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.
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
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.