Texas Eagle : May 30 - June 2
For my next train trip of 2008, I decided I wanted to take a weekend to ride Amtrak’s Texas Eagle from Yuma Az all the way to Chicago Ill. I would be boarding train # 2/422 on Friday May 30 and if all went well, would be detraining in Chicago Ill on June 2. The entire train ride would be about 2400 miles and it would turn out to be my longest train trip to date.
Train #2/422 is Amtrak’s combined Sunset Limited/Texas Eagle. The way it works is, the last 2 cars of this train’s consist are thru Texas Eagle cars that get dropped off in San Antonio. A coach & sleeper make up these cars and they are always the last 2 cars on the train. On Sunday June 1, these cars would then be cut into the daily Texas Eagle train (#22) that departs San Antonio @ 7:00 AM north to Chicago.
The Sign Says It All!! : Yuma Az
The train’s arrival into Yuma was set for 7:25 PM. Of course this train never arrives on time and it ended up arriving around 10:00 PM or so. I was booked into roomette # 7 in the Texas Eagle sleeper which is the 2230 car. Tiffany would be my sleeping car attendant until San Antonio. The first thing I noticed after settling into my roomette was the general quietness of the car. I counted maybe one other person in a roomette down the hall from mine. A little bit later, Tiffany would come by to see if I needed anything. I told her I was fine and that I would call her when I needed my bed made up. I would spend the next hour or so hanging out near my sleeper’s rear vestibule. It was pretty cool to be able to look out the back of the train into the darkness of the Az desert. Of course that darkness would quickly get broken up by the coming and going of red & green signals. A short time later, Tiffany appeared in the hallway. I quickly asked her if she would make up my bed since it was getting late and I would be turning in soon. As I stood out in the hallway waiting for my bed to be made, I noticed her having a difficult time folding my roomettes seats into the bed. At one point she gave up and shot me a look as if this was nothing new. She mentioned to me that this particular sleeper always gives her headaches, that in all honesty, it should not even be in service. The problem with my seats was that one did not want to fold down all the way. I told her to not worry about it and that I would somehow manage. If it became too difficult to sleep, I would jump into the top bunk. The top bunk was a last resort really as I hate sleeping up there. I was able to manage ok though sleeping on the bottom. Basically I slept with my feet slightly elevated kind of like the way you’re told to sleep when you have an ankle sprain …. :)
The next morning I awoke with a horrendous backache. I guess it wasn’t such a good idea to sleep on that bottom bunk after all. After a quick check of the time I noticed we were running about an hour late. In a short time we would be arriving into El Paso Tx. I quickly went downstairs to shower and then decided to head off to breakfast. At breakfast I of course ordered my usual French toast & Diet Pepsi. After breakfast I started the trek back thru the coaches and back to my sleeper. Our arrival into El Paso was imminent and I wanted to get my camera ready. Here we would have the opportunity to jump off and take in some fresh air. I also wanted to take the time to journey up front so I could take pictures of our train’s consist. Since we were running late, our stop was cut to about 20 mins. After departing El Paso we quickly made our way thru town and in no time were up to track speed. Unfortunately this was not to last as some idiot decided it be a good idea to play on the tracks directly in our train’s path. This would cause us to go into emergency braking. After coming to an emergency stop our conductor jumped off to talk to the guy but the moron ended up running away. After a quick air brake test we were quickly on our way again.
Across The Border To Ciudad Juarez!
On The Approach To El Paso Tx
Train #2/422 Sits @ El Paso Tx
The rest of the day was spent relaxing in my roomette either watching DVD movies or checking out the passing Texas scenery. A little before our arrival into Alpine Tx, I decided to head off to our sightseer lounge car for a bit. Our train had a refurbished Superliner II lounge with the redone blue seats and small tables with the Amtrak logo on them. Even the downstairs area where you purchase your food/snacks was in the new style reminiscent of the Pacific Surfliner cars. You know, I have to say that these cars are nice but for some reason I have only experienced them on the Sunset Limited route.
Passing A UP Double Stack!
View From The Back Of My Sleeper!
Somewhere In Texas!
Meeting Amtrak Train #1 The Sunset Limited!
As we continued east we would soon come to the small border town of Del Rio Tx. Across the border into Mexico would be Ciudad Acuna in the state of Coahuila. At our Del Rio station stop I noticed a heavy border patrol presence. 2 border agents even entered my sleeper car. Funny thing is I didn’t see them detrain so I’m sure they got off somewhere up front.
Tiffany Stands Guard @ Del Rio Tx
La Migra!! @ Del Rio Tx
Once on the move again I decided to head off to dinner. At dinner, I was seated with a nice younger couple from Santa Cruz who were both going to visit friends in Austin. My dinner selection this night consisted of the Vegetarian Lasagna which turned out to be pretty good although a bit saucy!
After dinner I would go back to my roomette to relax until our next station stop. After a while I could hear our conductor making an announcement that we were scheduled for an on time arrival (10:25PM) into San Antonio. We had been running late the whole trip but somehow made up the time between Del Rio and San Antonio. As we continued on I noticed us passing more and more populated areas. Something told me we were getting closer to downtown San Antonio. Well sure enough, about 10:20PM our train slowing started the approach into the San Antonio Tx Amtrak Station.
The Sunset Limited would have about a 2 & a half hour layover here before continuing its journey east to New Orleans. My layover on the other hand would be a hefty 7 hours. In San Antonio our Texas Eagle thru cars act as a hotel for its passengers. After being uncoupled from the rest of the train, they are then hooked up to a portable generator. That way you still have power and the all important A/C still working. The station at San Antonio I thought was very nice. I think it was at one time used by the Southern Pacific. I spent a few hours walking up and down the platforms taking pictures (most of which didn't come out very good). At the very front of the station there is an old SP Steam Engine on display. Beyond that I noticed a nice street lined with bars and restaurants. In the past I have read that the area around the Amtrak station is pretty lousy but to be honest I thought it looked decent. On one side you had the enormous Alamo Dome, with the other sporting the aforementioned bars & restaurants. At 1:00AM the eastbound Sunset Limited departed on time from San Antonio. I would stand watch as the train slowly crawled out of town. I would soon call it a night and return to my sleeper car. The next morning a new journey would begin as train #22 Amtrak’s Texas Eagle would take me north to Chicago Ill.
Sunset Station @ San Antonio Tx
The next morning about 4:30AM I was awaken by a few sharp thuds. Our cars were in the process of being cut into the consist of train # 22. This would continue on for about a half an hour or so. After all that ruckus, I was back to sleep. When I awoke a few hours later we were slowly moving out of town. My watch read 7:10AM! Turns out we departed San Antonio right on time. On my way to shower I would run into my new sleeping car attendant, Melissa. She introduced herself and said she would be back a little later with my boxed breakfast. Unfortunately on this train breakfast is not served in the diner car departing San Antonio. The dining car staff does not join our train until Austin Tx. Once aboard their first job is to prepare lunch with lunch being the first prepared meal of the day. One other thing of note on the Texas Eagle, this train runs with a Cross Country Café car and not the regular diner car we are all used to. This car has redone tables and booths in the upstairs area. They also offer a few different meal selections then on the regular long distance trains. I was curious to see how this new system worked as I had never experienced Cross Country Café dining before. My boxed breakfast turned out to be pretty good. It came with a muffin, milk, cereal, fruit, and various other small food items. Now for some reason, after eating I totally got sleepy and decided to take a nap. I slept right thru our station stops of San Marcos & Austin. Now up and awake again I decided to hop over to the Cross Country Café car to get some lunch. When I entered, all the tables and booths were full. I was then informed that there would be over an hour wait for those wanting lunch. Upon hearing that news, I did an about-face and headed back to my roomette. Melissa looked in and asked how my lunch was. I then explained to her that the wait to eat would be over an hour. She then had a brilliant idea! I would put in my lunch order with her and she would bring it to me so I could have lunch in the privacy of my roomette. I ordered the Angus Beef Burger and within 15 mins I was enjoying not only a good lunch, but the beautiful scenery outside my window. I also noticed that the Texas desert, that I had seen just the day before, had been replaced with rolling, lush, green fields.
Lots Of Rivers To Be Found In Texas!
Water Towers Too!!
After lunch an announcement was made that we would soon be arriving at our station stop of Ft Worth Tx. Here of course we would be allowed to detrain and get some much needed air. As we entered the downtown Ft Worth area I noticed a mish-mash of tracks going every which way. I also noticed a number of UP & BNSF trains as they slowing made their way in and out of town. This of course brought down our speed considerably. In a little while our train would begin snaking its way into the Ft Worth Amtrak Depot. First thing I noticed off the train was the humidity. Man, was it sticky out there! Also on an adjacent track I noticed train #822 the northbound Heartland Flyer. This is the daily train to Oklahoma City and it is not scheduled to depart until 5:25PM. It seems like a number of people coming off our train were actually connecting to the Heartland Flyer. After a few photos in and around the Ft Worth Depot, I jumped back into my sleeper and awaited our departure.
#22 Sits @ Ft Worth Tx
Melissa Going Over Her Amtrak Manifest!!
We would now be running east to our next station stop of Dallas Tx. With us running about 2 hours late we departed Ft Worth. Now in order to get out of the depot, our train has to make a back up move that will then put us in position to jump on UP’s mainline to Dallas. After successfully backing out of the station, we would then proceed east on UP trackage the rest of the way. Now between Ft Worth & Dallas I must say that it was real slow going. Twice we had to go into a siding, once to wait for our sister train # 21 to pass and another to wait for a slow moving UP freight. This made us lose even more time. I think by the time we arrived into Dallas Tx we were running about 3 hours late. The arrival into Dallas was really spectacular! As we approached Dallas Union Station we first had to cross the Trinity River. Next we passed Dealey Plaza (where the JFK assassination took place). Finally we came to a stop at Dallas Union Station. The station sits right along side the Hyatt Regency Hotel @ Reunion Tower and at one side of that sits the Reunion Arena where the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks once played. Here in Dallas we would once again have a short break of about 10 mins. I took this time to snap some pictures of the surrounding areas. Also the Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) has a light rail line that stops here. I waiting patiently as a light rail train made its stop at Union Station. I really wanted to get a picture of their ugly yellow & white light rail vehicles.
Dallas Tx : Hyatt Regency @ Reunion Towers
#22 Sits @ Dallas Tx
DART Train @ Dallas Union Station!
Once aboard, and on the move again, our train continued its way in a north-easterly direction. Now, since dinner was by reservation only I was not going to have to wait long before being called to eat. I had settled on a time of 7:15PM. Joining me at my table was a very nice older couple heading to Milwaukee Wi. Now for dinner I decided to try the BBQ Beef Brisket. This is one of the selections that are not available on any other train. It came with a dinner roll & vegetables and I must say that it was pretty darn good! My dessert though, was even better. I had decided on a chocolate tort/truffle something or other. I mean, it was so good that I don’t recall what it was exactly, but take my word for it, my dessert was excellent! During dinner we came to our station stops of Longview Tx & Marshall Tx. In Longview I noticed quite a few people getting off. I would later overhear a fellow passenger saying that there is a connecting Amtrak bus to Shreveport La that departs from Longview. I think quite a few people were taking advantage of this bus!
Back in my room it was getting late but I wanted to stay awake until Texarkana Tx/Ar. There would be one last smoke break here and I wanted to jump off to see how the night time weather was. Well outside it was rather nice although a bit humid. After our short stop in Texarkana, we were on our way again. Melissa would soon come by to ask if I wanted my bed made up. I quickly explained to her that my last sleeping car attendant had a real tough time trying to make up my bed. She said she would give it a shot and that if my seats did not want to cooperate, she would be more than happy to move me to an empty roomette. Excellent I thought! As I stood out in the hallway I could totally hear Melissa huffing & puffing with my stubborn seats. At this moment our conductor was coming by and as he walked by the roomette he asked Melissa if she needed any assistance. She explained to him that one side of the seat did not want to go down all the way and that with his permission she would move me to another roomette. He then said “…let me get in there, let me see what I can do…!” .. Well in a matter of 15 seconds this big burly conductor had my seat down all the way. By using his weight he was able to kick in the seat and thus make it go down all the way for the first time on this trip. Amazing!! I then laughed, looked at him and said...” Man, I could have sure used you back in Yuma!!!!...”
The next morning was Monday Jun 1st. This would be my last day on the train. It had been an adventure so far and I was anxious to see how the rest of the trip would turn out! After showering I of course headed off to breakfast. There was really no one in the Cross Country Café car and thus I was able to be seated rather quickly. I would later be joined by a nice older gentleman also going to Chicago. He asked how long I had been on the train and he could not believe it when I told him I had gotten on Fri May 30th in Yuma Az! We both ordered the French toast and while waiting for our food to arrive, I noticed us arriving into St Louis Mo! The conductor made an announcement that it would still be about 15-20 mins until our train reached the station. Perfect I thought, since I did not want to have to rush thru my breakfast! After breakfast I went back to my roomette to grab my camera and to get ready for our arrival into St. Louis. Once in St Louis I noticed a ton of people getting off and on. There also seemed to be quite a bit of construction going on. I later learned that a new transportation center is being built and that Amtrak would soon stop at this new location a bit up track. Since we were still running about 2 hours late, our stop was once again cut short. With our locomotive refueled and our station work complete, the All Aboard! call was made. As our train made its way out of town we would soon cross the mighty Mississippi River! After crossing the river the one famous St Louis landmark that everybody knows finally came into clear view. The St Louis Gateway Arch is known as the "Gateway to the West" It quickly appeared on the left side of our train and since my roomette was on the right I had to snap my pictures of it from the left side. Luckily I found an empty roomette to accomplish this! The arch really is an amazing sight and I must say that finally seeing it with my own eyes was one of the highlights of this trip!
St Louis Mo Skyline!!
Before I knew it our train had crossed into the state of Illinois. Sometime after noon we came to our station stop of Springfield Ill. UP had just laid new track on this line and that work was clearly evident! In fact all Amtrak trains had to be re-routed 4 times a week to by pass this line thru Springfield. We just happened to come by on a day where NO detour was in place!
#22 Sits @ Springfield Ill
After Springfield, I decided to spend the rest of the trip in my roomette. I would spend the time getting my things ready for our arrival into Chicago. Also since it looked like we would be arriving into Chicago Union Station sometime after 4:00PM, I wanted to plan my next move. I decided that since I was going to have enough time, I would stow my bags in a Union Station locker and then, take a ride on Metra which is Chicago’s vast regional commuter rail system. After our station stop at Joliet Ill our train entered Canadian Pacific (Ex-Illinois Central) trackage for the remainder of our journey into the Chicago area. Off in the distance I could see the familiar skyscrapers of downtown getting closer. I also noticed we were running real close to Midway Airport. As we approached downtown I could see numerous rail lines running in every direction. At one point we were running up along side the CTA Orange Line. Then suddenly out my window I noticed the Chicago River come into view. This is the famous river that flows thru downtown Chicago. It is also dyed Green every year on St. Patrick’s Day! Once across the river our train slowed as it made its way ever closer to Union Station. On my right side I was able to catch a glimpse of the mighty Amtrak locomotive shops & coach yards that at one time belonged to the Pennsylvania Railroad! Then the Sears Tower came into view. This massive building is such a Chicago landmark that I’m sure everyone has seen it one time or another. Our train would slowly come to a stop beneath Chicago Union Station. My latest train trip had come to its end!
Amtrak Locomotive Shops : Chicago Ill
This Guy Was Watching Me Eat My Potbelly Sandwich!
Once off the train I headed into Union Station in search of some storage lockers. Inside the station there was a mass of people scurrying to catch their Metra commuter trains. At the Amtrak waiting area, I found some lockers where I would proceed to store my bags for the next few hours. Now I was off to the Metra ticket counter. I had decided to take a ride to La Grange Ill on the Metra/BNSF Line. I figured once in La Grange, I could hang out there for a few hours’ watching trains and hanging out. Once I got there, I could not believe the amount of trains that would fly by me as I stood out on the station platform. Every 6-7 mins a Metra train would come by. Also since a lot of the Metra trains are express they don’t all stop in La Grange. This means they really fly by! I also would count 2 Amtrak trains come by, a late eastbound California Zephyr & an on time westbound Illinois Zephyr!
Metra BNSF Line Train To Aurora!!
Another Metra BNSF Line Train!!
Amtrak's Illinois Zephyr Makes Its Station Stop @ La Grange Ill
The Last Train Of The Day!!
Since the sun was now starting to set I decided to call it a day and grab the next Metra train back to Union Station. I still had to go retrieve my bags out of the lockers and then proceed to locate my motel for the evening. The following morning, bright and early, I would be catching a Frontier Airlines flight back to San Diego thus bringing this mini-vacation to its conclusion!
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