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April 1996


Amtrak to Purchase High-Speed Train Sets

Amtrak has selected Bombardier Inc. to provide 18 high-speed train sets for late 1999 delivery to replace the Metroliner fleet. Each train will include six cars, plus leading and trailing locomotive, incorporating tilt-technology, for speeds up to 150 MPH.


National Industrial Transportation League in Opposition to UP/SP Merger

The National Industrial Transportation League has voted to oppose the merger of Union Pacific and Southern Pacific unless "conditions are imposed to mitigate anticompetitive effects in certain areas."


By Amtrak to Staunton

[By Allen Brougham - from a feature article] . . .

As it is from time to time my custom to take off on an adventure by train to someplace, and then to render some sort of report on what happened, this historic community along the former C&O is my latest conquest. The date was Sunday, March 17, and the train involved was Amtrak's now-Superliner-equipped Cardinal. The occasion was St. Patrick's Day, and a one-day group outing arranged by the Chesapeake Division of the Railroad Enthusiasts.

St. Patrick's Day carries a tradition of sorts with the Chesapeake Division, and outings on this day in most recent years have involved a trip to New York City with return aboard a premier train having a dining car. This year, owing to a change in schedule for the Cardinal permitting a longer round-trip from Washington, the group decided to head its efforts south and west into the mountainous splendor of Virginia, with dinner at the layover destination before heading back. Corned Beef was the entrée specially arranged with the fine folks at the restaurant in the restored C&O depot, but Prime Rib could be substituted by those not wishing to feel particularly Irish. (Most chose Prime Rib.) Thirty-six people signed up for the trip. Actually there were 35; one passenger missed the trip, but he had a good excuse! Wes Vernon, a correspondent with CBS Radio, was returning from an Amtrak trip in the West and his connection was missed in Chicago.

It was a mostly cloudy day with a threat of rain, but the only real concern on the trip was a timely arrival in Staunton. The schedule matched by the westbound and eastbound sections of the Cardinal allow a one hour and 19 minute layover there, certainly enough for a leisurely meal, but a service disruption on the going portion of the trip, along with an on-time performance on the return portion, could cut dinner time down to zero. For this, a backup plan involving take-out dinners could have been implemented. Anyway, railfans are accustomed to unexpected surprises. I, for one, have never attended an Amtrak adventure when everything went totally to plan!

The group met for a briefing next to gate D one hour before the 11 o'clock departure from Union Station. Ray Saunders, the trip coordinator, handed each of his subjects an itinerary carefully worded, "barring any unforeseen circumstances . . . " to explain the layover seating arrangement, by number printed upon a shamrock, to assure everyone was promptly served exactly what he or she had ordered. His efficiency was exemplary. Then, about 20 minutes before train time, an Amtrak representative led the group to the train for pre-boarding. The train had two locomotives, a baggage-coach, a handicap-coach, a Sightseer lounge, and a sleeper. The group was assigned to the baggage-coach. Then came the rest of the passengers, and promptly at 11 o'clock we left town. The conductor asked us to remain in our seats until after his lift, but once this was done most of the group thundered its way to the Sightseer lounge car, two cars back. For most of us, this was our first trip on the Cardinal in a Superliner, but many had been on the route in pre-Superliner days.

Lawson Clark, a retired taxi driver and real estate broker, recalled riding the line frequently when he attended college in Institute, West Virginia, near Charleston, in the 1930's. The C&O was his second favorite railroad, the Pennsy being his first.

Paul Bergdolt, a CPA, and treasurer of the Walkersville Southern tourist line, had only ridden the Cardinal's route once before while on a business car special in 1984. A railfan since the age of 4, when he got an HO set, he also favored the Pennsy.

John Kouyeas, a retired printer, was attending his first trip on the Cardinal. He recalled his first train ride in 1937, at the age of seven, on the Black Diamond from Hazelton, Pennsylvania, to Buffalo, New York. While he enjoyed trains as a kid, he did not become an avid railfan until the early 1970's.

Gordy Bjoraker, an astronomer with NASA, takes two or three long-distance Amtrak trips a year. He most recently rode the Cardinal late last year for holiday travel, opting to go coach. He usually travels first-class, but on the Cardinal it's better to go coach, said he, as the meals which are included with first-class are not up to the premier standards of trains such as the Capitol Limited.

Indeed, it was an open joke as we discussed efforts by the Cardinal's lounge car staff to serve meals to first-class passengers. Tables in the lower level are set aside for this purpose, complete with table cloths as needed, but the special dinners prepared exclusively for the first-class clientele are hardly a gourmet's delight. Amtrak once touted how its chefs had attended the Culinary Institute of America. Could this be the product of its Microwave Cooking School Division? The pre-Superliner version of the Cardinal did have full-service dining, but this sort of fell through the cracks as a cost cutting measure. Now the train normally runs with four cars, before it ran with eight or nine.

The trip was running smoothly, with no delays from other trains, but then we began to encounter speed restrictions. In all, there were about half a dozen slow orders, and soon we learned the reason why. There in Charlottesville was a Sperry car. It had gone through just a day or two before. Sperry cars can detect unseen defects. Though rarely critical, speed restrictions often result as a precaution until the problems can be fixed, and these were what we were experiencing.

It was a tad after 3 o'clock when we stopped in Staunton. This left us with only 50 or so minutes to eat before the eastbound train would arrive. So we all promptly filed into the restaurant, ready to dig in. But herein came a snag! It seems the restaurant had neglected to set the tables according to Ray's carefully thought out seating arrangement, and the resulting confusion lost about eight minutes as hastened changes in seating were made. But once this was done, the meals were promptly served to everyone's exacting selection. My Prime Rib was about the size of a catcher's mitt, which involved considerable effort to eat in the time allotted, but to the rescue came a take-out container by which I could finish it off aboard the return-trip train. Dessert, too, was furnished in cups to be picked up on the platform before boarding. Where there is a will, there is a way! "Super Eaters," were the words uttered later by Ray Saunders describing the trip participants.

The shortened time in Staunton prevented any in depth visit to the place, or even to explore the shops in the restored depot. But the accommodating restaurant saw to it that each of us was given some history to nurture, and surely I'll want to take time some day to explore the area more thoroughly. But briefly, Staunton was the birthplace of Woodrow Wilson, is the home of Mary Baldwin College, the Statler Brothers Museum, and the American Frontier Culture Museum. The depot was erected in 1902, replacing an earlier structure demolished in a derailment, and was renovated in 1989 to the use it has today.

The eastbound train was about six minutes late arriving in Staunton. While we had the same slow orders on the return trip as we had had on the going trip, plus a brief delay meeting a westbound freight, we still managed to get back into Washington some ten minutes early. Simple arithmetic can explain how this was possible; the eastbound times in the schedule are padded. While the westbound train is allowed three hours and 33 minutes between Washington and Staunton, the eastbound counterpart is given all of four hours and 18 minutes to cover the same distance. Neat, eh!

The trip to Staunton and back was a tremendous success. What made it so was the contingent of wonderful folks who attended it, and the efficient direction of its innovative leader. Well done, Ray!