I recently took a trip on Amtrak's Texas Eagle from Chicago to San Antonio and connected to the Sunset Limited from San Antonio to New Orleans. To get to Chicago, I flew DL. Then, it was back to ATL on DL from MSY.
This report will contain a very brief description of the flights as most of it will deal with the train segments. Also, I have 97 pictures for your viewing pleasure.
Here's a map of my travels.
Delta Connection 4482
The adventure started with me taking Delta Air Lines from Atlanta to Chicago. It was flight DL4482 operated by SkyWest. Aircraft was a CRJ-900. I was on a Pinnacle CR9 about two weeks ago but I found the SkyWest plane to be nicer...and the crew was head over heels better. In fact, the service was excellent. Two full beverage and snack services on a one and one half hour flight is impressive. The flight was on time leaving ATL and early into ORD. As expected, every seat was taken, mostly with people wearing suits. I, of course, was not one of them. I've come to the conclusion, after taking two CR9 flights within two weeks, that it's a pretty nice little plane...but again, not one I'd want to fly on for more than say two hours.
*** Chicago layover ***
After collecting my gate checked bag, I made my way to the CTA train station in ORD and caught a 9:15am train to downtown Chicago. After a roughly 45 minute ride, I arrived at the Clinton Street stop, amd made the quick two-block walk to Union Station. When I got to the station I checked into the Metropolitan Lounge, which is Amtrak's private lounge/waiting area for Sleeping car passengers. Amenities in the lounge include free soft drinks, snacks, newspapers, internet access, comfortable seating with a few flat screen TV's, baggage storage, and of course train pre-boarding. The lounge filled up to near capacity by around noon, with huge crowds destined for both the California Zephyr and Empire Builder trains.
Amtrak train #21
CHI (Chicago) - SAS (San Antonio)
Arr: 2225 (+1)
At about 1:10pm boarding for the Texas Eagle, train #21, was called. There seemed to be around 15 sleeping car passengers boarding in Chicago. I made my way to the sleeper and took room 13 on the lower level. It was clearly a newly rebuilt Superliner 1 car and, while nice, showed its age in spots. The train departed on time at 1:45pm and we made our way out of town at a pretty slow pace, but eventually picked up some speed after we departed Joliet, even though by that time we were running behind schedule by about :30. However, with the padding in the schedule, some of that time was made up as the afternoon progressed. I had a 5:30 seating for dinner in the Cross Country Cafe dining car. I ended up having BBQ ribs for dinner, and they were pretty decent, although not great. I had dinner with a fellow Amtrak internet message board member and his wife. They were really nice and the three of us had a nice conversation about....what else....all things Amtrak. Also during dinner, I got a great (and my first ever) view of the Illinois state capitol in Springfield.
After dinner I hung out in the Sightseer Lounge for about an hour before returning to my room for our approach into STL. I took a nice video of our passage over the Mississippi River Bridge in St. Louis, and at that station stop, I stepped off for some fresh air and to have a chat with the friendly sleeping car attendant. After we departed STL the Assistant Conductor came over the P.A and announced that we would probably lose time through Arkansas overnight due to flash flood warnings. I was wondering just how much time, knowing that I had a connection in SAS. My bed was turned down at approx. 9:30pm and I decided to call it a night. As usual it took me a while to fall asleep but I'd say I managed 4-5 hours of solid sleep when all was said and done, only waking up briefly in Little Rock and Arkadelphia. When I woke up for good just after we departed Texarkana, I noticed we were only about an hour late. Not too bad at all. And with all the padding south of Fort Worth, I figured my connection would not be in jeopardy. Breakfast was actually excellent. I had eggs, grits, a biscuit, and a high quality and good sized hot tamale with salsa. It was the "chef's special" for the morning and it was very, very good.
The rest of the morning was a relaxing jaunt through the woods of East Texas. Before I knew it, we were approaching Dallas, and we were very early there, so we had around an hour to kill. I stepped off for a few pictures and watched as an elderly lady came within inches of being creamed by an arriving light rail train. She was just walking across the tracks without checking to see if any trains were approaching. Well the train was blasting its horn but she seemingly didn't hear it until she was within maybe three inches of the track. She then looked up suddenly as the train was right there and backed away. Then, as it passed, she continued on her way like nothing happened. It was the closest I have ever seen to witness someone getting flattened by a train. And for the record, several of us were screaming out to her to "look out for the train! and waving our arms at her to get her attention, but obviously it didn't work.
At 12:00pm, while we were still parked in Dallas, I went in for lunch. The meal was okay...BBQ beef brisket sandwich. The portions, however, were small, and I would not pay $7.75, or whatever it was, for it if I was riding coach...the angus burger, at least, is a nice size. After Dallas it was just a quick 45 minute ride to Forth Worth, where we had about an hour and a half to kill. The medics met the train here and wheeled off via stretcher the guy in the room next to mine. I had my eye on him the whole way and he definitely seemed a little "off". Apparently he was given a clean bill of health as about thirty minutes before departure, he made his way back on the train. We departed FTW on time for the final leg of our trip down to SAS, and we did so with one less engine. The lead unit was taken off and attached to a spare Superliner coach sitting on the adjacent track.
Since the dining car crew detrains in Austin (according to an employee because Amtrak doesn't want to pay the employees for the extra time), there was only one call for dinner at 4:30pm. I can't say I was really hungry but when you have a sleeping car, you might as well get your monies' worth. So, I had the flat iron steak, and I finished off most of it, surprisingly. The diner was completely full for dinner and the LSA and his assistant were able to serve all meals in less than an hour. They worked very hard and were very pleasant in dealing with the usual short staffing. After departing Austin more or less on time, we made a quick stop in San Marcos before making the slow, tedious approach into SAS. It took us a good 45 minutes to loop around the city and line up with the station. But, thanks to the padding, we were well early. #21 is scheduled to arrive SAS at 10:25pm and we pulled in for 9:50pm.
Here are the pictures from the Texas Eagle.
Amtrak train #2
SAS (San Antonio) - NOL (New Orleans)
My layover in SAS was about as seamless and painless as possible. I stepped off the train at 9:55pm, and train #2 pulled into the station at 10:15pm. After waiting for the passengers to detrain, I showed the coach attendant my ticket, and he said I could go ahead and board. I walked upstairs, picked out an open pair of seats, and settled in. I put on my headphones and reclined the comfortable seat and I was out like a light. I woke up at about 12:45am as the train was getting ready to depart. I noticed a few more people had boarded, and most rows of seats had at least one person on them. We had an on-time departure at 1:00am and then we detached the 2 TE cars from our train and were on our way for good at about 1:10am. We made good time between SAS and HOS (Houston) and arrived there at 5:35am, about 10 minutes early. We would have 40 minutes to wait in Houston. I counted around 15 people detrain, and about the same number board.
Due to congestion on the normal route between Houston and Beaumont we took a detour on the old MOPAC route. This made my day since it was new mileage for me. I actually like this route more as it includes the trestle crossing of Lake Houston, and it seemed to be much faster...it only took us an hour and a half where the normal route can take two hours or more. In between HOS and BPT I had breakfast in the diner and sat with three people from New Mexico going on vacation in New Orleans. I also had a chance to chat with the diner crew and pick their brains about the proposed "end" of the Sunset Limited (ask if you want to know more) and all the options on the table. They said they have heard them all and not to believe anything until something official is said. They also made it clear that cutting off the NOL Sleeping car would be stupid, and they gladly pointed out that they had 35 sleeping car passengers bound for NOL on this run.
After a nice breakfast I spent some time in the Sightseer Lounge before returning to my seat. I fell asleep and woke up to find us in Lake Charles, where several people from my car detrained. Also, a group of U.S Border Patrol agents (with canine) boarded the train and they were going person to person asking us for our nationality. That was a first. We arrived in Lafayette about fifteen minutes late and about a dozen people detrained here and to my surprise about a dozen boarded...probably off to New Orleans for a weekend of fun, I would presume. I got a bite from the Cafe somewhere between New Iberia and Schreiver, and while downing a burger, I saw a sight which I was not expecting to see, to say the least: a steam train, engine and about a half-dozen cars, chugging along through a field in the distance. We were going too fast for me to get a really clear picture of it but I got one. It was sort of a surreal sight. Not long after we climbed the 4.4 mile Huey P. Long bridge spanning the Mississippi River...always quite a thrill on the train...and I got some good pictures out the rear window of the train. Twenty minutes later we backed up into the New Orleans station, thus concluding another enjoyable Amtrak adventure.
Here are the pictures from the Sunset Limited.
Delta Air Lines 1612
This was a typical flight in every aspect except for one: the excellent lead F/A who made the most detailed and informative "welcome aboard" announcement that I have ever heard on any flight, domestic or international. He also translated the announcement into French (due to, apparently, a large number of French passengers on board), which I thought was a nice touch. He did a great job in showing the "Delta spirit" and I doubt anyone on the plane could have had less than an excellent impression of the man. I wish I had the foresight to take his name becuase I would have certainly written DL a letter in praise of him. Back to the flight....it was actually oversold, and part of me was tempted to volunteer, but I had to be back at work that night, so that really wasn't an option for me. Flight time was 57 minutes wheels up to wheels down, and it was smooth as silk. Parked in ATL at gate B-5 next to a 757 bound for LGA.
To sum up...
* Two excellent flights on Delta. There was a time, say from the late 90's through the early 00's, where I avoided DL like the plague, if given the choice. The old DL which I had known and loved from the early/mid 80's was gone. Since around '05, however, in my eyes, DL has changed. And overall, it has been a change for the better. I'll continue to fly them exclusively whenever possible.
* Two excellent rides on Amtrak. Is Amtrak perfect? No. Not by a long shot. But they do a good job with what they have to work with, and I am usually very impressed with their crew members. I don't think passenger railroading will ever return to a level like the glory days back in the 40's and 50's, but I am thankful that, at least for now, long distance rail travel in the U.S is still an option. IMO, it's the best way to see America.
Thanks for reading.
[Edited 2009-06-01 23:10:30]