Michigan to Glenwood Springs, Colorado (and back)...

Discussion in 'Travelogues / Trip Reports' started by thully, May 25, 2019.

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  1. May 25, 2019 #1

    thully

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    I’m finally on my awaited trip to Glenwood Springs, Colorado - was there before and enjoyed the hot springs pool, and the scenery on the California Zephyr from Denver to Glenwood Springs was amazing. The last time, I flew in to Denver from San Diego and took the Zephyr there - this time I’ll be taking the Zephyr in a sleeper (plus the Wolverine) both ways. Considered flying to/from Denver (or SLC to see a new part of the route), but the need for a hotel there both ways (and the possibility of having to pay a change fee to reschedule flights if UP closed the route for track work), meant that taking a sleeper both ways wasn’t much more expensive and gave me more flexibility. I actually considered rescheduling the trip at the last minute - not due to UP track work, but because a few days seem like they’ll be cold (highs around 50) with potential rain/snow. Ended up keeping it as-is - think I may take a day trip using the RFTA bus service to Aspen or somewhere else if the weather isn’t great for using the pool (the bus service there is amazingly good given the population). As it stands, I’ll be getting to Glenwood Springs on Sunday on the Zephyr and taking it back on Friday.

    Anyway, I started my trip on the Wolverine (#351), taking it from Ann Arbor to the end of the line in Chicago where I change to the Zephyr. I got to the station about 10min before it was supposed to depart - Uber/Lyft drivers seemed in short supply (likely due to the holiday weekend and most students not in town for summer), so it took a bit longer than expected. Once I got there, I heard there was about a 20min delay for an issue in Dearborn, and then shortly after that heard the train was stopped for a medical emergency. Ultimately, it arrived about an hour later than schedule - which shouldn’t jeopardize my connection, but may make it tight to leave Union Station for lunch (I had wanted to grab deep dish). Found a seat in Business Class, and we were finally on our way. I will say that the trek along the Huron River might be my favorite scenery on the Wolverine route (though I also like the approach into Chicago, with all the trains and tracks). I will probably be back on this route a few times this summer - thinking of taking a long weekend around July 4, and was looking at going to a concert in the Chicago suburbs (which would involve a connection to Metra. Since getting on, the ride has been fairly uneventful - we’re closing in on Kalamazoo now, and that will be our last stop until Chicago.
     
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  2. May 25, 2019 #2

    anumberone

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    Sounds like you're well versed on those connections. Don't know what kind of weather you wou will get in Colorado, it's been crazy here in California and it all flows that direction. Have a nice trip and keep us advised.
     
  3. May 25, 2019 #3

    thully

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    The rest of the Wolverine trip was fairly mundane, except that we made an unscheduled stop at Dowagiac (perhaps someone got on the wrong train, or had to be put off...), and incurred a bit more delay once on the Norfolk Southern tracks west of Porter, where we began going past a sea of intermodal freight cars. Eventually, we passed the freight, went past the White Sox ballpark, and through the Amtrak railyard - they had just about every kind of rail car there - Superliners, Viewliners, Amfleet, locomotives (including some new Chargers). Some of this equipment was definitely outside its region of service (saw some Northeast Regional branded cars, as well as a Heartland Flyer car - no Surfliners as I’ve seen in the past though). Ended up arriving at Union Station around 12:15 pm, which felt a bit too tight to go get deep dish.

    After arriving, I went to the Metropolitan Lounge to find that the luggage storage was full - being as the only other option was to pay $10 and wait in line at baggage, I just kept the bag with me, and got food in the station. Guess I’ll have to try for deep dish on the return trip (though I’ll certainly take a longer trip to Chicago later this summer). After grabbing food, I returned to the Metropolitan Lounge to wait for my train. Eventually, an announcement was made of a vague mechanical delay, which had me a little concerned (and hoping it wasn’t something really bad). That ultimately lasted for about an hour, and I was relieved to finally get on the Zephyr. Eventually we were rolling, speeding past Metra stations and more intermodal cars and watching the CTA buses turn into Pace buses. Not the most exciting scenery, though I do enjoy seeing the commuter rail stations and the freight rail infrastructure one sees around Chicago. Just passed the end of Metra in Aurora - may be taking Metra there for a concert later this year.
     
  4. May 25, 2019 #4

    SarahZ

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    I've seen Northeast Regional coaches on the Wolverine. I'm not sure if they're on loan or if it's another reason, but I've been noticing them for about a year.
     
  5. May 26, 2019 #5

    Pere Flyer

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    The Heartland Flyer doesn’t normally run with its own branded cars, but I’d guess the car that you saw was a SSL wrapped with a “Big Game Train” livery. That car is used for Friday’s 821 and Sunday’s 822 around the OU/Texas college football game weekend in October. The trains always sell out, the SSL café serves over 80 Bloody Marys to a train full of Boomer-aged Sooner fans, and the trains make a special stop at DAL instead of terminating/originating at FTW.
     
  6. May 26, 2019 #6

    thully

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    It was a Big Game Train SSL. Weird how they have a specially-branded SSL just for that one game day. As for the extension to DAL, that makes sense - though that makes me wonder why it doesn’t just run to DAL all the time (connection to the TE or even the TRE can be a long wait...)

    Anyway, we’re rolling through Iowa now, and it’s starting to get dark. Headed over to the SSL as we neared the Mississippi River, the scenery highlight of today. After that, I had dinner (the steak specifically). The others at my table were all going to San Francisco (including one from Michigan), and all expressed a dislike of flying. As we passed through small Iowa towns, I wondered why the CZ avoids Davenport, Iowa City, and Des Moines to instead serve Burlington, Ottumwa, and Osceola. Obviously has to do with where the tracks are, but you’d think they would try to serve major cities in Iowa before smaller cities. Our stop in Ottumwa was for some reason longer than expected, but we finally started moving again after dinner. Just had a stop in in the middle of nowhere - they’re trying to make sure they don’t get in trouble with a flash flood warning in effect. Hope our trip goes smoothly - a slight delay is OK, but I don’t think I’d be happy to be rousted up for a middle-of-the-night bustitution.
     
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  7. May 26, 2019 #7

    thully

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    Slept OK last night - given the bumpiness it was sometimes hard to stay asleep. Woke up for good somewhere close to the Nebraska-Colorado border - looking at the clock, it seemed we were about 2 1/2 hours behind schedule. Took a shower and went to breakfast - the others I was sitting with were all headed for the Bay Area. Seems like a lot of people are taking the full route...

    East of Denver the scenery in Colorado generally looks similar to Iowa/Nebraska, though that changed as we approached Denver and we went through industrial areas and by freight train cars. Then we got into Denver and began our reverse move into Union Station. Saw a couple of the RTD EMU trains that service Denver Airport and other destinations - it does seem like Denver is building up quite a commuter rail network in a fairly short time.

    Would be nice to spend a little time in Denver and check out this rail network - almost flew to Denver and caught the train there, but the risk of UP track work and facing a choice between bustitution or paying an airline change fee led me to just take the train. Right now, we’re stopped in the Denver station - seems we will have made up a bit of time after leaving Denver, but will still be almost 2 hours behind. Not a big deal for me as we’re scheduled to arrive at 1:53 and I may not be able to check in until 4 anyway...
     
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  8. May 26, 2019 #8

    chakk

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    Don't expect to make up any time westbound after Denver before Glenwood Springs. However, #5 can make up as much as 60 minutes between Glenwood Springs and Salt Lake City, due to schedule padding. And perhaps another hour to Reno. Then no makeup to Roseville, but as much as another hour made up for the remainder of the route west of Roseville to Emeryville.
     
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  9. May 26, 2019 #9

    Metra Electric Rider

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    One of my cousins lives a looong block from the Colorado River in Grand Junction and has been edgily eying the river due to the high snowpack this year and memories of helping sandbag along the river as a teen/tween.

    Colorado Trivia: Grand Junction is named after the original name of the river, much like the Grand Canyon, the Grand River.
     
  10. May 26, 2019 #10

    thully

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    The trip west of Denver was scenic as expected - after departing Denver, I went over to the SSL as we began ascending up the mountains. We went through a number of short tunnels on our way up, eventually reaching the Moffat Tunnel. An announcement was made 10 minutes prior and repeated upon entering that everyone had to stay in the car they were in while in the Moffat Tunnel. That made me wonder - why does everybody have to stay in the same car for the Moffat Tunnel and not the others?

    After we emerged from the tunnel they began serving lunch, and as I was hungry I went almost immediately. Good thing I did, as they quickly ended up with a waitlist, and then ran out of waitlist spots. Makes me wonder why they don’t just do reservations as for dinner. This time I was seated with people going to Glenwood Springs in coach. As such, it dawned on me - the reason there were more full-route passengers at dinner and breakfast was because I came from the sleepers, and coach passengers usually won’t be seated at the far end of the diner. Most shorter trip passengers, however, would opt to ride coach, particularly when there’s no overnight travel involved.

    After lunch, I briefly went back to the sleeper, before making my way to the lounge car for the run through the canyon, as the river was on the opposite side of my roomette window. Despite the canyon being famous for people mooning the train, I only noticed one this time, though I did see many people in kayaks/canoes/rafts. Went back to the sleeper when the river shifted to the opposite side of the train, and eventually we met up with I-70, at which point I knew we were getting close. Passed a sign for a town called “No Name” there, and ultimately made it to GSC at 3:23pm. So we did make up about 30 minutes between DEN and GSC. Had trouble finding my way from the station to my hotel, as most of the entrances to the pedestrian bridge were blocked off with no signs pointing to a detour route. After walking in a loop around town, I eventually found the path and made it there.

    Overall, a decent trip there. Will see how it goes on the return trip - hoping I keep my perfect record on connections in Chicago...
     
  11. May 26, 2019 #11

    Willbridge

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    Iowa routings have always been hard to make satisfactory due to the fact that it was too easy to build in that state. Every Eastern road had an interest in having a reliable partner between Chicago and the transcontinental connection at Council Bluffs/Omaha. The New York Central backed the Rock Island and the Michigan Central backed the Burlington. I'm not sure who was to blame for the North Western, the Milwaukee Road, let alone the Illinois Central and Chicago Great Western all getting into the CHI-OMA market.

    So, Amtrak started with a situation in which most of Iowa's population is on a main line, but which one? Then, in their desperate start-up chaos, the Burlington line still had two trains a day each way OMA--CHI and the strongest local ridership. The Milwaukee Road had one, handling the UP "City of Everywhere" with little local traffic. Rock Island service to the cities you mentioned had already been discontinued, leaving a lot of issues that would come with trying to start a service on a line headed for the bankruptcy courts.

    In subsequent years it became apparent that there is a new issue. The Burlington line has no Interstate highway competition. This creates a situation like that on parts of the Empire Builder and the Southwest Chief, in which Amtrak is overwhelmingly the best way to travel in a small market, versus other parallel lines where they would offer mediocre service in a big market. Which is better?

    Lastly, in 1991 Amtrak studied adding a second DEN--OMA--CHI train. It would have run via Ames on the North Western UP line. That study was the last I heard of original thinking for that market.
     
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  12. May 28, 2019 #12

    Willbridge

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    Because of the length of the Moffat Tunnel there's more potential for coal dust, dirt and fumes to build up to unpleasant levels. When it was built it was assumed that it would eventually be electrified and that was studied several times. The other tunnels are short enough that the problems aren't noticeable.
     
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  13. May 28, 2019 #13

    chakk

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    You may have also noticed that all car attendants are requested to turn off the air circulation systems while inside the Moffat Tunnel to further reduce intake of engine exhaust gases into the cars. Large fans then blow the exhaust gases out of the tunnel through vertical shafts that extend upward to the surface after trains pass. And doors close at each end of the tunnel to force most of the gases out the vertical shafts.

    when trains enter the tunnel, the door at the opposite end is still closed. you may notice your ears popping inside the tunne when that door at the opposite end opens as you approach it.
     
  14. May 31, 2019 #14

    thully

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    I had a good time in Glenwood Springs - spent a lot of time at the pool, though I also took the RFTA bus to Aspen and Carbondale. The bus service is impressive given the population of the area - running every 12-15 min during rush hour and every 30 min off-peak, 7 days a week.

    These past couple days, I have been a bit worried with the flooding in Iowa that my eastbound CZ may terminate in Denver (as the last couple have) with no alternative transportation. That would be annoying, as I’d have to get a last-minute flight and hotel room to get home (and hope Amtrak gives me a fair refund on the sleeper). So far, there is no word of that happening today - hoping that we are indeed running through to Chicago. A little surprised they haven’t said something officially given the past few days, though perhaps the terminations in DEN were just to get the equipment back on schedule. Of course, a delay is also a possibility given the conditions - that wouldn’t be as bad as a cancellation, though I fear they will give me the choice of a 4am arrival home via Thruway bus or paying for my own hotel in CHI. And I may get to try AmStew in that case...

    Currently sitting in the Glenwood Springs station - train should get here in about a half hour or so. Eager to get on, hopefully get lunch (the waitlist that quickly built up on my last train has me a bit concerned - hopefully they save spots for boarding passengers if that happens again), and start heading back to Michigan.
     
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  15. Jun 1, 2019 #15

    thully

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    The ride from Glenwood Springs to Denver was fairly uneventful - the train arrived right around 12:50pm as expected, and I was able to get lunch in the dining car soon after that. We weaved our way through the canyon, running into train 5 on the way (in fact, we stopped to take a passenger from 5 - sounds like someone may have missed their stop or got on the wrong train). Had to stop to let a UP freight pass, and then we started making our way down the mountain. The only dinner reservation options were 5 and 5:30 when they got to my sleeper, which was a bit early given my 1pm lunch but was what they had. Assuming the early time may have something to do with the Denver crew change. I had the steak at dinner, though passed on dessert (I really wish they still had ice cream...) Figured I’d see if they had some at Union Station during the long stop...

    After dinner, we closed in on Denver, passing by trains on the new RTD G Line, until we got stuck behind yet another freight (this time BNSF) a few miles from the station. We had caught up to the schedule before then, but the freight set us back. After that passed, and what seemed like a glacial run into Denver Union Station, we finally arrived. At that time, they announced a fresh air break, but warned against straying too far from the train and did not give a time when it would leave (which was different from my past experience, when they invited passengers to go in the station in DEN as long as they were back at a specific time). That lead me to stay in my room - I wanted to get out to look for dessert and get some cash from the ATM (forgot to do so before leaving), but didn’t want to be left in Denver. Of course, despite this warning, the stop was not abbreviated at all, and in fact ended up being longer than scheduled. We did eventually leave Denver after about an hour stop, now behind schedule by about an hour. Crossing my fingers that we get through Iowa OK and make the connection to 354 in CHI...
     
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  16. Jun 1, 2019 #16

    thully

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    After Denver it got dark fairly quickly as we were running about an hour late. When I was at the cafe car to get a drink, I heard a comment that many people tried to get on the train in Denver who weren’t on the manifest - presumably passengers from the past couple days’ #6 annulled in Denver going onward. I slept OK last night, though was woken up by the PA around 7am announcing that “to your right is the Missouri River, where you can see water and the damage it can cause”. At that point we had just left Omaha, now a bit over an hour and a half behind. The damage was quite a sight - saw plenty of trees and some houses underwater, and for a long time our train was surrounded by water on both sides of the track (stopping short of the track, or else we wouldn’t be able to get through...). We weren’t on a bridge that whole time - it just looked like it because the tracks were on higher ground. We also passed an Air Force base - I was on the wrong side of the train to see it, but the PA announcement quipped that “maybe they should trade their planes for boats”, so I assume they were flooded pretty bad.

    After that we got an announcement that the dining car was open for breakfast, and they were now starting a waitlist. A waitlist for breakfast seemed pretty unusual - suspect we have a heavier-than-usual load with the passengers from the last two trains stuck in Denver. I would have got up at a more leisurely pace and took a shower first, but opted to make sure I secured my spot at the diner for breakfast. Ate with one couple who got on in Omaha traveling to Naperville, and a train buff who was heading back to New York state (catching the LSL to Poughkeepsie at CHI). Breakfast was good as usual - as I ate, we eventually made our way out of the flooding area and towards our first stop in Iowa at Creston. I had trouble telling when exactly we crossed the bridge to Iowa because of the extent of the flooding making it seem like we were on a bridge the whole time we were close to the river. After breakfast I went ahead and took a shower. Currently running a bit under 2 hours behind - hoping we can make up time, or at least not lose it. Glad we seem to be making it through Iowa OK - hope there’s no issues at the Mississippi River, and we can get to Chicago at least in time to catch 354...
     
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  17. Jun 1, 2019 #17

    Michigan Mom

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    Great TR!
     
  18. Jun 1, 2019 #18

    Willbridge

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    There is a good ice cream place in Denver Union Station, just past the good coffee place. They're both pricey, but handy. Sorry you were misled about the length of the stop. I've never seen them get out of here in less than half an hour when there is a big load.
     
  19. Jun 2, 2019 #19

    thully

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    After I left off, we had lunch, which started around 11:45. Unlike the last time I rode #6 (on the Wyoming detour), they didn’t do a super early/abbreviated lunch. That may be because we were pretty late, as opposed to on-time on that trip (though we lost time just outside of Chicago then). I had the burger, and was seated with a couple headed to Alabama via a connection to the City of New Orleans and a bus from Jackson, MS. They remarked that it was a long trip from Colorado - maybe too long... The trip through Iowa post-Missouri River was rather unremarkable - at least until we neared the Mississippi River.

    While finishing up lunch, they made an announcement that our next stop after Mt. Pleasant would be Galesburg, and that we wouldn’t be stopping in Burlington because the station was flooded, and stated that “hopefully” we’d be able to get through there. As I wanted to get a good view, I sat down in the SSL after lunch. As we made our way into Burlington, we started slowing to a crawl. At first everything seemed OK, but then we saw the water.

    It quickly surrounded the train, and unlike the Missouri River there was no visible land on the sides of the train. Trees were sticking out of the water, as were signs (including a “road closed” sign near where the water started) and buildings. I was surprised we were continuing given the conditions - given what I saw I expected them to turn around and either do a lengthy detour or bustitution. As we passed the station it was clear why we weren’t stopping - passengers would have to swim to the platform! Eventually we began to see land around the train again, and made our way to the bridge. After making it across, passengers cheered the crew for getting through that stretch.

    The rest of the trip was fairly unremarkable running through Illinois - there was some concern about connections (which they made announcements about), though in the end the only one we missed was the Blue Water (whose passengers could take the Wolverine and a bus). We did make an extra stop in Mendota for passengers of the even-more-delayed #4 (which had its own river crossings to deal with). There was a quip on the PA about the “cruise” we took through Burlington, which I thought was funny. Eventually, the fields gave away to Metra stations and I knew we were closing in - ultimately making it to Union Station without issue and with time to spare for my connection. Though not enough time to get deep-dish pizza (have to save that for when I visit Chicago next).
     
    Last edited: Jun 2, 2019
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  20. Jun 2, 2019 #20

    thully

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    After arriving at Chicago Union Station, I went to get some food and then went to the Metropolitan Lounge. They told me we would board #354 at 5:30, though they ended up making the boarding call around 5:18. Walked to track 24 and boarded the business class car, snagging one of the single seats. Eventually everybody boarded the train and we pulled out of Union Station.

    The train quickly sped up, going considerably faster than the Zephyr did most of the trip (though presumably still limited to 79 west of Porter). It started raining hard but we kept going, and got to Porter and the Michigan Line without any slowdown. After that point, it felt like we were really zooming by everything. I did catch a couple glimpses of Lake Michigan in Indiana, and the train kept making good time until Kalamazoo.

    At that point, we slowed down considerably, and had to stop a few times between stations - once to let 355 pass, and other for a reason I couldn’t tell. After that we were about 30 min behind schedule. I think there may be some track work/speed restrictions in the area judging by an alert for train 355. Ultimately we got going faster again just west of Albion, and arrived in Ann Arbor at 11:32pm (which is similar to the old scheduled arrival 7 years ago when I first rode it).

    All in all, a good trip, though I’m ready to get home. I do feel like long distance train trips tire me out more than they used to - even in sleeper. That’s why I figure a flight-train combination may be better in some cases, and I’m not sure about doing something like the Canadian. As for the Wolverine, I hope they can get the whole track east of Porter running at 110mph consistently soon, with less random delays - it really is great to ride when running full speed.
     
  21. Jun 4, 2019 #21

    dogbert617

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    I think if I ever did a train trip to travel on the Canadian, I'd just fly from Chicago to Toronto to take it west, and go from there to Vancouver. Possibly do a day or 2 in Toronto sightseeing, just before starting such a trip west. Then take Cascades south to Seattle and the Builder east, to save a little money going back.

    Also that's sad to think the CZ wasn't stopping at Burlington, because of flooding at that station. I'm surprised your train didn't get bustituted, through Burlington. I guess Amtrak called for buses from either Mt. Pleasant or Galesburg, for those travelers who were going to Burlington?
     
    Last edited: Jun 4, 2019
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  22. Jun 6, 2019 #22

    Michigan Mom

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    That Burlington water crossing sounds exciting, to say the least!
     
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