This is the travelogue of my journey with my children and one of their friends on several Amtrak trains from Orlando, Florida, to Washington, DC, Thursday, October 1, 1998 through Saturday, October 2, 1998.
Select one of the following sets of photographs:
If you follow my route plan for this westward trip home, you will see that it is pretty round-about. The reason for this is that I want to cover a small distance of rail territory served by Amtrak that I have never previously traveled. The target stretch of rail is the route of the Carolinian between Raleigh, North Carolina and Greensboro, North Carolina. The stations along this route which I have never seen include: Cary,NC; Durham,NC; and Burlington,NC.
You might also notice that my travels overlap the Amtrak routes of the Silver Star and Crescent by quite a bit. I did not need to do this to cover the Amtrak areas that are new to me. However, I wanted to avoid getting the kids up and changing trains in the wee hours of the morning. It didn't hurt to stay on the train longer than needed, just as long as we get off in time to catch the train going the other way.
Ch 32 (160.590) MP 776.1
Ch 32 (160.590) MP 755.0
We pulled into the DeLand station 2 minutes early, but lost HEP (Head End Power) as we were pulling in. The trains stopped right at a grade-level crossing. The Conductor and Engineer agreed to move the train down just a bit without HEP to clear the intersection. After inspecting the train, they managed to restore HEP, but I'm not sure they figured out actually what caused the train to lose HEP.
Ch 32 (160.590) MP 734.7 52 Axles
We had dinner reservations for 7 PM but were called into the Dining Car at about 6:40 PM, 20 minutes early. There were 5 or 6 selections on the menu plus 2 children's selections. I had the rib roast which I thought was quite good. Unfortunately, none of the kids thought much of the food. One of my daughters had the twin mini-hamburgers. She thought it tasted like hamburger gum. My other daughter had the fried chicken kids meal which she didn't like either. The friend that they brought along also had the rib roast, but she thought it was too fatty. The dinners were served with mashed potatoes and corn on the cob, both of which I thought were pretty good.
The service in the Dining Car was friendly, prompt and excellent. All of us noticed that the table seemed rather high relative to the height of the seats. I thought this might be because the seat cushions are worn out and they thus leave you sitting lower than if they were still new with more support.
We stopped outside the station at 7:51 PM, our scheduled arrival time, and then backed the train into the station. They closed the cafe/lounge car for cleaning and restocking. They invited passengers to get out and stretch their legs but reminded the passengers that the train waits for no one and they should not leave the side of the train.
Looks like we made up any time that we lost and arrived into Jacksonville pretty much on time. However, at about 8:30 PM we were informed of a private train derailment in Jesup, Georgia, 91 miles north of here. Although this train does not stop in Jesup, it does go on those tracks. Thus, we are stuck in Jacksonville until it is known that the tracks are clear and it is safe to proceed along those rails. The announcement over the P.A. said that several people were injured and that CSX officials were on the way to the site of the derailment to evaluate the extent of the damage and how long it will take to restore rail traffic on that route. We were also told that this will not be just a 15 minute or even an hour delay. Thus, we could be here for many hours!
My guess is that they will bus us the rest of the way if it is determined that the delay will be more than a few hours. I've got some safety factor in our schedule. To keep according to plan, we just need to be into Richmond, Virginia before 12:37 PM tomorrow. In worst case, since our northbound movement on the Silver Star (Train #92) overlaps our southbound movement on the Carolinian (Train #79), we could just board the Carolinian at Raleigh, North Carolina. In that case, we just need to get to Raleigh by 4:22 PM tomorrow afternoon. Since the train we are in now was expected to get to Raleigh by 5:44 AM, I think 8 hours and 38 minutes of slack in our schedule should be enough to work our way around this problem!
09:45 PM - Latest Word: Looks like we are going to get off easy so far! Over the P.A. System they announced that we are going to hang in here for about another hour and twenty minutes. Then, we are going to go on by train to Jesup, Georgia. At Jesup, we will get off and board buses to Savannah, Georgia. Once we get to Savannah, Georgia, we will reboard a train for the remainder of the journey. My guess is that what Amtrak has arranged is to swap passengers between our northbound Silver Star and the southbound Silver Palm. The Silver Palm is due into Savannah at 11:14 PM. Since it can't get any further south, it makes sense that Amtrak would bus passengers in both directions around the derailment to swap passengers between the two trains and get everyone on their way.
They are taking the express cars off the train. That makes sense. Since this train will be heading south again, they don't want those express cars going back south. The express cars will just have to wait here in Jacksonville until a northbound train can get through. Too bad they can't bus the freight, too! Actually, they could take the roadrailer compatible truck bodies off and drive them around the derailment, but I don't know if Savannah is equipped to place these trucks back onto the northbound train.
10:36 PM - Latest Word: Finally we are on our way again, running 2 hours and 20 minutes late! If we don't get any further behind schedule, we will be into Raleigh at 8:04 AM. Chances are, with the bus transfer and all, we will probably fall further behind schedule. I'm going to tell the Car Attendant that we will be getting off in Raleigh rather than Richmond. It will be too close a call for Richmond, while getting off in Raleigh will give us enough time to grab a meal and look around the city. I think the kids will enjoy spending more time in the city and less on the train anyway.
This didn't work out too well. I got confirmation that what I had guessed at is exactly what Amtrak planned to do. Our Train #92, the Silver Star, and Train #89, the Silver Palm, would be swapping passengers. The Silver Star would turn at Jesup, Georgia and become the Silver Palm. The Silver Palm would turn at Savannah, Georgia and become the Silver Star.
We arrived into Jesup, Georgia and boarded the buses around 12:30 AM. The crew directed us to get into Bus #1 and loaded our luggage into that bus. As we boarded the bus, a crew member told us to sit anywhere after row #5 as the first 5 rows were reserved for the crew. So, we sat across in row #6. This was one of the best buses I have seen Amtrak use. There was plenty of space between each row of seats and the chairs reclined a good deal.
However, in a short while, another crew member came onboard and asked us who told us to get on this bus. We explained everything, but this crew member had a new story. Now this was entire bus was to be for the crew only! Thus, we had to get out of the bus and transfer to another bus. The other bus was not as nice as the first bus and we could not get 4 seats together. We had to split up into 2 groups of 2.
The buses didn't get started until 1:30 AM and didn't arrive into Savannah, Georgia until 3 AM. We all got about an hour sleep on the bus. When we got off the bus, we had to find the original bus that we had boarded in order to retrieve our luggage. On the bus I had heard that some people had received refunds for their sleeping car accommodations. Evidently the Silver Palm only has one Viewliner Sleeping Car where the Silver Star had two of them. Thus, some people would have to complete the trip in coach. I wasn't looking forward to doing that with the kids. However, I guess the Conductor had already gone through the train and determined which passengers would have to do without a Sleeping Car Room and we were not one of them, fortunately.
We hurried to our Sleeping Car, but there was nobody there to help us board. The kids and I had to lift the 4 heavy suitcases, backpacks, and other bags onboard ourselves. Once we did get to our rooms, the Car Attendant kicked us out as well as all other Sleeping Car passengers. He ordered us to go to the Dinette or Dining Car to wait until all of the beds were made.
Everyone was quite upset. People were tired of having such an unpleasant night, especially considering the cost of sleepers. Everyone just wanted to get their suitcases into their rooms and go to sleep. I can understand that the beds had to be made first, but the Car Attendant had a really bad attitude. Actually, there were now two Car Attendants in this Sleeping Car since both had transferred with us by bus but now there was only one Sleeping Car for the two attendants to work.
The other Sleeping Car Attendant was very polite and coordinated the passengers in a very reasonable manner, quite unlike the first Car Attendant that was just ordering everyone around. The first Car Attendant wanted to keep everyone out of the Sleeping Car until all the beds were made. The other Sleeping Car Attendant let people go to their rooms as soon as their particular rooms were all ready. Once we did get into our rooms, around 3:30 AM, we did fall asleep pretty quickly.
We woke up around 9 AM, changed our clothes, packed up, and got off the train when it arrived into Raleigh around 10:30 AM. I did not like the attitude nor service provided by our Car Attendant at all. This was one of those very rare occasions where I did not feel a tip was deserved and did not offer one. Even if I had wanted to offer one, I would have had a difficult time giving him one as he ran off immediately upon getting us off the train. I would not at all be surprised if this particular Car Attendant is used to not getting tips!
Ch 66 (161.100)
The train arrived right on schedule into Raleigh at 4:12 PM. Unfortunately, there was some sort of medical emergency on the train and everyone was delayed from boarding until the paramedics could get onboard. Once the paramedics assessed the situation, they brought in a stretcher. The medical problem was in the regular coach car in front of the Custom Class (Carolina Club Class) car. The crew went ahead and had us board along with a few other Custom Class passengers while sending all the other regular coach passengers to board toward the front of the train, away from the medical situation.
I think we lost our dispatching slot due to the medical problem. We had to wait for a while before we could leave Raleigh even after the person with the medical problem had been removed from the train. We left Raleigh 33 minutes late.
Carolina Club Service is pretty nice, but it is more similar to Custom Class than what is called "Club Class" on the Northeast Corridor. Also, it does show up on your ticket as "Custom Class" rather than "Club Class." The "Carolina Club Service" includes pillows, complimentary beverage, newspaper, video and audio programming. There are earphone jacks, channel selectors and volume controls at each seat. Channels 1 and 2 played music while Channel 3 played the sound track to the movie. Color TV monitors were mounted in the luggage space above about every 3 seat. From most seats, 2 or 3 of the monitors can be seen fairly clearly. They played one movie after another during our trip. I accepted the free headphones, but used them on my railroad radio scanner instead since I could not easily find what I did with my own earphones.
The Car Attendant was excellent. He brought us all a fresh set of earphones very quickly along with pillows. He explained to each person how to use the headsets and also told us that we can get free non-alcoholic beverages in the cafe car by just presenting our Custom Class ticket before we ordered.
However, even though the Car Attendant was very friendly and animated, he did seem to get a bit excited that our ticket indicated that we were suppose to have gotten on at Richmond instead of Raleigh. The Conductor didn't seem excited about it at all and didn't mention a word about it. We explained the situation of the derailment and late train as to why we had to change trains in Raleigh instead of Richmond.
The three children went down to the cafe car to play cards in there. When we boarded, we were able to get 2 sets of 2 seats each one in front of the other. They didn't have any facing sets of seats in the car nor did they have 2 sets of 2 seats across the aisle from each other available. Thus, the kids would find it a lot easier to play cards in the cafe car by all sitting at the same table.
Just as luck would have it, without even looking, I sat at a seat with an electrical outlet. However, not thinking, I left my AC power cord in the bags that we had checked! Normally I don't check any bags, but we had a lot of luggage with us and there isn't much room onboard these Amfleet coaches to store luggage. All the luggage that we were carrying would definitely not fit above the seat.
While on the topic, we actually had a bit of a problem with all that luggage even in the Viewliner Sleeping Cars. Each of us had a fairly large pull suitcase and a backpack. Plus, the girls had picked up a few stuffed animals at Disneyworld. Each Viewliner Sleeping Room can comfortably accommodate one suitcase and one smaller bag without any problem at all. But, we brought to our rooms more than double that! We did find that we could put one large suitcase in the high shelf in each room along with a smaller bag. The second suitcase we placed on the small shelf by the TV set in each room and then put the wall strap through the suitcase handle to keep the suitcase from falling on anyone in case of sharp bumps.
MP 43.9 Ch 56 (160.950)