The following is TrainWeb's travelogue of the inaugural Amtrak Kentucky Cardinal written by Ray Burns of the TrainWeb staff.
Note: Lately Ray and I have been working as a team in covering TrainWeb's rail travels. I'll write the travelogue, Ray will take the photos, but each of us will contribute to each others efforts with some photos from me and some of the travelogue from Ray. This time, however, I already had plans that were made many months ago to travel on the Amtrak Sunset Limited from Los Angeles to Disney World in Florida. Thus, Ray had to both take the photos and do the travelogue for the inaugural Amtrak Kentucky Cardinal. Though Ray's style of writing is quite different than my own, I very much enjoyed reading his travelogue. Read for yourself and experience the inaugural run through Ray's eyes!
My flight out of Long Beach to Chicago early Friday morning was cancelled because of the weather in Chicago. I signed up for the 12 o'clock flight hoping that I could catch that plane to Chicago. As it turned out the second flight got me through and the flight itself went without a hitch. I took the Blue Line el train trying to get to Chicago Union Station. It seems that one is supposed to change somewhere along the line to another train to get to the station. I kept going. However I got suspicious that I was going in the wrong direction. Some helpful riders suggested that I just get off the train, which I did, and just take a taxi to the station as it was not far but was on the other side of the river. Being my first time in Chicago and less than two hours before my train leaves Chicago, I thought that was a good idea. I caught a taxi fast enough and he dropped me off at Union Station lickity split. I gave him a good tip because he didn't take me in circles and it was Christmas time.
I walked all around the train station before I found my way to the first class lounge area. Good ol' Gene Poon found me lost at the doorway and welcomed me in with a warm handshake and a great smile. A nice little group of railfans had already converged together with Gene. Ray Dunbar from Texas, Gary Anderson from Wisconsin, Allen Feinstein from New Jersey, Bill Seymour from St. Louis and Ron and Julia Mical from Romeoville, Illinois (next to Joliet). I took a few pictures in the room but my digital camera doesn't work too good unless there's usually a lot of light. The flash is limited. Ed Ellis, VP AMTRAK Intercity Mail and Express was there as well as one of the reporters from Trains Magazine to cover this historical event.
The call came in and we were all headed for the train. An exciting moment! There were two sleepers and I was on the lower floor of the lead sleeper car. What a wonderful time to travel by train! The city was lit up like a Christmas tree and I was in a warm and cuddly room looking out at the snow and decorations lit up everything. Steve Shelton my Room Attendant took care of me and brought in the "bubbly" at 8:30 PM. I don't drink, but I did take a little sip for my partner Steve Grande. This was for him and the "Kentucky Cardinal"! At 8:35 the conductor said that there would be a short delay and at 9:15 we started off again. This went on a number of times but I was here for this trip so time was not a factor. I was here to savor the moment to enjoy it with me in spirit. Odis L. Bledsoe Jr. was the Assistant Conductor and Darrell Lathan was the Chief Service Attendant. Chris Poynter, a reporter for "The Courier Journal" came by to talk to me in my room. It seems he did do a nice write up about the trip in his newspaper. Click hereto read Chris Poynter's story from The Courier-Journal: "All aboard! Amtrak back after 20 years. Kentucky Cardinal makes first run to Louisville area". Click hereto read Chris Poynter's story: "Jeffersonville greets new overnight Amtrak line. 200 turn out to welcome Kentucky Cardinal train on first trip from Chicago".
I then went upstairs to Ron and Julia Mical's first class room and then Gene Poon, Alan Feinstein, Bill Seymour and Gary Anderson also dropped by. We all had great conversation about what we like to talk about: Trains! A little later Jim Mayer, a reporter for WAVE-TV, Channel 3 (2 on cable), an NBC station in Louisville also stopped by with his sidekick Kevin Rand, his cameraman. Jim interviewed a number of people in the room starting with me so it was a great time for all.
I felt sorry for the conductor who apologized over the speaker system a couple of times because of the temporary delays periodically. Freight was busy tonight. I eventually went down to my room around 10 as I was getting a little tired. Steve had my bed made and it looked inviting to me. So far, what a delightful journey. I tried to get some sorely needed sleep now that I was in my bed. Looking out the window at the clear sky and hearing the train flex its muscles I just couldn't lay down. I propped my pillows up and leaned back on them looking out the window towards the front of the train. I grabbed a pen and my notepad and wrote what I felt. No facts here. Only pleasure!
To write this material I had to leave the lights out and just leave the night light on. I couldn't even see if I was writing over the lines or over other written material. I had no laptop computer on this trip. This run unexpectedly was very magical for me. Everything seemed illusionary but I knew that it was real. Disneyland, eat your heart out! The engine was blazing its' horn screaming through the countryside shouting to everyone "make way, we're coming through!!" The clickity-clack of the steel wheels rolling over the iron rails and the low rumbling sound of the train was truly "Rolling Thunder" on the "Iron Rails". That screaming echo of the trains blaring horns was music to my ears and made me feel like a kid again. Disney could never do that for me as an adult. This is the real thing! It is alive and well on the Amtrak Kentucky Cardinal. I truly fell in love with the clickety-clack of the tracks and it was very easy indeed to envision an old powerful steam engine pulling this inaugural run to Louiseville, Kentucky. Very easy indeed! I was fortunate to be in the lower section of the sleeping car this time and all alone. I had the lower bunk rather than the top bunk when I travel with Steve Grande, my partner who is the mainstay of TrainWeb.
(A little side note from Steve: Lest you think I'm very inconsiderate for always taking the lower bunk, I'm a bit of a night owl, going to bed very late and getting up at all hours to add notes to my travelogue. As many of you know that follow my travelogues, arrival and departure times as well as radio frequencies and hot box detector reports from the middle of the night are very common in my travelogues. I often go to bed so late that I make up my bed myself rather than wake the car attendant at some unearthly hour. Thus, when we travel together, Ray takes the upper bed so that I can remain set up with my computer well past normal bedtime hours.)
Here I am in a warm comfortable room with around every third house lit up like a Christmas tree. It is very cold outside, the snow is flailing and thrashing about as we go whooshing through the countryside, horns ablazing, magical lights twinkling everywhere, engine a-chugging pulling this massive body of steel endlessly, tirelessly through the snow valleys of the great State of Illinois. The horns are still blaring off into the black unknown making our presence demanding, our presence be known. What raw beauty, what raw power!
Obviously I am not sleepy anymore because of the excitement that this special train illuminates to me. As the train goes faster and faster all of the special sound and visual effects that come into play just make this a magical world, and the beauty of it all is that you have to pinch oneself to remind yourself that this is not fake. This is real! Oh the joy of it. This is a blast. I'm really having fun! Believe me, a train is the safest mode of transportation, bar none! This is a fun trip for men and women, but don't forget to bring the kids. You'll do them and yourself a great service if you introduce them to this wonderful form of travel. The trick is to give yourself extra travel time in case the train is late. Remember, the freight companies own the rails. Within reason, you should not be that concerned with time. What you should be doing is concentrating on relaxing and enjoying the trip. Give your body a break. Pets are well known to relax their "humans". A trainride will do the same thing. Most of us are in high stress from the rigors of daily efforts. A nice relaxing train ride is just what the doctor should prescribe.
My statements tonight are truly what I feel on this inaugural run. There's something magical happening tonight! As usual, the Amtrak staff has been great, as is usually the case. I was wondering about Chris Poynter and Jim Mayer, the two reporters from Louisville on how they were experiencing this trip. Sometimes I think that the mystique of night is more beautiful than the colors of the day. Each has its own brilliance. That chug-a-chug-a-chug sound that I hear is really the non welded railtracks (wheel contact). I love it!! It's after 1 AM. That's it. I must get to sleep or else I'll be dragging myself up in the morning.
Well now it is daybreak around sixish and I wash up. I'm fascinated by the people that stop along the way to see the train and sometimes get out of their vehicles to take pictures. Some of them wave to the passengers, and some people, like I, were waving back. Now who said that this isn't fun? It is wonderful when a complete stranger welcomes you to the area. There goes that magestic horn again informing the masses that passenger service has returned. It is now 7:10 AM and Steve, my room attendant has shown up and said that he'll get my breakfast in just one second. I notice a late model royal blue pickup keeps following the train and stopping. The driver then gets out and takes pictures and just watch us go by. He then repeats the process and speeds (within reason) down the road aways and gets out to see the train pass again. I took a picture of his pickup as he was scurring away to his next checkpoint. Another man was driving his (I believe) son from point to point and following the train along the highway. "Oops" there's that same blue pickup again! I took off my TrainWeb hat and waved to him. I can assure first time travellers will enjoy this unique experience. In fact you will always enjoy it!
The railfans are not just enjoying the splendid view of their majestic train but they enjoy seeing passengers in the train as well. We are part of the train and the train is part of us. We have become as one. These ambassadors of goodwill add to the excitement of the ride. God bless them, everyone! To see a train of vehicles on the highway keeping pace with the train is a very unique experience. As I said before, it's nice to be welcomed by a stranger. It was great to see Ed Ellis, Vice President of AMTRAK (with brown rim hat) with other members of the AMTRAK team that came on this inaugural run to personally show their support of the AMTRAK Kentucky Cardinal to all concerned.
Dinner was brought to me in a container last night (tuna salad in a can with a bagel) plus other goodies and the breakfast was fine too. The train came to a smooth stop at Jeffersonville and I noticed that a person on the left side of the train was carrying a long pole with part of a paper banner, so obviously we had gone through the banner. On the right side of the train we were coming alongside the station platform where around 200 people had thronged and were waving and cheering the Kentucky Cardinal's arrival. Santa was there for the festivities as well. Needless to say there were children about as well. You'll see some pictures of a few of them. It was a snappy cold that morning and the rosy red cheeks of the little children testified to that. However, the large tent that was put up and the donuts and hot coffee inside was available free for all. The tent was heated up and there were souvenirs for the occasion for sale as well. The Mayor as well as other dignitaries, both local and AMTRAK had some great words for the people. This truly was a festive occasion.
Jon Owen, who is a walking encyclopedia of train information, grouped all the people together who were going to Louisville and on to his Kentucky Rail Museum. We all boarded a bus that he had waiting for us and he passed out breakfast. Talk about Southern hospitality. This gentleman really went out of his way to be gracious! Because of poor planning on my part I had to catch my plane in Louisville to fly to Oklahoma City, OK at 4: PM that same day. This group probably won't be back until around 6 PM so it forced me not to go to the Kentucky Rail Museum with Mr. Owen and the rest of the group. Not only will I miss going to this museum, I would be missing a very special dinner train of which consisted of some very special cars indeed. One of them was a $500,000 refurbished car for the Governor's use. I felt sick! However, my woes were not over yet.
Well I guess Gene Poon will have the story on the Museum. I do suggest everyone read what he has to say about his trip. I promise to come back here one day and write up a travelogue on the Kentucky Rail Museum. Mr. Owen did take us around the town showing us the points of interest and in many cases relating to trains. He arranged for the Louisville Station that is now closed to rail passenger traffic to be open for this tour, and what a grand place it is! This large stone structure has been cleaned up and refurbished. Thanks to the foresight of all persons concerned this grand central station has been preserved for posterity just waiting for a short strip of track to be laid to reopen this lovely architectural structure to the fortunate rail travellers of this region.
I just know that the rest of the group that is going to the museum and dinner train ride is going to have a memorable experience. What a fitting close to that wonderful trip last night. My situation was that I had a long wait at the airport but not enough time to deal with the museum. I will be back because I will make the time to do so!
My flight to Oklahoma City was fine. Best Western Hotel sent a vehicle to pick me up and I had a good night's sleep. I had a wake up call at 6:45 AM and check out. According to my watch I had close to an hour that I had to kill so I had breakfast at the hotel restaurant. The hotel had someone drive me to the Amtrak station. According to the clock in the mini van my watch was 20 minutes late! Needless to say I freaked out!! The station was only about a mile from the hotel so it didn't take long to get there on Sunday morning. Sure enough, it was 8:40 AM and not 8:10 as my Seiko watch was showing. The place was under construction and the doors were locked with no one in sight! The vehicle took off and I ended up the only person in sight of anything. I waved furiously to the fleeing vehicle and he ended up coming around the block as he did notice my frantic waving just prior to rounding the curb. I am so glad that I was alone because it would have been terrible how I would have chewed some poor innocent person out for my stupidity. I needed time to cool off and think logically. There is only one trip leaving per day and I had to be on my plane at Dallas/Fort Worth around sixish tonight! Greyhound, here I come. The driver took me to the bus station and I purchased a ticket one way to Dallas/Fort Worth. I was off to the races.
What have we here?? I noticed that my ticket cost $41 one way to Texas. Amtrak only cost $22 using my AAA card for a 10 % discount! Someone was taking advantage of the travellers. Usually the bus is very competitive or even cheaper than the train but here is obvious evidence that if the train is not available to compete they will help themselves to your wallet!! I wasn't looking to find this out, I just stumbled into it.The bus will get to Dallas at 3: PM. Of course it will stop off at all the little places between here and Dallas. The bus left Oklahoma City at 10:15 AM. I did manage to educate a woman sitting by me in the bus station the differences in prices and that there indeed is a train available to take and yes she can also take the train from Florida across the southern states all the way to Southern California and have a bed to boot. She had no idea about this as I am sure most if not all of the people in that bus station had any idea of what else was available. Amtrak better start educating!
With my bad fortune missing out on not attending the get together at the Kentucky Rail Museum and dinner train and now to miss this train is almost unthinkable. However, at least I had two seats on the bus to myself. My shoulder easily laps over the seat next to me. All I really needed to stick another pin in me was for that seat to be occupied. Also, my carry on bag just would not fit into the overhead compartment as the bag was too wide. Yet, it fit fine into the overhead compartments of two different airlines prior to me getting here. For you people that "squak" about Amtrak, take the bus again to remind you what you'll end up with if you lose passenger rail service. Don't get me wrong. I am very thankful for the bus for areas where there is no rail service. I do not want it to go away!
The bus stopped at Norman, Oklahoma at 10:50 (assuming that my watch is correct). My Seiko watch runs by wrist movement. When I sleep I sometimes do not move for a while. I've used Seiko and Citizen watches ever since my military days in the sixties because of their quality, but I guess even their products get "sick and die." I was fascinated to see the red dirt at the construction sites after usually seeing shades of brown and black everywhere else. I saw a squished dog on the highway and stopped at Purcell, OK at 11:15 AM. We then went on to Napalls Valley and stopped there at 11:35 AM and stopped for 20 minutes. Sometimes I write the names as I hear them and not as I see them so bear with me on my spelling. We also stopped in Ardmore, OK and then had a 5 minute stop in Gainsville, Texas at 1:20 PM which is 143 miles from Oklahoma City, OK.
About 1:45 as I'm going south to Dallas, I saw train tracks about 300 meters to my left (east of the freeway) for the first time since I got on the bus. We soon made a fast stop in Denton, TX around 2:10 PM. Around 2:15 I notice train tracks just on the left side of the freeway as I'm going south to Dallas. I saw what I would call a mansion that had burnt down not too far from the freeway. How sad! I wonder why people like to build such large estates near the freeway? Maybe they like hearing the trucks go by at night. We have now crossed a bridge over a large body of water. I missed the rivers name but as soon as we crossed it we were entering Lewesville, TX city limits. At 2:33 we crossed the train tracks at Belt Line Rd. and then made a bus stop at Belt Line Rd. and Elm Street. We took off again at 2:40 and now headed for Dallas.
The bus did get into the Greyhound bus station at 3 PM. I'm sure being on a Sunday did help the driver. He did a good job! Once at the bus stop I walked a short block to the corner of Market St. and Commerce and took a few pictures of the Katy Building at 701 commerce Street. Inscribed on the building is "Missouri Kansas and Texas Railway Co. of Texas". A few blocks away from here is the Amtrak train station. I went back to the bus station and jumped into a cab and asked him to drive by the train station so I could take a few pictures of it. I didn't want to spend any time anywhere other than to get to my destination pronto so I never have to experience what I went through this morning again. The taxi did go by the train station, I did take my pictures and we kept on agoing. Again, fortunately it was Sunday as the freeway was pretty clear. There was a football game on so the stadium parking lot and surrounding roads were pretty full of vehicles. Something was wrong with this taxi as at speeds over sixty it would start to shake pretty bad. This vehicle needs mechanic work.
The driver took me exactly where I had to go. The meter showed $27. so I gave him $32. Went topside, registered in, went through the checkpoint and then settled down. I eventually ate at some barbeque fast food place while there and the meat was exceptionally tender. I was very glad to get on the plane and head back to Long Beach, CA. The lady next to me had just recently opened up a website for her firm www.dks.foodservice.com. This is a firm that specializes in finding people in the foodservice industry. She was on the way to meet a good friend of hers (93 years old, I believe) and rent a car and go south to San Diego and then north up to Carmel and stay in some of the Inns up there. I suggested that she take the San Diegan to go to San Diego by train as that way she will be right by the beach almost all the way and coming back also. Then to get on the Coast Starlight and go north to Salinas. Make sure to get a room so the meals are included and you can also enjoy the Pacific Parlour Car as well as the privacy of your room. There would be no stressful driving and that she could enjoy the view as much as her friend. When she gets to Salinas she can rent a car and "do her thing" up there. Then come back by train and relax again. So, I did find two + converts (remember the one at the bus station) to the passenger rail industry and who knows where it will go from there.
My trip back on the plane was nice and I was glad to be back. For those used to the travelogues that Steve writes compared to mine, well, please excuse the shock I just gave you. If you could have been on the Kentucky Cardinal with me I think you would have experienced the same feelings that I had. I am looking forward to seeing what Gene Poon writes and also looking forward to touching base with Ron and Julia Mical as I know I can pick up some pretty good tips from them. I plan on taking VIA Rail up in Canada in February/March of 2000 for a coast to coast trip with my wife Maria. Who knows what else will transpire by then? We'll see, and so will you if you keep checking back. Good railroading everyone!
Below is the Inaugural Amtrak Texas Eagle Report written by Dan Kuhl that was posted to the "All-Aboard" list and reposted here with permission from Dan Kuhl:
Hello all! It was great meeting all of you and I hope you all had a great trip. For those who did not get to go here is a short trip report from Jeffersonville to Chicago on Saturday night coming back Sunday night. Depart LJV on-time. Ed Ellis, a reporter, and the head product line guy for the Cardinal and the new KY Cardinal were among the passengers. Into Indy about 15 minutes late, I don't know why because running time Jeff-Indy is 4 hours flat on the test runs. 50/850 the big Cardinal from Chicago was 2 hours late due to UP delays near Dalton and Yard Center. Myself and Gene Poon got some photos. The Chicago-Louisville coach and sleeper had zero, yes, not one passenger on it. From what my dad has told me this must have been what the '60s were like for many passenger trains. Jon Owen and a friend got tickets back to Louisville on it. We sat in Indy for 5 hours because the crew could not get the air up on the three Beach Grove deadhead cars added in Indianapolis to go to Chicago. Got into Chicago 1 hour 45 minutes late. My main feelings are very mixed. Once the track is up to 59MPH Jeff-Indy as I understood it will be soon, 2 hours will be shaved from the running time. But you will still sit in Indy for hours unless the train runs separate from the big Cardinal. This train did get some good press, but the trains bookings are not a fraction of what the Heartland Flyer got and is getting, or even the Pennsylvanian. All I have told about this new train in Louisville are very excited UNTIL they here the train takes 12.5 hours (and is often late north of Indy) when Southwest is cheaper and takes 55 minutes, Greyhound takes 6 hours, and you can drive it in 5 or so. We who are going to promote this train have a big job in front of us, but we can still make it work. When the running times are shaved (hopefully soon) it will be a much easier sell. All Aboard the Kentucky Cardinal! Dan Kuhl