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Amtrak Northeast Direct Twilight Shoreliner
Steve's March 24, 1998 Travelogue
http://trainweb.com/travel/stevelog/sg980324.html

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!

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 hotel.

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 http://reservations.amtrak.com 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 before upgrading.

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 information desk.

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 http://traiweb.com/webcam!

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 myself.

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 out!

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 so forgiving.

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 cities.

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!


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