So after the number of trip reports that I have done on travelling in Poland, finally my time came to get a taste in LD travel in the USA! While it wasn’t a long trip, it is something that gave me a good feel of what AMTRAK LD travel is all about and wanting more.
So the idea for the trip was kind of bizarre. There is a European metal band that I love and whenever they come to the US, I usually want to see them twice. Usually it is Philly and New York, but this time they only played in New York. So I checked where would be the closest place to go see them that would be that I could travel to by rail and it turned out it was… Milwaukee. At first I thought it was crazy, but then I thought I could combine this trip into a great experience of a long train trip, sightseeing Chicago and Milwaukee, and - considering I have not gone west of Pennsylvania - nice excuse to get out and see some of the country.
Initially intended on booking my roomette one way and coach the way back to save money, but due to the crazy delays of CL in the summer and September, I saw that the roomette was still available for the lowest bucket and so I booked it – and never regretted it, but more on that later.
So on October 31st I left work 15 minutes early and rushed to the Lancaster station to make the 1:52 westbound Pennsylvanian.
However, it was running 30 minutes late from New York, so as it turned out, there was no need to hurry. After the 30 minute delay, Pennsylvanian arrived with #43 at its helm. I boarded one of the Amfleet II LD coaches and found an empty seat. I really enjoy the long distance Amfleet – I am used to Amfleet I on the Keystones with a lot less leg room and no leg rest, so having those rare amenities was great for me.
In Harrisburg, I saw and ACS #611 resting attached to the Keystone, so the ACS are starting to take over the Keystone line as well. Soon after Harrisburg I could feel that we were no longer on AMTRAK tracks. I could hear the sounds typical of an older train infrastructure that I’m used to hearing in some parts of Poland.
What really dawned on me, though, was the amount of freight traffic – I have never seen anything like that before in my life, and that was still just Harrisburg area. I always read on this forum people saying that they don’t see much freight traffic in Europe and I thought that was weird, as I usually see some freights in Poland. But seeing over a mile long, 200 car freights – and a lot of them – made me realize what they were REALLY talking about.
Here is a magnificent view of the Susquehanna River:
We got a little bit more delayed because of freight traffic congestion, as the conductor stated. I did not worry about that at all, since I had a 4 hour layover to the CL anyway.
The rest of my trip on the Pennsy was pretty uneventful. I got up at one point to go to the café car, bought a Vegan Burger for dinner and used Wi-Fi on its board. While walking through other cars, I realized how cold my car was. The other cars were a lot warmer, but my car was pretty chill. No problem, though, as I was prepared for freezing Chicago temperatures. At the end of the trip, maybe 30 minutes before PGH, the heating kicked in and it got a bit uncomfortable.
During my 3.5 hour layover in Pittsburgh I saw an older woman hauling a lot of stuff. She asked me to watch her things while she went somewhere with her big bags. After an hour she returned and explained that she had to move some of her stuff to other bag to fit in the 50 lb baggage limit. She also told me that she was going back home, to Los Angeles, after 4 years of life in Lancaster. She said that nothing seems to have gone right for her in the past 4 years so she wanted a new start in life… Asked why she was taking the train, she said “because the bus is too crowded, and if the Lord wanted me to fly, he’d give me wings.”
Having wandered around the station, I met a daughter and a mother travelling further west. They had booked a roomette on the Zephyr, but had coach from PGH to Chicago. They thought they would upgrade, but the price was around $300. I thought it was kind of a shame, since nobody would pay it then, and it would better for AMTRAK to offer it 30 minutes before departure for the minimum bucket to get at least the $113, rather than have a room go empty, but they must have their reasons for the policy.
The CL came in 10 minutes early, at 11:35. I proceeded up the stairs and had my ticket scanned by the conductor at the door of the platform. Went to my car, up the steps and into my room. My bed was already made up and I was a little bit shocked at how small it was, but it was the impression due to the bed being made up. When it was in day-time mode, there was a lot more room. Soon, a very nice SCA came to me, introduced himself and let me know that breakfast began at 6:30, told me of all the amenities on the train and that he would make my bed when I went to breakfast.
After we left, I was in awe of being in bed on the train on AMTRAK. Not my first time in a sleeper, but it was a new experience and I’ve been waiting for this for so long that I was really excited. Soon after, I went to sleep.
This is where the first and really the only issue in my trip occurred. I missed my breakfast! I woke up at around 6:30am when they started serving breakfast, but I was not aware of the fact that they would close at 8:30 eastern time – so a good 1 hour 15 minutes before scheduled departure, even though we were an hour late. So I fell back asleep and was woken up by a PA announcement that the dining car was now closed. Bummer. But since it was only breakfast, I thought it was not a big deal and would get something in Chicago.
I really enjoyed these two views of Chicago from the train:
We arrived in Chicago at 9:40am, which was 55 minutes late. Not bad, considering all the crap going on in the weeks past! Upon alighting, I went into the station to get food. The “track number x” continuous announcement made me chuckle, but I was prepared for them thanks to AU! After a quick breakfast, I went to Willis Tower to enjoy breathtaking views of Chicago. Afterwards, I went back to catch the 1:05pm Hiawatha.
The Hiawatha trip was uneventful and the method in which the conductors assist passengers in getting on and off the platform made me chuckle as well:
Whatever works, though, right?
On my return I spent a full day in Chicago, as I took the first Sunday Hiawatha at 8:05am into town. Having taken a walk through Millenium Park and the Lake Shore drive, as well as visiting the Polish ethnic neighborhood in Avondale, I made my way to the Union station at 5pm.
I went into the Met Lounge to get my first ever experience of this type of a lounge. I was greeted and shown around the lounge. I also made a dinner reservation. After that, I took a bag of chips and took a cup to the drink distributor, but I was surprised by its presence – I heard people talk of taking juice into their bags for the trip, but here it was just a distributor and cups. It was no problem, though, as I actually liked the juice on board the train.
I enjoyed the peace and quiet of the lounge and at 5:55pm pre-boarding was announced. We were told what would happen and where we would go and the attendant took us outside. This time my roomette was downstairs, which I actually found to enjoy more, as it was a lot more peaceful and since the conductor was stationed in my car, I could overhear his conversations with the dispatcher on the radio.
The train departed on time at 6:40pm. I was surprised that the conductor came around to the sleeper passengers – in Poland, you hand over your ticket to the sleeper car attendant.
Another visitor to my door was the LSA – she came in and confirmed my dinner reservation.
Our first freight congestion stop was at 7:10 just after Whiting, IN. The conductor announced to everybody that “if you travelled with us at all in the past few months you know what freight congestion means. Hopefully today will not be too bad and by the time we reach Elkhart yard everything will clear up.”
At 7:30, my dinner reservation was called. I liked the LSA’s announcement that “seating is communal – YOU WILL MAKE A FRIEND.” I enjoyed the seating and met a retired couple travelling from Oklahoma to DC to visit their son and solo traveler from Chicago to Florida. The couple told me that it was on the husband’s bucket list to travel by train to their destination so that is why they were doing it – this was their first time riding the rails on a long distance trip. They were originally from Mechanicsburg and the husband’s father worked for the Reading Railroad.
I enjoyed the conversation as well as the meal. The salad was good, I really liked it, and the Amtrak Signature Steak I ordered was also delicious. After a 45 minute dinner seating, I made my way back to the room and discovered the time zone changed. I found it interesting that the time zone changed somewhere in Indiana as opposed to on the Indiana-Illinois stateline.
We arrived at Southbend at 9:56, so a 47 minute delay. Five minutes later we departed, however, before that, two women were escorted off the train by local police force. It looked like one of them was very drunk. After 5 minutes, we departed and lost another 15 minutes to Elkhart, arriving exactly 60 minutes late – at 10:29pm.
I indulged in a combination of reading a book and staring out the window. I really enjoy staring out the window at night with the lights turned off and curtains closed and I miss doing that on the Keystones. In Poland it is possible if you have a compartment by yourself, but here there is no compartments – so this was the first time I was able to do that on this side of the pond and I loved it.
I called the attendant at around 11pm and he made my bed. He asked me if I wanted a 30 minute wake up before Pittsburgh and I agreed. I wasn’t sure how it was going to work so I judged my own delay and just in case I set an alarm clock for 5:50. I woke up and 5 minutes later the SCA knocked on the door – and continued to knock until I showed my face to him so he knew I was awake. I was glad to see that but being a skeptic I had to make sure!
At 6:30 we arrived in PGH so nearly a 1.5 hour delay. No problem, as #42 still had an hour to go. There were about 20-25 people waiting. Coach was called to board at 7:20 and it was quite packed because the first two cars were closed off. I was not sure why and I was a little bit puzzled, but then the conductor announced that there was a field trip of 140 kids getting on in Johnstown, PA and getting off at Altoona, PA and that they have been doing that every day of the week – each class having their field trip.
So I was forced to sit with someone and I am really glad I did. It was an older woman who was travelling from Pittsburgh and this was her first time travelling any longer distance by rail. Originally she was from Milwaukee so when I mentioned that I am actually on my way FROM Milwaukee, she got really interested in that and she said she now thinks she will want to try the train to Milwaukee herself when she goes home. So I possibly have another convert! She mentioned that she was nervous about taking the train from Harrisburg to Pittsburgh, but she really enjoyed it so she is willing to try a longer trip. Her husband had died a year before and she was now learning to be independent and discovered that she really does not like driving – up until then, her husband drove everywhere, but now since she was on her own, she wanted to look into other options. So out of a situation that I was forced into by sitting with someone came a really good situation – meeting someone else and having a really nice conversation.
So overall, I was really, really happy with this trip. I was so glad I got the roomette on the way back as well - the dinner alone was so worth it, but so was the experience! I also wasn’t sure if I would want to do a roomette with two people when I saw the size of the room in person at first, but I figured that it would still be just fine – especially at day time, since there is decent amount of room when seats are up, it won’t be a big issue. On the way home I was already making plans for the next trip, although it will have to wait a bit – I am planning on going to California with my mom by AGR points – but I only have 13k points at the moment, so I need another 20k – and since I’ve been averaging 5000 points a year, it might take a while (hopefully I can get the credit card beforehand! That will help!). So all in all, I was very happy with this trip and I really cannot wait to do it again – this really is the best way to travel!