This was the first long-distance trip I have made on Amtrak in ten years, and my first cross-country trip in twenty years. I simply love my home so much that I don’t want to travel.
I started out by flying from Orcas Island to Boeing Field on a Kenmore Airlines Cessna Caravan. They provided a shuttle to Sea-Tac Airport, from where I caught the light rail to Seattle and rode around on it for a while to see the system. I then went to King Street Station, and found a nice restaurant nearby for lunch. After returning to the station, the westbound Empire Builder arrived over four hours late, with a BNSF unit on the point followed by two Amtrak P-42’s. We ended up leaving Seattle two hours late, and more or less retained that tardiness the entire journey to St.Paul. My train #8 (Jan. 9) had a full consist of two locos, baggage, dorm, two sleepers, diner, and two coaches. The #28(9) that joined us added one loco (which was cut off at Minneapolis-St. Paul), a SSL, two coaches, one sleeper, plus a SSL tagging along deadheading. We maybe could have used that extra SSL, since ours had a heating problem (outside temperatures were well below zero in Montana and North Dakota). The cafe remained open, but the attendant warned people it was too cold to stay in the lounge, and the toilets froze up. I had a Family Bedroom on that leg, and enjoyed the wide lower berth and overall spaciousness and privacy, but I’ll admit that even with windows on both sides the view is not as good out of the small windows as the double-sized windows in a Roomette or Bedroom. Also, there was occasionally considerable noise from the train kicking up ice—not bad, just something to consider. My SCA was Zach, who usually works in the coaches. He did an excellent job—he was always available when I looked for him.
My brother met me in St.Paul, and I spent a few days with him in Willow River. Before he dropped me off, we visited the Como Park Conservatory, with tropical gardens that were a nice break from the frigid temperatures on the days I was there. I spent the night at the Hyatt Place hotel, which is in a refurbished customs office building right across the street from St.Paul Union Depot. My room was very nice, and although they don’t have a restaurant they provided adequate food for my dinner, as well as a hot breakfast.
St. Paul Union Depot is beautiful. There is a somewhat incongruous light sculpture on the ceiling of people swimming, but otherwise it has been renovated true to its original form. Also, it appears to get considerable use as a bus terminal. My eastbound Empire Builder came in about two hours late.
I took the Lake Shore Limited to New York, even though I was headed to Florida and the LSL doesn’t connect with the Florida trains. I had never been on that route, and wanted to check out the scenery. Even though much of the route is dark in winter I think that the scenery is much better on the Capitol Limited. The Fairfield Inn and Suites right across from the Farley building was my hotel in New York. It was fine, just fine. My wife once stayed at the Pennsylvania Hotel near Penn Station while connecting trains, and was somewhat disappointed.
I did not get the new Viewliner diner on either of the trains to or from Florida. The overall service, food quality, and state-of-repair on all of the trains I rode was adequate, with no major deficiencies.
There was a rocket launch scheduled while I was in Florida, so I booked a visit to Kennedy Space Center that day and was quick enough to get a ticket to a two-mile-away viewing site. The countdown actually proceeded beyond the launch window, but launch was scrubbed in the final 40 seconds due to a small plane flying into the range. I sat with my aunt on the deck of my hotel the next night and viewed the launch from 20 miles away.
AU member “Shanghai” met me for lunch when I boarded #98(21) in Kissimmee, Florida. He has me convinced that I need to get to an AU Gathering! We also met for dinner. I got off the train in Washington before breakfast, and caught the Cardinal to Chicago. There were three full coaches on #51(22), with an unusually high number of women wearing pink hats. The salmon I had for dinner in the Dinette was very good.
The Seattle section, #7(23), had only one sleeper and one coach. My #27(23) offered the most disappointment of the trip, but certainly not bad enough to keep me away from Amtrak. The SCA announced that there was only one water bottle per person. The LSA would not ask people in the SSL if they wanted dinner reservations, and her announcements were inaudible over the PA system. I had been accustomed to having enough pillows to sit up in bed (you need to fill that space below the head cushion), as there were six pillows in the family room and four in each of the Viewliner roomettes. But this Superliner roomette only had two pillows. The SCA did find two more pillows for me, but was otherwise pretty much absent. The SSL on this train appeared and smelled as if it had recently been renovated—the windows were dated 10-2016. But I noticed that my roomette’s windows were dated 1-2016, and they were so dirty it was impossible to photograph out them. It was completely impossible to see out the window at the end of the train, and there were pieces of trash and washcloths under the seat in my roomette. Breakfast coming in to Portland was the only disappointing meal of my journey (the blueberry bar looked delicious, but was unpalatable, and the croissant was cold…)
My northbound Cascades from Portland to Bellingham incurred significant delays from freight congestion. And my southbound Cascades the next day arrived at the station early and departed on time, but waited 15 minutes just outside the station for an oil train to pass. I was only on board for the half hour to Mount Vernon (26 miles), so this was relatively the worst delay of my journey. The purpose of this short hop was to fill a critical gap in my experience of most of Amtrak’s system: it is the stretch of track closest to my home, and it is one of the most scenic segments in the country.
Edited by Maglev, 13 February 2017 - 10:49 PM.