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Welcome to the 2011 Amtraking Page of the Central Arizona Model Railroad Club

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Twelve folks joined us for a three day trip to Albuquerque and Santa Fe, but with a difference.  For the first time in these trips, we were all couples!  Yes, joining us this year were Donn and Kyra Pease, Jim and Jody Wurgler, Mike and Joyce Nelson, Steve and Bonnie Rudy, Mike and Bev Scigliano and the surprise of all, Mary Jane Atonna.  We have also become eclectic as the Atonnas, Peases and Wurglers are members of the NRHS Grand Canyon Chapter, while the Atonnas, Peases, Nelsons, Rudys and Sciglianos are members of the Central Arizona Model Railroaders.

An Amtraking trip means that you travel when Amtrak does and in our area that means leaving or arriving at 3:30am in Williams.  This year it was leaving, so our crew assembled at 3am at the lobby of the Grand Canyon Railway hotel in Williams to be ushered by the hotel’s van to the Williams Junction Union Station.  We were seasoned travelers, so managed to resist waiting trackside for the cold 3am wind of passing freights and enjoyed the warmth of our van until an almost on time arrival of the eastbound Southwest Chief.

For this short trip, it was all coach travel.  But Amtrak travel still means breakfast in the diner as the sun rose to the east.  We all indulged.  And before we knew it, we were pulling into Albuquerque.

The purpose of this trip was two fold.  First it was to ride the Rail Runner commuter train in its length from Belin on the south to Santa Fe on the north.  We had Amtraked to Albuquerque three years ago, but the segment north to Santa Fe was not yet open.  But Donn had noticed that the newly elected New Mexico governor wanted to cut state funding for the train, threatening weekend service.  So we decided this was a good time for a return visit, while we could.

After lunch it was on the Rail Runner to the south end of the line at Belin and a visit to the Fred Harvey museum in the historic Belin Harvey House.  In addition, Mike Shea, one of our hosts from three years ago, came to see us and make sure the HO layouts in the museum were running for us.  They have a permanent layout which is under some reconstruction, but a nice modular layout was operating in a wing of the museum.  Come dinner time, Greg Palmer, our other previous host, came down to join us at a Mexican restaurant across the street from the museum.  

Greg also won the humanitarian of the week award. As we would not make it to our motel till evening, this meant that we were all carrying our weekend’s bags with us.  The Railrunner station is across the BNSF main line from the museum.  Fortunately the town has built a new pedestrian walkway over the tracks, but which requires a climb up a good 25 - 35 feet (this is a new bridge and has a neat observation overlook - but for some strange reason was placed on the side opposite the major Belin yards?).  So after carrying bags through downtown Albuquerque for lunch, then over the tracks to the museum and finally to the restaurant, some of the folks were not looking forward to the reverse trip over the bridge back to the Railrunner station.  To the rescue comes Greg, who shuttled everyone’s bags and Kyra who is just now getting her mobility back after major foot surgery.

Onboard, we headed north on the BNSF tracks toward Albuquerque.  The Railrunner constructed a new entry into Santa Fe, taking off from BNSF about 15 miles south of town, then joining the old Santa Fe branch a few miles out for the rest of the run into town.  The new construction is first rate, concrete ties and a curving 3% grade up to the 7000 foot elevation of Santa Fe.  

Operation is push-pull and northbound allowed us to sit facing the window opposite the engineer, and most everybody turns in the “almost” engineer’s seat.  When my turn came, I noticed the speedometer also had a digital readout - we were doing a steady 80mph!

It was dark when we got to our motel, a couple of blocks from the station and I suspect there was no midnight oil burning with any of this crew.

Saturday was originally to be a trip on the Santa Fe Southern tourist line to Lamy, lunch there and a return to Santa Fe.  But a month earlier, I found out they were shut down for track repair, to be reopened in April.  Did not happen, we learned later they also have a locomotive under repair and opening is now to be in May.  So, we decided Saturday was to be a free day for visiting the historic places in town, galleries and shopping.  The hotel has a great shuttle service, so Mary Jane and I were dropped off at the top of Canyon Rd, and spend the day enjoying the galleries as we walked back toward our motel.  

Our Railrunner left for Albuquerque Sunday at 11am and our car attendant warned us that there is a good crowd on Sundays, so be sure to be there on time.  The motel was across the street from a park built on the old rail yards and features a pedestrian walkway along the tracks to the station.  So, we all wandered the area on a pleasant morning till train time.

As the train car door opened where Mary Jane and I were standing, the conductor was in the doorway and said, “Peter, I figured it was you!”  It turns out the car attendant on Friday had told Sunday’s conductor about this group of train nuts from Arizona who would be taking the train back to Albuquerque on Sunday.  And who was the conductor, Bill Deihl, a Grand Canyon Railway alum!  Bill had got on with the Railrunner and was in line for the next engineer’s opening (he also joined us last year at National Train Day in Williams, although he can’t come this year as he noted he is working six day weeks for the Railrunner.)  

Calling Amtrak, I anxiously waited to see if the train would be on time - this is towards the end of the run from Chicago and who knows what could have delayed it.  Surprise, it was not only on time, but to be 30 minutes early.  Well that was too good to be true, and it was not.  But it did arrive on the scheduled time.  Dinner on the diner and most of us were dozing by sunset.

I am always worried about losing time between Albuquerque and Flagstaff.  Many of our previous on time departures from Albuquerque still found us an hour or more late into Williams.  I think the problem is weaving the eastbound traffic block through our westbound block which always seems to meet in New Mexico.  And again traffic was really heavy and at times we were slowed - but never stopped.  The BNSF dispatcher did a great job that day getting us through and we were maybe only 15 minutes late.  It took two shuttles from the hotel to get us and the other detraining passengers back to our cars.  We said our farewells and among the good by’s, I got two “what is next year’s trip to be?”

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