This is the travelogue of the segment of my journey on the Amtrak International from Chicago, Illinois to Toronto, Ontario.This is a travelogue of my Amtrak travel on the Southwest Chief from Fullerton, California, to Chicago Illinois, on the International from Chicago to Toronto, Ontairo, on the Maple Leaf from Toronto to New York City, on the Adirondack from New York City to Albany - Rensselaer, on the Empire Services from Albany - Rensselaer back to New York City, then round trip from New York City to St. Albans, Vermont, on the Vermonter.
A lot of the photographs of this trip are rather dark. The weather was heavily overcast during most of this travel and that reduced the brightness and quality of these photos which were taken using a video camera and a Snappy.
Tuesday, January 6, 1998, 03:21PM, Durand, MI
Well, looks like I haven't been writing much on this trip so far! I've got plenty of videotape though! I took almost 2 hours of video on the Southwest Chief and already have almost an hour on this International Route. Now I just have to find the time to go through the tapes and select photos to add to this travelogue. If you see photos here, then you know that I eventually did get around to it!
I was very pleased to discover that Superliner Coach Cars are used on this route. I had just assumed the cars would be either Amfleet or Horizon Cars since there are no Sleeping Cars, Dining Car, or Sightseer Lounge Car on this train. It just didn't occur to me that Amtrak can still use Superliner Coach Cars in a train even if there are none of the other types of cars in the train.
The very last Coach Car in this train has the snack bar downstairs. I don't think I've seen a Superliner configured like that before. Actually, come to think of it, I have. It was on the Texas Eagle. The snack bar was not in use since there was another one downstairs in the Sightseer Lounge Car. Back in the days when they used to have thru-cars from the Texas Eagle onto the Sunset Limited, those thru-cars would sometimes sit by themselves for hours in the San Antonio station if the westbound Sunset Limited was late. One time when that happened, breakfast was obtained from a nearby McDonald's restaurant. These pre-packaged meals were then handed out from the snack bar area that was downstairs in the Superliner Coach Car. That was the only time before this that I had seen a Superliner Coach Car configured this way, but this is the only time I have actually seen it in use!
Now I understand why Custom Class is not offered on this route. Since all Superliners Coaches have identical seating, it would be difficult to sell an upgraded class of service. Custom Class in the Amfleet Cars provides a lot more leg room, but one couldn't ask for more leg room than what you get in a standard Superliner Coach Car! I think there is more leg room in standard Superliner Coach Cars than in First Class on any airline!
The people whose destinations were in Canada were boarded first in Chicago. We were all boarded into one car in the middle of the train. There was plenty of room, even after everyone was onboard. I've been on this train for about 5 hours now, and most people that are traveling alone still have a pair of seats to themself. Nobody has taken the seat next to me yet and I don't have anything on the seat to discourage anyone. There are enough seats so everyone can have a pair of seats to themselves so far. Some people are laying down sprawled across both seats, or have some of their luggage on the seat next to them.
During the entire trip, everyone heading for Canada has been seating in this particular car. I think that is to make it easier when going through customs. The Customs Agents will only have to walk through one car if this is the only car with passengers when we get to the border.
Tuesday, January 6, 1998, 03:48PM, Flint, MI
Tuesday, January 6, 1998, 05:37PM, Sarnia, ON
I'm not sure what takes Customs so long, but we arrived here on time. Actually, I think we arrived here quite a bit before 5:57 PM. The Customs agent only spent about 20 seconds with me. They asked my citizenship, if I had any firearms, how long I would be staying in Canada, what was my purpose in Canada, and where I would be going next. I think she thought my answers of only one day, rail travel, and New York City the next day were a bit odd, but nothing in those answers was untruthfull or out of line. She didn't bother to check my birth certificate or the contents of my luggage.
Another passenger was not so lucky, but I think that was because of his answers on the declaration card they had handed out to everyone. I think he had a few bottles of alcohol with him. You are only allowed to bring 1 or 2 with you duty free. He would have to pay $25 on each addition bottle. Rather than pay all that, he selected two bottles and surrendered the rest. What do they do with the confiscated alcohol? Do they have a party? Well, at any rate, those are some of the things that can slow down the border crossing process. It took quite a while to handle that situation and fill out all the forms.
Tuesday, January 6, 1998, 08:00PM, London, ON
When I came out of the restroom, a gal Conductor asked me if I had been smoking in there. I answered "No" and asked why she asked me that questioin. She said it smelled very smoky downstairs. I thought that was really weird. I'm not a smoker and never have been one. I even tend to be sensitive to smoke. Though I don't complain unless it is pretty heavy, I can usually smell tobacco from a mile away. I didn't smell any tobacco in the restroom nor in downstairs. I'm not sure what she was smelling.
Actually, what bothered me more was the smell of the teenage girls behind me that were painting their nails! The first time they did it was at the border. I thought Customs was fumigating the train, the smell was so bad! But, during the rest of the trip, they did it three more times and I figured out what it was from their discussion.
I then went to the cafe and ordered a pizza, a cookie and a Molson Export. The whole thing came to only $5.25 in American dollars. Canadian dollars would have come to quite a bit more. I gave the Attendant $6 and let him keep the 75 cents change. Earlier that day I had purchased lunch in the cafe. The change was 50 cents. I didn't think that was an adquate tip for what I had puchased, so I took the 50 cents and gave him a $1 tip. The Cafe Attendant had been pretty friendly to me every since!
As I started to walk out of the cafe, I ran into that gal Conductor again. She commented again: "It was pretty smoky in that restroom, wasn't it?" I just nodded and said: "Might have been, but it sure wasn't me since I've never been a smoker." I don't know why, but the look on her face was one of frustration. Her accusing eye made me a bit annoyed. Since the Coach Cars don't have Car Attendants on this train, I made sure that I cleaned up that restroom so that it was much cleaner than when I had entered. I like to do my part to make sure everyone is impressed with rail travel. Seems a fine thanks for trying to help out! Also, not the best introduction to Canadian Conductors on VIArail. But, I have to say, other than that one experience, all the other train personnel seemed very friendly. Actually, even this Conductor with the accusing eye was friendly, but did seem frustrated with my answers!"
Tuesday, January 6, 1998, 08:36PM, St. Marys, ON
I'm listening to the railroad radio and hear that they keep referring to this train as "88". Amtrak lists the train as "364" until it gets to the border and then lists it as "3640" on the ticket. Also, in Canada, they refer to time in the 24 hour mode on the radio and use the word "knot" instead of "zero". Thus, 8:36PM would be heard as "two knot three six."
Tuesday, January 6, 1998, 09:27PM, Kitchener, ON
That same gal Conductor just announced that the cafe is now closed. I thought that was rather strange. There was no warning announcement that it would be closing soon and we are still more than an hour from our final stop. Almost always there is plenty of warning so that passengers can make some final purchases before they close.
Lest you read me the wrong way, I don't have anything agains female Conductors or even against female engineers. Riding passenger trains for over 100,000 miles over the last 2 years, I've only had two unpleasant run ins with Conductors and they were both women. Maybe I just bring it out in them. The incident described above was one. The other was when I took my whole family and inlaws from Fullerton to San Juan Capistran just for a fun train ride. There were 6 of us all together. The train was so full, that only single seats were open. We would have had to spread throughout the train to get seats, which really would have defeated the purpose of the entire trip. We found a table in the Cafe Car where we could all sit and enjoy the ride and conversation together. We had every intention of purchasing some food and we did. But a female Conductor got quite upset with us. While we were deciding what to purchase, she tried to kick us out of the cafe and then threatened us that she would monitor us and remove us from the cafe car as soon as we had run out of food items. Well, little did she know that I can nurse a drink for well more than the hour's ride down to San Juan Capistrano! That is where we stayed put for the rest of the ride and we never saw here again on the trip. Needless to say, it did take a bit of enjoyment out of the whole experience. I've been on trains many many times with female Conductors where there have been no such incidences. Thus, I guess there are just a few bad apples as there are in every bunch and it may be just chance that I haven't run into a male Conductor with such an attitude yet.
It is interesting to note there are four coach cars on this train and no Car Attendants. The cars seem to be operating without any problems. The Conductors do the job of meeting people at the doors and helping with luggage when necessary. Does this mean that the only need for Car Attendants in Coach Cars is during the night and the interior needs more attention because of the extended travel and time passengers remain in the car? I would have to assume that is where the need for Car Attendants in the Coach Cars comes from.
Tuesday, January 6, 1998, 10:19PM, Georgetown, ON
There they are! Right outside my window! "GO" commuter cars (Government of Ontario). I wish it was daylight so that I could have videotaped them. I see passenger cars in this color paint scheme almost every day out my office window in Fullerton. Metrolink has purchased or leased a number of cars from the "GO" system which have not been painted in the familiar Metrolink blue and white colors. They are green with the "GO" logo on them just like all these cars right outside my window!
These are only approximate, but close!