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Chicago/Grand Rapids trip


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#1 thully

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Posted 27 May 2017 - 07:52 AM

After a long hiatus (slightly over the year), I'm finally on a train again. It's been this long owing to my change of jobs/move back to Michigan, as well as my special diet making it difficult to do long-distance trips. Do miss San Diego (and the Surfliner with its now 12 trips in each direction daily), though I am happy to be back in Michigan.

Part 1: Ann Arbor to Grand Rapids

For this trip, I decided to make a return visit to Chicago (as I had done several times back when I lived in Michigan before), though this time with a twist. I had wanted to see a Grand Rapids Griffins (minor league hockey) playoff game on Friday night, so instead of going directly from Ann Arbor to Chicago via the Wolverine, I first went to Grand Rapids.

Unfortunately, Amtrak doesn't offer useful service from Ann Arbor to Grand Rapids - they do offer an itinerary, though it either involves a multi-hour layover and connection to a Thruway bus in Kalamazoo or going all the way to Chicago and then back via the Pere Marquette. As such, I opted for Greyhound from Ann Arbor to Grand Rapids. The bus was supposed to leave at 1:20 pm from the Ann Arbor station (now shared by Amtrak and Greyhound), but was delayed by nearly an hour. It seems the bus left Detroit quite late - overheard someone talking about an overturned semi somewhere. Once it got there, we were finally on our way. The experience from there was rather uneventful, though the cramped quarters did remind me of why I preferred trains (and made me glad I booked the Pere Marquette for the next segment - early in the morning as it may be - rather than going via bus). Arrived at the GR bus station about an hour late - not ideal, but still better.

Met my grandpa/uncle for the game (as they live on that side of the state), but was unable to do dinner as planned due to the late-running bus. The game was great - GR won 6-2, and are now 1 win from the AHL finals. Made me kind of wish I had stayed around to see the next game, though I was a bit unsure what I'd do in Grand Rapids on my own for a day (plus it would cut into my Chicago time, and make miss the opportunity to see the Tigers play the White Sox). I would go to Lake Michigan if there was a reliable means of getting there without driving (I don't drive), though I'm not sure I'm comfortable depending on the ability to get a cab on the shores of West Michigan. Oh well - if they do make the finals, I may end up going back.

Maybe I'll do a Wolverine+Kalamazoo Thruway bus connection that time if the times work out better - that would be preferable to the Greyhound if the timing doesn't force a long layover. Hopefully Michigan one day does a Holland/Grand Rapids-Lansing-Ann Arbor/Detroit corridor service one day - would make it possible to do more trips by train (not just Chicago and long distance). It would also be nice to have Ann Arbor - Detroit rail options better suited to day trips eastbound - the Surfliner was nice for the San Diego-LA/OC day trips, and I'd love to have something similar here. Of course, the tax that would have funded commuter rail failed last year, so I'd imagine that isn't happening for a while (if ever). Perhaps Amtrak will offer an earlier eastbound/later westbound Wolverine at some point...

Next part - Holland to Chicago (Pere Marquette).

Trains traveled: Wolverine, Pacific Surfliner, Northeast Regional, Adirondack, Capitol Limited, Lake Shore Limited, Southwest Chief, Sunset Limited, Texas Eagle, City of New Orleans, Cardinal, San Joaquin, Coast Starlight, California Zephyr, Capitol Corridor, Pere Marquette


#2 thully

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Posted 27 May 2017 - 09:20 AM

Part 2 - Holland to Chicago (Pere Marquette)

Since where I was staying was between Grand Rapids and Holland, I opted for the later departure from Holland on the Pere Marquette. Though it was still early, especially after going to a 7pm game in GR the previous day - had to get up before 6am. Not ideal, but I wanted to add the Pere Marquette to my list of trains I've taken. Also, I wanted to make the Tigers/White Sox game at 1:10pm in Chicago, and the only later option that would get me there on time only left an hour or so later (and required a bus connection). After being dropped off the station, I was excited to see Superliner cars - definitely prefer the bilevel equipment, and on the Wolverine we're usually stuck with Horizons. Didn't miss much opting for coach over BC - looks like they just curtained off part of a Superliner as business class.

The ride from Holland to St. Joseph was pretty uneventful - the scenery was pretty similar to what I've seen on the Wolverine, and our only delay was when we had to slow down to pass some parked CSX freight cars. Got some coffee in the cafe car to try and wake up a bit moreIn St. Joseph there were some good lake views - reminded me a little of the Surfliner, albeit not lasting as long. Then we made our way down through the extreme southwest part of Michigan and into Indiana, following a parallel but different route than the Wolverine.

Eventually joined the NS Chicago line (also used by the Wolverine and several other westbound trains), and made our way into Union Station, passing the Sox ballpark (where I'll be later) on the way. Got there slightly late (around 9:20am Central time), though being almost 4 hours before the game I don't mind. From the station I'll go grab a CTA pass, see if I can at least drop my bags at my hotel (if not check in), and relax before the game (maybe find something to eat). The sun came out just as I arrived into CUS - looks like a nice day, and no rain in the forecast. That was a concern when planning this trip - waited until the last minute to get a ticket due to rain concerns, and yesterday they had the first half of a doubleheader rained out. We get to make that up today - so I get 2 games for the price of one! That is if I make it that long - kind of tired with this early departure. While it was nice to check the Pere Marquette off my list, I definitely appreciate having later departure options on the Wolverine.

Next - Chicago, Tigers/Sox game, and CHI-ARB retur

Trains traveled: Wolverine, Pacific Surfliner, Northeast Regional, Adirondack, Capitol Limited, Lake Shore Limited, Southwest Chief, Sunset Limited, Texas Eagle, City of New Orleans, Cardinal, San Joaquin, Coast Starlight, California Zephyr, Capitol Corridor, Pere Marquette


#3 thully

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Posted 28 May 2017 - 08:04 PM

Part 3 - Chicago

After our train arrived at Union Station, I bought a CTA day pass out of the ticket machine. Not having my Ventra card from my last trip, I just bought a normal ticket. I also called the hotel to see if they could get me in a room early (or store a bag, if not). They said to come over to see if my room was ready, so I hopped on a nearby CTA bus and went on over. As it turns out, they let me check in early - was thrilled with that, as I wanted to take a nap before the game - especially since it was a doubleheader (and my one ticket got me into both games - 2 games for the price of 1!)

I took a nap, and afterward made my way to the Red Line. I was within close walking distance of the Harrison station, which I was familiar with from my times staying at the HI Chicago hostel (as that was in the same vicinity). Took the Red Line to Sox-35th and headed to the game. After some confusion with the gates (Gate 3 seemed to only have a season ticket holders entrance, and Gate 3 1/2 wouldn't let me pass because evidently it too was not for common folks despite the scant signage), I finally made it into the stadium as the national anthem was being played. Ended up making it through both games, and was happy that the Tigers at least managed a split. Not many people stayed for the second game - I suspect because they stopped alcohol sales after the first game. After the game, I took the Red and Brown lines to check out a cider bar called the Northman. As someone into hard cider, I was excited to find a bar specializing it. I eventually returned to the hotel and went to bed, concluding a very long day (having been up at 5am ET, and going to bed at almost midnight CT)

Today I had to check out of the hotel by noon, so after I checked out I stored my bags at the hotel. Having several hours before the departure of the #354 Wolverine, I wanted to make use of the time. Ended up going to get some gluten-free Chicago deep dish (yes, that is a thing), and went back to the cider bar briefly before taking a CTA 78 Montrose bus toward Lake Michigan. Having lived in San Diego for 4 years, I enjoyed visiting the ocean (and ocean views on the Surfliners), and while Lake Michigan isn't the ocean it might be the next best thing. Though the 78 is supposed to go to Montrose Beach Memorial Day weekend throu Labor Day, evidently not all 78s do, and I had to walk a little longer from the end of the route. Eventually I made it, and walked around the beach and the pier. Quite interesting - no one thinks of Chicago when they think beaches, but it wasn't bad. Of course, the water was too cold to actually get into (though that didn't stop a few diehards I saw), though I enjoyed walking around there.

After that, I only had 3 hours until the Wolverine departed, so I took an Uber down to the Magnificent Mile and wandered around a bit. I would have taken the 78, though I was unsure how frequently it actually picked up at the beach (seeing as it was a Sunday and not all 78s go to the beach). After that, I went back to the hotel via the Red Line, collected my bags, and picked up some dinner to go before heading to Union Station.

Trains traveled: Wolverine, Pacific Surfliner, Northeast Regional, Adirondack, Capitol Limited, Lake Shore Limited, Southwest Chief, Sunset Limited, Texas Eagle, City of New Orleans, Cardinal, San Joaquin, Coast Starlight, California Zephyr, Capitol Corridor, Pere Marquette


#4 thully

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Posted 28 May 2017 - 10:47 PM

Part 4 - Union Station/Chicago to Ann Arbor (Wolverine)

I had opted to take a 151 Sheridan bus to Union Station, and as such I was dropped at.the Union Station Transit Center. That definitely seems new - as I recall before it was just normal bus stops. Made my to Union Station, and sat out for the Great Hall as that is where boarding now takes place. As I remembered something about needing a boarding pass at CUS, I asked an Amtrak agent who printed me said boarding pass with a number and letter on it as well as my train. That was weird - never before have I needed a boarding pass on Amtrak, and the letter/number seemed like the Southwest Airlines boarding system. When they actually called for 354 to board, everyone just lines up without regard to numbers. Eventually someone showed up with a "Track 16" sign and we did the kindergarten walk all the way from the Great Hall to track 16.

All in all, I'm not quite sure about this system - the Great Hall is a nicer waiting area than the old area, though it is farther from the tracks. And it is annoying having to deal with the boarding pass and even longer kindergarten walk (and having to show up earlier to deal with all this) - almost seems like they're trying to be more airline-like. I like just going to the platform on my own, as it is at smaller stations - though it would at least be better for if they ditched the boarding pass and just announced the track in the Great Hall (similar to how LA Union Station was last time I was there).

Once I reached the train, they directed all riders to cars based on destination. I went to the car for Ann Arbor riders and finished my dinner, which I had taken to go so I could be at Union Station in time for the boarding process. They announced it was a full train for Memorial Day weekend, though I had an empty seat right next to me (and saw several others). Perhaps it was full/near-full for the destinations other than Ann Arbor? (thinking that may be the case as most UM students aren't around for the summer).

Eventually, at 6pm the train lurched forward, as we made our way through the Amtrak rail yard. I saw several interesting cars there - a few Sightseer Lounges, the Great Dome (still haven't gotten to experience that), and even some Amtrak California and Surfliner equipment. Those cars are really far from home! Then we made our way through the South Side of Chicago, passing the Sox ballpark and traversing residential neighborhoods, eventually entering Indiana and passing the Hammond/Whiting station without stopping. That gave way to a wide array of rail tracks and freight cars, including those of Norfolk Southern (who of course owns this section of track). That made me recall the days of their slow orders making the Wolverine 60-90 min slower - glad most of the Wolverine line is now owned by MDOT or Amtrak. Looking forward to expanded 110mph operation on this line, and hopefully more trains (including earlier arrivals/later departures from Chicago and Detroit).

Anyway, we soon switched over to the Amtrak Michigan Line at Porter, and stopped at Michigan City, IN before making our way to the state of Michigan. The rest of the trip through Michigan was uneventful - which is actually nice, given how it was a few years ago with waiting for freights and slow orders. The only train we had to wait for to pass was the 355 Wolverine to Chicago. Crew change was in Battle Creek, as it has always been - though I noticed they don't announce this as a smoke/fresh air break as they used to. I figure some level of government may have banned smoking on the platform in the past few years, and as for the lack of fresh air break I figure they don't want to deal with through passengers straying from the train. Arrived in Ann Arbor a little late, but not too late - a little after 11:30, which would have been earlier then the schedule arrival a few years ago.

Anyway, that about wraps up this trip. Not a super exciting trip by AU standards, though I wanted to do a new Chicago/Michigan trip log since its been a while since I did my last ones. I also wanted to get one involving the Pere Marquette, given my visit to Grand Rapids at the beginning of this trip. May be back in GR next week for the AHL Calder Cup Finals, though I figure I'll be Greyhounding it to get there in a reasonable amount of time. I would take a Wolverine+Kalamazoo thruway connection if they offered one in the morning/afternoon without a multi-hour Kalamazoo layover.. Figure I may do another train trip later this summer involving VIA Rail, the Lake Shore Limited, and the Adirondack/Vermonter possibly (Canada/NYC have been at the top of my list of trips to do for a while now).

Trains traveled: Wolverine, Pacific Surfliner, Northeast Regional, Adirondack, Capitol Limited, Lake Shore Limited, Southwest Chief, Sunset Limited, Texas Eagle, City of New Orleans, Cardinal, San Joaquin, Coast Starlight, California Zephyr, Capitol Corridor, Pere Marquette


#5 SarahZ

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Posted 30 May 2017 - 10:31 PM

Thanks for the tip about the cider bar. I'm going to have to check that out. :)

 

They still allow smoking at Battle Creek; they just don't announce it. That was my home station for most of 2016. In my experience, the conductors were really good about herding the smokers as far away from the doors and other passengers as possible.


Edited by SarahZ, 30 May 2017 - 10:32 PM.

Amtrak Miles: 39,318

 

Amtrak Routes: Blue Water, California Zephyr, Capitol Limited, Carl Sandburg, City of New Orleans, Coast Starlight, Crescent, Empire Builder, Hiawatha, Illinois Zephyr, Lincoln Service, Southwest Chief, Texas Eagle, Wolverine

 

Metropolitan Rail: Chicago Metra, Chicago L, Dallas TRE, Detroit People Mover, New Orleans RTA, San Francisco MUNI, Seattle Monorail, South Shore Line (NICTD), Toronto Subway & RT, Washington DC Metro


#6 Metra Electric Rider

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Posted 31 May 2017 - 03:32 PM

Today I had to check out of the hotel by noon, so after I checked out I stored my bags at the hotel. Having several hours before the departure of the #354 Wolverine, I wanted to make use of the time. Ended up going to get some gluten-free Chicago deep dish (yes, that is a thing), and went back to the cider bar briefly before taking a CTA 78 Montrose bus toward Lake Michigan. Having lived in San Diego for 4 years, I enjoyed visiting the ocean (and ocean views on the Surfliners), and while Lake Michigan isn't the ocean it might be the next best thing. Though the 78 is supposed to go to Montrose Beach Memorial Day weekend throu Labor Day, evidently not all 78s do, and I had to walk a little longer from the end of the route. Eventually I made it, and walked around the beach and the pier. Quite interesting - no one thinks of Chicago when they think beaches, but it wasn't bad. Of course, the water was too cold to actually get into (though that didn't stop a few diehards I saw), though I enjoyed walking around there.
 

 

Believe it or not, Chicago used to advertise ourselves as a "beach destination" and there were numerous "beach" hotels on both the north and south sides!


SJ - Norra Stambanan, Nordvästra stambanan, Södra stambanan, Dalabanan

NSB- Bergensbanen, Kongsvingerbanen, Rørosbanen, Dovrebanen, Flåmsbana, Roa–Hønefossbanen

Amtrak - Floridian, San Francisco Zephyr, Southwest Limited, Illini, State House


#7 MikefromCrete

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Posted 31 May 2017 - 04:26 PM

Chicago is quite the beach city. There are beaches from Michigan City to the North Shore. 



#8 Bob Dylan

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Posted 06 June 2017 - 02:13 PM

Chicago is quite the beach city. There are beaches from Michigan City to the North Shore. 

And the Penguins and Polar Bears love it!😄😎
"There's Something About a Train! It's Magic!"-- 1970s Amtrak Ad
 
".. I ride on a Mail Train Baby, can't buy a thrill.."--I said that!
 
"..My heart is warm with the friends I make,and better friends I'll not be knowing,
Yet there isn't a train I wouldn't take,No matter where its going!.." -Edna St. Vincent Millay

#9 dogbert617

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Posted 25 June 2017 - 02:20 PM

Nice report about your trip to Grand Rapids. It's too bad the train times aren't as good as other Amtrak Michigan routes, when it comes to when the eastbound(north) train arrives in Grand Rapids, and when the westbound(south) train leaves Grand Rapids for Chicago. Although I probably could find a way to handle that 6am departure from Grand Rapids, since I once handled an early 7am departure from Chicago to Saint Louis on train #301.






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