Amtrak Travelogue by Steve Grande
Note: This rail travelogue was accidentally deleted and lost for many years. We managed to recover it in late 2010 from archives and re-post it to TrainWeb.com. These are some of my earliest rail travels and travel writings. My experience and understanding of Amtrak and other rail operations was quite a bit less than today and my writing style may have been a bit less experienced back then. So please pardon any problems that you might find in these earlier rail travel reports. A number of these earlier reports also have few or no photos or very small photos which was intentional to reduce download time during the early days of the web when almost everyone had slow dial-up connections to the internet!
Steve's Spring 1997 Rail Journey - Fourth Segment: Travel on the Amtrak Texas Eagle from Chicago to Los Angeles.
I stepped into the Chicago Metropolitan Lounge and checked in at the desk. I received an unexpectedly warm welcome from Jera Slaughter saying: "Mr. Grande, I've been expecting you!" It turns out that Jera is an Operation Redblock representative for this area and she was tipped off by either Vince McGraw from the Amtrak Intercity Web Page or from someone in Operation Redblock that I would be arriving. The web pages of both Amtrak Intercity and Operation Redblock are hosted from the TrainWeb web server.
I wanted to get a few photographs of the Chicago Metropolitan Lounge. When I went to take photographs, I found the camera to not be operational! I figured the battery must have gone dead, but I was surprised since it didn't give its usual warning and every indicator on the top of the camera was turned on! Having no idea what else to do, I proceeded to change the battery. To my surprise, the battery compartment wasn't closed all the way. I closed it, but the camera still would not work. Changing the battery still was still the only thing I knew how to do that might solve the problem. I opened up the battery compartment again to remove the old battery, but too my further surprise found the compartment empty! Somehow when I was outside taking a picture of the Union Station building, the compartment must have opened up and the batter fallen out. I couldn't find the old battery in my jacket pocket where I had kept the camera. That was a first of its kind for me. After puting a new battery in the camera, it worked fine and I was able to get a few pictures of the Chicago Metropolitan Lounge.
Just another side note of strange things happening in Chicago: I am suppose to call Vince at 11:15 A.M., but when I went to use my pocket electronic directory, it was completely dead! I had just used it a few minutes ago and it was fine, but now it is totally dead. Between this and the battery vanishing from my camera, I don't know what to think. And no, the battery was not missing from my pocket directory.
I thought I remembered there being an area of computer desks in the Chicago Metropolitan Lounge, but I must be wrong. There is a bank of telephones across from the reception desk. I think the last one used to be a communications device for the deaf. That isn't there any more. What is now there is a computer terminal provided courtesy of IBM and communication services courtesy of Prodigy. Unfortunately, there is also a sign on the computer screen that says "Out Of Order" and another that say "No Food or Drinks At Prodigy Terminal".
I was about to set up my own laptop next to the Prodigy terminal, but was disuaded by the "No Coffee" sign. I like to have a cup of coffee while I'm working. Too bad as it had an electric outlet right there. Instead, I hunted around the room for an outlet near a comfortable place to sit. I'm sure some of the passengers in the waiting area were wondering why I was hunting behind chairs and couches and under tables!
The only table in the room other than the coffee and end tables was a 3 foot square table next to the fireplace. It was a standard desk height table with 3 chairs. I moved it over a bit so that I would be comfortable sitting there. There was a lamp and a fan next to the table. The fan wasn't turned on, so I unplugged it and plugged in my laptop. I didn't think the Lounge Attendants would mind me plugging in my computer, especially after that warm welcome! So that is where I am now, sitting at that table right next to the fireplace. I've backed myself into the corner so that I can face outward into the lounge over the top of my computer. I can see just about everywhere in the entire lounge from this particular spot. It is one of the few spots where I would be able to keep my eye on my luggage if I had placed it into the right spot in the carry-on luggage storage area. From here, I can see most of the reception desk, the people arriving through the entrance, the main lounge area, the side lounge area, the television set, the refreshment area, the clock, and two sets of monitors on opposite sides of the room that show the status of arriving and departing Amtrak trains.
There is a back way from this lounge to the train boarding area. That back way is often used if the train to be boarded is on that particular track. If it is on a different track, then the Sleeping Car passengers have to go through the main lobby, past the Coach Car passenger waiting area, and out to those other tracks. The Sleeping Car passengers are always boarded first ahead of the other passengers.
There seems to have been quite a bit of activity in this lounge this morning. Several Amtrak repair technicians were in here examining the soft drink service area. I think there was a problem with the drain. Then, a PEPSI service person arrived and got the machines working, including the ones that serve orange and apple juice. I don't know if the PEPSI service person was there to fix the problem that the Amtrak service people had looked at earlier.
Just returned from a meeting with Vince McGraw and another Amtrak employee that is also a representative for Operation Redblock in this area. I'm terrible with names. If I don't write them down right away, I forget them immediately. He is the older guy that you will find on the "About Us" page under Amtrak Intercity Training (http://www.amtrakintercity.com/training). I'll have to remember to look up his name when I get back and place it here.
We discussed a bit about Operation Redblock and some about Amtrak Intercity. Mosty, though, we discussed the problems facing Amtrak and the impact those problems will have on Amtrak's future. Unfortunately, none of us are in a position to do much about it, but those issues always make for interesting conversations among people that are involved with Amtrak. I was also given a box of coffee mugs from Operation Redblock which I hope will travel all the way home with me without breaking. I'll be taking them with me as carry-on luggage. I don't think they will have a problem from here to Los Angeles. It is the transition from the Texas Eagle to the San Diegan in Los Angeles Union Station where I may have a problem.
I lost my table in the Metropolitan Lounge while I was away. Maybe not too many of these people are waiting for my particular train. Chicago is pretty much the hub of Amtrak intercity operations outside of the Northeast Corridor and a few other routes. Most of the national routes terminate or pass through Chicago. The train status monitor shows a lot of Amtrak trains will be arriving and leaving before the Texas Eagle. The Texas Eagle isn't even listed on the screens at all yet! I'm hoping the people at the table are booked on the California Zephyr or Pioneer which will be leaving at 3:05 P.M. so I can reclaim the table for the rest of my wait.
With all these trains scheduled to leave Chicago over the next few hours, the Metropolitan Lounge has gotten very full. I'm now sitting in a couch that could fit just 2 people that is directly across from the back exit of the Metropolitan Lounge. This is the exit where they let Sleeping Car passengers board the train if the train is on tht track. Nobody has gone out this way yet, so I assume they are boarding the California Zephyr and Pioneer on some other track.
Almost everyone in the room was waiting for the California Zephyr or the Pioneer (same train from Chicago to Denver) so the room emptied out at the 2:45 P.M. boarding call. The only two people that didn't get up and head for the doors immediately were the couple at the table I was waiting for! At the boarding call, I immediatly packed up and moved toward the table. I didn't want to be in the middle of things as everyone stampeded to the door that was right across from me. The couple at the table just continue to stand next to it with their luggage at the table seats. Everyone else was in line by the door. It looked like they wanted to enjoy every last minute of the table. The table is convenient, but I didn't think it was that valuable to hang onto! I was starting to question if this was even the train they were waiting for, but once almost everyone had gone out the door, they finally left.
I immediately set my computer up at the table. I really needed that electric power. One of my batteries doesn't seem to hold a charge for more than about 10 minutes anymore. I think I need to do some deep discharging and hope it will lose its NiCad memory. My other battery seems to still hold for at least 2 hours, but I don't like only having one battery available. Nobody had plugged the fan back in, so I plugged my notebook back into the wall.
Remembering the luggage I had parked in the locker area, I decided to go retrieve it and put it in the carry-on luggage area in the Metropolitan Lounge. The carry-on area became totally empty after the Zephyr and Pioneer left. I knew right where I could put my luggage where I could keep an eye on it from my table. My box of Operation Redblock cups was already in that area. I trusted leaving my backpack, jacket and computer at the table for just a few minutes. I've never heard of there ever being a problem with theft in any of the Amtrak First Class Metropolitan Lounges or in the Sleeping Car section of any train, but please don't take my advice on this particular matter.
It cost me $3.75 to retrive my luggage. Added to the 75 cent deposit, I guess I had my luggage in there right up the the $4.50 24 hour maximum. I already had a Train #21 sticker, so I placed that on my luggage and rolled it right to the spot I had picked out in the carry-on luggage storage area in the Metropolitan Lounge. I placed my box of cups right next to it. I then headed for the table when I was stopped by a Metropolitan Lounge Attendant. This was not the same Attendant that had given me such a warm reception in the morning, but it was one that had seen me with the two Amtrak people when she conversed with them as they brought me back from our meeting.
She asked if I had already checked in and obtained my boarding pass. I said that I had, earlier this morning. She then said that I should carry my yellow boarding pass with me at all times because she didn't remember seeing me in the lounge before. I told her that was no problem and that I would get it out of my backpack. I did so and reminded her that I was the guy with the Amtrak people that she had spoken with just a bit earlier. Suddenly she did remember having seen me with them! I guess I don't have a very memorable face. In an apologetic manner, she said "That's O.K., I remember you now!"
As I was about to leave the Metropolitan Lounge Reception Desk, I suddenly detected a very strong odor of alcohol. One of the Metropolitan Lounge Attendants was commenting to the other one: "I'm glad I don't drink. I can't stand that smell." Best I can tell, it was one of the Red Caps as I didn't see anyone else near the reception counter. I don't think the Red Caps are Amtrak employees. If they were, they would need to learn something from Operation Redblock.
People are slowly starting to settle into the lounge again, but it is still pretty empty. The next major train out appears to be the Southwest Chief which will be leaving at 5:10 PM. That will be followed by the Lakeshore Limited at 6:00 PM and then finally my train, the Texas Eagle at 6:30 PM. There are a number of other minor buses and trains posted on the monitor. That does not include all the Metra trains that use this station. The monitor in the lounge only show the status of the Amtrak trains (and some buses). At least the Texas Eagle departure has finally showed up on the status monitor.
At 5:45 P.M., I thought it was time I had better pack up. But first, let me tell you the situation just beforehand. Around 5:15 P.M. a little old lady decided to sit down across from me at my table. Keep in mind this is just a 3 foot square table. There isn't a lot of room with my computer and stuff on the other side of the table. I'm sure she had a clear 18 inches to herself, but it still seemed odd with all the places to sit that she would decide to pick that place. However, once she got out her postcards and started writing, I could see why she wanted a table to work on.
The table is not very stable. When I got coffee from the beverage area in the Metropolitan Lounge earlier I had placed two napkins under it. The moment I sat down, a lot of coffee spilled out and saturaded the two napkins just from all the shaking. While the lady was writing her postcards, the table started to shake in a very annoying manner. I think the lady had as much right to you the table as I did, so I wasn't about to complain. Later when she went to get a beverage for herself, she hit the table so hard when she sat down that the entire table moved a couple on inches. She apologized profusely. From the look on her face she must have thought she destroyed something I was working on. Actually, the one big bump didn't bother me at all compared to all the shaking caused by her writing. I told her that no harm was done and not to worry about it.
I didn't guess the call for my train fast enough. I had just started to pack up when the call was made. Thus, I had to really put things away into my backpack fast without really even packing them properly. As I started to put things away, the lady across from me started apologizing again saying "I'm sorry, look what I've done!" I didn't know what she was talking about until I saw the puddle of water heading my way across the table. I pulled my laptop off the table immediately and wiped it on the first thing I could find, my pants! My pants would dry off, but the computer might not come through as well if any water were to get into it. I quickly evaluated the situation and realized the computer had just gotten a little wet on its outer case. There was no real harm done and I relayed that to the lady to relieve her own concern. When that lady learned that I would be on the same train, she said: "I'm going to stay clear of you on that train. I've already done enough damage to you for one trip!"
Two thoughts occurred to me for the first time. First, I could solve my problem of getting the extra box of Operation Redblock cups onto the train, which was awkward and had no handle, by using a Red Cap. The second thought that occurred to me is that would get me on the train early ahead of the rest of the crowd. So ... if you ever would like help boarding with your luggage and want to board ahead of everyone, just use a Red Cap! The Red Cap gathered up the belongings of about ten people in his luggage cart and marched as all down to the train.
I seldom use Red Caps so I was unsure and am still unsure about the tipping policy. I would appreciate some feedback on that from those of you that know the policy of tipping Red Caps. My Sleeping Car, #2130, was the first one we came to. Everyone following the Red Cap bunched up at this point. Several of the people with this Red Cap were destined for this Sleeping Car, but there were others that seemed lost and attempted to board into this car too!
With all the confusion, I think the Red Cap was just going to leave my two pieces out on the platform so that either I or the Car Attendant could bring them into the train. Not knowing the tipping policy, I used what I use for bell service in a hotel which is $1 per major piece of luggage. I slipped the Red Cap $2 and things changed quickly. Instead of leaving my luggage out on the platform, he immediately headed onboard with my luggage guiding me in front of him. I directed him to place the items on the second shelf of the rack. Thus, I got my luggage right where I wanted it and was about the first to get to my room on the train. Whatever the tipping policy of Red Caps is, it was certainly worth the $2 to get everything taken care of and to travel ahead of the confusion!
The train headed out of Chicago pretty close to the scheduled time.
Everyone seems very schedule. Our Car Attendant, John Champion, has
already been to my room and explained everything. He said that he will
have coffee going morning, noon and night, around the clock and that
plenty of ice will always be available. John also explained a few brief
features of the room. He was doing this at the same time the Dining Car
Service Chief was explaining about reservations for dinner. Since I was
trying to pay attention to John and the P.A. announcement at the same
time, I wasn't able to let John know of my lengthly Amtrak experience.
Maybe I should have tried to interject it. It might have made John's
speech shorter, but I just assumed he would be done speaking any moment
anyway. Another thing that John said was that they don't issue juice to
him anymore but that he was going to try to find some and bring it to
our car. He did hand each passenger a coupon that reads:
Welcome Aboard The Texas Eagle. You are cordially invited to present this card and enjoy the beverage of your choice in our lounge car, compliments of the Chief.
Soft drinks are usually complimentary for Sleeping Car passengers, but not from the Lounge Car. Usually the Sleeping Car Attendant will set up a bunch of them right in the Sleeping Car, or you can ask the Sleeping Car Attendant to bring some drinks to you. This does say the "beverage of your choice" so maybe it is good for alcoholic beverages too!
Dave Marshall is the Chief of On-Board Operations and his announcement over the P.A. system leads me to believe that he is also a very friendly guy. Each staff member that has introduced themself has welcomed everyone to the Texas Eagle and explained that they want to try and make our journey as pleasant as possible. Each has asked that we let them know if there is anything they can do for us.
The Dining Car Steward just came by my room. The P.A. announcement had said there were seatings for 7:15 P.M. and 7:45 P.M. and there may have been some later ones like 8:15 P.M., etc. There must be a lot of hungry people on this train since the 7:15 P.M. was already gone by the time he got to my room! Usually the earliest reservations are the last ones to run out, but I guess on most trains "early" means 5:00 P.M. All I've had since breakfast at 6:00 A.M. is a bran muffin and a New Orleans Praline that was given to me as I got off the City of New Orleans. I still have 3 packages of Pralines left and just noticed that the plastic wrapper has a graphic of the new Amtrak Genesis locomotive and it says "New Orleans Praline". I guess this is the "official" City of New Orleans train souvenier that I was seeking! If I had realized that before, I might not have eaten one, or at least would have saved the wrapper.
This train is really vibrating wildly at times! It shook so much that my mouse fell off the table and my power supply fell of the armrest and intno the seat. Most trains are usually not this shakey. This even goes far beyond anything I may have mentioned about the Crescent or the City of New Orleans. The ride on both of those trains was fairly smooth most of the way except for what seemed to be a few bad spots of track which I pointed out. The roughness on the Crescent between New York and Washington was due to the very high-speed of the train and the sensation was quite different that what I'm having now. These vibrations are so bad that I'm having a difficult time typing and sometimes I get double or triple letters due to key-bounce. I've never experienced that on a train before! The vibration of the computer is probably magnified because it is sitting on top of this fold out table. The table just hangs in mid-air from the wall and amplifies the vibrations of the train. Don't worry about drinks, however. Drinks just sit calmly in their cups which seem to be very stable in the shallow cup holders. The liquid just jiggles inside the cup.
John just announced that he would be heading to the Lounge Car for 20 minutes and asked if we could bear with him and wait for his return before asking for any services.
On my rounds of exploring the train, I overheard a very strange statement by one of the crew members. It sort of went like this: He was explaining to some passengers that there is no smoking in any of the Sleeping Car rooms. The only place you are allowed to smoke is in the downstairs smoking lounge in the very last car. (I looked into the window of that car as I was coming down the platform to board the train. It looked very much like a greyhound bus waiting room with a single row of plastic seats along each outside wall. The seats were facing inward, however, and not out toward the window. Ash trays appeared to be built into the seat benchs at strategic positions. At least it is better than the coach baggage cars that have been converted to smoking lounges without any windows at all!). The Amtrak staff person then explained that if a passenger does smoke in their Sleeping Car room agains policy, that smoke will be circulated by the air system to all the Sleeping Car rooms and other passengers will starting ringing for the Car Attendant to complain. (I've heard that speech many times from Car Attendants, but it is what comes next that surprised me!). The Amtrak staff person then explained: "We are all adults here. If you want to smoke and not have to walk all the way down to the Smoking Lounge, go the the downstairs vestibule in the center of the car downstairs and open the window. If the Conductor gives you any trouble, just close the window and don't worry about it. The Conductors change every few hours but I will be with you for the entire trip!" In my 40,000 miles of Amtrak travel, I've never heard a statement as "frank" as that!
I just returned from my 7:45 P.M. dinner reservation. The Cafe/Lounge Car Attendant just announced that he will be closing for about 20 minutes and then will re-open and remain open until midnight.
I had a wonderful dinner! I had a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon before dinner in my room and another at dinner, which I think made me a bit talkative (as I mentioned ealier, I want to try to fall asleep early to get up at sunrise to catch more of the scenery). Once again, I had the Vegetable Lasagna and stared with a salad with Italian dressing. The Lasagna was deliciouis, even better than the one on the City of New Orleans. It was still served with corn, but the second vegetable was brockley. I don't like brockley unless it is prepared really well and this brockley would melt in your mouth! I grew up in an Italian home and it would be very rare that any kind of starchy vegetable would be served with pasta, another starch, but I didn't mind the corn as that is one of my favorite vegetables anyway!
As usual, I skipped the desert. The offered apple pie, a la mode or plain, cheesecake and some other items. That all sounds delicious to me, but skipping one meal per day and all deserts is the only way I can get back from a train trip and not weight more than I started! I also skipped the coffee so that I'd easily be able to fall asleep early.
We are just a few minutes out of Bloomington-Normal, Illinois and seem to be encountering some delays. We've had to stop twice already. If this keeps up, I'm going to have to get my scanner out and try to find out what is the problem. The stop was less than a minute and we are moving again, but pretty slowly.
I followed another couple when I was on my way to the dinner. Seeing how they were baffled as to how to get the door opened between train cars, I figured this was either their first train trip, or they hadn't been on a train for a very long time. I helped them out and told them just to press the big button on the door to get it to open. We sat together at the table for dinner along with another man. Neither had been on a train since the troop trains of World War II and in that light, they considered this their first train ride.
The were going to visit one of their grown children in Tucson, Arizona. They were taking the train because they had already tried most every other mode of transportation. They had gone by plain, by car, and by camper. They had never taken the train before. They were informed by their travel agent that they were lucky the Texas Eagle was still running. After May 10th, the travel agent told them they would have to have taken the California Zephyr to Oakland, the Coast Starlight to San Diego, and then the Sunset Limite to Tucson. Those of you that know a bit about Amtrak know there are a few mistakes with that itinerary. If the Desert Wind goes, the trip will be a little longer, but not that much longer! They can take the Southwest Chief to Los Angeles and then the Sunset Limited from their to Tucson. No set of plans would include any detour to San Diego. However, if they wanted a really beautiful tour of the west and weren't in a hurry to get to Tucson, I'd be the first to tell them to follow the plans of their travel agent and I did explain that over dinner.
The other fellow at our table was going to Austin, Texas. He could just as well have flown, but he was taking this route to make sure that he got to experience it in case the Texas Eagle does end in May. Most of our discussion at dinner was about trains. The man that sat next to me was from Canada and had quite a bit to offer about trains in Canada. Between the information that he provided and what I have received from other people that are experienced with Canadian trains, I am looking forward to future trips through Canada by train.
Some interesting question came up. The older couple was surprised that they had to go through a Coach Car to get to the Dining Car from the Sleeping Car. I found it odd that this would be a concern to them. They evidently had asked their travel agent about this and been assured they would not have to pass through a Coach Car to get to the Dining Car. In 90% of the cases, their travel agent would have been right. Normally Amtrak makes the Dining Car the dividing point between Coach Cars and Sleeping Cars. The Coach passengers enter from the Lounge/Cafe Car which is normally situated betweenthe Coach Cars and the Dining Car. The Sleeping Cars are usually on the other side of the Dining Car. This arrangement usually works out quite well. Coach passengers can get to either the Cafe/Lounge Car without going through any Sleeping Cars and Sleeping Car passengers can get to either the Dining Car or Cafe/Lounge Car without going through any Coach Cars.
The only two exceptions to this rule that I am aware of are the two "combo" trains: the Texas Eagle/Sunset Limited and the Pioneer/California Zephyr. Since these trains are split and re-joined along the route, it is not possible to keep the optimum order of cars that Amtrak likes. Each train has to split into two trains at a certain point on the route. Thus, all cars of one particular train have to remain together. Amtrak does not want to go through the tremendous bother of resorting the cars of the entire train to place all the coaches at one end and sleepers at the other end when the trains are combined or seperated. Thus, these two sets of combo trains tend to have an odd order of cars so that all the cars of each train can be together when the trains are combined or seperated.
I did our Dining Car Attendant a bit of a favor. Near the end of the meal, the discussion turned to tipping. Basically, it started with the couple who asked: "They aren't looking for tips, are they?". The other man at my table replied: "No, I don't think that is necessary." Up to that point, I had not mentioned the true reason why I was on the train, which is really to write this travelogue and take pictures as part of my quest to experience every Amtrak route in America. Seeing that our Dining Car Attendant was going to be stiffed by three passengers for this meal and probably the next 6 or so meals remaining on this trip for each person, I felt oblaged to throw in my 2 cents of advice. I explained to them what I had witnessed over my previous 40,000 miles of travel by Amtrak and what feedback other readers of TrainWeb had given to me. I told them that it was customary to leave at least $1 as a tip for dinner. Their response was: "$1 isn't bad."
They all left the table first. I had to stay behind a little bit so that I could pay the $3.50 for my glass of wine. When I did leave, I realized I probably should have been a little more clear. The man with us left $1, but the couple appear to have only left $1 all together for the two of them. I should have explicitly said that at least $1 per person is what I found to be customary. I left $1.50 for myself. I might have left $2, but from all the very friendly service personnel that I have encountered on this trip, our Car Attendant seemed perfunctory. He wasn't rude or anything. As a matter of fact, he was very fast in getting our order, delivery our food and getting the desert order and delivering that. On second thought, I probably should have left $2. But, see how far friendliness can go when trying to make a quick decision about how much of a tip to leave? I've seen Attendants that weren't totally up to par, but because they were so friendly to their passengers, they raked in a lion's portion in tips. Good service is important, but it does need to be provided with a smile if a service person expects the customer to remember that good service (or even to overlook minor faults).
On my way from the Dining Car, all my partners at my table took a detour to a downstairs vestibule to smoke cigarettes. I joined them to continue our conversation from dinner. They only opened the window a little way. Just as they were almost finished smoking, that Amtrak staff memeber that I mentioned before walked by. Talk about a scolding in reverse? He told them they had to open the window all the way so the smoke wouldn't go up into the vents! He also told them they should open the windows on both sides of the train all the way to minimize any chance of the smoke going up into the vents! I've heard a lot of scolding of passengers in my day about the windows, but it has always been to keep them shut, not to make sure they open both of them all the way!
Almost 20 minuts behind schedule so far. Our Sleeping Car Attendant has been with Amtrak for over 12 years and is still "on the board." Being "on the board" means that Amtrak assigns you wherever they need you. You don't work any particular route. Thus, he hasn't been on the Texas Eagle very long. This might even be his first trip in a very long time. He was very knowlegable about Amtrak in general and the operation of the Sleeping Cars, but not the particular customs of this particular route. I was amazed that someone could work for Amtrak for so long and still not have enough seniority to be able to select their own route! He told me that you had to be with Amtrak at least 14 years to have enough seniority to do that. Just last year, you only needed 8 years, but with all the layoffs recently, it was now up to 14 years.
It's been a busy morning for me! I went to sleep around 11:00 P.M. last night, but awoke when we pulled into St. Louis, Missouri. The train is scheduled to stay there for about 40 minutes and I was tempted to get up and walk around. Looking out my window, however, it didn't look like there was much in the station area. The station was very small, really just a waiting room. According to my guidebook, the original Union Station is downtown, a few blocks from this new "temporary" station. Thus, I decided just to go back to sleep so that I would be able to get up early.
I awoke at 5:50 A.M. this morning, ahead of the alarm I had set for 6:00 A.M. In the morning light, I noticed the first vandalism that I have ever seen on an Amtrak train, and that is after 40,000 miles of traveling in countless Sleeping Cars. Someone had etched a peace symbol and an obscenity on the glass window. I was a bit disappointed by that. Until now, I had felt that Amtrak was one semi-public place that had escaped the ravages of vandalism and grafitti. Let's just hope this is an isolated incident.
I put my bed away and set up the seats myself and got dressed. After all that, it was 6:30 A.M. and the Dining Car would be open for breakfast! I had breakfast with two pleasant old ladies and a young man who had just been released from the navy. He was heading home and the old ladies were visiting relatives. This was his first trip on the train and he wishes that he had discovered train travel earlier. He said he has been enjoying it much more than flying. One of the older ladies said she doesn't like heights at all and will not fly. She has done a bit of traveling by train.
I selected the healthy Egg Beaters which was served with potatoes and a roll. Once again, I skipped the sides of bacon and/or sausage that I could have had at no extra charge. For beverages, I had coffee and orange juice.
I was the only person at my talbe from the Sleeping Cars, everyone else was from the Coach Cars. Thus, the cost of my meal was included and everyone else had to pay for their bill before leaving. One old lady said to nobody in particular: "I wonder if we can just leave the tip." I think she was wondering if it was customary to hand the tip to the Attendant in person. I said: "I think you can just leave it at the table." I left a $1 tip for breakfast and I think everyone else did about the same except for that first lady who left $2. Before we even left the table, the Dining Car Attendant came by and scouped up the tips along with the dirty dishes and gave everyone a big "Thank You!"
We arrived into Little Rock, Arkansas about 30 minutes early. I was able to walk the length of the station taking pictures of the station, the train, and what little of the city could be seen from the train. All that I could really see from the station was a factory and a building with a small gold dome which I assumed to be the capitol building. After boarding the train, the Car Attendant brought two newspapers to each passenger: "USA Today" and the "Arkansas Democrat Gazette". I like the name of the second newspaper even if it isn't my brand of politics. At least they admit to their view of the world and don't try like other newspapers to claim to be "objective". Just by reading the title, you know which side of the fense this newspaper is on!
The Onboard Chief announced that "Texas Eagle 25th Anniversary Mugs" are available in the Cafe/Lounge Car and that there are only a few of them. I immediately went down and purchased one. I always like to get whatever collectibles I can get, but especially if it is from a train the might soon be discontinued. That would make it a "real" collectors item! The cup was made of heavy clear plastic with "Texas Eagle Amtrak 25th Anniversary" etched on the side. I think the "25th Anniversary" part refers to Amtrak and not specifically the Texas Eagle. I don't know if the Texas Eagle route is older or younger than Amtrak.
Our Car Attendant has just returned from his breakfast break. He announced that there is a malfunction in the main "Call Board" in this car. Thus, even though there is a sound and the light outside the room door goes on when a passenger pulls the "Call Attendant" button, no light on the Car Attendant's main board goes on. Thus, he doesn't always know when someone wants his assistance. He said he will be going throughout the car every 30 to 45 minutes, and usually a lot more frequent than that while doing duties throughout the car. He asked that people be patient and that he will see the light on outside any room that has pulled the "Call Attendant" button as he makes his rounds.
At almost 9:00 A.M. the Chief of Onboard Services announced the last call for breakfast. The Chief of Onboard Services seems to be making all the announcements for the Cafe/Lounge Car on this train. Usually the Cafe/Lounge Car Attendant makes his own announcements on most trains.
We have been passing a tremendous number of trees that are either broken or have completely fallen down! Either these trees have extremely shallow root systems, or they bottom of the trees have completely broken from thier roots and fallen over. Each fallen tree has a big circle of dirt and roots that have come right up out of the ground. There are several miles of trees like this. It is not every tree, but it is a large number of trees and they are scattered randomly among many other trees that are still standing. I'm not sure what could have done all this damage, but seeing that there are also many trees with broken limbs and trees that have been broken at their trunk but not been uprooted, I have to assume it is some kind of storm damage.
I am not familiar with what tornado damage looks like, but I suppose that too is a possibility. We just passed more damaged trees, a heavily damaged home with a colapsed room and a trailer, maybe a mobile home, on its side. I got pictures of those so you can speculate for yourself.
The train station here looked in very bad shape. It looked quite run down and abandoned until we got to the end of the station. The Amtrak signs on the station looked pretty new. I took a couple of pictures of the station and that part of the town that was near the station.
The Car Attendant announced that Hope, Arkansas used to be famous for Watermelons but is now famous for being the boyhood home of Bill Clinton, the current president of the United States.
I was just reading the stories in the the newspaper about the current status of Amtrak's cutbacks. Naturally the news leans heavily on describing Amtrak as "unprofitable" and "subsidized" by Congress with no mention of all about how the air and road services are also "unprofitable" to the government and our "subsidized" by taxpayers to an extent that makes the small amount received by Amtrak seem like a drop in the bucket.
In case you are curious, this train has two Sleeping Cars and three Coach Cars and couldn't get any more full than it is. The Texas Eagle certainly isn't in danger due to lack of riders!
This town and the station are right on the state line between Arkansas and Texas. Inside the station, the ticket office is in one state and the waiting room is in the other state. Even the post office is divided between the two states! A prison appears to be situated right next to the station platform.
A lot of people got off at this station. This is where people can transfer to a bus to get to Houston, Texas. Once upon a time, this train used to split up at this point with some coaches going to Houston. The Amtrak Route Guide provided on the train still lists the sights along the way for the branch going to Houston. With the large number of people that got off at this station, they could probably fit everyone into one less Coach Car.
Even though the Chief said to not come to the Dining Car until they gave the announcement, I figued they would be open by 12:15 P.M. since they had estimated they would be open by 11:30 A.M. Either they forgot to make the announcement or I just missed hearing it. When I arrived in the Dining Car, it looked like the people that had arrived at 11:30 A.M. were just finishing up. I sat at a table where a man was just finishing his desert.
The lunch offerings were Texas BBQ Picknick sandwiches or a chicken salad for ligher fare. You had a choice of either BBQ beef or chicken. I chose the chicken and that sandwich was absolutely delicious! It was served with baked beans and cole slaw which were also very good. A jalapeno pepper was served on the side which I just left on the side. I like spices, but I have my limits. They did use paper plates and plasticware instead of the china and silverware, but this was suppose to be a picknick.
The man I sat with stayed with me right up until I got to my own desert. We talked a lot about the auto-train. Seems it would be a nice idea to try an auto-train between Chicago and Dallas/Houston before they completely gave up on the idea of the Texas Eagle. We both guessed that would become just as profitable as the east coast auto-train. He is heading down to San Antonio where he will wait for the east bound Sunset Limited to take him to Florida.
From our discussion at lunch and from answers to questions that we asked our Chief of Onboard Services, I now understand the odd placement of the Coach Car between the Sleeping Cars and the Dining Car. The order of the cars is this: 2 locomotives at the front, 1 baggage car, 1 transition sleeper (for crew), 2 passenger sleeping cars, 1 coach car, 1 dining car, 1 cafe/sightseer lounge car, and 2 more passenger coach cars (including one with the downstairs smoking lounge). In San Antonio, the rear 4 cars will be removed from the train and remain in San Antonio waiting to be connected to the next Texas Eagle headed back to Chicago. Those cars include the dining car, the cafe/sightseer lounge car, and the 2 passenger coach cars. The front 3 passenger cars, which are the 2 sleepers and 1 coach, will be attached to the Sunset Limited and continue with it to Los Angeles. That is why that particular coach car had to be on this side of the dining car and not on the other side. I would imagine that coach car is where they have seated all the coach passengers that are traveling beyond San Antonio.
I'm dangerously close to violating my two meal per day self-imposed rule about eating on the train. I don't know why, but I've been really hungry this morning. Thus, I've already eaten breakfast and lunch. So, if I'm not able to hold off eating until morning, the rule will be out the window for today! That BBQ Chicken sandwich was so good, I'm glad I didn't miss lunch. Breakfast didn't have any items unique to the Texas Eagle and I could have done without that. At least I managed to stop eating half-way into my cake. I wasn't really that hungry anymore, but it is sometimes difficult to stop eating when the food in front of you is that good.
The town of Mineola appears neither in the Amtrak Texas Eagle Route Guide nor in Jack Swanson's book "Rail Ventures". I guess this is a recently added stop. The odd thing is that neither guide even mentions the existence of the town, not even as one of the things that you will see along the way!
The station facility here is beautiful! They have commuter trains running right into the same station as the Amtrak train. There are several brand new platforms. There are two sets of commuter tracks at the platforms closest to the station, then 2 more sets of commuter tracks at the next set of platforms, and then the Amtrak train comes in on the next platform. What a shame if the discontinue Amtrak service to this location as is planned! So few cities make the connection between local transit and Amtrak this convenient that it is a real shame to see Amtrak abandon such a properly built facility. No wonder Texas is trying to put a loan package together to try to keep the Amtrak trains running in Texas!
An announcement on the train encouraged people to use the elevators or stairs to get to the station. There are also signs in the station that encourage the use of the elevators and the stairs, but the option of directly crossing the tracks is also available. That is amazing considering that these commuter trains go through every 2 minutes. There are a lot of Amtrak stations where crossing of the tracks is prohibited even though trains, mostly freights, only go through once every few hours. Even the few minutes that we were in Dallas, I saw a commuter train beep at a man on the crossing that was almost hit by that train!
Ft. Worth is a service stop so we were there for a very long time. The train arrived early so instead of being at the station for the usual 20 minutes, we were there closer to 40 minutes. The train had to do some complex maneuvering to get into the station. First, it had to go west past the station. Then it backed up in and curved in a north direction. Then the train went a little south and stopped again and finally backed up heading north into the station. I think the track at the station itself faces north and south. The Texas Eagle arrives into Ft. Worth heading pretty much due west. Part of this maneuvering is so that the train will be heading due south when it leaves Ft. Worth.
I took a number of photographs of the city, the station, including one inside and one of the front and one of the back, and some photographs of the highway overpass and rail underpass construction work going on. They had a flyer about the expected untimely death of the Texas Eagle that urged people to call Congress again to try to keep it alive. I have entered the contents of that flier on the Texas Eagle Route section of TrainWeb and called it: "Good Bye Texas Eagle".
If the Texas Eagle manages to survive and you take a trip there by train, the Ramada Inn would be a convenient place to stay as it is right across from the train station. Also, it appears that downtown is right around the corner. As we departed from the station, we went over an exit for the highway labeled: "Commerce Street, Downtown".
Heading just a little south from the station I noticed there was a run-down neighborhood. The first thing that I noticed were bars on the downstairs windows of every home. In neighborhoods like that, you can usually be sure that your home would be broken into if you didn't have the bars. The odd thing was that there was a neighborhood very nicely maintained just a few blocks beyond that. There were no bars at all on the windows of those homes. It just seems strange that one neighborhood that is so concerned about crime is just a few blocks from one that doesn't seem to think it is that great a concern.
About 10 minutes before arriving in Cleburne on the right side of the train were two ostriches in a fenced in large backyard of a home. Diagonally across from the station on the right side of the train was "Charlie (something) Railroad House". It was a two story red brick building. I don't know what was in the building nor could I get a photo because of the interstate overpass that got in the way. If any of you could tell me more about this place or send me a photo, I'd certainly appreciate it!
We departed from Taylor right on schedule. The train even arrived a bit early and we had to wait for a while to leave at the scheduled time. I learned a bit more information about how they are going to combine the Texas Eagle with the Sunset Limited. It appears that one 2 cars will be going from the Texas Eagle to the Sunset Limited: the Sleeping Car that I am in and the Coach Car that is connected to the car. Thus, they will be pulling the locomotives, baggage car, transition sleeper and one passenger sleeper off the front of the train and the dining car, cafe/lounge car and two coach cars off the back of the train. That will just leave this sleeper and the coach next to it sitting on the tracks all night in San Antonio waiting for the arrival of the Sunset Limited in the morning.
Another interesting item: the Texas Eagle is going to arrive into the San Antonio station heading east. The Sunset Limited will arrive heading west. When they attach these two cars to the Sunset Limited, all the chairs in the Coach Car will be facing backwards! To solve this problem, the Car Attendant will be turning around all the seats in that car! They explained that they have found through experience that the best time to turn the seats around is right after the train leaves Austin, Texas at 9:28 P.M. That is as long as they can delay before having to disturb everyone to get out of their seats and move everything out from their seats so they can be turned. If they do it later at night or in the morning, then they have the problem of having to wake many people. Thus, they figure it is better for people to endure a backwards two hour ride than being woke up in the middle of the night to have their seat turned.
The question might be asked why it is necessary to turn the seats at all. Why not just have everyone face backwards for the rest of the trip? After all, one out of every pair of people in the Standard (Economy) Bedrooms has to face backwards for the entire trip unless the couple takes turns. I don't have an answer to the second proposition, but for some psychological reason, most people like facing forward when they are moving and some people become very discomforted when facing backwards while traveling. If safety was the main goal, seats would always be backwards in every mode of transportation: airplanes, buses, trains, cars, etc., except for the driver. Having your back agains a surface results in a lot less injury than flying across the room or being restrained by a seatbelt or airbag on impact. Every study that has ever been done on this subject has shown that people are far more willing to accept those risks of injury that be forced to travel while facing backwards. Thus, to accomodate the passengers in the Coach Car, the seats are turned to face forward prior to the start of the trip from Texas to California.
Personally, I not only don't mind facing backward, but I prefer it. I find that watching scenery and taking pictures is a lot easier while facing backwards. When facing forward, scenery that is far ahead isn't what usually captures your attention. You attention is usually captured when the item is much closer. By the time you focus your eyes or your camera on the item, it's gone behind you! Then you are in the awkward position of trying to maneuver yourself to see or take a picture of something that is quickly vanishing in the direction opposite to the direction in which you are facing. When traveling backwards, my attention is usually on scenery that is almost a 90 degree out my window. If something catches my attention, I am already facing the direction in which the item will receed. Thus, I usually have plenty of time to take a picture or just relax and watch that item until it vanishes out of sight without having to turn my head around. Few people seem to share my preference as I've never had to argue with any travel partner as to which of us will get to face backwards!
My dinner reservation was for 7:45 P.M., but I guess not to many people were left to be fed at 7:15 P.M. The Chief caught me by surprise when he announced the 7:15 P.M. reservations to head to the Diner and that any 7:45 P.M. reservation that is hungry should head down also! I sat with a couple that was taking their first train trip and they were only going from Ft. Worth to San Antonio. They were taking the train instead of driving since it was something different. I don't know what kind of experience this was going to be for them since most of their ride would be in the dark with little scenery. Actually, they weren't very talkative. They didn't say one thing other than in answer to a question or comment that I made. When I didn't say anything, the table fell into dead silence. Once in a while one would talk to the other, but that was about it. Either they just weren't a talkative couple or they hadn't got use to the "public" style of socializing in the Dining Car of the train yet. Often, people are shocked the first time they eat in the Dining Car and find out that they don't get their own private table unless there are four people in thier party.
If I was in charge of seating, I think I'd try as best as I can to seat two couples together at tables, up to four individuals together at the same table, and whenever I saw one parent with one child, I'd try to place them with another parent with one child. However, seating a grandmotherly figure traveling alone usually works well when seated with a lone parent traveling with two children. I don't know how much effort is made to seat people. I've heard stories about Stewards that pride themselves on being able to match people up properly for dinner. Most trains I have been on seem to do it pretty random. If two people come in the Dining Car, they are seated at the first table with two seats still available. For example, a father traveling with his young daughter might be seated at a table with two gruff looking men talking very coarsely with each other springled liberally with four letter words. Last time this almost happened to me, I requested that we be seated at the next table with two grandmotherly types. The Steward gave me a nasty look for not following his seating directions, but I think my daughter enjoyed the dinner conversation much better than it might otherwise have turned out.
Here we are on a Wednesday night, the middle of the week. Almost every stop along the way has seen a lot of people getting on and off this train. Most of the major cities along the route are pretty organized with convenient local transportation services. We just left Austin and they had a parade of taxis waiting to take all the people that disembarked. With so much activity on this line and so many people on this train, the Texas Eagle would have been my last guess of an Amtrak route that was at risk. I bet they would have even more activity if this was a daily train. Seems like a train that should be getting expanded service instead of being discontinued.
I also found out that ALL of the service crew are done with this train in San Antonio. They all go back with the next Texas Eagle heading for Chicago out of San Antonio at 7:00 A.M. Most of the cars on this train will also be returning with the 7:00 A.M. Texas Eagle. Just this Sleeping Car and the adjoining Coach Car will be going on to Los Angeles. The current crew on this train is based out of Chicago and they must return to Chicago with that northbound Texas Eagle. We will be getting a Los Angeles based crew once we reach San Antonio and they will remain with us for the rest of our journey to Los Angeles. I would assume the Los Angeles crew that we will be getting are the ones that were in the eastbound Texas Eagle cars out of Los Angeles that are arriving in San Antonio at 3:15 A.M.
I'm going to make sure I see our Car Attendant before he leaves and give him a $5 tip. I'm sure he probably doesn't get tips from most of the passengers that continue on through San Antonio as it is customary to give the tip when your Car Attendant comes to your room to ask if you need help off with your luggage. John Champion, our Car Attendant, kept that coffee going around the clock and kept ice and juice available at all times. Other than that, he kept us well informed at all times, was very friendly, and helped out in every way he could. Having started out at 6 P.M last night and only having to make my bed one time, I think this counts as a single day trip in terms of this particular Car Attendant so I think $5 would be the right amount to tip.
I don't remember the color scheme in the new Viewliner Sleepers, but I hope that Amtrak has consulted someone about using a color scheme that is likely not to go out of style over a lengthy period of time. These Superlner I Cars were designed in the mid to late 1970's and reflect the popular decor and colors of that decade. Everything is earthtones, which include the reds, the oranges, the browns and the greens. I remember that time. That was the color and style we did our furnishings. Our rugs were brown and cream in some rooms and a deep green in others. The upholstery was various shades of deep orange and brown. Vinyl was pretty popular at that time too! I think avocado was the popular color for kitchen appliances. That is the color scheme of the Superliner I Cars! The seats are a deep orange and or red with a brown, orange and sort of cream pattern. The headrests are vinyl in I think a shade of flat red. The curtain is a deep shade of orange, the carpet and vinyl portions of the floor are brown, the bottom fabric of the upper bunk and the ceiling is sort of a mute green, and I think the walls are a light grey. They might actually be a light shade of green, but it is hard to tell at night. The bathroom decor is that avocado that I just mentioned for the back of the door and the counter to the sink. The rest of the bathroom is a cream color, probably the almond color that was so hot in the 1970's.
Unfortunately, these cars didn't start to get delivered to Amtrak until the early 1980's when this color scheme was already hopelessly out of date. The colors go pretty well with the Southwest Chief since the southwest seems to have an eternal claim on the orange and red earthtone color scheme, but for all other routes, it made these cars look outdated on the day they were delivered.
I didn't even know of the existence of Superliner I Cars and this color scheme until early 1996. My first several trips on Amtrak were on the Coast Starlight which only uses the new Superliner II Cars. Then I took a trip to Chicago on the Southwest Chief. Normally, the Southwest Chief does use Superliner I Cars, but as luck would have it, I ended up in one of the few Superliner II Cars used on that route at the time!
Between the new Genesis engines and the modern blue, purple and greys of the Coast Starlight Superliner II Train, my initial impression was that all Amtrak trains were the latest in high-tech rail transportation! Both inside and out, these trains look like they had been delivered right out of the factory yesterday! The first time I stepped into my room in a Superliner I Car, I was almost blinded by the orange and red color scheme. Since that first experience with a Superliner I was on the Southwest Chief, my immediate assumption was that each Amtrak route had its own color scheme and the orange and red made perfect sense for the Southwest Chief! Then, other differences started to show up. The room seemed almost imperceptably smaller, but there was a built in closet. I went nuts trying to find the refrigerator for ice and soda that had always been under the coffee urn on the Coast Starlight. However, I had no problem figuring out how to flush the toilet on the Superliner I ... there was a button for it! The first time on the Coast Starlight, I almost went into a panic trying to find something to push or pull to make the toilet flush! I finally gave up on intuition and read the instructions, which just said to close the lid to make the toilet flush automatically!
We are now in the 1990's and the color scheme for the Superliner II Cars still seems to fit right in with the current high-tech design schemes. I don't know if that is a timeless color scheme or not, but it is something Amtrak needs to pay attention to in their designs when you consider that passenger cars seem to hang around for a few decades before they are replaced.
My how the time flies when you are having fun! The announcement about arrival in San Antonio was just made. The crew thanked everyone for taking the Texas Eagle and explained again about us getting a new crew in San Antonio to take us the rest of the way to Los Angeles. Also explained was the fact that the train takes 7 individual movements to get it into the station in San Antonio. In doing so, some of the crew memebers have to go outside the train to manually throw switches to guide us onto the right track to get us into the station. They said that we will be within the city limits of San Antonio long before we get into the station because of the 7 stops and switching movements of the train. They asked everyone to remain in their seats until we are actually in the station which is expected to be right on time at 11:59 P.M.
We were also told that these two cars that are to be joined to the Sunset Limited will be sitting right in front of the station all night with all electrical and air-conditioning systems operational. We will be able to get on and off the train anytime while it is in San Antonio. The station itself will remain open all night and it is staffed all night. There are phones and other facilities in the station. There is also a 24 hour Denny's just down the street in case anyone gets hungry during the night. The train in not scheduled to leave from San Antonio until 5:35 A.M. tomorrow morning.
The train just went into full emergency stop at Conrad Lane at 10:30 P.M. I got my scanner out and communication is on Channel 42 (160.740). There are several people walking toward Conrad Lane with flashlights. While I was typing a few minutes ago the lighting kind of dimmed a few times and the train decelerated rapidly in two bursts before coming to a complete stop. All power and air-conditioning still seem to be on. Someone on the radio mentioned about taking care of an air-hose. Maybe one of the brake-line air-hoses broke? If the air-hose to the brakes splits or leaks or anything like that, it causes the brakes to be applied. Thus, a break in the air-hose could have caused the train to stop.
I hear the Car Attendant now saying that we struck a car and that means that we will probably be here for an hour or 90 minutes. There were two people in the car and the car had gone around the crossing gates. The train did hit the car and they don't think the people in the car are going to make it.
Two police cars with full lights just went racing by, though they seem to be heading to the rear of the train instead of the head of the train. Maybe they had to go that way to get on the right access road or to get to the other side of the train. Another emergency vehicle just went buy, this time with full lights and siren followed by another with just lights. An ambulance and a fire-truck or rescue truck just went by also heading to the rear of the train.
Ooops! How dumb of me! Of course they are going to the rear of the train! The train would have gone a very long way before being able to stop after hitting the car. The car must be somewhere around the rear of the train or beyond the rear of the train. That is why all the emergency vehicles are headed that way.
In these circumstances, the train usually has to remain in place until the police arrive to investigate and write up their report. If deaths are involved, the coroner usually has to be gotten out of bed and down to the scene before either the bodies or the train can be moved. Over the radio I heard that someone from Risk Management needs to be contacted. I don't know if that would be someone from Amtrak or someone from the freight railroad that owns these tracks, maybe both.
An announcement just came over the P.A. system that a car tried to beat the train to the crossing. It was a tie, unfortunately.
The time is now 10:48 P.M. and a vehicle with just a single yellow light went buy. I assume that would probably be someone from the host freight railroad. They might also be here to investigate or see if any repairs need to be made to the crossing gate equipment.
I think it is the Risk Manager that is now communicating with the crew. He wanted to make sure everyone on the crew was O.K. Evidently there are no physical injuries on the train, but the engine crew is a bit shaken up by the event, as can be expected.
Some foolish young drivers do race trains to grade crossings. They often will succeed in beating a train through the crossing. What they often don't realize is that the only reason they won could be that the engineer threw the train info full emergency stop once they sized up the situation. Putting on the brakes won't stop the train in time, but it sometimes can slow it down just enough to let the car beat it through the intersection. I was once on a passenger train where this happened. If an older person was walking down the aisle when the engineer threw the train into emergeny stop, that person could have stumbled to the floor and been severely injured. The car "beat" the train through the crossing, but had no idea that their "success" was due to action taken by the train engineer that could have resulted in injury to some passengers!
Another story I have heard is that these same drivers become confident at beating freight trains through crossings and from those experiences, incorrectly estimate the speed of the faster passenger trains. Thus, they don't realize that their ability to beat a freight train to a crossing is not the same as their ability to beat a passenger train to the same crossing. Thus, their over-confidence in the situation results in their demise.
I think they are going to try and bring in another crew and not insist on this crew continuing the rest of this trip. I wonder if that is the best way to handle the situation. Wouldn't the logic of how to handle falling off a horse apply? That the best thing to do is to get right back on? Then, your last memory of what you were doing is normally riding a horse. If the very last thing you did with a horse was fall-off, given to stew on that for a while may give you a lot more problems. We've only got about another hour left before a crew change. Wouldn't it be better for this crew to take the train in so their last experience is normal last few miles into the station instead of remembering the last thing they did on a train was hit a car? Just a thought.
The time is now 11:18 P.M. and the train has not moved for about 40 minutes since the collision at 10:30 P.M.
The latest report from the Engineer is that the train was going at about 68 miles per hour and that all the crossing gate signaling was working properly. The Engineer said that the car was approaching the crossing at a high-rate of speed and then appeared to slow down like they were going to stop. The car then suddenly went around the gates and was hit by the train. The police wanted to know if the car went around or broke through the gates. From that question I have to assume that the gates are now broken. Most likely the car was thrown through or into the gates after hit by the train in the gates are now broken.
The Dispatcher asked the Engineer if he wanted to be relieved or if he wanted to take the train in the rest of the way. The Engineer replied that he didn't know what was going to happen right now as the highway patrol was talking about wanting the crew to take a blood test. Does this really make any sense? I'm going to assume the crew was not on drugs, but how is that even relevant? If a car is hit by a train, I have trouble seeing how blame can be placed on the Engineer. A car that moves into the path of a train is likely to be hit by that train regardless of the state of the Engineer. Questioning the responsibility of the Engineer in this circumstance is adding insult to injury.
Now there is some word that the Dispatcher wants the Amtrak train to move up one car length. Something about getting the train off that one wheel. I can't exactly figure out what they mean. What they do want to do is get the Amtrak train moved up just a little and that will evidently create a situation where a waiting freight train can head north. The Amtrak Engineer has indicated that he has been told by the police not to move the train at all. The police may want the Engineer to go to the hospital for a drug test. I'm sure that is standard procedure when there is a major collision or fatality involving two motor vehicles, but I think some different rules are needed for these situations. I really don't think the same rules of trying to determine responsibility exist when a car is hit at a train crossing as you have when two motor vehicles hit each other. With two cars, who knows what really happened until all the evidence is evaluated including testing the drivers for drugs and alcohol? I think it is pretty cut and dry when a car is hit by a train in a grade-crossing. Even if the grade-crossing signal equipment was faulty and failed to notify the driver of the oncoming train, how still could you imagine any situation where the Engineer would be at fault?
For about 10 minutes the Head End Power (H.E.P.) was turned off, I guess so they could repair that broken hose. The power is back on again now.
The time is now 11:56 P.M. We won't officially be "off-schedule" until 11:59 P.M. passes and we don't show up in the San Antonio station, but that is just 3 minutes from now. Right up until now we were right on schedule for most of the trip, sometimes even arriving a couple of minutes a head of schedule. This one incident is going to keep this train from being added to the good on-time performance record of this route.
The police department in charge is the Texas State Department of Public Safety (D.P.S.). The local city police seem to be involved also, but the State D.P.S. are in charge. The directions to the incident are up Canyon Lake, turn right, cross the tracks and go down to Conrad Road. The Dispatcher seems to be trying to reach someone in the Texas State D.P.S. that can get an order down here to allow the Amtrak train to just pull up a car or two to clear the siding so that other trains can get by.
The time is now 12:02 A.M. Central Time, Thursday morning, March 27, 1997 and we are officially late according to our scheduled arrival time of 11:59 P.M. into San Antonio, Texas. I think the name of the local town and police department is Brownswills.
The time is now 12:13 A.M. Central Time. The Dispatcher got permission from the Texas D.P.S. to move the train off the tire and up two car lengths. So my first guess at what they meant by the "wheel" was correct, though I didn't state an opinion above. My guess was that it was the wheel of the car that was still under the train and that seems to be the case. I think the Engineer is waiting for the policeman to walk up here and verbally give him the go ahead to move the train up two car lengths. That will allow the waiting freight trains to pass us on the siding.
The car tire is underneath the rear coach toward the end of it. The highway patrol person is walking up toward the engine along with two firemen. TV crews were just up at the front of the train and are wandering about the area. Looks like they have permission from the Texas D.P.S. to move. They have marked the tracks and the local D.P.S. people at the seen now know about the move that is about to take place. The D.P.S. person said that as soon as he gets done taking a few pictures, he is all through with the train.
There is now a Union Pacific Trainmaster on the scene and he doesn't want the train to move while there are all these people still jumping on and off the train and wandering about the scene. The U.P. Trainmaster has instructed the Amtrak Engineer to not move the train until the Trainmaster has cleared the tracks and gives the word. The Dispatcher sounds like he is about to have a fit. All he wants is for the Amtrak train to just be moved two car lenghts so he can get the backed up freight trains by on the blocked siding. The Dispatcher just obtained permission from the D.P.S. and now the U.P. Trainmaster won't let the train move yet!
The time is now 12:21 A.M. and we are now moving up a couple of car lengths. Hmm, we seem to be moving a lot more than two car lenghts. We finally did stop, but I think we moved up a lot more than just two car lengths! I noticed that we passed another grade-crossing with a car waiting. That car might have been there a long time and might continue to be there for quite some time.
The freight trains have been given the signal to move and they are now getting ready to pull through the area. One of the freight trains was waiting for this Amtrak train to go buy when the accident did occur. The freight train crew was just told that they should make some notes about what they saw when the collision happened because they will probably be interviewed about it later.
The time is now 12:34 A.M. The Dispatcher inquired to the Engineer how soon he thinks the D.P.S. will release the train. The Engineer said that he things they will be able to go in about the next 10 or 15 minutes. The Dispatcher also asked if this crew will be bringing the train in the rest of the way to San Antonio. The Engineer replied that this crew would be limping the train into San Antonio. Someone else just asked the Conductor if he wanted a ride up to the front-end in his car to save him some time.
The time is now 12:38 A.M. and I believe it was the Conductor that just said that everyone is in the clear and he is getting on right now. The Engineer has just announced that the Trainmaster is boarding. The Conductor announced that the train is clear with the D.P.S. Got Highball! Train is rolling! Time is now 12:40 A.M. !!!
The time is now 12:42 A.M. We are stopping again. Something is hanging in front of the engine. They think it might be a hose. They tied up the hose for now. They also got a report in that there is a busted step on the ladder on the Engineers side of the locomotive, I assume from the collision. I'm glad these coaches will be moved to the Sunset Limited in San Antonio. Sounds like this train needs a little work.
The time is now 12:45 A.M. Highball! Rolling again! This Engineer will probably overcompensate for the safety for the rest of the trip into San Antonio. Sounds like he is really hitting that horn long and loud as we approach each crossing. Forget any "No Horn" ordinances tonight if there are any in these towns!
U.P. Detector ... Mile Post 227 ... U.P. Detector ... Mile Post 227 ... No Defects ... Axles 44 ... Train Speed 27 ... Detector Out.
The time is now 12:58 A.M. Yep, he is really leaning on that horn. This city sure has a lot of grade crossings!
The time is now 1:01 A.M. We seem to be out of the densely populated area and a bit more into the open. The train seems to be back up to a really good speed again, probably 60 miles per hour or better.
The are talking on the radio about the ladder on the Engineers side as being pretty well shot. I don't know who is talking, but they seem to be rail personnel that are still at the site of the collision at Corman. Hmmm. I thought the location was Conrad, but maybe I heard wrong and it was Corman.
U.P. Detector ... Mile Post 245 ... U.P. Detector ... Mile Post 245 ... No Defects ... Axles 44 ... Train Speed 69 ... Detector Out.
The train has been going through its maneuvers to get into the San Antonio station for about the last 10 minutes. They have switched over to Channel 14 (160.320).
Our actual arrival into the station was around 2:10 A.M. Two people from our sleeper got off here. I headed out to try to take some photos of the damage to the front of the locomotive. There was a new person acting as our Car Attendant. This was just a temporary person to take care of our car until the crew arrived from the eastbound Texas Eagle out of Los Angeles at about 3:15 A.M. Our regular Car Attendant had gone to bed to get a few hours rest before having to leave on the northbound Texas Eagle at 7:00 A.M.
When I got up to the front of the train, three people were inspecting the front of the locomotive. I could see one really big dent on the left side of the train (on the right side facing the locomotive). The locomotive was of the Genesis variety and was labeled #57. I couldn't see the damage to the ladder, but it was pretty dark at night with not much light from the station platform. The front of the train didn't look right, but it was really hard to see the damage with the lack of light. I didn't want to move in close taking pictures while the Amtrak people were inspecting the front. So, I took a walk to the station building to look around inside. It seemed to be a modern little temporary station with some handicap access ramps added to the outside. I didn't find too much of interest on the inside other than some addition Texas Eagle and Sunset Limited individual schedule cards. I picked up one of each.
I then walked around this large set of fenced off building. They appeared to be old station buildings that were being refurbished. Taking a right at the end of the construction area brought me back to the front of the train again. The people inspecting the train were just finishing and drove away on an electric card with a couple of minutes. There didn't seem to be anyone in the engine, but I could have been wrong. I took 2 flash photos of the front of the engine and 2 of the side ladder. I'm hoping the light from the flash will allow the photos to reveal more of the damage than I could see with my unaided eye. I have a feeling that the big dent in the side of the locomotive won't show up at all. That was easy to see when I was right there, but unless the light from the flash hits it just right, I don't think it will show up. From my experience, it is hard to see a dent in shiney silver metal by taking a photograph. The dent tends to just look like a reflection. We'll have to see how these photos come out and if any of the damage shows.
I have returned to my room now and am wondering what to do next. I could wait until almost 3:30 A.M. in the morning and watch all the maneuvers to recombine the Sunset Limited and Texas Eagle. There is going to be a lot of mixing and matching of cars! The eastbound Sunset Limited is scheduled to arrive at 3:15 A.M. They will take the Texas Eagle cars off that train and combine them with several of the cars from our Texas Eagle. The new configuration of Texas Eagle cars is scheduled to leave here at 7:00 A.M. and head back to Chicago. Then, the westbound Sunset Limited is scheduled to arrive here at 4:35 A.M. They will attach my Texas Eagle Sleeping Car along with the adjacent Texas Eagle Coach Car to that westbound Sunset Limited. That westbound Sunset Limited is scheduled to leave here at 5:35 A.M. Thus, if I could keep awake until about 5:00 A.M. or so, I could get to see a lot of mixing and matching of cars! However, I'm not sure I can stay up another two hours or so.
No, I didn't go to sleep last night. I went out to the platform and pretty much watched all the maneuvers of the shuffling of the cars to get the Texas Eagle ready to head back to Chicago.
The eastbound Sunset Limited Train #2 arrived about an hour late. The cars destined for Chicago were at the end of that train. Just before entering the station area, the Sunset Limited began to switch from one track to another. When the Florida bound cars were almost all on the second track, they stopped the train. Then they disconnected the Chicago bound cars leaving them on the first track. Thus, the Chicago bound cars were left on the same track with our train, but not connected to it.
About an 90 minutes behind schedule, the remainder of the eastbound Sunset Limited continued on its journey without the cars bound for Chicago. Our train was then split in two. All the cars from the Dining Car on back were left in place while the front cars were pulled far forward by the locomotive. The two cars of the Texas Eagle destined for Los Angeles, one sleeper and one coach, were then pushed onto a track all by themselves and disconnected from the locomotives. The locomotives were still attached to a baggage car, a transition sleeper and a regular Sleeping Car. The locomotive that slowly ran in reverse down track one which connected those lead cars to the dining car, cafe/lounge car, and coach cars that had been taken off the rear of the train. Further backward motion connected those cars to the Chicago bound cars that had just come off the eastbound Sunset Limited. Thus, a new northbound Texas Eagle was built out of the front and back of the old southbound Texas Eagle, minus the two middle cars, plus a few sleepers and coaches off the Sunset Limited that were headed for Chicago. That consist is sitting right outside my window right now and is scheduled to leave at 7:00 A.M.
Our two cars from the Texas Eagle are sitting all by themselves on a track. These cars are getting power from a receptacle by the side of the track. We are not connected to the Head End Power (H.E.P.) of any locomotive. This also means that we have no Dining Car and no Cafe/Lounge Car right now. The Sleeping Car Attendant has made lots of coffee and has sent out for breakfast for us. The last report that we have is that the westbound Sunset Limited won't arrive until about 9:15 A.M. this morning. Without a Dining or Cafe Car, sending out is the only way we will get any food for breakfast!
Once the westbound Sunset Limited arrives, our two cars will be placed at the end of that train and we will be ready to complete our journey to Los Angeles.
So, I have stayed up all night and witnessed as many maneuvers to resort the cars of the north and south bound Texas Eagle and the east and west bound Sunset Limited. The only item I cannot say that I have witnessed is the attachment of the Texas Eagle cars that I am currently in to the rear of the westbound Sunset Limited. Actually, I don't know if I will be able to stay awake for that. It will be a miracle if I stay up long enough to eat breakfast! I will probably sleep for most of today.
Our breakfast arrived from Denny's at about 8:00 A.M. There were styrofoam boxes for everyone, including the people in coach. Free breakfast was provided to everyone by Amtrak because of the late arrival of the Sunset Limited (and the inability of anyone to even buy a breakfast if they wanted to). Every box was identical. Each contained 2 pancakes, 2 strips of bacon, 2 sausage and scrambled eggs. Everyone also got a bottle of orange juice and a packet with plastic utensils and a napkin. They intended to have a line where each person would pick up one of each item, but it turned into a friendly free for all. Everything went quickly and everyone got their box of breakfast.
Realizing it was daylight, I went outside and took a few pictures of the station area including our stranded 2 cars and the remodeling of the Santa Fe Station.
The northbound Texas Eagle had pretty much left on time at about 7:00 A.M. We've been told that the reason the Sunset Limited is so late in arriving is that there are about 300 miles of track being replaced near New Orleans. The only way they can proceed with this project is to just stop all rail traffic for brief periods. Thus, the Sunset Limited has been delayed by almost 4 hours so far, and the latest estimate is that it still won't be in for another hour or so. By the time we leave San Antonio, the Sunset Limited might be running as much as 6 hours late.
I feel sorry for one man on this train. This was the first time he has traveled by train and just wanted to go from Minnesota to Los Angeles. He started out by having a 7 hour delay changing trains in Chicago. They told him that the Southwest Chief was sold out which would have been about one and one-half days shorter than going on the Texas Eagle. Then, he tried to take the California Zephy and the Coast Starlight. For him this would not have been a bad choice since his final destination was actually Pismo Beach. Unfortunately, that was sold out too! Because of the collision last night and the delay this morning, both he and another person on the train have sworn that this is the last time they will take a train anywhere. I can't help but admit, this journey hasn't been the best introduction to the enjoyment of train travel!
At least 4 freight trains have come through the station from the east. I wonder if they were all traveling ahead of the Sunset Limited on the same route?
Ten A.M. and we are still on the quest for the rest of out train! I suppose some train is better than no train at all. I've got a bed to sleep in, but no engine to pull us along. The toilets stopped working due to lack of water pressure, but the sinks still work a little and the lights, cooling and electricity all work fine. But, still no sight of the rest of our train!
The Sunset Limited has arrived! Now we just need to get hitched to it and we'll be on our way.
Finally, we are on our way! Just about 6 hours late out of San Antonio.
I slept most of the day and just woke up at 4:00 P.M. Occassionally I'd wake up and look out the window for a few minutes. Having taken this route round trip twice before, I knew there wasnt much on the stretch through Texas other than a lot of scrub brush. The few views I got out the window whenever I woke up confirmed that observation. If you want to take a nap, this stretch through Texas isn't a bad time to do so.
We are running just a bit more than 5 hours late. Someone on the Amtrak staff said we'd probably make up 2 hours. I know there is padding in the schedule, but I don't know about making up much time. I've been on the Sunset Limited twice before and would have been lucky just to not lose any more time!
The Chief of On-Board Services has been providing a running commentary at times. For example, he told us all about the rare flood that happened in Sanderson. He also told us about an Amtrak train that had an engine failure and was stranded here for 18 hours waiting for a new engine to be sent from Los Angeles. The people of the town gathered up all the groceries from town they could and put on a big BBQ for the stranded Amtrak passengers! He also mentioned that it takes about 30 acres of land in this area to provide enough grass for one head of cow. I like these commentaries, but all you could see out the window of what he was describing was endless scrub brush and an occassional cow! One other item he mentioned was about the windmills you will see once in a while. They are used to pump water into holding tanks and the water can then be used by gravity feed.
We passed some non-descript hills in the background. From the distance of the train to the hills, they just looked like any other hill. The Chief of Onboard Services told us all about the Indian Caves in those hills and how American Natives had lived there for many years. One more item was the deer blinds. Once in a great while you'll see a small structure that automatically dispenses food for deer at a certain hour each day. When a hunter is ready to fill up his freezer with meat, he just heads over here at the right hour and shoots a deer when it shows up.
The Chief then ran a trivia contest. He asked 10 questions from old movies and TV shows. These questions were definitely biased toward the older travelers on the train or someone that is a really dedicated TV and movie history buff. Almost all the questions, except for asking the age of our bartender, were about very very old movies and TV shows. I'm 46 and most of these TV shows and movies were around when I was very little or before I was born! The prizes were Sunset Limited T-Shirts (only the "small" size was available) or you had your choice of free dinner in the Dining Car.
The Cafe/Lounge Car ran a happy hour: margarittas for just $2 plus a free cup of snack-mix. I was just about to head down to the bar anyway to get a couple of Bloody-Marys before dinner so all this announcement did for me was create a long line ahead of me! No problem. I always bring a book to read with me so that I never have to wait impatiently. When my turn came up, I didn't expect the making of the Bloody-Marys to be such a production. I probably should have apologized to everyone behind me waiting for their quick-fix margarittas. First, the bartender though he was out of vodka, but it turned out he had one bottle left. He suggested that he make the other Bloody-Mary with ginn. Kind of a last minute decision, but I told him to go ahead.
This bartender really knew how to make Bloody-Marys! Usually the bartender will just fill a cup with ice and hand me a can of Mr. T Bloody Mary mix and a small bottle of vodka suggesting that I pour and mix them when I get to my seat to make it easier to carry. That wasn't proper for this bartender. He had to use his special skill to make it his own way and I was glad he did! Usually I tell the bartender to not use any tabasco. The Mr. T is spicy enough. This bartender, however, asked me if I wanted it spicey or mild. Since I had my choice, I just requested "mild" and let him make it his way. He poured in the ice and then the liquor. Then, he added some deep brown stuff from a bottle. I thought that was the tabasco and was about to panic over how much he put in! But then, I noticed him pull out a Heinz bottle of tabsco and start to pour some of that in. I have no idea what was in the first brown bottle he poured, but he continued to still put in a lot out of the tabasco bottle. If this was what he considered "mild", I wonder what he considered "spicey"! Then he squeezed in a lime and threw the remaineder of the lime into the cup and then added the Mr. T Bloody-Mary mix and stirred. These two drinks were full to the brim. I ended up spilling some of it even on my change and a little spilled here and there all the way on my walk through the Dinning Car and 3 Coach Cars to get back to my Sleeping Car.
The Bloody-Marys were two of the best that I have ever had! With all that tobasco they weren't too spicey. I have no idea why. I pretty much polished off the 2 Bloody-Marys before my call to dinner at 5:30 P.M. Central Time.
I had dinner with a couple and a woman traveling alone. Everyone at our table was from California so the conversation never stopped from begining to end. I even had a good rappor with out Dining Car Attendant. He immediately recognized the Viking Serenade cap that I was wearing and mentioned that he had recently taken a trip on it to the Mexican Riviera. I ordered the Chardonney with dinner. Instead of a little individual serving bottle, he brought a big bottle. When I had finished my glass of wine in the middle of the meal, he poured another glass for me from the bottle. Let's see ... two Bloody-Marys and two glasses of wine tonight. Good thing I'm not driving!
The dinner menu was extensive compared to the menu on the Texas Eagle. There were two items that looked really good on the menu and made me wish I'd be on the train another day so I could try both. One was a boneless chicken breast stuffed with spinach and baked mozzarella cheese and the other was a tortellini with all kinds of vegetables. Since I had baked lasagna on both previous nights on the Texas Eagle, I decided to go for the chicken. I wasn't dissapointed! It was delicious! Someone recommended the banana cake so I ordered that instead of skipping desert. However, I just had a taste of that which was also fantastic. I left our Dining Car Attendant $2. There was little more that I could have asked of the service that he provided.
On the downside, the couple across from us had asked for the strips. I think this was some sort of beef strips. They were out of that and were delivered some kind of baked chicken on the bone. Thier only complaint was that it was too much to eat! If you are ever delivered something other than what you have ordered on the train, don't panic! If you don't want it, just ask them to take it back and order something else. They are more than happy to see to your wishes.
After dinner, I spotted one railfan on the train that I had spent a while talking to in San Antonio. I sat down in the Sightseer Lounge Car and talked with him. He was sitting with another very knowledganle railfan and it didn't take long to find out that the person sitting next to us had worked for the Southern Pacific for over 30 years! We had a real enjoyable conversation for the next hour or two talking about the past and future of the various freight railroads along with the future of Amtrak.
The Cafe/Lounge Car Attendant then started to play a movie on the TV monitor. Since we were right under the TV, we figured our conversatoin would bother those that came to see the movie and we were clogging up the best seats in the house for movie watching. Thus, we broke up our little meeting and headed to our respective seats.
Once I returned to my Sleeping Car, I ended up in another long conversation in the hall with many of my neighbors in my Sleeping Car (must be all those drinks. I don't tend to socialize that much usually.) Mostly we talked about the collision of the previous evening and other aspects of train travel and how the lateness of the train would or wouldn't affect each of us.
I sure hope all these people like talking to me and that I am not boring them. Maybe not. A few people have come to my room to ask my help getting their beds set up. Maybe I should get a job as an Assistant Car Attendant! There seems to be almost a party going on in our Sleeping Car tonight. We are all wandering up and down the corridor and into each others rooms talking about the trip, about the commet that can be seen in the sky from the train and other things. Don't panic if this isnt' too your tastes. If you were to close your door and your curtain, nobody would bother you. I've got my door and curtain completely open right now and people keep wandering by my room starting up conversations. The main item that attracts their attention is that I am sitting here working on my computer. The most common response is: "Gee, I wish I had thought of bringing my computer along. Then I'd have something to do while there is no view of the scenery at night."
We are at the very tail end of the train right now which is great during the day for looking out the back window during the daylight. I took a couple of photographs out the back of the train. At night, there isn't much of the view and the last car of the train always tends to sway more than the other cars on the train. One lady on the train was kind of upset by every little movement of the train and wasn't happy that those motions were more amplified by being at the very tail end of the train.
As a side note, this is the first time that I have ever been on the train that they have immediatley assumed that I was from the Coach Cars instead of the Sleeping Cars. The reason for that is that all the Sleeping Cars of the Sunset Limited are at the front of the train on the other side of the Dining Car. On this side of the Dining Car are the two Coach Cars from the Sunset Limited, the one Coach Car from the Texas Eagle, and then the very last car is the Sleeping Car from the Texas Eagle. Thus, almost all of the people that enter the Dining Car from the same direction that I enter are from the Coach Cars. As usual, it is just the honor system. When they attempted to hand me a Coach Check in the Dining Car, I just told them I was in the Sleeping Car and they believed me without requiring any proof. That is the usual procedure that I have found in almost every train that I have ever been in. That is one of the thinks I like about Amtrak. You get more respect and trust when riding Amtrak than any other mode of transportation. Can you doubt that passengers are trusted the very least when traveling by air? Don't you feel like a prisoner suspected of carrying contraband each time you try to fly anywhere?
We have arrived 4 hours and 40 minutes late into El Paso and it still remains to be seen when we will pull out of here. This is a crew change stop for the train.
We just left El Paso at 9:07 P.M. instead of 4:20 P.M., which is still 4 hours and 47 minutes late. The announcements on the general P.A. system start and then just fade away. I found that switching to Channel 3 does get the announcements on this train. The Conductor just announced that we are expected to arrive into Tucson, Arizona at 2:30 A.M. which will be 4 hours and 25 minutes behind schedule. He said it was not possible to make up any further time between here and there. Some additional time can be made up between Tucson and Los Angeles and he is expecting that we will arrive into Los Angeles between 9:30 and 9:45 A.M. which will be 3 hours and 25 to 40 minutes late.
There is a beautiful old station in El Paso that seems to have been kept up. I took a picture of the inside and one of the outside. I'm not sure the outside shot came out due to the darkness.
When the train slowly started to leave the station, I saw something I have not seen before. Two people came running from the station and hopped into the downstairs door to our Sleeping Car! I assume they were passengers on our train that hadn't heard the boarding call. I would assume the Car Attendant opened the door for them. Usually, once the train starts to roll, no attempt is made to allow passengers to still get on board because of the danger involved if the train were to suddenly accelerate. I have heard Car Attendants announce over the P.A. system to the Conductor that we left passengers behind. Usually they will stop the train and allow those people to catch up. If the train is too far out of the station and already picked up some speed, the passengers are just left behind.
I don't at all know what we are near, but my radio won't receive any AM radio stations. However, my cellular telephone has a 100% strong signal! I was able to call my wife from here. Usually the train is either near a populated area or near an interstate when the cell phone works that clearly. From my window I can see a lot of traffic, so I assume we must be right along side an interstate which explains the clear cellular reception.
My wife had not heard of the Amtrak collision yet. I was hoping to find more details than what is known on the train. Since the accident happened so late last night, the morning newspapers did not have anything about it. Information will probably be in the Friday morning newspapers, but could also have been on some TV or radio news during the day today.
I made one last long trek to the Cafe/Lounge Car. That Bloody Mary was so good, I had to have one more before I left the train, even if it is made with ginn instead of vodka. It turns out that brown stuff was not tobasco. I was dumb enough to forget to ask what it was. Actually, there were two different brown things he poured into it. Maybe one was barbeque sauce and one was worcester sauce. He showed me the familiar bottle of tabasco and he was right, he used none of that in the previous nor the current Bloody Mary. This one was just as good as the previous! Last time I left a tip of $1 just because of all the items I purchased and the effort it took. This time I still tipped him $1, just because he makes such a good Bloody-Mary!
The Coach Cars were 100% dark. Only a few people had a light on so they could read. I guess when you travel coach, you just go to sleep early once there is no more sights that can be seen out the window. In all 3 Coach Cars there was at least 1 person and often 2 people for every pair of seats. I still don't think that Amtrak's problem can be lack of ridership. My understanding is that both the Southwest Chief and the California Zephyr were sold out in both Coach and Sleeping Cars for most of this week.
Many people on the train travel for pleasure, but I would say that is not the reason most riders are on the train, especially in Coach seating. There is probably a split fairly close to even between people riding coach because of the prices compared to airfare, the unavailability of flights between the particular destinations they are traveling, and people that just don't like airplanes. You might be surprised that train travel is often less than flying. Airfares are only low between very major cities. If you live off the beaten path, it is often much cheaper to go by rail than to take a taxi or bus to an airport that might be 50 to 200 miles from your home, fly to the nearest city, and then take another taxi 50 to 200 miles to your destination. This is especially true when Amtrak comes very close to your two endpoint cities. Between major cities like Los Angeles and New York, Amtrak has a rough time competing with the discount fares offered between major city pairs like that.
Just woke up in the middle of the night, but will probably go right back to sleep. Breakfast isn't until 6:30 A.M. and I believe that will be Pacific Time. Thus, that is still another 2 and one-half hours from now.
Thinking about Henry Kisor's book, "Zephyr", I have a hard time accepting that someone intentionally attempted to groap at him in his private Economy Bedroom at night. I am wondering if someone just had the wrong room and in attempting to start to lay down on the bed in the dark, first put their hand down on what they expected to be their empty bed ... or attempted to grab at the covers to move them aside. Realizing their mistake when they found someone already in that bed, they quickly withdrew their hand and scurried down the aisle. Maybe they had the right room number, but the wrong car on the train. That happens all the time. If the person was totally sure of their room number, then they would have immediatly realized they were in the wrong car and hurried out of the present car, maybe to avoid the embarassment of what they had just done.
I know the scenerio that I just described is totally possible. One time, I knew that my bedroom was the very first one on the right after entering my car, Room #9. I had just finished in the Dining Car and I just wanted to grab some money I had left in my jacket in the closet. Thus, I stepped out of the Dining Car, slid open the door to Room #9, and without even opening the curtain, I reached into the closet for my jacket. Surprise! There was no jacket in the closet! I then realized that I was in Room #9 not in the car right after the Dining Car, but the next car. What if there had been someone in that room and they had a jacket in that closet. What would they have thought as a mysterious arm came into their room and searched through their jacket in their closet? These mistakes are easily possible when every Sleeping Car looks the same and every room in each car is numbered the same.
However, I wouldn't come to any different conclusion than Henry Kisor. For the average person it does no harm to lock your door when you turn in for the night. It doesn't matter if you are doing it because it gives you more of a sense of safety or just to avoid the embarassment of an unexpected bed partner that has mistaken your room for their own! Personally, I'd find the avoidance of someone making a mistake being of more of a concern than worrying about my safety in a Sleeping Car on the train. Henry Kisor had a little different concern than most people. He is deaf and thus would not be able to hear the Car Attendant or anyone else knocking on his door or ringing the buzzer if their was an emergency. Thus, to him it is an issue of safety to leave the door unlocked. Because of the above incident that he described, he said he does not lock his door in consideration of safety. If I was in his shoes, I think I would have regarded that incident as an isolated occurance or just someone mistakenly trying to go into what they thought to be their own bed. If I was deaf, I think I would leave my door unlocked and consider that more likely in the interest of my own safety. I think it highly unlikely that you would ever be assaulted in a Sleeping Car of the train.
I awoke at about 5:30 A.M. Pacific Time. The sun was just coming up and I could see a very long shadow of the train out the window. I brought my roller-luggage up to my room and placed everything in it that I would not need for the remainder of my journey home. Then I put it back downstairs in the luggage rack. I'm going to have enough of a difficult time trying to wrestle with the box of Operation Redblock that I didn't need any weight more than necessary in my backpack.
At 6:15 A.M. an announcement was made that breakfast would be served by room numbers. They would call in one room number at a time. Breakfast would be complimentary even to Coach passengers due to the lateness of the train. Thus, there were going to be a lot of people that wanted breakfast and the diner would be very busy this morning.
When they called my car, I headed down to the Dining Car, but there was nobody ahead or behind me. Evidently they had already made their way down to the Dining Car before the announcement was made that people would be called by room numbers. Either they had already been seated when they arrived, or they were waiting for their car to be called in the Sightseer Lounge Car.
I sat down and they took my order immediately. It was a choice of either scrabbled eggs or french toast and I went for the french toast. I turned down the bacon or sausage, but since they were trying to serve so quickly with so many already made, they served mine with bacon anyway. A cold bottle of spring water was already at every place setting and they were serving coffee. They usually ask what type of juice you would also like, but I don't believe they were even asking that this morning. I guess just another step in trying to get so many people through the diner so quickly.
In the middle of breakfast, we started to pass the Salton Sea. I had never seen that before even though I was on this train twice before. Usually this train passes the Salton Sea in the middle of the night and that would explain my missing it on my first trip. On the second trip, however, we were quite late and I should have noticed it. Maybe I was just looking outside the wrong side of the train.
Two of the people at my table were older railfans. They told me that the Sunset Limited portion of this train had to take a detour due to the rail construction work between Mobile, Alabama and New Orleans, Louisiana. The train was detoured from Mobile up to Hattiesburg and then took the Crescent route down to New Orleans. That is the exact route that the Sunset Limited took the last time that I came from Florida! Our detour wasn't planned but was instead because of a gulf storm. Since this detour was due to rail construction work and expected, a number of railfans purchased tickets for the short trip on the Sunset Limited between Mobile and New Orleans just so they could take a ride over the rails from Mobile to Hattiesburg. Passengers trains normally do not ever take that route.
One of the railfans at our tablestarted taking both still photos and video of the Salton Sea. That reminded me that I should try to get a photo or two of it also. Having taken the route before, I didn't expect to see anything along here that I hadn't already photographed. I was pretty much done with breakfast, so I excused myself and headed back to my room. I was able to take a few photographs of the Salton Sea before we left the area. I was very surprised by the size of it. The Salton Sea is so large that you can not see the far shore for many parts of it. Eventually, mountains appear on the other shore which are easily visible.
We stopped at Indio for about 30 seconds, maximum, and I'm not trying to be funny. Maybe nobody got on or off.
An announcement was just made over the P.A. system that anyone going up the coast on Train #14, the Coast Starlight, will be transferred to buses in Ontario. This is exactly what happened the last time I was on the Sunset Limited. They are going to take all the passengers that are destined for Santa Barbara and stations north of there, put them on a bus in Ontario, and take a short cut over to Santa Barbara where they will arrive ahead of the Coast Starlight. They can then board the Coast Starlight in Santa Barbara to complete their journey.
We have been told to expect to be in Ontario in about 2 hours.
Here we are! We are making 3 stops at this station. One to get the baggage off, one to get passengers off from the front cars of the train and one to get the passengers off the back end of this train. This station is too short to accommodate the entire train. I think this station was originally built with Los Angeles Metrolink service in mind. Unfortunately, Metrolink does not yet run any trains to this station so the Amtrak Sunset Limited is the only train that stops here at all.
A few minutes ago, we just passed right by the front of the Ontario airport.
A real quick stop here and we are now on our way to our final stop in Los Angeles!
I gathered up my stuff an headed right off the train. For the first time that I have ever been in the Sleeping Cars, the Car Attendant, Mary, did not already have my suitcases out on the platform waiting for me and didn't seem to have any plans to do so. Needing to make a last minute decision, I still gave her a $5 tip and have not yet thought much about the balance between her service during the trip and this last minute oddity.
The 10:20 A.M. southbound San Diegan was already boarding so I just headed right down the platform to that train which was right across on the same platform. I had no problem with the box of Operation Redblock cups. I got right on and put my luggage in an empty space right by the door. The train was sold out. The train arrived into Fullerton on-time at 10:54 A.M., grabbed a cab and was home within 30 minutes.
Click here for the first segment of this Spring 1997 journey.