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» RAILforum » Railfans » Trip Reports » Trip to Minnesota for Thanksgiving

   
Author Topic: Trip to Minnesota for Thanksgiving
Bob from MA
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The trip began as usual in our hometown of Worcester, MA at the beautifully restored Union Station. Amtrak occupies only a tiny portion of the edifice. Although the city is the second largest in New England, its only Amtrak train is the Boston Section of the Lake Shore Limited. One lone employee staffs the Amtrak office and only on weekdays. Non-Amtrak commuter trains to Boston make several daily runs.

The westbound LSL leaves at 1:03 PM. It consists of two Amfleet I coaches, a cafe and a baggage car. Business Class seats are in the front half of the cafe car. Though usually on time, the train today was about 25 minutes late and was crowded. We had to sit separately for a while in Business Class until a kind gentleman offered to switch seats so we could be together. The conductor told me that he could use larger coaches but that the company won't assign them.

We arrived at Albany about 25 minutes early due to padding in the schedule (or "slop", as Mr. Kisor would call it). The main section of the LSL comes from New York City, and those transferring to it must wait in the station until the boarding call prior to the 7:05 departure.

As soon as we got on, the power went off. We waited about a half-hour in darkened rooms until the problem was rectified. We then headed to the diner for the evening meal and our first experience on the LSL with Amfleet II Diner-Lite cars and fare. These cars were converted in early 2007 from what were Amfleet II lounges built by Budd around 1982. In other words, what was originally a cafe-type car is now a dining car.

New menus listed lunch and dinner items, both of which were available at this hour. There were also some "appetizers" (e.g. buffalo wings) but at a charge even for first class passengers. The service was fast and we had a very pleasant waiter. My meal of salmon, yellow rice and a corn/bean mixture was quite good. Two desserts were listed, chocolate cake or a sealed container of Haagen Dazs ice cream (vanilla or chocolate). Salad was no longer an accompaniment to the meal.

I spoke to the steward, who told me that the new dining arrangement began on this train in late September. She did not like it very much - said there was inadequate storage space and seating in the car. The same comments were made by a different crew on the return trip. One waiter's reply to complaints was that one should write to Amtrak. The serving area is in the center of the car with booths toward each end. Some of the booths were not usable as they were piled with a hodgepodge of bags and cartons holding supplies. I counted a total of 48 available seats. One whole table and half of another in each part were situated next to solid walls rather than windows. My breakfast next morning was again quite good - scrambled eggs, sausage, potatoes and a croissant. Small paper menus listed the breakfast choices.

This train was made up of three Viewliner sleepers, the diner, a cafe car and four Amfleet II coaches, all sold out on this Thanksgiving week run. Our arrival in the "Windy City" was about 45 minutes late. This was not a problem as we still had 3 to 4 hours before the Empire Builder's departure. We purchased some lunch at the Corner Bakery in the Food Court and carried it down to the Metropolitan Lounge. I had intended to get a char-cheddar burger at Gold Coast Hot Dogs but found it closed for renovations. I strolled through the Great Hall to view the Holiday decorations that were already in place and briefly walked on the streets outdoors.

Although the Chicago to Minneapolis ride is not overnight, we had opted for the comfort and seclusion of a roomette. My wife was able to take a nap on the lower bunk without using the bedding stored above. The attendant gave her an extra blanket. I spent a good deal of time in the Sightseer Lounge until it got dark. Champagne was offered to us early-on, and the attendant came around with cookies in the evening.

We arrived MSP about on time and our son met us at the station. We had to wait for one checked bag. At this station, the luggage is placed on a moving track and people grab their bags as they come by. No one checks the tags as is done at most other stations. The ride to our son's house in the Minneapolis suburb of St. Louis Park takes only 20 minutes or so. The events of the next four days included enjoying our two grandchildren ages 9 and 12.

For our trip back home, we arrived at the station to find the eastbound EB already in, having arrived slightly early. We waited briefly in the first class lounge before boarding. Our roomette had just been vacated and had not yet been made up by our attendant Suzanne. No problem; we headed straight to the dining car for breakfast. As is generally known here, the EB still has the old-time meals actually cooked on the train. I enjoyed scrambled eggs, bacon and grits. Amtrak dining cars are about the only place where I order grits. I was looking forward to that, as grits are no longer served on the other trains. The same can be said for the bacon. Potatoes have never been very appealing to me in the morning.

Our sleeper was a renovated Superliner I car. The lounges on the EB are the type rebuilt such that part of the upstairs has booths. The upper serving area is staffed part of the time. I sat in the lounge savoring views along the Mississippi River until we left it at La Crosse. Then there was the large Sunday edition of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune to look through. We reached Chicago only about 20 minutes after the scheduled time.

The eastbound LSL now leaves at 10:00 PM.and the evening meal is no longer served. I wonder whether the sleeper prices were adjusted accordingly. Sleeping car folks are allowed to board at 8:00 and are treated to some refreshments in the diner. I was anxious to see what was offered. Plates had been prepared with one bunch each of red and green grapes and several cubes of cheese (three varieties). Red or white wine was also served. Crackers might have been a nice addition, but there were none. The dining car staff seemed quite jovial and attentive.

Our sleeping car attendant was Lorenzo, a man somewhat resembling the late Sammy Davis, Jr. He told me he normally works the Crescent. We turned in early, but I did notice before going to sleep that the train left on time.

On this run, no menus were passed out at breakfast or lunch. The waiters just listed the items orally. At Albany we were able to just walk across the platform to the waiting Boston section. At this time of year, the eastbound trip from Albany is entirely in the dark. Surprisingly, arrival back in Worcester was very close to on time. Perhaps freight interference is avoided with the new later schedule, as there were no such delays on this last leg of the trip.

Now starts the countdown to a Christmas trip to San Diego,

Posts: 120 | From: Worcester, Massachusetts | Registered: Jan 2007  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
notelvis
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Thanks for such a detailed report. I can't say that it makes me look forward to my next ride on the Lake Shore Limited.

--------------------
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: 4195 | From: Western North Carolina | Registered: Feb 2004  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
tarheelman
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Great report, Bob! I enjoyed reading it.

I'm glad your experience with Diner Lite was positive. If the vendor supplying the food for this service is the same one that provides the food served in the cafe cars on day trains, I'm not surprised that you enjoyed it---I've never had any bad food on the 'Carolinian'.

Posts: 100 | From: Kernersville, NC | Registered: Oct 2007  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
train lady
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I echo David's thought. If only we could get rid of the mental pygmy's in congress that mandate such things as getting rid of passenger trains,etc. a lot of us would be happy. To echo a prevelent bumper sticker "I didn't vote for them".
Posts: 1577 | From: virginia | Registered: Jun 2005  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
royaltrain
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I was wondering what Amtrak actually gave you for their little "reception" aboard the Lake Shore leaving Chicago. Something to look forward to when I ride it to Buffalo next month. Thanks for an excellent report.
Posts: 524 | From: Toronto Ont. Canada | Registered: Mar 2001  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Bob from MA
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The day after I wrote this account, I saw a review of the LSL dining service in the newsletter of the Empire State Passenger Association. The author, Bruce Becker (the group's president), had ridden the train and had observations similar to mine. He stated that "Amtrak's official position on the change is that it is a temporary move and that adequate Heritage dining cars should be available at some undefined time in the future in order for the LSL to switch back".
Posts: 120 | From: Worcester, Massachusetts | Registered: Jan 2007  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
   

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