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Florida To Indy On The Meteor And Cardinal

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(Including A Tour Of The Beech Grove Shops)
Articles by Jack M. Turner
Photos by John C. Turner and Jack M. Turner

Section Index:
Florida to Indy on the Meteor and Cardinal
Indianapolis: ISEF Host City
Back to Washington via The Windy City
The Silver Star to the Sunshine State


After several trips aboard Amtrak's Capitol Limited, I resolved during my most recent Capitol trip in January to ride the Cardinal on my next journey between the east coast and Chicago. When my son John was selected to attend the 2006 Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in Indianapolis, the Cardinal went from being an option to a "must".

Amtrak train # 98, the Silver Meteor, pulled out of Jacksonville, FL at 6:09pm, just over an hour late.

The author's sleeper, River View at Jacksonville, FL on the northbound Silver Meteor.

I enjoyed dinner in the diner and was pleased that meals still were being prepared fresh aboard this train. A delicious Delmonico steak was accompanied by a baked potato, broccoli, salad, and topped off with chocolate cake. Across the table sat a man who stated that he once had been an attorney but now was a cashier at a Publix supermarket and was contemplating moving to South Carolina to become a monk. Having heard many interesting tales over meals aboard Amtrak dining cars, I chalked this up as another new tale and certainly one of the most bizarre The route through eastern Georgia passes through miles of woodlands punctuated by passage over a few small rivers and marshes. The distinctive smell of a nearby paper mill briefly filled the train as we passed between Jesup and Ludowici, GA. Soon the rail yards outside Savannah welcomed the Silver Meteor to Georgia's port city. As I peered out the window of my sleeper River View we crossed the Savannah River and entered South Carolina. Viewing the small towns of Hardeeville and Ridgeland reminded me of numerous summer vacations with my parents in the 1960s when we drove parallel US 321 through those towns en route from Miami to North Carolina's Blue Ridge Mountains.

After departure from Charleston, I climbed into the top bunk for the night. Due to school schedules, my wife Christine and son John would fly to Indianapolis thus I had my choice of beds in my Viewliner roomette. I followed the tips of fellow Trainweb writers and slept up top as the bed is wider than the lower bed and has a thicker mattress than the lower. Unlike the Heritage fleet sleepers of bygone years, the Viewliners have a window for the upper berth making it a desirable place to sleep. The night passed quickly and I only woke up for the stops at Florence, SC and Fayetteville, NC. We were just arriving in Richmond, VA when I woke up at 6:20am almost 2 1/2 hours late.

The dining car provided an excellent traditional railroad breakfast as we streaked through rich, think woods that envelope the railroad in central Virginia. The former Richmond, Fredericksburg & Potomac Railroad has always been a key north-south link and today remains busy as a major CSX artery and host of Virginia Railway Express commuter trains north of Fredericksburg. The view from the window was gradually becoming more urban as we approached the nation's capitol. The colonial station at Alexandria guarded the west side of the tracks while the Embassy Suites Hotel and passing Metro trains filled the window on the east side. That Embassy Suites remains the best train watching hotel I have ever stayed in as on two stays years ago it offered an almost constant view of Amtrak, VRE, CSX, and Norfolk Southern trains as well as frequent Metro subway trains.

My tickets read Wilmington, DE but my switch to the Cardinal would have to be made earlier in the morning of Friday May 5, 2006 due to the Meteor's lateness. Depending upon the degree of lateness I could make my transfer at Alexandria, Washington, or Baltimore. At about 2 hours late, the logical spot would be Baltimore. There was plenty of activity on the platform at Washington as the change from diesel to electric locomotive was made. MARC commuter trains were arriving from Maryland, VRE commuter trains with Seattle Sounder coaches were being shoved to the yard to await the afternoon commuter rush, and Amtrak corridor trains were bustling in and out of Union Station.

Left: MARC commuter engine # 53 serves as switcher at Washington Union Station as it prepares to take the Silver Meteor's Miami to Washington P42 engine to the yard.
Right: One of Amtrak's few remaining Heritage dining cars on the Silver Meteor at Washington.

Left: Viewliner sleeper Cape View on the Silver Meteor at Washington.
Right: A southbound Acela Express arrives in Washington.

Left: A Virginia Railway Express Sounder train set seen at Washington, DC.
Right: A Swedish AEM-7 electric engine prepares to couple up to the Silver Meteor in Washington.

After a quick jaunt up the Northeast Corridor it was soon time to detrain in Baltimore at 9:45am. With a couple of hours to kill, I left my luggage with a red cap and headed out for a ride on Baltimore's light rail system. A $3.20 roundtrip ticket would allow a ride in whichever direction I desired and I selected the northern route toward Timonium since I had previously ridden much of the line to the south. A light rail shuttle train operates from the lower level of Baltimore's Penn Station and takes about two minutes to deposit riders at the Mt. Royal transfer stop.

Baltimore Light Rail trains seen at Mt. Royal Station

A southbound CSX intermodal train is spotted from the overlooking platform at the Mt. Royal light rail stop.

Baltimore Penn Station

The Timonium route passed through some interesting scenery that was less urban that expected and I managed to ride approximately 3/4 of the way to Timonium before turning back to ensure making it back in time for Amtrak train # 51. The westbound Cardinal departed at 12:05pm as I settled into my roomette aboard sleeper Beach View.

An AEM-7 engine leads the westbound Cardinal into Baltimore.

Since the sleeper was on the rear of the train, there was a chance for a good view of the high speed Northeast Corridor from the rear window. Back in Washington, I had a chance to people watch as an interesting collection of passengers including a young man dressed in a Civil War soldier costume, an Amish man and his little boy wearing matching straw hats, and a young woman in punk rock attire boarded the coaches two cars ahead of my sleeper.

The rear of the Cardinal's Viewliner sleeper offers a great view of the Northeast Corridor and passing trains such as this northbound MARC commuter train.

Amtrak switch engines seen at Washington, DC.

Departing Washington I headed to the dinette car for lunch. There were only two choices for sleeper passengers so I selected the turkey sub which was fairly good and came with a few potato chips.

Sleeper Beach View brings up the rear of the Cardinal at Washington.

Lunch in the dinette car consisted of two choices.
A turkey sub and a few chips comprised this meal.

This was a letdown from the full dining on the Silver Meteor and for the first time ever I was advised that desert would cost extra for sleeper passengers thus I declined. The Washington skyline and the trip across the Potomac River remain among my favorite views as the railway hugs the edge of the capitol district and skirts past the Jefferson Memorial.

The Washington Monument and Jefferson Memorial are two of the sights visible from passing trains as they cross the Potomac River. The bridge in the foreground is the Washington Metro Yellow Line.

The Norfolk Southern mainline branched off from CSX just south of Alexandria and soon we were leaving the suburbs behind and entering a rolling region of woods and farms. The Cardinal left the NS iron at Orange and joined the former Chesapeake & Ohio line now operated by the Buckingham Branch Railroad, a short line that leases the route from CSX. Our speed dropped noticeably and the tracks were definitely bumpier until Gordonsville, VA. Our 4:05pm station stop in Charlottesville saw a large amount of boarding passengers.

The westbound Cardinal pauses at Charlottesville, VA.

This station is served by Amtrak's Cardinal and Crescent which stop at platforms on opposite sides of the station building. The Crescent's Norfolk Southern line was crossed on a diamond just west of the depot then we cut a path through the grounds of the University of Virginia. A quick glimpse of one of my favorite lodging establishments, the Boars Head Inn, signaled the start of our scenic climb up the Blue Ridge Mountains.

The twisting climb provided views of the Shenandoah Valley nestled well below the railway and rock cuts shimmering in an afternoon rain. By 4:45pm the Cardinal crested the mountains at Blue Ridge Tunnel and headed toward a meet with its eastbound counterpart just after 5pm near Staunton.

Left: A tunnel recedes behind the Cardinal as seen from the Beach View's rear window.
Right: The Staunton, VA station. Note the old Western Maryland caboose at left.

Clifton Forge, VA, a crew change point.

Dinner in the dinette was surprisingly good and I was pleased with my selection of braised beef, carrots, mashed potatoes, and salad. Dessert was included with dinner. The magnificent views from the window kept coming as I spied a wild turkey, marveled at the beautiful golf course at White Sulphur Springs, and enjoyed a beautiful sunset as the train twisted through the New River Gorge.

Sleep came easily as we left Charleston, WV at 10:25pm and once more the top bunk proved to be comfortable. I awoke briefly as we crossed the Ohio River entering Cincinnati at 3:00am then nodded off again until about 6:00am. There was just enough time to dress before we arrived at Indianapolis at 6:20am, 19 minutes early.

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The Indianapolis Amtrak station is built directly behind historic Union Station and the trains actually stop on tracks elevated above the Amtrak/Greyhound station. I called the Omni Severin Hotel upon arrival and soon was greeted by the hotel courtesy van. I was amazed to soon discover that the hotel was a mere block and a half from the station; however, the ride was welcomed since I had fairly heavy luggage. Surprisingly, our hotel room was ready which allowed me to relax awhile before checking out the city.

The Omni Severin opened in 1913, and its location adjacent to Union Station undoubtedly was selected to service travelers who came and went aboard the 300 daily trains serving the city in that era. New wings were added to the hotel and major renovations in the last 10 years have resulted in today's perfect blend of classic and contemporary. Our Plaza Suite accommodation was located on the 10th floor facing the front of the hotel and provided a panoramic view in three directions as the huge suite stretched the width of one of two front wings of the hotel. The view from the front windows faced the Union Station clock tower and I joked that we never needed to consult our travel clock.

The Omni Severin Hotel (left) and old Union Station in Indianapolis.
The author's hotel room faced the station clock tower.

On either side of the old station we could watch numerous CSX freight trains as well as Amtrak's Cardinal and Hoosier State. Passing from west to east, trains appeared from behind the RCA Dome (home of the Indianapolis Colts), were visible for awhile, disappeared behind the covered Amtrak station platforms, then emerged for another couple hundred yards before again drifting behind an office building. Soon they would emerge and bear either northeast or southeast at Indiana Tower. The parade of trains made the Omni rank among my favorite train watching hotels.

The Indiana Convention Center is only a block away and I took the opportunity to familiarize myself with the facilities where the International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF) would be held. The massive convention center stretches over two blocks long and is attached to the RCA Dome. After exploring the convention center I hopped a free downtown shuttle bus for a quick look at the vibrant downtown area which on this day was filled with runners and spectators taking part in the annual mini-marathon. The shuttle bus driver deposited me at the transfer stop to catch a city bus to Indianapolis International Airport where I picked up our Avis rental car then waited for the arrival of my wife and son's Delta Airlines flight. They had flown to reduce the number of school days missed and we had reserved the car at the airport rather than downtown to provide them easy transportation back to the airport the next week.

Driving the streets and expressways of Indianapolis one gets the idea that there are railroads in all directions, a fact that is evident when crossing the state aboard Amtrak. It seems as if most Indiana towns not only have tracks through the heart of town but, in fact, are crisscrossed by intersecting lines. Another impression that quickly came to my attention was that this was a clean, well planned city with a terrific downtown area. Case in point: our Omni Severin Hotel was connected to a major shopping mall which, in turn, was connected to the convention center and other downtown hotels via an enclosed skywalk which would be handy in inclement weather. A good variety of restaurants such as The Old Spaghetti Factory, Houlihan's, Steak 'n Shake, Smoky Bones BBQ, and countless others stood within a couple blocks of the Omni.

Sunday May 7 was ISEF registration and project setup day at the convention center. As adult-in-charge (the self-explanatory official ISEF term), it was my responsibility to ensure our party of six was properly credentialed and that our student finalists, John and his friend Tyler, setup their projects and were cleared to compete. Following that process, Christine, John, and I spent the afternoon and parts of the next two days sightseeing at many of the popular attractions scattered across Indianapolis Among the sights we visited were: Indianapolis Museum of Art whose outstanding collection of art included works by Paul Gaugin, Georges Seurat, Pablo Picasso, Vincent van Gogh, Mary Cassatt, JMW Turner, and many others. The museum is located on the city's north side on the former J.K. Lilly, Jr. estate which includes the Lilly House and Gardens. Indianapolis Zoo: Located on the western edge of downtown beside White River State Park which is heavily laden with attractions, the 64 acre zoo with an excellent variety of animals and a miniature train ride. Our favorite animals were a pair of massive grizzly bears, a pool of otters, bouncing kangaroos, and an aquarium where trained dolphins performed. This is a very pedestrian friendly zoo with ample shade-producing landscape and a good layout.

Indiana State Museum: The state's natural history, geology, and culture are captured in displays throughout this well organized facility which also contains an IMAX theater. Located in White River Park, the museum is convenient to other downtown attractions and to the minor league baseball home of the AAA Indianapolis Indians. The host city reception for ISEF attendees was held in the museum. NCAA Hall of Champions: Highlights each of the 23 NCAA sanctioned sports with selected memorabilia from some of collegiate athletics' shining moments. This relatively new attraction is located in White River State Park on the western edge of downtown.

Children's Museum of Indianapolis: This impressive science museum, located on the near north side of the city, is geared toward children but contains displays that will interest all ages. A realistic diorama takes visitors into a world where dinosaurs constructed of real and artificial dinosaur bones tower over the landscape while another gallery features a whimsical display of blown glass. A classic carousel, badly damaged decades ago, has been meticulously restored and today offers rides to young and old alike on one of the museum's upper floors. Railfans will enjoy the All Aboard section of the museum which displays Lionel standard gauge and American Flyer model train cars and includes two actual pieces of railroad rolling stock, the Reuben Wells steam locomotive that operated between 1868 and 1898 mainly in pusher service up nearby Madison Hill, and a red wooden Pennsylvania Railroad caboose built in 1888. Visitors may sit in the caboose and watch the countryside appear to pass by via projections viewed outside the caboose window to the accompaniment of choreographed railroad sounds. The museum was actually built around the 55 ton steam locomotive which was donated by Penn Central Railroad in 1985.

Indianapolis Motor Speedway: The famed Brickyard is located in a residential part of the city, a few miles northwest of downtown. The Hall of Fame Museum, located in the track's infeld, contains race cars dating from the early 1900s to today's aerodynamic racers. The Hall of Fame also includes trophies and other items tracing the race's history and offers a first rate gift shop as well. Admission to the museum allowed us to hike across the infield to the bleachers where we watched Michael and Marco Andretti and other drivers practice at speeds exceeding 220 mph for the Memorial Day weekend Indianapolis 500. The sound of the passing Indy cars was distinctive as they zoomed past.

Conner Prairie: A large living history museum set along the White River near the town of Fishers, IN six miles north of Indianapolis. Conner Prairie replicates three Indiana prairie settlements from 1816, 1836, and 1886 and is located on a 900 acre site. Costumed interpreters portray prairie settlers, the village doctor, innkeeper, school teacher, farmers, blacksmith, and other tradespeople. The stroll along winding paths through the woods, across a covered bridge, and past the various buildings is worth the visit especially on a pleasant spring day such as the first four days of our visit to Indianapolis.

One morning John and I had the rare opportunity for a media tour of Amtrak's Beech Grove Shops located a few miles southeast of downtown Indianapolis. We were met by Amtrak Media Relations Manager Marc Magliari who was in town for a photo shoot with The History Channel which is working on a program about the refurbishment of railroad equipment. Most of the shop buildings at Beech Grove were built in 1910 and served as New York Central's chief repair shops for decades then operated by successor Penn Central. Eventually the shops were taken over by Amtrak after its formation in 1971.

When one thinks about railroad repair shops, the thought often comes to mind that a passenger car simply goes into the shop, is repaired, and magically comes out after a few days. A drive around the property quickly dispelled the notion that repairs are simple fixes and that little else happens during a piece of equipment's stay at Beech Grove. There are several large buildings that comprise the shop complex, each with a distinct purpose. The first hint of diverse trades that are contained within the walls of Beech Grove came as we were driven between some of the shop buildings and saw several old Superliner lounge car seats stacked outside. These seats had been pulled from lounge cars that have recently been refurbished with tables at one end of each car in place of single or double seats. Later we would see workers inside one of the shop buildings in the midst of the installing wood paneling and new bathroom and shower modules in a Superliner sleeper. The windows had been removed both to expedite the job and to allow new windows to be installed in place of ones that had become badly scratched and/or cloudy.

Another shop had specialized equipment to strip faded or outdated decals from the side of equipment. The result of this painstaking process was passenger cars that looked like they had just come off the assembly line. Many of these cars (minus striping and labels) were contained in a nearby shop; among these were Superliners 34030 and 38046 whose identities were revealed only by pieces of masking tape bearing their roster numbers.

Left: A Superliner sleeper receives new bathroom modules
and other upgrades at Amtrak's Beech Grove Shops.
Right: A Superliner coach undergoes repairs while being held atop a lift at Beech Grove.

While in the shop, these cars were undergoing various repairs and/or refurbishment. Following that work they would go to the trim shop where new decals with the current Amtrak designs would be affixed. Superliner dorm sleepers 39007 and 39016 and sleeper 32063 were among the cars in this shop during our visit. Other areas of the shops handled air conditioning and refrigeration, wheel and truck assemblies, and various other mechanical issues. These trades represent the nuts and bolts of creature comforts such as environmental control and food storage and preparation equipment. Heritage dorm car 2501 and a trio of Horizon coaches were being serviced in this area.

The interior of a Horizon coach minus seats.

Of course the centerpiece to any repair facility is the body shop where accident damage is fixed. This was certainly true at Beech Grove as we noted Viewliner sleeper 62031 Prairie View sitting hoisted on a lift so that minor end damage could be repaired. Close by, Superliner lounge car 33021 was in the process of more extensive work to repair sideswipe damage along the end of one of its sides.

Viewliner sleeper Prairie View is on a lift while minor damage is repaired.

Another Superliner lounge, number 33017, was undergoing repairs that had sidelined it in 1998. Surfliner car 6902 was being treated for damage from a fire and a host of other cars were in the process of having various other ills repaired. Another section of the body shop was dedicated to working on locomotive damage. P42 number 189 which had already been repaired was adorned with a new coat of reformulated paint that Amtrak hopes will resist fading.

P42 # 189 displays a new paint job at Beech Grove.

A couple bays over, P42 number 54 displayed a missing side piece damaged as a result of rolling over in an accident. A new piece was being fabricated to replace the damaged side and a new nose piece was being readied for installation; soon the engine should look as good as new.

P42 # 54 is under repair for wreck damage.

The dedicated work of shop personnel is truly amazing as we observed equipment with major problems that in the near future will grace the rails without bearing signs of past misfortune.

A center cab switcher bears Amtrak's current logo at the Beech Grove Shops.

The back lot out behind the shops, meanwhile, contained rows of stored baggage cars with maladies such as leaky roofs and many Superliners bearing significant wreck damage, much of which is unlikely to ever be repaired. Among the worst of these were sleepers 32035, wrecked in the 1999 Bourbanois, IL City of New Orleans grade crossing accident, and 32061 which was wrecked in the Hyder, AZ sabotage of the Sunset Limited in 1995 and coach 34120 from the AutoTrain derailment in Crescent City, FL in 2002. These cars testified to the importance of awareness around the railroad as a large number of train accidents involve motor vehicles at grade crossings that would have been prevented had their drivers yielded to the train.

Left: Sleeper 32061 has been stored at Beech Grove
for several years as evidenced by its old striping.

Beginning Tuesday afternoon the remainder of our stay in Indianapolis would be filled with ISEF activities. The huge convention center was filled with over 1,470 student finalists plus parents, regional science fair directors, and local volunteers as the opening ceremony officially kicked off the fair on Tuesday night. All day Wednesday nattily-attired finalists were interviewed by various judges as they competed for scholarships and prizes in 14 science categories. Finalists had come from all 50 states and 47 countries and, in the span of mere minutes outside the exhibition hall during lunch break, one could encounter students from China, Malaysia, Canada, Russia, and the United Kingdom among other nations. That evening students had a chance to relax from the pressure packed day as a student mixer was held at historic Union Station, located between the Omni Hotel and the current Amtrak station. The old station has found life as a social center used for special events, joining Cincinnati Union Terminal as classic stations on the Cardinal route that have parlayed other uses into their role in the 21st century.

Students from 47 countries participated in the Intel ISEF.

Thursday was the day for two awards ceremonies and the event treated John well as he was awarded a college scholarship and later won a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) award carrying a paid summer internship. Friday continued the flurry of activity with the final awards ceremony then project teardown, a time of dismantling and boxing the student projects for shipment home. We concluded the day with a visit to another downtown restaurant then enjoyed the last of our seven wonderful nights at the Omni Severin Hotel.

The author's son, John, displays his NOAA award
at the International Science and Engineering Fair in Indianapolis.

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Saturday May 13 came all too early as the alarm clock woke me at 5:30am. Train # 51, the westbound Cardinal, was right on time and soon I climbed aboard for the 6:50am departure. This part of the trip was made in coach and I was surprised to see the train running almost full. The railway passed behind the RCA Dome and I was filled with a touch of sadness as I stole one last glance at the city we had called home for a week. Ten minutes later we passed Indianapolis International Airport where Christine and John would board a Delta flight at 1:00pm. They would make a connection in Atlanta and be home in Florida well before I would depart from Chicago. Meanwhile my best friend Eric Harms was heading west toward Chicago on train # 29, the Capitol Limited, for an afternoon of railfanning and a joint return trip to Washington that had been the product of coincidence rather than advance planning.

The five car Cardinal made steady progress through a damp and overcast morning and business was good as we boarded over 60 passengers in Lafayette. The maze of rail lines nearing Chicago made for interesting viewing and we reached the Windy City ten minutes early at 10:30am. Eric's Capitol Limited had arrived with a reasonable amount of tardiness which left us time to take a Metra commuter train out to Naperville on the BNSF line which also is served by Amtrak's California Zephyr, Southwest Chief, and Illinois Zephyr. A $5.00 weekend pass was a bargain even if we couldn't sample other lines this time around. After a ride of just over an hour we stepped off the train at Naperville for a one hour layover. During that time we saw a trio of hotshot freight trains pass as well as a BNSF highrailer en route from a work zone. A triple meet with a westbound BNSF freight and the westbound California Zephyr just east of Naperville highlighted the return trip which ended at Chicago Union Station at 3:48pm.

The Metropolitan Lounge in Chicago Union Station was, as always, a great place to wait between trains. The lounge was expanded about a year ago and is far less crowded than before and has a luggage check room built into the facility rather than down the hall. As this was a Saturday, the station and the lounge itself were less crowded than normal.

First class passengers were permitted to board train # 30 at 4:55pm and we located our accommodations in Superliner sleeper 32054 which was one of the cars that had recently been through the Beech Grove refurbishment. The hallways and the interiors of the deluxe bedrooms featured attractive wood paneling while the showers and bathrooms were of the new redesigned style which results in less crowded conditions. The shower stall curtain has been replaced with a curved glass door which provides more room. This replicates a trend we have recently noticed in hotel rooms which feature curved shower curtain rods which enlarge usable space in the shower. Other improvements in the shower room included more space for changing clothes and the installation of a seat in the shower itself. The only negative was the failure of the shelf designed to hold one's soap and shampoo as both slipped out onto the floor quite easily. Overall the car made a favorable impression as it was our first ride in one of these updated cars.

Left: The new bathroom compartment on sleeper 32054.
Right: New cherrywood panelling in sleeper 32054.

Left: A glass shower door is new to sleeper 32054.
Right: A refurbished deluxe bedroom in sleeper 32054.

Our scheduled 5:35pm departure time passed and word came that we were waiting for the late arrival of the Texas Eagle. One car to the rear the dining car crew displayed no sign of starting meal service and the steward finally appeared at 6:35 to offer an 8:30pm dinner reservation. Since the train enters the eastern time zone shortly after departure, this would translate to a 9:30pm dinner which would be way too late. Why the steward did not open the diner earlier was annoying enough but we also were amazed that he offered the first choice of sittings to people in the forward sleeper who most likely were the last ones to reserve their trips. Fortunately car attendant Brian Perry was on the ball, offering to bring dinner to the room. This was perhaps fitting as my first experience with the new "Simplified Dining" came in a simplified setting. My meal was acceptable but somehow the intent of the simplified dining was lost in the execution.

The Texas Eagle eased in at 6:42pm and by 6:55 we were underway. Once we passed Porter, IN the parade of freight trains began with six meets counted in 30 minutes. A peak down the hall revealed passengers still dining at 11:00pm and soon the hapless steward called the conductor on the intercom, disregarding those who might have turned in for the night. The night's sleep was great and I was barely cognizant of the stops at Cleveland and Pittsburgh but slept through the rest of our stops.

Morning found us descending Sand Patch grade and twisting through beautiful mountain scenery in southern Pennsylvania. The rivers that paralleled the railroad through this territory glimmered in the morning sunlight as the Capitol Limited made its way through West Virginia and Maryland. Historic Harpers Ferry remains one of the most scenic points on the route as the Civil War era town is nestled below a hillside along the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers. This is the scene of the most memorable Baltimore & Ohio Railroad publicity picture which shows a B&O streamliner exiting a tunnel onto the Potomac River bridge.

The final hour of the trip passed through quaint towns and into increasingly urbanized areas until we pulled to a stop in Washington at 1:35pm. As I strolled along the platform a familiar face appeared - former Amtrak President David Gunn. A brief exchange of pleasantries ensued before it was time to head upstairs to the Club Acela to await my next train. It was time to say farewell to Eric as he had a close connection to an Amtrak regional train that would take him northward to Baltimore and on to Schenectady, NY the next day.

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My layover in Washington passed very quickly as there was just enough time to grab lunch then check my e-mail and relax in the Club Acela. The Club Acela and Metropolitan lounges in Washington, Philadelphia, New York, Boston, and Chicago are excellent perks awaiting first class passengers as they contain comfortable seating, complimentary snacks, television, private restrooms, and a place to store luggage while one does some sightseeing in the city or browses around the station. Many also offer Internet access and all provide advance boarding.

The southbound Silver Star, train # 91, was boarded at 2:55pm and by 3:15pm we eased out of Union Station following the switch from electric to diesel engine. Heavy rain from a storm moving in off the Atlantic Ocean and Chesapeake Bay fell as we breezed through Quantico,VA . The rain induced a catnap as the train's pace slowed for a freight train running ahead of us. First seating for dinner was called at 5:00pm and, as is customary for me, I had secured the early reservation, a welcome change from the prior night. The diner was not very crowded which made for a leisurely meal. The menu was photocopied but still offered the traditional cooked onboard choices. As I enjoyed a Delmonico steak, baked potato, broccoli, and salad I contemplated the real possibility that this could be my last dining car meal fully cooked on the train. By the end of dinner we pulled to a stop in Richmond and my thoughts drifted back almost 35 years ago when my parents, brother, and I made a few summer trips to Richmond aboard the Seaboard Coast Line Railroad's version of this very same Silver Star. Back then the train traversed the former Seaboard route almost in entirety compared to today's mostly ex-Atlantic Coast Line routing save for the Miami-Auburndale, FL and Savannah-Raleigh segments. Back in that era the Star also served two classic stations, Jacksonville Terminal and Richmond Broad Street Station. Both were mercifully preserved, today serving as a convention center and science museum respectively. Because of those family vacations, the Silver Star has always been one of my favorite trains.

Departing Richmond train # 91 crosses a tall bridge over the James River and one can see from the boulders below why Richmond is considered the fall line for this great river.

Crossing the James River at Richmond, VA.

Steady rain pelted the train as we stopped at Petersburg and continued through the southern Virginia towns of Stony Creek, Jarratt, and Emporia. The rough looking skies continued as we pulled into Rocky Mount and NOAA weather radio issued a tornado warning for Edgecomb County, a few miles to our east. Hearing the name of that county brought to mind an Atlantic coast Line sleeping car of that name that I occasionally encountered years ago.

The Silver Star turned west at Selma, NC onto Norfolk Southern trackage for a 40 minute jaunt to Raleigh. The former Seaboard tracks directly linking Petersburg and Raleigh were torn up years ago. At 9:40pm we joined the old SAL at Raleigh and turned southward again. Sleep came easily thanks in part to the relaxing sound of rain beating against the window and once again the upper berth provided a great night's sleep.

I awoke at Jesup, GA at 6:25am, pleased that we were slightly behind schedule. This gave me enough time to dress and have a hearty breakfast before detraining in Jacksonville. This breakfast offered what really could be the last meal fully cooked onboard that I would enjoy aboard an Amtrak train. At 7:45am (55 minutes late) the Silver Star deposited me in Jacksonville.

Silver Star sleeper Forest View at Jacksonville.

My trip had been a success as I enjoyed four pleasant nights aboard Amtrak sleepers, a brief and less memorable coach ride, some commuter train riding and railfanning in Chicago, and a wonderful time in Indianapolis.

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