Amtrak Northeast Direct Twilight Shoreliner
Steve's March 24, 1998 Travelogue
Steve's rail travel on the Amtrak Northeast Direct Twilight Shoreliner
from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to Newport News, Virginia on
March 24, 1998.
If you haven't read the previous segment of this rail journey,
please CLICK HERE to do so now!
To continue, I realized that I would have to wake up at 2 A.M. to
make sure I had time to get ready, check out, and be down at the station
before 4:05 A.M. I always put in a number of "fudge factors" to make sure
I get there in time. For example, what if there is a delay checking out?
(There almost was. The charge card computer system was down, but they
let me check out before verifying that the charges would go through).
What if there is a delay getting the taxi or the taxi gets a flat tire
or in a fender bender? There are many little minor events that could
happen, and they have sometimes happened to me. Once I was even stuck
at a railroad crossing waiting for the world's longest freight train
to clear the intersection. It took about 20 minutes. Although I left
my hotel with plenty of spare time, my train was boarding by the time
I arrived in the hotel around 5:30 P.M. Before I could get some sleep,
I still had a lot of work that needed to be done. There were quite a
few files that I had updated on the train that needed to be uploaded
to the web and quite a few other files that I would need for my long
trip back on the train. Being in a stationary place like a hotel is the
only place for uploading and downloading files. Even on the train, an
extended service stop is the best place to upload photos, travelogues
and e-mail. Except in very major metropolitan areas, the reliability and
speed of a cellular modem on a moving train can be extremely frustrating
and costly! Thus, this work needed to be done while I had the time in the
Looking forward, I could see that at best I was only going to get a short
nap before 2 AM. I already felt like I had a tremendous sleep
deficit from that all night ride in coach on the Amtrak Three Rivers.
It was starting to look like I would only have a short nap before I
boarded the Twilight Shoreliner to spend another seemingly sleepless
night on the train. Now don't get me wrong. I know some other people do
sleep in coach without any problems at all. Maybe I've just been spoiled
by traveling in the Sleeping Cars so much. However, this was an Amfleet
Car and not a Superliner Coach Car. The Superliner Coach seats are bigger,
lean back further, and are overall more spacious and comfortable than
Amfleet seats, even Amfleet II seats! So, if you haven't slept in coach
before, don't necessarily judge it on my experience. But, if you are
trying to decide between sleeping in Coach or in a Sleeping Car, you might
want my experience to lean you a bit on this side of the Sleeping Car!
To say the least, I wasn't looking forward to another sleep period in
coach seats! Then it suddenly hit me. The Twilight Shoreliner has Sleeping
Cars, Viewliner Sleeping Cars to be exact. I'm not sure why I didn't think
about this when I made my travel plans. Maybe I did, but seeing it was
only 7 hours of travel and not realizing the state I would be in after
spending a night in coach, I guess I didn't think it would be worth the
expense. Or, maybe I did check and found no availability at that time.
In any case, getting as much as an extra 6 or 7 hours of sleep in a
Viewliner Sleeper sounded like a great idea to me now! So, the first
thing I did when I set up my computer in the hotel room was to check
Amtrak Online Reservations at
for what it would cost. Before getting a price from the system, I asked
myself: "How much would this be worth to me?" Because of this particular
situation, I decided anything under $200 would be worth it, the closer to
$100, the better. Up came the price at $158. That was a good compromise.
$48 was the railfare and $110 was for the room. Assuming that I might have
jumped in at the last moment after someone cancelled, I booked the room
immediately to prevent it from becoming unavailable.
I have only one regret in taking this course of action. I probably could
have saved quite a bit by going down to the station and upgrading my
Custom Class ticket, or just upgrading to the room after boarding the
train. However, I really wasn't in the mood for uncertainty. The room
might have gotten booked before I went to the station or boarded the
train. I would be able to enjoy the rest of the evening and my brief nap
in the hotel knowing I have a Viewliner Sleeper awaiting me rather than
than a hassle with trying to obtain an upgrade or sleeping in a coach car,
even if Custom Class.
Now my only problem was getting my hands on the physical ticket that I
had just reserved via the internet! I checked the hours of operation at
the Philadelphia station. Althought the building is open all night, the
Metropolitan Lounge is only open from 6:30 AM to 9:30 PM, and more
importantly, the ticket windows are only open from 5:10 AM to 10PM on
weekdays. That means, if I wake up and go to the station at 2 AM, the
ticket windows will not be open! The Quik-Trak Ticketing Machines are
available 24 hours daily, but what if there is a problem?
I wouldn't feel comfortable until I had the actual ticket in my hand.
So, the only thing to do was to take a taxi round trip to the Amtrak
station! That is what I did! The taxi dropped me off at the station and
cautioned me to make sure I come back out this end of the station
rather than accidently going out the other end. Once I got into the
station, I realized that this would not be a problem. The Amtrak ticket
windows were all the way at the other end. I just had to remember to
leave by the doors that were the furthest away from me!
I went to the Quik-Trak Ticketing Machine since I already had made my
reservations. These are interesting machines that I have used before.
The odd thing is, you have to put in your credit card, even if your
tickets are pre-paid! After you put in your credit card, it asks you
for how you would like to pay, or if your tickets are pre-paid! Thus,
without a credit card, you can't pick up pre-paid tickets from one
of these machines. At first you might not think this is a problem, but
without this glitch, you could pre-pay for a ticket for your child in
college. With just the reservation number in hand, they could go to one
of these machines and pick it up. But, with this arrangement, you better
make sure they also have a credit card to pick up that pre-paid ticket!
Well, guess what? The Quik-Trak Ticketing Machine wouldn't issue me the
ticket! It said I had to go see an Amtrak ticketing agent! I now feel
justified in having paid the taxi fare to come down to pick up the
ticket! The Amtrak Ticket Agent had no problem issuing the ticket for my
reservation number. She had to give me all these warning though, about
how the train was leaving in just a few hours and how no refund was
available due to the late purchase. Maybe that is why the machine could
not issue the ticket; that they didn't think a machine could be stern
and credible about the same warnings before issuing the ticket! In any
case, that is why I did not want to rely on the Quik-Trak Ticketing Machine
at 2 or 3 in the morning for my ticket!
While I was at the window, I decided to get the tickets I had reserved
for the San Diegan Club travel on Saturday. The Ticket Agent punched out
the first one for me. She was a bit suprised seeing it was for a round
trip ticket between Fullerton and Santa Barbara on the west coast. She
asked me if I would be flying out there. I told her that I would get
out there by rail on time. She looked at me in disbelief.
Next, I showed her my Custom Class ticket and asked if any credit was
available for turning that ticket in. There was a lot of mumbling at
first, but bottom line, I think she was trying to say that a refund
was not available because it was an overall package price, but that
some time of refund on the Custom Class upgrade was available if I
brought it back to my travel agent. To make me feel bad, I think she
also mentioned something to the effect that I could have saved money
by just upgrading this ticket instead of buying a new Sleeping Car
ticket. I was kind of aware of that, but as I mentioned, I was afraid
of losing the room if I waited until I got to the station or onboard
I had already astounded this ticket agent
enough. I wasn't about to have her issue my next reservation, which
would have been for the exact same dates and times as the one she
just gave me, but for different trains on a different route! That is
another story for another time. Let's just say it is my fallback in
case the Southwest Chief doesn't make it in time to Fullerton to meet
up with the San Diegan Club on its way up to Santa Barbara. Instead,
I just went back to the Quik-Trak ticketing machine and it had no
problem issuing me that pre-paid ticket (after I put in my credit card)!
Ooops! Almost forgot about the cab driver. I went back outside, after
taking the long walk again to the other side of the station. I crossed
the street and went over to the taxi. Well, the taxi was there, but the
driver wasn't. I figured he wasn't going anywhere without his taxi. So
I just stood by the cab and waited. He soon came back out. He said that
he went in to check on me just in case I had gone out the wrong end of
the station as he had warned me about. We headed back to the hotel.
I think this entire round trip was well under an hour. This taxi driver
did the whole round-trip, including waiting at the station, for under
$15. The other driver cost me almost $10 just to get to the hotel! I
gave this driver a tip just shy of $6. I felt it was worth it to me
because of his help, his waiting around and then looking for me at the
station, and his taking the shortest least cost route round-trip between
the hotel and station.
I was happy. I had all 3 tickets that I needed to pick up in my hands,
plus I could look forward to several hours in the Viewliner Sleeper
instead of a coach seat. I knew I could catch up on whatever amount
of sleep I needed and wanted in the sleeper!
I set the hotel alarm clock for 2 AM, put in a wake-up call at the
front dest for 2 AM, and set my personal dual-alarm clock for 2:01 AM
and 2:15 AM. I was exhausted and wanted to be sure something would
get me up no matter how much I was out of it. I got to sleep pretty
close to midnight, so my nap turned out to be not much over 2 hours.
At 2 AM I got right up, turned off the first alarm, answered the
hotel wake-up call, and turned off my personal dual-alarm before it
went into action at all. I took a shower, got dressed, packed up the
last of a couple of rechargable items that were charging, checked out,
called a cab, and headed out. I was quite surprised to find that it
was only 2:45 AM by the time I entered the station!
The station was totally lit up, but there probably weren't more than a
dozen people there if you explored through every area. There were about
4 people sleeping on benches. These people looked more like people
resting while waiting for their train rather than homeless. If they
allowed homeless to sleep in the station at night, I'm sure you'd find
a lot more than 4 here when it is this cold outside! The station
information desk had someone at it. I'm not sure, but I don't think it
is an Amtrak person. This station is used by SEPTA and NJT commuter
trains as well as Amtrak, so there are many agencies that share the
The MacDonalds Restaurant was open so I went in and got a small diet
drink. I then went out and waited by the stairway to the track on
which my train would be departing. The departures board indicated that
the train would be departing from stairway number 4. That Schedule
Board in the Philadelphia 30th Street Station has its own web
address at http://traintimes.com.
I looked around, but could not find it! I figured that it either
has to be in the information booth directly below the board, or
it has to be a camera in one of the offices at either end of the
station, in which case it would have to have a telephoto lens! I've
got to send them e-mail and find the location of that camera. The
location of it that doesn not seem obvious intrigues me! But then
again, a lot of people cannot find and are intrigued by where we
have our own webcam in the Fullerton Santa Fe Depot at
A Conductor was also waiting for this train along with another
passenger or maybe an Amtrak worker. The Conductor checked and
found the train to be running 17 minutes late. Even though it leaves
the station at 4:05 AM, it is scheduled into the station at 3:05 AM.
At about 3:30 AM, the sign near the stairway changed to indicate
that my train would be departing from that gate at 4:05 AM. At about
4:40 AM, a light started blinking next to the line for my train on
the main schedule board indicating that my train was now boarding.
I picked up my luggage and headed down the stairs. There still wasn't
any train at the platform! A few more people came down the steps and
all waited before going through some glass doors onto the platform.
After about 3 minutes, the train pulled into the station. After I
saw a couple of other people step out onto the platform, I did so
The Viewliner Sleeping Car was at the end of the train. The
regular coaches were at the front of the train followed by a
Custom Class Car right next to the bottom of the station stairs.
The Custom Class Car was followed by the Cafe Car and then that
was followed by the Viewliner Sleeping Car. I walked down to the
Viewliner, but it was locked up tight! I then walked back up to
the front end of the Cafe Car which was open, but nobody
attending it. I then walked up further to the front end of the
Custom Class Car.
The Cafe Car Attendant was stading outside the door and asked if he could
help me. I told him that I had a reservation for the Sleeper. He thought
for a moment, apparently a little confused about what he should do next.
Then, he took my suitcase and told me to follow him. He was very friendly
and helpful. I'm not sure if there was suppose to be someone else there
to help me, or if he was just surprised that someone would book a
sleeping car south from this location. But in any case, he rolled my
suitcase down the aisle of Custom Class as I followed with my backpack
on my back and my tripod in my hand.
The Custom Class Car was totally dark, and at first, I thought empty.
I was thinking I might have made a mistake as the Custom Class Car
seemed totally empty. As I walked down the aisle, I realized the error
of my perception. A lot of seats were taken, but mostly by individuals
spread over two seats. Hence, without being right next to a seat, it
appeared that all of the seats were unoccupied!
He took me right to the room I had reserved, room #4. He mentioned
something about "I wonder if he has made the bed up for you yet."
I was hoping that "he" had not as I wanted to set up my tripod and
computer below and sleep up on top. As luck had it, which I'm sure
this attendant wasn't happy about at first sight, was that "he" had
not made the bed. However, I asked the attendant to just pull down
the bed from the ceiling and just leave everything else alone. I told
him I prefered just to sleep on top of the 2 mattresses right in place
in the top bunk. He looked a little quizically at me, but I think he
quickly deferred to me since I stated this request quite confident
that this is done all the time. Actually, it was a Car Attendant on
a prior trip that suggested this and I have done it all the time on
the Viewliners ever since. I just assumed that this was a common, and
very comfortable thing to do! It also puts you a couple of inches higher
relative to the top window, making it even easier to look out as if it
wasn't easy enough already.
He wished me a good night. I asked him if the Conductor would be
coming to get my ticket soon. Since nobody seems to have been
expecting me to board, I didn't want to have to lay awake for the
rest of the morning waiting for the Conductor to find me! As I expected,
he offered to take my ticket and give it to the Conductor so I could go
right to sleep.
I immediately set up the videocamera. That took about 30 seconds. I just
popped open the tripod, mounted the camera, and plugged it into the
outlet. Actually, it took me about an additional 30 seconds to first get
one of the seats to open flat! I then closed the drapes since there would
not be enough light to tape anything until we were ready to leave
Washington,DC at about 7 AM. Actually, there would probably be light
before that, but the train spends almost an hour under Washington station.
Thus, there is barely enough light when we go in and plenty when we get
I then went up to the top bunk, connected up the straps that go from
the bed to the ceiling which prevent people from rolling out of the bed,
and put a few items that I wanted near me in the pockets next to me.
Just in case you have never been in an upper bed in a Sleeper before,
these straps do not "strap you in". They just create an obstacle to
prevent you from rolling out of the bed. The straps do not go over you
nor over your covers. They go from the side of the bed straight up to hooks
in the ceiling. I would assume that most people can get in and out of
the upper bed without removing the straps.
TUE 04:05 AM ET 03/24/98 Philadelphia,PA - Ch 54 160.920
I was still awake as we left Philadelphia and I just watched out the
window as the night scenery went by. I noticed there were a lot of
lights outside that looked like the big sets of lights that you see
at ball parks. But then, I noticed that the moon also looked like a big
set of lights! That reminded me about the problem with the Twilight
Shoreliner. They have some time of shrink-wrap decoration on the
train which makes the windows look like they have a thick mesh
security screen on them! It makes the view out the windows appear like
you looking through a sheet of paper with millions of holes punched in
it. That is definitely going to reduce the quality of the videotape.
Fortunately this is the only train that I know that Amtrak has done
that to. On the Amtrak San Diegans they sell advertising and shrink-wrap
that onto the train car, but they are smart enough to know to only do
that on the Cafe Car which only has non-revenue seating.
I wrote about this window problem in my previous travelogue of the
Twilight Shoreliner. I hope that they did not do this just to put
the pretty decoration on the outside. This treatment probably reduces
the sunlight and glare into the car and also limits the ability of
people on the high-level platforms to look inside the bedrooms. Those
would be better reasons for reducing visibility than just to put a
pretty design on the outside of the car. But I still don't know if
that is adequate justification. If someone wants privacy, they can just
close the curtains. And, I'd rather put up with the sun and adjust
the curtains accordingly rather than have my entire view permanently
degraded. If you ride in this Sleeping Car, you will get used to this
window treatment and hardly notice that it is there. However, I'm not
so sure that a videotape or photograph through these windows will be
TUE --:-- AM ET 03/24/98 Newark,DE - Ch 54 160.920 (Doesn't Stop)
TUE --:-- AM ET 03/24/98 Aberdeen,MD - Ch 54 160.920 (Doesn't Stop)
TUE 05:30 AM ET 03/24/98 Baltimore,MD - Ch 54 160.920
TUE 05:43 AM ET 03/24/98 BWI Airport Rail Station,MD - Ch 54 160.920
I dozed off somewhere shortly out of Philadelphia and woke up just
momentarily to check where we were and to see that we were running on
time. I then dozed right off again!
TUE 05:58 AM ET 03/24/98 New Carrollton,MD - Ch 54 160.920
TUE 06:15 AM ET 03/24/98 Washington,DC - Ch 54 160.920
TUE 07:00 AM ET 03/24/98 Washington,DC - Ch 54 160.920
TUE 07:18 AM ET 03/24/98 Alexandria,VA - Ch 54 160.920
I woke up for just a short while as we were leaving Washington station.
I stayed awake as we went through the long tunnel after the station.
Then, I got out of bed and started the camera running. I noticed that
the sun was causing that special window mesh to glow. The effect was
the same as having a dirty window. If a window is clean, you can see
right out, even when the sun shines on it. But, if the window is very
dirty, the sun lights up the dirt making it difficult to see out. This
special covering on the window acts like the window has a lot of dirt
on it. The sun causes it to light up and that diminishes the view just as
dirt on the window would. I started the videotape rolling anyway and
went back to the upper bunk. I stayed awake for about the next 15 minutes
until we reached Alexandria. I fell asleep again shortly after that.
TUE --:-- AM ET 03/24/98 Woodbridge,VA - Ch 54 160.920 (Doesn't Stop)
TUE 07:46 AM ET 03/24/98 Quantico,VA - Ch 54 160.920
TUE 08:06 AM ET 03/24/98 Fredricksburg,VA - Ch 54 160.920
TUE 08:48 AM ET 03/24/98 Ashland,VA - Ch 54 160.920
TUE 09:05 AM ET 03/24/98 Richmond,VA - Ch 54 160.920
I woke up again, this time in Richmond, Virginia. The train would now
being going onto tracks that I have never been on before. I wanted
to be up for this. Unlike my sleep on the Amtrak Three Rivers, I felt
totally rested and ready to take on the day! If anything was to
convince me that I made the right decision to get the Sleeping Car Room,
this was it!
TUE 09:12 AM ET 03/24/98 Richmond,VA - Ch 54 160.920
This would be a good time to get a cup of coffee. I stepped out of
my room and noticed that the windows in the doors at the back of
the train afforded a great view of the tracks receding away from the
train! I should have set my camera up there.
I headed the other way and went looking for the coffee urn.
It was closed up as tight as a drum! I then wandered about the car
and realized that I was the only person in this car! I started to
wonder if I was the only person in this car since Philadelphia. That
didn't make sense. I went to the Cafe Car and if I was the only one
left. The Cafe Car Attendant affirmed that. Upon further inquiry, he
told me that people pretty much got off at various stations all the
way down and that I was just the last one left in the sleeper.
The Cafe Car Attendant then asked if I wanted breakfast. I told him
I just wanted a cup of coffee. I thanked him for that and headed back
to my room to watch the view for the rest of the trip.
TUE 10:25 AM ET 03/24/98 Williamsburg,VA - Ch ?? 16?.???
At about this point a Car Attendant showed up. He only noticed me
as he was walking down the aisle to head somewhere else. Actually,
it looked like he either just boarded the train at this stop or
just woke up and finished dressing, I'm not sure which. Noticing
me he stopped at my room, told me it would be about 25 minutes
to Newport News, and asked if I needed help with my luggage. I
told him I had everything in hand and would not need any help.
I had already planned to seek out the Cafe Car Attendant and tip
him $5 for his help. But, this was a confusing situation. I wasn't
sure if this was a normal part of the Cafe Car Attendants duty for
this part of the trip, or if the regular Car Attendant had just gone
to sleep early or left the train. I didn't think I should tip this
person. Though he helped me down the stairs with one bag, I didn't
know if he was someone that was suppose to board me in Philadelphia
but caused me and the Cafe Car Attendant confusion because he wasn't
there, or if this person had nothing to do with that leg of the run.
Maybe he was a Car Attendant for the return trip and this was just
the way he got to the start of his work shift. In any case, I didn't
think it made sense to tip him. But on the other hand, it seemed
awkward to me to seek out the Cafe Car Attendant at this late stage
of the trip to give him the tip that was suppose to go to the Car
Attendant. That might be regarded as an insult by this guy who
might not have had anything at all to do with the service that wasn't
given! Oh well.
TUE 10:58 AM ET 03/24/98 Newport News,VA - Ch ?? 16?.???
Well, there sure were a lot of trees along that route! The ride was
very pleasant, but I didn't see anything particularly noteworthy.
Even the houses in the towns that we passed were surrounded by
trees. Many years ago, my wife and I almost moved to the Richmond
area. One thing that we did notice about all the new housing
developments was that the houses were built on heavily wooded lots.
I guess they didn't believe in the California building style: Cut
everything down, build the house, then put in new trees that will
grow into something by the time you have the mortgage paid off!
I'm not going to add any photos for this segment of the trip yet,
but if I do add some later, it will probably be a photo of a representative
sample of trees!
I grabbed a taxi that was waiting at the station. He took me to my
hotel which was only about 5 or 6 miles away. I was probably checked
into my room less than 30 minutes from stepping off the train.
I have pretty much holed myself up here at the hotel spending my time
on my work. I had a Chicken Supreme and a 2 liter bottle of Diet Pepsi
delivered to my room from Pizza Hut which will provide all the sustinence
that I need for lunch and dinner! As you have probably read from my
previous travelogues, I don't get out to explore the sites much when I
travel without my family.
Once I have finished traveling all of the Amtrak and VIArail routes in
North America, I plan to be a little bit more selective for my rail
travels. I'd like to visit places that are ideal tourist destinations for
rail travel, both for my travels with my family and my travels alone.
Most guides for rail travel go into great detail about the same
popular places that are just as easy to visit by air or by car as by rail
(usually even easier by air or car!). I'd like to do a bit of research
and find destinations that make the most sense for rail travel.
I think these destinations fall into two categories: (1) Those that
make as much sense to visit by rail as by any other means, and (2)
those that make more sense to visit by rail than by any other means.
In the first category, for example, would be Jack London Square in Oakland,
California, Pioneer Square in Seattle Washington, the Grand Canyon near
Flagstaff, Arizona. In southern California there is San Juan Capistrano,
famous for the swallows, San Diego, Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo. You
could visit these locations just as easy by air or by car, but they make
ideal rail vacation destinations because of their proximity to the station.
Even a taxi is optional for most of them! I'm sure there are many more
that could be added to this list.
Where I'd really like to explore and visit are those locations that almost
have to be part of a rail vacation to make sense to visit. These would be
locations that are hundreds of miles from the nearest national airport,
much too expensive for a taxi and too far for a short drive in a rental
car. And who wants to take a long bus trip? If you look at a map of the
United States and Canada and examine rail stations that aren't anywhere
near a major national airport, it would lead you to conclude that there
has to be many dozens of such places worth visiting. I suspect that this
is even more true now since a lot of smaller air carriers have either gone
out of business or shifted their routes from areas of smaller populations
to compete in the more lucrative market of short hops between major
I'd like to find those ideal rail destinations, visit them, and encourage
you to plan your rail travels to these remote vacation spots. So far, that
is my plan for my next round of rail travel after I have traveled all of
the Amtrak and VIArail routes. But for now, I'll mostly spend my rail
journeys either on the train or in hotels, trying to keep from falling
behind during my absences from my office!