FOR FRIENDS OF AMTRAK
By Paul Conant
To start this off, we had a great trip flying Amtrak to Florida. When we arrived in Florida I was sad that the train trip was at an end even though I had a week of vacation ahead of me.
Our adventure started at South Station in Boston. We arrived around 6:30 AM on Saturday April 12, 1997. Our first concern was our luggage. We asked the ticket agent (baggage didn't open until 7:15) and found out that they had no baggage car on the train (Mayflower) we were taking to New York. We were concerned about what to do with our two suitcases and two carry-ons. We ran into a Red Cap and he said not to worry just bring the luggage on the train and asked if we needed help. When we made our reservation, Amtrak said to just check our luggage through to Florida.
They announced the train departure (just after 7:00) and we and our luggage got on board. We had Custom Service (first class). There was a nice big place to store our luggage. Concern over. We settled into our large seats with plenty of leg room. There was a large arm rest between the seats. The section of the car we were in had two seats on one side of the aisle and one seat on the other side versus the normal two on each side.
The consist of the train was engine 228 and 192, 6 or 7 coaches, 1 cafe car, one custom class car, one club car and one mail car. One interesting thing about the club car was that only 1/3 was club class. The other 2/3 were a cafe and custom class. Before departure I did take a few picture of the trains at South Station and checked out the goings on.
When we started there were only 4 of us in Club Service but as we went along our way to NYC the number grew. Not long after we left Boston our attendant came and asked if we wanted something to drink and gave us the breakfast menu. My wife had the low-fat breakfast and I had the high-fat one. I had the breakfast sandwich and it was good. Along the way we were asked several times if we wanted something else to drink.
I had printed out maps from DeLormes "Street Atlas USA" so I could follow along as we went. Saw a lot of work in progress (south of Attleboro and through the state of Rhode Island) dealing with the electrification of the line. No signs once we passed into Connecticut.
Before we arrived at the Providence station, I saw two close signal towers, a large rail yard and old Penn Central passenger cars (work train). At the Providence station was Amtrak engine 295 attached to a string of MBTA commuter cars. After Providence, the ride got smoother. In Kingston, RI they were moving the old railroad station (it was up on blocks). Before Westerly, RI there is another closed signal tower. At Westerly there were flat cars loaded with rails attached to ties. The old station is still there and in use but could use a lot of work to bring it back to its former glory.
Next stop was Mystic, Ct. It has a nice small wooden station that would make a great example to model. At this point we were only 3 minutes behind schedule. There were some electric poles and equipment coming into Groton, CT but no track side work. There is another old signal tower near New London, Ct. Saw a Coast Guard training ship (Eagle?) just before New London. New London had a good size brick railroad station. Believe I've stood on its platform some 40+ years ago when I was just a little shaver.
Old Saybrook (Saybrook Jct) has a station and signal tower. The signal tower didn't look abandoned. On the tracks swinging north (to Essex and the Valley Railroad) there was a lot of maintenance of way equipment. We passed by the Cheseboro Ponds plant in Clinton, CT.
Next stop was New Haven and time to change over from diesel to electric trains. New Haven has a big brick station and lots of commuter trains (Metro North). Must be a lively place during the work week with all the people heading into NYC. The changeover takes a little while (24 minutes) and I got out and took a few more pictures.
After New Haven there are a lot of stations that are stops for the commuter trains. Got to get my hands on a Metro North schedule. A lot of the commuter stops still have their stations in varying states of repair or disrepair. Another signal tower before Stratford. Our next stop was Bridgeport. A lot of work being done on the raised roadbed through the city. The old station is gone. Next stop was Stamford. Norwalk and Stamford have new cement slab stations. Another signal tower near Cos Cob. Our next stop was New Rochelle, NY and only one minute late. We then headed into the maze of track and city as we entered NYC. We cross over to Queens and into the tunnel and arrived at Penn Station on time at 12:10 PM.
It's interesting how the tracks do weave along the Connecticut coast line and we had to cross many bridges. The view along the coast would have been better if leaves were out.
We arrive in NYC around 12:15 PM and had almost 7 hours to kill. After finding baggage at Penn Station and unloading our luggage (hope it arrives in Orlando with us). We went to the Metropolitan Lounge and signed in. We left our carry-ons at the lounge and toured Penn Station and ate lunch. We had previously checked into tours and went outside to catch the Grayline city tour bus. It was pouring in the Big Apple so we went back into Penn Station and bought an umbrella and then went back out and caught the bus for a tour of the Manhattan. It was interesting but would have been a lot better in the sun. You couldn't see the tops of most of the buildings. After killing off 3 hours, we went back to Penn Station and found a place for dessert. We then hung around in the Metro Lounge people watching and reading until departure time (7:05 PM) of the Silver Meteor.
We settled into our Viewliner bedroom and waited for supper. There must have been some problem in the dining car because there was a long delay before they started serving (8:30). To pass the time, I watched the world go by out the window (what's new). The view wasn't great because of the time of day and the rain. After supper, we turned in. It had been a long day. I couldn't sleep and continued my watch out the window. I stayed awake until after DC. At DC, there is a long station stop for the change over from electrics engines to diesel.
Day two of my trip to Florida began at 5:15 AM when I awoke. Didn't want to miss any sights out the window but I was too early because it was still dark outside. I decided it was a good time to take a shower before everyone else got up. So I headed to the public shower. It's serviceable but kind of fun staying upright in a moving car.
We arrived in Florence, SC at 6 AM and stayed there until 6:25. Florence has a big long station. I could see four cement pits that used to contain track (from the left side of the train). Must have been a busy station back when. The station is being used by someone else and Amtrak is using a separate building.
I watched daylight arrive as we made our way to Kingston, SC. Didn't see the station because it was on the right side of the train. Finally it got light enough to see that it was a cloudy day. We were going through a lot of flat country with fields surrounded by trees. Just after 7 the sun broke through the clouds. We passed through Lake City, an interesting town. The railroad was two streets away from the main street. Sort of reminded me of the town in the "Heat of the Night". The street paralleled the tracks and had a pool hall. As we went through South Carolina a pattern emerged. Woods, then a field with a parallel to the track dirt road, then a house, then paved road and more houses, a crossing and the then pattern went in the opposite direction back to woods.
My wife finally got up and we went to breakfast. Good meal. Believe there is a railroad water tower in Goose Creek, SC. We were keeping to schedule as we went through Charleston (North) and Yamassee. Recently I saw a movie where they mentioned Yamassee. From the left side of the train Yamassee didn't seem like a place for a train to stop. Must have been something more interesting on the right side.
We made Savannah, SC close to on time. The stop was long enough for me to get out and stretch my legs and get a good look at the consist. We had two Genesis (P42DC) engines (10 and 49), 1 baggage car, 3 coaches, 1 dinette, 1 dinner (Silver Cuisine) 2 sleepers (Northern View and Sea View) and one crew car. We left Savannah 3 minutes behind. The sun returned.
Next stop was Jesup, GA and then Jacksonville, FL. We had a long stop at Jacksonville (25 minutes or so) so I got out and took some pictures of the station and consist. Nice station. Must do a lot of rail mail since they had a separate track and platform. It was time for lunch and another meal. I had the grilled chicken. Another passenger had the same thing but hers was dry. South of Jacksonville the train runs along the side of US route 17 so there was something different to watch. There were a lot of purple spring flowers along the tracks. South of Jacksonville we began to see palm trees.
At Palatka (station has a red tiled roof) we picked up a large group heading to Orlando. Also at the Palatka station is a red caboose.
Around Huntington and south I began seeing fields covered with black tents (like shade tobacco). Wonder what they grow under them. Anyone know? At Seville saw the first orange grove. South of Seville we got sided for the north bound Silver Meteor. The closer we got to Orlando the faster things flew by. I got to see the AutoTrain parked at Sanford (engines 27 and 65) and took a few pictures out the window. Sanford has a yellow/orange brick station. We were 7 minutes behind schedule. The steward came around (just after Winter Park) to take our carry-on luggage out to the front of the car, so we would be ready for arrival at Orlando. I was sad that the train trip was at the end even though I had a weeks vacation in sunny Florida.
We arrived almost on time in Orlando (a few minutes late). Orlando has a nice white stucco station (Spanish style). We got our baggage (no it didn't get lost) in short order and so ended my train trip :(.
Would I do it again? Yes. Only way to fly.
My wife thought the food was better on the Lakeshore Limited (took it in September 96). I had a cold back then and couldn't taste anything.
BTW, We are going to fly to San Francisco and take the train back to Boston (Fall of 97). My wife has finally found a way to get me to go places--by train!
By Paul Conant --Leominster, MA
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