Edited by Craig O'Connell
Editor's Note: This was Paul's first long distance overnight trip aboard Amtrak.
Well I (we) did it. I took the Lake Shore Limited from Worcester, MA to Chicago and back over the past weekend. We spent 40 hours on trains to spend 8 hours in Chicago!
The train arrived on time in Worcester, MA (4:37 PM). We were two of about 2 dozen people who boarded the train. We found our way to coach seats (much better than an airline seats) with real leg room. The train was made up of two diesels, one baggage car, one lounge car, three coaches, one sleeper (heritage type) and two mail cars. We left Worcester and I started looking out the window as the world went by.
While we were waiting at Worcester for the train to arrive a person came around with a petition to keep the Boston/Albany section of the Lake Shore running (due to be discontinued on November 10th). While he was asking for signatures some of the people said they couldn't sign because they were not from the US.
We arrived in Springfield, MA about an hour after leaving Worcester. We spent some time in Springfield loading and unloading passengers and some baggage or mail, I believe, since they stopped once, pulled forward and stopped again. There were several other Amtrak trains at Springfield probably just sitting until tomorrows runs to New Haven. I didn't see the eastbound Lake Shore pass us from Worcester to Springfield so one of them may have been it (late).
After Springfield we passed through the Conrail yard in West Springfield. Lots of Conrail blue engines (SD80MAC and other assorted engines). We then proceeded aside of Route 20 heading to Westfield. The cars were going faster than we were. We hit the diamond at Westfield (where the old NYNH&H tracks cross) and then began our climb up the Berkshires. As most railroads, it follows a river up the valley. By this time the outside light was fading. The line up the Berkshires is narrow with lots of rock cuts and foliage close to the tracks. We made a brief stop in Pittsfield before proceeding on to Albany.
We arrived on time in Albany. At Albany the Boston section is merged with the New York section. We had over an hour layover waiting for the New York section. The Albany (actually in Resselaer) is a typical new Amtrak station. Nothing to write home about. The lunch counter was closed (they were mopping up). Bad timing--they could have done some business. The train from NY finally arrived. It was headed by one of those new engines with the sloped front end (Genesis). They did some car shuffling and hooked up the combined train. Believe we added two sleepers, one dining car, three more coaches, one more lounge and another baggage car. We kept the two diesels that came with us from Boston. This brought us up to 16 cars (more or less). It was dark.
We reboarded again but this time we had sleeping accommodations. The two sleepers added in Albany were Viewliner. We got to our room and then headed for supper (this was about 10:30 PM). The meal was a real leap from airline food. Had roast beef with mashed potatoes, vegetables and hot apple pie. We passed through Schenectady and Utica before we finally settled down for the night.
The Veiwliner bedroom (compartment) is really amazing. Who ever designed it also must know how to get sardines into the can. It was max utilization of space. With the beds folded up, the space is nice. Two facing seats, which convert to the lower bed, with a pull out table. The toilet is not in a separate area, so if you travel with company you will either have to not be shy or have the other person go out into the hall. When the beds are open/down there is just enough space for one person to stand up. The Viewliner does have two deluxe rooms and one room for the passengers with special mobility requirements. Caught a glimpse of them--look roomy!
Day 2 Saturday
I awoke before 7 am. It was still fairly dark and raining outside. We were leaving Cleveland, Ohio. I slept fairly well. I must have awoken a dozen time or so during the night. Next the trick of getting dressed in the small space in the Viewliner compartment. Only one can do it at a time. Then I headed down to the end of the car to try out the shower. It was interesting taking a shower in a rocking car but all in all it was fine. There were clean bath towels, soap, shampoo and hot water for the passengers. After showering, we headed to the dining car for breakfast. Loved the bacon, eggs, coffee, juice and toast. My kind of breakfast. Also on the menu was pancakes, waffles, cold and hot cereal. By the time we finished breakfast and got back to the compartment we were in Toledo. All I could think about was Corporal Klinger from Mash.
The rain had ended but it was still cloudy out. I again assumed my position at the window watching the world roll by. One thing about going through cities on a train, you usually get to go through some of the older mill sections of the city. Got to see a lot of old rundown brick mill buildings. Got some good ideas for detailing on my model railroad. As we sped west we were passed by a lot of Conrail freights heading east. At one point it seemed that it was train after train. There were Truck-on-Trailer trains, container trains and mixes (box cars and tankers). It's not fun watching another train pass you at 3 feet distance going 120 miles per hour (combined speeds).
After a few more stops we arrived at Elkhart. We passed through the rail yard. Unfortunately most of the time my view was blocked by rail cars on the adjacent train. Just before the rail yard there is museum. It has a steam engine, F series diesel, GG-1 and some assorted cars. I took a few picture from the window of my compartment. Will see how they come out.
After Elkart, I started to see some engines other than Conrail. Santa Fe, Burlington Northern, etc. A nice change from all that blue. As we got closer and closer to Chicago, the freight traffic got more and more. At points the main line was three tracks with lots of merges. Must be a high point for railfans. Trains every 15 minutes. I had never seen so many tracks all together and going off in all directions. We finally rolled into Chicago or should I say backed in. The time sure flew by. We arrive about a half an hour behind schedule (1 pm).
I won't bore you about our quick tour of Chicago. Didn't do anything railroad related. Figure it was my wife's turn to choose what we did.
The Chicago Union Station is very nice. I could have killed my time there. We did spend some time in the first class Metropolitan Lounge drinking the free soda, resting from our quickie tour of Chicago and watching everyone else there. The lounge was crowded with passengers waiting for their train to leave. Sounded like the "City of New Orleans" was being called. Time flies when you are having fun.
Next thing I knew they were calling for boarding of the Lake Shore. We boarded the train about 7:30 and were out of Chicago on time at 8 PM. After a short wait it was first call for supper in the dining car. Another full meal. I went with the Salisbury steak. We met a couple from New Zealand during supper. They were on a 4 week rail tour of the US. They were getting off at Buffalo in the AM to visit Niagara Falls. They were going to visit New York, New Orleans, etc. Now that sounds like something I would like to do. After supper it was time to turn in for the night. Not much fun looking out the window at the dark. Besides, you get tired just watching the world go by.
Day three (the final day).
I awoke around day break as we pulled out of the Buffalo/Depew, NY station. I slept a lot better than the first night on the train. We went through the usual routine and then off to breakfast. At breakfast we met a couple from Nevada. They had flown into Chicago and were taking the train to Albany, then they were getting a car and making a tour of New England. They would have taken the train from Nevada but it didn't match their schedule.
We settled back into our compartment. My wife read and I watched the world go by again. We made stops at Rochester, Syracuse, Utica and Schenectady. At Syracuse we lost time. They had two cart loads of luggage that had to put in the baggage car. While we were delayed a couple came running to catch the train. If we had been on time they would have missed the train.
On the way across New York State I got to see parts of the Erie Canal. It seems like only an hour of real time but it was time for lunch (early--they need to get it in before we hit Albany).
At Albany I got to see them split the train into the New York and Boston sections. They disconnect in front of the dining car. This left a baggage, 3 coaches, 1 lounge and one sleeper for the Boston leg. They pulled this section down track for Boston. Next they backed the New York engine in and connected to the rest of the cars (lounge, diner, 3 coaches, 2 sleepers). After the New York section left they pushed the 2 mail cars (that were on the end of the train) up to the end of the Boston sections. It was fun to see all this happen and during the daylight.
After this was all done (about a half an hours time), we departed for our trip through the Berkshires. We were about 20 minute behind schedule. The scenery was nice heading down the hills. At spots (around the swamps) the trees had changed color. What a nice treat! At one of the hill towns they had an old steam tank engine beside their station. Can't remember the town. It seems that the trip back is more of a blur than the trip out. We made a stop at Springfield. I got out and watch the goings on. Probably another two dozen people got off and another two dozen got on. We had made up some of our lost time by the time we left Springfield. As we got close to Worcester we met the Lake Shore heading west. Next thing I knew we were back at Worcester and only 5 minutes behind schedule.
It had been just over 48 hours ago that we boarded the Lake Shore to head west and now here we were again. It seemed more like 4 hours than 48. At the Worcester station we heard the news that the Government had come up with some more funding for Amtrak so the Boston/Albany leg of the Lake Shore has been saved for another six months. I hope it's a lot longer for it was one great trip.
Two days later my wife booked our train down to Florida and fly back for April of next year. I guess that answered the question if my wife liked traveling by train.
If you would like to write to Paul Conant CLICK HERE.
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