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By Jack M. Turner

Photos by John C. Turner

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    The morning of August 18, 2010 came all too early for my son and me as we had reservations on Amtrak Acela Express # 2190 at the crack of dawn.  Our night at the Stamford Marriott Hotel had been restful and the courtesy shuttle van deposited us at the nearby train station about 15 minutes before our train's scheduled departure.  Having spotted the Stamford Marriott on previous train trips, we were pleased to find it extremely convenient to the station as it took less than five minutes from the hotel to the station via the shuttle van.

A Metro North train seen at Stamford before we boarded the morning Acela Express

A Metro North P42 painted in classic New Haven colors

    The Acela Express departed Stamford five minutes late at 7:09am and we settled into seats a few rows apart as the business class car we selected was very crowded.  Our train originated at New York and the thought crossed my mind that we should check the trailing cars to see if adjacent seats were available.  Indeed the rear car was practically empty so we easily moved our luggage back through one business class car and the cafe car to car 3410 where we had ample room.
Acela Express bound for Boston arrives in Stamford

Business class in Acela Express

    Inside the comfortably cooled coaches many passengers were busy working on their laptops taking advantage of free Wi-Fi service.  The ride was generally smooth and quiet as the sleek Acela glided northward.  Trackwork was taking place in many stretches of the Northeast Corridor and we were amused by the "W" (whistle) signs held by track gangs instructing passing trains to blow their horns.  The Connecticut shore provided fleeting glimpses of harbors and small beaches and our stop in New London was directly adjacent to the terminal where ferryboats depart for Long Island.  The Rhode Island capitol building appeared at Providence at 9:30am and 20 minutes later we made the first of three Boston area station stops.  The end of the line came at 10:03am as Amtrak # 2190 arrived at Boston South Station, just 4 minutes behind schedule.

Approaching a bridge near Saybrook, CT

The Connecticut shoreline

A beach next to the Northeast Corridor along the Connecticut coast

A Coast Guard tall ship at New London

A sailing ship seen from Acela Express at New London

A peaceful harbor north of New London

Sailboats moored in a harbor north of New London

A popular marina houses several sailboats in this early morning scene along the coast of Connecticut

Sailboats are anchored in this harbor adjacent to the Acela Express route

The Rhode Island state capitol building at Providence

Acela Express approaches Boston South Station

    The first class Club Acela was a perfect place to spend our layover as free snacks and beverages and computers with complimentary Internet kept us occupied.  Train # 449, the westbound Lake Shore Limited was ready for boarding well before its 11:55am departure.  Our Viewliner sleeper "Wayside View" was near the front of the train behind the two baggage cars that trailed a pair of P42 engines.  The sleeper was turned backwards, a first for us in our many Viewliner rides as somehow those cars always had faced the intended direction with Bedrooms B and H facing forward.  Making matters worse, our sleeper was quite warm and the car attendant seemed disinterested in seeking mechanical assistance before departure.

The exterior of South Station

P42 # 155 leads the Lake Shore Limited at Boston

    The 11:55am departure from South Station retraced our route to Boston's Back Bay station then diverged onto the former Boston & Albany route to the west.  We passed behind Fenway Park's famed Green Monster and zipped past several MBTA commuter train stops.  Just beyond Framingham all sleeper passengers were escorted to the cafe car, three cars to the rear, for lunch.  The cafe attendant adeptly prepared the meals while our sleeper attendant waited tables.  The meal was suitable given the absence of a regular diner on the Boston section of the Lake Shore. 

    From the cafe car we observed our stop at Worchester and passage through Palmer where the Vermonter line to the north branches off.  We took a respite from our bedroom's 80 degree heat at Springfield where the outside temperature actually was lower than inside our room.  Soon the Lake Shore began its climb through the Berkshire Mountains though the scenery was tarnished a bit by our bedroom's hot temperature and badly scratched windows.  We lost about 50 minutes due to bridgework then met three eastbound CSX freights and the eastbound Lake Shore Limited during the next two hours.  Our arrival in Albany-Rensselaer at 6:28pm was almost 100 minutes late yet we beat the main section of the Lake Shore from New York which also was tardy.  We had been promised that a mechanic would check the air conditioning during our stop in Albany yet nobody came as we sat in the even-warmer sleeper waiting for the New York section to arrive.  Once # 49 did finally arrive around 7:00pm the mechanical forces were busy connecting the two trains and we noted the temperature had risen a couple more degrees.  Finally a mechanic arrived at about 7:45 for a very quick look at the electrical cabinet that controls the a/c system.  He almost instantly proclaimed that there was nothing he could do and we were resigned to an uncomfortable night.

Worchester Union Station

The head end of the Lake Shore Limited's Boston section at Springfield, MA

A New Haven-Springfield shuttle train at Springfield

Crossing the Connecticut River departing Springfield

The Berkshire Mountains

Sleeper "Wayside View" at Springfield

    As the Lake Shore departed Albany at 7:59pm we made our way to the diner, 8 cars to the rear for a much anticipated dinner.  Though we were the first sleeper passengers to reach the diner, the steward seated us at the first table, adjacent to the door at the forward end of the dining car.  Common practice among dining car crews of a bygone era was to seat the first to arrive as near as possible to the center of the car but this crew obviously didn't care for tradition.  As a result we were seated directly above the wheels and would experience a rough ride while we dined...whenever that would be.  Our waiter was, shall we say, less than neatly attired.  He shuffled slowly down the aisle to take orders starting, you guessed it, at the center of the car thus we were the last table to be waited on. 

    As the train departed Amsterdam the unenthusiastic waiter returned to our table and mumbled that he didn't remember what John and our tablemates had ordered.  This was at 8:52pm and I wondered whether my order would be fouled up.  During this ordeal we enjoyed conversing with the two college students from San Paolo, Brazil with whom we shared our table; they probably thought poor service is the norm in the USA.  The flat iron steak I ordered finally was delivered to the table at 9:10pm and was burned almost beyond recognition, however there was no way I would reorder it.  John and one of the guys seated with us were brought the wrong entrees and had to wait awhile longer.  Our iced tea finally came at 9:15 after much prompting of the crew.  This dining crew rivaled one aboard the Crescent in June 2009 for incompetence and indifference.  My opinion of Amtrak was at an all-time low due to the hot sleeper and lousy diner crew.

    Ducking my head out of the vestibule at Syracuse I spotted our attendant who stated that there was an available room in one of the other sleepers.  "I thought you could check it out after dinner."  This was 11:05pm and the sleeper in question was 9 or 10 cars back.  I decided to stick with our hot room as it was too late to walk all the way back through the train with luggage in tow.  Had he told us earlier, we could have made the switch at Syracuse via the station platform but now we were about to depart.  Despite the heat we slept fairly well and at least we had a more efficient server in the dining car for breakfast.  When # 449 pulled into Chicago Union Station at 11:10am, 1 hour, 25 minutes late, we were very happy to leave the train from heck.

A farm seen from the Lake Shore Limited in northern Indiana

    After leaving our bags in the Metropolitan Lounge baggage storage room, we caught a city bus to the Art Institute of Chicago, a world famous museum whose collection includes works by all the well known artists.  A dazzling array of paintings by Monet, Manet, Rembrandt, Gauguin, Picasso, Cezanne, and a host of others fills every corner of the Art Institute and we left with an appreciation for the artists' abilities with brush and canvas. 

The Art Institute of Chicago

"Woman Reading" by Edouard Manet is one of hundreds of famous paintings at the Art Institute of Chicago

"On The Bank of The Seine, Bennecourt" by Claude Monet

"The Poet's Garden" by Vincent van Gogh

"American Gothic" by Winslow Homer is one of America's most iconic paintings.  This painting inspired one of the opening scenes of the 1960s hit TV series "Green Acres".

A Metra Electric train seen from a window at the Art Institute of Chicago

A classic Santa Fe sign overlooks the Metra Electric line as seen from the Art Institute

    A leisurely walk through The Loop took us back to Union Station where we waited in comfort for the eastbound Cardinal.  Boarding was delayed as the train was slow in being serviced at the yard and our 6:34pm departure was almost 50 minutes late.  John and I weren't concerned as this would reduce our layover in Charlottesville, VA the next day.  More importantly, our bedroom in sleeper "Orchard View" was comfortably cooled and we would have a much better trip than we had the prior night.

    About 15 minutes out of the station sleeper passengers were invited to the adjacent dinette car for dinner.  Amfleet II lounge car 28001 had been converted for dinette use and we found tables at the forward end of the car set with tablecloths which gave the appearance of riding in a full dining car.  We were seated with a pleasant couple from Janesville, WI who ride the train frequently on their trips to the east coast.  We had been seated close to the center of the car and the excellent server, Laverne Chambers, took orders starting from the middle of the car as should be the case.  Our orders arrived promptly and accurately and we were impressed by our braised beef entrees accompanied by mashed potatoes, vegetable medley, and salad.  Outside our progress was slow with lots of stop and go action as the Cardinal dodged freight trains near Union Pacific's Dolton Yard.  We were amused by one freight on the adjacent track which was being shoved by a UP semi-truck cab that was outfitted with railroad wheels.  This unusual equipment passed the dinette window several times as it and Amtrak train # 50 took turns overtaking one another.

The author enjoys dinner in the Cardinal's dinette car

An unusual Union Pacific semi truck cab pushes several freight cars toward Dolton Yard

    The effect of the delays was evident as the Cardinal was 1 hour 50 minutes late at its first stop, Dyer, IN.  A couple hours later the scene outside the train appeared to be straight out of a sci-fi movie as miles and miles of synchronized blinking red lights looked like something from another planet.  This warranted a special trip to the dinette car to ask the conductor what we were looking at; our suspicions were confirmed - the lights were on top of giant windmills that covered about a 15 mile stretch.  A few minutes later we stopped at Lafayette after making up 10 minutes.  Sleep came easily, interrupted only by the stop in Indianapolis a bit before 2:00am as
Amtrak executive office car "Beech Grove" was coupled to the rear of our train.
   The night passed peacefully thanks to our comfortable sleeper and we arose at about 8:00am as the Cardinal paralleled the Ohio River in northern Kentucky.   While we enjoyed breakfast train # 50 paused beside a huge CSX yard to refuel the engines then pulled forward for its Ashland, KY station stop.  I recalled riding Amtrak's combined James Whitcomb Riley/Mountaineer through here in 1976 when the stop for this area was called "Tri-State Station" as it served Kentucky, Ohio, and West Virginia.  A reminder that this CSX line once was the main line of the Chesapeake & Ohio Railway can be seen on the side of an adjacent brick freight warehouse that still reads "C&O".

    The journey across West Virginia soon began, almost instantly producing the first of many meets with CSX coal trains.  Charleston came at 10:39am and the gold dome of the state capitol shone brightly on our left with mountains surrounding the city.  A barge could be seen plying the Kanawa River just east of town.  A few miles east of Montgomery a railroad bridge crossed above the CSX line, displaying its Virginian (Railroad) heritage on its side.  The New River came into view at 11:30  as the Cardinal plunged into the spectacular New River Gorge.  Ten minutes later we passed below the towering New River Gorge Bridge which carries US Highway 19, a major highway linking Erie, PA with Bradenton, FL, passing about 20 miles east of our residence in northern Florida.  The New River Gorge Bridge is so iconic that it is pictured on the back of quarters honoring the state of West Virginia.  This bridge is 876 feet high (the highest vehicular bridge in the Americas and 5th highest in the world) and is 3,030 feet long (the longest steel arch bridge in the USA and 3rd longest in the world).  Note: the new concrete arched Hoover Dam Bypass Bridge over Black Canyon at the Arizona-Nevada border, which opened in October 2010, has eclipsed the New River Gorge Bridge for height and length.

Sleeper "Orchard View" at Charleston, WV

The West Virginia capitol building at Charleston

Crossing the western reaches of the New River

Looking back at the bridge the Cardinal just crossed

Along the New River

A bend in the New River on the Cardinal's scenic run through West Virginia

Motorboats on the New River

Approaching the famous New River Gorge Bridge

Directly below the New River Gorge Bridge

Looking up at the US 19 New River Gorge Bridge

    The views beyond the bridge continued to grow more and more scenic as the New River continued to wind its way between the mountains with whitewater rapids providing a wild element.  And, of course, where there's whitewater, there are rafting enthusiasts.  Over the course of the next several miles numerous rafts could be seen rushing downriver, their occupants raising their oars in salute to the train.  Our engineer obliged by blowing the horn in recognition.  We left the river behind near Hinton and headed for the dinette car for lunch as the mountain scenery continued to captivate us.  During lunch the Cardinal met its seventh coal train of the day; indeed coal remains king on the old C&O. 
The Cardinal curves along the New River Gorge east of the huge highway bridge

Rafters raise their oars in salute to the train

   Afternoon brought a glimpse of the famed Greenbrier Resort in White Sulphur Springs, a meet with Amtrak's westbound Cardinal near Buffalo Gap, and passage through Blue Ridge Tunnel at the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains near the junction of the Skyline Drive and the Blue Ridge Parkway.  The rail line now made a sharp descent as it headed into Charlottesville, VA where we detrained at 5:40pm, a shade under 3 hours late.  The leisurely pace and good condition of the sleeping car made the Cardinal the best Amtrak train of our trip.

A farm in the Blue Ridge Mountains west of Charlottesville, VA

The Cardinal at Charlottesville

Amtrak executive office car "Beech Grove" brings up the rear of the Cardinal at Charlottesville

The Cardinal departs Charlottesville

   With our layover in Charlottesville reduced to a manageable three hours, we decided on a stroll through the University of Virginia grounds, just a few blocks west of the Amtrak station.  Having visited Charlottesville on many family vacations through the years, we felt at home as we walked along Main Street toward the university.  UVA is bounded on the north by the former C&O route and the Cardinal still passes through university grounds three days a week in each direction.  The former Southern Railway mainline which hosts the Crescent basically forms the southern border of the university.  The two rail lines intersect at Amtrak's Union Station with the Cardinal stopping at its south platform and the Crescent and a new regional train from the Northeast to Lynchburg using the north platform.
   After walking around the university and recreating a 1976 photo of me on the steps in front of The Rotunda (the Thomas Jefferson designed administration building that is central to the University of Virginia), we stopped for dinner at the excellent Virginian Restaurant located directly opposite UVA.  Having successfully killed off the better part of our layover, we headed back to the train station and watched southbound Amtrak regional train # 171 which was over an hour late.  That train has proven to be popular and the Friday evening train from Boston appeared to be very crowded despite having eight cars.

George Rogers Clark statue on the grounds of the University of Virginia

The Lawn, University of Virginia

Student apartments lining The Lawn are highly sought by UVA students

TrainWeb photographer John Turner in front of The Rotunda at the University of Virginia repeating a photo of his father taken during a 1976 train trip.  Thomas Jefferson designed The Rotunda and was founder of UVA.

Charlottesville Union Station

   About 45 minutes later a southbound Norfolk Southern stack train hustled through with our 45 minute late Crescent about 15 minutes behind it.  As the train came to a halt, the car attendant in the forward sleeper searched us out to advise that we had been moved from the second sleeper to the one ahead due to the need to accommodate a passenger in our assigned space.  This was a first for us but since our bedroom seemed to have better air conditioning than we experienced on the Silver Meteor and Lake Shore Limited, we had little reason to complain.  We slept reasonably well as the only station stop I was cognizant of was Danville at midnight, however, intermittent loud banging (presumably from the coupler) in the pre-dawn hours made the last couple hours of the night somewhat fitful. 

    We thought we had left ample time for breakfast given that the Crescent was 45 minutes late when we fell asleep.  A surprise awaited as we opened the curtains and discovered that we were entering the far eastern suburbs of Atlanta.  A quick shower and rushed change into the day's clothes was required before our 21 minute early 7:52am arrival at Atlanta's Peachtree Station.  Within minutes a courtesy car arrived to take us to the downtown Avis car rental office where we picked up a minivan for the five hour drive home.

    Overall our journey had been a success as we rode some magnificent commuter rail lines in the New York City area highlighted by the Long Island Railroad.  Amtrak's Acela Express and Cardinal had earned their stripes with enjoyable rides on those routes.  Air conditioning woes had marred our travels on the Silver Meteor and Lake Shore Limited though the former was finally rectified by downgrading to a smaller room in another car.  The Crescent trip was too quick to judge adequately as we were only awake for about an hour or so of the journey.

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