. Then, due to the configuration of the station's single platform, we had to walk quite a long way to get to the front of the inbound platform. We caught the next inbound train. This time our trip took 35 minutes since we had to go around the Loop to get back to the Quincy station. We were off the train and done with our brief CTA stint at 6:55 PM.
On our way back to the station, we stopped at a Walgreen's store to get snacks for the upcoming train trip. Although we were able to make our purchases, we were essentially kicked out as the store was closing at 7 PM. Then we returned to Union Station and the Metropolitan Lounge, got our luggage, and the sat down to await the call to board the Lake Shore Limited.
Chapter 13.2: Amtrak LAKE SHORE LIMITED, Train #48/448, Chicago, IL to New York, NY or Boston, MA
Once we had settled in our rooms, our attendant came by to introduce himself and give us the usual spiel about our accommodations. He invited us to go to the diner/lounge car for the wine and cheese reception.
In the diner/lounge the four of us sat together as we talked for a while and partook of the snacks. We found the dining car staff of James (the LSA) and Mary (the waitress) to be quite cordial as well. They informed us that breakfast would start at 6:30 AM Eastern time, and that lunch would also be on a first-come first-served basis. Once we finished our snacks, we said goodnight and then returned to our roomettes. Our beds were soon put down, and we retired for the last time aboard a train on this trip.
Chapter 14: Saturday, July 25, 2009
The thirteenth and final day of our Fest saw four of us crossing northwestern Pennsylvania and Upstate New York en route to our east coast destinations. Only three would make it to New York City on this train, at which time the event was over.
Chapter 14.0: Amtrak LAKE SHORE LIMITED, Train #48/448, Chicago, IL to New York, NY or Boston, MA (continued)
We were awakened by our attendant at 6:30 AM as arranged, as well as by my cell phone alarm. Michael and I soon went to breakfast, and were served well by Mary. I didn't know where we were, until we came into the Erie, PA station while in the diner. The time was 7:00 AM, and we were six minutes late. During our time in the station, the US Border Patrol briefly came aboard with their dogs. We left Erie and the canines behind at 7:06 AM, now twelve minutes late.
The train arrived into Buffalo-Depew station at 8:38 AM, eight minutes down. Michael and I got off the train and walked around outside. We got the highball at 8:50 AM, putting our train ten minutes behind schedule.
Contrary to what we had been told the night before, the dining car crew decided to take reservations for lunch, and they came through asking when we wanted to go. I made a reservation for four people for 12:00 Noon.
We made up some time by Rochester, as we left there just two minutes late. We got to Syracuse at 11:03 AM, very early for what has always for me been a very quick stop. For the first time in my experiences, we had a long dwell there at the William Walsh Transportation Center. I stretched my legs on the platform, since we had over twenty minutes before the train could leave. I chose not to venture down into the facility itself. During the layover, Jishnu (having slept late) joined me outside.
The Lake Shore Limited left Syracuse on time at 11:25 AM. At 12 Noon, we were called for lunch. This turned out to be the last official meal of the Fest aboard a train. Lunch was served quickly and efficiently. During our meal the train made its Utica station stop on time, departing at 12:30 PM. After we ate, we said goodbye to Piotr, who would be heading to Boston once the train was split in Albany.
I decided after lunch to kill some time by taking a shower. It would be my first ever in a Viewliner, as my previous ones had only been on trips over two days in length aboard Superliners. The shower was found to be well stocked and clean, but the shower itself had some problems with temperature control. Since the water was barely lukewarm, my shower was quick.
At 1:35 PM we passed through Fonda, NY. CSX had a lot of unused freight cars sitting on rusty tracks just off the mainline. Then at about 2:00 after just passing through Amsterdam, we came to a stop and lost our lights. Our engine had to be rebooted. Luckily the process took just five minutes, and we then continued on our way. Because of this problem, and some slow running, we got to Schenectady late. We left there at 2:15 PM, 25 minutes down.
We got to Amtrak's yard just outside the Albany-Rensselaer, NY station. The split is now done before the train gets into the station. The Boston section is then brought to the station platform while the New York section gets its dual mode locomotive by the yard. Then the New York section comes into the station as well on a different track.
Amtrak shows our arrival in Albany at 3:07 PM, which is well after the split took place, and probably when the second (New York) section reached the platform. While there, Jishnu, Michael, and I detrained and went up into the station for a short while. We then returned to the train for the final segment of this train's trip.
When we got back on the train, our attendant asked us if we wanted to switch rooms. Since we were occupying rooms on the left, or land side of the train, we would not have a view of the Hudson River scenery. This was a very nice gesture on his part, although we figured his motive was that he wanted to clean all of the rooms. So Jishnu moved from Room 2 to Room 1, and Michael and I moved from Room 4 to Room 7.
After our on-time 3:30 PM departure, we were all pleasantly surprised by an announcement that the diner was opening for one more quick meal. However, since we had already programmed ourselves to have dinner after we arrived in New York, and since it was not too far remove from lunchtime, we did not partake of this offer.
For those of us on the New York section of the train, our trip was quick and uneventful as we enjoyed the scenery now that we were on the correct side of the train. Our one intermediate stop at Croton-Harmon came at 5:05 PM, ten minutes early. Being a discharge-only stop, we were on our way very soon. Our trip ended at New York City's Penn Station at 5:53 PM, 32 minutes ahead of schedule.
As we bid farewell to Jishnu, who would be heading to his car at Metropark on NJ TRANSIT, our Fest was now officially over. True, we still had several people in travel, but for our travels as a group it all ended here. It was interesting that none of the three people who arrived in New York that Saturday evening were among the five who started out from there back on July 13th.
Looking back on the Lake Shore Limited trip, we can safely say that our attendants got progressively better on each of our four trains. I tipped this one the same as I would have given for a two night trip. Although we ran late at some stops, padding and good dispatching by CSX and Metro North got us to our ultimate destination early. It was a fine ending to a whirlwind thirteen days.
Chapter 14.1: End of Saturday's activities
In New York, Michael and I went to the Club Acela to leave our luggage. We then had dinner at Sbarro, one restaurant chain that had somehow eluded us over the past 13 days. Then we went back to the Club Acela in advance of yet more train trips. We still had to get back to Cherry Hill where my car was parked. That meant one more Amtrak trip to Philadelphia, followed by a short NJ TRANSIT trip. When we got to Cherry Hill, we were quite surprised as Bill Magee and his wife were there to greet us. Bill had been following my Tweets, so he knew we would be on that train coming into their hometown. Bill also repaid me for taking care of the attendant on the Southwest Chief.
Meanwhile, Piotr got into Boston's South Station on the Lake Shore Limited's Boston section at 9:49 PM, 39 minutes late. He stayed in town overnight and then returned to Metropark on an Acela Express on Sunday.
Chapter 15: Conclusion
Well, it was quite a journey! Thanks go out to those who helped to make it possible. Many of you did advance scouting for me in California, helped with restaurant choices and reservations, and tracked Amtrak train performance well in advance of our trips. We had some great guidance from most of the locals we met during our time in Southern California.
As always it was nice meeting new faces while much of our core group was together throughout our 13 days on the rails. Each of our summer Fests seems to set a new standard to meet in the future. We look forward to our future trips, hopefully visiting cities in the Northwest (Portland, Tacoma, Seattle, and Vancouver) and Southeast (Atlanta, New Orleans, and Memphis) over the next two summers. We also anticipate our Fests at other times of the year on the East Coast.