Archive for category Train Trips

Adios, Amtrak?

(Note: This is the final entry from my second San Diego trip via Amtrak. To start at the beginning of the trip, click here and follow the links at the top right of the page.)

We arrive at Sacramento at 9:39, which is 7:24 late, and the delays continue between Davis and Martinez. When we finally reach Emeryville, it is around midnight. We should have been there at 4:49 p.m., checked in, had drinks and dinner. Instead, we go right from the station to the hotel. Our wake-up call is in five hours.

Early Tuesday morning, we take Caltrain No. 210 at 6:45 a.m. from San Francisco to Santa Clara. The trip takes about an hour and costs $6.75 per person. We then take a free shuttle bus from the Santa Clara station to the San Jose Airport, arriving at 8:45. Our American Airlines Express flight to San Diego does not leave until 11:45, but we are able to get on an earlier flight, which leaves at 9:52. Security takes less than five minutes and we have little time to wait for the flight.

After the excruciating experience of yesterday, the trip from San Francisco to San Jose to San Diego via public rail and air is surprisingly easy and takes a little over four hours – less than the time it took to go 186 miles from Winnemucca to Sparks, Nevada. I hate to say it, but it may be time to say Adios, Amtrak.


Despite being a whopping 6:22 behind schedule leaving Truckee, CA, I don’t feel all that bad after seeing picturesque Lake Donner.

Of course, that all changes five minutes later, when at 5:10, we have to wait 47 minutes for an eastbound UP freight train coming up the mountain.

You know, these freight delays are getting out of hand. Coast Starlate, meet your brother, the California Forever.

If today is any indication, that letter Amtrak sent to Union Pacific about the legal and contractual obligation of UP to keep Amtrak trains moving isn’t working. In fact, it appears to be making things even worse. After costing me a minimum of seven hours today, my message to Union Pacific is the same one I give their engine when it finally chugs past: A nice, big one-fingered salute.

Sparks At Last

At 3:15, just outside of Sparks, we stop to obtain a permit to use a UP track not normally used by Amtrak. We receive permit No. 973, which is good until 4 p.m.

When we finally arrive in Sparks, it is 3:24 p.m. and we are 6:29 behind schedule. We change the crew in Reno and leave at 3:38 p.m., which puts us 6:24 behind.

Since my last trip on the Zephyr, Reno’s station has changed. Instead of stopping above ground with a view of the city and casinos, we now stop below ground. You have to give Reno officials credit on two accounts: The Zephyr no longer blocks the streets near the casinos and passengers don’t get to see just how outdated and rundown the hotels are in the downtown area. How is that for a sleight of hand?

As far as the near collision, nothing new to report. When asked, the engineer said he didn’t get the license plate of the tractor trailer. During the crew change in Reno, he was seen shaking his head while leaving with the conductor, obviously discussing the incident. My hat goes off to him for being quick on the brakes.

Near Collision In Nevada

I wake up on Monday at 6:35 a.m. PT, 10 minutes before our station stop in Elko, NV. Thinking it may be a smoke/stretch-your-legs break, I quickly put on my clothes and go to the bathroom to put in my contacts. However, it is a quick one-minute stop and we depart at 6:50. We have lost more than 30 minutes during the night and are now 3:29 down for the trip.

We eat breakfast (leftover cheesecake from last night’s dinner and a cinnamon bun I bought in Grand Junction) as the Utah mountainous desert goes by.

Around 9 a.m., outside of Battle Mountain, NV, we slow to about 30 mph. On the scanner, I hear the conductor ask the engineer if we are behind a freight train. He gives a cryptic yes and no answer, saying we are behind a freight train, but not directly behind it and the freight is doing well.

At 9:20, I hear the tail end of a conversation on the scanner that worries me. I can’t tell if it is our train talking to the dispatcher, but someone is told that they are doing switch work at the border, it won’t be finished until 2:30 p.m. and to plan accordingly. I assume it is the Nevada/California border, but I’m not sure as I missed the beginning of the transmission. We are scheduled to be at Reno at the time of this conversation, but should now be there around 1 p.m. If we sit for a while, I guess I’ll know the reason.

Outside of Winnemucca, we stop at a red signal for 15 minute before we are given permission by the UP dispatcher to pass the signal.

Winnemucca features a triple stop – the first to change the crew, the second for the diner car and the third for a smoke/stretch break.

We left Winnemucca at 10:50, which put us 4:37 behind schedule

We were restricted to 30 for most of the way from Winnemucca to Sparks.

At 2:45, we made an emergency stop as a truck was backing up on the crossing, according to the engineer. I knew something was up when I heard the brakes squeal as we came to a stop. I think the 30 mph limit may have save us from hitting the truck.

The train was inspected and we resumed five minutes later.

Rocky Mountain Relaxation

At 9:26, just outside of Arvada, we make our winding way up the mountain. At the first tunnel, there is a Union Pacific freight train stopped exiting the tunnel. As the tunnel is only one track, we need to wait for him to pass us before we can proceed. Twenty minutes later, the UP begins backing up through the tunnel. Five minutes later, we make our way through the tunnel.

From 9:55 until 10:31 we go through 18 tunnels, in between wonderful views of Arvada, CO and the surrounding area.

We continue to be hampered by UP. At 10:33, we stop for a red signal a 7212 is head of us. We lose seven minutes. At 10:53, the conductor makes an announcement that one of the UP trains head of us has engine problems, forcing us to move at 9 mph. They are going 9 mph. I heard chatter earlier about someone’s engine bucking and cutting off, just like it did yesterday, but didn’t realize it was the train ahead of us.

At 12:11 p.m., we finally get to the east side of Moffat Tunnel, where we are greeted by a red signal. Twenty minutes later we start through the long tunnel.

We finally arrive Fraser/Winter Park at 12:53, which is 2:46 late.

The delays continue heading to Glenwood Springs. We have a pair of 15-minute stops, including one at Shoshone, with a nice view of a hiking and boating area. During one of the delays, the eastbound Zephyr passes us near Allen, CO.

When the train arrives at Glenwood Springs, we are 3:01 behind schedule, but we cut the deficit to 3:01 at Grand Junction.

Memo to Amtrak: Fix your #@$#@$ vending machines. While Grand Junction features a fruit stand and gift shop which sells ice cream, both of the vending machine are out of order and the change machine is out of change. Earlier in the day, the Pepsi machine in Denver was completely empty, as well. In this time of budget cuts, how is it that you don’t want my money?

After Grand Junction, we decided to again dine in our sleeper car. I had a hamburger and she had the same choice as last night – chicken. Once again, both were good choices. We watched the sunset over the Utah mountains during our meals just before we pulled into Green River, Utah 2:59 behind at 8:57.

Making Up Time In Denver

After sleeping through most of Nebraska, I awake at 6:42 a.m. MT, as we quickly stop at Fort Morgan, CO. We have only lost seven minutes during the night and are 1:27 behind heading to Denver.

I take this as my cue, hustling downstairs to the bathroom and shower. Last night, a passenger said there was no hot water. Roy reset the breaker and I was hoping that solved the problem. Sure enough, the water was hot – very hot to be exact – and perfect for the shave I had neglected yesterday.

As I get dressed and update the blog, we go through Denver and then back into the station. We arrive at 8:10 and with the help of some schedule padding, gain back more than 30 minutes of lost time.

Dinner Over An Iowa Sunset

Not much to report Saturday afternoon/evening. We continue to lose time through, leaving Naperville 50 minutes behind schedule. After crossing the Mississippi, we leave Burlington at 6:10, which puts us 55 minutes back.

We have brought food on this trip – a collection of sandwiches, beef jerky and other snacks, along with wine and champagne – so we did not eat dinner or breakfast on the Capitol Limited. We decide to have dinner tonight, but instead of going to the dining car, we have Roy bring our meal to our room.

I’ve heard mixed things about the new Simplified Dining Service, but when we both get the chicken – our favorite on the old menu – we are pleasantly surprised. The chicken is as good or better than before. My mashed potatoes and her rice are also above average and the cheesecake is very good. I’ll have to give Amtrak a thumbs up on my first SDS experience. Of course, seeing all the cornfields out the windows, a couple of ears of corn would be nice!

We watch the sunset over the Iowa countryside before calling it a night shortly after we leave Creston at 9:51 p.m., 1:20 behind schedule.

Delays At Both Ends in Chicago

The delays continue entering Chicago. After dropping the baggage cars, we sit on the track for 45 minutes before finally backing into the station. We finally arrive at the station at 1 p.m., which puts us 4 ½ hours late for the trip.

We check into the Metropolitan Lounge at 1:15 p.m. and are told to stay close by as boarding for California Zephyr 5 will be momentarily. This is just enough time to run upstairs to the food court and buy some brats and dogs for a late lunch.

Of course, after we make the mad dash for some food and get back to the lounge an announcement is made that the train is not yet ready to be boarded.

Around 2 p.m. we board the train and are greeted by our car attendant, Roy. While stowing my gear, I turn on the scanner and hear that the train is being delayed because there are no dinner plates, which need to be delivered from the commissary. While we wait for the dinner plates to make the train, we decide to eat.

California Zephyr 5 consist

1). Primary Engine 207
2). Secondary Engine 72
3). Baggage Car 1717
4). Transition Sleeper 32047 (Car 520)
5). Sleeper 32085 (Car 532) – We are in Car 2
6). Sleeper 32043
7). Dining Car 38007
8). Lounge Car 33032
9). Coach 34097 (Car 510)
10). Coach 34031 (Car 511)
11). Coach 31041 (Car 512)

We leave the station at 2:30 p.m., already 40 minutes behind schedule.

Be Careful What You Wish For

During my Amtrak trips, I hope and plan on delays that will make my experience last that much longer. This is especially the case on the Capitol Limited, which is scheduled to arrive in Chicago at 8:30 a.m., since I am not a morning person. However, my wish for a delay has been granted, but it may cost me a chance to get lunch at the Famous Billy Goat Tavern, which I documented in a previous trip post: (

After leaving South Bend at 10:47 a.m. (which puts us 3:24 behind schedule), we go about five miles before coming to a halt next to a large factory. An announcement is made that there are freight trains ahead of us and one may have mechanical difficulties. Two go past and we then move about 100 yards before stopping again. Finally, 40 minutes after leaving South Bend, we begin moving again, following Lakeshore Limited 49 (25) to Chicago.

Freight Accident Brings Delay

I wake up at 7:45 a.m. thinking we are well into Indiana. However, when I turn on the computer and GPS, that is not the case. We are only approaching Toledo, which means we are three hours late – and counting. We approach the Toledo station, but Train No. 49 I in the station. We sit for about five minutes before pulling into the station at 8:03 a.m.

While in Toledo, I ask Lou the reason for the delay, assuming we were stuck behind a freight train. Lou says there was an accident last night east of Sandusky, Ohio with a fatality as a Norfolk Southern train hit a vehicle. We were delayed as they cleared the scene. We will file this under breaking railroad news. Our delay is now 3:15 as we leave Toledo.

Finally, Some Wireless Coverage

Capitol Limited Consist

1). Primary Engine 156
2). Secondary Engine
3). Baggage Car 1857
4). Transition Sleeper 39033 (Car 2909)
5). Sleeper Car 32059 (Car 2901) – We are in Room 2
6). Sleeper Car 32095 (Car 2900)
7). Dining Car 38065
8). Lounge Car 33046
9). Coach Car 31010 (Car 3030)
10). Coach Car 34137 (Car 3332)
11). Coach Car 31020 (Car 3031)
12). Freight Car 74030
13). Freight Car 74062

At 7:25, we pass through Green Spring, WV. According to Lou, who is directly across from us in Room 1, all of the railroad ties used on the East Coast are made in Green Spring’s massive facility. And, for you railroad trivia buffs, those ties are soaked in creosote, which is also used to protect telephone poles.

I also hear Lou tell a passenger that he is approaching his 20-year anniversary working for Amtrak. In addition to the Capitol Limited, he has worked on former sleeper routes to Montreal and Boston, as well as routes to Charleston and New York.

At 7:41, we stop in Cumberland for a crew change. Cumberland is also a smoke stop, but since the platform is not long enough, we must wait 10 minutes until the new engineer pulls the train forward. We decide to stretch our legs and walk six cars back and detrain in the last coach car, which has passengers from Pittsburgh and stops prior. After a 10-minute break, the train leaves Cumberland at 8:01, 52 minutes behind schedule.

At 9:30, we stop near Meyersdale, PA. On the scanner, I hear someone – likely a freight train – say that they are getting out of Amtrak’s way. Two minutes later, a freight engine with no cars passes us, but we continue to stand still. I see only one track outside so it appears that we are on one of the main tracks and not a siding. Four minutes later, Engine 156 says he is clear, our horn sounds and we begin moving again, but under 10 mph, possibly under a restriction? Several minutes later, after going through what appears to be a small rail yard, we resume our normal speed.

Late Leaving D.C.

We board Capitol Limited 29 and are greeted by our car attendant, Lou. We are in Sleeper 32059 (Car 2901), Room 2. As I unpack my computer, I turn on the scanner. According to the trackside chatter, we will be slightly delayed as they are still loading baggage from a train that was delayed.

We leave the station at 4:08 p.m., 13 minutes behind schedule. The train moves slowly leaving D.C., being passed by the Metro several times, and we lose more time at Rockville, departing 30 minutes behind schedule.

During the past week or so, the Capitol Limited has arrived in Chicago anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 ½ hours late. My guess is that we will arrive in Chicago tomorrow morning 1 ½ hours late at 10 a.m. CT.

San Diego Trip II

Using a Verizon wireless internet card, Microsoft Streets & Trips with GPS and a Sony Cyber-shot digital camera, I will document our trip from Washington, D.C. to San Diego via public transportation, rail and air.

At 12:35 p.m., we arrive at the satellite parking lot at Washington Dulles International Airport. We take the parking shuttle to the main terminal where we board the 1:15 Washington Flyer bus to the West Falls Church Metro. The cost for a one-way trip from the airport to the closest Metro station is $9 per person per ticket.

We board an Orange line Metro train at 1:40 and, 10 stops later, change trains at Metro Center at 2:05. We take the Red line to Union Station, arriving at 2:10.

We check in to Club Acela and an hour later boarding begins around 3:25 p.m.

San Diego At Last

(Note: This is the final entry from my first San Diego trip. To start at the beginning of the trip, click here and follow the links at the top right of the page.)

We arrive at San Diego’s Old Town station at 9:55 a.m. and can’t find a cab anywhere. After waiting at the cab stand for 10 minutes, we finally get a ride to Enterprise Rent-A-Car. I had reserved a standard class car via the Internet several weeks back and got to pick from several makes and models. As I glance at the overcast sky, Mike from Enterprise tells me not to worry, the clouds will break in an hour. I choose a black 2006 Volkswagen Jetta, which is a sleek ride to say the least.

It only takes five minutes to get from Enterprise to our hotel, the Bahia Resort Hotel on Mission Bay. Despite arriving at 10:45, we are able to check in. Our room is on the fourth floor with a semi-decent view of Mission Bay and the hotel property. And, as Mike predicted, the sun is starting to peek through the clouds.

After three nights on the train, it’s time for a real shower. Then we’re going to have lunch and find a place to watch the Super Bowl.

Solana Beach, California

Waterfront highway on Solana Beach on Feb. 5, 2006.

Solana Beach, California

Waterfront property on Solana Beach on Feb. 5, 2006.

San Clemente, California

Surf’s up!

San Juan Capistrano, California

I’m getting the urge to swallow a glass of orange juice right about now.

Anaheim, California

The parking lot at Angel Stadium is a mess on the morning of Feb. 5, 2006 following the previous night’s AMA Supercross motorcycle race at the Major League Baseball venue.

Fullerton, California

Primary engine on Pacific Surfliner 564 on Feb. 5, 2006.

Fullerton, California

Passenger bridge over tracks on early morning of Feb. 5, 2006.

Albuquerque, New Mexico

Southwest Chief 3 primary engine during service stop on Feb. 4, 2006.

Albuquerque, New Mexico

Construction of new station in Albuquerque on Feb. 4, 2006.

Lamy, New Mexico

Candidate for Architectural Digest on Feb. 4, 2006.

Raton, New Mexico

Shopping area on 1st Street on Feb. 4, 2006.

Raton, New Mexico

I wonder if Ed will be showing the Super Bowl at his establishment?

Raton, New Mexico

New Mexico countryside on Feb. 4, 2006.

Trinidad, Colorado

The Spanish Peaks of the Colorado Rockies on Feb. 4, 2006.

La Junta, Colorado

An old Sante Fe caboose outside the station in La Junta (Spanish for The Junction) on Feb. 4, 2006.

Lamar, Colorado

A wind turbine and a locomotive at the station in Lamar during the early morning hours of Feb. 4, 2006.

Slight Change in Plans

Saturday night, after talking to our car attendant, Rene, we decide to slightly change our itinerary. Instead of taking the train all the way to Los Angeles, we will get off at Fullerton, California, which is one station prior to the final stop at L.A.’s Union Station. The reason for this change is that the Pacific Surfliner stops at Fullerton on the way to San Diego and we can catch an earlier train.

We leave Winslow, Arizona four minutes late at 8:54 p.m. and are in bed when we reach Flagstaff, Arizona an hour later.

On Sunday, we get up around 5:45 a.m. PT, as we are pulling into Riverside, California. We pack our things and get off at Fullerton, California around 6:40 a.m., which is about six minutes later. (According to Amtrak’s Web site, the Southwest Chief arrived at Los Angeles on time at 8:15 a.m.)

In Fullerton, California, I immediately head to the ticket window to exchange our Los Angeles to San Diego tickets at 11:10 a.m. for Fullerton to San Diego at 7:52 a.m. I receive the tickets – and $10.45 in change – and since we have an hour to kill, we walk around outside the station, wait in the station and then wait on the platform. To reach the platform for trains heading south, one must cross the rails via a bridge over the tracks.

Pacific Surfliner 564 departs on time at 7:52 a.m. and I set up my laptop and GPS and update my travelogue. After a limited and/or non-existent wireless Internet connection the past two days, I am finally able to get a good signal. In the future, maybe Verizon should change the name of its NationalAccess product to Sporadic Service in 10% of the Nation.

Mystery Solved

Not much happens Friday night. Still full from burgers at the Billy Goat Tavern, we skip dinner. Tonight we’ll find out if the dining cutbacks have taken effect on the Southwest Chief. I stay up until Kansas City, where we depart 8 minutes late at 11:03 p.m.

On Saturday morning, I wake up at 7:30 a.m. CT during sunrise near the Kansas-Colorado border. I take a shower and then get to experience that wonderful task of shaving on the train. As return to my room, we are pulling into Lamar, Colorado. It is now 7:26 Mountain Time and we are 20 minutes behind schedule. Our car attendant, Rene, says there is some padding in the schedule between here and La Junta, Colorado and we should have time for a 15-minute smoke break and pull out on schedule.

Rene is right as we stop at La Junta, Colorado 2 minutes early at 8:13 a.m. We have 15 minutes to stretch our legs – and for some, fill their lungs – and I go into the station and check out the vending machines. Forget Wheaties, the breakfast of champions today is a cherry and cheese bear claw, Andy Capp’s hot fries and pack of Twizzlers, washed down with a Dr. Pepper.

During the stop in La Junta, Colorado there is a crew change and I ask one of the Amtrak employees about the GTB delay last night. He says he wasn’t on the train, but he heard we blew a hose. Mystery solved, I guess.

We leave the station on time at Trinidad, Colorado, cross the Raton Pass (which I learn is the highest point on the Sante Fe line) and actually 12 minutes arrive early at 10:44 a.m. at Raton, New Mexico, which gives us another stretch and smoke break.

We leave Raton, New Mexico at 10:56 a.m., right on time, but then immediately stop for an all red signal in the West Raton Yard. After a short delay of a couple of minutes, we start moving again.

Outside of Lamy, New Mexico we are going very slow, and then we stop for several minutes awaiting an approaching train. It turns out the train we are waiting for is the Eastbound Southwest Chief. With this delay are 21 minutes late in Lamy.

We make the time back during the one-hour station stop in Albuquerque, New Mexico, which begins at 3:42 p.m. My stomach is still on Eastern time so I decide to get some food from the vendors on the platform. I choose two burritos – one beef, potato & beans, the other spicy steak – and an order of enchiladas, which comes with two of the pork variety.

We walk outside the station and see a Thai restaurant down the street. My girlfriend orders some Thai food to go and I have a beer while we are waiting. We return to the station, I take several pictures of the engines and we return to our room for a New Mexico/Thai feast. The train departs at 4:45 p.m. and we eat and watch the sunset over the desert.

Trouble in Fort Madison?

We are on time at station stops at Mendota, Princeton and Galesburg, Illinois. At Fort Madison, Iowa, we stop for a five-minute smoke. The station, located 100 yards from the Mississippi River, is notoriously cold due to winds from the river. Tonight is no exception as the temperature is 32 degrees.

At 7 p.m., we are expecting the train to leave, but chatter on the radio indicates some kind of problem. The conductor says he’s heading over, a light is requested and someone announces there will be delay of 15 minutes. I’ll play detective and attempt to decipher that tidbit of information.

Chicago, Illinois

The Wanderers perform at the Navy Pier.

Chicago, Illinois

The Navy Pier.

Chicago, Illinois

Normally on a February morning, this is snow.

Chicago, Illinois

I always thought the Sears Tower was a lot taller.

Leaving Chicago

We leave Chicago’s Union Station exactly on time, pulling out at 3:15 p.m. CT

Here is the consist for Soutwest Chief 3:

1). Engine 200
2). Engine 52
3). Engine 44
4). Baggage car 1264
5). Transition sleeper 39019 (Car 3009)
6). Sleeper 32053 (Car 0331) – We are in Room 10
7). Sleeper 32044 (Car 0330)
8). Dining car 38047
9). Lounge car 33034
10). Coach 34008
11). Coach 34024
12). Baggage (Freight?) car 74080
13). Baggage (Freight?) car 74052

Originally, we were assigned to Room 2, which is right next to the bathroom. Our car attendant, Rene, and the conductor graciously allowed us to move to the opposite end of the car and avoid hearing the bathroom door open and close all night.

At our first stop in Naperville, Illinois, we again leave right on time at 3:50 p.m.

Cheezborger, Cheezborger, Cheezborger

We arrive at Chicago’s Union Station at 9:27 a.m. CT, which puts us 57 minutes late for the trip. Yesterday, leaving Washington, my guess was one hour late so I’ll give myself props on that prediction.

The train backs into Union Station and we immediately head to the Metropolitan Lounge to check in for our train to Los Angeles. We are told to return at 2:30 for the 3:15 departure of the Southwest Chief.

With several hours to kill, we decide to have an early lunch at the famous Billy Goat Tavern, which was immortalized by John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd in a Saturday Night Live sketch where the duo worked in a burger joint and constantly yelled, “Cheezborger, Cheezborger, Cheezborger.”

Not sure if the restaurant was open for lunch that early, I called the Billy Goat Tavern. Here is a transcript of the call:


“What time do you start serving cheeseburgers?”

“What time you want to come?”

“I can come right now.”

“OK. We serve cheezborgers at 6 a.m.”

“I’m on my way.”

It turns out the gentleman I talked to was legendary owner Sam Sianis, who answered the phone several times while we were there.

We both ordered double cheezeborgers because as they say, “When in Rome……” I was still a bit hungry after the double so I ordered a second. I made it about halfway through before hitting the wall. The burgers were incredible and I definitely won’t need dinner tonight on the train.

After leaving Billy Goat Tavern, we took a cab to the Navy Pier to walk around and kill some time.

The Navy Pier has several restaurants (including a newer version of Billy Goat Tavern) and numerous stores. They also have a stained glass museum and a convention hall, which today was hosting a boat show. The Pier was surprisingly packed, including a horde of kids on a school field trip.

We took a cab from the Navy Pier back to Union Station, arriving at 1:15 p.m. With no wireless Internet signal in the Metropolitan Lounge, I headed upstairs to Snuggery to buy WiFi access, update the blog and have a beer.

As of 1:15 p.m. CT, Southwest Chief 3 is listed as on time, with a departure time of 3:15 p.m. I’ll provide a consist and let you know the actual departure time later tonight.

Elkhart, Indiana

An old locomotive lights up the rail yard on Feb. 3, 2006.

Elkhart, Indiana

South Main Street rush hour traffic on Feb. 3, 2006.

Cold and Rainy in Indiana

On Friday, I wake up at 7:18 a.m., just as we arrive in Waterloo, Indiana. We have lost more time during the night and now stand 1:07 behind schedule. I head down to the shower, but it is occupied. I go to the bathroom directly next to the shower to put on my contacts. When I open the door, I am greeted by a Chloe, a friendly guide dog for a woman and man staying in the handicap room. We talk about my destination and I learn that he is going to Chicago and she is going to DeKalb, Illinois. I then head into the show which is no longer occupied.

As I finish my shower, I hear the announcement for our stop in Elkhart, Indiana. I return to my room as we stop at 8:13 a.m. I take some pictures of the dark and rainy morning and the locomotives at the station.

While talking to Larry, our car attendant, Chloe comes up the stairs and into his room. He takes her back downstairs. Later, I hear Larry tell the conductor that Chloe had escaped and they share a laugh.

We stop at South Bend, Indiana 23 minutes after Elkhart. We are now 1:13 behind as we head to Chicago.

(For a route that has only 14 stops between Washington and Chicago, it seems peculiar that there are two stops in Indiana within 20 miles of each other. Same goes for the Rockville, Maryland stop which in my opinion is needless since the trip from Rockville to Union Station can be made via the Metro in 20 minutes.)

Blogrolling Before Bed

Before I call it a night, I’d like to mention a couple of quality live rail travelogues that have raised the bar and set the standard for this type of thing.

Steve Grande, one of the gurus at, recently filed a live blog during his trip to the Sundance Film Festival. His top-notch trip report can be found at:

Sean Stevens, known as Hotshot, is currently in the midst of a 30-day North American rail adventure. WhistleStop, which reads like a story from a publication such as Esquire, can be found at:

After following the Youghiogheny for a couple of hours, we are now riding the banks of the Monongahela, approaching Pittsburgh. We will probably make up a little time when we leave the Steel City, home of the Super Bowl-bound Steelers. I’ll find out where we stand when I wake up tomorrow.

Washington, D.C.

Engine 52, the primary on Capitol Limited 29 on Feb. 2, 2006.

Washington, D.C.

The view down Track 16 at Washington’s Union Station on Feb. 2, 2006.

Late Night in Pennsylvania

We have reservations for dinner at 7:30, but we are called at 7 and only three of the 10 tables on our side of the dinning car are occupied. I heard talk about dining cutbacks on the Capitol Limited; that talk is reality as the New York strip is not available tonight nor will it be in the future, according to our server, as they change the menu. I have the country fried steak instead and it is mediocre, at best. My girlfriend gets the chicken, which has always been good in my experience. While my food is average, the service ia very good, something that doesn’t always happen.

While we are eating, the power goes out briefly in the dining car. I see the dining car cashier walking towards us, so I say loud enough for him to hear: “This is the other dining car cutback.” He smiles as he walks past our table.

As we finish eating, we stop in Cumberland, Maryland to change engineers and take a five-minute smoke break. When we leave Cumberland at 8:05 p.m., we are 56 minutes behind schedule.

Throughout West Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania, my Verizon wireless card does not receive service. Ironically, these three states are part of Verizon’s alleged home territory and for some reason, the wireless works 10 times better in the middle of New Mexico, as I found out in a previous trip.

We stop in Connellsville, Pennsylvania at 10:28 p.m. and remain 56 minutes late. Connellsville also features a wireless signal for the first time in hours and I quickly update the blog before I lose the signal. I’m not quick enough. As the blog is attempting to publish, I lose the signal. I have to wait until the outskirts of Pittsburgh to get another signal.

Entering the Suburbs

At 4:13 p.m. an announcement is made that baggage from the delayed train is still being transferred and it will be another 10 minutes until we depart. We finally leave at 4:30 p.m., which is the official departure time on the scanner. We are already 35 minutes behind schedule.

As we leave Washington, D.C., we maintain a speed of only 24 mph. According to the scanner, we are stuck behind a MARC train. Finally, after crossing the Washington Beltway, we pick up a cruising speed of 71 mph. As we pull into the station in Rockville, Md. At 5:01 p.m., we lose another seven minutes and are now 42 minutes behind schedule.

Capitol Limited No. 29 consist

Here is the consist for Capitol Limited 29:

1). Engine 52
2). Engine 44
3). Baggage car 1264
4). Transition sleeper 39019
5). Sleeper 32053 (Car 2901)
6). Sleeper 32044 (Car 2900) – We are in Room 5
7). Dining car 38047
8). Lounge car 33034
9). Coach 34008 (Car 0411)
10). Coach 34024

The train is scheduled to leave at 3:55 p.m. However, an announcement is made that a connecting train was late and we will depart 15 or 20 minutes late.

The Journey Begins

On Wednesday afternoon, I booked a ride online with the Super Shuttle from my house in Ashburn, Virginia to Washington Dulles International Airport. The cost for a party of two (my girlfriend and I) is $25 plus a $5 tip. The Super Shuttle arrives Thursday morning at 11:24 a.m. and takes us to the airport.

On past Amtrak trips, I have parked at either Union Station or Dulles Airport, but this time I decide to make the commute to D.C. using public (and private) transportation.

We arrive at Dulles at 11:46 a.m. and immediately board a Washington Flyer bus for the West Falls Church metro. Washington Flyer, which also operates all the cabs at the airport, charges $8 per person for the 20 minute ride to the metro station.

(If things go as planned, in the next 7 to 10 years, Washington’s Metro system will go all the way to Dulles Airport. There is talk that the route will go all the way to Ashburn, Virginia — in fast-growing Loudoun County — and the planned Metro station is actually less than a mile from my house.)

We arrive at the West Falls Church Metro station at 12:04 p.m. After purchasing our tickets for $2.35, we make our way to the platform. According to the neon sign, the next train is five minutes away.

At 12:16 p.m., the orange line train arrives, but we sit in the station for five minutes. According to an announcement on the public address system, the delay is due to the fact that only one track is open between West and East Falls Church.

At 12:27 p.m., the Metro goes underground and at 12:44 p.m., we reach Metro Center, where we transfer trains from the Orange line to the Red line. We arrive at Union Station at 12:53 and head to Club Acela to check in.

We are told Capitol Limited Train No. 3 is on time and boarding will begin around 3:25 p.m. for the 3:55 p.m. departure. My Verizon Wireless/Sierra Wireless AirCard 580 has poor reception – as is usually the case in the Washington, D.C. metro area – and I try my Netgear wireless card. This proves successful and I log on to the Internet, update my Blog and go to Amtrak’s Web site to check on the train status of the Capitol Limited for previous days.

Yesterday’s train arrived in Chicago 1:30 behind schedule. The day before it was 38 minutes late and the day before that it was 1:18 late. I check the status of today’s train and it is listed as being on schedule, which matches the information on the monitors in Club Acela. However, Amtrak’s Web site warns of delays on the Capitol Limited route and using the past three days as a barometer, we will probably be an hour late entering Chicago tomorrow.

That’s all for now. I’ll update the consist and the start of the Capitol Limited leg of the trip later.

San Diego Trip Itinerary

I will start my week-long trip on Thursday, Feb. 2, taking Capitol Limited 25 from Washington, D.C. to Chicago. After a short layover on Friday, Feb. 3, I will take Southwest Chief 3 from Chicago to Los Angeles. Depending upon my arrival time in Los Angeles on Sunday, Feb. 5, I will take Pacfic Surfliner (train number TBA) from L.A. to San Diego. After four days in San Diego, I will fly from San Diego to Washington Dulles International Airport on Thursday, Feb. 9 aboard JetBlue Flight 314.

During this trip, I will attempt to update this blog (both words and pictures) remotely using my Verizon wireless internet connection. In addition to my Sony Vaio laptop computer, which has Microsoft Streets & Trips and a GPS receiver to plot the train route, I will use a Sony Cyber-shot digital camera and a Radio Shack handheld programmable scanner to help document the trip.

Jacksonville, Florida

(Note: This is the final entry for my trip from Los Angeles to Orlando via Amtrak. This blog, originally called The Great American Travelogue Experiment, was published in May of 2005. In addition, it was published live from the train using a wireless card, one of the first rail travelogues to ever do so. To view this trip from the beginning, click here and follow the links at the top right of each post.)

Sunset during service stop on May 23, 2005.

Tallahassee, Florida

Approaching Tallahassee on May 23, 2005.

DeFuniak Springs, Florida

Leaving downtown area on May 23, 2005.

Pensacola, Florida

Crossing Pensacola Bay on May 23, 2005.

Pensacola, Florida

Sunset Limited 2 primary engine on May 23, 2005.

Pensacola, Florida

View of Pensacola Bay from train platform on May 23, 2005.

Lake Charles, Louisiana

Crossing Lake Charles on May 22, 2005.

Magnolia Gardens, Texas

Crossing Lake Houston on May 22, 2005.

Lobo, Texas

Southwest Texas Landscape on May 21, 2005.

El Paso, Texas

View of the Rio Grande on May 21, 2005.

Sunland Park, New Mexico

Mexican border on May 21, 2005.

Sunland Park, New Mexico

Mexican border on May 21, 2005.

Lordsburg, New Mexico

Rail construction and intestinal destruction on May 21, 2005.

Arizona-New Mexico Border

Rock outcropping in desert on May 21, 2005.

Tucson, Arizona

Sunset during station stop on morning of May 21, 2005.

Pomona, California

Mount San Antonio seen through the smog shortly after leaving Los Angeles on May 20, 2005.

Pictures from Sunset Limited Trip I

The pictures above were taken on Sunset Limited Trip I in May 2005 aboard the Sunset Limited from Los Angeles to Orlando.

(This is the final picture from my first Vancouver trip. To start at the beginning of the trip, click here and follow the links at the top right of each page.)

View of Science World in Vancouver, British Columbia.

Sunset Beach, Vancouver, British Columbia.

View from Water Taxi in Vancouver, British Columbia on Aug. 8, 2005

View from subway entering Vancouver, British Columbia on Aug. 7, 2005.

Sunset in White Rock, British Columbia.

View of Mount Baker from White Rock, British Columbia.

Train passing through beach at White Rock, British Columbia.

View of Space Needle from Amtrak Bus on Aug. 5, 2005.

Boat grounded off Pugent Sound.

Lumber yard near Monroe, Washington.

Early morning of Aug. 4, 2005 near Everett, Washington.

Sunset in West Glacier, Montana.

Station stop at East Glacier Park, Montana.

View of Montana countryside.

Train inspection during station stop in Minot, North Dakota on Aug. 3, 2005.

View of the Mississsippi River.

View from the station in Milwaukee.

Leaving Chicago’s Union Station on Aug. 2, 2005.

Empire Builder Trip I

Above are pictures from a trip in August of 2005 from Chicago to Seattle aboard the Empire Builder.

Sunset Limited Trip I Conclusion (Finally)

It’s been nearly eight months, but now is as good a time as any to officially wrap-up my Sunset Limited trip from last May.

Looking back over my schedule, which was kept via an Excel spreadsheet, we arrived in Orlando at 12:27 a.m., which put us 3:42 behind schedule.

Instead of taking the Silver Star from Orlando to Washington, D.C. the next day as originally planned, I elected to stay in Orlando for a couple of days and fly back.

Meanwhile, Mike, the rider who e-mailed me from Houston while I was on the Sunset Limited last May, has a blog of his own and he has posted commentary and pictures from his trip, which started in Kansas City. Amtrak Journeys can be found at

And finally, since this trip took place in May of 2005, the damage from Hurricane Katrina has forced the shutdown of Amtrak service from New Orleans to Orlando. (Click here for pictures of the trip, including those of areas hit by Katrina less than three months later. To continue, click on the links at the top right of each post.)

Approaching Orlando

As we approach Orlando, it’s time to wrap up some loose ends from the trip. First of all, in case you are wondering, the streak continues for my second cross country trip – I had a hot dog and beer for lunch.

And now a couple of taboo and/or controversial subjects:

1). Bathrooms. The bathrooms on Amtrak are similar to the bathrooms on an RV – after a long trip, you can only do one thing: Deal with it. As for a sleeper car bathroom tip, here’s one from Jason, a Canadian on a North American rail pass who was in the sleeper across from me. Always use the downstairs bathroom next to the shower. Most people use the one upstairs first. As for the downstairs bathrooms, people seem to use the ones across from the shower not knowing that there is also one between the shower and the handicap room. Here’s one thing I’ll add to Jason’s tip: the toilets in the bathrooms across from the shower (and upstairs) are perpendicular to (and facing) the door. In the bathroom next to the shower, the toilet faces a wall 90 degrees from the door. Granted, I didn’t use a tape measure, but I believe there is slightly more leg room in this bathroom configuration.

2). Smoking. During this trip, several announcements were made about the fact that smoking on Amtrak will result in banishment from the train. Despite this warning, several individuals chose to light up in obvious and not so obvious places. Being in a sleeper car, I never smelled any smoke, but a couple of passengers said that they had. I never saw anyone light up, but on a couple of occasions, I saw lighters change hands in the lounge car during long stretches without a smoke break. What’s the solution? Good question. Amtrak can’t afford cameras or undercover employees posing as passengers. I guess all they can really do is to continue to banish those who are actually caught smoking.

(On a side note, to my knowledge, only one person was removed from the train. On Friday night, a passenger was forced to leave the train in Palm Springs, California. Earlier that night, I saw the passenger making a scene in the dinning car; the next day, a couple of passengers said they heard he had used a bad credit card, in addition to being a problem in the dining car.)

We just left the station in Sanford – where we discharged the dining car crew, for some reason – and we are now 3:38 behind schedule. With Orlando – and midnight – approaching, that’s all for tonight. I’ll update things tomorrow.

Me and My Big Mouth

Note to self: The next time you are on a train and you don’t understand what the engineer is doing, keep it to yourself. While backing out of the Jacksonville station, we make a stop and from my GPS, it appears we start going northwest. In my sleeper car with the door and curtain open, I say to nobody in particular: “What the f— are we doing?” At that exact moment, the conductor walks by and shoots me a glance over his shoulder. Whoops. Naturally, after going west for a matter of seconds, we hit a switch and start going south – making a classic U-turn. Talk about putting your foot in your mouth.

Props for Jacksonville

Having been to Jacksonville, Florida several times for college football bowl games, I usually consider it my least favorite city in the Seminole state. However, I may have to reconsider due to their Amtrak station. I’m not talking about its size or the way it is constructed. Rather, small but important things that come in handy while you’re waiting on a train or running into the station while your train is making a stop: An ATM machine, a hot dog vendor and a couple of vending machines. Nice touch, Jacksonville. As we leave my favorite station so far in Florida, we are 3:08 behind schedule.

Future of Sunset Limited

While eating dinner – a pretty good New York Strip coated with peppercorns – we stop briefly in Lake City, Florida. The conversation during the meal turns to the future of Amtrak. It turns out a gentleman at the table and I both chose the Sunset Limited due in part to the fact that we had never ridden the route before and wanted to do so in case it is dropped during the impending budget cut. On that note, here is the perfect segue: We again lose time and are now running 3:27 behind.

E-mail from Houston

I received an e-mail from Mike, a rider who got off the train in Houston. Mike sent a clarification about my post “Service in San Antonio” concerning repairs of the refrigeration unit in the Lounge Car. Mike also sent some accompanying photos. Later, I may either post the pictures – if I get his permission – or link to his travelogue, if he decides to do one. Here is part of Mike’s e-mail:

Two repair men did all the work on the refrigeration unit of the Lounge Car while George sat in his shorts and T-shirt inside the car. George would try to turn it on when they yelled to him. So when I heard George’s announcement, he made it sound like he crawled into the belly of the car behind the refrigerated cases and fixed it himself – like a true salesman.

Free Shoes University

We stop at the station in Tallahassee, Florida for a 10-minute smoke break. The station is actually a couple of blocks from Florida State University. Approaching the station, the lights of Doak Campbell Stadium – where the Seminoles play football – are visible. When we leave Tallahassee, we are now 3:31 behind schedule.

Passing through the Panhandle

Through most of the Florida Panhandle, I have limited Internet access and a spotty data connection on my cell phone. The GPS receiver also cannot pick up a signal at times. There’s nothing much to report, however. Outside Douglas City, Florida, the engineer asks for permission to handle a switch. We stop for a minute before the switch is cleared.

Sunset Limited consist, Part III

Updated consist of Sunset Limited 2 from New Orleans to Orlando (minus the two cars dropped in San Antonio, a second engine was obviously not need. Engine 2 was dropped in New Orleans):
1). Engine 840
2). Transition Sleeper 39017 (Car 0210) – half passengers, half crew
3). Sleeper 0230, Mississippi, (Car 0230) – I am in Room 5
4). Dining Car 38062
5). Sightseer Lounge Car 33038
6). Coach 34107 (Car 0213)
7). Baggage Coach 31005 (Car 0212)

Delays Continue

Last night, before going to bed, the train made several stops in the train yard north of New Orleans and was going very slow the rest of the time. The radio chatter indicated we were stuck behind a freight train.

This morning, I woke up just as we were stopping at the station in Pensacola, Florida. The stop in Pensacola took more than hour due to a crew change and some kind of miscommunication that extended the crew change. Also, while attempting to leave the station, the new crew had to wait on the radio dispatcher for more than 10 minutes to verify the orders and release the train. Luckily, the station in Pensacola is next to the Gulf of Mexico and the stop is at least picturesque. When the train finally leaves Pensacola, we are 3:30 behind schedule.


The New Orleans Jambalaya Run is a success! Our train pulls into New Orleans, Louisiana around 8:50 p.m. CT. According to the announcement, the recommended time to return to the train is around 10 p.m. and the train will leave at 10:30 exactly. I immediately high-tail it to the cab stand and have the driver take me to Mother’s, a classic cafeteria-style restaurant with the best Cajun food money can buy. I can’t decide between a large Jambalaya and a full Shrimp Po’ Boy, so I order both. The price for the cab driver – a large man who knows the exact location of Mother’s – to wait for me while I go through the line is $20 and an order of bread pudding. It is money well spent. Despite a 20-minute wait for my food, the driver is still outside. And I doubt it is because of the money. After a quick stop at the local mini mart for some beer, I make it back to the station at 9:45 p.m., well within the time limit. That’s it until tomorrow. It’s time to eat, drink and sleep.

Jambalaya for Dinner?

Right now, if the train was on schedule, we would be pulling into New Orleans, Louisiana. And one hour from now, I would be eating Jambalaya on Bourbon Street drinking an ice cold beer. It looks like our six-and-a-half hour stop in New Orleans may be reduced to thirty minutes. In an effort to satisfy my Cajun cravings, I still may attempt a Jambalaya run. I’m sure the scenario involving a last-minute plane ticket from New Orleans to Orlando to meet the train has happened more than once.

Rebel Yell

You gotta love the good, ole South. Yesterday afternoon in Texas, we went through Jeff Davis county. This afternoon in Louisiana, we are going through Jefferson Davis parish.

On Tuesday, just outside of Washington, D.C., the Silver Star will run parallel to U.S. Route 1 – also known as Jefferson Davis Highway – for a short stretch in Alexandria and Arlington, Virginia. Nearby, the train will also go past Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport. Guess which of the two had its name contested by the locals?

Sunset Limited consist, Part II

The consist of Sunset Limited 2 from San Antonio to Orlando is pretty simple – they dropped the last two sleeper cars leaving:

1). Engine 2
2). Engine 840
3). Transition Sleeper 39017 (Car 0210) – half passengers, half crew
4). Sleeper 0230, Mississippi, (Car 0230) – I am in Room 5
5). Dining Car 38062
6). Sightseer Lounge Car 33038
7). Coach 34107 (Car 0213) – Passengers for Tucson, San Antonio, New Orleans, Atmore and Pensacola
8). Baggage Coach 31005 (Car 0212) – Passengers for Ontario, Palm Springs, Yuma, El Paso, Del Rio, Houston, Beaumont, Jacksonville and Orlando