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By Jack M. Turner

Photos by John C. Turner, Christine Turner, and the author

    On a sunny February day, the words I hoped to hear were announced at the regional science fair as the name "John Turner" was called out as winner of the Physical Sciences division.  For the third year in a row, my son would represent our tri-county region at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF) and I would have another nice train trip to anticipate, this time to Albuquerque.  
   In 2005 my family was stunned when John's name was called to travel to Phoenix for ISEF.  While he and my wife Christine had to fly due to school considerations, I was able to ride the Sunset Limited round trip.  In 2006 John again won and a trip to Indianapolis ensued.  While the family flew, I traveled to Indy on the Silver Meteor and Cardinal and returned on the Capitol Limited and Silver Star.  Now our third straight ISEF trip would allow a sample of some other Amtrak routes, this time with my son able to join me on the return trip home.  This would be our last go 'round after five years of regional and state science fairs and three years at International as John was a high school senior.  That finality also left us contemplating the "what if's" should he not be selected but when that February day came, we knew his perseverance had paid off.  With a smile on my face, I hummed the words "point me in the direction of Albuquerque", the chorus of an obscure Partridge Family tune from the 1970s.

    My trip was booked and ticketed immediately but John's subsequent selection for a major countywide academic award posed a problem as the awards ceremony started at about the time I was scheduled to board the Silver Meteor in Jacksonville.  By shuffling my plans, I could leave right after the ceremony and drive a rental car to Pensacola, then continue to New Orleans the next morning in time to catch Amtrak's City of New Orleans.  This would put me back on schedule to arrive in Albuquerque as originally scheduled.

    A last minute hotel switch to the west side of Pensacola surely saved me a half hour on my Thursday May 10, 2007 drive to New Orleans.  This would prove critical as my two hour leeway shrunk to one hour thanks to a traffic jam on the Interstate 10 bridge over Lake Pontchartrain.  Evidence of Hurricane Katrina's destruction were still apparent in the many roofless or windowless buildings dotting the city.  However, just as striking were the edifices that looked as .if nothing had ever happened.  New Orleans Union Passenger Terminal fell into the latter category yet I couldn't help thinking about the floodwaters that had swamped the station and Superdome area and the role the station played as county jail for awhile following the storm.

    For this entire trip I would enjoy the relative comfort of a deluxe bedroom and my home for the night would be Bedroom "B" in car 32028.  An on-time departure at 1:45pm was a good sign and within 25 minutes the urban scenes had been replaced by views of Lake Maurepas to the west and Lake Pontchartrain on the east.  The City of New Orleans seemed to be racing a truck pulling a mobile home northward on adjacent I-55 and we eventually passed under the mobile home at a highway overpass.  A few miles up the line, a flock of white shore birds gracefully filled the sky as train # 58 crossed Pass Manchac which connects the two lakes.

    The former Illinois Central line is now owned by Canadian National but signs of IC heritage remain at places like McComb, MS where an IC steam engine is displayed close to a station platform that still bears the Illinois Central green diamond logo.  The towns of Brookhaven and Hazelhurst conjured up memories of chocolate and orange painted IC sleepers of the same names on the City of Miami train I so often rode as a youth in south Florida.    Soon we pulled to a stop at the modern station in Jackson and I suspected a defect either with my watch or the Amtrak timetable.  We were due to depart Mississippi's capital city at 5:44pm yet it was just 4:49.  The crew advised that this was correct and that we had an efficient engineer.  After strolling the platform I had to retreat to the dining car as I had the 5:15 dinner seating.  Our lead service attendant Tiffany was very pleasant, a quality typically found among employees of the New Orleans crew base.  The meal of beef ragout, broccoli, rice pilaf, and cheesecake was very satisfactory though somewhat odd as most of the meal occurred while the train was stationary. 

The City of New Orleans prepares to depart New Orleans Union Passenger Terminal on May 10, 2007.
Lake Pontchartrain hugs the east side of the rail line.
Shorebirds take flight as train # 58 crosses Pass Manchac south of Ponchatoula, LA running parallel to I-55.
The city of New Orleans makes a lengthy stop in Jackson, MS.

    Resuming northward, we paused at Yazoo City then proceeded into the darkness as a heavy thunderstorm to the west illuminated the sky.  The rain was still heavy as we called at Memphis yet I decided to take advantage of the 30 minute refueling stop to take my first peak inside the nicely restored two-story station.  After enjoying fleeting views of Memphis, I turned in for the usual on and off sleep that seems the norm on the first night of a rail journey.  This did have its advantage, though, as I managed to enjoy the impressive crossing of the Ohio River approaching Cairo, IL at 1:50am.  

    Daybreak found the City calling at Champaign-Urbana as I headed to an early breakfast in the diner which was directly behind my sleeper.  After the stop in Kankakee (my favorite railroad town name), we steadily gained the Chicago suburbs at Homewood.  After traversing the St. Charles Air Line route then backing down from the BNSF mainline, the train eased to a stop at Chicago Union Station at 9:18am, just 18 minutes late.

    My friend Eric Gardner was waiting for me at Union Station and, after checking my suitcase in the Metropolitan Lounge baggage room, we made the short walk to the Ogilvie Transportation Center, located on the site of the old Northwestern Station.  Northbound Metra train # 163 departed at 10:30am for the 1 hour 25 minute trek to Crystal Lake, northwest of Chicago.  During the years I have used the time between Amtrak connections to ride the various commuter routes radiating from the Windy City and this former C&NW line was one of only three lines I had yet to traverse.  The route proved to be very scenic as it passed through some of Chicagoland's most prosperous looking communities such as Park Ridge, Des Plaines, Mount Prospect, and Fox River Grove.  

    One of the advantages of riding Metra trains is that most make a short stopover at the end of the line before the same trainset returns to Chicago.  The 15 minute turn allowed us just enough time to visit a deli adjacent to the Crystal Lake depot, pick up lunch, and board the southbound train.  Departure came at 12:10pm and by 1:35pm we were back at Ogilvie.

METRA Train # 613 has just discharged passengers at Crystal Lake and moves north to cross over to the southbound track for the return to Chicago.

    The westbound Southwest Chief departed Union Station at 3:15pm and I was ensconced in Bedroom "D" in sleeper 32109 "South Dakota".  The western suburbs along the old Burlington line flashed by, bearing a striking resemblance to the suburbs along the Crystal Lake line.  A typically tardy eastbound California Zephyr was met west of Galesburg at 6:10pm just before Cameron Jct. where the Southwest Chief veers off from the Denver route.  By this time I was well into a baked chicken dinner in the dining car.

    Just before 7:00pm we crossed the Mississippi River as a BNSF hopper train snaked along the river's west bank heading toward Ft. Madison, Iowa.  Evidence of recent flooding was illuminated by small lights outside farms as we passed through southeast Iowa in the darkness.  Traveling alone in a deluxe bedroom provided the perfect opportunity to ponder the changing sights I was viewing as train # 3 navigated a series of slow orders induced by the recent weather problems.  I watched for the crossing of the Missouri River then was sound asleep before Kansas City. 

A BNSF hopper train follows the bank of the Mississippi River as seen from the Southwest Chief's crossing of the Mississippi entering Ft. Madison, IA on May 11, 2007.
The setting sun reflects off the Southwest Chief at Ft. Madison.
A surprise spotting in the rail yard at Ft. Madison...a Mexican visitor.
An inviting river crossing in Iowa.
Sunset over Iowa farmlands.
The dining car between meal sittings.

    I slept through several stops in Kansas before waking at 6:30am in Dodge City.  While we were in Lamar, Colorado, my wife and son were boarding a jet in Florida; they would reach Albuquerque a couple hours ahead of me.  Just west of LaJunta, the snow capped Rocky Mountains appeared, providing a scenic panorama for the next hour.  Departing Trinidad the Southwest Chief began its 40 minute climb up Raton Pass to Raton Tunnel, highest point on the old Santa Fe line and dividing point between Colorado and New Mexico.

    The route through New Mexico is one of my personal favorites as the rails pass many interesting geologic formations such as Wagon Mound, Starvation Peak, and Apache Canyon while offering vistas of several indian pueblos and broad views of  mountains to the west.  Arrival into Albuquerque came 7 minutes late at 4:17pm and Christine and John were there to pick me up.    

Private cars on the rear of the Southwest Chief at Raton, NM.
The unique Raton station.
LaCastinada, an old Harvey House hotel and dining room adjacent to the station in Las Vegas, NM.
Wagon Mound, so named for its similarity to a prairie schooner during the pioneer era.
The train snakes around a double horseshoe curve near Chapelle.
The opposite side of the train during the horseshoe curves.
The Southwest Chief looks nice trailing a dome car.
Remains of a freight derailment at Glorietta Pass.
Late spring rains left running streams across New Mexico.
Windows on private dome car 800148 "Warren R. Henry" are washed during the stop in Albuquerque.  The Grand Luxe Express (former American Orient Express) stands on an adjacent track.


    Our home for the next week would be the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Albuquerque, a beautiful hotel conveniently located just a few blocks from the Amtrak station.  The hotel was right across the street from the Albuquerque Convention Center where the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF) was held.  The view from our room's window overlooked the convention center and a civic plaza with the mountains in the background.  Passing trains could be seen passing behind the convention center once we knew where to look.

    Over 1,500 high school students representing 50 countries convened in Albuquerque to display their projects and compete for thousands of dollars in scholarships and cash awards at ISEF.  After three trips to ISEF I still am amazed by the sight of so many well-behaved students dressed in their finest business attire.  During the week they would enjoy fun activities ranging from a souvenir pin exchange to a series of dinners and student mixers before getting down to the business of presenting their projects to the judges.  Judging day found them facing up to 20 or so judges and the final two days of the fair were highlighted by three awards ceremonies.  The event was a success for John as he won three awards including 4th place in the Earth and Planetary Sciences category.  When one considers the worldwide competition, this is quite an accomplishment.  Along with making new friends, John was thrilled to be judged by Dr. Harrison Schmitt, one of the last two men on the moon during Apollo 17 and later to meet retired space shuttle astronaut Mike Mullane.  For information about the science fair, visit

    Sightseeing also was on the ticket as we visited some of the city's sights such as the University of New Mexico, the zoo, the International Balloon Museum where the annual balloon festival is held, Old Town, the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science, and an Albuquerque Isotopes AAA minor league baseball game. Isotopes Park is a new, family-friendly stadium with a beautiful view of Sandia Mountain behind the outfield fence.  Albuquerque's central location also made it easy to make a day trip to Taos, high up in the snow-capped mountains and another day trip west to Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona.  The drive west on I-40 basically paralleled the old Santa Fe Railroad main line and we watched many freights pass along with the eastbound Southwest Chief.  The national park provided panoramic views of the painted desert, ancient petroglyphs, and colorful petrified logs.  One of our surprise discoveries was that the BNSF mainline cuts through the park and passing freights were visible from both a highway overpass and an elevated overlook deep in the park.

The International Science and Engineering Fair opening ceremony included the popular International Shout-Out where a student from each nation leads his or her delegation in a brief cheer.
Students from Malaysia display native attire at ISEF's open house day.

The author's son John Turner and his friend Kali Shepherd pose with the mascot of a local sports team.

The author's son John poses beside his project during public visitation day at the 2007 Intel International Science and Engineering Fair
Several finalists from the Earth and Planetary Sciences category gather during a break in judging at ISEF.
The high road to Taos passed numerous snowy mountains.
The eastbound Southwest Chief as seen from Interstate 40 en route to Petrified Forest National Park.
Eastbound BNSF freight near Gallup, NM along historic US 66.
Another BNSF freight along Route 66 near Gallup.
An eastbound freight passes through Gallup as seen from the parking lot of McDonalds during a lunch break.

An eastbound BNSF freight cuts through Petrified Forest National Park.

Petrified Forest National Park.
Petrified Forest National Park.
Petrified Forest National Park.
A petrified log at Petrified Forest National Park.
Ancient petroglyths at Petrified Forest National Park
A westbound BNSF stack train passes through Petrified Forest National Park
International Balloon Museum in Albuquerque.
One of the interesting pieces of the International Balloon Museum's collection is Stratolab, which carried military men into the stratosphere to conduct high altitude experiments before the first astronaut flew.
American Meteorological Society award winners at ISEF.  The author's son is shown on the screen above the winners.
John Turner is presented the NOAA "Taking the Pulse of the Planet" award.

The author's son is joined on stage by other award recipients at the ISEF Grand Awards Ceremony.
John Turner displays his award.

Former space shuttle astronaut Mike Mullane meets John during a break in ISEF activities.  Mike Mullane is the author of an excellent book "Riding Rockets, The Outrageous Tales of a Space Shuttle Astronaut"

    An early morning trip on the new Rail Runner Express commuter train one day was another highlight of our visit.  Train # 503 left the downtown Albuquerque station at 6:49am and followed the route of the Southwest Chief for over 20 minutes until splitting off at Isleta Pueblo and turning toward Belen.  Along the way we viewed the abandoned Santa Fe shops in south Albuquerque, crossed the Rio Grande River, and met an eastbound Rail Runner Express on a new concrete tie siding at the indian pueblo before arriving in Belen at 7:36am. 

    Belen is a busy servicing stop on BNSF's transcontinental mainline and the junction with the line from Albuquerque which continues south to El Paso.  Our 20 minute stop allowed time to take a good look at Rail Runner's festive paint job which depicts a roadrunner (New Mexico's state bird) on the engine with its tail feathers stretching out along the side of the two cars that follow.  The train operates in push mode to Belen and has its MP36 engine in the lead on the trip back to Albuquerque and the northern terminus of Bernadillo.  The car interiors are pleasantly decorated and, when the exit doors prepare to close, the familiar "Beep Beep" sound made by television's cartoon roadrunner warns passengers to stand clear.

    Rail Runner # 506 departed Belen at 7:58am and we literally had front row seats as the train was in "push" mode which provided a forward view out a small window ahead of the first row of seats.  As we made our way back to Albuquerque we spotted a road runner hopping across the tracks, noted a hot air balloon floating majestically over a mountain, and gazed at the mesas and other southwestern scenery that define the region.  By 8:40am we were back at the downtown Albuquerque stop which also serves Amtrak, Greyhound, and local transit.

    Rail Runner has gotten off to a solid start and plans are well underway to expand service east to Santa Fe.  A new rail line will have to be constructed part of the way and the median of I-25 was reported to be the likely routing.  During ISEF Rail Runner was used to bring students from local schools to the convention center to view the projects on public open house day which is just one of many creative uses of the commuter line.  

Northbound Rail Runner # 502 at Albuquerque.
Southbound Rail Runner # 503 pulls into Albuquerque on May 14, 2007.
Inside the upper level of a Rail Runner car.
The headrest of a rail runner coach seat.
Meeting northbound # 504 at Isleta Pueblo.
The layover at Belen, NM.
Historic Santa Fe M-190 rail equipment on a flatcar by the old Albuquerque shops.
Rail Runner passenger cars are painted with the tail feathers of the road runner depicted on the locomotive.  Here train # 506 has just arrived in Albuquerque.


    While Christine flew home, John would join me for the return as his high school classes had ended and graduation was a week away.  The eastbound Southwest Chief had arrived early and we found it waiting as we arrived at the Amtrak station.  Our sleeping car would be the same car ("South Dakota") that I rode on the trip to Albuquerque and our kindly car attendant, Henry Ford, worked my sleeper on the 2005 ISEF trip to Phoenix.   After stowing our luggage in Bedroom "B" we headed to the dining car for lunch.  I was pleased to find that Mike Apperson would be our waiter as I had been served by him on many prior trips, usually on the Sunset Limited, and have always found him friendly, efficient, and knowledgeable about rail travel.  John and I both selected the angus burger from the cycle 1 menu and we enjoyed our meal as we waived farewell to Albuquerque at 12:40pm.

    The beautiful desert scenery was accented by shimmering streams in place of dry washes as the spring was surprisingly rainy in the southwest.  After our train passed through the Santa Ana, San Felipe, and Santo Domingo pueblos, we spotted a coyote running away from the charging streamliner.  About an hour out of Albuquerque we paused at Lamy, rail gateway to Santa Fe, and interchange point with a tourist rail line to the New Mexico capital city.  Just east of Lamy the Southwest Chief passed through narrow Apache Canyon where the canyon walls are so close one could probably touch them if the windows opened.  Five minutes later we took the siding at Canyoncito for the passage of the westbound Southwest Chief which was pulled by engines number 86 and 87.  Interestingly, one of our engines was number 85.  

    Soon we made the climb to Glorietta Pass where we enjoyed broad views of the expanse comprising the foreground to the Santa Fe Mountains and Sangre de Cristo Mountains.  One of the route's signature geologic highlights, Starvation Peak, came into view before we crossed the Pecos River.  It would be 25 minutes before we passed abeam of the pyramid shaped peak.  Before passing Starvation Peak, the Southwest Chief rounded the  double horseshoe curve that was especially noteworthy back when the Southwest Chief carried express cars on the rear as well as back in the 1970s when the Southwest Limited was longer.  

    A few old semaphore signals still are operational on either side of Las Vegas, NM but their numbers continue to shrink as they are replaced when they require major repairs.  

    An original Harvey House, La Castinada, stands beside the Las Vegas station, a relic from the days when the Fred Harvey Company served meals to passengers during meal breaks and provided lodging at many points along the old Santa Fe line.  For the next several miles we laughed at the sight of herds of cattle running from our train then enjoyed our passage through Shoemaker Canyon.  A winding climb provided vistas of plains to the east and mountains framing a valley to the west.  Heavy rains could be seen in the distance as we made our way toward Wagon Mound, a geologic formation named for its likeness to an old west prairie schooner.

    A downpour pelted the train and soon the sound of hail bouncing off our sleeping car's roof interrupted a brief catnap.  Dinner was served in the diner as train # 4 called at Raton, NM at 5:25pm.  The early seating was busier than on my westbound trip yet waiter Mike Apperson was able to keep the orders coming efficiently thanks, no doubt, to a hard working cook in the kitchen downstairs.  Fifteen minutes past Raton we entered Raton Tunnel, shortly exiting into Colorado.  The downhill trek took us past the legendary Dick Wootton Ranch and into Trinidad at 6:19pm.  Running time between the tunnel and Trinidad was exactly the same as on my westbound trip a week earlier.

Sleeper 32108 South Dakota at Albuquerque on the eastbound Southwest Chief on May 19, 2007.
Apache Canyon's walls almost reach out and touch the train.
The westbound Southwest Chief at Canyoncito.
Storms build at Glorietta.
Eastbound at the horseshoe curves.
Deer run from the train between Shoemaker Canyon and Wagon Mound.
A Santa Fe sign identifies Raton Tunnel.
Another landmark is identified by the railway.

    Arrival in LaJunta was 42 minutes early at 7:31pm thanks to a generously padded schedule.  This provided ample time to watch a pair of eastbound BNSF freights overtake our train and walk in the station in a vain search for Rick Harmsen, the fictional trainmaster of my friend Eric Harms' model railroad layout of LaJunta.  At Animas Jct. BNSF's route to Amarillo branched off 20 minutes east of LaJunta and I pondered how useful it would be to have passenger service linking Denver with Dallas via that line.  Sleep overtook us as Colorado gave way to Kansas and when we awoke at 7:15am we were departing a refueling stop at Argentine Yard outside Kansas City.

    The Southwest Chief crossed the Missouri River as we dined on french toast and sausage.  At LaPlata we spotted TrainWeb's headquarters on the south side of the tracks just east of the station; unfortunately the brief stop precluded making a visit.  Our short passage through the southeast corner of Iowa found us partaking of lunch while train # 4 paused in Ft. Madison, its lone station stop in the Hawkeye State.  Crossing the Mississippi River leaving Ft. Madison provided sweeping views of the river and one could almost imagine Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn floating along on their raft.  The final four hours of our journey aboard the Southwest Chief sailed by in a blur of small Illinois towns and farms which steadily gave way to prosperous suburbs leading to a 4:05pm arrival at Chicago Union Station.

A freight train bound for Texas overtakes the Southwest Chief at LaJunta, CO.
Mike Apperson, one of Amtrak's best dining car servers.
The Mississippi River bridge east of Ft. Madison.
Boaters enjoy a Sunday afternoon on the Mississippi River.

The grand hall at Chicago Union Station.

    Two hours passed quickly in the Metropolitan Lounge and at 6:20pm sleeping car passengers were escorted to the Capitol Limited.  Once more John and I had Bedroom "B", this time in car 32068, a refurbished Superliner I sleeper.  Like the other Superliners ridden on this trip, the deluxe bedrooms now sport a chair bolted to the floor beside the window opposite the sofa.  This arrangement was better than I had expected as it permitted a forward facing view in cases such as this where the sofa faced the rear of the train.  At night the chair was a convenient spot to set a suitcase or other hand luggage.

    We were called to the diner at 7:00pm and were seated with a gentleman from Sandia National Laboratory in Albuquerque who had been a judge at ISEF.  The meal passed quickly as we recounted the past week's science fair highlights and thanked him for his company's tremendous support for the event.  Our departure had been delayed 40 minutes due to a tardy connecting California Zephyr thus the view from our window was of arriving and departing trains rather than passing scenery.

    Our progress east from Chicago was steady through Porter, IN then heavy freight traffic began to take its toll as we were trailing an eastbound freight all the while meeting multiple westbounds.  By South Bend we were 80 minutes late with more time lost as we inched eastward in stops and starts as at least ten westbound freights passed.  The Capitol Limited was over two hours late at Elkhart when we fell asleep.  I awoke briefly at Toledo to find we had lost another 30 minutes then drifted back into dreamland until 7:30am as train # 30 eased to a stop in Pittsburgh after cutting the tardiness back to two hours. There is something magical about sleeping car travel and falling asleep in one state, slumbering through another, and greeting the dawn in a third state 380 miles later.

    The former Baltimore & Ohio route across Pennsylvania is always scenic and this trip didn't disappoint as our Capitol Limited followed rivers on their courses through mountainous terrain, passed through charming little towns, descended Sand Patch Grade, and slipped through numerous tunnels.  The old depot and roundhouse in Martinsburg and the Civil War village of Harper's Ferry highlighted views across the West Virginia segment of the route.  The station stop at Harper's Ferry was particularly nice as the depot is built at the western end of a bridge over the Potomac River and our sleeper was stopped on the bridge.  Below we could see large fish swimming in the river while forested mountains provided the backdrop to the river.  Ahead stood the Harper's Ferry Tunnel leading into Maryland.  Delays due to track work pushed our Washington arrival back to 4:25pm, five minutes shy of 3 hours late.  This still left enough time to store our luggage in the Club Acela waiting room before paying a visit to some of Union Station's many shops and eateries before checking e-mail and relaxing in the comfortable first class Club Acela.  

The former B&O line across Pennsylvania and West Virginia features scenic river crossings.
The historic Martinsburg, WV station.
The depot at Harper's Ferry is right at the end of a bridge crossing the Potomac River.
Looking north along the Potomac River while the Capitol Limited is stopped at Harper's Ferry, WV.
A westbound MARC commuter train is met near Point-of-Rocks, MD on May 21, 2007.
A Virginia Railway Express leased from Seattle's Sounder commuter line at Washington, DC.

    Our layover passed quickly enough and at 6:55pm we began the last leg of our journey aboard the Crescent.  Departing Washington the Crescent follows the same route as Florida-bound trains through a tunnel then across the Potomac River to Alexandria.  Along the way observant passengers can easily spot the U.S. Capitol Building, the Washington Monument, and the Jefferson Memorial; I never tire of this view which I first saw as a high school senior in April 1972 aboard the Florida Special.  South of Alexandria, train 19 left the Florida route and joined the Norfolk Southern mainline which once hosted such trains as the Southerner, the Crescent Limited, the Piedmont Limited, and several secondary trains in pre-Amtrak years.  The route quickly takes on a rural feel despite the fact that many tony suburbs are just a stone's throw away.  
The Jefferson Memorial as seen from the Crescent.

As the Crescent crosses the Potomac River, the Washington Monument, Jefferson Memorial, and a Metro bridge are plainly visible.

    Meanwhile, John and I made our way to the dining car where we shared a table with a woman and her teenaged son from Australia.  This meal was an exercise in patience as the serving crew was disorganized and in no hurry to expedite the meal.  But with interesting company and a nice view out the window, we endured thanks in part to the milkshakes we had picked up at Johnny Rocket's in Union Station's lower level a couple hours earlier.  Our next stop, Manassas, was within a few miles of one of the most noteworthy battlefields from the Civil War and just a couple of miles later we passed the Broad Run endpoint for Virginia Railway Express commuter trains.

    The Crescent picked up a large number of passengers in Charlottesville, the home of Thomas Jefferson's Monticello and the lovely University of Virginia.  Once more my memory traveled back to the 1970s when my father and I would take a few minutes during family vacations to watch the Crescent and other trains stop at Charlottesville's Union Station.  Today this remains one of the few stations other than those in big cities to be served by overnight passenger trains on intersecting rail lines as the Amtrak's Cardinal stops at a platform on the opposite side of the depot.

    We viewed the moonlit mountains from the window of Bedroom B in Viewliner sleeper "Patriot View" as the Crescent snaked its way along its curvy route toward Lynchburg and points south.  The former Southern Railway line provided a smooth sleep inducing ride as we snoozed through North and South Carolina.  Our car attendant made the promised wake up call as we departed Toccoa, Georgia and soon we made our way to the dining car for breakfast.  The end of our rail journey came at 8:35am, a tad over 20 minutes late, as the Crescent arrived in Atlanta.  Peachtree Station is a prime example of doing more with less as this station seemed small even back in the late 1960s when my dad and I visited there to watch Southern Railway's streamlined Crescent on an icy January day.  Back then this was a suburban station as spacious Terminal Station and Union Station still offered a downtown stop for the few remaining passenger trains serving Atlanta.  With Peachtree Station being the city's lone depot under today's Amtrak, crowds could easily tax the station's capacity, however, creative remodeling years ago yielded more waiting room space.  Expansion is out of the question as the station is located above the railroad tracks and sits alongside busy Peachtree Street, hemmed in by the junction of I-75 and I-85.

Breakfast time in the Crescent's dining car north of Atlanta.

    The Avis car rental office on Courtland Street provided transportation from the train station and shortly we were on our way home to Florida.  After ISEF trips to Phoenix, Indianapolis, and Albuquerque, our final science fair trip ended with a form of symmetry as the 2008 Intel ISEF will be held in Atlanta.  Sadly, John's competitive days are over as he graduated from high school a few days after we returned home.  Fortunately, there are many other destinations that will summon us aboard Amtrak in the future.

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