November 3-4, trains 30 and 20 from CLE-WAS-CLT
My friend (an Amtrak first-timer) invited me on a trip to North Carolina. I haven't been on a train in a few years and have been sitting on a cache of AGR points so I booked a last minute sleeper between CLE and CLT. We had room 7 on 30 and were lucky enough to score the H-room on the Crescent. I figured this would be an excellent introduction to Amtrak for my friend.
That day's Capitol Limited was on time in CLE and stayed that way throughout the trip. Eticketing has made things a lot easier and eliminated the need for ID checks. It amazes me that as airport security continues to spiral insanely out of control as the security-industrial complex grows it seems Amtrak has continued to relax rules that seem to only hassle the passenger in the name of "safety and security". I hope that this trend continues because this is, in my opinion, Amtrak's biggest selling point.
After boarding right before 2AM the clocks were set back for daylight savings time. We were excited and awake, and listened to my scanner as the engineer leisurely pulled us through Northeast Ohio on our way to ALC, killing the hour that Daylight Savings lost in true Amtrak fashion. The air conditioner in our car was making an annoying whining sound that I remedied with a six-inch piece of duct tape. I think that a roll of duct tape should be standard issue for TAs on Amtrak. We fell asleep after stopping in ALC after I relished my first trip on the Capitol Limited where I did not get off the train in Alliance. Breakfast was served on the plasticware and was passable, I had the omelet with grits and sausage. It was better than SDS days and the service was nice but I was disappointed to not be receiving the "enhanced dining service" advertized by the new timetable. Alas it is far better than the days where the CL ran with the dreaded CCCs...
The fall foliage was amazing and provided an excellent backdrop for breakfast and continued as my friend napped all the way through HFY while I hung around the sightseer lounge snapping pictures. As the landscape gave way to an urban setting my friend took his breakfast. The attendant didn't come around to set up our room until just before noon, but we made due sitting on the lower bunk.
Being his first time in Washington we took a walk to the Capitol. Washington is gorgeous this time of year and my friend and I used our five hour layover to the fullest, meandering through the numerous parks between Union Station and Capitol Hill.
We enjoyed the first class lounge and refreshed ourselves before departing on time at 6:30 on board 20. We were so impressed by the size of the H-room on the Viewliners! We both stood up and couldn't touch the ceiling, we even had enough room to stretch out and walk around (albeit pacing in a small circle). The massive windows made it feel like we had our own little private suite in a sightseer lounge, a wall of windows painted red, yellow, orange and green by the leaves as we sped through Virginia. It was my first time on the Crescent and the first time on a line south of DC so I was impressed by the improved tracks on which the Virginia regionals run. This, combined with a lazy Sunday on CSX meant that we kept time throughout the rest of our trip. We ate dinner in diner 8558, which was clean and had a friendly crew. His steak was cooked correctly and my chicken and vegetable and rice medley were cooked to hell. The salads were fresh though, I remember a few years back getting frozen cherry tomatoes and frosty croutons. We poured a few cocktails and turned in early for our 2AM arrival into CLT. Some time during the night we felt a large jolt that woke both of us up, the whole train made a big bang noise... I assumed we coupled into something but it was certainly the hardest bump I've ever felt on Amtrak. We were early into CLT but got put into a hole last minute by CSX so my friend and I spent an uncomfortable half-hour sitting with our luggage, ready to detrain while CSX ran a series of slow freights by us on the other track.
After getting off I noticed our opposite number sitting with a nice consist. In front of the sleepers was an exhibition train with a P42 gussied up in military livery followed by the anniversary f40 401 and an old single-level sleeper. I managed to get a decent night shot from outside the station. After picking up our bags and inspecting the Charlotte station, which was far superior to anything we have in Ohio we got our ride and left.
November 9-10, trains 19 and 29 from CLT-WAS-ALC
Our trip ended early and we booked a last minute pair of coach tickets for $364. The train was an hour late getting into CLT but our ride was even later, and we barely made it in time. On the platform again were both 19 and 20 and we were mistakenly shown towards 20. We managed to be the last ones on 19, no doubt adding a minute or two to their delay, but were welcomed by a friendly crew. Inside a number of pax had switched seats after ATL and the TA had a fun time with a group of women from New Orleans who insisted on remaining in their new found seats. I took a window seat and my friend and I relaxed as we were pulled through North Carolina in the pitch black of night while it seemed that every CSX that passed us made an attempt to wake everybody up with excessive horns. Later on 29 we passed many very quiet NS freights between PGH and ALC.
Hurting for cash we forwent breakfast and I mulled about in my seat getting some morning shots of Virginia, enjoying the fact that the sun was on the other side of the train. I had perfect weather for picture taking. We made up a little delay and paid an exorbitant fee to store our bags in DC during our layover since ALC has no checked bags. Again we roamed around the fall foliage in DC and then boarded 29, which was only running with two coaches. Seated near the end of the last car I was able to take full advantage of the railfan's window and got some fabulous evening rear-window shots. The ride back was quite on a half-empty CL full of the 50+ crowd. Our coach smelled of bathroom, and didn't have a water fountain. There was some hideous lime-green panelling in the downstairs area (it was a coach-bag) and instead of a larger H-bathroom there was a luggage rack. I hated having to enter the stench for a sip of water.
We arrived a half-hour early into PGH and ate it up on the platform. I took some night shots of an empty Penny consist and reboarded. I pointed out the nighttime departure out of PGH to my friend as being one of Amtrak's best night-shots, and he was impressed.
I have a Facebook album with some of our photos, there are others and videos to come that I will add later.