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» RAILforum » Passenger Trains » Amtrak » Trip report: SEA-CHI-NOL; 6/18/08 - 6/22/08

   
Author Topic: Trip report: SEA-CHI-NOL; 6/18/08 - 6/22/08
Steve O.
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On the 18th of this month I flew Southwest Airlines from New Orleans to Seattle, via Las Vegas. Both flights were basically on time, and as normal with Southwest, the service was decent. I arrived in SEA at around 11:30pm and made my way to my hotel...Days Inn/Airport...by 12:15am. After checking in quickly I found my room and went to sleep.

The next morning I had a pretty basic continental breakfast at the hotel before taking the shuttle back to the airport so that I could catch a Gray Line airporter bus to the Amtrak station in downtown Seattle. Since my train didn't leave until 4:45pm I had a lot of time to kill. I ended up taking the 12:00pm bus, which didn't leave until 12:30 since it was totally full and the bus driver had to load dozens of huge bags in the belly of bus all by herself. This took a while, but we were finally off.

I was dropped off at the Amtrak's King Street station for about 1:15pm. After looking around for a few minutes, I walked over to a nearby cafe and had a pretty basic club sandwich. It was a nice way to kill time, though. Then, I took some pictures around the area, before returning to the station for 2:30pm. As time moved on I watched as the station grew more and more full. I saw our train, #8 Empire Builder, pull into the terminal at approx. 4:00pm. The consist was as follows:

1 Amtrak Cascades F59 (operated SEA-Spokane)
2 P42
1 Baggage car
1 Transition Sleeper
2 Sleeping cars
1 Dining Car (which doubled as the "lounge" which no one could sit in)
2 Coaches

I was directed to the first coach and grabbed that all important window seat. It was a totally full train so I had a seat mate, but it wasn't so bad because he was a really nice guy and we had many a interesting conversation along the way.

The Empire Builder departed about 10 minutes late. This was my first time on this train and I was really looking forward to the crossing the Cascades, and let me tell you, it did not disappoint. Many high trestles were crossed with scenic mountain views as far as the eye can see. The 8-mile long Cascade Tunnel was pretty interesting....it seemed to go on forever. The lounge portion of the Dining car opened at 6:30pm, but it was take out orders only...no seating...so there was constantly a line of around 20 people which stretched down the aisle of the first coach. It was very, very cramped. You would think Amtrak would have a separate food service car for the 140+ coach passengers who were aboard. Some people didn't get any food since they closed the lounge portion at 8:30pm with a dozen or so people still in line. I'm glad I got my food when I did. Anyway, the rest of the evening passed uneventfully, and I awoke to find us approaching the Spokane station just a few minutes behind schedule. My seatmate and I got off here and hit the Chinese cafe in the terminal to stock up on drinks and snacks. Departure from Spokane was on-time after we attached the PDX portion to the back of our train (Sightseer lounge, 2 coaches, and 1 sleeper) and after downing a bottle of water, I tried my best to sleep some. I managed to sleep for a few hours and awoke at about 4:00am just past Sandpoint to see daylight starting to form. At 5:00am I went to the Sightseer Lounge to charge my camera battery (no outlets in coach) and I stayed there until we arrived in Whitefish, where I got off to experience my first breath of Montana air.

Around 100 people boarded in Whitefish as we continued our journey into the grandeur of Glacier National Park. I caught a few pictures of the famous Isaac Walton Inn as we passed through Essex. I have to stay there one day. Glacier Park scenery was breathtaking. Crossing Marias Pass was very scenic. It ended all too soon once we left the East Glacier station. I skipped lunch and decided to join my seatmate for an early 5:00pm dinner in the Dining car. We sat with a couple from WV connecting to the Cardinal. I had a piece of Trout which was delicious. My only criticism of the meal was that the vegetables were sort of on the cold side. Anyway, after the (mostly) nice meal, I tried to find a seat in the lounge but I could not (totally full upstairs and downstairs), so it was back to my seat where I listened to one of my favorite CD'S while traveling...Robbie Robertson's "Storyville"...and looked out the window as the sublime beauty of the desolate countryside rolled past the window. We had a service stop in Minot, ND later that evening so I got out there and caught a few more pictures. About an hour after leaving Minot I called it a night...or tried to. I found the track in ND to be pretty rough...I was jolted around quite a bit...but I still probably managed to squeeze in a few hours sleep. I was awake for our stop in Grand Forks so I stepped off for some fresh air.

I awoke to find us leaving Devil's Lake, MN. Staples, MN was up next, and shortly thereafter, the dreaded announcement was made: all passengers would have to detrain in Minneapolis to be bussed to their final destinations. Great, just my luck. They told me boarding in SEA that our train was supposed to the be the first one to make it all the way to CHI via a BNSF detour, but that didn't work out as planned. So, after arriving MSP about 8:30am, the huge crowd of people detrained. I will say this...Amtrak handled this well. All of the buses were waiting, and there was generally very little confusion. My bus left at 9:30am, made one stop at a McDonald's somewhere in WI, and arrived at CHI Union Station at 5:30pm. We would have made it over :45 earlier but we were caught in a huge traffic jam in Chicago...on a Saturday! Amtrak was nice enough to hold the Cardinal until all the connecting passengers made it. My connection to #59, of course, was never in jeopardy. Even though the bus ride was annoying and very uncomfortable, I was glad that I finally got to catch a ride on #8. There will be a next time...it's a great train ride…a ride of contrasts.

After killing just about an hour and a half in the Metropolitan Lounge, boarding for the CONO, #59, started at 7:00pm. The consist was as follows:

1 P42
1 Transition Sleeper (4 rooms were sold)
1 Sleeping car
1 Cross Country Cafe
3 Coaches

I had a sleeper on this sold out train...room #11 in the 5900 car. I was dying for a shower so I had one just a few minutes after I boarded and then made my way to the CCC for dinner. My first impression of the car was a nice one. The booth seating was comfortable and the car was bright and clean. I had the dinner special which was crawfish etouffee and I was very impressed with the quality of it. No more free salads with the meal but rolls were still included. I had bread pudding for dessert and it was fabulous. So far, so good in terms of my CCC experience. Also, I recognized the dining car attendant from a previous trip and she remembered me as well...we joked around a bit....was nice seeing her again. I finished my meal by 8:15pm and returned to my room....had my bed turned down at 9:30pm since I was dog tired...and slept pretty soundly until 6:00am. At 6:45 I made my way one car back to the CCC for breakfast....had my usual French toast and sausage...and it was excellent as always. We left the temporary MEM "station" (more like a stop in the middle of the woods) about :30 late, but made up all of the time throughout the morning. We were on-time into JAN where a big crowd boarded and, as announced by the Conductor, "every coach seat was taken to New Orleans". Not bad at all! Needless to say lunch was very crazy in the CCC....the lack of lounge space was very apparent...only four lounge tables made it impossible for people to find seats, and the line of coach passengers waiting to order food literally stretched from the counter in the CCC all the way back through the end of the fist coach. It was a madhouse. The dining tables were all full, as well. I had red beans and rice (very tasty) and one more order of bread pudding. The train departed Hammond right on time and we actually made it to NOL :50 early. Great ride on a great train...and I do like the CCC overall...but there's just not enough lounge space, and the design leads to a VERY cramped aisle in the lounge area. Also, the CCC was closed between 10:00am and 11:00am, and it closed in Hammond, not in New Orleans.

All in all it was another great Amtrak adventure, bus excluded. [Wink]

--------------------
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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Great trip report and thanks for taking the time to do it. I've tended for several years to do the cheap flight out west, take the train back thing......but finding cheap flights is getting harder. I might just have to bite the bullet and take the train both ways next time.

One thought and a pair of questions - Someday I would love to be able to ride the Empire Builder on the BNSF detour down the Mississippi through East Dubuque. I've always wondered what that area would look like from a train.

Question 1 - The lounge in the diner leaving Seattle. Was this a regular Superliner Diner and, if so, where did coach passengers go for the cafe service? You would think that they would at least assign some kind of lounge car (maybe the Cross-Country Cafe prototype) to the rear of the train between Seattle and Spokane for coach passengers. They certainly have enough locomotive power assigned to handle an additional car.

Question 2 - Do you know if repairs are actively being made to the sinkhole in Memphis? Sure would be nice to get the train back into Central Station again.

Thanks again for a great report. Best wishes on your next 1,000 miles.

--------------------
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.

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Gilbert B Norman
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quote:
Originally posted by notelvis:
Someday I would love to be able to ride the Empire Builder on the BNSF detour down the Mississippi through East Dubuque. I've always wondered what that area would look like from a train.

Mr. Presley the CB&Q advertised their Twin Zephyrs as the trains with "more smiles to the miles". This is because there was continual viewing of Ol Man River from Savanna, IL to Mpls.

It also goes right by the home of well known railroad author and journalist Mike Schafer complete with his "backyard with a view" (I've known Mike for pushing forty years).

My MILW only offered River viewing from La Crosse to Mpls, but they also offered the traffic base from the largest on line city. Hence, the Amtrak Incorporators chose passengers over "peeping" - a wise choice.

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smitty195
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Great trip report--thanks.

I also have a question about the diner that was used from Seattle to Spokane. I'm really curious to know why they stopped selling snacks at 8:30PM. It's my understanding that this should not happen, and that they remain open at least until 11PM. I'm wondering what happened?

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notelvis
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My interest in that area, aside from an interest in how rail passenger services retrenched in the 1960's, comes from having spent a number of summers driving a bus for a competitive drum and bugle corps from Dubuque, IA.

I can't even count the number of times I've drven from the Quad Cities to and through Dubuque up to LaCrosse.

I've read a good bit of Mike Shafer's writing....both in his books and Passenger Train Journal......over the years. My understanding of what passenger services Illinois Central operated westward through Rockford (another place I've been MANY times on the old Drum Corps Midwest circuit) and into Iowa is due primarily to Mike Shafer and a collection of old timetables.

--------------------
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.

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sojourner
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Glad you had such a nice trip other than the bustitution, which in this case I think we can put down to Mother Nature, not Amtrak. You now have an excuse to take the Empire Builder again!
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HopefulRailUser
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Great and interesting report. It sounds like your transfer to buses in MPS went well as opposed to another account I read which described it as a terrible mess. Seems like the personnel handling it in the station have the power to make it work or not work.

--------------------
Vicki in usually sunny Southern California

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Steve O.
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notelvis,


It was a regular Diner. The Dining Car steward took orders from one table at the Coach end of the car. They had a "cafe" menu. Then the passengers had to stand around until he brought them the food. Pax could sit down in the booth until the food was brought to them but then they had to leave. There was no dedicated Cafe area for Coach passengers between SEA and Spokane.

As for the sinkhole in MEM, apparently there is disagreement as to who will have to pay for the repairs...the city of MEM, or the railroad. The Conductor said it will be a very long time before 58/59 returns to the MEM terminal.

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

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

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notelvis
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As always with the city of Memphis.

They won't spend a dime so long as someone else might. CN's freight traffic has bypassed the Central Station area for years so they hve no incentive to pay for the repairs.

I rode the CONO Chicago to Memphis in late March and it's now looking like there is a chance that I will be among the last few hundred people to ever actually disembark from a passenger train at Memphis Central Station.

Can you tell me any more about the 'temporary' Memphis station? Have they put in a platform or modular building? Is transportation to/from Central Station being provided?

Thanks,

--------------------
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.

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Steve O.
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Smitty195, now that I think about it, it did close much later than 8:30...not sure where I got that from...maybe that was the last call for dinner. I think the lounge service ended around 11 as you said.

notelvis, I actually did not see any station building...perhaps there was a small shelter that I did not see. Basically the train came off the detour track onto the main, and backed up a few hundred yards so that the train wasn't blocking the detour track that it came off of. There are buses (in this case, 2)lined up on the side of the track which bring pax to/from the MEM station. Coach passengers were disembarked first, and then the Sleeper passengers. The process takes a while to complete.

--------------------
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
George Harris
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quote:
Originally posted by NativeSon5859:
notelvis, I actually did not see any station building...perhaps there was a small shelter that I did not see. Basically the train came off the detour track onto the main, and backed up a few hundred yards so that the train wasn't blocking the detour track that it came off of. There are buses (in this case, 2)lined up on the side of the track which bring pax to/from the MEM station. Coach passengers were disembarked first, and then the Sleeper passengers. The process takes a while to complete.

The detour route does not get anywhere close to Central Station. It passes about 5 miles to the east at its nearest point. The train runs on what was built as the Illinois Central Beltline around the early 1900's. At its closest approach it is about 1/2 mile east of East Parkway. At the time it was built, it was completely east of the city. According to my father, when the Parkways were built around 1920, they were located at the edge of the urban area.

The Beltline leaves the original main line at Woodstock, which is 11.4 miles north of Central Station. It runs almost due south as the original main goes in a more southwesterly direction toward the riverfront. 7.5 miles in is Leewood, which is a crossing and junction with CSX, originally L&N at this point. The diamond may be gone by now, but the junction is still there. Between Leewood and Aulon, 2.1 miles, track ownership is CSX, orignally L&N. Not sure of the history of this, as the orientation of the track makes more sense as the IC Belt Line than anything else. At Aulon the line crosses what was the NC&StL line to Nashville, diamond now removed, and the L&N had a junction there to reach Union Station over the NC&StL. South of this point it is back to ICRR ownership. The line curves to the west, running more or lest southwesterly and enters Johnson Yard. Just before entering the yard, the line goes under the original mainline to Jackson, Mississippi. This line is now a 25 mph or less line. I believe that the signals have been removed, and at one time part of it was up for abandonment. Is there a mainline bypass or does the train drift along through the yard area on a yard track? At the west end of the yard is West Junction, which is where the train rejoins the current main line. This line was originally the low grade freight line to Jackson MS. A few years ago it was given CTC and the City moved to it. Sounds like the temporary stopping point is somewhere near West Junction. maybe someone with current local knowledge can tell us.

Posts: 2693 | From: Olive Branch MS | Registered: Nov 2002  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
   

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