New Uniforms Issued for MARC Service
In an effort to sport a new look, Maryland Rail Commuter Service conductors, trainmen and customer and station service representatives are being issued uniforms that are distinctive from other railroad uniforms.
Funds Granted for Reconstruction of Monocacy Bridge for Walkersville Southern
The state of Maryland has approved a grant of up to $500,000 for reconstruction of the former PRR Monocacy River bridge and insurance for the Walkersville Southern to operate freight and tourist service between Walkersville and Frederick. Headquarters for the Walkersville Southern will be the original PRR Walkersville depot.
Postal Service Increases Mail Contracts with Amtrak
The U.S. Postal Service has awarded Amtrak a $5-million per year increase in mail contracts. Mail revenues projected for FY-94 are $55.7-million, a 13.7 percent increase over FY-93.
Amtrak to Purchase 55 Material Handling Cars
Amtrak has approved the purchase of 55 additional material handling cars at a cost of $27.6-million.
CSXT to Recall 350 Workers to Raceland, Kentucky, Car Shops
CSXT will recall approximately 350 workers to its car shops in Raceland, Kentucky, as part of an agreement between the company and the union over the achievement of safety, quality, productivity and attendance goals. The company plans to rebuild 4000 coal cars at the Raceland shops in 1995.
CSXT's Cumberland Coal Business Unit Expands Territory
CSXT's Marietta and Ohio River subdivisions are now a part of the Cumberland Coal Business Unit. Formerly they were a part of the Cumberland Division.
CSXT's RF&P Subdivision Now a Part of the Florence Division
CSXT's RF&P Subdivision is now a part of the Florence Division. Formerly it was a part of the Baltimore Division.
CSXT Establishes Cumberland Terminal Subdivision
CSXT has established the Cumberland Terminal Subdivision on main tracks between Mexico Tower and Viaduct Junction in Cumberland, Maryland.
George Nixon Dies
George F. Nixon, Sr., long considered as Baltimore's number one railfan, died on September 17. He was 88. His record of achievements spanned many decades. He was the first member of the Baltimore Society of Model Engineers in 1932, and the first member and first president of the Baltimore Chapter National Railway Historical Society in 1936. In fact, Mr. Nixon was among those present when the idea of forming the parent NRHS was conceived. The NRHS was founded in 1935 following the end of Baltimore-Washington service of the Washington, Baltimore & Annapolis interurban line, the last trip of which included a group of about 30 railfans of whom Mr. Nixon was one. He recounted how a heavy rainstorm developed during the trip causing those in attendance to retreat from vestibules and open windows, and it was during this interval with all together that the idea of forming the NRHS was first discussed. Later at a gathering of members of the BSME, Mr. Nixon asked a friend for a dollar. He took it, and then said: "You're now a member of the NRHS." That friend was Edward Hooper, later to become national president and chairman of the NRHS. Mr. Nixon will probably be most remembered for his success in saving Baltimore's collection of historic streetcars and for the formation of the Baltimore Streetcar Museum where that collection now operates. He was the first member of that organization as well. Then, in 1988, the preservation-minded Mr. Nixon attended the organizational meeting of the Friends of President Street Station. He declined to serve as director, but he did agree to stand in as its first "immediate past" president, a unique position for an organization not actually having had a previous president. He is survived by his wife, two sons and three grandchildren.
By Amtrak to Essex, Montana
[By Allen Brougham] . . .
Normally the destination I choose for my every-now-and-then long-distance Amtrak adventure is rather incidental to the trip. The pleasure is in the train ride itself; the destination is sort of a built-in breather before the fun of returning home. But this year's trip was a happy exception... The Izaak Walton Inn at Essex, Montana, had long been on my list of places to visit. It could be called a "pilgrimage" of sorts - a place every railfan should visit at least once - an endeavor not unlike what is required of Muslims at least once in a lifetime to go to Mecca. It had been two years since my last Amtrak trip, and my teeth were swimming in anticipation of this one as the date for it approached. I had carefully planned my itinerary to include the Cardinal from Baltimore to Chicago; the balance of the trip would be aboard the Empire Builder. The latter part was obvious. But any number of people asked me why I was planning to take the Cardinal on the first leg rather than the Capitol Limited. After all, I was oft reminded, with the Capitol Limited slated to get Superliner equipment by the end of October, here would be a timely way for me to get in a last ride in the dome. Moreover, that train had looked so inviting in its daily passage by Miller Tower in the two years since I've been stationed there. So with the number of people in whom I've justified my itinerary in person, I suppose I should do the same thing here... The Cardinal, as a route from Baltimore to Chicago, has several advantages over the Capitol Limited: (1) it is the only train to Chicago stopping in Baltimore - the Capitol Limited requires a change of trains in Washington; (2) the Cardinal takes a longer route on a slower schedule, resulting in more ride for the money; and (3) with my first-class ticket and all meals included, I could count on three additional meals as part of the total round-trip rail package.
One further point about meals: With them included with my ticket, and my taste buds well rehearsed for the experience, I resolved that whenever DINNER was involved, it would be exclusively one entree... STEAK! (Therefore, take note, from this point on: Dinner = Steak!)
This much established and my reservations made, I asked my computer to calculate the following: What would be the chance that this Amtrak trip would be (a) totally on time at all places, and (b) without any complaint from me whatsoever. The response was....
One chance in 17,154,096,238,449,143,457.
(OK, so much for my jokes about Amtrak's reliability.) Anyway, riding Amtrak is an "adventure," and if everything went according to plan, it would take a lot of the fun out of it!
And one other point I'd like to make: If anything in this report is perceived to be negative, it is not made without regard to the fact that things today with Amtrak are a WHOLE LOT BETTER than what they could have been. Sleeping cars, lounge cars, steak dinners, and many other traditional amenities associated with pleasurable long-distance travel owe their continued existence to those who really care. Amtrak has come a long way in its efforts to provide safe and quality service. This it should continue to do, and we should all appreciate it. So now, on with the trip...
CARDINAL... The date was Sunday, September 11. The magical moment arrived and the Cardinal snaked its merry way into Baltimore's Penn Station. Raymond, the friendly sleeping car attendant, remembered me from an earlier trip. The train left Baltimore 16 minutes late. The first order of business was lunch in the diner and the thrilling experience of dining at high speed amidst the concussion of passing Metroliners. I was joined at the table by Jim and Dorothy from New Jersey, both retired railroaders, who were traveling to the Greenbrier for their 45th wedding anniversary. One of the distinct pleasures of eating in the diner is in meeting the different people you get seated with. In spite of a couple of short delays en route to Washington, we actually picked up six minutes, and when we left Washington, the train was right on time. Ray Saunders came to Alexandria station to see me through. I got off for a couple of minutes to chat, and he gave me some going-away goodies. The train left Alexandria, Manassas and Culpeper on time, but then we lost about 20 minutes at Massie, Virginia, to meet the eastbound Cardinal. In the lounge car I met a gent from Japan en route to Charlottesville who was in this country for several months to study our judicial system. By the time we left Charlottesville we were 18 minutes late. The Blue Ridge Mountains came into view as we zipped through Crozet, and then we made our way up the grade past orchards of ripening apples.
Then, at 5:30 PM, just as we were coming into Staunton, came the word.... "FIRST CALL FOR STEAK!" Right on! I thundered my way to the steak car, post haste. My table companions were members of a family en route to Cincinnati from Washington after attending a wedding. The steak dinner was a vast improvement over what was offered the last time I rode this train. Then it had one of those generic microwave wagons known as an Amdinette. But since then Amtrak made a tradeoff; the Amdinette got relegated to the Broadway Limited (those poor folks!), and the Cardinal got its diner back. I should also point out that we were served with real plates and real dinnerware. And the flowers on the table were real - or at least they smelled as though they were.
The train had two F40PH locomotives, a baggage car, three coaches, a lounge, diner, Slumbercoach and sleeper - two units pulling all of eight cars. Formerly the Cardinal would only have had one unit, even for consists having nine cars instead of eight. But reportedly there had been so many locomotive failures causing the train to become stranded in the hinterlands, that Amtrak eventually decided to assign two units to the train with the hope that at least one would always be working. A group riding the first coach got off at Clifton Forge en route to the Homestead. Until that point the train was full, but afterwards there were plenty of coach seats available, and the first coach was kept empty to destination.
As darkness approached that first night on the train, I intentionally went to bed early. And there from my darkened room I opened the shade, and in the west the sky glowed a golden orange, trees anointed the scene in an ever-moving silhouette, and soon the sky turned to olive and finally dark with a bright moon dancing about the heavens in unison with the motion of the train. The din of metal wheels along a smooth metal rail, the roar of occasional passing freights, and the distant tones of the Cardinal's locomotive horn serenaded the setting with symphonic splendor. It was great!
The following morning found me spending much of my time (except for breakfast, of course) looking out the rear door window of my sleeper (it was the last car in the train) upon the scene in Indiana. It was neat watching the upper-quadrant semaphore signals, and I got to see the new relocation corridor at Lafayette which replaced the downtown street running. The Cardinal now makes a new entry into Chicago, necessitated by the retirement of some Conrail trackage. The new route begins at Munster with six miles on the Grand Trunk to Thornton Junction, ten miles on the Union Pacific, then a short distance on the Norfolk Southern to 81st Street, thence on Metra and Conrail to Union Station. We arrived about ten minutes early.
CHICAGO... With about four hours to kill, I opted for a little excitement. So I went to the Chicago Board of Trade. There, from a glassed-in gallery, one can witness the seeming madness of futures trading, the climax of which comes just before 1:15 PM when the place rocks into a veritable frenzy leading up to the closing bell... I also made it a point to pay homage to the Great Hall at Union Station, sitting for a while there before retiring to the sequestered comfort of the first-class Metropolitan Lounge.
EMPIRE BUILDER... The train left from the run-through track just a few minutes behind schedule. My accommodation was an economy bedroom. I noted immediately that there was no piped-in music to the rooms, a feature which I am told was discontinued due to some passenger complaints. I was joined at the Steak table by a couple taking a grand circle tour from West Palm Beach to Detroit, Seattle and San Antonio for their 56th wedding anniversary, and to catch up with their children. Later in the lounge car I met an Amish couple returning from Indiana to their home next to the Canadian border north of Whitefish, Montana.
A fog shrouded the landscape the following morning as we sped through North Dakota. The fog lifted west of Rugby, but it returned at Minot and remained with us until about halfway between Minot and Stanley, when a brilliant blue sky shone above. (Minot was the destination of my 1992 Amtrak adventure.) The next point of interest I looked especially for was Ross, North Dakota, a short distance west of our stop at Stanley. Ross is my middle name, and I had remembered speeding through the place on the pre-Amtrak Empire Builder many years ago. It had a depot then, with a large sign. Today the depot is gone, but a sign still marks the spot, a glimpse of which I got only because I didn't blink. (Ross is not a very big place!) At White Earth, North Dakota, we were held about eight minutes for an eastbound double-stack train.
It was during lunch that we entered the great state of Montana at Fort Union. Now when I say that Montana is a great state, I mean to tell you that it is BIG! It is the country's fourth largest state with 147,138 square miles. To understand this enormity, Maryland would fit into Montana 13 times, and there would still be some room left over. Montana's population is about 800,000, or about five and one-half people per square mile. The Amtrak route guide explains that there are four times as many cattle here as people, and twice as many sheep. (We even saw a herd of bison at one point.) Montana ranks second in the nation in agricultural production acreage. The state capital is Helena.
At Tampico, Montana, west of Glasgow, we were held about eight minutes for another eastbound double-stack train. Both here and at White Earth it appeared (although I am not certain) that the freight trains involved had already arrived but were too long to clear the west end of the siding, consequently our delay waiting for them to leave after we had arrived. (From what I could see during daylight hours, the Burlington Northern was rather good about keeping freights out of our way.) Then, at Hinsdale, Montana, we met the eastbound Empire Builder. I made certain to partake of my Steak on first call to give me plenty of time to finish prior to my 8:11 PM arrival in Essex.
And now for a gripe: The Sightseer Lounge car is equipped with television sets - two on the upper level and one on the lower level - which are used for movies generally one in the afternoon and one in the evening. This is fine, as it helps to pass the time. But it is bewildering that a movie would ever be scheduled during the most scenic part of the trip when the glass-roofed car is more ideally suited for viewing the scenery. Granted, one can enjoy the scenery while the movie is showing, but this means putting up with the loud sound of the thing throughout the car, and with seating space so limited it also means competing for seats with those who are there solely to see the movie. Such as it was this evening when the movie came on at 7:45 PM, when there was still some light, and the train was then in the splendor of the Rockies west of the station at Glacier Park. Surely at such time thought could be given to holding off on the movie until well after dark. With the Sightseer Lounge nominally replacing the traditional dome car for the purpose of scenery, one wonders if there couldn't be a way for a traditional dome to serve the purposes of sightseeing throughout the trip. Well there IS! (More on this later.)
ESSEX, MONTANA... The train arrived seven minutes ahead of schedule. The stop at Essex is an anomaly in that it is listed as a "flagstop" - the only one so listed anywhere on the Empire Builder's route. This means that if no passengers are getting either on or off, the train need not stop. I was the only passenger getting off that evening, and nobody was getting on. I could say, then, that the train stopped just for me - and it would have, except that it was ahead of schedule and would have had to stop there anyway to protect its departure time. A van from the Izaak Walton Inn was there to meet me. The stop is about one-quarter of a mile east and around a curve from the hotel, but when the westbound train stops, its engines are almost in front of the place. The van whisked me to the hotel, and I was in the lobby before the train departed. So the check-in got delayed briefly as the train was leaving for a ritual indigenous to the Izaak Walton Inn... to wit: WAVING TO THE TRAIN! I needed no prompting to go directly to the inn's front porch where guests and staff alike observe the custom whenever the Empire Builder graces its majestic presence passing in front of the inn. I knew none of the people assembled, but I knew I was amongst friends. This was more than a hotel -- this was HOME!
The inn, named for 16th century English author and sportsman Sir Izaak Walton, was built in 1939 for the Great Northern Railroad primarily as a place to house snow-clearing crews. It later became a resort hotel, and today is owned by Larry and Lynda Vielleux of Essex. It is located next to a small rail maintenance yard which also serves as a helper station for trains ascending Marias Pass. The inn's elevation is 3870 feet, located near the Middle Fork of the Flathead River. The inn has 31 rooms, plus there are four cabooses which can be rented as apartments. Some rooms have private baths, but most share baths elsewhere on the hall. Some of the features of the inn might not be considered amenities in a plush big city hotel, but they seem to serve the Izaak Walton Inn quite well. They include:
- Windows that open.
- No air-conditioning.
- No television. (But there is one in the lounge for showing railfan videos, etc.)
- No phones in the room.
- Steam-heated radiators with pipes that clang.
- Wooden floors that creak.
- Trains to keep you awake at night because you keep the windows open in order to hear them.
Other features include the front porch complete with a pair of porch swings ideal for train-watching, a dining room with excellent food appropriately located in the front with large windows so you won't miss any of the action, a spacious lobby with a wood-burning fireplace, and railroad maps, pictures, and artifacts throughout the building. There is also a gift shop, and the basement has a lounge and activity center. There is a conference room in a separate building behind the inn. Convenient to the inn are hiking, mountain biking, and snowmobile and cross-country ski trails. There are also places to fish and study wildlife. Tours into Glacier Park depart seasonally from the inn, and car and mountain bike rentals are available.
The information packet offered by the inn tells it all:
- "The Izaak Walton Inn represents life at its best. Simple! At the inn you will not be hassled with televisions, telephones, and all the city 'extras.' The inn offers quiet strolls, skiing, hiking, comfortable swings on the front porch, warmth. It provides the time needed to rejuvenate; therefore, you will find no swimming pools, no jacuzzis, no traffic. However, we like to think we offer something even better. Peace!"
That railfans favor the inn is no secret. According to Larry Vielleux, probably one-third of the inn's guests are what could be called hard-core railfans. "But it works in degrees," said he, noting that a number of guests are fond of trains but get actively involved in other activities while they are there. Railfans during my three-night stay numbered about two dozen.
Each night the accommodating Burlington Northern, as if on cue, idled a set of engines near the front of the inn, and the din of diesel motors could be heard throughout the night, punctuated at times by the additional tunes of passing freights. Mozart and Beethoven, step aside: THIS orchestra performs a different symphony!
I made it a point twice each day to participate in the aforementioned ritual to wave to the Empire Builder. It is scheduled to stop in Essex eastbound at 8:13 AM and westbound at 8:11 PM. The accommodating front desk staff always checks on the train's progress, even if no guests are due for a particular train. (But probably half of the trains have guests either getting on or off.)
On my second day at the inn there was a gathering of members and their families of the faculty of Blackfeet Community College of Browning, Montana. They would start school the following week. It could probably be called a cultural workshop - not all of the faculty are Native Americans - as activities included the reading of traditional stories and the gathering of herbs. The inn's facilities and grounds served the gathering as they broke up into groups for their various exchanges.
The midpoint of my vacation trip had passed so smoothly and memorably. The trains that had brought me from Baltimore to the Izaak Walton Inn had done so in such a smooth and timely fashion, and the Empire Builder each day I was there had passed either on time or within a very few minutes of its schedule both ways. And I had so far found very little to grumble about. Friday morning, September 16, the morning of my departure, dawned a beautiful day with clear blue skies. It was more beautiful than the previous two days, although at no time was the weather bad. I took my key to the front desk to check out. Cindy, the friendly desk clerk, informed me that I would be the only passenger boarding from the inn at Essex. No one would be getting off, either. Then she called the agent at Whitefish to see if the train would be on time...
AMBUS... Do you remember how I had said earlier in this report that traveling Amtrak is an adventure? Well! Yes, that's what I said, all right! And an "adventure" was about to unfold the likes of which I won't soon forget! The eastbound Empire Builder was standing at Sand Point, Idaho. There had been a freight train derailment blocking the tracks at Brimstone, about 40 or so miles west of Whitefish. And the passengers were being transported by...
What then flashed through my mind were...
Visions of breakfast in the diner as we ascended Marias Pass... Visions of relaxing in the Sightseer Lounge car, with or without some stupid movie... Visions of my cozy economy bedroom and its fluffed-up pillow, with or without piped-in music... Visions of my obligatory steak dinner that evening...
......All ensconced upon a sign with a diagonal line drawn through it.
First word was that the buses would be leaving Whitefish at about 11 AM. That would put them at Essex about noontime. Initially there was no word on how far this carnage would last... So I called Amtrak's 800 number. I explained that I was a passenger waiting for number 8 at Essex, Montana. I had heard rumors of some sort of service disruption. Could she give me any information I should know.
"What is your reservation number?" she asked.
I looked at my ticket - issued by a travel agent - which had an incomprehensible jargon of numbers all over it.
"Uh, I can't find it," said I. So I gave her my car and space number. That didn't help. She took my name. Then a pause...
"Did you say Essex, Illinois?" she asked.
"No, Essex, Montana."
"Please hold the line, I'll be back to you."
So I got to listen to Amtrak music and promotional announcements for 12 minutes. That's right... 12 minutes. One of the announcements was about visiting National Parks, which I think was repeated three times. National Parks? I was already next to one. (The boundary for Glacier Park is one-quarter mile from the inn.) When she got back on the line she confirmed much of what I had already heard. She added that plans were to bus passengers to Havre, Montana. There was a question about whether we would make connection there, or maybe we would be put in hotels, or something. Anyway, I asked her when I might expect to see my bus. She said she understood the buses were operating on the same schedule as the train (e.g., "on time"). "Yeh, right!" I thought to myself. But I thanked her politely.
I told Cindy what I had heard. She called someone she knows with Burlington Northern in Seattle. The buses would not get to Essex until about noon, she was told. Word spread quickly among the guests at the inn. A number of them came to me with their condolences. I joked about waiting for an "Ambus." Then I decided to eat breakfast at the inn. As time went on I wiled away the morning perched on one of the porch swings. Periodically some of the guests shared news they had learned independently from crews in Essex yard and from the agent at Glacier Park. The derailment was not a very big one - perhaps seven cars [actually eight] - and they figured getting the track back at two o'clock. The buses were going to meet the westbound Empire Builder at Havre, and that train would then turn back as the eastbounder. Westbound passengers would in turn be bused from Havre to Sand Point.
I subsequently made another call to Amtrak's 800 number. The news was no more encouraging, but the lady was very helpful in explaining the situation and how Amtrak would "take care of me" in the best way possible. Then came word that the buses wouldn't leave Whitefish until 12:30 PM, and the passengers would be given lunch in the Whitefish area. Expected arrival in Essex would be 2 o'clock. Then I learned that the lunch in Whitefish would be Kentucky Fried Chicken! (At least I'd miss that!) The agent at Whitefish would call the inn when the buses left there. At 2:15 PM word came that the buses had left Whitefish. They would then stop for lunch. So I decided to have a REAL lunch at the inn - delicious, as always! (You can always tell if the rest of the food is good in a restaurant serving good-tasting potato salad. It is good at the Izaak Walton Inn.)
Following lunch I ventured to the rear parking lot with my luggage. That's where I would first see my bus. The staff at the inn, who had witnessed such moves before, assured me that the bus driver would know where to find me. Nevertheless, they did have a room for me that night... just in case! "You're still here!" exclaimed guests who periodically looked around the front corner to see if there had been any progress. Then one of the staff called out back to tell me the bus would be there within the next 10 or 15 minutes. I continued to wait - pacing around, or resting on a suitcase. I wanted to stay right there to avoid any delay to the bus on my account.
Finally it came. It was a model 05 Silver Eagle with a model 10 cap, chartered from New Way Tours of Spokane, Washington. "Are you my passenger?" asked the driver. "Yes, are you Amtrak?" Then the driver hollered back into the bus: "Are there any seats back there?" Gulp! Well, there were, but not many. The driver stuffed my luggage underneath, and I hopped aboard. I sat next to a gent from Baltimore - also traveling first-class - who works for the state insurance department in Annapolis. The bus left Essex at 4:46 PM - eight hours and 33 minutes late. I learned that six buses were in use for the move, but the other five had gone on ahead leaving this bus to do the local work. "I sure hope they remember to wait for the sixth bus," thought I to myself. We marginally beat the train's running time from Essex to the Glacier Park station, a distance of about 30 miles across the mountain, but then came a startling discovery: After discharging those getting off at Glacier Park, there were still not enough seats for all who were there to get on. They had miscalculated the amount of local work, and by sending the other buses ahead - not fully loaded - they had painted themselves into a corner! A van was hastily arranged to take the 10 or so overflow passengers to Havre, but this did not completely solve the problem. It seems that a number more passengers would be boarding at Shelby, and there would not be enough room for all of them either. Moreover, the buses that had gone on ahead had no communication. So the agent at Glacier Park called the Montana highway patrol to explain the situation. They were asked to find and stop the five buses that had gone on ahead, and ask the drivers to stop for passengers at Shelby. This ploy apparently worked. By the time we arrived in Havre, all passengers had seemingly been accounted for. But we did have one more passenger on our bus than it had capacity for, that passenger having graciously volunteered to sit on the top step between aisle seats 2 and 3.
We finally arrived in Havre at 9:55 PM. This was nine hours and 30 minutes after the eastbound Empire Builder was scheduled to leave. The locomotives had been put on the east end of the train, and the westbound mail cars had been switched out for later movement. But the fun wasn't over yet. The five other buses were still being loaded with westbound passengers, and our bus was still to be unloaded and baggage taken off. Then it, too, would be getting westbound passengers with their baggage. In the meantime, new drivers had been flown by charter plane to Havre to take the buses west, and the drivers who had taken the buses eastbound to Havre would then fly back home. But the westbound passengers, who had already been in Havre on the stopped train for about six hours, still faced an all-night bus ride to meet up with the other section of the train. (Now THEY had it ROUGH!)
With all this, I have two questions about the move that was made:
First, had Amtrak attempted to secure a second set of buses to transport the westbound passengers from Havre at an earlier hour to avoid the long wait for the first set of buses to arrive from the west? To this, the answer may very well lie in the remoteness of the area, with probably not many buses to be had on such short notice, especially on a Friday night... So I'll give Amtrak the benefit of the doubt on that one.
But second, and more importantly: Why did Amtrak choose HAVRE as the exchange point rather than a station further to the west? To put this into perspective, consider the westbound train's schedule in conjunction with the progress of the eastbound buses. The westbound train was due to arrive Havre at 4:00 PM. But the eastbound bus did not even leave Essex until 4:46 PM. AND THERE ARE THREE STATION STOPS BETWEEN HAVRE AND ESSEX. The westbound train could have continued its run to one of those stops rather than to stand at Havre for six hours. An argument could be made that some of those intermediate stops are not as logistically suitable for a simultaneous mass transfer of passengers from bus to train, and from train to bus, as is Havre. (It has a long platform and large parking area.) But Shelby, just over 100 miles west of Havre, could have been used for this purpose. Moreover, Shelby has a yard, and this could have been used for any needed switching and running engines around the train. Also, it is a crew-change point. Perhaps Havre appeared to be the logical place when the move was first cooked up early that morning, but as things started falling apart later in the day, Amtrak should have decided that Shelby would have been a better place to make the exchange than was Havre. As information, the westbound Empire Builder would have been due to arrive in Shelby at 5:38 PM. Our westbound bus arrived there at 7:47 PM. Surely the train could have been switched in this two-hour interval, and an exchange at SHELBY (instead of Havre) would have cut at least THREE HOURS from the delay experienced by the westbound passengers. (If any of those passengers were to figure out what I figured out, I'll bet they took some gas!)
BACK ON THE TRAIN... After a (for me) five-hour bus ride, the train looked VERY inviting. And the first thing my sleeping car attendant told me was to go at once to the diner, as they wanted to serve first- class passengers first. I ordered Steak, of course, and I believe I may have gotten the last one they had. Anyway, the plan was for everyone on the train to be given complimentary dinner - not just those in first- class - and the accommodating staff was faced with working at least two more seatings. For this I'll have to acknowledge the dedication of the dining car staff, having already worked a full day serving their westbound passengers, then having to start all over again by serving dinners to a whole new trainload of very hungry (many fussy) people, beginning about 10 o'clock at night. (I heard later that the last dining car staff member got to bed at 3 in the morning; and then they were up again in time to serve breakfast.) Kudos! Kudos! Kudos! The steak dinner at that hour was probably the most appreciated steak dinner I've ever had on a train. But as things turned out, it would be my last steak dinner of the trip.
The train left Havre at 10:48 PM, or 10 hours and 23 minutes late. The following morning found us in Minot, departing there 11 hours and 10 minutes late. We met the westbound Empire Builder at York, North Dakota, about 30 minutes east of Rugby. It then occurred to me that the territory of eastern North Dakota, flat as it is, was scenery that one would rarely see during daylight hours. The stop at Fargo, as well as the first three stops in Minnesota, are what are sometimes referred to as "orphan cities" - stations that see no Amtrak service except between the hours of midnight and six o'clock in the morning. So I made a special effort to pay close attention as a unique opportunity to get in some daylight mileage.
By this time all were well aware that those having connections in Chicago would not make them. We would not be getting there until the wee hours of the morning. But we were told not to worry - Amtrak would "take care of things" for us. Then I pondered one possibility that Amtrak could have done, but didn't. They could have taken the connecting passengers - or at least those in first-class - off the train at Fargo and flown them to Chicago for their connections. Our 12:24 PM arrival in Fargo should have given enough time, assuming that flights were available... But I'll give Amtrak the benefit of the doubt on that one.
We left St. Paul at 5:34 PM. Three Amtrak station services representatives boarded the train there and set up office in the dining car. Beginning with first-class passengers, all having connections in Chicago were asked to visit one of the representatives. We were told that a bus would meet us in Chicago to take us to hotels, and affected passengers were given vouchers redeemable for cash to cover meals and a taxi ride back from the hotel the following morning. (My voucher was redeemable for $30.50.) The representatives could give no assurance of space on following day trains; this would be handled in the morning. Another freebie dinner was prepared for the entire train, but it was delayed awhile due to the station services representatives still being in the diner. Finally the staff opened one-half of the diner for the meal. Everyone got the same entree. Well it was steak - of sorts - SALISBURY steak! Not very warm! No salad! No dessert! Moreover, plastic utensils were used instead of regular dinnerware. I'm not griping (much) -- the staff made do with what they had, and everybody did get fed.
CHICAGO (Finally)... We arrived in the Windy City at 1:32 Sunday morning. We lined up at the ticket counter (not normally open at that hour) to cash in our vouchers. Then, after a wait of nearly half an hour, we were escorted up to the street to our buses. Two late model MCI coaches were there, each going to a different hotel. Mine was the Oxford House. While I don't suppose anyone felt particularly threatened at that hour, I did note that two Amtrak policemen kept a vigil while we boarded. And then, perhaps prearranged, a Chicago Police patrol car followed our bus over to the hotel. I was one of the first to get off the bus, consequently it didn't take me long to check in. But a long line formed in the lobby once everyone had gotten off and secured their luggage. I got into my room at 2:37 AM. It was a very spacious room with a high ceiling, complete with a kitchenette. My only complaint was that the walls between the rooms were not soundproof. I checked out and was back in the station by about 10 in the morning. The Cardinal does not operate from Chicago on Sunday, so I would have to take something else. They had already assigned me a single slumber room on the Broadway Limited. I didn't want it. I asked for a roomette on the Capitol Limited. None was available. So they gave me other choices... I could have a bedroom on the Broadway Limited. Or they would put me up in the hotel again and then have another choice of accommodations on Monday... Or they would FLY me home.
It had now been a week of adventure. A bedroom on the Broadway would have iced the cake. But that train lacks full-service dining, and by then my interest in trains was drawing thin. So I chose...
AMWINGS... They let me make a phone call home for free. Wade Massie, my housesitter (and dog sitter) while I was away, would come to the airport to pick me up. My first flight in 20 years was with United. Amtrak gave me taxi fare, and a ticket on a 1:35 PM flight from O'Hare to BWI. It was a window seat, and I duly noted Cumberland and Martinsburg from my perch high above. The plane came in on time - in reality nearly three hours earlier than I originally would have arrived that evening on the Cardinal had I made its connection. End of adventure!
IN RETROSPECT... Do I still think that Amtrak is the way to go? You bet I do! I'm certainly not going to judge Amtrak solely on the trials of tribulations of this one trip. Besides, the going trip was simply great! And except for what I perceive to be an asinine blunder in stopping the Empire Builder clear back in Havre on the return trip, I certainly can't fault Amtrak for the rest of what happened. They did what they could the best way they could. And don't forget, Amtrak had no control over Burlington Northern's freight train derailment. And they got me home safely! And I did get home ON TIME!
Meanwhile, in the spirit that it is offered, it is my pleasure to publish my 1994 Amtrak Wish-List. These ideas are not pie-in-the-sky dreams. They're just things I would hope to see someday. They are intended as suggestions to make Amtrak more pleasant than it already is. I feel, too, that these ideas should pay for themselves by creating increased business. See if you agree...
Allen's 1994 Amtrak Wish-List
1. TELEPHONES ON LONG-DISTANCE TRAINS...They have them on Metroliners, and they're on trains of some other short distance corridors as well. They are intended as a convenience to business travelers. This is fine. But let me suggest that this convenience be offered to long-distance trains too. Surely people riding trains cross-country will appreciate being able to make phone calls almost anytime and anywhere along the route. To judge the value of this convenience, just observe the dash many passengers make to station payphones whenever their train makes a service stop. And to top it off, announcements are routinely made just prior to those stops asking people to limit the length of their calls in order that others may have a chance to use the phones too. This is compounded when trains are running late and passengers wish to contact their families. Such was the case on my return Empire Builder run when perhaps 50 people queued around three payphones inside the St. Paul station hoping for a chance to make a quick call. A pair of trainphones on the lower level of the lounge car would have been a valuable convenience that day.
2. A TRANSCONTINENTAL TRAIN BY WAY OF CHICAGO...When I first made this suggestion in 1988, and then again in 1990, Amtrak responded with a number of flaws in the concept of running a train such a great distance. For example, in a letter from the late Mr. Claytor published in the July 1990 Bull Sheet, he explained that servicing requirements and the need to relieve on-board service crews at the Chicago mid-point made a transcontinental train through there impractical. Well! In 1993 Amtrak did introduce a transcontinental train with its much-heralded extension of the Sunset Limited through New Orleans. So it can be done! And if it can be done there, then why not one through Chicago? It could be argued that Chicago is much more of a hub-and-spoke center than is New Orleans - with so many passengers changing to so many different trains - but the logistics of running at least one train through there without terminating does exist. My suggestion would be to join the Capitol Limited with the Empire Builder to create a single train running from Washington to the West Coast. The reasons: Both trains (once the Capitol Limited gets its Superliners) have similar consists, and the train could use the run-through track in Chicago without having to use the wye. The schedule could be changed on one end or the other to tighten the dwell time in Chicago, but without affecting connections with other trains. A through train on this corridor won't benefit those who would have to change in Chicago to other trains anyway, but it won't be any less convenient for them either. But it will benefit at least some people, and could very well result in an increase in business with little or no increase in costs. The bottom line is that a through train would be a service improvement. By reverse of this, could you imagine the result if Amtrak were to make all New York to Florida passengers change trains in Washington? Or Richmond? Through service ought to be available wherever it is practical.
3. AN EXCLUSIVE LOUNGE CAR FOR FIRST-CLASS PASSENGERS... Sleeping car passengers pay dearly for the privilege of riding first-class. Even considering the cost of complimentary meals, first- class is about three times what it costs to ride coach. Yet they compete for seats in the lounge car the same as everybody else. I believe that Amtrak's premier passengers deserve a communal place to relax in the company of their peers, not unlike what was almost always offered in the many famous trains of years gone by. It would not have to be a full-length lounge car; just a small section at the bedroom-end of one of the sleepers with a parlor-like setting to accommodate maybe a dozen people. It will be noted that not all trains run with their sleepers together. The Empire Builder - with its Seattle and Portland sleepers on opposite ends of the train - is one. But with a little added switching at Spokane, they could be kept together. If they did, a dedicated lounge could be part of the first-class traveling domain.
4. A DOME CAR FOR SUPERLINERS...The dome car as we know it will soon become a thing of the past. All of the western trains that traditionally had them a number of years ago have been replaced with Superliner equipment. And while the Sightseer Lounge cars used on most Superliner trains do provide panoramic viewing to the top and side, they do not provide any viewing to the front. This is unfortunate. There is, however, one option that is available whereby forward-facing visibility could be made available in Superliner equipment. It is known as a "transitional" car. The front of the car has interior steps that descend from the upper-level to the "standard" level by which the crew can move between the Superliner cars and the baggage car. If there are any standard-level passenger cars in front of the transitional car, then passengers would use these interior stairs as well. The roof of the transitional car is about two feet higher than the roof of the standard-level cars in front of it. My idea is to equip the front portion of the transitional car into a dome-like configuration, preferably with raised seating to permit optimum viewing - but not having to increase the height of the car itself. This would avail passengers in this part of the car a forward view similar to what has been traditionally available in the standard-level dome cars that have always been popular. Most Superliner trains have a transitional car. It is used as a dormitory car for on-board service crews and as an office for the conductor. But the dormitory car does not necessarily have to be on the front. It could be on the rear. So I am NOT suggesting that Amtrak's fleet of transitional-dormitory cars be retrofitted into domes; rather I am suggesting that future orders for transitional cars take into account the feature these cars have in being higher than the cars in front by equipping them with glass for use by passengers. To ignore this potential is something that could be likened to owning prime beach-front property, and then building a warehouse upon it. The car need not have a full-length dome. It could be designed to seat just a small number of people with the balance of the car as revenue space. Or it could even be designed as a sleeping-lounge car incorporating the concept of suggestion #3 as a perk exclusively for first-class passengers. (Now that would get me on the train more often!)