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By Roman Kolody

For Friends of Amtrak

edited by Craig S. O'Connell

The following is a long trip report on my North American Rail Pass trip I took using Amtrak and VIA on Feb 9th thru Feb 20th.

I departed Orlando, FL on the Sunset Limited for New Orleans on the 9th. Service, food, and crew hospitality were excellent, they told me they wanted to surpass the Coast Starlight and they sure made a good effort. Arrived in New Orleans on time. Departed New Orleans on time after standing on the platform and watching them hook up the head end power. Their First class lounge leaves a little to be desired.

During our scheduled stop in Jackson ,MS I had a chance to me the Amtrak manager for the Cty of New Orleans, Mr Mohammed (not sure of the spelling). After the City/truck crash in Illinois I wonder if any of the extremely polite crew were working that train that trip. Again the food, service and crew were excellent. I can only hope they all are alright if they were on duty during that terrible accident.

Arrived in Carbondale, lL 15 mins late. The thruway bus trip to St. Louis was the worst part of the trip. The young driver was speeding (70 in a 45) at night to get his girlfriend (an Amtrak employee) to St louis on time for her next trip. Happy to be alive after that one. Took the Kansas City Mule to Kansas City (the Amtrak stations seemed to be getting smaller as I went on). Arrived Kansas City 50 mins late due to sitting on a siding with 2 other UP freights waiting for the eastbound Amtrak (Ann Ruthledge) to go by which was also running late.

After a 2 1/2 day layover in Kansas City ( visiting my Daughter and new Granddaughter which I saw for the first time) I was pleasantly surprised to see the Southwest Chief sitting in Kansas City on time. After talking to the polite crew I got a chance to walk with a crew member to count the freight cars and road railers at the end. The paperwork was right, all 28 were behind us. We left Kansas city on time and arrived in Chicago ( my former home town) 23 mins early. Again the food and service were good even on that last day of the trip out of LA.

Three hours later we left Chicago 15 mins late on the Lake Shore Limited because we waited for a replacement onboard chief of services, the original one had the flu and the replacement was also sick. The dining car service left a little to be desired, but the food was good. This was my first use of a Viewliner single bedroom and I enjoyed it very much. I could not find my car attrendent to find out if the next stop was Buffalo, lucky for me the next car attendant informed me and I hurried to get my bags to the steps at 6:20am to detrain. My car attendant showed up as the train stopped just in time for her tip. Amazing how that works. I mentioned politely to her that I needed help with luggage and knowing the time before my arrival into Buffalo. she curtly said she woke me up 1 hour before my stop, what else was she supposed to do. I guess I interrupted her sleep. Next time there won't be a tip for poor service like that.

After a 9 1/2 hour layover in Buffalo (8 of that spent visiting Niagara Falls, beautiful, but extremely cold for a Florida boy), I boarded the Maple Leaf from New York for my trip to Toronto. (The boarder crossing in Niagara Falls was lenghty due to a young man behind me who failed to declare some articles he bought in the US. The moral to that story is tell the truth to Customs, the worst that can happen with the truth is you pay a few dollars duty, better then being dragged of the train.

Arrived in Toronto after 'highballing' to make up lost time. The Canadian engineer almost took us off the tracks. The next morning I arrived at Toronto Union Station to board VIA's premier train # 1, the Canadian. From the moment I checked in with my luggage at the First Class check in till I detrained in Vancouver, I was treated like a King. I was able to get into the cab of the head end power and take some pictures and as questions. ( I should mention that I was invited up in the lead Genesis engine in Jacksonville on the Sunset Limited to take some pictures also). The service crew really made you know why the #1 Canadian is rated as one of the top ten trains in the world.

My berth was in the second to last sleeper behind the end domed observation car. We departed on time and had hot Hor d'euvres served in the observation car before diner. We had champagne served at diner in superb seating between etched glass partitions in the dining car. The dining staff was the best I ever encountered. They remembered your name and did little things like seve me decaf in the morning because they remembered I ordered it the night before. When I returned after diner (the food was superb), my upper berth was ready. When I returned after breakfast, my berth was removed, all without saying a word.

After noticing that my lower berth was unoccupied, I asked the chief (suggested by my sleeping car attendant) if I could have the lower berth and pay for the upgrade. He kindly said I could use the lower without any additional charge and use the upper to stow my luggage which was 3 pieces for my 11 day trip. The crew departed in Winnipeg, the next crew was just as superb as the first. I ate 3 meals a day because the food and service was so good. I had planned to have a single bedroom by myself, but after seeing the size of the singles and knowing the difference in cost to upgrade to a single bedroom compartment, I believe I got the best deal possible.

The scenery thru the Canadian Rockies matched the onboard service. Jasper in the heart of the Rockies was one of the most beautiful little towns I have ever visited. We arrived in Vancouver 20 mins. early, not bad after a 71 hour trip. I want to mention that the VIA onboard chief allowed me to retrieve my additional checked luggage from the baggage car so I might try to make the earlier thruway bus connection from Vancouver to Seattle so I could enjoy my New Talgo trip during the day instead of in the dark as I was originally scheduled.

I did make the early connection, only to find on my arrival in Seattle that my reservation got botched up and the Talgo train was full and I did not have my Custom Class seat anymore. The Conductor was kind enough to tell me that if some one didn't show during our stop in Tacoma, I could get a Custom Class seat. Well it happened and I really enjoyed the ride from Seattle to Portland on the new Talgo at max 79 mph. I did notice the sound of the car being tilted before each curve, it was just a little annoying. The Bistro Car is nicely done, but the food is still Amtrak microwave fare. I bought a Talgo shirt and cap which were in nice light green Pacific Northwest colors. Amtrk has a winner in the Talgo, I feel that they should strive to match the Coast Starlight service even though they are not an overnight run. The Bistro car server seemed like it was a bother for him to sell me an Amtrak item. A few more smiles from the crew would have made a lot of difference.

We arrived in Portland on schedule, (the conductor made sure of that), this train was really crowded and he mentioned the stress of running a new train like the Talgo. After a 7 hour layover it was onto American Airlines on the 'Red Eye Special, VIA Dallas, for my return trip home to Ft. Lauderdale, Fl. All in all, it was one of the best train trips I ever took, considering I grew up in Chicago and in my youth I rode the best of them, the Twentieth Century Limited, and others with my uncle who worked for the New York Central for 35 years. I rode most every major train east from Chicago during those years. On a scale of 1 to 10, this trip was a 9.5.

Keep up the good work Amtrak, and take a few lessons from your cousins up north in Canada on VIA. Look forward to another Amtrk/VIA trip next year ( Florida to New York to Montreal , east to Halifax and then on to Newfoundland and return.)

Roman Kolody

Ft Lauderdale, Fl