Good morning everybody - Here are some recollections the friend and I experienced this past week. we had been in France on a Public Radio tour with host Fred Child on the Seine, which was quite wonderful and stayed several nights in Paris. Somebody had to do it. Except for one Paris Metro ride, we took no trains in France. We had planned to make a two day side trip to Toulouse by train, but the intermittent rail strike made this an uncertain idea for such a short time span, so we stayed in Paris. We flew United back to Newark. I did not enjoy Terminal 1 of Charles de Gaulle Airport, but can speak favorably of an overnight stay at the Sheraton which is atop Terminal 2. We stayed in New York City, with friends in Princeton, NJ and four nights in Philadelphia, hearing the great Wanamaker pipe organ three times - worth a trip to the city just for that reason.
On Wednesday May 16 a taxi took us to 30th Street Station early in the morning. The Acela lounge was not open until 6, but it is a nice space. The original reservation called for us to board the Cardinal at 8:15am, but since it was temporarily cut back to DC, we took Train 111 Business Class, the last car on the train to DC. The redcap who assisted us was terrific. Thank you, Bob. We checked suitcases, with some help from a redcap, who did not appear trainside, but was otherwise helpful and went to the Acela lounge. Here occurred one of the minor highlights of the four week trip. Walking across the lounge from the snack area, who did I spot but former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright! Being a tour guide and accustomed to approaching people, I went over and introduced myself. She was very friendly and cheerful, in the company of another lady, and was headed to New York. We had a brief chat, and she said she grew up in Colorado and loves taking trains. I told her that I was delighted to meet her, which was very true, and we shook hands. ( Yesterday I purchased her recent book about Fascism. )
The redcap returned and took us in the cart through a netherworld underneath Union Station out to Train 51. The Viewliner sleeper was under the care of Tyree. The sleeper itself was in reasonably good shape, but I can't say the same for the business class car ahead. Other than some of the seats being singles, the car is dingy and unkempt looking. Off we went on a rainy day through Virginia and West Virginia. Much has been said about the food on this train, which overall was poor. ( Sorry, I had been in France. ) I will say, having made this comment elsewhere, that the hot roast beef sandwich at lunch was pretty good. The " Mediterranean Chicken " at dinner was fair, an airline style meal. At breakfast the " Breakfast Bowl " was a gloppy concoction. I do understand there is no regular kitchen or dishwashing facility on this type of car, but I see the same menu is on the CONO. This is really not acceptable, and I won't get into a further editorial about their food service and what they are trying to do with it. Do not take the Cardinal for the food, but I find the entire trip to be fascinating. Several years ago I rode it twice eastbound, but this was the first time westbound. Even the ride through rural Indiana the following morning through farm fields and along country roads on single track of the former Monon Railroad kept my attention.
Being a former crew dispatcher ( NJ Transit ) the assignments on Amtrak interest me. I learned that the crew based in Huntington, West Virginia that goes to Charlottesville on Sundays lays over until Wednesday! I asked the conductor if he keeps a car there. Yes, indeed, the whole crew drives home for two nights, over 300 miles, and then returns on Tuesday night. ( A good reason to make it a daily train - I know, too many ifs, ands, and buts. ) The Indianapolis crew that goes to Chicago does not return the same night, which is legal if everything goes right. But the crews had to be relieved so often out in the farm fields that they now layover over 24 hours in Chicago. I do want to put in a good word for the conductors I met on the Cardinal and SWC - very professional and courteous folks, in particular Eric Morrison out of Huntington and Matt Patterson ( who looked sharp in a red bow tie ) from Indianapolis. This also goes for our car attendants, the cafe car, and the dining car on the SWC. While I read reports of some less than great employees, I did not meet any of them on this trip.
We arrived a few minutes early into Indianapolis at 5:07 am, and then the fun started. Thankfully, this did not occur at speed, but as we arrived at the platform, the front truck of the private car " Redwood Empire " on the rear of the train derails and were wedged against the edge of the platform. I do not know if there was a party on board,as the conductor asked me politely to leave the area. The simple answer seemed to be to simply uncouple the private car from the baggage car, but this was not the case, as the angle of the derailed car, made it impossible at that point to uncouple them, even after much hammering by mechanical forces, so the decision was made to leave the baggage and private car, moving the baggage to the table area of the business car. We were then delayed by more than a couple of freight trains, as 51 was way out of the time slot. Departure from Indianapolis was two hours late, but arrival in Chicago was at 2:30 pm, four and a half hours late. The scenery and crew members made the trip tolerable.
That night we attended a Mahler Symphony at Orchestra Hall with the wonderful Chicago Symphony and the next afternoon went to Union Station for Train 3. The new lounge is pretty nice, but there was only one redcap and the friend ( who is disabled ) walked ourselves out to the train. It seems they are short of redcaps. ( Gee, I would take that job if I was looking for one. ) We then met our SCA, Mr. Julio Maldonado from Pasadena, CA, truly one of Amtrak's finest. Off we went and I had the Land and Sea for dinner, which was one of the better meals I have had on Amtrak, but I doubt if paying cash that I would go for the $39 price tag. Speaking to one of the conductors the next morning, he too is very concerned about the future of this train. According to him, which may not be entirely accurate, the plan is to remove the diner in October and at some future point truncate the route between Kansas City and Albuquerque. This is certainly depressing - need I say more? The LSA in the diner also expressed his worries over these forecasts to me.
Onward to the west - the crew that makes a turn overnight from LaJunta had been delayed eastbound due to bad weather, and the crew did not get the proper four hour layover in Dodge City, so we had to be relieved west of Garden City, resulting in one delay. Then alarms went off twice in the second locomotive ascending Raton Pass, taking up at least an hour. We sat in Raton for awhile while a report was made as to the locomotive incident, but there are no more big mountains to climb, so we proceeded to Albuquerque in good shape, but then seemed to have further delays departing removing a drunk or two, and then a 20 minute wait for Railrunner. West of there, we proceeded at high speed to Flagstaff. My friend was lying down in the roomette, but I've decided that I am no longer fond of those cramped upper bunks, so I asked Julio if there was a vacant room that I could sit in, which was very kind of him, and I managed to doze off, as I was getting really tired, having spent most of the day in the Sightseer. One gentlemen who turned out to be a good conversationalist was an 87 year old retired farmer from Saskatchewan. Also, typical for this train, were a large number of Amish travelers. Arrival in Flagstaff was at 12:30 am, over three and a half hours late, with handshakes and expressions of gratitude to Julio. A Lyft car was summoned which took us promptly the five miles to my home. I had been away 28 days and seen and heard many wonderful things and musical events, but was glad to be home with my two cats. My friend drove off the next day to his home 80 miles away. In many respects the cross country train trip was enjoyable and interesting, but leaves me shaking my head about the future of Amtrak. My next trips around the country this year will be by car. Thanks for reading.