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Author Topic: Auto Train "Voyage 22"
Gilbert B Norman
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First impressions, still sitting in Sanford (52-26).

The Happy Hour is gone, as is complimentary wine at Dinner. Both the Coach and Sleeper sections have a Lounge where beverages are for sale, as is wine in the Diner. There are linen tablecloths, metal flatware, and fake flowers.

All told, the downgrade does not appear as severe as when announced during March 2014. Room Attendant has offered to bring me Dinner in the room, as I'm set for 9P sitting - too durned late for me.

Who knows how the WiFi will work when underway.

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Geoff Mayo
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Apparently left 12m early - and 53(26) left Lorton 20m early.

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Geoff M.

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Geoff Mayo
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It looks like you're hot on the tail of #98 which lost 2.5 hours between Jacksonville and Jessup and which is now 3 hours late at Savannah, GA. Since the Auto Train has no public intermediate times I've no idea how well that bodes for your train - though knowing 12:30am-1am is apparently the usual arrival in Florence for the service stop might help.

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Geoff M.

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Gilbert B Norman
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Here is a more complete report of my "Voyage 22" aboard Northbound Auto Train 52 (26JAN).

My space was in Car (Line) 5240 Bedroom A, an S-II 10BR car named Palm Harbor, the car was properly stocked with ice, coffee, and juice. Shortly the sink became the cooler to have my BYOB of Noble Vines "446" Chardonnay chilling. The room was stocked with two 12oz bottles of "spring" water - and in neat order.

The auto closing time has been moved up from 3P on my previous Mar '14 journey to 230P; something tells me that they have reduced the size of their valet staff, as we did not depart until about "the usual" 340P. Fortunately, the train is open at 230P for boarding - while I don't mean to give 60 Mass ideas, I am surprised that as part of their cost cutting, they did not put the on-board crew on duty until, say, 330P and save one hour of pay. An announcement was made saying you were free to move about the train, and once upon a time, that would have been an invitation to record the consist, but at age 74 "just wasn't in the mood" - my bottle was getting chilled, so I just settled down with my Times and Journal, as well as, now that I'm less of that Luddite late adopter and have a Samsung S5, I tried out the Wi-Fi - as well as "fume a bit" that my Dinner seating was not to be until 9PM, when I'm normally in bed (at check in; "Sir, we have had people here at 10AM waiting to check in; the 5PM seating was filled by about Noon". "10 AM, I was still in Miami, waiting for a hotel valet to get me my car".)

Attendant Kyle made rounds, and I asked him if he could "do something" about the 9PM seating. He said I'll try. He was quickly back with a Menu and said he would bring it here. I quickly ordered the Short Ribs and Cheesecake for dessert and Ranch dressing for Bugs Bunny's chow. 'Would you like coffee?" "Don't need it", pointing to the sink.

As noted, we were under way at 340P, Bedroom A was riding OK as we got up to track speed of 70; somehow I think B is more atop the truck bolster and hence giving a worse ride. The welcome announcement noted 389 passengers and 220 autos - not exactly a sellout; especially when the four prior trips had been CX'd. I think the consist was Dorm, 3 Sleepers, Lounge, Diner, 3 Sleepers, 5 Coaches, Lounge, Diner, but I must be honest, for all intent and purpose, I did not leave the car.

450P and there is Kyle with my Dinner; complete with metal flatware - the first time I have ever taken Dinner in my room. Unfortunately though, the Dinner was simply vile. "Broiled Hockey Puck" is too nice a term. The veggies; well the veggies. The cheesecake was the best of it all. The bottle was pretty well doused so really what did I care. Kyle took everything away and put down the bed. I had finished The Times and most of the Journal; 730P was a good time to hit the hay.

Next I heard an announcement we were stopped for a "police investigation". Now I discovered a flaw in AmtrakConnect; for so far as Mr. Google's map was concerned, we were still sitting in Sanford. Well, we know that "police investigations" take their time and details are "never exactly" forthcoming, but that "set us down".

I woke up for the Florence service stop, and found that the Map has us properly located. I next woke up to observe the impact of Snowmageddon; main roads appeared plowed, side roads another story. I observed a milepost marked 12; not too long after 11; we were almost to Richmond about when we should have been arriving at Lorton.

Showers? I'm still "batting a thousand" with the greatest innovation to overnight travel during the Amtrak era.

I missed last call for Breakfast, but an Attendant in the Diner gave me some cereal and milk "to go"; so never once sat in the Diner.

Now there is time to play with the phone. Since I have never come close to using the 2 gigs a month that Mr. Verizon seems to think I "need", I now tried an experiment. I signed out of Wi-Fi, and darned if the Map didn't start working - perfectly. After a while, I reconnected to the Wi-Fi - and it still worked. So I guess if you are willing to burn your own data to get it started, it will work. Would have been great to know that leaving Sanford; of course, the "flip side" was would have my Times and Journal gotten read?

We made good time along the RF&P, and arrived Lorton 1015A. Cutting the Auto Carriers is now referred to the "safety stop". As soon as the passenger cars were spotted, they started to "disembark". Kyle got an "Andy Jackson paper handshake" from me, and that was that.

My auto was returned within a half hour in perfect condition.

All told, my fare in a Bedroom was $634; considerably less than my previous Feb 14 "Voyage 21". For what it be worth, driving the same journey this time as last, total gas used was $221.68 compared to $397.08 during the '14 journey.

All told, I don't think the downgrade was as Draconian as made out to be. For those think a Lounge is a "necessity", there are still separate Lounges for both Coach and Sleepers. I really don't miss the Happy Hour. Dinner could have been better; and maybe, just maybe, for next trip "Voyage 23", it just might.

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dpudave
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Sir: I am a new comer, so please forgive and ignore if you find my question out of line.
I'm on the SW Chief soon (12th time) and looking at the menu, I was intrigued by the rib offering. Tired of the "seasoned" chicken and I find the Signature Steak a sad disappointment.
Question: Do you think your ribs were a "one off" horror--hockey puck--or are they always going to put up a fight?
I loved the salmon Amtrak used to offer.
I enjoyed your report. I, too, insist on a paper paper.
Any help is much appreciated. d

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Vincent206
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One my recent SW Chief trip the ribs were offered at lunch and one of my table mates ordered them. They didn't look very good to me, but he gave them a "thumbs-up" review. I ordered the Angus burger and it was OK. Amtrak seems to mandate that all burgers be served with the meat well-done (verging on incinerated). I would prefer to see my meat a little pinker.

For breakfast I had the Continental Breakfast with oatmeal. It came with an ample serving of fresh fruit, yogurt and a croissant. Given the sedentary lifestyle of train travel, I find the French Toast or Omelet to be a bit of a gut-bomb, although they usually are well prepared.

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Gilbert B Norman
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Hopefully, Dave, it was a "one off"; Mr. Vincent's immediate would suggest that could be the case.

But in my case, Auto Train is the only overnight service I regularly use (last "other" was a joyride CHI-JXN-CHI during '10 taken in great part "to be one of the boys" around here), so first impressions with a menu item tend to be lasting.

The "Signature Steak" was not offered on "Voyage 22", but I've had it in the past when it was a Flat Iron. Even if it is a "tough" cut, it is exceptionally tasty.

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palmland
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GBN, glad to hear you had 'a mostly positive' trip. It would seem to me it would be so easy for Amtrak to serve a 'premium dinner' to sleeping car passengers. I for one would be willing to pay extra for a really good meal, such as a properly prepared rib eye with fresh veggies. Is that so hard?

And, Dave, welcome to our forum. Always good to have some fresh input for our collection of veteran Amtrak/RR enthusiasts. After a while, we can almost predict what each will say! But we do it with, we hope, some insight from experience.

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notelvis
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Wonderful report Mr. Norman.

My wife, daughter, and I were strong-armed into visiting Florida over the Christmas Holidays (though we tried to avoid it altogether) and, to ease the sting, my wife convinced me to burn 40,000 of the 'old' AGR points I was hoarding to return north on the Auto-Train departing Sanford New Year's Eve.

We secured the last available Family Bedroom when I made our travel arrangements December 23.

A note about drive times...... our home is about a 10 hour drive from the Orlando area and a 6.5 hour drive from Lorton. Our Auto-Train excursion saved us 3.5 hours driving BUT coming home from Lorton is a more pleasant travel experience through Virginia's Shenandoah Valley as opposed to 10 hours of I-95 through alligator infested swampland interrupted by scraggy pine trees.....

Here, in no particular order were my Auto-Train observations -

1) We checked in about 1:45pm and were able to secure 5pm seatings for dinner. I was disappointed to find that the playground area at the Sanford station seemed to have been out-of-service for some time behind chain link fence and surrounded by weeds. I had expected to let my 10-year old daughter blow off a little steam there and.... well..... she did not.

2) Consist was about in line with Mr. Gilbert's notes. We were in the sleeper immediately in front of the 1st class diner. Condition of the sleeper seemed to be a couple of notches higher than my two most recent superliner trips.... Empire Builder in 2015 and Coast Starlight in 2014.

3) This was my daughter's 5th night riding in a Family Bedroom. (previous nights going back to 2012 have been spent on the Southwest Chief, Coast Starlight, and Empire Builder). This will be her last trip in the children's berth as she is now as tall as the berth and still growing. Probably will be a couple of years before our next 'entire family' Amtrak ride.

4) I was surprised to see a separate lounge car (in one of the former Cross-Country-Cafe cars) for 1st class passengers as I thought those had been pulled. Our SCA (who was also a couple of notches better than any SCA I've had in the last 4-5 years) told me that the car is always in the consist and that is is staffed by a separate attendant when advance bookings cross a threshold over which the lounge attendant will likely earn his/her keep in extra alcohol sales. Truth? A good story to satisfy a foamer? Who knows.

5) Meal Quality - My daughter had and did not particularly like the chicken strips, I had and did not particularly like the beef dish..... it was as tender as pot roast but the sauce had an unpleasant burn aftertaste, and my wife kind of enjoyed the vegetarian lasagna. It was too bland for her tastes. I tried a bite and wished I had had that meal instead. My wife is not a vegetarian but she does have digestive issues with beef. The meal quality was not significantly different than what we experienced on the Empire Builder in August.

6) Service in the diner was surprisingly mediocre for a train as highly touted as the Auto-Train. The linen was nice. The flowers a welcome attempt. China, yes? The problem seemed to be in the kitchen where the food came up in whatever order the person (or persons) downstairs saw fit to put it on the dumbwaiter. Some tables ordered and were served within 10 minutes. Other tables ordered and had waits of 45 minutes. This was totally random too, on our side of the middle area, it seems that half the tables waited and half the tables did not regardless of who the servers were. The upstairs staff seemed organized and pleasant but frustrated with the guys downstairs who were making their jobs more difficult.

7) Breakfast...... you missed little GBN. We were seated in time to eat as we rode through Ashland, VA (the train was about 20 minutes late). Breakfast was a basket of muffins and bagles (enough for us each to have one), a banana, and a plastic cereal to go container. These items with a carafe of milk and a carafe of juice were on the table waiting for us when we sat down. Turns out that the young woman attending the lounge car had sat out these same items so that passengers could enjoy breakfast there if necessary to facilitate getting 'em in and getting 'em fed before arrival in Lorton.

8) Traveling on AGR points does not qualify one for priority unloading. Our vehicle was in the final cut of five auto carriers to be unloaded and, as such, it was about 10:45am before we pulled on to I-95 for the short ramble down to Fredericksburg where we had lunch and cut cross-country over to Charlottesville..... even had a chance encounter with the tri-weekly Cardinal when we stopped at a convenience store in Orange, VA to visit their facilities.

I suppose that the Continental Breakfast model is OK given that they do have heavy passenger counts wanting 'something' before hitting the ground in the morning...... but I think they ought to do more to make supper the night before more of a 'premium' experience. I suppose that the fact is that if we want a premium experience, we should ante up and travel exclusively by chartered private varnish going forward though.

So........ a good way to ring in 2016 by spending the night on a train. We have no immediate plans to take an overnight family train trip but I do have a handful of solo rides (booked while running down my 'old' AGR point balance) coming in the next few months.

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palmland
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Thanks for the detailed report Notelvis. Good to see your byline again. A couple thoughts.

With the continental breakfast hurriedly served for a trainload of passengers, I wonder why they don't just go to a box breakfast as in the Portland section of the EB. It was so much better than normal Amtrak fare and we enjoyed eating in the room to watch the scenery (in the case of the A-T, that would be limited to the passing of Ashland!).

I was surprised to hear that 'real' china is still used. Thought everything was now the AmPlastic stuff. And yes, I echo your thoughts on a better quality dinner - see my post above.

It wasn't clear to me, did the sleeper lounge have an attendant. Seems that would be an easy money maker, as you note, if sufficient passengers. Does no one enjoy cocktails in the lounge anymore and having conversations with new traveling neighbors or, if all else fails, with your spouse?

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Gilbert B Norman
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Well Mr. Palmland, I essentially had a "box breakfast", which was fine for me in that I did not have anymore chow (albeit, a Ribeye at Hyde Park) until Akron.
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notelvis
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Hi Palmland,

I meant to say 'China Yes?'I can't remember what we were served on for supper!

The sleeper lounge was staffed for our trip being a holiday trip. The attendant was well underway planning the New Year's Eve party when we escaped the 5pm dinner seating at about 10 till 7!

I do swing by and read at least once a week or so...... and post when something jumps out at me.

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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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palmland
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GBN, I guess the continental breakfast on the A-T is similar to the one on the CONO. Certainly OK but not notable. However it seemed to me the box breakfast on the EB was a distinct cut above the normal Amtrak offering. Not sure, but it seemed as this was a different vendor as you see on some of the west coast services and the Downeaster.

Notelvis - Wow! a staffed sleeper lounge, will wonders never cease.

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Gilbert B Norman
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This afternoon, I decided to give Short Ribs a try. I went to the upscale grocery store in my neck of the woods, and bought USA Choice Short Ribs @$9.99lb.

I don't know what the term "braised" means, so I just baked them in a 450 oven for about 30min. They had just a touch of Pink in the center, and, while tough (maybe not the case if I had a "crock pot"), they were hardly "broiled hockey puck". Like another "after market" cut, Flatiron, they are very tasty.

I feel like "bitching it" (wow, the filter allowed that) with Amtrak, but life has its bumps and bruises along the way.

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Ocala Mike
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Gil, not an expert cook by any means, especially now that I'm "cooking for one" (depressing), but braising is an extra step that makes the meat more tender. I'd probably brown the ribs in a little cooking oil for a couple of minutes, then add some water and cook for a few minutes more before putting them in the oven.
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Vincent206
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Mike, your ribs would likely turn out pretty tasty, even better if you substituted a little wine or stock for the water. Braising isn't a complicated process, it is however time consuming and a top-of-the-line braising pot can cost hundreds of dollars. But given the time necessary, it could work well on an LD train with an experienced chef. The key is to not burn any of the ingredients during the searing or saute steps.

My personal braising pot was purchased at a yard sale for $2 and it's perfectly fine. Any heavy duty pot with a lid that fits tightly will work.

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Gilbert B Norman
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Might Amtrak's Director - Culinary Arts (betcha they have a position titled something like that) be interested in this recipie?

http://nytimes.com/2016/12/16/dining/braised-short-ribs-recipe.html

Or just go to his counterpart at whatever catering outfit United uses at ORD and get theirs - they were excellent last August to MUC. I'm encouraged by reports of others here that my experience was a one-off. Maybe I'll do without a Subway stop off before AT "Voyage 23" this Feb.

Finally to Mr. Vincent; yes the Menu calls for "braised", but I can't see Amtrak going to that kind of trouble, unless they're catered. I'm sure United was offering them on many another flights that day and their caterer had "economy of scale" - just one of the many reasons no railroad has ever made a dime off dining service.

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