Steve's Summer 1997 Rail Journey - Fourth Segment: Travel on the Amtrak Capitol Limited from Washington,D.C. to Chicago.
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This train is a coast-to-coast through train from Washington,D.C. to Los Angeles, California. Although it will change its name, number and even service crew in Chicago, the cars of this train will be going all the way from Washington, D.C. to Los Angeles, California. I am in bedroom number 5 of my Sleeping Car and will have this room and be able to leave my things in this room all the way from one coast to the other. Other than the Sunset Limited that runs between Sanford, Florida and Los Angeles, California, there are no other Amtrak routes where the car goes all the way from one coast to the other. Starting with the May 11, 1997 schedule changes, Amtrak combined the Southwest Chief and the Capitol Limited to create this coast-to-coast through route, but let each train keep its own name and numbers.
Channel 89 - 161.445 - 04:20 P.M. (EDT), Washington, DC
Channel 08 - 160.230 - 05:01 P.M. (EDT), CSX Detector: MP 72.1 Track 1
We left right on time! Looks like I lucked out again. This car and another Sleeping Car are Superliner 2 equipment. I haven't been a Superliner 1 at all this journey! First rail segment was a viewliner, second was a Superliner 2, this segment is a Superliner 2, and since the I'll be in the same room for the next segment, that will also be a Superliner 2. The Car Attendant said it was just the luck of the draw. Most of the Sleepers on the Capitol Limited route are Superliner 1 equipment. Before the Southwest Chief and Capitol Limited were combined to use the same sets of equipment, I think the Capitol Limited had a lot of Superliner 2 equipment. With the combination of equipment, the Southwest Chief now has more Superliner 2 Sleepers, but by the same token, the Capitol now has more Superliner 1 Sleepers.
It appears we have a gal for our first Engineer out of Chicago and another gal as the primary Conductor. I know this is going to sound sexist, but it takes a little getting used to the idea of women operating the train. But then again, it certainly is no less difficult getting used to the idea that many commercial airline pilots are also women. The opportunities for women certainly have progressed since I was a child. I had never even seen a woman bus driver when I was growing up!
This Car Attendant, Enoch Bowens, is going to get my nomination for a Service Award! To start with, he had everything ready when I boarded the train. Coffee was all made, the top of the refreshment center was loaded with soft drinks and water, plus there were plenty of the coffee ingredients available such as cream and sweetener. A vanity set of soap, toothbrush, toothpase, razors, shampoo, etc. which was in a nice blue and white striped cloth sack with the Amtrak Capitol logo was in each room. A schedule, route guide, and guest directory had also been placed into each room along with a safety card and an instructions to smokers card. (Smoking isn't allowed except in a special Smoking Lounge downstairs in one particular Coach Car).
Once everyone was on board, he made a lengthy, but very friendly detailed announcement about all the features and amenities available to Sleeping Car passengers on this train. His announcement was made with great enthusiasm, just like you might expect from a Cruise Director at the start of an ocean voyage!
The Car Attendant explained that although the Cafe downstairs in the Sightseer Lounge Car would close at about midnight and reopen at about 6 A.M., the upstairs viewing lounge would remain open all night. He also explained that dinner would be served from 5:00 P.M until 8:00 P.M. this evening in the Dining Car and it would close around 8:30 P.M. Enoch also said that the Dining Car would open for breakfast at 6:00 A.M. Eastern Time and only be open until about 7:30 A.M. because of the early time this train arrives into Chicago.
Enoch then went to each room and introduced himself to each person individually with a big handshake. He noticed my "California Zephyr" hat and we ended up in about a 5 minute conversation.
He said that I was the first person that he had ever met that was booked in a Sleeping Car all the way through from Washington, DC to Los Angeles! He's met people that have been in Coach from Washington to Chicago and then a Sleeper from Chicago to Los Angeles and visa versa, but never met anyone that had a Sleeping Car room booked all the way through!
He was real curious if I knew what car and room I would be in when this train, the Capitol Limited Train #29, turned into the Southwest Chief Train #3 once it reached Chicago. I did know. I'd be in exactly the same room in the same car! They would just change the car number from 2901 to 0431 and I would still be in Room #5. Enoch knew that it was supposed to work this way, but had just never seen it actually booked and issued that way. I think he has seen some people have to change from one room to another in Chicago. Part of the reason for that could be the way the agent did the reservations for the person. I had my agent punch in that I wanted to go from Washington,DC to Los Angeles and the computer automatically assigned me to the same room for both trains. If the agent had punched in a request from Washington,DC to Chicago and then punched in a separate request from Chicago to Los Angeles, I think it is very likely the computer would book different rooms for each segment. It seems logical the computer would need to know the whole itinerary on the first request in order to make sure it could put you into the same room for both segments.
Enoch was ready for this occurance even though he hadn't seen it before. He said that the Amtrak police would be boarding the train in Chicago so that it was OK to leave all my stuff in the room and the luggage racks. I would have full use of the Metropolitan Lounge all day until the Southwest Chief was ready for boarding shortly before 5:00 P.M. If you take this same route, you have plenty of time to tour the town since the train arrives at 8:50 A.M. and then doesn't leave until 5:10 P.M. I didn't ask him if I would be able to remain on the train during that time or would have to get off. My guess is that I will be allowed to remain on the train, but once I get off, which I plan to do, I won't be able to get back on until boarding.
Here is a piece of trivia that might be hard to find in the future. It was listed in "Amtrak National Timetable - Fall/Winter 1996," but then vanished from the next edition. The Capitol Limited and Southwest Chief were going to be merged into a single route called the "National Chief" which would be train numbers 15 and 16. Whether Amtrak will ever do this, I'm not sure. Maybe they like the names "Southwest Chief" and "Capitol Limited" and don't want to eliminate those names. Or, maybe they want to keep the option of dividing them back into two trains and ending "through cars" in the future without creating more name change and route number change confusion.
Channel 08 - 160.230 - 05:34 P.M. (EDT), CSX Detector: MP 98.5 Track 1
This Amtrak stop connects with both the Washington METRO and the MARC trains. All three sets of trains stop at this location. The Dispatcher told the Engineer to be cautious as trespassers had been reported on the tracks.
I noticed two large arrays of cellular telephone transponders near this station. Actually, I've noticed a lot of them along every train route of this summer rail journey! I know that almost every cellular company is building more cell towers at a tremendous pace. Erecting them near the railroad tracks makes a lot of sense. Railroad tracks are usually found in areas that are zoned for heavy industry, sort of the reason why so many junk yards are located right next to the tracks. Most residential and business areas try to avoid having cellular towers, but such aversion is unlikely in industrial areas. Thus, when a cellular company can find an industrial area near where a cell tower is needed, that is probably the location they will select. More than likely, that will be near railroad tracks. I guess that is good for those of us that carry cellular phones on our rail journeys as it provides for good coverage along most of the routes.
Also, the cellular transponders appear to hold much more equipment than the originals. When cellular phones first came out, the towers looked like they each had 3 transponders separated by 60 degrees from each other. There still seem to be 3 sets on each tower separated by 60 degrees from each other. However, instead of seeing just 1 transponder on each side, I often see 6 transponders on each side! That would be a total of 18 transponders on each tower. I guess those are all needed because of the tremendous growth of cellular phone subscribers.
According to the radio, they are having problems in the kitchen with the water. They can't get the water to work for the dishwasher or the hand sink. The meter indicates they have a half tank of water remaining. They thought of filling up the tank in Martinsburg to see if that would fix the problem, but Martinsburg didn't have any "potable" water. For those of you that are curious, I think "potable" water means water that can be used in a "pot" like for cooking. In many places, "non-potable" water is available which is not suitable for cooking or drinking, but is fine to use for cleaning the exterior of the train. I don't know if "non-potable" water can be used for anything else besides that. They are radioing ahead to see if we can fill up the tank further down the line and to find out if the maintenance personnel have any suggestions of what they might try to get the water working.
Channel 08 - 160.230 - 06:07 P.M. (EDT), CSX Detector: MP 117.4 Track 2
Channel 08 - 160.230 - 06:36 P.M. (EDT), CSX Detector: MP 140.7 Track 1
Channel 08 - 160.230 - 06:52 P.M. (EDT), CSX Detector: MP 162.4 Track 1
The Engineer has just asked the Conductor if it would be possible to get some coffee and a soda along with some sweetener for the coffee. The Conductor said he'd just have Winnie put her finger in the coffee for the sweetener and then asked the Engineer if he wanted Diet Soda or High Test. The Engineer asked for the regular. I guess they will pass it up there at the next stop. There is more talk about trying to get some potable water at the next stop.
We arrived into the station at 7:17 P.M., but we are handing in here for a bit. The Conductor is calling Amtrak to see what they have to say about the availability of "potable" water here. I guess there is a hose here, but they don't know if it is potable. The train will have to move up about 3 cars to get the fill spot lined up with the position of the hose. They don't want to do that yet as that is going to cause the railroad crossing gates to lower and temporarily block the road. Since the train will be at the edge of the road and not actually blocking it, the crossing gates will time-out and go back up. However, they didn't even want that to happen until they are sure they can fill with water at this stop.
They got the O.K.! They can fill up with water at this stop. The train is now moving up 3 cars to just before the railroad crossing. I just noticed that we have no power! They mentioned about cutting off the other cars from the Dining Car, but I thought they just meant water hoses and not power lines. I'm going to have to exit this edit session just in case my battery starts to go while I'm typing. This notebook battery is pretty old and doesn't hold a charge very long anymore.
Channel 08 - 160.230 - 08:51 P.M. (EDT), CSX Detector: MP 187.0 Track 1
I just got back from my 8:00 P.M. dinner reservation. I opted for a late dinner for a couple of reasons. First, I had just finished a late lunch at almost 3:00 P.M. Second, still not off California time, my body still thinks it is 3 hours earlier than the clock. 5:00 P.M. PDT would be about as early as I'd want to attempt dinner. I knew that I risked them running out of things as they often do at the last seating. However, I usually go for the vegetarian item and they seldom ever run out of that.
I sat with two other people. Both had done quite a bit of traveling by train before. They both seem to need to do a lot of travel around the nation for their business and mostly use the train. One person had been traveling by train for more than 20 years! He saw Amtrak start out with the superior service that existed on some lines (though other lines started out in a very miserable state), watched Amtrak service decline, and then make a come back in attention and detail to its custmoers over the last few years.
Since I wanted to observe what others would leave as tips and didn't want to influence them by what I put down, I waited until they set their tips down first. They each left one dollar. A minimal tip for dinner, but it restored my faith in humanity after having observed nobody leaving any tips at all on my entire journey on the Cardinal! I also left one dollar. I would have left two, but the overall experience was a bit below par. I've had much better vegetarian lasagna at previous meals on this and other rail journeys. It was served with vegies different than the ones I had selected and I wasn't interested at all in the ones they had brought. Although our server was very friendly and I did like him, I think he was just having an off night. He took a very long time to come to take our dessert order. I actually didn't order anything for dessert but the other two people at my table did. He took so long to come back with the dessert that they both had left before it was delivered. I think he forgot to bring it as he sat down and was chatting with the other staff. That brings up an interesting point. Unless I'm starving, I think I prefer a friendly server who's starting to lose track of his customers at the end of a long day rather than a surly one that is prompt and efficient. But, that doesn't mean that I shouldn't leave a smaller tip for below par service.
Channel 08 - 160.230 - 09:35 P.M. (EDT), CSX Detector: MP 248.2 Track 2
One thing I like about the Coast Starlight and the California Zephyr that seems to be missing in these other trains is the "smoke stops". I don't smoke, but I like the way the train has quite a few stops scheduled for 5 to 15 minutes in length. If the train is running on time, there are several stations where it will arrive early and have to wait from 5 to 15 minutes before it is allowed to leave according to the schedule. These used to be "Smoke Stops", but I guess they are no longer needed on those trains that now have the special smoking lounge in the Coach Car. The Coast Starlight stops at Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, Oakland and Sacramento to name just a few stops that are often at least 5 minutes long. I like to get off, stroll around a bit, and then reboard the train. This somehow adds to the whole rail travel experience. Often the stop would be long enough to step into the station and see what is there. On the California Zephyr, some of the towns where the train stops were so small you could get a good feel for the town by just walking up and down the station for a quick overview of the entire town!
Channel 08 - 160.230 - 11:12 P.M. (EDT), CP 175 Track 1
Channel 46 - 160.800 - 12:27 A.M. (EDT), Detector
Channel 46 - 160.800 - 12:37 A.M. (EDT), Detector: Conrail
Channel 64 - 161.070 - 01:21 A.M. (EDT), West of Pittsburgh, PA
Channel 46 - 160.800 - Further West of Pittsburgh, PA
I got up at 5:30 A.M. Eastern Daylight Savings Time (EDT), got dressed, and went to breakfast at 6:00 A.M. Before I had finished breakfast, we stopped in Waterloo, Indiana. They don't observe Daylight Savings Time from here on west in order that they can be on the same time as Chicago, the nearest major metropolitan area. Thus, they remain on Eastern Standard Time (EST) which has the same time as Chicago in the Central Time Zone. So, I went to breakfast at 6:00 A.M. (EDT) and finished before 6:00 A.M. (EST).
I sat with two other men who also traveled a lot by train. One was going to connect to the Empire Builder and continue on through to Portland, Oregon. The other was getting off at Elkhart, Indiana, the next stop after Waterloo. Everyone had finished breakfast before I was even served mine. The server lost my order. Thinking she had the right order, she first brought me 2 eggs sunnyside up. That was the order for the man next to me. She tried to switch his plate with mine, but that plate had grits instead of potatoes. She came back in a while and showed me a few order slips asking me which was mine. It was none of them. Shortly, she came back and said my order was still down in the kitchen. A little later, she came back again and apologized for my order having gotten lost and took my order all over again! Thus, I wasn't served breakfast until everyone at my table had already finished. I was just thankful that Waterloo wasn't my stop or I would have had to leave the train without ever being served breakfast! As far as the tips went, I did leave a $1 tip anyway and so did the man next to me. The one across from me didn't leave anything.
Channel 46 - 160.800 - 06:10 A.M. (EST)
Channel 46 - 160.800 - 06:23 A.M. (EST), Elkhart, Indiana
This is the station where there are a number of old train cars including some with people painted in the windows. I took a few more photographs of those old passenger train cars. I also got photographs of a steam engine and older diesel engine parked across from the station.
Those old trains just reminded me that I am now on the same tracks as I was on when I took the Lake Shore Limited at the start of this rail journey. The only difference is that I am now heading west instead of east.
Channel 46 - 160.800 - 06:36 A.M. (EST), Detector: Conrail, MP 31 Track 1
Looks like some padding in the schedule. Last night we were over 30 minutes behind at some points but we've been making it up a little at a time. We just left South Bend, Indiana only 3 minutes late!
Channel 46 - 160.800 - 07:03 A.M. (EST), Detector: Conrail, Rolling Prarie
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