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» RAILforum » Passenger Trains » Amtrak » Trip report: NYP-CHI-EMY; LAX-CHI-NOL; 5/20-5/29

   
Author Topic: Trip report: NYP-CHI-EMY; LAX-CHI-NOL; 5/20-5/29
Steve O.
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To start this trip, I flew from NOL to NYC on Northwest Airlines. I visited a friend there for two days, then made the cross country trek to EMY (and on to SFO via thruway bus). It was to be my first time on the Lake Shore Limited, and my 3rd time on the California Zephyr. On the return, I flew SFO-LAX on Frontier Airlines to connect with the Southwest Chief to CHI (my first ride on that one) and then back down to NOL on the City of New Orleans.

Let's begin...

After making the trek to Penn Station with me, (and after enjoying a cold one at the Kaboose restaurant) my friend Laura and I said our said goodbye’s as the boarding call for train #49, the Lake Shore Limited, was announced at 4:25pm….forty minutes after the train’s scheduled departure time. Apparently it was late leaving Amtrak’s Sunnyside Yard. The train was a good sized one, and looked something like this: 1 P32 loco (one more added onto the head end in Albany), 1 baggage car, 3 Viewliner sleeping cars, 1 dining car, 1 lounge car, 4 coaches. I was in the last coach along with all the other Chicago-bound passengers. It was about 90% full, and stayed that way all the way to Chicago. The train departed at 4:52pm. It was a beautiful evening of cruising the Hudson River Valley before darkness fell after we departed Albany, where 70 passengers boarded the train. I had a burger in the lounge car at about 9:00pm before trying to get some sleep, which didn’t come easy (I might have slept for three total hours) due to the very poor conditions of the track between Albany and Toledo (a big thanks to Norfolk Southern and CSX for that). I mean we got bumped around constantly, and every time I fell asleep, wham....we hit some rough track and it woke me up. That's all part of the overnight experience in coach, though, so I was expecting it. This train is usually always late into CHI, and today was no exception, although one and one half hours behind is not that bad. It was my first time on the Lake Shore Limited, and I enjoyed the ride, but I didn’t enjoy having my Amish seatmate talk to me constantly...and I mean constantly...but eventually he stopped talking and spent a good chunk of the time in the lounge car. I guess I could have had a worse seatmate when all is said and done.

Since I had a sleeping car booked on train #5 from Chicago to Emeryville (Amtrak passengers bound for San Francisco proper board Amtrak dedicated buses at the Emeryville station which takes them across the Bay bridge to downtown S.F), I hit the Metropolitan Lounge in Union Station and got a quick bite to eat at some BBQ joint in the food court area. It was tasty. Union Station was packed, as was the Metropolitan Lounge. Not a seat to be had.

Boarding for train #5, the California Zephyr, started promptly at 1:10pm. I had a Superliner Family Bedroom booked for this long haul to the West coast. It was room #15 in the 0531 car, right next to the Dining car. The Family bedroom is built to hold two adults and two small kids, so I had plenty of room to stretch out and get comfy. The only downside is that it’s on the lower level, but it makes up for that by being so big and by having two windows (one on each side of the car). We pulled out on time at 1:50pm and took to the rails of BNSF between Chicago and Denver. We lost a little time in Ottumwa, Iowa (where I found myself enjoying a nice Country Fried Steak dinner in the splendid Dining car) and by the time we hit Omaha, we were about :45 behind schedule. I called it a night after Omaha, and woke up (after a very restful sleep)just a few minutes out of Denver. We made up about :15 overnight. In Denver the train was cleaned and catered, and I jumped out here to enjoy the crisp air. We left Denver at 8:35am on the rails of the Union Pacific to start our spectacular trek up the front range of the Rockies. Going up Big Ten loops was quite interesting, and pictures really do not do it justice. We cruised through 28 tunnels before finally making our way to the Moffat Tunnel (over six miles long) which carried us through the Continental Divide. The awesome scenery (canyons, river valleys, gorges, peaks, etc.) continued all the way to Grand Junction, when the terrain then flattened out as the train sped through the desert’s of Utah. After another enjoyable meal on the train, I went to sleep at Provo. I woke up to find us in Nevada still and running about two hours late due to track work which is an on-going thing in the Nevada. After we left Reno about three hours late we started the scenic journey over Donner Pass and through the heart of the Sierra Nevada’s all the way until we hit Roseville when the territory flattened for our approach into Sacramento. We made good time between Sacramento and Emeryville but still arrived 3 and ½ hours late which, for #5, is not terrible I uess. At least it was still twilight as we arrived into EMY. After detraining and taking an Amtrak thruway motor coach across the bay to the Ferry building in downtown SFO (the bus was packed) , my friend Pierre was there to greet me, thus concluding a great ride on the Zephyr. The train had a newly refurbished lounge car, dining car, and sleeping cars. The service was good, although the dining car was woefully understaffed for the mostly full train. At lunch they had a wait list of well over an hour at times. And on the last day they ran out of several items for breakfast and lunch, which I suppose is typical if the train is full. Great ride, overall.

My stay in San Francisco was a quick but enjoyable three days, and my ankle, as it turned out, was at least not broken. My friend was at work for most of the days, so I did the tourist things generally (Fisherman’s Wharf, riding on the F line streetcar for fun, visited the Maritime National Park, etc.) while he was busy . I also took a one mile stroll from his apartment down to the Sony Metreon to see the new movie called Bug, which was pretty entertaining. We caught a great 1980’s double feature (Gremlins and Howard the Duck) one night at the beautiful old Castro theater and had some good Chinese good and some better Sangria at some little dive. All in all it was a nice stay in a beautiful city and, on May 26th, Pierre dropped me off at the Frontier Airlines terminal at SFO after enjoying a thirty minute drive in his 1979 silver VW bug convertible. He gets a lot of looks at that car, let me tell you.

* flight from SFO to LAX *

My visit to L.A was a brief one (think four hours) but my good friend Alireza was nice enough to pick me up from the airport to bring me over to Union Station. We squeezed in a really high quality meal at a 1930’s-era Mexican restaurant on Olivera Street, which is just across from the station. Then he accompanied me to the station where I had about an hour to kill until I boarded the Southwest Chief to Chicago

I had Superliner Roomette #9 in sleeping car 0431 booked on this fairly full train this evening. On time departure from LAX at 6:45pm on the BNSF railway with a train comprised of 2 P42 locos, 1 baggage car, 1 transition sleeper (no revenue space sold), 3 coaches, 1 sightseer lounge, 1 dining car, and 2 sleeping cars. My room was the last one in the last car, so I got a great view out the rear of the train for the entire trip. Vincent, my sleeping car attendant, was very courteous and was probably the best Amtrak employee I’ve ever met. The guy knew his stuff and he took pride in his job. He always came around asking if we needed anything, water, coffee, more pillows, etc. He was a class act. I called it a night once we completed the crossing of scenic Cajon Pass near Victorville. I woke up the next morning about :30 after our stop at Flagstaff, and made use of the shower which is available to sleeping car passengers. We were over :45 early into ABQ which made for a nice long layover there. The GrandLuxe train (formerly American Orient Express) train was parked next to us in ABQ so I got some pics of that beauty. The rest of the journey through New Mexico was beautiful and mostly on time. We lost about :30 near Raton due to broken signals, but that was it. Once we left Lamar, CO I turned my bed down for the night and struggled to find decent sleep since we were blasting across the rough tracks in western Kansas at a good 80mph+. The track conditions deteriorated rapidly as soon as we left Lamar. After sleeping for maybe three hours, I woke up in Lawrence, KS (only about an hour late, and the conductor said it was the first time in a long time that the train made it through Kansas without having to detour due to the flooding), had breakfast, then detrained at Kansas City to get some fresh air, where all of the coaches filled to capacity. Kansas City to Chicago was on time, in fact we made up some time, and pulled into Chicago Union Station only :10 behind schedule at 3:30pm, concluding a grand journey on one of America’s premier long distance trains. This train had slightly older equipment than #5 had, but I think the service was better overall.

I spent my four hour layover by taking a stroll along the Chicago river and by lounging about (pun intended) in the Metropolitan Lounge chatting with a few people who I met on the Chief, including one very nice guy who drove Greyhound buses for twenty years. The guy had dozens of interesting stories to tell, and it made me glad that I didn’t decide on a career in the bus driving business.

Before I knew it, it was 7:30pm, and the boarding call for train #59, the City of New Orleans, was announced. I made my to Superliner Roomette #7 in sleeping car 5900 on this mostly full train (coaches were booked to 123, sleepers were booked to 33). The City is generally a pretty short train as of late, and tonight was no exception: 1 P42 loco, 1 transition sleeper (revenue space was sold in this car), 1 sleeping car, 1 diner, 1 sightseer lounge, and 2 coaches. We backed out of CHI on time at 8:00pm and continued in reverse for about ten minutes until we reached the Canadian National mainline down to New Orleans, where we started moving forward. After we crossed over the St. Charles Air Line, we picked up speed for good. Dinner was busy and my seating was at 9:30 (the latest call I've ever had on Amtrak), so by the time it was over, I was *** tired, and thankfully found my bed made and ready to rock me to sleep. I was out like a light thanks to the smooth track and woke up to find us ten minutes out of MEM, dead on time. I detrained in MEM to snap a photo, then I made my way to the diner at 6:30am for a classic breakfast of Railroad French Toast. One of the dining car attendant’s caught my eye and I ended up giving her my phone number since she’s based in NOLA. The rest of the trip was on time as we cruised leisurely through the heart of Mississippi ov very smooth track before taking to the swamp lands of Louisiana. Our arrival into the New Orleans Union Passenger Terminal :45 early signaled the completion of this twice cross country adventure, and it reminded me of a couple of things: 1) how thankful I am to have such great friends in my life that are always there for me, and 2) how much I enjoy the old school experience of seeing this great nation by rail. There’s simply nothing like it.

--------------------
Good morning America, how are ya?

44,950 Amtrak rail miles traveled since August 18, 2003.

Posts: 135 | From: Atlanta, GA / New Orleans, LA | Registered: Jan 2004  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
notelvis
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You DAWG you.........picking up a girl working in the dining car on the City of New Orleans.

I had an Amtrak employee try to pick me up once on the City of New Orleans once back in the 1980's......I didn't take the bait. I wasn't available and didn't want to be.

Now the chef who cooked the steak I had on the City in 2002........HIM I'd like to take home with me except that I can't afford my own private chef!

One question? Did you enjoy the Big Ten curves from your room with the windows on both sides or did you go to the lounge for that?

--------------------
David Pressley

Advocating for passenger trains since 1973!

Climbing toward 5,000 posts like the Southwest Chief ascending Raton Pass. Cautiously, not nearly as fast as in the old days, and hoping to avoid premature reroutes.

Posts: 4203 | From: Western North Carolina | Registered: Feb 2004  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
palmland
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Good recap of your trip and sounds like everything 'worked' on a all trains including reasonable OT performance.

Mr. Norman confirmed recently that the sleepers were on the rear of the SWC and glad to see you were able to take advantage of that.

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20th Century
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Great report. Thank you. Also it was comforting to hear another report that the train trips did not have many problems except for the expected lateness on the CZ.
Posts: 498 | From: New Hope, PA, USA | Registered: Jan 2003  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Steve O.
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One thing I didn't mention...

The City sure had some run down equipment on it.

The sleeper was definetely an old, non-updated (except for changing the old orage seats to blue and pink) series 1 car, with the green paneling in the bathrooms and the brown carpet everywhere. It seemed that the lower level bed was not as spacious as the one's on the Zephyr and on the Chief...I had less shoudler room while laying down.

The diner was also an old non-updated series 1 with the high back brown leather seats. They did have flowers on the tables, though.

And the lounge looked like it was a time warp from the 1970's! It was the old one with the brown seats and walls...and it was kind of dirty.

Also, one thing I have noticed is that the crews can be inconsistent when it comes to announcements. On both the Lake Shore and the City, there was not a "welcome aboard train #?" announcement detailing the stops the train makes, etc. The train just left.

--------------------
Good morning America, how are ya?

44,950 Amtrak rail miles traveled since August 18, 2003.

Posts: 135 | From: Atlanta, GA / New Orleans, LA | Registered: Jan 2004  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Steve O.
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notelvis, sorry I missed your question...

I took a seat in the lounge about ten minutes before we left DEN, and stayed there until we reached Fraser. I figured the Sightseer windows would be worth it for the climb up the front range. The car was packed to say the least.

--------------------
Good morning America, how are ya?

44,950 Amtrak rail miles traveled since August 18, 2003.

Posts: 135 | From: Atlanta, GA / New Orleans, LA | Registered: Jan 2004  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
   

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