This was a trip to visit a son and his family in St. Louis Park, MN. It was my first venture on Amtrak since my wife passed away a couple months ago. I might say that the extra space in the roomette, while nice, certainly does not make up for the loss of a beloved, long time traveling companion.
The LSL Boston section arrived in Worcester about on time and I settled into the coach. The Boston-Chicago sleeper, though listed on the new fall/winter schedule, has been delayed. Train personnel told me that it would probably not be added until January or later.
As had been predicted, there was a dusting of snow as we passed over the summit of the Berkshire Hills. Snow was actually falling at Pittsfield, MA. We met the eastbound LSL prior to reaching Albany. Our train pulled a bit onto the freight line to the Selkirk yards to let it pass, then backed onto main passenger line again.
At Albany we were sent into the station to await the joining of the two train sections. From 2005 until now, the Boston section was a stub train just going back and forth. Now the cars go through again to Chicago. Boarding was about 25 minutes before departure. Dinner reservations were taken and I chose the earliest at 7:30. After that I settled into my roomette for the night.
Arrival in the Windy City was just about on time. I brought some lunch from the Food Court down to the Metropolitan Lounge where soft drinks are complimentary. Walked outside a little, then was able to board the Empire Builder where I had reserved a roomette even though I would not be there overnight. It's nice to have your own private room. Question: Do you tip the attendant when he doesn't have to do up the beds? I did anyway, but not as much as usual.
The trip north was uneventful except for a sudden stop just before Winona, MN. Apparently a truck had pulled in front of the train and the engineer put it in emergency. Such a maneuver requires that the conductor go outside to check the brakes and that delays the train a little more. Nevertheless, we arrived at Midway station in St. Paul only about 10 minutes past the scheduled time.
My stay in the Twin Cities area was favored with rather mild weather. On Monday Nov. 3, Minneapolis tied the high temperature for that date at 74 degrees.
The return trip on the EB was the interesting part. I had read on the NARP hotline a week or so prior to the trip that an alternate route would be taken on this day to allow track work on the regular line. No intermediate stops would be made. I had inquired on this forum as to what route was likely. CG 96 answered with three possibilities. The one he thought most likely turned out to be correct: the old BN main line (formerly CBQ).
At the station in St. Paul, passengers going to stops other than Chicago were being put on buses. I, however, was able to head right to my roomette in the Portland sleeper and shortly thereafter go to breakfast. I had the scrambled egg, grits and bacon. The egg appeared to have been cooked on the train, unlike the warmed up pre-packaged food on the LSL.
We followed the regular route south of the Twin Cities. Where we would normally have crossed to the west side of the river near Hastings, we instead continued along the east bank all the way to La Crosse. I'm sure many are quite familiar with this route, but I'm addressing now those who may not be. At La Crosse, we passed across the usual route and continued south along the river through Prairie du Chien and East Dubuque in Wisconsin to Savanna, IL. This amounts to 300 miles along the Mississippi compared with the present 160.
Fortunately, the conductor did considerable commentary over the speaker system regarding the route, its history and the places we were passing. I was quite pleased with that (even though he translated Prairie du Chien as "prairie of the deer".) He pointed out that this was the original route of the Empire Builder. He even quoted an advertising slogan of the time: "Where nature smiles for three hundred miles". When Amtrak took over, they changed the route so as to go through larger population centers.
From Savanna the train crosses Illinois to Aurora where it continues to Chicago along the line used by the California Zephyr and the Southwest Chief. The conductor even called our attention to a park and railfan viewing platform in Rochelle, IL. There were several folks gathered to watch us pass, no doubt railfans who were aware that the EB was taking that route. Unfortunately a freight was between us and the viewing area, but a flat car or two allowed me to see the platform as we passed.
The growth of towns along the route east of Aurora was discussed as a direct result of the rail line. He said they used to be referred to as "western towns along the Q". I was surprised that this conductor (or whoever it was) had gathered so much information on a route that is seldom taken. I also noted that the ride was unexpectedly smooth for a rail line that normally carries only freight.
We had been told that arrival in Chicago might be up to 90 minutes late because of the detour. Actually we arrived only about 45 minutes late. Since it was election day, I joined others in watching TV in the lounge. After 8:00 PM, there were only a few people left. Several Amtrak employees came to watch the results. When Ohio was projected as going to Obama, they all cheered and I left to board the LSL, rather confident of the outcome.
The next morning, I reached down from the bed to pick up the USA Today newspaper that had been slid under the door and was not surprised to see the prominent headline OBAMA WINS.
The rest of the trip proceeded normally. There was a long stop at Erie where I was told that border agents walk the train. They did not seem to bother with the sleeper I was in.
At Albany/Rensselaer, the train stops before getting to the station and is separated. Then both parts pull in and sleeper passengers heading to Massachusetts must detrain, go up into the station and come down again to board the Boston section now situated on the track closest to the station. The same maneuver as I mentioned earlier took place as we passed the westbound train at the south end of the so-called "post road" section of track. Continuing on, we arrived at the Worcester station 7 minutes early, unusual for train 448.
Posts: 127 | From: Worcester, Massachusetts | Registered: Jan 2007
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Great report Bob. I grew up in Golden Valley, a few blocks from your destination of St. Louis Park. As a youth I rode "the Quincy" route MSP-CHI and I preferred the scenery on "the Q" to the Milwaukee Road that now carries the Builder. But those beautiful orange and brown Milwaukee Super Domes were more fun to ride in.
Posts: 1563 | From: St. Paul, MN | Registered: Dec 2002
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