Well, I finally got the chance to ride the full Texas Eagle route from Chicago to San Antonio. Now, the only LD train I have yet to experience is the Coast Starlight.
The trip started with me taking Delta Air Lines from Atlanta to Chicago. The flight was operated by a small CRJ-900 aircraft, and I was pretty much squished in like a sardine. Thankfully the flight was short and uneventful, and I soon found myself stepping on the CTA blue line train at O'Hare airport which would whisk me away to downtown Chicago in roughly 45 minutes for just a couple of dollars.
After getting off at the Clinton Street stop, I made the quick two-block walk to Union Station and checked into the Metropolitan Lounge. The time was 10:30, so I had a couple of hours to kill before my train stated boarding at about 1:10pm. The lounge filled up to near capacity by around noon, with huge crowds destined for both the California Zephyr and Empire Builder trains. At about 1:10pm boarding for the Texas Eagle, train #21, was called. There seemed to be around 15 sleeping car passengers boarding in Chicago. The consist for the train was as follows: 2 P42, Sleeping car (2), Cross Country Cafe, Sightseer Lounge, Coaches (3). I made my way to the regular sleeper and took room 13 on the lower level. It was clearly a newly rebuilt Superliner 1 car and, while nice, showed its age in spots.
The train departed pretty much on time and we made our way out of town at a pretty slow pace, but eventually picked up some speed after we departed Joliet, even though by that time we were running behind schedule by about :30. However, with the padding in the schedule, some of that time was made up as the afternoon progressed. I had a 5:30 seating for dinner in the Cross Country Cafe which was acting as a normal dining car. I actually think the cars themselves look great; however, after experiencing all the different seating arrangements on this ride, I can't say I'm a huge fan. The regular booths are okay...the curved three-seat booths are very annoying. Anyway, I had BBQ ribs for dinner, and they were pretty decent, although not great. I had dinner with fellow Amtrak Unlimited member Rick J. and his wife. They were really nice and the three of us had a nice conversation about....what else....all things Amtrak. Also during dinner, I got a great (and my first ever) view of the Illinois state capitol in Springfield.
After dinner I hung out in the Sightseer Lounge for about an hour before returning to my room for our approach into STL. I took a nice video of our passage over the Mississippi River Bridge in St. Louis, and at that station stop, I stepped off for some fresh air and to have a chat with the friendly sleeping car attendant. After we departed STL the A/C came over the P.A and announced that we would probably lose time through Arkansas overnight due to flash flood warnings. I was wondering just how much time, knowing that I had a connection in SAS. My bed was turned down at approx. 9:30pm and I decided to call it a night. As usual it took me a while to fall asleep but I'd say I managed 4-5 hours of solid sleep when all was said and done, only waking up briefly in Little Rock and Arkadelphia. When I woke up for good just after we departed Texarkana, I noticed we were only about an hour late. Not too bad at all. And with all the padding south of Fort Worth, I figured my connection would not be in jeopardy. Breakfast was actually excellent. I had eggs, grits, a biscuit, and a high quality and good sized hot tamale with salsa. It was the "chef's special" for the morning and it was very, very good.
The rest of the morning was a relaxing jaunt through the woods of East Texas. Before I knew it, we were approaching Dallas, and we were very early there, so we had around an hour to kill. I stepped off for a few pictures and watched as an old lady came within inches of being creamed by an arriving light rail train. She was just walking across the tracks without checking to see if any trains were approaching. Well the train was blasting its horn but she seemingly didn't hear it until she was within maybe three inches of the track. She then looked up suddenly as the train was right there and backed away. Then, as it passed, she continued on her way like nothing happened. It was the closest I have ever seen to witness someone getting flattened by a train. And for the record, several of us were screaming out to her to "look out for the train! and waving our arms at her to get her attention, but obviously it didn't work.
At 12:00pm, while we were still parked in Dallas, I went in for lunch. During that meal I got to experience the dreaded "three seat booth" in the CCC...and I had the middle seat. It was just awkward and not very comfortable. And having to constantly turn my head to talk to my seatmates face to face was just annoying. The meal itself was okay...BBQ beef brisket sandwich. The portions, however, were very small, and I would not pay $7.75, or whatever it was, for it if I was riding coach...the angus burger, at least, is a nice size. After Dallas it was just a quick 45 minute ride to Forth Worth, where we had about an hour and a half to kill. The medics met the train here and wheeled off via stretcher the guy in the room next to mine. I had my eye on him the whole way and he definitely seemed a little "off". Apparently he was given a clean bill of health as about thirty minutes before departure, he made his way back on the train. We departed FTW on time for the final leg of our trip down to SAS, and we did so with one less engine. The lead unit was taken off and attached to a spare Superliner coach sitting on the adjacent track.
Since the dining car crew detrains in Austin (according to an employee because Amtrak doesn't want to pay the employees for the extra time), there was only one call for dinner at 4:30pm. I can't say I was really hungry but when you have a sleeping car, you might as well get your monies' worth. So, I had the flat iron steak, and I finished off most of it, surprisingly. The CCC was completely full for dinner (except for the 4 "lounge" booths which were never in use) and the LSA and his assistant were able to serve all meals in less than an hour. They worked very hard and were very pleasant in dealing with the usual short staffing. After departing Austin more or less on time, we made a quick stop in San Marcos before making the slow, tedious approach into SAS. It took us a good 45 minutes to loop around the city and line up with the station. But, thanks to the padding, we were well early. #21 is scheduled to arrive SAS at 10:25pm and we pulled in for 9:50pm.
My layover in SAS was about as seamless and painless as possible. I stepped off the train at 9:55pm, and train #2 pulled into the station at 10:15pm. After waiting for the passengers to detrain, I showed the coach attendant my ticket, and he said I could go ahead and board. I walked upstairs, picked out an open pair of seats, and settled in. Train #2 the Sunset Limited had a typical consist: 2 P42, Sleeping cars (2), Dining car, Sightseer lounge, Coaches (2), TE Coach, TE sleeper. I put on my headphones and reclined the comfortable seat and I was out like a light. I woke up at about 12:45am as the train was getting ready to depart. I noticed a few more people had boarded, and most rows of seats had at least one person on them. We had an on-time departure at 1:00am and then we detached the 2 TE cars from our train and were on our way for good at about 1:10am. We made good time between SAS and HOS and arrived there at 5:35am, about 10 minutes early. We would have 40 minutes to wait in Houston. I counted around 15 people detrain, and about the same number board.
Due to congestion on the normal route between Houston and Beaumont we took a detour on the old T&P route. This made my day since it was new mileage for me. I actually like this route more as it includes the trestle crossing of Lake Houston, and it seemed to be much faster...it only took us an hour and a half where the normal route can take two hours or more. In between HOS and BPT I had breakfast in the diner and sat with three people from New Mexico going on vacation in New Orleans. I also had a chance to chat with the diner crew and pick their brains about the proposed "end" of the SL and all the options on the table. They said they have heard them all and not to believe anything until something official is said. They also made it clear that cutting off the NOL Sleeper would be stupid, and they gladly pointed out that they had 35 sleeping car passengers bound for NOL on this run.
After a nice breakfast I spent some time in the Sightseer Lounge before returning to my seat. I fell asleep and woke up to find us in Lake Charles, where several people from my car detrained. Also, a group of U.S Border Patrol agents (with canine) boarded the train and they were going person to person asking us for our nationality. That was a first. We arrived in Lafayette about fifteen minutes late and about a dozen people detrained here and to my surprise about a dozen boarded...probably off to New Orleans for a weekend of fun, I would presume. I got a bite from the Cafe somewhere between New Iberia and Schreiver, and while downing a burger, I saw a sight which I was not expecting to see, to say the least: a steam train, engine and about a half-dozen cars, chugging along through a field in the distance. We were going too fast for me to get a really clear picture of it but I got one. It was sort of a surreal sight. Not long after we climbed the 4.4 mile Huey P. Long bridge spanning the Mississippi River...always quite a thrill on the train...and I got some good pictures out the rear window of the train. Twenty minutes later we backed up into the New Orleans station, thus concluding another enjoyable Amtrak adventure.
Thanks for reading!
-------------------- 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
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Thanks for the report, Steve. It sounds like you had a fine trip.
I guess regarding the Sunset Ltd, we'll just have to see what the future holds!
I hope you will make your complaints about the Cross-Country Diner known to Amtrak (just phone the 800 number on a weekday during the day, ask for an agent, and ask to be transferred to Customer Relations, or you could write a letter). I think the more people complain, the more they will do something about it.
I am glad that, even though you had the awful Cross-Country Diner, you at least had a sightseer lounge too. I had both on the Cap Ltd recently, but in March when I took the City of New Orleans, it had the Cross-Country Diner and NO SIGHTSEER LOUNGE. It was truly horrible, with coach passengers snaking through coach in line to buy their food, and coming back and dropping the seafood gumbo (yech).
Posts: 2630 | From: upstate New York | Registered: Mar 2004
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Steve, your lunchtime experience aboard the #370XX Diner has some nostalgia, as where else other than traveling overseas, can one remember the feeling of being served a meal in the Middle Seat.
But from your reports and others, it appears that Amtrak can still serve an attractive meal to passengers - Simplified Dining Service notwithstanding.
Posts: 9388 | From: Clarendon Hills, IL USA (BNSF Chicago Sub MP 18.71) | Registered: Apr 2002
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Steve O. UP/Amtrak always uses the old MOPAC line for eastward trains between HOS and BMT. West moving trains use the SP Sunset route along highway 90.
Posts: 562 | From: Beaumont Texas | Registered: Jul 2005
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I'm really curious about that steam locomotive now.
Great, great report. Thank you.
-------------------- 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
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quote:Originally posted by Gilbert B Norman: Steve, your lunchtime experience aboard the #370XX Diner has some nostalgia, as where else other than traveling overseas, can one remember the feeling of being served a meal in the Middle Seat.
Fly on Continental Airlines domestically and you will be served "a meal at meal time" even in a Middle Seat. It might only be a sandwich or pizza and a salad and candy bar but it is free.
Frank in, finally, sunny SBA
Posts: 2154 | From: Santa Barbara, CA, USA | Registered: Oct 2003
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