Piedmont joy ride

Discussion in 'Travelogues / Trip Reports' started by MARC Rider, Jun 3, 2019.

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  1. Jun 3, 2019 #1

    MARC Rider

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    MARC Rider

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    I decided to follow the suggestions of Palmland and Seaboard92 (as well as some other posters) for this trip. I had a good time, but I would not recommend doing this in the summer when the temperatures hit 90 F plus. Apparently, there was an unusual heatwave down there last week, that made wandering about outside unpleasant. Thus, I missed seeing soaking in some of the scenery in downtown Salisbury and Greensboro. Plus, I had to sit outside the Salisbury train station (air conditioned) waiting room for an hour and a half before it was reopened after the lunch break. Fortunately, there's lots of shade at the Salisbury Station, and I did have a bottle of water with me. My return trip to Baltimore was marred by a weather-related delay that I have described elsewhere and won't spend too much time reporting on it here.

    My plan was this: Baltimore to Charlotte on the Carolinian (79), business class, Tuedsay. Spend the night in downtown Charlotte, up early on Wednesday to see the last hurrah of the replica streetcars on the CityLynx Gold Line, then over to Amtrak to ride the Piedmont (74) to Salisbury. Take a cab/uber to the NC Transportation Museum, have lunch in Salisbury and then take the next Piedmont (76) to Greensboro. Check out the Greensboro Station and get dinner there, and then take the last Piedmont to Raleigh. Spend the night in Raleigh, then home on the Carolinian (80). I thought about taking the Silver star, but it's scheduled departure is 845 AM, and I thought that with a 10 PM arrival in Raleigh, I might want to sleep in. Also, a roomette on the Star was priced at double the cost of business class on the Carolinian.

    Southbound 79 left Baltimore on time, and even with the NEC trackwork, arrived in Washington in about 30 minutes, about as fast as the Acela. After our engine change and reception of passengers, we left Washington, and headed south. While the trip was uneventful, by the time we got to Raleigh, we were an hour late. I don't know if it was heat restrictions or what, as I don't remember getting held for freight trains or anything. Our BC car was sold out between Alexandria and Wilson, and I had a seatmate for that section. I'm glad I had business class because there was enough room on the floor in front to the seat for my backpack and my legs, which means I didn't have to put my backpack in the overhead rack and have to bother my seatmate any time I wanted to retrieve any thing from it. At Wilson, an empty seat pair opened up ,and my seatmate (who was also going to Charlotte) hopped up quickly and claimed it, so we both had seats to ourselves for the rest of the trip.

    The Carolinian business class has a car attendant who periodically passes out drinks (non alcoholic). I'm not sure if I think this service is so great, because this is the only way you can get your free business class drink. So if you want to have lunch in between the times the attendant rolls the cart down the aisle, you have to pay for a drink or remember to have one on hand earlier. Frankly, I prefer the system on the Northeast Regional trains where you just show the cafe car attendant your BC ticket and get the free drink, and you get it when you want to get it. Now, if this attendant were able to also take order for stuff from the cafe car car for you, that would be a different thing... I suspect that the state of North Carolina is paying for this extra, and I wonder if its the best use of their money.

    After we left Raleigh, we got held up outside of Cary for a while for a Piedmont train. Then, right outside of Durham, we were considerably delayed for a very slow moving freight train. That's when I overheard a lady sitting a few rows in front of me saying, "next time, I'm taking a freight train." We were running kind of slow all the way to Greensboro, but after Greensboro, the engineer put on the gas and we were running at 70-75 mph the rest of the way (except stops, of course). We got into Charlotte about an hour and a half late. There were no taxicabs waiting, but through the magic of Uber, I soon had a ride to a highrise apartment nearby, which was my Airbnb room. A rather odd place. Nice, but odd. The tenants all appeared to be millenials, and my presence there was going to make a big difference in the average age of the people sleeping there. The airbnb host sent a text warning me not to have anything to do with the residents or building staff (except, of course for the concierge who handed me the keys). I had a nice, if small 1 bedroom apartment on the 19th floor (alas, facing away for the downtown skyline), and I quickly went to sleep, setting my alarm for early rising so I could check out the CityLynx trolley, yet still make my 10:30 train to Salsibury.

    -more to come
     
    Last edited: Jun 3, 2019
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  2. Jun 3, 2019 #2

    MARC Rider

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    MARC Rider

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    Some pics from Day 1

    Amfleet 1 business class on the Carolinian:

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    A different view of our nation's capital:

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    From the Long Bridge over the Potomac: 20190528_112317.jpg

    CSX freight passing through Richmond:

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    Crossing the James River:

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    Turning off the A-Line on to the North Carolina Railroad at Selma. Those tracks are heading to Florida:

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  3. Jun 3, 2019 #3

    MARC Rider

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    MARC Rider

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    The next morning, I woke bright and early, washed,dressed, packed my stuff and left i in the apartment. I went down and walked the 5 blocks into the downtown on Tryon St. Downtown Charlotte seemed very pleasant with shady, tree lined streets, but it seemed weird that there were very few buildings from the 19th or early 20th century. Heck, it looked like almost everything had been built after 1970 (or even later). I made my way down to the arena and the stop for the Gold line. There was a temporary sign announcing the service suspension on June 3, and nobody waiting. I waited for almost 25 minutes, and was was starting to get worried that maybe they suspended the service a few days early, whe people started coming to wait. There is a large transit hub across the street, multiple bus bays, covered, and amazingly, public rest rooms (and in good repair, not vandalized, etc.) Was I in America, or some strange alternate reality?

    The trolley eventually came, it was a replica, but not an exact one, of a historic American streetcar. The air conditioning was welcome, but the pantograph in place of the traditional trolley pole was a bit jarring. Nonetheless, the ride was fun and worth the free fare, and I was soon back at the transit hub.

    Another strange thing about downtown Charlotte is that there didn't seem to be the kind of small hole-in-the-wall establishments usually found in large cities where once can order a cheap breakfast. However, through the magic of Google Maps, I found an Einstein Bros. Bagel shop that was more or less in the direction where I was staying. I thought I would splurge for the Blue Line and ride the regular Lynx service, but both ticket machines at the station were kaput, and I didn't want to mess around with finding someone to fix the problem. There is a rail trail that parallels the Lynx line, which I followed, and at least got to observe the trains from the outside. They certainly run frequently, at least during the morning rush hour, and there seems to be a lot of people riding them.

    It was starting to get hot out, so I appreciated the air conditioning at the bagel shop. They had a bagel and lox sandwich for $6.99! It was almost as good as the one I got in Brooklyn last September that cost $12.99. After polishing that off, back to my room to collect my stuff and experience the Piedmont Service.

    --wait, there's more!
     
  4. Jun 3, 2019 #4

    MARC Rider

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    MARC Rider

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    Downtown Charlotte:

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    They still have these?

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    Central transit hub ("CTC")

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    CityLynx Gold Line replicas, no longer running as of tomorrow:

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    Lynx Blue Line CTC station

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    My $6.99 bagel and lox sandwich. Lots of lox. The bagel not not be as good as the best New York makes, but it was better than a lot you can buy in the Big Apple. 20190529_082131.jpg
     
  5. Jun 3, 2019 #5

    MARC Rider

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    MARC Rider

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    I checked out of my room, then flipped out my phone an arranged an Uber ride. On this trip, I've become a reluctant fan of Uber, even if I think some of their corporate practices are abusive. The again, I don't think I saw a single taxicab on the whole trip until I got back to Baltimore, so if I wanted a ride, it was either Uber or Lyft, and Uber is what I have installed in my phone. If there's justice in the Universe, their corporation will tank, and whoever buys the pieces will make their money selling the software to independent taxicab companies who can then provide a similar service without all the Silicon Valley tech-bro nonsense. Anyway, it's kind of nice to call a cab at will, with the fare given to you before you get on, and then at the end, you can just get out and go without fiddling around making a payment.

    In the daylight, I saw the Charlotte train station, which is a 1960s era box located out in the middle of nowhere by the railyards. It has a single island platform connected to the main station by an underground passageway,which is the same arrangement used in Greensboro and Raleigh. I believe there are plans to relocate the station downtown, though I'm not sure where the tracks will go, as the N-S mainline makes a curve north to avoid downtown as it heads south.

    I arrived over an hour early, but I wanted to check my suitcase up to Raleigh and the signs at the station said that bags had to e checked in 45 minutes before train time. The agent gave a hard look at my three tickets, which in combination consisted of a ride between Charlotte and Raleigh on the same day, and took my bag. Then I got to hang out for quite a while in the air conditioned waiting room. Train 73 from Raleigh came in about 20 minutes late, but that didn't affect the on time performance of our train 74. We left on time and arrived in Salisbury about 45 minutes later. No heat restrictions, either, despite the fact it was quickly pushing 90. We ran at 70+ mph most of the run.

    The consist of the Piedmont was 3 three coaches and a baggage-"lounge" car. There were locomotives at both ends. The lounge car had table seating, vending machines (drinks, candy and chips only) and free coffee and water. I took a bottle, which was much appreciated later in the day. If you think you're going to need to eat on this route, be sure to bring something. The trains run in pus-pull configuration, so seating is fixed. The legroom is generous, equal to or exceeding an Amfleet 1 Business Class or Amfleet 2 coach. I think the seats were more comfortable than the Amfleet seats, though that might be subjective. The windows are large and have curtains if you have a problem with sunlight. Though the cars are old, they're completetly refurbished and tricked out with wifi and electrical outlets at every seat. I'm pretty impressed with the job the State of North Carolina did in obtaining this equipment.
     
  6. Jun 3, 2019 #6

    MARC Rider

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    MARC Rider

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    Charlotte train station

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    Piedmont equipment:

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  7. Jun 3, 2019 #7

    Bob Dylan

    Bob Dylan

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    Nice pics and trip, thanks for sharing!
     
  8. Jun 3, 2019 #8

    Seaboard92

    Seaboard92

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    I’m glad you made the trip. And I’m glad you enjoyed my local area. Had I been home I would have driven up and taken you to NCTM instead of an Uber. I call the Piedmont a Pocket Rocket with two engines the acceleration is amazing.

    The state recently bought Ringling cars for use in the near future.
     
  9. Jun 6, 2019 #9

    MARC Rider

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    MARC Rider

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    OK, so I arrived at Salisbury, and had no problem finding an Uber even in such a small town. I was quickly driven over to Spencer, and dropped off at the North Carolina Transportation Museum. Alas, no train ride the day I showed up. On the other hand, I was spending the whole day riding trains anyway, so I guess it wasn't a major loss. The had a nice collection, including antique cars and even some old tractor trailers, plus a DC-3 that they're restoring. It was a shame that they didn't have more of the railcars open for entry. If anything, I'd come back for the train ride just to ride in the vintage coaches. They could do some work to better label some of the displays, though. This was especially true for the antique cars.

    Once I finished with the museum, I called up another Uber ride, and even in Spencer, a town that looks like its seen better days, I didn't have to wait too long to get my ride back to Salisbury. Seaboard92 had recommended a place called Emma's for lunch, but when I checked them on Google Maps, it appeared that they had closed. Looking at the other alternatives, I decided on barbecue and picked a place downtown called the Smoke Pit. Well, it turns out this was my lucky day, because Wednesday is "three sides" day at this place, you could get three side dishes instead of the usual two. So I ordered a "small" plate of barbecue and ended up with enough food to feed my family for a week. For sides I got okra (fried), barbecue beans, and collard greens. All very good, too, except that I couldn't eat it all, and I couldn't take a doggy bag, being that I was on the road without a cooler. Oh, and the waitress kept refilling my glass of soda without my asking. The meat was pretty lean, so this meal was a protein and sugar bomb. Then I went to the place up the street that sold home-made ice cream and got my fat bomb :).

    After all that food, I waddled back towards the station. For a small town, downtown Salisbury seemed to be in pretty good shape. I've been through towns that size where the downtown is a hollow shell of empty buildings and not very pleasant to walk through. I guess Salisbury has a little better economic diversification (it's the county seat and the headquarters of Food Lion and Cheerwine soda), but it also seems like there's a local interest in preserving its historic parts. There's even an arts district down by the train station. Given that I was done lunch by 1:30 PM and my train to Greensboro didn't come in until 3:56, I would have enjoyed walking around the town. I didn't because the temperature was in the mid 90s by this point, and even with a hat and sunglasses, it was not pleasant being outside. Thus, I took the most direct route to the station.

    Imagine my disappointment when I saw that the waiting room was closed for an extended lunch break (11:30 AM - 3:15 PM). Fortunately there was a bench in a well shaded area and I had my bottle of water from the morning train, so I just chilled and took in the scenery, such as it was. I was pleasantly surprised when the station host arrived early, at 3 and let us into the air conditioned waiting room. This station is not staffed by Amtrak, so there's no checked baggage and you can't buy tickets, except from the Quicktrack machine, but the station host, apparently employed by North Carolina, was knowledgeable about the service and was able advise us on train status and such. The other person waiting with me was going to ride to Raleigh, connect to the Silver Star and go on to Florida.

    Piedmont 76 rolled into Salisbury on time. This was different trainset than the one I rode in the morning. The coaches all have names; the one I rode in the morning (and later on #78 to Raleigh) was the "Cardinal." The coach I rode on #76 was the "Granite." It seemed like it was not exactly the same model as the "Cardinal." There seemed to be even more legroom, and there were other minor differences in the light fixtures and other features. However, the seats were comfortable and the train sped along and got us to Greensboro on time, just before 5 PM.

    Greensboro has quite the station, as was mentioned by people who suggested that I stop and see it. Two island platforms, one the services the Carolinian and Piedmont Raleigh-Charlotte corridor, and one that services the Crescent, which turns north to Danville, Va. These are connected by an underpass which leads to the main waiting room, which is pretty impressive and very nicely restored. There's also a connection to an attached bus terminal, which I didn't check out. It seems like the station has a capacity similar to that of Baltimore, even though it only serves 10 trains a day. I guess there's room for North Carolina rail to grow.

    The heat (and the leaden tummy bequeathed to me by my massive barbecue lunch) prevented me from wandering around Greensboro too much. But I was still stuck there for about 4 hours until my next train would take me onward. I did walk uo Elm St. to where there was a nice central park that might have been pleasant to sit in if the temperature had been about 20 degrees cooler. Unlike Charlotte, Greensboro still has a lot of its early 20th century downtown still standing, even including a small Art Deco skyscraper. I was able to arrive in time to visit the Civil Rights Museum in the old Woolworth's, the site of the 1960 sit-ins at the lunch counter. The lunch counter has been preserved, and there was a short multimedia presentation explaining the history, plus some other exhibits on the strange, sad system of Jim Crow and how it was finally overthrown.

    I knew I had to have something for dinner before the train came in, because when it arrived in Raleigh, it was going to be too late to find anything to eat, but at that point I was still full from lunch. The recommended brewpub or another of the many attractive looking restaurants didn't sound so appealing to me, I was looking for something lighter. In the end, I found a place called the Jerusalem Market, a Middle Eastern joint, where I was able to get n appetizer plate of 2 felafel, some stuffed grape leaves, baba ganoush and a yogurt salad all washed down with a bottle of HonesTea ("just a tad sweet").

    I still had over two hours before my train, but to avoid the heat, I just went back to the station and hung out in the air conditioned waiting room. Finally, they called my train, and when I got up on the platform, a thunderstorm as moving in, and things were starting to cool off. The train arrived beore it started raining too hard, and soon I was seated in the "Cardinal" recharging my phone battery, tired and looking forward to bed.

    We arrived on time, after 10 PM at the new Raleigh train station. A high level island platform with an underpass to the terminal, it had a little of the feel of an airport. They also need to install an escalator from the platform to the underpass. There's space for one, but right now an elevator does sole service for accessibility or those who don't like to haul suitcases up and down stairs. When I got to the terminal, I went to pick up my suitcase, and the agent's face showed panic as he said, "They told me there was no checked baggage on 78!" He relaxed when I told I had checked it earlier in the day and quickly found it.

    I got a little confused finding the exit, as there is one to the street that requires going down a flight of stairs or an elevator and going under an underpass. But the taxis and Ubers pick you up at the other entrance which is right where it should be by the ticket office at the same level. Eventually, I called up my ride, and in 5 minutes is was at the next airbnb, which was a large old house in the Boylan Heights section, just across the tracks. The owners live on the first floor and rent out rooms on the second. I used a keypad to access the place and went upstairs where my room was waiting. I dropped everything and quickly went to bed to get some needed rest after a long day running around in the heat.
     
  10. Jun 6, 2019 #10

    MARC Rider

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    MARC Rider

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    Here's the Spencer Shops. The enormous tire planted in the ground in front is from a quarry dump truck.

    20190529_113343.jpg

    Here's an electric car from a long time ago. Unfortunately, the docent didn't remember the make and model or date and the display label had been removed before the replacement labels were installed:

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    You've heard of the "unsafe at any speed" Chevrolet Corvair, but I never realized the Chevrolet made a pickup truck version, too.

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    A buddy of mine in high school had a Mustang like this (not a convertible, though). One time we were coming home from a weekend in Harrisburg, I was driving on the Pennsylvania Turnpike. First time I ever hit 90 mph! My buddy wasn't so amused, but the car was handling so well, I didn't realize how fast I was going.

    20190529_114555.jpg

    OK, back to trains. There was a caboose open to visitors, and here's a look at the ultimate railfan seat.

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    An EMD E unit from the Southern Crescent. When did Amtrak retire all of their E units? I remember seeing one on the Broadway Limited when I rode it in 1973, but after that all my Amtrak riding was on the NEC behind electric locomotives until the 1990s, and by then they were using F40s.
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    The roundhouse is supposedly the largest remaining example of the form.

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  11. Jun 8, 2019 #11

    Seaboard92

    Seaboard92

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    I’m glad you had a good trip. What a shame on Emma’s it was a really cool little place. That tells you how long it’s been since I’ve been there.
     
  12. Jun 19, 2019 #12

    MARC Rider

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    MARC Rider

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    Here's the Salisbury train station

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    My nest Piedmont coming into Salisbury

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    The Greensboro train station:
    Tunnel from the platforms
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    waiting room
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    The depot from the outside:

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    Views from the platform at Greensboro

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    Here's a new concept for Amtrak's long-distance sleeping cars. :)

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  13. Jun 19, 2019 #13

    MARC Rider

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    MARC Rider

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    The final morning of my trip, I woke and walked through the neighborhood to the Boulted Bread bakery, where notes left in my room by the airbnb host claimed I would find the "best croissants on the east coast." I haven't had enough croissants to judge that, but it was a very good croissant, washed down with a nice cup of coffee. I had planned to walk to the station, but that 5 minute walk through the neighborhood showed that I would be risking heatstroke, even that early in the morning. So I called for another car and got a ride back to the station where I had a lot of time to inspect it in the daylight.

    One nice feature (for railfans, at least) is a nice observation deck they have so that you can view the tracks and platform. The deck is outside, though, and while I did watch the Silver Star come through (about an hour late), I didn't spend too much time out there.

    The Carolinian arrived more or less on time. I settled in, and off we went to the north. I don't know about heat restrictions, but my Piedmont rides the day before had no problems with running at 70 mph+ in the 90 degree heat, and the Carolinian was also doing 70 mph+ on parts of the A-line. Only parts, of course.

    The rest of the trip was pretty uneventful until we arrived at Quantico, where we had the major snafu with the downed trees. We didn't get into Washington until about 10:30 PM, mostly sitting watching every other train on the line pass us in both directions. (I may be exaggerating.) When we got to Washington, we found that 66 had somehow passed us and was sitting in the station ready to leave. This seemed sort of foolish to me, as they make more stops than the Carolinian, and, indeed, our run to Baltimore took an hour instead of the usual 30 minutes it takes for a nonstop strain. The cafe car attendant also announced that the cafe car was going to close a midnight sharp, so if you wanted anything, better get it now. She said this was national Amtrak policy, but what about the cafe cars on 66 and 67, which are open all night? In any event, I arrived in Baltimore after midnight, but had no problem finding an Uber and got home, tired and cranky.
     
  14. Jun 19, 2019 #14

    MARC Rider

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    MARC Rider

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    The Raleigh station
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    Silver Star from the observation deck
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    Here comes the Carolinian

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    Lunch: the Boar's Head "protein plate" Actually some pretty nice peppered roast turkey with a couple of cheese slices and celery. Plus, I bought a side of hummus and a bottle of wine. I rode up to New York yesterday, and it seems this item isn't on the NEC cafe car menu.

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    Crossing the Roanoke River near Weldon, NC
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    Swapping engines in Washington

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