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Silver Meteor - Ft. Lauderdale to New York

Silver Meteor - Fort Lauderdale to New York   February 25, 2008

By Daniel Chazin,

    It’s 8:29 a.m. on Monday, February 25, 2008, and I’ve just arrived at the Amtrak station in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, where I will be boarding Train #98, the Silver Meteor, on my way to New York.  

    This is the culmination of a week-long trip to Florida.  Last Tuesday night, I flew down to Fort Lauderdale on Continental Airlines, taking NJ Transit to the airport from the Ramsey Route 17 station.  On Wednesday afternoon, I went kayaking in Key Largo, and on Thursday and Friday morning, I attended a meeting  at the National High Adventure Sea Base of the Boy Scouts of America in Islamorada.  Friday afternoon, I drove to Boca Raton, where I spent the weekend with my cousins Malka and Joel.  Yesterday, I covered nearly the entire Tri-Rail line in a four- hour round-trip, and then had a delicious dinner with my friend George at the Grill Time restaurant in Boca Raton.

    This morning, I first had to return my rental car and then get to the Amtrak station.  I had rented the car from an Enterprise location in southern Fort Lauderdale, about three miles from the Amtrak station, and they had agreed to give me a ride back to the station if I returned the car there.  However, they also informed me that I could return the car to any non-airport Enterprise location in southern Florida, and I noticed that there was an Enterprise office on Cypress Creek Road, less than half a mile from the Tri-Rail Cypress Creek station.  That location was significantly closer to my cousin’s home in Boca Raton, and its proximity to the Tri-Rail station meant that I could even walk to the station, if necessary, after returning the car.

    I left my cousin’s home in Boca Raton at 7:28 a.m.  I was concerned that I might get stuck in a traffic jam on I-95, so I decided to take the parallel Powerline Road, which has a number of lights.  As a result, the ten-mile trip took about half an hour, and I made a wrong turn at an intersection near the Enterprise office.  Thus, I didn’t actually get to the office until about 8:05 a.m.  The car return was very prompt, and I was offered a ride over to the Tri-Rail station.  However, I had to wait a few minutes for the driver, and then, to my surprise, he didn’t even know where the Tri-Rail station was!  I had to direct him the short distance to the station, which is one of the few Tri-Rail stations not directly accessible from the main crossroad.  There was a confusing Tri-Rail sign near the station that pointed the wrong way and, as a result, we did not arrive at the station until 8:19 a.m.

    Having looked at the Tri-Rail schedule earlier, I knew that there were two trains that I could take: Train P615, which departs Cypress Creek at 8:19 a.m. and arrives at Fort Lauderdale at 8:26 a.m., and Train P617, which departs Cypress Creek at 8:49 a.m. and arrives at Fort Lauderdale at 8:56 a.m.  The second train would still get me to Fort Lauderdale in plenty of time to make my Amtrak train, scheduled to depart Fort Lauderdale at 9:20 a.m., but I didn’t want to take any chances, so I really wanted to catch the earlier train.

    As I arrived at the station, northbound Tri-Rail train P614, scheduled to depart from Cypress Creek at 8:16 a.m., pulled into the station.  My southbound train was not there yet, but the road access to the station is on the northbound side, and I had to cross the overpass to get to the southbound side.  I quickly gathered my luggage and walked up the escalator leading to the overpass.  As I reached the top, I saw my southbound train P615 pull into the station.  I ran across the overpass and into a waiting elevator, which immediately descended to the track level.  Once the doors opened, I ran over to the train, and succeeded in boarding it just before the doors closed at 8:22 a.m.  Had the train departed on time, I would not have made it!

    Today’s Train P615 is pulled by engine 807 and includes cars 1014 and 1002 and cab car 503.  For my short ride, I sat on the lower level of car 1002.  Somewhat to my surprise, the car was not at all full, and I had no problem finding an unoccupied group of four seats for myself and my luggage.  When we arrived at the Fort Lauderdale station at 8:29 a.m., I detrained.  Since all Amtrak trains (even northbound trains) use Track 1 at the Fort Lauderdale station, that being the track adjacent to the station building, I was exactly where I needed to be to board my Amtrak train.  I put my luggage down at a bench outside the station and walked inside, where I noticed a line of about ten people waiting for the agent.  I was glad that I had already obtained my ticket from a machine at the Hollywood station on Friday (although the Fort Lauderdale station also has a ticket machine, and there was no line for the machine).  It was a little more comfortable inside the air-conditioned station, but I decided to wait outside, where I could get a better view of the trains.

    At 8:47 a.m., an announcement was made that southbound Tri-Rail train P617 would be arriving on Track 2, which is normally the northbound track.  (The track change presumably took place to enable the Silver Meteor to arrive on Track 1.)  A security guard stationed on the platform then went over to each passenger, inquired whether they were traveling on Amtrak or Tri-Rail, and told the Tri-Rail passengers that they needed to head over to the other platform.
    First, though, northbound Train P616 arrived on Track 2 on time at 8:50 a.m.  It consisted of an engine and only two cars – a coach and a cab car.  After Train P616 departed, I walked down the platform and snapped a picture of the baggage loaded on a cart waiting to be put onto the Silver Meteor.  Immediately afterwards, the Amtrak agent who was waiting with the baggage came over to me.  He said that he noticed that I was taking pictures, and that they now have a policy that anyone who is taking pictures must present ID.  I showed him my driver’s license and also my Amtrak ticket, and he said that the sleepers would be in the front of the platform.  The whole incident took only about 30 seconds, and the agent was friendly and courteous (and did not stop me from taking pictures, once I showed him the ID).

    Then, at 9:01 a.m., southbound Train P617 arrived on Track 2.  I noticed that the front of the train looked a little different than usual, and then I realized that this train was made up of three DMU cars!  These cars, manufactured by Colorado Railcar, are the only newly-built DMUs in regular service on a railroad in the United States.  I had hoped that they might be on the train that I took yesterday, but the consists of both trains that were operating yesterday on Tri-Rail were standard equipment.  Now that I saw the equipment on Train P617, I almost wished that I had missed the earlier train, so that I would have had the opportunity to ride the DMUs.  But at least I got the chance to see them, and I took several pictures.

    In the meantime, I sat down on a bench on the platform, took out my computer, and started writing this travelogue.  About 9:15 a.m., anticipating the imminent arrival of our train, I put the computer away.  But then, at 9:19 a.m., an announcement was made that Train 98 has not yet departed the Hollywood station and was running about ten minutes late.  It was also stated that another announcement will be made when the train departs Hollywood.  So I took out my computer again and awaited the announcement.

    No further announcement was ever made, though.  At 9:32 a.m., a woman sitting next to me reported that she saw a light in the distance, indicating an approaching train, and the Silver Meteor pulled into the station at 9:34 a.m.  It was pulled by engines 1 and 514 and included a 1700-series baggage car, three Viewliner sleepers, a diner, an Amfleet lounge car and four Amfleet II coaches.  I walked down the platform and boarded the second sleeper, Palisades View (#62028), where I would be occupying Room #4.  Our stop in Fort Lauderdale lasted for four minutes, and when we departed at 9:38 a.m., we were 18 minutes late.
    Soon, the conductor came by to collect tickets.  While collecting the ticket from the woman who was traveling with her husband in Room #5 (one room behind me, on the opposite side of the car), I heard her complain to the conductor that her southbound trip on Amtrak on February 13th had been a “horror.”  She asked the conductor whether she could obtain “consolation or anything” to make up for the unpleasant trip!  (Subsequently, she told me that the train was about five hours late on the way down, and that the dinner meal that was served to passengers coming into Miami was hardly edible.)

     South of the Cypress Creek station, we switched to the northbound track (the remaining three Amtrak/Tri-Rail stations that we will be stopping at have the station buildings on the northbound side), and I watched as we zoomed through the Cypress Creek station at 9:45 a.m.  Since the conductor mentioned that the dining car would be closing at 10:00 a.m., I now headed to the diner for breakfast.  The diner, #8531, is an ex-CBQ Heritage car that is over 50 years old, but the interior has been completely reconditioned, and it looks like a new car from the inside.  I was seated opposite a woman who is a lawyer in Argentina and came to the United States to visit her family in Miami and her boyfriend in Savannah.  She was taking the train to Savannah, and commented that she paid $144 for the round trip, having made her reservation just yesterday.  She also mentioned that she boarded the train in Miami and that, for some reason, the train departed Miami 20 minutes late.

    I was promptly served my Continental breakfast, which included Rice Krispies, a fresh banana, orange juice, coffee and yogurt.  (Actually, I had eaten breakfast before leaving my cousins’ house earlier in the morning and was not particularly hungry; I decided to eat a second breakfast in the diner mostly for the experience of eating another meal on the train.

    During breakfast, we stopped at Deerfield Beach and Delray Beach.  Quite a few passengers boarded during our four-minute stop at Deerfield Beach, which is a manned Amtrak station (it also was quite familiar to me, as it was the point of departure yesterday for my ride on Tri-Rail).  But only about 15 passengers boarded at Delray Beach, where the train stops at the new Tri-Rail station (the original Seaboard Air Line station is still standing but is no longer used), and there is no Amtrak agent.  The platform at Delray Beach is not long enough to accommodate the entire train, and the sleepers and diner extended beyond the front end of the platform.  (Subsequently, I noticed the conductor carrying a suitcase through the dining car; it is possible that some of the passengers who boarded at Delray Beach were sleeping car passengers who had to walk through the train to reach their accommodations.)

    About 10:20 a.m., I said goodbye to my dining companion and walked to the back of the train.  On the way, I passed through the lounge car, and noticed that there were copies of the New York Times, as well as several other newspapers, on several tables.  What a nice touch, I thought – until I looked carefully and noticed that the New York Times was from Saturday, February 9th (the other newspapers were even older).  How these outdated newspapers got here, I’m not sure, but I found it rather bizarre that someone took the trouble to stock the lounge car with outdated newspapers!

    I then walked through the coaches and found that there were passengers in all four of the coaches, although only the first coach was nearly full.  I was glad to see that there were no baggage or freight cars at the rear of the train, which permitted me to look out of the back at the now-double-tracked CSX line.  I returned to my room prior to our arrival at the West Palm Beach station.

    We pulled into the West Palm Beach station at 10:33 a.m.  I stepped off the train here and walked down the platform to record the number of the baggage car.  I had explored this station on my Tri-Rail trip yesterday, and noticed that the original waiting room is used as a Greyhound bus terminal, with Amtrak relegated to the former express room at the south end of the station.  Today, I just took a few pictures.  When we departed West Palm Beach at 10:37 a.m., we were 20 minutes late.

    Now that I had the numbers of all of the equipment on the train, I entered them in my database and checked my previous connection to these cars.  Engine 1, of course, has significance as the lowest numbered P-42 Amtrak engine, and that engine has twice been on Amtrak trains that I’ve ridden.  Interestingly, the first time, when it was on the Capitol Limited that I rode on June 29, 1997, it was coupled to engine 2!  Engine 514 is one of the 20 P-32 engines (originally known as “Pepsi Can” engines, for the color scheme in which they were originally painted) that Amtrak acquired from GE in 1991.  Until recently, they have primarily been used for switching and for road operations in the west.  I have ridden behind these engines only nine times, and never previously in the east.  I did ride behind engine 514 on the Southwest Chief on July 29, 1996.  Coach 28011 was on the Silver Meteor the first time I took Amtrak to Florida 17 years ago, on February 4, 1991 (it must have looked a little different then, as all four coaches on today’s train have been refurbished with blue seats and an outlet at each pair of seats).

    I spent most of the next few hours in my room, listening to the scanner and following our progress on the SPV Southeast Rail Atlas.  Until we reach Winter Haven, our route goes through flat, relatively uninteresting scenery, with few settlements.  

    As we crossed the St. Lucie Canal at 11:10 a.m., the dining car steward came by to take reservations for lunch.  This is rather unusual, as the normal practice is to require reservations only for dinner, not lunch.  I asked for a 1:00 p.m. lunch sitting, and she told me that she had one spot open for that sitting and made my reservation.

    Soon, I took another walk to the back of the train, and I spent a few minutes looking out the back.  On the way, I counted about 145 coach passengers aboard, with the first two coaches quite full.  Considering that quite a few passengers should be boarding at Orlando, I would expect the train to be quite full from there north.

    Our next stop was Sebring, where we arrived at 12:06 p.m.  Sebring features an attractive, restored station building, and it is staffed by an agent.  About a dozen passengers boarded here, and the stop lasted for five minutes, perhaps because of the baggage that had to be loaded.  When we departed at 12:11 p.m., we were 27 minutes late.

    At 12:32 p.m., we passed a southbound CSX freight train, which was waiting for us on the siding at West Frostproof.  Then, at 12:50 p.m., we reached Winter Haven, where we stopped for three minutes.

    After walking through the train again, I headed to the dining car for lunch at 1:07 p.m.  Given the fact that I had been told that only one spot was available for the 1:00 p.m. lunch sitting, I had expected the dining car to be rather full.  Actually, though, there were only eight other people in the diner when I sat down for lunch, and while a few more people came in during the meal, the diner was not full at any point during my meal.

    At first, I was seated at a table by myself, but I was soon joined by a woman who was traveling in coach back to her home in Rhode Island.  She had come down to Florida to take a cruise with her children and grandchildren.  The rest of her family flew down for the cruise and flew back home yesterday, but she doesn’t fly and therefore traveled both ways by train.  She commented that her trip on the train to Florida was less than optimal, in that they ran out of food and water, the toilets didn’t work, and they arrived in Fort Lauderdale over three hours late.  She also pointed out that she would be detraining in Washington and changing there to a Northeast Corridor train that she would be taking to Kingston, Rhode Island.

    Towards the end of the meal, a family of four came in and sa down at the table opposite mine.  They lived near Washington, D.C. and took the train down to Florida and back just for the weekend.  They had spent two days at Key Largo, which they enjoyed very much, but they also said to me that they considered the experience of traveling by train to be part of the fun of the trip!  They were in a sleeper and had two roomettes for the four of them.

    At 1:39 p.m., just south of Kissimmee, we passed the southbound Silver Meteor, Train #97.  Since that train is scheduled to depart Kissimmee at 1:32 p.m., it was running on time.  Shortly afterwards, we made a five-minute stop in Kissimmee.  When we departed at 1:49 p.m., we were 33 minutes late.  Soon, I left the diner and returned to my room.

    Our trip from Kissimmee to Orlando should take only 22 minutes (measured by the southbound running time).  But we encountered a number of slow orders and had to receive permission to pass through a work area.  As a result, it took us 33 minutes to cover the 18 miles between these two stations.

    Finally, at 2:22 p.m., we pulled into the Orlando station.  I knew that we would be here for some time, so I stepped off the train and walked down the platform, taking a few pictures.  Our stop lasted for 13 minutes, and when we departed at 2:35 p.m., we were 38 minutes late.  Among the passengers who boarded in Orlando was a man traveling to Boston who occupied Room 3 in my sleeper, directly opposite my room.

    Between Orlando and our next stop, Winter Park, the train passes through a built-up area.  At one point, it follows a narrow right-of-way between commercial buildings, and after a while, it continues through a residential area.  Although this entire section of the line is double-tracked, there are frequent grade crossings, and the train proceeds for most of the distance at a very slow speed.  Thus, the timetable allows 17 minutes to cover the short distance of five miles between these stations.

    Winter Park is perhaps the prettiest station along the entire route of the Silver Meteor.  It’s not because of the station itself – the station is a relatively small modern brick building – but rather because of the station’s setting.  There are parks on both sides of the station, which is located on a rather sharp curve.  When we arrived at Winter Park, I briefly stepped off the train to take a picture, and after a three-minute stop, we departed at 2:53 p.m.

    Now that we had reached our last major stop in Florida (south of Jacksonville), I decided again to walk through the coaches and see how they filled up.  As I had figured, all four coaches were now quite full, with only a handful of unoccupied seat pairs in the four coaches.  I counted about 190 passengers in the four coaches (with a maximum capacity of about 230 passengers).  The first two coaches were particularly full, with two people sitting in nearly every pair of seats.  I was very glad that I had chosen a sleeper for this trip!

    Parenthetically, I should mention that I paid $293 for my one-way ticket from Fort Lauderdale to New York on Amtrak.  Of this amount, $190 is for the sleeper, and this represents the lowest “bucket” available.  I made my reservation about two months ago, when rooms were still available at this rate, and I delayed my departure from Florida by one day because, on the previous day, rooms were available only at a higher “bucket.”  The sleepers have been sold out for some time, but yesterday, I noticed that one room was available (probably due to a cancellation) for $470 (besides the rail fare of $115).  Interestingly, even coach seats for this train were priced at $256 for the last few days, so I ended up paying for my sleeper only $37 more than some people who waited to the last minute to book their coach seat!

    At 3:15 p.m., we passed through Sanford, once an important junction point for the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad.  Until recently, Sanford was a stop for Amtrak’s Silver Meteor, but the condition of the 1950s-era brick station had deteriorated to the point that our train no longer stops here.  Sanford, though, is still the southern terminus of the Auto-Train (which uses a separate facility located just off the main line), and I observed today’s northbound Auto-Train already loaded and awaiting its 4:00 p.m. scheduled departure.

    Two passengers, who occupied Deluxe Bedroom A in my car, boarded our train at our next stop, DeLand, and I briefly stepped off the train to take a picture (the attendant in my car has been very tolerant of my habit of getting off at intermediate stations).  The station at DeLand, which was all the way at the back of the platform, has been restored, and it seemed that a number of coach passengers also boarded here.

    Once more, I walked to the back of the train.  On the way, the dining car steward asked if I wished to make a reservation for dinner.  At this point, all sittings were open, and I chose the 7:15 p.m. sitting.  Continuing through the coaches, I found that they were now even more crowded, with about 200 coach passengers aboard.  I then returned to my room.  After our brief station stop at Palatka at 4:25 p.m., I noticed some swampy forested areas to our left – vegetation which is typical of northern Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas.

    At 4:45 p.m., the dining car steward announced over the loudspeaker that no more dinner reservations were available.  She continued by pointing out that if someone who has not made a reservation wanted to eat in the diner tonight, they could periodically stop by and see if there have been any cancellations.  Both the coaches and the sleepers were nearly full, and I would estimate that there were about 275 passengers on the train.

    I had a room on the left (west) side of the train, and as the sun began to move lower on the horizon, it started shining very brightly directly into my room.  I decided that it would be a good idea to move over to the lounge car, where I could sit on the right side of the train, and I chose a small table in the front section of the car, adjacent to the table where the conductors were sitting.  This was the first time on this trip that I had spent any significant time in the lounge car.

    I only spent about 15 minutes in the lounge car, though, as at 5:11 p.m., the lounge car attendant announced that the lounge car was closed for cleaning and restocking.  So I returned to my room and watched as we passed through the suburban area of Jacksonville.  At 5:24 p.m., we made a sharp left turn at the Honeymoon Wye (I could see our two engines from the window of my room), and after passing through the Moncrief Yard, we arrived at the Jacksonville station at 5:36 p.m.

    Jacksonville is a service stop, with the cars watered and the engines refueled, and it was also announced as a smoking stop, so I detrained, walked down the platform and into the station, and took a few pictures.  The Amtrak station in Jacksonville is a modern facility, located in the outskirts of town, and it does not lend itself to great photographs.  After about ten minutes, I reboarded the train.  

    We departed Jacksonville at 5:53 p.m. after a 17-minute stop, which is six minutes less than scheduled.  We were now only about 20 minutes late, having made up about half of our lateness. I continued writing these memoirs, and we crossed the St. Mary’s River and entered Georgia about 6:25 p.m.  The first community we pass through is Folkston, where a line that forks to the left goes to Waycross (on one of my Amtrak trips to Florida, we detoured over this line).  

    About 6:55 p.m., I walked back to the end of the train, again finding all four coaches almost completely full.  I brought along with me the latest issue of Passenger Train Journal and sat down in the lounge car for a few minutes to read an article about the passenger service operated by the Reading Lines.  We stopped at Jesup, Georgia at 7:11 p.m. and departed four minutes later.

    It was now 7:15 p.m., my assigned time for dinner, so I walked into the diner and was seated opposite a woman who was bound for Wilmington, North Carolina (I’m not sure which stop she would be getting off at).  Soon, she moved to the opposite table to talk to some women sitting there, and another couple sat down at my table.  They were from Kingston, Ontario, where the husband is a professor of medicine at a local university, and they had traveled to Orlando for a medical conference.  They explained that they would be taking Amtrak to Syracuse, where they would be picked up.  This couple has traveled extensively by train, and they had a bedroom for this trip.

    I had a prime rib dinner, which was delicious, and I spent over an hour in the dining car enjoying the meal and talking to the couple sitting on the opposite side of the table.

    We arrived at our next stop, Savannah, at 8:08 p.m., only 11 minutes late (there is some make-up time built into the schedule between Jesup and Savannah).  I might ordinarily have stepped off the train here, but I hadn’t finished dinner yet, and it was dark out.  Our stop lasted for seven minutes, and we pulled out of the station at 8:15 p.m.

    But we didn’t get very far.  Before we even cleared the station platform, we came to a stop, and we just sat there.  I wasn’t sure what had happened, so a few minutes later, I finished my dessert and returned to my room.  Turning on the scanner, I immediately heard that we were waiting on Q491, a southbound CSX freight train that immediately passed us to the left.  At 8:29 p.m., we started moving again, but then we stopped again, and we finally pulled ahead and accelerated to track speed three minutes later.  Our meet with this freight train had cost us another 17 minutes, and we were now half an hour late.
    I decided to go to the lounge car to check with the conductor as to the cause of our delay.  He confirmed that we were delayed by the meet with the freight train, but added that the dispatcher actually did us a favor by holding us at Savannah.  He explained that there are two tracks on the line north of Savannah, but the other track has a number of slow orders, so it actually saved time by routing us on the same track that the freight train was coming off of, even though we had to wait a few minutes for the freight train to clear the track.

    I returned to my room, where I made a few phone calls.  Then, at 9:16 p.m., we made a brief stop at Yemassee, S.C.  About this time, the attendant came by to make my bed.  I explained to him that I would be sleeping in the upper berth so, while I remained in the room, he was pulled down the upper berth above me and arranged the bedding for night occupancy.  I wasn’t quite ready to go to sleep, but I could remain seated down below as long as I wanted, and then just climb up to the upper berth.

    About 10:00 p.m., I decided to go to sleep.  First, though, I rearranged the bedding.  On Viewliner sleepers, the even rooms have the bed arranged with the head facing backwards.  The upper berth is designed so that the bed is about six inches wider near the head, but it is possible to reverse the bedding so that the wider head end is placed in the rear, permitting you to sleep in a forward position.  So that is what I did.  I then climbed up to the upper berth and into bed.

    It took me some time to fall asleep, and I think that I was awake until we departed from Florence.  We were 25 minutes late when we departed Charleston at 10:13 p.m., but we had made up nearly all of that time when we departed our next major stop, Florence, at 11:51 p.m. – only six minutes late.  Florence is a service stop for the Auto-Train, and during our stop, I observed the southbound Auto-Train on an adjacent track.

    Soon after we departed Florence, I fell asleep, and I believe that I slept for most of the rest of the night.  I did wake up, though, for all of our stops – Fayetteville, Rocky Mount and Petersburg.   We seemed to be losing additional time at each stop.  Thus, when we departed Fayetteville at 1:25 a.m., we were 20 minutes late, but we were 40 minutes late when we pulled out of Petersburg at 4:41 a.m.  I really enjoyed the comfort of being able to relax in my own bed, rather than having to spend the night sitting in a coach seat next to a stranger!

    There is plenty of make-up time built into our schedule, so I knew that we could easily make up 40 minutes of lateness.  But that was not to be the case.  At 5:07 a.m., a short distance south of Richmond, we came to a stop.  On the scanner, I heard that we were awaiting a signal to proceed.  But we didn’t move ahead until 6:04 a.m., having lost a full hour waiting for the signal.  (Subsequently, the conductor informed me that a freight train had gone into emergency ahead of us, and we had to wait for the freight train to move before we could proceed.)  We finally pulled into the Staples Mill Road station in Richmond at 6:25 a.m.  When we departed six minutes later, we were one hour and 27 minutes late.  

    I watched from my bed as we passed through Ashland at 6:42 a.m.  The tracks go right down the center of the main street of this quaint and historic community (in a median strip).  Then, at 6:53 a.m., we passed the brick station at Doswell.  Here, there is a diamond, where the ex-Chesapeake and Ohio line from Richmond to Charlottesville crosses the ex-Richmond, Fredericksburg and Potomac line that we follow.

    About 7:00 a.m., I decided to get out of bed.  I climbed down from the upper berth and walked down the hall to take a shower.  There was a large trash bag stored in the shower, so I moved it to the vestibule.  The water in the shower was hot – so hot, in fact, that I had to lower the temperature – and the shower was very refreshing.

    When I returned to my room, I found that the attendant had started to make up the room for the next occupant.  When he saw me come back from the shower, he apologized, noting that he had assumed that I had gone to breakfast, and he immediately left the room so that I could get dressed (returning later to finish making up the room).  

    After getting dressed, I again walked back to the end of the train.  On the way, we passed through Fredericksburg at 7:28 a.m. on the westernmost track (which would ordinarily be used for southbound trains).  Our train does not stop here, but I recalled the confusion that passengers at this station often experience when, without warning, their train arrives at a track where it was not expected.  

    Walking through the coaches, I observed that all four cars were still packed, with very few unoccupied seats.  Several of the cars seemed warm and rather stuffy, and I was really glad that I had reserved a sleeper for this trip.  Then I returned to my room and did some work on this travelogue.  I wasn’t all that hungry at this point, and I decided to wait for breakfast until after we reached Washington.  I remained in my room and enjoyed watching the rather interesting scenery along the route of the former Richmond, Fredericksburg and Potomac Railroad.  We passed through Quantico, a stop for some Amtrak trains (but not ours) at 7:45 a.m.

    About 8:00 a.m., we slowed down, but then picked up speed after we were passed by a southbound Amtrak train at 8:08 a.m.  This was Train #67, formerly known as the Twilight Shoreliner, which is scheduled to arrive at Quantico at 8:16 a.m., and seemed to be running a few minutes late.  Four minutes later, we passed the Lorton Auto-Train terminal, to our left.  A number of automobile carrier cars were visible in the terminal.

    As we approached the Alexandria station at 8:30 a.m., we passed the southbound Tropicana orange juice train.  I heard on the scanner that we had no baggage or sleeper passengers for Alexandria, but when we arrived there at 8:34 a.m., our stop lasted for five minutes (I think because it was later realized that some baggage actually had to be unloaded here).  At 8:37 a.m., during our station stop in Alexandria, we were passed to our left by a northbound Virginia Railway Express train, headed for Washington Union Station.

    Just north of Alexandria, we passed the site of the former Potomac Yard, once a major freight classification yard, where freight cars were exchanged between the Pennsylvania and Baltimore and Ohio Railroads, and the railroads that served the south.  But with all of these railroads having been combined into CSX and Norfolk Southern, there is no longer any need for this yard, and all trace of it has been obliterated, with the area now in the process of being redeveloped for other uses.

    At 8:47 a.m., we crossed the Long Bridge over the Potomac River and entered Washington, D.C., where a number of national landmarks, including the Capitol, were visible.  A few minutes later, we caught up with the VRE train, which soon passed us again.  Finally, at 8:57 a.m., we pulled into Track 26 at Washington Union Station.  Substantial make-up time is built into the schedule between Alexandria and Washington, so we were now only one hour and 11 minutes late.

    I detrained and walked down the platform for my first chance to take a close-up picture of our engines 514 and 1 (in Orlando and Jacksonville, the only other stations where I would have had this opportunity, the area at the front of the platform was marked “restricted area”).  It was cool and drizzling outside, so I soon returned to my room, but a few minutes later, I walked out to the platform once more to record the numbers of the two AEM-7 electric engines that had replaced our diesel engines.  The power was turned on at 9:14 a.m., and we departed Washington three minutes later.

    As soon as we departed from Washington, the attendant came through the car to distribute complimentary copies of the Washington edition of the New York Times and announce the last call for breakfast, so I went into the diner for breakfast.  Although there was a line earlier in the morning, the diner was largely empty now, and I had a table to myself.  

    I asked the attendant for my usual Continental breakfast, but I was informed that they had no cold cereal left.  So, instead, I was served an omelet with potatoes, along with coffee and orange juice.  I enjoyed a leisurely breakfast in the dining car, while reading the New York Times with which I had been provided.  During breakfast, we stopped at Baltimore at 9:54 a.m.  At the same time, a southbound train pulled in on the track on the opposite side of the platform.  This presumably was southbound Regional Train #183, scheduled to depart Baltimore at 9:52 a.m.  When we left Baltimore three minutes later, we were one hour and 16 minutes late.                            

    After breakfast, I returned to my room and worked on this travelogue.  As we crossed the Gunpowder River bridge at 10:13 a.m., I noticed a long Norfolk Southern freight train proceeding south on the other track.  Freight trains are relatively uncommon on the Northeast Corridor during daylight hours, so this was a rather unusual sight.  I then walked to the back of the train once more and found that most seats were still occupied by passengers, relatively few passengers having detrained at Washington or Baltimore.  Looking at the mileposts out of the back of the train, at one point I timed the train as covering a mile in 33 seconds.

    I returned to my room, and we reached Wilmington at 10:44 a.m.  In two minutes, we were on our way to the 30th Street Station in Philadelphia, where we arrived at 11:07 a.m.  On the scanner, I heard that assistance was needed for a passenger in a wheelchair, and probably as a result, our stop here lasted for five minutes.  As we pulled out of the station at 11:12 a.m., I noticed that the ground was covered with snow in a few places.  This is the first snow I’ve seen on our trip, and it quite a contrast to the extremely warm temperatures that I experienced in Florida!  The rain that we had experienced around Washington had stopped, but it was still cloudy and gloomy out.

    Between Philadelphia and Trenton, I used the time to pack up my belongings.  We made a brief stop at Trenton at 11:39 a.m., and when we departed a minute later, we were one hour and five minutes late.  As might be expected, we passed a number of other trains as we proceeded north along the Northeast Corridor, but the one that I found most interesting was a southbound set of NJ Transit multi-level equipment that we passed at 11:48 a.m.  That was probably Train #3835, a Trenton Local that is scheduled to arrive at Princeton Junction at 11:42 a.m.

    We proceeded at track speed until we reached Rahway, where we slowed down somewhat.  But we made it from Trenton to Newark in 38 minutes, and we arrived on Track 2 at Newark Penn Station at 12:18 p.m.  When we departed two minutes later, we were one hour and six minutes late.

    My final destination would be the Ramsey Route 17 station on NJ Transit’s Main/Bergen County Line, where I had left my car a week ago when I flew down to Florida.  Looking at the timetable, I noticed that there was a train to Ramsey Route 17 departing Secaucus at 12:48 p.m.  But the only connecting train that I could take from Newark was scheduled to leave Newark at 12:38 p.m. and arrive at Secaucus at 12:45 p.m., leaving me only three minutes to make my connection.  Assuming the train were on time, I probably could have made this connection, although it would not have been easy with my luggage.  However, trains to New York often run a few minutes late, and I figured that the likelihood was that I’d miss the connection.  Moreover, there is an express train leaving Secaucus at 1:20 p.m. and arriving at Ramsey Route 17 at 1:51 p.m., only 14 minutes later than the earlier train.  So I decided to continue to New York and transfer there to a connecting train to Secaucus, then take the 1:20 p.m. train to Ramsey Route 17.

    The final leg of our trip to New York Penn Station was quite swift, and we pulled into Track 11 at 12:35 p.m., just over one hour late.  My attendant, Walter, had offered to take my suitcase out to the platform for me, and I gave him a small tip.  Since my sleeper was in the front of the train, I took the elevator that led toward the NJ Transit Seventh Avenue concourse, where I purchased a NYP-SEC ticket and sat down in the small waiting area to await the posting of the track for Train #3845, the Trenton Local, scheduled to depart at 1:03 p.m., that I would take to Secaucus.  

    At 12:53 p.m., it was announced that my train would be receiving passengers on Track 1, so I took the elevator down to that track.  After stowing my belongings in coach 5236, where I appropriated a pair of facing seats for myself and my luggage, I walked down the platform to record the numbers of the engine and eight Comet cars that made up this train.  We departed two minutes late at 1:05 p.m. and arrived on Track B at Secaucus Junction ten minutes later, giving me only five minutes to get down to Track F before the scheduled 1:20 p.m. of my connecting train to the Ramsey Route 17 station.  

    My Train #49 pulled in on time at 1:20 p.m. and departed a minute later.  It was pulled by engine 4005 and included six Comet II and V cars, all of which were NJ Transit equipment.  Only the last three cars were opened, but the train was lightly patronized, and I easily found a pair of facing seats for myself and my luggage.  This is the first afternoon train that heads north of Suffern, but it proceeds only as far as Middletown, New York.  Since it is intended primarily for Metro-North passengers traveling to Suffern and beyond, this train operates express through New Jersey, stopping only at Ridgewood, Ramsey and Ramsey Route 17.  One would think that this train, which makes no stops south of Ridgewood, would take the Bergen County Line, which is slightly shorter than the Main Line, but it is scheduled to proceed via the Main Line.  Traveling the Main Line on an express train was a somewhat unusual experience for me, as nearly all trains which traverse this line make all the stops.

    I watched as we passed by the familiar scenery of this NJ Transit line, and after a ride that took only about half an hour, we arrived at the Ramsey Route 17 station at 1:53 p.m., two minutes late.  I detrained, paid for my parking (it cost a total of $26 for a week’s parking), and proceeded to the Trail Conference office in Mahwah, where I had a meeting in the evening.

    My trip from Fort Lauderdale to New York on the Silver Meteor worked out exactly as planned.  The train was quite full, but having my own room made it a very pleasant experience!

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