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Buffalo, NY To Sandusky, OH On Amtrak's Lake Shore Limited
  For my big trip this year, I decided I wanted to return to some familiar territory but at the same time explore some new mileage on Amtrak that I haven't covered in the past. I booked this trip back in February 2015 using a combination of Amtrak Guest Rewards points and cash for the tickets as well as Marriott Rewards points and cash for the hotels. The plan this year would be to ride Train #49 - The Lake Shore Limited to Sandusky, OH in coach and spend the weekend at Cedar Point Amusement Park (same as I do every year, this being my 24th straight year going to the park). I would stay at the Fairfield Inn By Marriott hotel (same hotel I've stayed at on this leg of the trip since 2010) and would rent a car from Enterprise as well. After two days at Cedar Point, I planned to drive to nearby Bellevue, OH to visit the Mad River & Nickel Plate Railroad Museum as I haven't been there in five years and having rode behind Nickel Plate 2-8-4 Berkshire Steam Locomotive #765 earlier this year, I felt it was a fitting year to go back to this excellent museum. I would then ride Train #49 again in coach to Chicago the following morning and do some railfanning at Roosevelt Road, my favorite place in the Chicago area to go railfanning. I would then take Train #3 - The Southwest Chief to La Plata, MO in a Superliner Roomette, so as to spend the next three nights at the Depot Inn & Suites. I would also have another rental car from Enterprise while there. After that, I would head back to Chicago on Train #4 - The Southwest Chief in a roomette again and then transfer to Train #59 - The City Of New Orleans. This would be my first ride on this train and I would ride it in a roomette to New Orleans.
  I planned to spend the night in the Crescent City, staying at a Courtyard By Marriott and then ride Train #1 - The Sunset Limited from there to Los Angeles also in another roomette. The territory from New Orleans to San Antonio, TX would be new for me as I've covered this route before twice only as parts of rides on the Texas Eagle from San Antonio-west. Once I arrive in Los Angeles, I would take Pacific Surfliner Train #564 to San Diego in Business Class, then taxi over to Enterprise at the San Diego International Airport to rent another car. My hotel in California this year would be in Solana Beach, about 20 minutes north of San Diego and it would be another Courtyard By Marriott. I was originally planning to drive up to Fullerton later that day to attend the Southern California Rail Travel Meetup Group event at Knowlwood's Restaurant near the station but decided about a week or so before the trip to just go ahead and take the train there instead so I purchased two more tickets on Pacific Surfliner Trains #579 to Fullerton and #790 back to Solana Beach. I planned to spend the final two full days doing railfanning in the area including driving up to San Clemente to explore a new spot that I haven't covered yet in previous trips. I also wanted to check out some places in Del Mar, just south of Solana Beach as well, all on the Surf Line.
  I would be flying home on Southwest Airlines from San Diego to Buffalo at the end of the trip. Now all I had to do was wait almost 8 months for this trip to get here! Cue the song from Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers "The Waiting"! What you'll see here like my other travelogues isn't just a story about now 9 great train rides (original plans only called for 7), but another great story about America, and I'm glad you're "along for the ride" by reading this travelogue, so here we go!!!
  Due to my work schedule, I had just about everything packed and ready to go the day before the trip so after getting home from work, I picked up my two suitcases and my camera bag from home and loaded up the car. Amtrak Train #49 - The Lake Shore Limited had lost some time and was not due into Buffalo-Depew Station until around 12:40am making it around 45 minutes late. I headed over to a nearby Mighty Taco restaurant (a local place that anyone from Buffalo will know who they are and they are awesome!!!) and had dinner. After dinner, I picked up some snacks for the trip at 7-Eleven then drove over to the Thrifty Buffalo Airport Parking Lot to park my car for the trip. After parking the car, I took their free shuttle to the Buffalo-Niagara International Airport located across the street from their lot and picked up an Airport Taxi Service taxicab over to the station nearby.
  I arrived at the station around 11:45pm and Train #49 was still running around 45 minutes late. I purchased a Passenger Comfort Kit at the station for $8.00 which consisted of a small travel pillow, a sleep mask, blanket, and ear plugs. After chatting with the two ticket agents (both good friends of mine), I started chatting with a passenger from Goshen, IN near Elkhart (where he was riding to) who was heading home after delivering a new bus to a client somewhere in the eastern part of New York. It was around now that the conductor walked into the station and started lifting tickets as Buffalo-Depew Station is a crew-change point for this train so tonight's crew that would take the train to Toledo gets a head-start and lifts tickets in the station. I've seen this rather frequently in Chicago while waiting to board in the Metropolitan Lounge as the conductor will generally lift tickets there before passengers board the train.
  After hanging out inside the station for a bit, I walked outside and chatted with a passenger who was going to South Bend, IN and we talked for a bit and one freight train went by east on Track #2 which is the track that Train #49 normally uses when in the station as it's the closest to the station platform. Once that freight passed by, the 431 Automatic signal which can be seen from the platform on Track #2 turned to all red indicating the track was cleared for a westbound. At 12:40am, Train #49 arrived at Buffalo-Depew Station. Us coach passengers were directed to walk down the platform to board the train as all the coaches were on the back end of the train. Due to ongoing trackwork at the Albany-Rensselaer Station which involves adding a 4th track as well as lengthening the platforms, the Lake Shore Limited is operating without a Boston Section (rather a separate Boston-Albany stub train with a cross-platform transfer is operating) so the consist for the train has all the sleepers up front and coaches in the rear. After walking down the platform, I was directed to board Amfleet II Coach #25058 and take Aisle Seat #14. After putting away my bags and briefly talking to the passenger in the window seat next to me, we departed Buffalo-Depew Station at 12:51am, running 58 minutes late. The consist for tonight's train is shown below:
134 P42DC   Power
23 P42DC   Power
61009 Viewliner II Baggage Car   Baggage Car
62005 Viewliner I Sleeping Car Cape View Sleeping Car 4920
62027 Viewliner I Sleeping Car Orchard View Sleeping Car 4912
62018 Viewliner I Sleeping Car Meadow View Sleeping Car 4911
8530 Heritage Dining Car   Dining Car
28016 Amfleet II Cafe/Lounge Car   Cafe/Lounge Car
25078 Amfleet II Coach   Coach
25058 Amfleet II Coach   Coach (My Car - Aisle Seat #14)
25074 Amfleet II Coach   Coach
25063 Amfleet II Coach   Coach
25047 Amfleet II Coach   Coach
SPECIAL NOTE: Viewliner I Sleeping Cars no longer display their original names on the sides of the cars but still sport their original names on the end doors as you enter the cars from the inside. Eventually, all Viewliner I Sleeping Cars will be renamed into a "River" series to go along with the names that will eventually apply to Viewliner II Sleepers under construction at CAF USA in Elmira Heights, NY. For example, Sleeper #62005, originally named "Cape View", is slated to be renamed "Calumet River".
  I sat back in my coach seat and listened to the railroad radio on my Yaesu FT-270R (this radio receives-only, the railroad band and has better range than a typical scanner) while talking briefly with the passenger next to me who was getting off the train in Cleveland. She was from somewhere north of New York City. After going over the Buffalo River at CP-DRAW, we continued on Track #1 (may have moved there from Track #2 at CP-433 just west of the Depew Station). Buffalo was a major division point on the New York Central and as a result of that, the mainline's mileposts reset to 0 in Buffalo just west of where the old Buffalo Central Terminal is located today. We would go to Track #2 at CP-5 and would stay there until CP-15 where the CSX NG Dispatcher's territory ends and the IH Dispatcher takes over. We were now coming into my old neighborhood in the Town of Evans/Village of Angola area where I railfanned countless hours as a teenager usually riding my bike to different crossings! I guess my favorite freight railroad will always be Conrail since that's what I grew up with and we're riding on track they once owned and operated. After heading out of Evans, I grabbed the camera and took a few interior photos of the Dining Car on this train which was Heritage Diner #8530, a 1951-built product of the Budd Company that was originally built as a 29-seat Parlor Car for the Pennsylvania Railroad that was used on their famous trains on the Northeast Corridor including the Congressional and the Senator. I am a member of the Western NY Railway Historical Society and we own a sister-car to this car, still set up in the parlor-configuration!
  After getting some photos, I headed back to the coach to get out the computer and would walk back to the cafe car and start writing this travelogue. A couple new things on my laptop computer this year are Windows 10 and Office 2016. I recently upgraded the machine which was unfortunately cursed with Windows 8.1 (I could go on all day about how much of an abomination Windows 8 turned out to be but that's a story for a blog on Ars Technica or CNET, not here!). I also recently purchased Office 2016 so I would be using both the new Operating System and the new versions of Word and Excel on this trip. I would start writing this travelogue as we crossed into Pennsylvania (I had my phone set up as a GPS using the maps app and kept it plugged into my Mophie iPhone Charger (I have an iPhone 5S), as the GPS wears down the battery very fast in an iPhone. At 2:23pm, we arrived at our next stop of Erie, PA. We had a good-sized crowd board the train at Erie and would also be following a freight train into the area. At 2:32pm, running 44 minutes late, we departed Erie.
  I continued writing this travelogue and would chat with the conductor. I also had an interesting chat with the passenger sitting behind me in the cafe car who also had a laptop and was doing a project for school in Excel. So far, there has been minimal freight interruption and the ride has been very much uneventful which is always a good thing. We eventually crossed into Ohio and would pass places like the big railroad museum in Conneaut and had no further freight traffic to contend with, always a great thing! I would continue writing this travelogue and chat with the passenger behind me who was from Binghamton, NY who was on his way to South Bend, IN to see a Notre Dame football game. Still running on CSX tracks, as of around CP-165, we're now under the control of the IG Dispatcher. We passed through Cleveland's Collinwood Yard and would now be on a section of mainline that is now single track, also known as the "Main Track" or Track #1. At CP-181, ownership of the mainline changes to Norfolk Southern. We would also stop at CP-181 as the drawbridge over the Cuyahoga River located west of the Amtrak Station in Cleveland was in the "up" position to let a boat pass through. While waiting there, our engineer would call the NS Cleveland Terminal Dispatcher (NS kept the names of the old Conrail Dispatchers whereas CSX renamed them all letters). We would only be stopped at CP-181 for a minute or two before we would proceed after getting an approach signal. At 3:59am, we arrived at the next station stop of Cleveland, OH.
  A smoking break was permitted here but at this hour, no announcements are made on the train as a courtesy so people can sleep, so if you want to smoke (or in my case, get some pictures and some air), you need to be awake! After all the passengers were loaded, one disabled passenger in a wheelchair needed to be let off the train, so after that passenger was assisted, we were allowed to reboard and at 4:11am, we departed Cleveland, having made up a little time, running 26 minutes late. The passenger who had the window seat (Seat #13) who sat next to me had gotten off the train at Cleveland so I took her seat and got out my unofficial snack of Amtrak travel, Diet Pepsi and Reese's Pieces!!! I could still see quite a bit from the window considering it was dark out. We eventually passed Cleveland Hopkins International Airport and went through Berea at CP-194. Our next stop coming up would be at Elyria, OH so to facilitate that, we moved from Track #1 to #2 at CP-203. At 4:39am, we arrived in Elyria and quickly departed at 4:40am, running 22 minutes late, having made up another 4 minutes. We would pass a few freights and would stay on Track #2 until CP-234 and go back to Track #1 to get ready for the next stop at Sandusky, OH which would be my stop for this leg of the trip. The assistant conductor advised me it would be another 10 minutes to the Sandusky stop though I had been using the maps app on my phone with the GPS to figure out where I was all this way. I'm glad I bought a Mophie iPhone charger earlier this year as I said earlier, the GPS wears down the battery very quickly. Things continued along with no issues until we got to CP-240 which is less than two miles from the Sandusky station.
  Up until now, I was thinking we would have made up nearly all the lost time since Buffalo but we would end up sitting here for 25-30 minutes waiting for a signal maintainer to fix a switch that was causing problems. Once the switch was fixed, we worked with the NS Toledo East Dispatcher and we were given the signal to go and at 5:39am, Train #49 arrived in Sandusky, running 44 minutes late. Overall, we made up 7 minutes! I was one of a small group of passengers who got off the train and only a few would board here.
  I brought my bags inside the station and called a taxicab. One nice new addition to the station this year was a vending machine selling pop, juice and energy drinks. It even accepts credit cards for payment! After being at the station about 10 minutes, my taxi arrived to bring me to the Fairfield Inn By Marriott in Sandusky which would be my hotel for this trip for the 6th year in a row. If you've read my travelogues before, you'll know I'm a huge fan of the Marriott family of hotels and I'm a Silver Elite Marriott Rewords Member so these hotel stays earn me points towards future trips! At about 6:10am, I arrived at the hotel and would eventually call it a day. And a good day it was!!! Well, like all these trips, my first destination would be none other than the best amusement park in the known universe and that is none other than Cedar Point! Before we head over there, check out a few photos taken on the Lake Shore Limited on the way to Sandusky...
  The dining area of Amtrak Heritage Diner #8530 with the full Temoinsa Interior consisting of the green ceiling and pink walls. This treatment was
added only to select dining cars. This car also features a sliding door on each end (they had a standard swinging door when built).
  This service area in the dining car was at one time part of the actual kitchen but when the Temoinsa Interior was installed, the kitchen space was truncated
to allow for this area to be built. The counter at one point served as a diner-style food service area with stools but is now used as a work area.
  Yes, I know this photo is dark and noisy, but this is First Energy Stadium, home of the National Football League's Cleveland Browns,
and the stadium is conveniently located right behind the Amtrak Station!
  Train #49 taking a break at Cleveland. Now let's go to Cedar Point!!!