Southwest Chief Travelogue
This is not my usual travelogue. I greatly enjoy Amtrak travel and my travelogues usually reflect my attitude about rail travel. But, when a train begins more than 11 hours late and I have to stay up all night waiting for the train, then my travelogue is probably not going to be the most complimentary to Amtrak. If this is the first rail travelogue that you have seen from me, then I would strongly suggest that you read some of my other rail travelogues before reading this one. Click here to read my other travelogues. If you have already read a number of my Amtrak travelogues, then please do read on ...
For those of you not familiar with my writing style, this is not a blow by blow description of all the stops, scenery and life aboard the train. I write and take photos whenever I am inspired to do so. Thus, you will find descriptions of various incidences that took place during my travel and photos of various things that struck my fancy. You will also find tremendous gaps in time when I wasn't inspired to write anything down or found nothing worth taking a photo that I hadn't already captured during a previous trip. The only way to get a more comprehensive feel for the rail travel experience and scenery along a particular route is to read all my rail travelogues related to that particular rail route. Though you will often find similar photos and experiences, you will often find photos and writings of my experiences unique to that particular travelogue. After reading serveral of my travelogues of the same route, you will get a much better idea about the scenery on the route, the various crews and quality of food and service that you might experience, and different thoughts on rail travel and other subjects that I may have had during that trip.
I apologize for the long delay in getting this travelogue posted. As soon as we returned from our trip, we had to get ready for Fullerton Railroad Days. After the end of Fullerton Railroad Days, we had a lot of work to take care of that had piled up from attending the Amtrak Historical Society and the Fullerton Railroad Days. Thus, this travelogue did not get posted until Thursday, May 24, 2001.
Part 1 - Fullerton, California to Chicago, Illinois
Tuesday, Apr 24, 2001 10:30 P.M. - Fullerton, CA (CH 36 160.650)
The entire core of the TrainWeb staff, Ray Burns, Shivam Surve and I, are all heading off to the Amtrak Historical Society (www.trainweb.com/ahs) Annual Conference that is being held in Chicago this year. We will be taking the Amtrak Southwest Chief from California to Chicago.
According to the schedule, you would expect that we would be somewhere between Victorville and Barstow. But no. We are still here on our computers in the TrainWeb office upstairs from the Amtrak Station in the Fullerton Santa Fe Depot! The Amtrak Southwest Chief is late. It is very late.
What I have heard is that yesterday, Monday, April 23, 2001, a BNSF work train carrying rail broke in two due to a broken knuckle. It spilled its load and dragged a length of rail on the tracks shutting down the line. The westbound Southwest Chief (Train #3) took about ten hours to go 24 miles between Trinidad and Raton, New Mexico. That westbound Southwest Chief did not, which is normally scheduled to depart from Fullerton at 7:26 AM PT, did not leave Fullerton until 10 PM PT. That would place its arrival into Los Angeles at about 10:30 PM, 14 hours and 10 minutes behind schedule!
Our original plan was to take a Metrolink train at 5:43 PM from Fullerton to Los Angeles. We would kill about an hour in the station until they started boarding the train around 6:45 PM. In this manner, we would be able to enjoy the train all the way from one end of the route to the other. Since dinner is served on this train, we would be settled in the train and have already started our dinner by the time the train reached Fullerton.
Originally, the three of us were booked into two Standard Rooms on the train. We didn't pay any cash for these rooms as they were given to us in exchange for some work that we had done for Amtrak. There isn't a parlor car on the Amtrak Southwest Chief. The only place the 3 of us could all fit into the same room would be in the Sightseer Lounge Car. Since we weren't paying for the other 2 rooms, I had decided to spring for one more room, but just one way from California to Chicago. Since Ray would be flying back and it would be just Shivam and I on the train coming back, two Standard Rooms would be plenty for the two of us coming back. I had reserved a Deluxe Room which would serve as bedroom at night and a room big enough for all three of us to hand out together during the day!
I made the reservation for the Deluxe Room to start in Los Angeles instead of from Fullerton. Since we decided to start our trip from Los Angeles instead of from Fullerton, the Deluxe Room reservation starting in Los Angeles would also avoid most of the confusion that might be caused by us boarding in Los Angeles instead of boarding in Fullerton.
When I heard early in the afternoon that the westbound Amtrak Southwest Chief was already running more than 12.5 hours behind schedule, I started wondering how Amtrak was going to handle providing a trainset for the eastbound Amtrak Southwest Chief. Normally, the westbound Southwest Chief arrives in the morning, they have between 8 and 11 hours to service the train, and then they send it right back out that evening as the eastbound Southwest Chief. The Southwest Chief usually runs pretty close to schedule. I arrive at the TrainWeb office above the Fullerton Amtrak Station usually between 8:30 AM and 9:00 AM and I rarely get to see the Southwest Chief arrive. Thus, it must usually depart Fullerton before 8:30 AM which means it is seldon more than an hour late out of Fullerton.
When the eastbound Southwest Chief is late, Amtrak will sometimes swap trainsets with the Sunset Limited. Since the eastbound Sunset Limited is not scheduled to depart Los Angeles until three hours after the departure of the eastbound Southwest Chief, Amtrak can buy themselves three hours by switching trainsets. It gives them an extra three hours to get the trainset ready. Since the Sunset Limited only operates three days per week out of Los Angeles, Amtrak can often buy an entire extra day by switching trainsets if it is not a day that the Sunset Limited is scheduled to depart from Los Angeles. In Fullerton, you can usually tell when they have switched the trainsets. The Southwest Chief normally has the Sleeping Cars at the rear of the train. The Sunset Limited normally has the Sleeping Cars at the head of the train. When they switch trainsets, the eastbound Southwest Chief arrives with the Sleeping Cars at the head of the train!
Another solution that I have seen Amtrak use is to just gather up as many spare cars as they can from the Los Angeles yard. Sometimes this involves using cars that have problems that have not yet had a chance to be serviced. These are never problems that would endanger public safety. They are just nuisance problems such as burnt out light bulbs, door latches that don't close properly, toilets that have problems flushing, etc. These are problems that the Car Attendants or Conductors would have tagged for service, but have not yet been repaired. These problems will be a bother for the crew and passengers that next use the car, but Amtrak has little choice to use these cars to create a full trainset where one didn't exist.
I was curious, and a little worried, about just what solution Amtrak would use to provide a trainset for the eastbound Amtrak Southwest Chief.
About 4 in the afternoon, we went to take Ray's car back to his apartment and to pick up Shivam's luggage. But first, we picked up a parking permit that would allow me to keep my car in the garage beyond the normal 72 hour limit in Fullerton. When I picked up my parking permit, the Agent mentioned that the eastbound Southwest Chief is going to be very late. That was my first indication that Amtrak was going to have to use the trainset from the late westbound Southwest Chief for the eastbound Southwest Chief. I asked the agent why they wouldn't be trying to use the trainset from the Amtrak Sunset Limited as they often do when the westbound train is late. He reminded me that the eastbound Sunset Limited is unfortunately scheduled to depart this evening. The westbound Southwest Chief is running so late that it won't arrive into Los Angeles until after the scheduled departure time of the eastbound Sunset Limited. I just have to assume Amtrak did not have enough spare cars on hand to assempt an entire train from what they do have.
After we dropped off Ray's car and picked up Shivam's luggage, we had to find a place to park in a Fullerton garage. Normally, I would just park in the garage directly across from the Fullerton Santa Fe Depot. But, they are painting the garage on the weekends and have closed it to overnight parking for the month on April. Thus, I had to find another garage a few blocks further away.
Shortly after we returned to the office, Ray got a call from Amtrak. They said they were calling all the passengers booked on the eastbound Southwest Chief. Those departing from Fullerton were asked to not arrive at the Fullerton Station any earlier than midnight. That was our first officially confirmed indication that we were going to have a long wait for our train!
Doing some rough calculation, it seems a 1 A.M. departure is going to be an optimistic departure time for this eastbound Amtrak Southwest Chief. Once the train arrives into Los Angeles, which it is expected to do at 10:30 PM, it has to unload the passengers and baggage. Then the express freight cars have to be taken off. After the train is completely unloaded, it has to be taken down to the maintenance yard to have the engines serviced, the toilets pumped out, the cars cleaned and provisioned, the entire train turned around, and much more. Then, the train has to be brought back to the Los Angeles station for passengers and baggage to be loaded. Once the train departs Los Angeles, the eastbound mail and express cars have to be added on. Then the train can depart to make its way back down to Fullerton. At best, this process should take between 5 to 7 hours. That would get the train down into Fullerton between 3:30 and 5:30 AM, and not the 1:00 AM that Amtrak is tentative projecting. Only time will tell which estimate is closer to the actual arrival time.
We decided that it no longer made any sense to take a train to Los Angeles to start our journey at the beginning of the route of the eastbound Amtrak Southwest Chief. We'd be much more comfortable and can get a lot more done by just staying in the TrainWeb office until the arrival of the eastbound Southwest Chief is announced.
This change made me a little concerned as I know there is a 1% chance that some Reserved Coach that boards in Los Angeles might want to upgrade to a sleeper, especially since the train will be leaving in the wee hours of the morning. I don't want to be considered a "no show" in Los Angeles and have my deluxe room sold out from under me. So, I called 1-800-USA-RAIL to have them make a note that I'll be boarding in Fullerton instead of Los Angeles. Unfortunately, their way of handling this change was to cancel my current reservation and make a new one (as best as I can guess). When the reservation agent gave me a new car number and room number, I got a bit excited and asked: "You changed my room?" I wasn't at all happy about that as I was in Room C in the same car as the others I'm traveling with and she moved me to Room A in the next car. Not only did I not want to move to the next car, but Room A is also the least desirable of all the deluxe rooms because of its position by the door and the different configuration that provides for less space in the room. She said the computer did it automatically when I changed by departure point from Los Angeles to Fullerton, and then she asked me if she would like me to have her "undo" the change. I said that I certainly would like her to undo the change!
After getting off the phone, I realized that "undo-ing" the change also meant that I was still listed on the manifest as departing from Los Angeles and that there is still a 1% chance of someone upgrading to my "no show" room. I'll just have to take my chance on that. I think I'll be OK as I checked the internet reservation system and saw there were plenty of empty sleeping rooms in all categories all the way from Flagstaff to Chicago. I have to assume the train is not too full. All I wanted the Amtrak Reservation Agent to do was to make a note on the manifest that I would be boarding in Fullerton instead of Los Angeles. I didn't want her to change my entire reservation and room on the train! Checking later with agents that I am associated with, they said that it was certainly possible to do this and that the Amtrak Reservation Agent should have made such a note rather than changing my entire reservation.
An Amtrak agent from downstairs in the Fullerton Station just called us to let us know that he is gathering up all the Sleeping Car Passengers at 8 PM and is taking us all over to the Spaghetti Factory next door to the station. So the adventure begins long before the train ever leaves the station!
If the problem with the late Amtrak Southwest Chief isn't enough, there is more! Any of you that have your websites hosted at TrainWeb, or that may have attempted to visit www.AmtrakWest.com, www.CoastStarlight.com, www.PacificSurfliner.com, or www.RedBlock.com may have noticed those websites down for a couple of hours late this afternoon (Tuesday, April 24, 2001). It seems there was a problem at our server site with the main air conditioning unit, which through a cascade effect coupled with a minor heat wave in the L.A. area, blew the fuses on both back-up units. The heat buildup triggered a heat sensing auto shutoff in the computer room that cut the power to our entire computer room. At first, we did not know why the power went off! All the circuit-breakers were in place. Suddenly, I remembered that many years ago we used to have a pair of large computers in our computer room. These large computers required a tremendous amount of electric power and air-conditioning. Those large computers were replaced by racks of PC computers many years ago, which themselves have been replaced and upgraded many times. The last time the temperature sensing auto shutoff had been tripped was more than 10 years ago! I had totally forgotten that we had such a protective mechanism in the computer room! After replacing fuses in the backup air-conditioning units, getting the room cooled down and resetting the temperature sensor, we got all our computer equipment and web servers up and running. All the websites hosted on our servers were back on the air again!
At 8 P.M., we were directed to head over to the Spaghetti Factory. There was just one other couple heading over there with us. There were also supposed to be 2 more people in addition to the 5 of us, but they cancelled their Amtrak reservation. They were connecting with another train in Chicago. This would have screwed up that connection so bad that they decided just to cancel. The 5 of us had an enjoyable dinner over at the Spaghetti Factory on Amtrak. Amtrak wasn't covering the wine or tips, so the 5 of us covered that out of our own pocket. The waiter provided excellent and prompt service, so we did leave him a sizeable tip!
The couple that we had dinner with was Lou and Norma Redmond. They live in Curtisville, but come out to San Diego for 6 or 7 months of each year via the Amtrak Southwest Chief.
We finished dinner and arrived back at the Amtrak Station about 9:30 P.M. The couple that we had dinner with went to the Amtrak waiting room and we went back up to the TrainWeb office. We were only in the office for about 10 minutes when we finally saw the westbound Amtrak Southwest Chief arrive at about 9:42 P.M.
It appears that they unloaded all of the passengers and baggage off from the train. All the passengers and the baggage was placed on a bus to take them the final leg of their journey to Los Angeles. At least, that is what appeared to be happening. That would save Amtrak probably more than an hour in trying to get the train turned around. By taking the passengers off in Fullerton, the train can go direct to the service yard. The train will avoid the time it would take to unload in Los Angeles and then backtrack to the service yard. The eastbound Amtrak Southwest Chief departed Fullerton at 10:00 PM. Here is the consist of that trainset:
Wednesday, Apr 25, 2001 6:20 A.M. - Fullerton, CA (CH 36 160.650)
Here we are! Still in Fullerton, and no sign of the eastbound Amtrak Southwest Chief! The first two Metrolink trains have already come and gone through Fullerton on their way to Los Angeles. The Amtrak station staff just made an announcement that the Southwest Chief is still in Los Angeles. The problem is that there are so many Metrolink commuter trains arriving and departing at this hour that the dispatcher can not find a slot for the eastbound Southwest Chief! Thus, all of us that have been waiting at this station since 8:04 PM last night will just have to wait a bit longer. For those that are counting, this train that was supposed to depart from Los Angeles at 7:05 PM last night is already 10 hours and 15 minutes behind schedule.
After about 3 A.M. this morning, we all started to experience "brain fade" and could no longer do any serious work at TrainWeb. We've resorted to walking about the station platform to keep us awake. I'm afraid that if we doze off, we will probably miss the train! Fortunately, the weather is very pleasant. We have DirecTV pumped into our office at TrainWeb and are just killing some time now watching the History Channel.
Our most current plan is to have breakfast after we board the Southwest Chief and then just sleep until whatever time we wake up. The only thing that I regret is that we will be missing some of the best scenery along the route through Arizona, New Mexico and Colorado. I don't mind too much for myself as I have taken this route many times, but Ray doesn't get to see it too often and Shivam has never before been on this route.
At 6:28 A.M., an announcement was made that the first Amtrak Pacific Surfliner of the day will arrive shortly. It will be a southbound train out of Los Angeles heading for San Diego.
Wednesday, Apr 25, 2001 7:30 A.M. - Fullerton, CA (CH 36 160.650)
At about 6:45 A.M. an announcement was made that the eastbound Southwest Chief will arrive into Fullerton at about 7:15 A.M. We went down to the platform at 7:15 A.M. with our luggage to wait for the train. 7:15 A.M. came and went with no train. Many people down at the platform waiting for this train, both coach and sleeping car passengers, were quite upset. They could not understand why Amtrak could not have told them last night to go home and return to the station by 6:30 A.M. It was well known in advance that the westbound Southwest Chief was running 14 hours late and would not arrive into Los Angeles any sooner than 10 P.M. I think Amtrak is well aware that it takes them at least 6 hours to service the train. They also knew that it would take a certain number of additional hours to unload passengers and baggage in Los Angeles, to remove the express cars, to move the train to the service yard, to move the train back to the station, to load the train with eastbound passengers and baggage, and then to move the train to the yard to couple on the eastbound express cars. Thus, Amtrak knew at 8 P.M. that the eastbound Amtrak Southwest Chief could not possibly be into Fullerton any earlier than 7:00 A.M. Everyone would have been able to sleep better if they just went home and came back in the morning. Or better yet, Amtrak could have put up those passengers in a local motel.
To add insult to injury, Amtrak made announcements over the P.A. system at the Fullerton platform apologizing for the delay and then concluding with: "We hope everyone had a comfortable nights' rest." I don't think that was meant to be sarcastic, but how could these people have had a comfortable nights' rest sleeping on the benches inside and outside the station? Most didn't sleep at all and just sat or milled about the station expecting their train to arrive at any moment. Other than the original prediction that it would arrive at about 1 A.M., and then at 2 A.M., there were no further announcements until the one that said it would arrive at 7:15 A.M.!
The eastbound Amtrak Southwest Chief did eventually arrive at about 7:30 A.M. The Metrolink signs were indicating that the next southbound Metrolink train was running 15 minutes behind schedule. I assume that delay was created by trying to find a slot for the eastbound Amtrak Southwest Chief.
As we started to board the train, I discovered to my surprise that the 2 Standard Bedrooms and 1 Deluxe Bedroom were not all in the same Sleeping Car! When we first got the tickets for the pair of Standard Bedrooms, the first thing I noticed were that they were for rooms 8 and 9. I was a little disapointed as I realized that 9 and 10 are across from each other as are 7 and 8. But, you can't talk across the hallway between rooms 8 and 9 since they are offset by one room. What I failed to notice was that Room 9 was in the 0430 car and Room 8 was in the 0431 car! Thus, Ray headed off to Room 9 in the 0430 car and Shivam headed off to Room 8 in the 0431 car. We then all got together in my Deluxe Room C in the 1430 car.
My Car Attendant has turned one of the toilets downstairs into a refreshment supply room. She has placed all the soda, bottles of water, juice, and ice in the toilet on the right closest to the Handicapped Room downstairs. That is an interesting idea, but I really don't like it. I think having one restroom upstairs and three restrooms downstairs is just the right number for a Superliner Sleeping Car. With four public restrooms, it is very rare that anyone has to ever wait to use one. I think reducing that number by just one increases the probability significantly that there will be times when someone has to wait to use a restroom. I also heard some people mention that they did not like the idea of their beverages being stored in the restroom. Most Sleeping Car Attendants place a limited number of beverages to the left of the coffee preperation area and refill the supply as it gets used up. They also usually keep 2 or 3 cartons of different types of juice at the coffee stand along with cups and other coffee supplies. Ice will often be kept in a chest in the hallway corner opposite from the stairway. Sometimes a Sleeping Car Attendant will place all the beverages, cookies, mints, apples and other supplies in their own room, which is Room 1, right across from the coffee area. Often Room 2 or some other room will not be booked by any passenger and the Car Attendant will set that room up as a refreshment area. Some Car Attendants will even put a table cloth over a big white cardboard trash box in the corner across from the stairs and set that up as additional space for the refreshment area. I've even seen one Car Attendant bring his own bookcase from home and set that up as the refreshment area! I think all of these ideas are better ideas than eliminating one of the restrooms for this purpose.
After putting our luggage in our rooms, we went down to the Dining Car for breakfast. Because of the lateness of the train, all coach passengers were given a complimentary breakfast. We immediately recognized Michael, the Lead Service Attendant in the Dining Car. Michael also recognized me, but he was wondering where he saw me since this is not his regular route. We both realized at the same time that we were on the same Amtrak Coast Starlight back in February of this year!
With the train being so many hours late, we did get to experience a rare daylight crossing through the Cajon Pass and the Mojave Desert. I haven't been through here on daylight since I went through in 1999 in the Overland Trail private car at the end of a train powered by the Santa Fe 3751 Steam Locomotive. Prior to that I had been through here a couple of times during daylight when the Amtrak Desert Wind used to be in service.
Wednesday, Apr 25, 2001 1:10 P.M. - Somewhere Before Needles, CA (CH 55 160.935 MP 651.0)
The Conductor is concerned that the crew is not going to make it to Kingman, Arizona, before going dead. The operating crew of the train, which is the engineer, conductor and assistant conductors, are only allowed by law to work so many hours per day. I believe the limit is 12 hours. After they reach their limit, they law requires them to have a certain number of hours of rest before they can work again. Once they reach their limit, they have to stop the train wherever it is and be relieved by a fresh operating crew. Because of the lateness of this train, around 12 hours late, this operating crew may go dead in the middle of nowhere. If that happens, there could be a significant delay in getting a relief crew to the train.
Thursday, Apr 26, 2001 3:21 P.M. Central Time - Dodge City, Kansas (CH 85 161.385)
The problem of going dead that the operating crew was a little worried about did not happen and there was no delay caused by the change of crews. However, the train did manage to lose a little more time here and there. Altogether, those little losses added up to about 2.5 hours and, on leaving Dodge City, Kansas, we are now 15 hours behind schedule!
Our stop in La Junta, Colorado, was considerably truncated. When we got off the train, we asked how long we would be at this station. The schedule shows that we are normally at this stop for about 25 minutes. I assume this is a stop where the train normally gets serviced: engines refuelled, trash taken off, dining and passenger cars get water, etc. Our car attendant told us that we would be here for about 25 minutes. I walked down to the front of the train checking car numbers to see if any cars had been swapped out when westbound train #3 was turned into eastbound train #4 in Los Angeles. The only cars that appear to have been swapped out are the Dining Car and the Sightseer Lounge Car. All the locomotives and revenue passenger cars were the same. Some of the car loading numbers had not even been changed yet and still had the loading numbers from train #3. For example, coach car #0411 still had a sign saying car #0311.
As Ray and I were walking back from the front of the train, we heard the Conductor yell "Board!" and that was quickly followed by two blows of the horn. We were quite surprised as we were only on the ground for about 10 minutes! Everyone was quickly boarding the train and the Car Attendant of a Coach Car that we were standing near told us to board through the door of her car quickly! I looked toward the front of the train and saw Shivam board a coach car closest to the front of the train. Everyone boarding was quite surprised as they were all told that we had about 25 minutes. I've heard that La Junta is a stop where it is not unusual for the Southwest Chief to lose a passenger or two. Downtown is right across the street from the station. Though warned by the crew to not go downtown, passengers will sometimes ignore this warning and try to visit a store or two downtown. It only takes a slight delay in a store to eat up the brief 25 minute layover and to find the train has departed when you return to the station! With this unannounced truncated layover, we would certainly have lost anyone that tried to leave the station platform. Fortunately, I don't think we lost anyone on this trip.
It was a good thing that I decided to check the front of the train instead of the rear of the train first. If I had been way down at the back of the train when the Conductor yelled: "Board!", I would have had to run pretty fast to get to a door before it was closed! As Ray and I walked through the train on our way back to the sleeping cars, Shivam came up from the lower level of one of the coach cars. Since he boarded way down at the front of the train and we were walking toward the back of the train, we have no idea how he got ahead of us! You can't walk between cars on the lower level and he says he did not go back out on the platform after he boarded the train. He won't tell us how he did it, so I guess that will remain a mystery. Ray jokingly suggested that he may have gone through the air conditioning ductwork!
There will be great gaps of coverage in this travelogue. Mostly what all three of us did on the train yesterday was sleep. After having stayed awake for about 26 hours straight in waiting for this train, we were dead tired when we boarded. We each had breakfast in the dining car, but then we went right to sleep after that. In the car that Ray and I were in, the Car Attendant had left the rooms in the sleeping configuration. I told her that was just what we wanted. I think Shivam's room was set up in the daytime seating configuration. He either had his Car Attendant turn it back to the sleeping configuration or did it himself.
Exactly what happened yesterday is a fog to me. I know that we woke up somewhere around lunch time and all went down for a bite to eat at lunchtime. Afterwards, we hung around in my Deluxe Room for a short while. We were still pretty beat and soon Ray and Shivam each went back to their individual rooms. I decided to take a nap and slept until shortly before dinner time. We got together again for dinner, hung around again in my room for a short while after dinner, but we each went to bed early that night. I have no idea how many hours of sleep I got on Wednesday, but I'm sure it was quite enough to make up for what I missed on Tuesday. I didn't wake up until about 7 A.M. on Thursday.
The food has been fairly good on this train, but nowhere near the gourmet status of the food of my last trip on the Amtrak Southwest Chief. For breakfast I had French Toast, for lunch a Gardenburger, and for dinner some Penne Pasta. I had some Apple Pie for desert with my lunch. I like the real Apple Pie on this train. Often they only have some time of Apple Struddle or Apple Granny on the train, especially on the Amtrak Coast Starlight. If you ask for Apple Pie al a Mode, they give you one of the above apple pastries with ice cream. I ordered just the Apple Pie for desert minus the "al a mode".
In the morning, I went back to my normal eating habits. I had orange juice and Raisen Bran cereal for breakfast. For lunch I had just Chicken Soup and a Garden Salad. Since I don't like most fish nor chicken on the bone and am trying to avoid red meat as often as possible, I'll be ordering the Pene Pasta again. But this time, I think I will try to reduce my portion to half and skip any desserts today!
The three people in the dining car have been wonderful. I've already mentioned Michael, the Lead Dining Car Attendant. Judy, our Dining Car Service Attendant all day on Wednesday, gave prompt and excellent service. Gwendolyn ("Gwen") McCormick was our Dining Car Service Attendant today. She also provided prompt and excellent service. Gwen couldn't help but drop into our conversation for a moment when she heard us talking about steam trains and train travel. Gwen went to China in the early 1980's and traveled about China in a steam train! Gwen has been working for Amtrak for more than 25 years and did this while on leave from Amtrak.
Ray Burns is more the people person than I am. He is also writing a travelogue of this journey. I think he will be writing more about Gwen and about the characters that we shared our dining table with during this trip.
I think I have been spoiled by being in the Deluxe Bedroom on this train! I have never slept in the Deluxe Room before this trip. I've booked a Deluxe Room before, and I've even been upgraded onboard for free to a Deluxe Room, even when I only booked a Standard Room. But, those were daytime only trips between Los Angeles and Oakland or Sacramento on the Amtrak Coast Starlight. I've never been overnight in a Deluxe Room. It really is nice having all that space and a toilet and sink right in the same room. One big advantage of a Deluxe Room is that one person can work on their computer at the table even when the other person wants to lay down and take a nap. It is possible to do that in a Standard Room also, but that person has to take their nap in the dark upper bunk of the Standard Room where they don't have a view out the window. Since I expect to be taking less rail trips until my daughters graduate from high school, I might consider taking those trips in a Deluxe Room instead of the Standard Room.
Friday, Apr 27, 2001 8:30 P.M. - Lawrence, Kansas (CH 69 161.145)
Because of our late status, everyone in Coach was given a free dinner. They were served between 5:30 P.M and 7:00 P.M. The passengers from the Sleeping Cars were then brought in at 7:00 P.M. Everyone in Coach was given just one specific entree decided by the Dining Car staff. Sleeping Car passengers would have their choice from the menu. I was a bit worried since it seemed to me they might be giving the Coach passengers Penne Pasta and then run out of it by the time the Sleeping Car passengers were served.
We went to dinner when we were called at 7:00 P.M. Sure enough, we could have any item on the menu except for Penne Pasta which had run out! This put me in a bit of a difficult situation for the following reasons: (1) I'm trying to avoid beef. I'll eat it on rare occassions, but only on special occassions and only when I know I'm going to get something that is really worth the health sacrifice. (2) I don't like fish, except for canned tuna. (3) I don't like any kind of chicken served on the bone. That basically left nothing on the dinner menu that I wanted to eat other then the Penne Pasta, which had run out! So for dinner, I just had a slice of Apple Pie. I didn't have it "al a mode", but if I wanted it that way, I still could not have it that way since they also ran out of ice cream! They did offer whipped cream, but I just had it plain. Free wine was offered to the Sleeping Car passengers, so I ordered a glass of red wine to go with my Apple Pie.
I have not yet confirmed that the selection served to the Coach passengers was Penne Pasta. Thus, I don't know if that is the real reason that they ran out. Someone said the Coach passengers were served chicken. I'm not sure why they should be running out of so much food. Dinner is normally served on the evening of departure from Los Angeles. Because the train did not leave until morning, that dinner food was never served. So, you would think they should have enough food for one more meal on the train. But, I guess less people go for dinner when the train departs from Los Angeles than are on the train now. That could account for the short amount of supplies. I was going down to the Cafe Car to purchase a sandwich or something, but there was a sign on the door that the Cafe Car would be closed until 8:30 P.M. As I write this, it is now 8:42 P.M. and I'm not sure that I want to eat anything more this late.
Friday, Apr 27, 2001 10:00 P.M. - Chicago, Illinois
At 5:00 A.M. this morning, the Sleeping Car Attendant came through the car waking everyone. She announced over the P.A. System that coffee and pastry was available at the self-serve coffee service area at the top of the stairs in the Sleeping Car. I got up, got dressed and packed everything up so that I would be ready to leave the train. I pulled the button to have my bed put away and have the room converted to daytime use. Ray came into my room a few minutes later. Then, we found out that we were still two hours out of Chicago! Ray and I decided that we had time to still catch a little shut eye. After all, it is hard to miss your stop when you are getting off at the end of the line. When Ray returned to his own room to take that nap, he found that his bed had also already been made up. Each of us had to fold down the upper bunks to pull out the pillows that had already been put away.
The Sleeping Car Attendant then came through our rooms collecting the trash baskets and putting in new liners. When we asked why she woke everyone up when we were still 2 hours from Chicago, she said that they wanted all the passengers making connections in Chicago to go to the Dining Car to meet with Amtrak staff that could help them with those connections. That is fine, but Ray and I were not making any connections in Chicago and we certainly could have used a nap for almost another two hours. In contrast, Shivam's Sleeping Car Attendant didn't wake him up until 6:40 A.M., just 20 minutes before arrival into Chicago. He only woke up early those people that would be making connections in Chicago. That was certainly the right way to do things!
Things actually got worse after that! Ray Burns, Shivam Surve and I took a taxi from Chicago Union Station to the Quality Inn Downtown at 1 Midway Plaza in Chicago. I called the hotel the previous evening around 6 P.M. to let them know that the train was running late and that we would not arrive until around 7 A.M. I also told them to make sure they saved our room. I told them we would want to check in as soon as we arrived, even if we do get charged for the extra night. I had always assumed that is how guaranteed reservations work anyway. If you guarantee your reservation with a credit card, which we did, the hotel is supposed to hold your room for whenever you show up. In order to do that, the hotel will charge your credit card even if you never show up at all. That is the whole idea behind a "guaranteed reservation." The person I spoke to at the hotel said there would be no problem. He said we would be able to check-in when we arrived in the morning.
Well, that is not how things turned out! When we arrived at the hotel, the person at the check-in desk told us that our reservation had been cancelled because we didn't show up last night! When I explained to them that we had guaranteed our reservation by credit card AND that we had placed a confirmation call to the hotel last night to let them know that we would not arrive until morning AND that we had been told that there would be no problem checking in when we did arrive, the person at the check-in desk told us that none of that mattered! They said they don't hold the room, even if you do have a guaranteed reservation and even if you do call in to let them know that you will be arriving late. So, if you ever plan to stay at a Quality Inn, keep these strange policies in mind! There is no such thing as a "guaranteed reservation" and calling ahead to confirm your reservation is meaningless! If you don't show up for your "guaranteed reservation", I'm sure they will charge your credit card. But, if you do show up late, they might give your room away anyway!
As the check-in clerk was working with us on our reservation problem, the entire crew from our eastbound Amtrak Southwest Chief arrived at this same hotel! They all piled down at one end of the counter. Our clerk was the only person on duty at the check-in desk. She told us that she would have to leave us and take care of the Amtrak crew first as they take priority. At first, we became upset over this. Afterall, we were in line first and she was in the middle of taking care of us. Second, from our point of view, we saw ourselves as the traveling paying passengers. Both the Amtrak crew and the hotel staff are in the "service" business of attracting and serving their "guests". It didn't seem right that the hotel would first take care of other service people before they took care of the guests that they were both supposed to serve. However, we realized that unlike us, the Amtrak crew had to clean up and get a little rest before they had to report back to the train at about 12:30 P.M., just 5 hours after their check-in at the hotel! Afterall, they arrived on the same 15 hour late train that we just arrived on. We could rest as much as we wanted that day, but the Amtrak crew had to head right back to the train in just a few hours. However, it was still anoying that we had to wait until about a dozen Amtrak people were checked in before we could complete our registration.
When the registration person finally got back to us about 30 minutes later, she insisted that she would have to make a new reservation for us. She also insisted that there might not be any rooms available until 3:30 P.M. in the afternoon. That just got us arguing again that we had guaranteed reservations that we confirmed last night and that there should be rooms if the hotel did not give our rooms away. Her response got us even more upset. She said that they probably had rooms, but they probably have not yet been cleaned! We naturally responded that the hotel told us they would not give away our rooms last night, therefore they should not be dirty! In any case, we began to make new reservations. When I informed her that the reservations were at the special Amtrak Historical Society rate of just $46 per night instead of the usual $89 or more per night, she said that she had no power to change the rate. We went for a loop again! Once again we told her we didn't want a rate change, we just wanted the rate under which our reservations had been made! She told us again that she had no power to change the rate and that we would have to wait until the manager arrived at 8:30 A.M. So, even though we were dead tired from the exhausting 15 hour late train into Chicago and having been woken up at 5 A.M. so our Sleeping Car Attendant could get off the train early and jump ahead of us in line at the Quality Inn, we would still have to wait another half hour before we could even think of getting a room at this hotel!
To kill the time, we went into the cafe at the hotel and had breakfast. By the time we finished breakfast, the hotel manager had arrived. We explained our problem all over again to her. Her answers to us about (1) the rooms of our guaranteed reservation having been given away, (2) the reservation that we did not cancel having been cancelled, (3) the reservation confirmation that we made last night being falsely given by the hotel, and (4) the posibility of no available clean rooms despite the fact that our rooms should have been held, made no more sense than the explanations given to us by the check-in clerk. However, unlike the check-in clerk, the manager was able to give us new reservations at the Amtrak Historical Society conference rate of $46 per night. She also did not charge us for the night that we did not arrive. And, best of all, she was able to immediately check us into 2 clean rooms!
So, personally, I'm just going to say that this was one strange circumstance that all originated with the late train. I do plan to continue to use this Quality Inn at 1 Midway Plaza as the place that I will usually stay when I come to Chicago and I will continue to recommend that others also do so. Although something seems to have gone terribly wrong when I confirmed my reservation the prior evening, where they seem to have cancelled my reservation rather than confirmed it, everything did work out fine in the end. The rates are good at this hotel, the quality is fine, it is fairly close to the station, there is a restaurant, bar and room service, and it is just a couple of blocks from many Greek restaurants. There is also a Walgreens right behind the hotel that is open for 24 hours per day. Those are enough reasons to keep me coming to this hotel, but I'm not sure it would have remained so if the manager had not been able to resolve the problem originally caused by the hotel and have knocked off the charge for the night for which they did not hold my reservations.
After we cleaned up and rested up, we decided to take in a few sights of the town. We took a taxi to the Sears Tower, the tallest building in the world. You can walk from the hotel to the Sears Tower which is just a couple of blocks from Chicago Union Station, but it is a pretty healthy walk. We wanted to save our energy for looking around the city rather than wear ourselves out before we even got started. At Sears Tower, we each purchased a "City Pass". The "City Pass" allows you admission into 6 major attractions: Sears Tower, The Art Institute of Chicago, The Aquarium, The Planetarium, The Field Museum of Natural History, and the Museum of Science and Industry. I have never been up the Sears Tower before. On all my previous trips to Chicago, I either didn't have enough time between trains, or the city was socked in with fog. Today is a beautiful clear day with a perfect temperature of about 70F degrees. The view from the top of Sears Tower was tremendous! My favorite view, of course, was the view of the Amtrak yard. I took a number of photos of the trains and the yard from this height.
After coming down from the Sears Tower, we purchased all-day tickets for the (Chicago Trolley Tour). That gave us a good overview of the highlights of the city. The Trolley also stops at all the attractions that are included in the "City Pass". We stopped at the Rainforest Cafe for lunch. I've been to that restaurant before with my family when we went to Disneyworld in Florida. I was glad that we were seated immediately at this restaurant and did not have an hour wait like we had in Florida! The food was great! I didn't remember being impressed with the food at the Florida Rainforest Cafe, but I probably just had a hamburger at that restaurant. At this place, I ordered an asparagus and portabelo mushroom sandwich served with potato wedges. The Hard Rock Cafe is located right next to the Rainforest Cafe. We got back on the trolley, stayed on past the point that we got on, and then got off at the Art Institute of Chicago.
By the time we arrived at the Art Institute, we only had a couple of hours before we would have to get back to the hotel for the start of the Amtrak Historical Society Conference. That was enough time for us to get a taste of the museum. At first I was surprised at a number of paintings in the museum that dated back to the 1500's, but then we went to another section of the museum where the art objects on display were from the 9th century! I guess I shouldn't have been that surprised as other museums in the city have items on display that are thousands of years old, especially the Egyptian exhibit at the Museum of Natural History.
We then took a taxi back to the hotel. We arrived at about 4:45 P.M., but we could not find the Amtrak Historical Society anywhere! According to the web page, which I myself had posted, we were supposed to depart the hotel at 5:30 P.M. to go to the Amtrak Reservation Center. The AHS Conference room was all locked up and nobody at the front desk knew where they were. We decided to wait in the front lobby as they could not leave the hotel without going through the front lobby. Shivam asked one of the hotel staff people if they knew what happened to the Amtrak Historical Society. The hotel did much to redeem itself in my eyes when that staff person searched every conference room to see if they had changed rooms. He then started calling the rooms of other attendees to see if he could locate someone. Jeff Kocar, President of the Amtrak Historical Society, then called the lobby to ask what happened to us! It turns out that it was 4:30 P.M. that the AHS was to depart for the Amtrak Reservation Center! I don't know where I got the 5:30 P.M. that I posted to the web page. We took a taxi to the Amtrak Reservation Center which probably made up much of the time that eveyone else took by taking public transit. We arrived just in time for the presentation by Amtrak.
Part 2 - Chicago, Illinois to Fullerton, California
Sunday, Apr 29, 2001 - Chicago, Illinois
Shivam and I took a taxi to the planetarium. The day was off to a bit of a bad start. As I climbed the stairs to the planetarium, I tripped on the stairs. I didn't hurt myself, but in the process of putting out my hands to stop my fall, my camera case swung around and hit the stone steps pretty hard. The Sony digital camera did not work properly after than. This is the most expensive camera that we have with the most features and most powerful zoom lens. Hopefully I can send it in for repair and it won't cost too much to fix. For the rest of the day, I had this camera to carry around which was nothing more than dead weight. I was not able to take photos of any of the sights that we visited. Any photos that you might find below that were taken today came from Shivam's disposable camera.
The best way to use the "City Pass" is to spend a number of days in Chicago and go to no more than 2 or 3 attractions per day. Since we only had one day to cover four different attractions, we knew we wouldn't get to see much of each one. We decided to stay no more than two hours at each one so that we could cover all of them. We were able to take one walk through the planetarium and see one show. Then, we took the long walk over to the Museum of Natural History. There, we saw Sue, the most complete skeleton of a Tyranasourus ever found. They also had a very extensive Egyptian exhibit with many mummies, crypts and other real artifacts from ancient Egypt on display. We grabbed lunch in the Museum of Natural History and then went to the aquarium. The aquarium had an extensive display of sea animals from around the world as well as a dolphin and whale show.
Then, we took a taxi to the Museum of Science and Industry. On the map, that museum doesn't look too far from the others, but it is actually about a 7 minute taxi ride along the shore of Lake Michigan! We had been thinking of skipping this museum, but once we went in, we were very glad that we did not skip it. The original Zephyr is on display inside the museum! A walk through tour of the train is provided. When you are in the train, they simulate track motion so that it feels like you are really in a moving train. We got to sit in the least expensive seats in the train and then in the regular section of the train. In the first class lounge at the end of the train we were only able to stand and watch a presentation. We were also able to see inside the engine compartment and inside the cab. We took a number of photos inside and outside the train with Shivam's disposable camera. We then watched a video about the history of this train.
From his friends, Shivam heard there was a section of Chicago on Devon Street where there are a lot of Indian Restaurants from all parts of India. We noticed that the Metra train that goes to Fox Lake goes right to 6400 N. Devon Street. Thus, we took that train. Unfotunately, the concept of addresses in Chicago seems different from most other cities. It seems that all of Devon Street is considered 6400 North. Chicago has a grid system of addresses where every street not only has a name, but it also corresponds to a number on this direction grid. Thus, the "6400 North" just indicates how far Devon Street is from downtown. Even though a sign right by the Metra station indicated we were at "Devon Street 6400 North", we were actually several miles from the right part of Devon Street! It was about a $10 taxi ride down Devon Street to get to the right part of the street.
After walking quite a way down Devon Street and passing many Indian Restaurants, we picked one and went in to eat. The menu was much larger than any Indian restaurant in our part of California. It was hard picking items, but we eventually narrowed down our selection. Actually, we ordered too much food, but could not take the left-overs back to Los Angeles.
I'm sure there was a much more reasonable way to get back to our hotel than taking the Fox Lake Metra train, but that is all that we had figured out so far. It might not even have been that expensive to just take the taxi back to our hotel! But, being train people, one should never miss an excuse to take a train! Part of the field trip with the Amtrak Historical Society involved taking a Metra train round-trip to the Pullman Historical District. We were each given a weekend pass that was good all weekend on Metra. Unfortunately, we did not realize that we would be taking a Metra train again and left the passes in the hotel. Thus, Shivam and I purchased two more Metra weekend passes. Each weekend pass was only $5 which was less expensive than a round-trip ticket. So, when we were ready to return to our hotel from the Indian restaurant, our fare was already taken care of, except for the $10 taxi ride back to the Metra station. As the taxi arrived at the station, the crossing gates went down and we saw our train coming. We ran to the station and just barely made it in time to board the train!
Monday, Apr 30, 2001 3:08 P.M. - Chicago, Illinois
Ray Burns would be flying home as he had an airline ticket left over from a rail trip he had previously planned to take one-way to Chicago. We had breakfast together in the hotel and then he took a taxi to Midway Airport. He flew on ATA from Midway to Los Angeles as ATA is often one of the least expensive ways to fly out of Chicago.
Shivam and I took a taxi to Chicago Union Station. We checked in at the Metropolitan Lounge. As usual, they had us store our carry-on luggage in Room 341, just a little down the hall. Only First Class Passengers can use the Metropolitan Lounge. On the long distance trains, the Sleeping Car Passengers are the First Class Passengers. When you check in at the desk in the Metropolitan Lounge, they will give you a boarding pass and stickers to put on your carry-on luggage. The boarding pass indicates the date of your train, train number, car number and room number. The round sticker for your carry-on luggage just indicates your train number. After you place the round stickers on your carry-on luggage, you bring your luggage to Room 341. A Red Cap (luggage helper) will place your bags on a shelf in that room and will give you a baggage check. He will also tell you about what time you should return to Room 341 to claim your carry-on luggage and might even write it on your boarding pass as he did on ours.
Shivam wanted to do a little shopping in Chicago before we left. From our Chicago Trolley Tour that we took the first day we were in Chicago, we knew there were a lot of stores in the State Street Mall area. We walked from the station to that area, which turned out to be a pretty far walk. We went as far as Marshall Fields, but didn't really find the types of stores that we were seeking.
It was still early, so we decided to take a tour of Chicago that I had always wanted to take: by boat! I had often seen boat tours go by Chicago Union Station on the Chicago River while I was in my room in a Superliner in the station. I decided to someday go on one of those boat tours. This seemed like the perfect time. Looking at a map, we noticed that we were only about 5 blocks from the start of the boat tour which was at the corner of Wacker and Madison, right at the river. We walked the 5 blocks and were just a few minutes early for the next tour that would start at 11:45 A.M. The longest part of the tour was out through the locks to Lake Michigan and a bit around the Chicago harbor area. The best view of the Chicago skyline is probably the one that we had from Lake Michigan! The tour went a little bit north to where we had a view of the zoo in Chicago. I think that was Lincoln Park. Then it went a bit south to where we had a view of the Aquarium and Grant Park. We also got an excellent view of the Navy Pier, which is a large entertainment and shopping area, before heading back through the locks again to the Chicago River. The Lake Michigan part of the boat tour is about an hour. The Chicago River part of the tour is about 30 minutes. As we reached the far end of the Chicago River tour, we went by Chicago Union Station and could see Superliners at the platforms under the building. As soon as we returned to the dock, we went upstairs to the street level and took a taxi back to Chicago Union Station.
Shivam and I got back to Chicago Union Station about 1:45 P.M. and had lunch at the Deep Dish Pizza place upstairs in the station. I ordered the mini cheese pizza and Shivam ordered one without the cheese. They were as delicious as usual! I'm sure these are not the best Chicago has to offer in pizza, but they are pretty good and I don't know anyplace in my neighborhood that prepares deep dish pizza like this. We were eating at a table that was set up out in front of the pizza place directly in front of the gift shop. There were about 12 tables set up in this area. As were were eating, someone came along and put all the tables away except for our table. That left Shivam and I eating at a table out alone in the middle of nowhere! I should have taken a picture of Shivam eating at the table. As crowds of passengers walked by, they must have wondered why two guys were eating at a table in the middle of the pedestrian area!
After eating, we went back to the Metropolitan Lounge. Every seat in the lounge was occupied! Even the seats meant for people making calls at the phone booths were taken up by people waiting for their trains. The Amtrak Empire Builder had just finished loading, but the room was still full of people waiting for both the California Zephyr and the Southwest Chief. Checking the schedule, I could see that even after they boarded the California Zephyr, there would still be people in the lounge for both the Southwest Chief and for the Texas Eagle. I really don't understand why Amtrak has scheduled the Empire Builder, California Zephyr, Southwest Chief and Texas Eagle one right after another. This close scheduling creates a lot of problems. First of all, the Metropolitan Lounge and other waiting areas will have passengers for at least two trains at all times. I don't know about the other lounges, but the seating capacity of the Metropolitan Lounge is really not adequate to handle two trains at the same time. The scheduling must also put a strain on the Red Caps as well as other station services. They barely have time to handle one train before they have to start handling the next train. If any one of the trains is running late, it means that they have to handle two or more trains at the same time! That alone can end up delaying the loading of passengers and baggage in and of itself! I'm not sure if this scheduling also impacts the switching of express cars onto the Amtrak trains. Amtrak is handling more and more express freight. I don't know if they have enough Switch engines and staff to handle so many trains all leaving within a short interval. Plus, it must cause some problems in trying to coordinate all the trains in and out of the station and all the freight in and out of the yard within such a short interval. If any of the trains have electrical or mechanical problems, doesn't it cause a problem in trying to assign maintenance crews when more than one train might have a similar problem at the same time? It just seems very strange to me that all the long distance trains are schedule to go out one right after the other. Unless I am missing something, it seems it would be more reasonable to at least spread them out throughout one eight hour shift.
Off to a good start! I am in Room 5 in the 0331 Car. When I entered the room, I found 2 bottles of water and a Southwest Chief Route Guide. The Sleeping Car Attendant has also placed many bottles of soft drinks and apples in Room 1 that is available for passengers in the car to take whenever they want. The windows had been cleaned both inside and outside my room. Even the window to the door to my room and the side window to my room was totally clean! When I went to the restroom, it was also totally clean and dry. There wasn't even a drop of water in the sink bowl. I know the car cleaners go through the train in Chicago, but since this car is extra clean and the Sleeping Car Attendant has made sure that all other details have been taken care of for his passengers, I suspect he also made his own pass through the car cleaning anything else that wasn't just right. This is definitely a good omen for the rest of this trip!
Monday, Apr 30, 2001 3:15 P.M. - Chicago, Illinois
On time departure from Chicago! We arrived into the yard at 3:20 P.M. and are waiting for the express cars to be added to the back of our train.
Whoops! Shivam, who is in Room 6 of the next Sleeping Car (0330), just got kicked out of Room 2 of this car. The Sleeping Car Attendant said that the supplies in this car are just for the passengers in this car. He told Shivam to go back to his own car to get beverages as there are just enough in each car for the passengers in each car. A quick correction to the circumstances ... Jay, the Sleeping Car Attendant for this car just came to my room. When he saw Shivam sitting in the room with me, he asked: "I thought you said you were in Room 6 in the next car?" We then explained that we thought we were in Room 5 and 6 across from each other in the same car, but then realized that we were in different cars! Jay saw there was nobody in Room 6 across from me. He then said he would see what he could do to move Shivam from the 0330 car to the 0331 car so that we could have rooms across from each other. Jay also said Shivam could help himself to the beverages in this car since we were traveling together. That made more sense!
At 4:20 P.M., we finally departed the yard in Chicago. It took one hour to get the express cars attached to the train. The train departed from Naperville at 4:52 P.M, Mendota at 5:42 P.M., Princeton at 6:04 P.M., and Galesburg, Illinois at 7:58 P.M., about 30 minutes behind schedule at every station.
Monday, Apr 30, 2001 6:58 P.M. - Ft. Madison, Iowa
About 6:45 P.M., we started viewing the Mississippi River on the north side of the train. We saw many houses that were half underwater! The Mississippi River has been flooding towns for hundreds of miles. The Amtrak Empire Builder has not been running between St. Paul, Minnesota, and Chicago for the last couple of weeks because of Mississippi River flooding. They have been substituting buses for that service. Before we started this trip, we were worried that it might interfere with this Amtrak route. It did not, but we did see that the Mississippi River came almost right up the tracks and had flooded houses just a few feet from the tracks.
Tuesday, May 1, 2001 7:19 A.M. - Dodge City, Kansas
Happy Birthday, Amtrak! Amtrak was created 30 years ago today in 1971. The news said that all the Amtrak trains would be blowing their horn at noon today. I woke up about 30 minutes ago, just before arriving into Dodge City. From the schedule I can see that we are running about one hour and 11 minutes late. Seems we lost more time during the night.
Shivam and I went to breakfast late and almost missed last call. After breakfast, Shivam pulled the button to call the Sleeping Car Attendant to have his bed made. Jay came immediately before Shivam even had a chance to step out from the room! That is what I call service!
Tuesday, May 1, 2001 9:32 A.M. - La Junta, Colorado - Arrive
Tuesday, May 1, 2001 1:29 P.M.
Twelve noon has come and gone. The horn did not blow on the train to commemorate Amtrak's 30th year as was stated on the news broadcast last night. There has been no announcement or other indication on this train that today is Amtrak's 30th Anniversary. At least I'll be able to remember that I was on an Amtrak train on its 30th anniversary. I think Amtrak missed a big publicity and marketing opportunity. The least Amtrak could have done was give out certificates to everyone on trains that indicated they were on the train on Amtrak's 30th Anniversary. Publicizing this throughout the Amtrak system and releasing it to the news media could have given Amtrak an extra boost in ridership for that one day. Even if such a publicity event only brought in a few hundred thousand dollars, it would bring the concept of train travel to many people. If Amtrak wanted to be more elaborate, they could have even done something like having 2 children ride free with every adult, or 2 adults ride for the price of one, or something like that. I wouldn't expect Amtrak to do a special promotion like this every year, but certainly doing a big anniversary celebration every 5 or 10 years isn't asking too much. From riding this train, you wouldn't know that this day means anything special to Amtrak at all.
Tuesday, May 1, 2001 4:55 P.M. - Albuquerque, New Mexico - Arrival
Shivam and I immediately headed to the buritto truck. We each purchased a chicken and a bean & cheese buritto. The bean & cheese burittos were $2 each and the chicken burittos were $3 each. Shivam agreed with me and many others that these are some of the best burittos anywhere! There are many of us that never miss an opportunity to pick up a couple of burittos at the truck whenever we take the Southwest Chief. Since this is a service stop, and also usually drops off some of the express freight cars, the train seldom stops less than 20 minutes in Albuquerque. That is plenty of time to pick up your burittos. Make sure you get them before you do anything else. They usually do not resupply between the eastbound and westbound Southwest Chief. Thus, the eastbound train usually arrives first and the westbound passengers get to purchase whatever has not been bought out by the eastbound passengers. If the eastbound train arrives on time or early, the coach passengers will not yet have had lunch and it is likely that more will be gone than when the eastbound train is late. Usually you will find all the different types of burittos available, but I have been through here when they have run out of a number of different types of burittos.
Tuesday, May 1, 2001 5:43 P.M. - Albuquerque, New Mexico - Departure
Click here to read the travelogue of Ray Burns for this same rail trip.
Some of my previous journeys on the Amtrak Southwest Chief:
For those of you that would like to learn more about the Amtrak Southwest Chief, visit the following websites:
For those of you that would like to learn more about Amtrak and its history, click here to visit the website of the Amtrak Historical Society.
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