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Baltimore To Chicago On Amtrak, 1/25/04

Mon Jan 31, 2005 12:04 am

JANUARY 25th, 2005 - JANUARY 26th, 2005

My trip started out on the wings of Delta Air Lines between New Orleans and Baltimore. We touched down in BWI at 9:55am and I was off the plane by 10. I had an unreserved ticket for a Regional train up to PHL to catch the 3:00pm Three Rivers, and initially I was going to wait and catch the 12:32pm departure. However, due to the massive amounts of snow, some trains were cancelled. I decided not to risk missing my connection so I took the scheduled 9:57am Regional train #174, which was delayed until 10:25am, up to Philadelphia. I boarded in the second to last coach, which was very empty. I had a nice pair of seats to myself as we started flying up the Northeast Corridor. I was in a refurbished Amfleet 1 coach (number 82063) which featured power outlets at each seat. The ride was delayed for a few minutes due to engine problems in Baltimore, but that was quickly resolved. We crossed the frozen tundra, aka the Susquehanna River, at 11:20am. Wilmington and it’s decent-sized downtown was reached by 11:40am. I saw Amtrak’s huge Consolidated National Operations Center in this area, to the right of the tracks. We stopped in PHL for noon, concluding a quick and comfortable ride on the Regional.

I took some pictures inside 30th Street Station, which I found to be marvelous. I also got some lunch at McDonalds and watched numerous trains depart/arrive, most of which were at least thirty minutes late. The place was packed all day. The lines for some of the Regional and Acela Express trains were at least 70 people deep at times. As the afternoon progressed, I noticed quite a few train cancellations, but the agents assured the passengers on train #41 that the train would be operating, but they did not have an estimate as to when it would arrive in Philly. At around 4:00pm it was posted on the train information board that the Three Rivers’ was delayed for approx. three hours (no reason was given, but I found out on the train later that due frozen equipment in New York City was to blame). No big deal, it just gave me more time in Philadelphia’s grand 30th Street Station. Also, it would lessen my connecting time in Chicago (which, if we were on-time, would be twelve hours and fifteen minutes), which would be a good thing.

Finally, at 5:45pm local time, train #41 pulled into the station from New York City. Chicago-bound passengers, Pittsburgh-bound passengers, and “everywhere else”-bound passengers were each separated into groups to board. Boarding commenced at gate #7 at 5:50pm. First to board were Business Class passengers (followed by Chicago, then Pittsburgh, and so on), and since I had a Business Class ticket purchase, I was included in this group. Upon walking down the stairs to the platform I was directed to proceed to the Café car. It turned out to be a newly refurbished Amfleet 1 Café/Business Class car. One half of the car consisted of roughly twenty-one or so Business Class seats in a three abreast layout, while the other half was café tables. The snack bar itself was right in the middle. The seats in the car appeared to be very comfortable at first glance. Indeed, they were. I took one of the open single seats and settled in. The Business Class section was pretty full, with just three or four open seats upon departure.

We departed PHL at exactly 6:15pm. At about 6:45 I walked the roughly three feet to the snack bar (how is that for convenience?) and got a burger and a Pepsi. I sat down in an open seat behind mine to eat, as all the tables in the café section were full, and also because my seat (being right behind the bulkhead) did not have a fold-down tray table. After dinner I walked the train, which had the following consist: 1 P40/42 loco, 1 Horizon long distance coach, 2 Amfleet 2 coaches, and one Amfleet 1 Café/Business coach. We pulled into Lancaster, home to a large and nice-looking brick station, at about 7:15pm. We were there for only a minute then proceeded on our journey through the Pennsylvania countryside. I was bobbing in and out of sleep (as I had a rather tiresome day), but I was determined to at least stay awake until we reached Horseshoe Curve, even though I wasn’t going to see much of it probably.

At 8:00pm we cruised past the runways of the Harrisburg airport, and at 8:09 we pulled into Harrisburg proper, rolling past empty MHC’s and ExpressTrak boxcars before coming to a stop. I was impressed with the Harrisburg skyline, especially the well-lit dome of the state capitol. I stepped off the train here to get some fresh air and started chatting with a couple of huge Amtrak buffs who were also along for the ride. Like me, they rode this train for the sheer reason that it won’t be around for much longer. They happily gave me insight on the history of the line as well as detailed milepost information which I found to be quite informative. One of the guys managed to clean the rear window in our Amfleet 1 car so that we could get a good look “from the rear”. And what a view it was. Talk about an interesting perspective! As we pulled out of the station, we passed a classic GG-1 loco sitting on a siding, before crossing the historic Rockville Bridge just minutes later.

At around 8:30 I went and had a seat in the Café section of our car for a bit. Everything in that area was spotlessly clean and obviously well maintained. I talked with the Café attendant for a few minutes regarding the train and his upcoming situation when the PIT crew bases closes. It looks like he’ll have to move to either Chicago or New York. He’s leaning towards Chicago. Sitting there in the lounge area, the joy of train travel became so apparent yet again. At the table next to mine, you had a goth girl going to Chicago, a middle-aged woman going to Pittsburgh, and an Amish-looking couple going to Johnstown…and they were all engaged in genuine conversation. Things like that just do not happen on airplanes. Amtrak is simply a more personable way to travel.

The 3R’s made a brief stop in Lewistown before continuing on to Huntingdown, which we arrived at exactly 10:00pm. At that time, the conductor turned the lights off in the train. The scenery was sublime as we cruised on the snow-covered banks of the Juanita River, the shadows of Alleghany Mountains looming above. Everything was perfect as we pressed on through the winter wonderland. Finally, at 11:00pm, we rounded the impressive Horseshoe Curve. It was interesting to see the light on the loco light up in the mountainside as the train kept on curling around like a sidewinder. Certainly, it was one of the highlights of the trip, as well as a pretty remarkable feat of engineering in it own right.

After more mountain cruising, we arrived into PIT by 1:12am. I honestly don’t even remember leaving there, as I fell sound asleep while we were stopped in the Steel City. The sleep was somewhat restless, but I got at least four hours of quality shut eye. I was up for good by 7:45am, just as we approached the snow engulfed town of Garrett, Indiana. Fields, forests, and a few rolling hills dominated the landscape on this part of the route. Nothing as impressive as the scenery the night before, but still, it’s a part of the country that deserves to be seen from a passenger train. Also, it looked like a good number of passengers got off in Pittsburgh. There were only six of us left in the Business Class section, and the coaches were less than half-full.

Nappanee came and went at 8:55am. The conductor made an announcement that we should get into Chicago for 10:00am. I snapped a couple of pictures of the pretty landscape from the rear of the train and then proceeded to get some O.J from the café attendant, who was not as friendly as the one who handled the NYP-PIT leg of the trip. He just didn’t seem like he wanted to be bothered. At about 9:15am we passed some huge factories in Gary, Indiana. We had to wait for a minute of so in the area to let a steel train pass. Lake Michigan came into view for the first time while we cruised through residential areas. As I was packing up my things, I felt a cold breeze all of a sudden. I turned around and what do you think I saw? The Conductor (an older gentleman who obviously enjoyed his job tremendously) standing next to the open rear door of our car with the two Amtrak fans, who were busy taking pictures galore. Of course, I had to join in. We were probably going thirty mph or so at the time. I stood back there with them all the way until we came to a stop in Union Station, track #20. Needless to say it was an interesting and exciting way to end the trip.

The Three Rivers may be a shell of its former self (and but a ghost of what the legendary Broadway Limited was), but she still showed me a very good time. The crews (all except one) were top notch, the time keeping on the route was excellent, and the scenery was unique. I am glad that I took a ride on the train before its untimely demise occurs. I know it will be missed.

Stay tuned for the report on my return leg home on Amtrak's City of New Orleams, train #59.
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RE: Baltimore To Chicago On Amtrak, 1/25/04

Mon Jan 31, 2005 12:23 pm

If I ride Amtrak again, it will probably be on a business car. Having worked for the railroad and served on inspection trains as well as regular service passenger trains, travelling by business car is the only way to go. There are several operators with Amtrak certified cars. Being older cars, they are much more comfortable than anything Amtrak has and you have your own private cook and facilities. Sadly, I suspect the days of most of the long distance trains are numbered. I can't remember how many times I heard the remark "I'll never ride the train again" when I was on the Sunset Limited last summer. All that and we had one of the best onboard crews on the system. UP will shed a croc tear when the Sunset folds its tent.
"When a man runs on railroads over half of his lifetime he is fit for nothing else-and at times he don't know that."
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Joined: Fri May 21, 2004 12:04 pm

RE: Baltimore To Chicago On Amtrak, 1/25/04

Tue Feb 01, 2005 10:56 pm

MSY that sounds pretty good. Was this a viewliner or a superliner?

When you came back on the City of New Orleans did you upgrade to the roomette? On the Crescent it was an extra $30 and worth it.

I got a great set of shots in Birmingham of trains 18 and 19 side by side at the station there, pointed in different directions. Not often seen there anymore.

Post some of your photos.

Is my Pan Am ticket to the moon still good?
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RE: Baltimore To Chicago On Amtrak, 1/25/04

Wed Feb 02, 2005 12:11 am

DL021, the Three Rivers train was all-Amfleet/Horizon single-level equipment. No sleeping car on that train. It's sort of the ugly stepchild of the Amtrak system now since that it's getting cancelled soon.

The City of New Orleans is a Superliner train. The roomettes were booked solid on the day I took the train, so I just went coach. Coach on a Superliner is pretty good...tons of legroom, and the seats offer excellent recline. I brought an extra pillow with me and it made for a comfortable ride.

Once I get my scanner up and running again (probably in a day or so) I will post some pictures.
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RE: Baltimore To Chicago On Amtrak, 1/25/04

Wed Feb 02, 2005 12:16 am

Speaking of the City of New Orleans, here's my report from that run....

After killing a long layover in Chicago by going to the Sears Tower, walking around Navy Pier for awhile, and catching an IMAX 3D presentation of The Polar Exress (kids movie...yes it was...but it was well made and the animation was incredible), and just basically walking around the downtown area, it was finally time to board #59 to New Orleans.

Boarding commenced at 7:35pm through gate D. The consist of the train was as follows: 1 P42 "Toyota Tundra" loco, 1 baggage car, 1 Transition Sleeper, 1 Dining Car, 1 Sightseer Lounge, 3 Coaches (one of which was not in revenue service), and 1 Sleeper at the rear. There was a line about fourty people deep waiting to board.

Push back was on-time at 8:00am. We moved thirty feet and came to a stop. We waited for about five minutes, where we then backed up another fifty feet or so, and stopped again. Five minutes later the conductor came across the p.a to announce that we would be pulling back into the station to get a new engine, as this one was having problems. He said the delay would last about an hour probably. The coach attendant said that they were expecting a large crowd through the night so single riders in coach may have to end up sitting next to someone.

First and only call for dinner was made at 8:30. I decided to treat myself tonight. Diner was full. I sat with two ladies, one going to MEM and the other to NOL. I had Chicken Fried Steak, and it was decent. Service was outstanding. I went back to my seat at about 9:25 just as we started moving...for good this time. I spotted the conductor and asked him if it was a HEP (Head End Power) problem with that first engine, and he said that it was both a HEP problem and a traction problem.

We were now running with a reverse consist, with the loco hooked right in front of the regular Sleeping Car, and the baggage car was now the last car on the train. The attendants came around and switched all of the coach seats around so that everyopne would be facing forward. We had to do quite a bit of track switching to get on the CN mainline to NOL. The entire process was finished by 9:40pm, when we started cruising at 75 mph + for the remainder of the night pretty much.

I was sleeping by 11:00pm, and missed every station stop after Homewood and before Memphis. It was a bumpy ride through the night, but I managed to sleep well. I awoke somewhere in Tennessee,...about 45 min. outside of MEM. We got to MEM at 7:50am and departed at 8:00am. Slow running for the first 25 minutes out of Memphis. We finally got up to speed by about 8:25.

At around 9:00am the Cafe attendant announced that she would replay the two movies from last night (Bourne Supremecy and Shark Tale). That's a nice feature. Greenwood came and went at 10:26am. Yazoo City at 11:20am, and Jackson at 12:25pm, where we stopped for about 5 minutes. At around 12:45pm I hit the Cafe for a burger and a Pepsi.

We made good time for the remainder of the route. Our Northbound sister train was held up at Pass Manchac on a siding to let us pass. She was probably there for at least twenty-five minutes. It was a nice day as we all got great views of bayou country, as we crossed the trestles over the Bonnet Carre Spillway and the edge of Lake Pontchartrain. I spotted at least two alligators, which is an unusual sight this time of year. As we were about twenty minutes late, we did not back into the station, instead we pulled straight in, which is a rare occurance in New Orleans.

Another day, another great Amtrak trip.

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