OTOL Southeast RailFest 2011
July 17-23, 2011
Chapter 0: Introduction
On Track On Line (OTOL) had our annual summer trip in July 2011. On this journey we featured rides on Amtrak's Crescent and City of New Orleans. We stopped to ride transit in three cities: Atlanta, New Orleans, and Memphis, plus a little bit of Chicago was thrown in for good measure as well.
This Fest started on Sunday, July 17th as folks boarded the first Crescent train in Northeastern cities. It ended officially in Chicago on Saturday, July 23rd, the day we arrived in Chicago. The layover there gave people the opportunity to ride some more trains there. For those returning to the East Coast, travel was interesting since we had representatives of our group on all three eastbound long distance routes out of Chicago.
Chapter 1: Preparation
Preparation, of course, began years in advance as ideas were conceived and refined. Originally, our 2011 trip had been penciled in as Rockies RailFest, a visit to Denver and Salt Lake City. But with quickly expanding transit systems in both cities, it was decided to put that off a few years so that there is more for us to do.
At the time this trip was chosen for 2011, these three cities did not seem to be close to having anything new opening. We know now that new streetcar lines or extensions may be opening within the next couple of years in all three of the cities we visited.
The usual homepage was created, along with an itinerary, guest list, etc. Participants were kept abreast of plans leading up to the event via a thread on the OTOL board.
Consideration was given to the obtaining of fare media for the three host cities. The biggest challenge was Atlanta, given the location of the Amtrak station and the need to ride a bus to or from it. Luckily, we had a participant in town, Bill Haithcoat, with whom we arranged a pre-purchase of two-day passes. This way we could use them right away on the first bus we rode from the station, until the following morning's last trip to the station before our Amtrak departure for New Orleans. In New Orleans there was a vending machine near the start of our first streetcar trip, and in Memphis, a Day Pass could be purchased on board the first vehicle.
Meals were planned out in the three cities as well. Generally, we would utilize mall food courts or other freestanding fast food places for lunch, and sit-down type places for dinner. In Atlanta, Bill previewed a few restaurants and recommended his best find to us. We unfortunately didn't have any similar contacts in New Orleans or Memphis, but the abundance of restaurants made the planning process easier.
With everything seemingly in place, it was time to sit back and count down until our respective departure days. Enjoy your travels with us!
Chapter 2: Sunday, July 17, 2011
Sunday was Day One of our Fest. We had a "rolling meet" on board the southbound Crescent, as participants boarded the train in New York, Newark, Philadelphia, and Washington. Some connected to this train from other Amtrak trains. Nine people were involved in this initial part of the Fest.
Chapter 2.1: Amtrak Crescent, Train #19(17), Various east coast points to Atlanta, GA
The first group who boarded in New York was: Alan Burden and his mother Grace, Rick Metcalf, and Piotr Dzwonek. Joining them at Newark was Jishnu Mukerji. The train left on time from both locations. They made a dinner reservation for nine people for 6:30 PM but were told to come to the diner as soon as the power came up in Washington after the engine change.
I was next to board the train in Philadelphia. We were still six people when we arrived in Washington, DC, and detrained to stretch our legs, watch the engine change, and note the train's consist.
Not long after the newcomers boarded in Washington, and after the head end power was restored, we headed for the dining car as previously directed. Despite what our group had been told earlier, the crew did not appear to be ready for us when we got there. After a few minutes of confusion among the staff, we were seated. Dinner went quite well after that. With our train well into Virginia by the time we were done, we returned to our accommodations.
Those of us in the 1911 car had an attendant by the name of Grady. He was quite professional; he was there for us when we needed him. He was 100 times better than the guy we had when we rode the same train in 2009. The members of our group in the 1910 car reported that their attendant was good as well.
We remained on or close to schedule throughout the evening. By the time the train got to Lynchburg many in our group had turned in for the night, or were having their rooms made up for sleep mode. This was not surprising given our scheduled arrival into Atlanta the next morning.
Chapter 3: Monday, July 18, 2011
This busy Monday saw us arrive in Atlanta, ride the entire Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA) heavy rail system, and end the day with a very nice meal.
Chapter 3.0: Amtrak Crescent, Train #19(17), Various east coast points to Atlanta, GA (continued)
Our routine during the Fests is to go to breakfast on our own or with other participants from our group should we happen to meet up. We don't all go together since the dining car crews handle breakfast on a first-come-first-served basis, and because some opt to either sleep later, or to skip breakfast entirely.
Most of us went and had an early breakfast. For those who wanted it, going early was essential since the Crescent quite often arrives into Atlanta earlier than the scheduled 8:13 AM. Our train did, in fact, show up in Atlanta at 7:50 AM, 23 minutes early.
Chapter 3.1 In Atlanta
In the station we were met by Bill Haithcoat, who proceeded to distribute our Breeze Cards to us. We then split up for a few hours in order to either check-in at hotels or at least leave luggage there until later. The folks going towards Buckhead area hotels boarded a MARTA #110 bus across the street, and the others who were headed downtown took a southbound one on the same side of the street as the Amtrak station.
We met later on the mezzanine level of MARTA's Five Points Station. We were joined there by Matt Wann, another person from the area who joined us just for the day. We also met Aimee Robinson of St. Louis, who had arrived into Atlanta that morning by bus and would be with us through Chicago. Chris Wyatt also met us there, having flown to Atlanta. He'd be along until New Orleans.
Preston Holland of Nashville joined us as well. He planned this as part of a larger vacation whereby he would drive to Atlanta, New Orleans, and Memphis to ride trains with us, but he wouldn't set foot on an Amtrak train. He even stayed in a casino resort in Tunica, MS one night as well.
Chapter 3.2: Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA) Green Line, Five Points to Bankhead
Counting noses with people running to get that last rest room break in wasn't easy, but when I believed we had everyone, we set off on our first official rail activity, which was to ride the Green Line to Bankhead. This line is interlined with the main east-west (Blue) line from Edgewood/Candler Park to Ashby, and then it splits off to the northwest onto a one-mile branch line.
We left Five Points at 10:53 AM, 15 minutes before scheduled, and not realizing we were one person short. Seven minutes later we got to Bankhead. There was a quick 6-minute turnaround there, but we had to detrain and wait for the same consist to turn on a tail track.
Chapter 3.3: Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA) Green Line, Bankhead to Ashby
We boarded as soon as our train returned. Just after we left at 11:06 AM, I got a text from Chris Wyatt, who was at Five Points and had been left behind. Unfortunately, right after that we went into a tunnel and nobody had any cell phone reception to contact him. We were back at Ashby at 11:10, and we went upstairs to the westbound platform to await our next train, still trying unsuccessfully to reach Chris.
Chapter 3.4: Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA) Blue Line, Ashby to Hamilton E. Holmes
Our next trip segment was another relatively short one. We left Ashby on a Blue Line train at 11:18 AM, and got to the western endpoint, Hamilton E. Holmes, just six minutes later. During that period of time we came out of the tunnel, and someone was able to get hold of Chris. It was agreed that he would join us at Five Points on our eastbound journey.
Hamilton E. Holmes has side platforms, so we had to detrain, go downstairs, and come back upstairs to the inbound platform. The whole transfer took us just two minutes. This time another set of equipment was waiting on the inbound track.
Chapter 3.5: Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA) Blue Line, Hamilton E. Holmes to Indian Creek
Now came one of our longer trips in Atlanta. We would be going from one end of the Blue Line to the other. The twelve of us departed from Hamilton E. Holmes at 11:26 AM. We retraced our trip back to Five Points, though the Green Line was not involved this time.
We had sat in the front car, so that Chris could easily find us. He joined us at Five Points, bringing our total to 13 people. Our train continued to its eastern terminus, Indian Creek, arriving there 11:58 AM. Here the train dwelled on one side of an island platform. We took the opportunity of an easy nine minute layover and the sun being directly overhead to take some photos.
Chapter 3.6: Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA) Blue Line, Indian Creek to Five Points
Having boarded the same equipment that had brought us here, we were on our way west from Indian Creek at 12:07 PM. We were still 15 minutes ahead of our planned itinerary, and we'd remain that way until the lunch break.
At one of the intermediate stations we were held a few moments for some incident ahead of us, but it did not affect our timekeeping. Our train arrived at Five Points at 12:30 PM. There, we went up/down stairs to the platform for the North/South Line.
Chapter 3.7: Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA) Gold Line, Five Points to Peachtree Center
Three minutes after arriving at Five Points on the Blue Line, we were on our way aboard a Gold Line train for the one stop trip to Peachtree Center. The latter journey took us just one minute. Arriving at 12:34 PM, we were ready for lunch. The only thing standing between us and the mall food court was the very long escalator from the station up to the street level.
Chapter 3.8: Lunch at the Mall at Peachtree Center
We split into smaller groups at the Mall at Peachtree Center, since the place has two distinct sections to its food court. For a little over an hour and a half we ate and rested before embarking on the second and longer portion of our day's rail activities.
The group reconvened near the top of the long escalator shortly around 2:10, and soon we were on our way down to the station.
Chapter 3.9: Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA) Gold Line, Peachtree Center to Doraville
The original intention was to do the Red Line to North Springs first and then the Gold Line to Doraville. However since we once again got to the platform a little early, it made sense to take the first train that came. In this case it happened to be the Gold Line. Thus we started our afternoon ten minutes earlier than intended. In the process I gave myself a nightmare when it came time to reconcile the final itinerary beacuse the order in which we would be riding the two lines had changed.
We therefore left Peachtree Center at 2:17 PM on the older of the two branches. The line runs alongside the Norfolk Southern Railroad mainline, the same line on which we had arrived earlier in the day. After an uneventful trip, we arrived in Doraville at 2:43 PM. The dwell here was just seven minutes, which many spent on the air conditioned train.
Chapter 3.10: Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA) Gold Line, Doraville to Lindbergh Center
Our gang of thirteen departed from Doraville at 2:50 PM, headed for Lindbergh Center, the northernmost station where the Gold and Red Lines are together. We got to Lindbergh at 3:07 PM, where we walked across the island platform to make our transfer. We had eight minutes to wait before our next train.
Chapter 3.11: Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA) Gold Line, Lindbergh Center to North Springs
It was 3:15 when we left Lindbergh Center on the Gold Line to North Springs. This branch is only slightly shorter than the other. It primarily runs in the median of toll road Georgia 400 but deviates a little to the east to serve a regional shopping mall and other commercial areas.
At 3:28 PM we arrived at North Springs. Matt left the group here to return home. The rest of us had 15 minutes to wait before we would be heading south.
Chapter 3.12: Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA) Red Line, North Springs to Airport
Now came our second and final beginning-to-end run of the day, the entire Red Line from North Springs to the Airport. Now down to 12 people, we left at 3:43 PM for what would be a 45 minute ride. The portion south of Five Points was the only part thus far unconquered by our group.
When we got to the Airport station at 4:28 PM, we were somehow now 20 minutes ahead of our itinerary, despite having started ten minutes ahead after lunchtime. The only possible explanation for this could be that trains were running on shorter headways closer to the evening rush hour.
When we got to Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, Bill led us to the nearest rest rooms, which were popular amongst our group after the long trips on MARTA. Being early we had plenty of spare time. We then walked outside and across a few lanes of traffic to access the ATL SkyTrain.
Chapter 3.13: ATL SkyTrain, Airport to Rental Car Center
Now for something a little different. The SkyTrain is not unlike similar systems at other airports. It runs primarily between the airport itself and a condensed rental car center. One intermediate stop is made for a convention center and a couple of hotels. Headways are every few minutes, and the entire trip from one end to the other takes four minutes. We left the airport end of the line at 4:43 PM and got to the rental car center at 4:47 PM.
Chapter 3.14: ATL SkyTrain, Rental Car Center to Airport
After very quick turnaround during which we remained aboard, we left the rental car center at 4:48 PM and arrived back at the main terminal of the airport at 4:52 PM. Back at the airport, we headed back to the MARTA station.
Chapter 3.15: Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA) Gold Line, Airport to Five Points
Having now officially satisfied everything on our list to do, it was time for one more trip to return downtown to have dinner together. Our Gold Line train left the airport at 5:00 PM, and arrived at Five Points 18 minutes later.
From the station we walked through a passageway that leads into the Underground Atlanta attraction. We walked around a bit to work up our appetites and kill some time before our reservation since we had ended up 23 minutes ahead of schedule.
Chapter 3.16: Dinner at Georgia Peach
Bill's ultimate choice for our sit-down dinner in this city was the Georgia Peach. We all felt he made an excellent selection. The staff was very accommodating of our large group, even allowing us to sit fairly close together but splitting us between two waiters to both expedite their service and make us more comfortable. The entrees came out randomly over the course of the meal, but even those who had to wait a little longer felt it was worth the wait.
Chapter 3.17: End of Monday's activities
After a great meal, it was time to disband for the day and return to our respective hotels. Most of us rode MARTA to various stops on the lines north of the city. Again our night of sleep was driven by the schedule of the southbound Crescent, so it was imperative that we retire soon so we could arise early to make our train to New Orleans.
Chapter 4: Tuesday, July 19, 2011
We woke up Tuesday in Atlanta, and went to sleep that evening in New Orleans. In between, we had a day trip on the Crescent.
Chapter 4.1: Meeting in Atlanta
The plan was to meet at the Amtrak station well in advance of our departure. The whole gang from the day before would be taking this train, with the exception of Preston, who planned to drive from Atlanta to New Orleans and meet us Wednesday. Bill H. would be taking a short turn; he planned to ride to Birmingham with the group and then return to Atlanta the following day.
Chapter 4.2: Amtrak Crescent, Train #19(18), Atlanta, GA to New Orleans, LA
Twelve of us were aboard as we left Atlanta right on time at 8:38 AM. After settling into our rooms, some went right to the dining car to partake of a late breakfast. We were immediately taken aback by the demeanor of the dining car crew on this train. After being summoned by the Lead Service Attendant (R. Jeffers) to sit at a group of tables, the waitress (J. Talley) who was in front of one of the tables didn't like the way all of us had passed her so she complained. She grumbled something about saying "excuse me" before we passed by her.
After those who had been in the dining car returned to our rooms, some in the group wanted to take a nap since we had arisen so early in our hotels. It was difficult to locate our attendants (Tony in the 1910 car and Carl in the 1911 car), who were most of the time nowhere to be found. They were later spotted conversing with one another, and other staff, in the cafe car.
At Birmingham, we said goodbye to Bill Haithcoat. And while we were on the platform, Jishnu's friend Carol Bert (who lives in Birmingham and whom we had met in California on our SoCal Fest two years ago) came out to greet us. Eleven of us then reboarded and continued onward to New Orleans. Soon after we departed Birmingham, we went to lunch.
The lowlight of our trip came during lunch as we were passing through Tuscaloosa. This Alabama city had been devastated by a severe tornado just three months prior to our trip. Primarily east and north of the station, we saw many damaged homes and businesses that had been destroyed by the massive tornado. Large blue tarps covered many houses that had lost their roofs.
Although we had arrived in Tuscaloosa close to schedule, we would soon lose time. We spent a lot of time at the station making multiple spots. Then soon after we departed, we pulled into a siding to clear the main for our counterpart northbound Crescent. We had to wait quite a while for it to show up and pass us. Once it did, we had to back out of this siding to return to the mainline.
When we got into Mississippi, we were running almost one hour late. As we expected from our 2009 Fest trip on this train, we were called for an early quick dinner around 4 PM.
We had expected to back into New Orleans Union Passenger Terminal (NOUPT), but the crew announced we would be going straight in. Doing so would put us closer to the station thus shortening our walk. Arrival was at 8:02 PM, just half an hour late. John Corbett had flown in from Philadelphia earlier in the day, and he met our arrival at NOUPT. Bill Magee also flew separately from Philadelphia on another flight, but he would be joining us the next day. Preston had also been in town since 3 PM while we were still in northeastern Mississippi. (Remember, Preston had driven there; he'd departed Atlanta around the same time we did!)
Chapter 4.3: End of Tuesday's activities
Everyone either walked or took taxicabs to their respective hotels. With a full day in the Big Easy awaiting us, we were happy to be able to get a good night's sleep off the rails.
After putting my luggage in my hotel room, I took a walk over to our morning starting point to find the ticket machine where we would be purchasing our Day Passes. I texted everyone about the machine's location and instructions how to use it.
Chapter 5: Wednesday, July 20, 2011
On Wednesday, we had a full day in New Orleans. We rode what we could of the entire streetcar system, and did some activities off the rails as well.
Chapter 5.1: Meeting in New Orleans
New Orleans Regional Transit Authority (RTA) was our host in this city. The plans called for us to meet at the corner of Carondelet & Canal, which is the downtown end & start point of the St. Charles Streetcar. First everybody got their Day Passes from the machine in the neutral zone, and then we went back to the corner. While we were waiting there was a man with a megaphone annoying his captive audience with some sort of religious sermon.
Chapter 5.2: New Orleans Regional Transit Authority (RTA) St. Charles Streetcar, Carondelet/Canal to Carrollton/Claiborne
Our first conveyance came around 9:30. With this being the primary downtown stop for this line, it took four minutes to get passengers off and on the car (all with the confusion of the sidewalk preacher outside aiming his megaphone into the streetcar's open windows). At 9:34 AM, finally away from the noisy street corner, our streetcar went around the block onto Canal and then began its run on St. Charles Street.
We were four minutes ahead of the time on our itinerary, but as we would observe throughout the day, it's difficult for the streetcars in this city to adhere to a schedule. More than likely this was the run previous to the one we'd planned to take, running late. The trip continued uneventfully until we reached the end of the line, Carollton & Claiborne, at 10:12 AM. Here we briefly detrained while the operator changed ends and poles.
Chapter 5.3: New Orleans Regional Transit Authority (RTA) St. Charles Streetcar, Carrollton/Claiborne to Carondelet/Canal
We began travelling back inbound at 10:18 AM, still four minutes earlier than our itinerary called for. We got back to the corner of Carondelet & Canal at 11:01 AM. Preacher Man by now had either been asked to leave or he found another tourist spot.
Chapter 5.4: New Orleans Regional Transit Authority (RTA) Canal Streetcar, Bourbon to Cemeteries
Now it was time to ride the Canal Streetcar. This line runs from the foot of Canal Street next to Harrah's Casino and the ferry dock to one of two alternating destinations. This particular trip for us would be straight up Canal to the Cemeteries endpoint.
We left the Bourbon Street stop at 11:08 AM, once more ahead of our own schedule. We had a very talkative operator, who pointed out his favorite restaurants along the way, and even suggested what to order. Nice to know he enjoys turtle soup!
This trip came to an end at 11:26 AM when we got to the Cemeteries stop. Our driver got off here. Another operator changed the pole, boarded, and then took his seat at the opposite end of the car. We were off the car a few minutes before reboarding.
Chapter 5.5: New Orleans Regional Transit Authority (RTA) Canal Streetcar, Cemeteries to Harrah's Casino
It was a much quieter, uneventful trip back with a less talkative operator at the controls. We went beyond our boarding point to the end of the line at the foot of Canal Street, next to the Harrah's Casino.
Chapter 5.6: Lunch at Riverwalk Marketplace
The largest downtown shopping mall, Riverwalk Marketplace, sits adjacent to the Mississippi River. It runs from near the end of Canal Street to Julia Street several blocks upriver. As I remembered it, the entrance to the mall was off a large plaza not far from Canal Street. What I didn't remember was how long the mall is. Its food court is clear on the other end of the mall, the equivalent of several blocks. While we had a couple of hours of downtime here, a lot of it was used in taking this seemingly endless walk to get our lunch. Nevertheless, we finally made it and enjoyed various delicacies.
After eating, we had a while before our streetcar riding was scheduled to resume. From an earlier visit, I recalled that there was a Riverfront Streetcar stop at Julia, near the Upriver end of the mall where we now were. I figured we could start our Riverfront Streetcar riding there instead of walking back through the whole mall again to Canal Street. I walked outside to verify that the station was there, and then returned to let everyone know of the slight change in plans. Everyone appreciated the prospect of a much shorter walk.
Chapter 5.7: New Orleans Regional Transit Authority (RTA) Riverfront Streetcar, Julia to Canal
The Riverfront Streetcar, according to its timetable, runs between John Churchill Chase and Esplanade/French Market in the French Quarter. The former is one stop beyond Julia Street - however I have rarely seen streetcars operate in this segment. I have not figured out why they even show this stop on their timetable. The hope when preparing this Fest was that they had begun operating as far as John Churchill Chase when the latest timetable was released.
It was not to be, and it ended up a lot worse than that. When a streetcar arrived from the other direction, its operator changed ends and prepared to head in the direction of the French Quarter. However he informed us that he was only going as far as Canal due to construction.
We left Julia at 2:04 PM, and two minutes later when we arrived at Canal, our ride was already over. In retrospect, our ride on this streetcar was shorter than the walk we had taken through the mall! We never had a view of the river because the mall sits in between the tracks and the river. So one major letdown of this Fest was not getting to ride the majority of the scenic Riverfront Streetcar.
At Canal Street, there were temporary bumpers blocking both tracks. We were told to exit the streetcar here. Suddenly we had some time on our hands, as our only streetcar line left to explore was the Museum/City Park branch of the Canal Streetcar. We decided to take a ride on the free ferry across the river to Algiers and back to kill some time.
Chapter 5.8: Round trip on the Algiers Ferry
Our round trip on the Algiers Ferry took us about 15 minutes. It was a cool diversion from the hot weather. After we returned, we walked over to the streetcar boarding area. Still with about half an hour until our next streetcar ride, we found what shade we could to shield us from the hot sun.
Chapter 5.9: New Orleans Regional Transit Authority (RTA) Canal Streetcar, Harrah's Casino to Museum/City Park
A car bound for the Museum/City Park showed up around 3:05 PM, and we moved towards it. After the operator changed ends, the group boarded.
We left the station at the foot of Canal Street at 3:08 PM, two minutes late. This particular operator was far from friendly, leaving a few from our group grumbling. By this time our Day Passes had become a little worn due to the multiple uses and our perspiration. He gave a few in our group a hard time because their passes had become slightly illegible.
The run up Canal was slow and monotonous, as the streetcars have no signal preemption. What also severely slows down the streetcars is that people jump on them to ride just one or two blocks, a distance they could have walked faster.
The trip was the same as the morning run on Canal, except that when we got to Carrollton Avenue we turned right and rode in that street's neutral ground until the end of the line at Museum/City Park.
Chapter 5.10: New Orleans Regional Transit Authority (RTA) Canal Streetcar, Museum/City Park to Bourbon
The last official streetcar ride of our Fest departed from Museum/City Park at 3:48 PM, 12 minutes off the advertised. The car was jam packed with passengers, and became standing room only long before we got into the CBD.
Piotr and Aimee got off this car at the RTA headquarters to complain about the streetcar operator, but as we later found out there was nobody around to complain to. They took a later car back downtown.
We had been out in the summer heat all day but it was too early for dinner. Therefore we agreed to separate, return to our hotels to freshen up, and then meet later for dinner. Most of us got off at the Bourbon Street stop, near where our day began, at 4:20 PM.
Chapter 5.11: Dinner at Harrah's
While a few people chose to do other things, nine of us had dinner at The Buffet at Harrah's. Surrounded by the casino floor with jingling slot machines, this place was a minor splurge but well worth it! There was no shortage of delicacies to sample.
Chapter 5.12: End of Wednesday's activities
After dinner we split up and went back to our respective hotels. It had been a long, hot day. But today we were only halfway through this Fest!
Chapter 6: Thursday, July 21, 2011
Thursday was essentially a travel day. We started out with free time in New Orleans, took an afternoon and evening trip on the City of New Orleans to Memphis, and ended up at hotels in Memphis that night.
Chapter 6.1: In New Orleans
Having the morning off gave folks time to perhaps do a little sightseeing, buy souvenirs, and eat lunch wherever they wanted. The gang slowly assembled once more at the Amtrak station within a couple hours of our scheduled departure.
In the cramped first class lounge known as the Magnolia Room, we were surprised when our boarding instructions were delivered by a police officer. About 30 minutes before departure, we were led out of the lounge to pre-board.
Chapter 6.2: Amtrak City of New Orleans, Train #58(21), New Orleans, LA to Memphis, TN
At the door we were greeted by our sleeper attendant, Dorothy. She later came to each room to give her speech welcoming us onto the train.
A few of our group changed rooms from where they had been originally booked, to allow families to be adjacent to one another. Some of our people moved more than once during the trip!
The trip itself went well. We had time to stretch our legs on the platform in Jackson, MS. Our train didn't remain on time very long, but at no time were we more than 25 minutes down.
On this train we had by far our best onboard meal of the week. The dining staff, Demonitis and Debra, were excellent. They happily accommodated our large group of eleven for dinner, and the service was exquisite.
Our train arrived into Memphis at 10:16 PM, 16 minutes late. All but Bill detrained there, to spend 24 hours in town. Bill remained aboard this train to Chicago, from where he flew home on Friday.
Chapter 6.3: End of Thursday's activities
Aimee took a taxicab to her hotel, while the rest of us rode a trolley up Main Street. Some got off at Union Street to walk to the Doubletree, while others remained on a few blocks further north to the Marriott.
After a great Amtrak trip and a late night arrival, it was time to rest up in stationary beds and think of yet another long day ahead.
Chapter 7: Friday, July 22, 2011
Friday was our full day in Memphis, doing rail and non-rail activities. Then we slipped out of town late that evening when we boarded the City of New Orleans for Chicago.
Our host transit agency was Memphis Area Transit Authority (MATA). The goal today was to ride their entire trolley system, which consists of three lines. The Main Street Trolley is their bread and butter route, running very frequently in both directions up and down the namesake street. The Riverfront Trolley is a one-way counter-clockwise loop that includes the entire Main Street route northbound, and a southbound-only track of its own along the Mississippi River, much of it adjacent to the Canadian National track the City of New Orleans also uses. Frequencies along Main Street northbound are therefore much greater than southbound service, since Riverfront Trolley cars are in the mix as well.
The third line is the Madison Avenue Trolley, which runs east-west along that street, and is supposed to interface with the other two lines at Court Square. The line had been closed for about 6 months in late 2010 and early 2011 due to an electrical problem. The return of service was not publicized other than restoration of information on MATA's website -- information that led one to believe the line had been fully restored.
Chapter 7.1: Meeting in Memphis
Rick did not join us for the trolley trips. He instead opted for a guided tour of the city, including Elvis Presley's Graceland. He wouldn't see us again until dinnertime.
The itinerary called for our first activity to be riding the southern portion of the Main Street line. Most of us had already traversed this segment last night, but this was our first view in daylight and our "official" trip. There was some confusion over where we would meet, since many of us were together on a southbound Main Street Trolley to get to Central Station in order to start the northbound run. Steve, Mike, and Rick had come down earlier from their hotel, and the rest of us were behind them. Having never been there we didn't know that we could ride as far as the layover track in front of the train station, so we first got off one stop earlier. Ultimately all ten of us met up in one place, and our journey began.
Chapter 7.2: Memphis Area Transit Authority (MATA) Main Street Trolley, Central Station to Court Square
Despite the rough start to the day, our northbound trip on our first official trolley departed from Central Station at 11:03 AM, just three minutes late. Thirteen minutes later we detrained at Court Plaza with the intention of transferring to the Madison Avenue Trolley.
Chapter 7.3: Memphis Area Transit Authority (MATA) substitute bus, Jefferson/Main to 3rd Avenue
However, we saw a sign on one of the shelters that the Madison Avenue Trolley was not stopping here due to a building demolition, and that a shuttle bus was bridging the gap. The sign said to get the bus on the corner of Jefferson & Main, one block to the north.
We went to the corner, and waited, and waited. Finally at 11:42 AM, a bus showed up marked "Shuttle". The entire ride was four minutes. Had we known just how much of the trolley line was out of service, we could have walked that distance faster. Although the bus was continuing to the end of the Madison Avenue Trolley route, we got off at the first station we came to, adjacent to AutoZone Park along Madison Avenue between 3rd and 4th Streets.
Chapter 7.4: Memphis Area Transit Authority (MATA) Madison Avenue Trolley, 4th Street to Cleveland Street
We waited a long time here as well. (Luckily we had plenty of downtime during the day, so our delays were not critical.) As we would later deduce, MATA was covering the line by running the one shuttle bus we had been on, as well as one trolley back and forth between 4th Street and the end of the line. It was already 12:03 PM when we finally departed eastbound aboard the trolley. The entire trip took up just ten minutes. We were told to detrain on the platform at Cleveland Street, while the operator continued into a tail track to turn the car and layover.
Chapter 7.5: Memphis Area Transit Authority (MATA) Madison Avenue Trolley, Cleveland Street to 4th Street
Our time at Cleveland Street was about ten minutes. Headed back westbound towards downtown at 12:23 PM, this time we were aboard for 13 minutes before we arrived once more at the platform by AutoZone Park. From there, we decided to walk to our lunch locations rather than taking the shuttle bus (which we had recently passed going the other way). We had completed as much as we could of the Madison Avenue Trolley, but its missing link had become the Fest's second disappointment.
Chapter 7.6: Lunch in downtown Memphis
Our group split up here. A few opted to walk over to Beale Street and try some of the local delicacies the city is known for. Preston had a quick lunch and then decided to complete his weeklong journey by driving home across the state to Nashville.
The rest of us walked back to Main Street, and ate in a Subway restaurant we had seen while we had been waiting for the bus earlier.
We sat in the restaurant as long as we could, and then left to continue our journey on schedule. Steve left the group, deciding to forego the afternoon activities and Mud Island for some rest in his hotel room.
Chapter 7.7: Memphis Area Transit Authority (MATA) Riverfront Trolley, Court Square to Jefferson/Convention Center
Because we had walked up to the Subway at Main & Jefferson, we didn't leave from Court Square as intended. Also, another change in plans was that we would simply board a Riverfront Trolley for a one-seat trip to our next destination, rather than taking a Main Street to its northern end and then switching to a Riverfront Trolley. The result was that Joe became our second person left behind. Joe was one of the people who had gone to Beale Street, and he had figured upon meeting us at Court Square rather than Jefferson a block away. The mistake wasn't realized until Joe later rejoined us at Mud Island.
We left Main & Jefferson at 2:20 PM, ten minutes past the time on our itinerary. We rode on the unique trackage of the Riverfront Trolley, eventually turning southbound parallel to the Mississippi River. At 2:35 PM we got off at the Jefferson Street/Convention Center station. It's the same Jefferson Street as where we had boarded, but a few blocks west, but what fun would it have been to walk? The seven of us did walk from the trolley stop east one block and then south, entering the Mud Island Monorail station.
Chapter 7.8: Mud Island Monorail, Convention Center to Mud Island
The Mud Island Monorail is a suspended monorail that runs underneath a walkway. One can take the long walk for free or take the ride for four bucks round trip. We paid and we rode! The entire scenic ride took just a little over two minutes.
Chapter 7.9: On Mud Island
Once on Mud Island, some opted to just remain in the building where the station is located to stay out of the heat. Others walked around the Mud Island River Park. The park's feature is a replica miniature scale Mississippi River, showing the flow of the river and adjacent topography all the way from a point in Illinois to the delta where the river empties into the Gulf of Mexico. Water is pumped from the "Gulf" back to where the attraction starts, so that the water flows in the correct direction parallel to the real one a few feet to the west.
After everyone had seen enough of Mud Island, we decided to leave and make our way towards dinner a little early.
Chapter 7.10: Mud Island Monorail, Mud Island to Convention Center
Now a group of eight thanks to Joe rejoining us, we left the island at 4:12 PM on the monorail. Once back in the city, we walked down to the closest Riverfront Trolley stop.
Chapter 7.11: Memphis Area Transit Authority (MATA) Riverfront Trolley, Jefferson/Convention Center to Huling Street
At 4:34 PM we left Jefferson Street/Convention Center. It would be a short ride to the stop for our dinner location. But since we were early, we decided to ride the loop around and back to the same point. This also allowed Steve to join us, since he was still back at the Marriott. By texting him, he was able to board our trolley when we got around to that stop. Then the nine of us continued around the loop once more, passing where most of us had boarded and finally arriving at Huling Street (adjacent to the Spaghetti Warehouse) at 5:05 PM. There standing in front of the restaurant was Rick, making us a group of ten for dinner.
Chapter 7.12: Dinner at Spaghetti Warehouse
As we had done in Tampa and Dallas in previous years, we had dinner at Spaghetti Warehouse. (Portland in 2010 was its western equivalent Old Spaghetti Factory.) We had a very good and quickly served meal. Their Italian Wedding Soup got rave reviews from a few of us. After dinner we walked back to the trolley stop at Huling Street to await our next ride.
Chapter 7.13: Memphis Area Transit Authority (MATA) Riverfront Trolley, Huling Street to Central Station
This too turned into a number of rides as we had some time to kill. The majority of the group who had left their luggage at the Doubletree rode around the loop and returned there. We then sat in their lobby for an hour or so to allow more time to pass. Then we boarded the Riverfront Trolley one more time to return to Central Station for our late night Amtrak departure. On this last trip, our only one after dark, the operator noticed the car's headlight was out. We had to stop in the vicinity of the maintenance yard for an on-the-spot bulb replacement before we could proceed.
Those who stayed in other hotels did something similar and later met with us at Central Station. Mike Hammond, however, would be taking a bus up to Chicago, so he left the group. We'd see him one more time in Chicago.
Chapter 7.14: Amtrak City of New Orleans, Train #58(22), Memphis, TN to Chicago, IL
The City Of New Orleans was running on time, which we knew from checking with Amtrak ourselves. There were no announcements in the station with boarding instructions. When we saw the train's headlight approaching the station, everyone inside went out to the platform. Our group of nine headed for our sleeper car. The conductor tried to stop everyone in one spot on the platform to lift tickets to no avail. We assumed he only wanted the coach passengers to queue up outside.
Once I was settled in, I hurried to be first in the shower. It has been a long hot day, so I wanted to get this necessity over with as soon as possible. It turns out that I missed the drama! The conductor came into our sleeper and began berating several of our group members for not stopping on the platform. He said this was a security issue. He bothered a few of our people before moving to more important duties elsewhere.
Al made up our beds right away and with this experience fresh on our minds we retired for the night.
Chapter 8: Saturday, July 23, 2011
On our last official Fest day, we arrived into Chicago. Some partook of various rail activities in smaller groups or on their own. And six people would depart Chicago that evening for the East Coast.
Chapter 8.0: Amtrak City of New Orleans, Train #58(22), Memphis, TN to Chicago, IL (continued)
Due to our scheduled morning arrival and the previous night's excitement provided by the late night departure and our conductor afterwards, many opted to skip breakfast. The few who did go reported that the service was unimpressive, certainly not measuring up to the dinner we'd had on the first City of New Orleans on Thursday evening.
Overnight, we had lost some time, and were running close to an hour late. Some slow running and unplanned stops due to a recent severe storm in the Chicago area caused more of a delay. While padding might give some of that time back, experience told me that we would once again not be able to do too many rail activities while in Chicago. Since I was not sure how late we'd be, I cancelled the first activity I'd planned conditionally, riding the CTA. Our train ultimately arrived into Chicago at 9:48 AM, 48 minutes late.
Chapter 8.1: In Chicago
Once in town, we began to disperse. Steve found Mike at the bus stop outside the station, and then they went to have lunch together. (Mike would later take another bus back to Cleveland.) The rest of us went into the Metropolitan Lounge to store our luggage and sit for a while until our various planned activities.
Some went to Ogilvie Transportation Center for lunch in that station's food court, and then several took a round trip ride on the METRA UP West Line to Elburn. On the return trip, we were joined by Kevin Noell, who had come in from Michigan to join us. He made a short turn round trip since his arrival was too late to be able to meet us sooner. Others rode Amtrak's Hiawatha Service, making round trips to either Glenview or Milwaukee.
Chapter 8.2: End of Saturday's activities
Those headed out on trains Saturday evening reconvened at Union Station's Metropolitan Lounge. Kevin N. was going out on a Wolverine train that evening, and the others would be going on one of the three trains to the East Coast. Rick was headed for the Cardinal to Newark, NJ and then a Regional the next morning to Massachusetts. Grace and Alan were taking the Lake Shore Limited to New York. Piotr, Jishnu, and I were taking the Capitol Limited to Washington, DC, followed by a Northeast Regional to either Wilmington or Metropark.
Originally, four of us had been booked on the eastbound Cardinal. It was no accident that this trip was planned to put us in Chicago on one of the days of the week that the Cardinal departs so that we could ride it that evening. However, a few weeks before our journey, a freight train derailed in Indiana and damaged a bridge. This resulted in the Cardinal's route being severed with no alternate transportation bridging the gap. We had to call Amtrak and rebook our trips on the Capitol Limited, plus a Regional beyond Washington. Then while we were in Atlanta, the Cardinal route was reopened. Rick managed to rebook his journey again on the Cardinal, but the rest of us were too late and kept our plans for the Capitol Limited.
Chapter 9: Conclusion
All in all, we had a very nice week on the rails. It was a pleasure to meet new faces and see familiar ones as well. We'll meet again on the east coast this winter, and options are still being considered for next summer's big trip!