I am returning home on the Palmetto after a weekend near Richmond in Ashland, VA for a guys only basketball weekend at RMC. This, of course, required a round trip on the Palmetto from Florence, SC. Say what you will about Anderson but there are some signs that his airline efficiency mentality is beginning to work. My reservation experience was painless, both on line, and on the phone. The online ticketing for my BC return was easy and the reservation popped up on my Amtrak app with no problem, which the conductor scanned. The ticket agent in Florence was the friendliest I’ve encountered, when I checked on the train. I’ve had problems there before. The northbound train was clean, but the AmII coach was ready for its refurb. The cafe car attendant was also efficient and friendly and the the food was vastly improved. My ham and cheese was Boar’s head served on some type of healthy grain bread. A far cry from the tired meat on a doughy bun as in the past. Lots of train traffic northbound delayed Florence departure 20 min but it was OT until Rocky Mount where track work and stacked up freights caused us to be one hour late into Richmond. Throughout January and part of this month the track work will affect this train including several period where it is canceled. My return train was early into Richmond and we weaved around three freights leaving the station making good use of the new bypass tracks around Acca yard (and funded by VA DOT). They just announced a second Norfolk train to begin March 1. Guess this is a quid pro quo that seems to work at the state level. The train had its usual consist: 4 coaches, BC, cafe, baggage. And it was packed heading into Richmond where they said 60 were boarding. Obviously many, including me, were getting off. While this is considered a long distance train, it really operates like a long corridor train. I do wish they would extend it back to Jacksonville, where it once originated. No additional equipment would be required (it had a midnight arrival and 6am departure before). It would require one additional crew, the current one makes a Savannah-Florence same day turn. While sitting on the ‘terrace’ at RVR this morning (a very pleasant spot in the warm sun) I noticed another very long freight with DPU mid train. Having seen a couple similar trains through Ashland, guess this is the new norm for CSX. Great idea, as long as they don’t break down. The vanishing use of cash has been discussed. While I’m a proponent of that, it won’t soon happen on Amtrak, at least with current technology. Soon after departing the LSA announced, with many apologies, that she could only accept cash as their credit card machine did not work. Both she and the conductor southbound were extremely courteous (‘hello, sir, may I see your ticket. Have a pleasant trip’). My BC car on the return is a newly refurbished AmI car that has the wider seat spacing. They are nice improvement (even with the small windows) and I hope this program continues to the AmII cars and Superliners. So it was a good trip. Now all Amtrak has to do, is perform like that on a consistent basis. Good dispatching (and no track work on a Sunday) resulted in an on time arrival in Florence . So I was able to get home in time to see the start of the Super Bowl! And, yes the Wifi worked well. One final note about Ashland. According to the crossing watchman (on the job for 25 years) who helps insure passengers are on the right side of the tracks and protects school buses through that busy main street crossing, the state will install new high level platforms at Ashland starting in April. I hate to see this because it will affect the small town charm of that station, but it is certainly needed. The street on one side will be widened to accommodate it. VA DOT has thrown in the towel about putting three tracks through town, with the third track now going in only north and south of town. A fully signaled triple track with only a couple of miles of double track should be able to handle about anything CSX and Amtrak can throw at them for the foreseeable future, especially with CSX volumes down with the longer trains. Glad the town and college won this one. Many of the shops, library, and restaurants would have been adversely affected if not shut down. And Ashland continues to be a great small college town. The Ironhorse restaurant there provides excellent fine dining food with a trackside view. It was an enjoyable evening for a bunch of old guys telling the same stories we did in college there 50 years ago. And the good guys won the basketball game.