A great weekend in Washington D.C (including an excellent stay at the Army Navy Club and a Loyola University Christmas party) was concluded with a great train trip on The Crescent.
After enjoying a trolley tour of D.C for much of the day, my aunt and I returned to the Club Acela lounge for around 5:30 to enjoy an hour of r&r before the boarding of train #19 began. The lounge was a very attractive facility. It was much smaller than the Metropolitan Lounge in Chicago, but nicer on the whole. It wasn’t too crowded…I never counted more than ten people in there during the whole time there.
An announcement was made at 6:45pm for all passengers waiting in the lounge for the boarding of train #19 to please bring their belongings and report to the double doors on the East side. Including us two, there were about four other sleeping car passengers boarding in D.C. We made the short walk down the escalator and to Viewliner Sleeping Car “Bay View” which was operating as car #1910.The paint scheme on the car was faded, but the interior was anything but. I was immediately struck by how new everything seemed in the Viewliner as compared to the venerable Superliner sleepers which I have been on several times. The top window did in fact seem to make the room seem more spacious, as I have heard several people say over the years. We stored our things in the room and shortly thereafter the conductor came around and took our tickets. He commented to us that “we were lucky to be in this car since we have John Turk taking care of us.” Moments later, Mr. Turk himself came into the room and introduced himself to us as well as pointed out to us all the features in the room. He seemed like he was genuinely concerned for his passengers. I had a feeling this was going to be an enjoyable 25-hour journey.
We pulled out of WAS about twenty minutes behind schedule. An announcement was made for dinner in the dining car roughly five minutes after we left the station. We were pretty hungry so we went when we heard that first announcement. The diner (one of the newly remodeled ones) was pretty full. We were seated with a lady who worked at the IRS in D.C and traveled to ATL via the Crescent very frequently. As it turned out, one of alumni of the university that my aunt works for worked for the lady dining with us, so that topic turned out to be a lengthy conversation to say the least. Dinner was good as usual. We both had the t-bone steak with baked potato, and of course, apple pie for desert. We passed through Manassas while we were dining, which was decked to the gills with Christmas lights…it made for a nice scene.
After we finished dinner we went back to the room and put on some music. We were lucky to have a Viewliner with both working music and TV. The music program was a long loop covering many types of music. I can’t say it was the most exciting selection but it did the job. John came in around 9:45 and turned down the beds for the night. I volunteered to take the top bunk since I knew it was my aunts first Amtrak ride (she had rode the trains in Europe extensively but never Amtrak) and she may get motion sickness in case we ran into rough track. I loved the view from the top bunk, and I loved the fact that the window was at eye level. I must have stayed awake for two hours up there before even attempting to go to sleep…I was too busy looking out the window! Eventually I dosed off, and even though I woke up several times due to track conditions, it was a pretty good rest overall. My aunt told me that she didn’t sleep much initially, as she thought we were going to de-rail, but she eventually did. Rookies. What can you do?
We asked for a 7:00am wake up call, and sure enough, John was right on time delivering it. I finally managed to get out of my bunk by 7:30 and went down the hall to try out the Viewliner shower. I must say I like it better than the Superliner one, if for the simple reason that in the Viewliner, you do not have to keep on pushing the button to keep the water flow going as you have to do in the Superliner. It got the job done. We made our way to the dining car by 8:15am for breakfast. Pancakes for me, French Toast for my aunt. The car wasn’t too crowded, about half full. We seemed to be running about twenty minutes behind schedule. The scenery was pretty nice, as we crossed Well’s Viaduct near Toccoa,GA before finally reaching the Atlanta metro area. I detrained in ATL, proudly displaying my Amtrak tee shirt which I wear on all Amtrak trips, and snapped some pictures of the consist. I noticed that our lounge car for today was Amfleet 2 “Chicago Club”, and it looked like it had seen better days. Also, the crew dorm (forgot the name of it) looked like it was due for decommissioning. The full train consist was as follows: 2 P42 locos (did not get the numbers), 1 Express Baggage car, 1 Crew Dorm, 2 Viewliner Sleepers, 1 Dining Car, 1 Amfleet Lounge Car, and four Amfleet 2 coaches. Back on board, my aunt and I started up a fierce competition of gin (the game not the drink) as we pulled out of Peachstreet Station. A fair number of people got off and boarded here in Hotlanta.
The scenery was very nice along the way between Atlanta and Birmingham, as we passed through national forests, over many creeks, and even through one fairly long tunnel near Anniston. I think this route has an advantage scenery-wise over the City of New Orleans, but the City has an advantage as far as equipment goes….especially the Sightseer Lounge, which makes the Amfleet 2 lounge pail in comparison. And speaking of the Amfleet 2 lounge on our train again, the inside looked almost as bad as the outside. Work edges on seats, fairly dirty, etc. It is in need of a good cleaning and remodeling. Even the mural on the wall seemed faded.
Lunch was called for at 12:15pm, but just before that, we were stopped for a good twenty minutes so that the crew could put out a fire which was buring under the wheel beds of two cars. The smoke was clearly visible and the smell was clearly…smellable? Apparently the fire was caused by branches and leaves which had got stuck under there, and the friction of the wheels caused them to light up. The conductor came on the p.a assuring everything was fine and that this was a fairly common thing in the fall. Common or not, it added a bit of excitement to what was up until then a very uneventful (but nonetheless extremely enjoyable) trip. We had the table to ourselves at lunch, and we both had above average cheeseburgers.
We both took a post-lunch nap once we left Birmingham. We made good time between there and Meridian…in fact, we were back on schedule even including the fire-related delay…but we got held up outside of Meridian for about twenty minutes to let a freight pass. I have to give Norfolk Southern credit, they had excellent dispatching along the route. We were only held up three times for freight clearance that I was aware of, and two out of those three times were only for five minutes. Union Pacific could learn a thing or two from NS regarding proper dispatching. About six people boarded in Meridian, and then we were off like a rocket, flying past Key Field en-route to next station stop at Laurel. Around this time John announced that he had set up a “hospitality room” in room #3, and that everyone was invited to go in. My aunt and I were curious so we went to go have a look. In the room we found a large tray full of fruit, cheese, crackers, and dip, as well as some New Orleans tourist brochures. I was impressed by this. John had really gone above and beyond, and I knew that his courtesy would be rewarded.
The first call for dinner came at 5:00pm, as we were nearing Hattiesburg. Once again we got a table to ourselves but the Diner was pretty much filled. Every table had at least two people in it. I went for a stuffed chicken dish and was not disappointed. You can’t say Amtrak offers gourmet cuisine, but it is usually tasty and prepared well enough, as was the case for every meal on this trip. We both finished off our last meal on the rails with a cup of coffee and yet another slice of apple pie. Back in the room by 6:15pm, we played two more hands of gin before getting our things together in preparation for our arrival into NOUPT, which was expected to be approx. 30 minutes behind schedule…not too bad!
John came through the room as we were approaching Lake Pontchartrain to pick up the pillows and we gave him a well deserved tip for his efforts. He really made this trip more enjoyable than usual. Our crossing of the 6.2 mile trestle over the lake was, of course, done at night. But I was glad it was dark out as we cruised through City Park, giving all on the train a great view of the enormous Celebration in the Oaks lighting display which happens every holiday season in the park. We coasted along I-10 and past the ornate cemeteries of the city before sweeping around the Times-Picayune building to position ourselves for our final backing maneuver into the terminal. It took us about five minutes to back up onto track #6. We stepped off of the train at exactly 8:20pm, thirty minutes late. As we walked the length of the train, my aunt told me that she was glad she experienced Amtrak and that she thought the service was excellent. Overall, this trip was basically flawless. It was simply Amtrak at its best.