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The Spring 2006 Trip Part 1

Featuring Simplified Dining on the Southwest Chief, Capitol Limited and Cardinal along with SEPTA, The NJT River Line, PATCO, Princeton Jct, PATH, Hudson Bergen Light Rail Line and the New York Mets vs Atlanta Braves Game.

by Chris Guenzler

Trip eastward with Simplified Dining on the Southwest Chief and Capitol Limited

For my Spring 2006 trip, I wanted to use my Amtrak Guest Reward points one way and wanted to get the most for the points. I checked baseball schedules hoping to catch at least one game along the way. I wanted to return by way of Philadelphia since SEPTA had routes I had not ridden yet. I could ride the River Line as well as PATCO, neither of which I had ridden. The Princeton Line on New Jersey Transit could also be worked in, and then in New York, I would have my choice of new lines to ride. I called Guest Rewards and learned the passenger does not get to choose the routing, the computer does. That meant one Southwest Chief trip for certain. The computer then had me on the Lake Shore Limited until I asked if there was another departure time from New York. The reservation agent said there was a departure at 9:25 AM. A Viewliner Sleeper on the Cardinal and a Superliner Roomette on the Southwest Chief would be my westbound choices. That meant a Wednesday departure for New York City which would allow a New York Mets game Tuesday night. With the westbound leg done, I went to Santa Ana where my excellent night time Amtrak agent Marty booked me a coach with a great fare which I paid for on the spot. She then booked my Sleeping Car space on the Southwest Chief and Capitol Limited, with a Corridor train to Philadelphia. A pair of Keystone trains would get me to New York City on that Tuesday. I would stay at my usual Herald Square Hotel in the Big Apple, but needed to find a new hotel for Philadelphia. After searching online for about an hour, I found the Holiday Inn Express downtown to be perfect for what I needed. Simplified Dining was announced meaning my last steak dinner would be on the Southwest Chief on April 13th as it was scheduled to be switched over on April 15th. Over the next months, I paid for the Sleeping Car rooms and did the other trips on the website before that big day arrived.

Surfliner 583 4/13/2006

To say that I was ready for this trip would have been an understatement. My Mother drove me to the Santa Ana train station and I talked with Marty, my outstanding night ticket agent, before I walked out onto the balcony overlooking the tracks.

Metrolink Train 686 came into Santa Ana heading to Irvine.

Minutes later, Surfliner 583 came in to take me to Los Angeles. I took a seat in a Superliner coach and then found Pablo who shared a seat with me to LAUPT. The train stopped in Anaheim and Fullerton before making its way to Los Angeles. I found a bench and waited for the Southwest Chief to back into the station.

Southwest Chief 4 4/13/2006

At 6:03 PM, the train backed into LAUPT. It had P42DC's 63, 99 and 179, Baggage 1702, Transition 39034, Sleeping Cars 32012 and 32031, Diner 38011, Lounge 33030, Coaches 34024, 34008 and 34096 with baggage 1250 and Express Trak 74039 on the rear end. I boarded the 32031 with my Sleeping Car Attendant, Simon, taking my ticket before I went to Room 2. I went back to the platform and learned that Simplified Dining had started on this train the previous day, instead of April 15th as Amtrak had stated. I was informed the date was effective out of Chicago so that all eastbound trains leaving after the 12th would be Simplified Dining.

What is Simplified Dining? Simplified Dining means one waiter and one steward upstairs serving all the passengers and one lone cook downstairs preparing the meals. Gone are the second waiter, assistant chef and dishwasher. So, my last steak on the Southwest Chief idea was dead even before the train left LAUPT, which it did on time. After the train left, they started to call dinner reservations by name.

I went to the Dining Car to ask for a reservation and explained that I had come from the Surfliner and never went inside the station, so the steward seated me at a table. I learned dinner reservations are given out by Customer Service in Los Angeles when passengers show their tickets and IDs when checking in. I was seated with Donna, going to Kansas City, and Rodney, going to Phoenix. I ordered a pork chop, baked potato and no vegetables. The plates were plastic, but looked like regular dining car china. The glasses were plastic too, but we did have silverware. So how was my first Simplified Dining meal on Amtrak?

The Pork Chop was surprisingly delicious.

The chocolate cake was excellent. Good conversation was had during the meal and overall, it was just like eating in the dining car on any other trip. I returned to my room to listen to some music, in this case Jeff Beck "Wired". The train stopped at Fullerton during dinner and later at Riverside and San Bernardino, where I took a fresh air break. As the train climbed Cajon Pass, I called it a night, made up my bed and climbed in.

I slept really well the first night and woke up east of Flagstaff the next morning. I returned the room to daytime configuration and enjoyed the train as it traveled through the transition zone from forest to desert. After Canyon Diablo, breakfast was announced over the PA system. This was another change from just walking into the dining car. That announcement probably woke up the entire train. I was seated with Jim and Maylene from Phoenix, heading to Michigan, and Beth going to Lansing, Michigan.

I had French toast and turkey sausage links. The links were not as good as when they are cooked on a grill. There were more interesting conversations, including a discussion of Jackie Chan. I returned to my room where I listened to John Wetton "Chasing the Dragon". As we arrived in Gallup, New Mexico, a BNSF crew using remote control derailed three cars across the yard tracks.

The train arrived at Gallup before I walked back and talked with Pablo who had a good night's sleep in coach. We crossed the Continental Divide with me in my room listening to Deep Purple "Come Hell or High Water". I was enjoying the scenery as I read my May 2006 Railfan and Railroad magazine. The Southwest Chief went around four eastbound BNSF freights before Grants, where two westbounds were awaiting our passage.

I took a nap and then later waited for a freight train delay before leaving the BNSF mainline at Dailies. After crossing the Rio Grande River, we arrived into Albuquerque at 12:24 PM.

New Mexico Railrunner will be a future commuter service between Belen, Albuquerque and Bernalillo that will start this summer.

I walked into town for a six pack of Coca-Cola to keep me well stocked for this trip.

Back at trackside, the Indian Vendors were hard at work selling their goods.

A picture of the Southwest Chief at Albuquerque. I returned to my room to read ESPN Magazine and listen to Ozzy Osbourne "Tribute".

The Southwest Chief had to wait for BNSF 5281 West to pull into Albuquerque before we could leave. We departed at 1:30 PM heading for Lamy. After Lamy, it was time for Ian Anderson's "Secret Language of Birds". A red signal at the west end of Canyoncito stopped us briefly before we went into the siding to meet the westbound nine-car Southwest Chief. We climbed the rest of Glorieta Pass, then dropped into the Pecos River Canyon. The next musical selection was Prince's "The Hits 1".

The Southwest Chief took the "S" curves at Chapple" I got a 5:15 PM dinner reservation, but instead of giving you a slip, they now call you name over the PA System. I think the old way with slips would make for a more peaceful train.

At 5:15 PM, they called our reservations and I was seated with Beth again, Amy, going to Raton and Aubery, going to New York City.

There was no braised beef selection tonight so I had the pork chop again with chocolate cake, which was another fulfilling meal as we closed in on Raton. "Tales of the Crystal Flute" was my next musical number for this early evening.

The Raton Sign high above the town. We climbed Raton Pass, passed through the Raton Tunnel and then by the state line marker into Colorado. We dropped down the grade to Trinidad where six people were kicked off the train. I walked back to give Pablo the ESPN magazine.

East of Trinidad the western sky became interesting. We made our way to La Junta, a fresh air stop, before I made up my bed for the night.

4/15/2006 I woke up just before Holiday, Kansas and was in the dining car when we stopped at the Argentine Yard fuel pads. I was seated with Bob from Portland, Carol from Naperville and Jay going to Washington, DC.

I had the French Toast and Sausage Patties this morning, before we arrived in Kansas City where I detrained.

Anne Rutledge Train 314.

Views of the Southern Pacific 745 and train on display.

Views of Kansas City Union Station.

View of the Southern Pacific 745.

The Southwest Chief Train 4 at Kansas City. We departed Kansas City on time and I slept all the way through to La Plata, Missouri, where I took a shower before sitting in the lounge car while my room was being made up. The train crossed the rolling hills of Missouri into Iowa. After a fresh air stop at Fort Madison, we crossed the Mississippi River into Illinois. ABBA's "Live" entertained me to Galesburg, where I called Lets Talk Trains, the Internet radio show, and told them about the "Simplified Dining Car Experience" that I have had so far on this trip.

After departing Galesburg, the train made its way to Princeton and Mendota. Before Aurora, a minor mechanical problem which was an air leak, was quickly taken care of. We stopped in Naperville before making our way slowly into Chicago, due to red signals, and pulled straight into Chicago Union Station at 3:48 PM. A special thank you to Simon, the wonderful Sleeping Car Attendant, Jennie, the Dining Car Steward and Gwen, our fantastic server, plus our great Chef Daryl, who prepared all those meals by himself.

Chicago 4/15/2006

I checked into the Metropolitan Lounge and checked my bags in before heading to the Food Court.

At Gold Coast I ordered a Char Dog that really hit the spot. Next I went by Metra to pick up a set of current timetables for all lines.

I wandered over to the Grand Hall to get these pictures. On the way back to the lounge, I stopped off at the Ticket Counter to get a National Timetable so I would know my options in DC tomorrow. Back in the lounge I relaxed until it was time to claim my luggage and they called my train.

Capitol Limited 30 4/15/2006

At 4:54 PM, a Red Cap asked me if I wanted help with my bags to the train and as no one else took him up on it, I did. We rode out to the train which was on Track 20 and I got most of the consist. At the door of Car 32110, I met John Fox, my Sleeping Car Attendant for the trip to Washington, DC. We had P42DC's 155 and 82, Baggage 1164, Transition 39030, Sleepers 32090 Michigan and 32110 Tennessee, Diner 38016, Lounge 33003, Coaches 34048, 34041 and 34020, with Express Trak 74089 on the rear end. After I settled in room 3, I introduced myself to our conductor for the first part of the trip. We departed Chicago Union Station on time while I listened to Mick Jagger's "Goddess in the Doorway". I got a 7 PM dinner reservation as we entered Indiana, passing the steel mills of Gary and the forlorn Gary station which is now just a shell of its former glory. I switched the music to Alice Cooper's "Dirty Diamonds". Near Pine Junction, we ran into the first freight train congestion of the trip. At 7 PM, I was joined by Bob and Mary Ellen heading for Pittsburgh, but they live in Wheeling, West Virginia. I had braised beef, while Mary Ellen ordered chicken and Bob ordered the pork chop.

I had the Braised Beef.

Mary Ellen ordered the chicken.

Bob had the Pork Chop.

For dessert, I had chocolate cake. While we ate, I learned a lot from Bob and Mary Ellen about Wheeling. During the meal, we stopped at South Bend and I was back in my darkened room by Elkhart, where I called it a night.

4/16/2006 I awoke at Pittsburgh and decided to step off for a picture before we departed at 6:28 AM.

Early morning in Pittsburgh. Soon after departure I went to the dining Car for breakfast as the train headed east into a colorful sunrise. I was joined by Jay going to DC and Mary going to Silver Springs, Florida.

I enjoyed French Toast and Sausage Patties before returning to my room for additional sleep until near Connersville.



CSX at Connellsville.

The Youghiogenhy River. It was a very beautiful and peaceful trip through the canyon. The old Western Maryland bridge and grade came into view before we proceeded to Confluence.

Confluence, Pennsylvania. Our route has now been following the Casselman River.

The Capitol Limited along the Casselman River.

Windmill on a hill.

Capitol Limited took a curve.

Former Western Maryland trestle.

Former Western Maryland bridge as we neared Sand Patch.

The Summit of the Alleghenies Mountain Sign.

The Sand Patch Summit Tunnels before we passed through it.

Capitol Limited descending the east flank of Sand Patch. At Fairhope the fisherman were out in force.

Hyndman, PA. Coming into Cumberland I saw the Western Maryland Scenic tracks that I will be riding on July 14th. Join me on that day if you want to meet me in person.

CSX freight in Cumberland.

CSX power at Cumberland. The toilets went out in our car after leaving Cumberland so I would have to go to the next sleeper to conduct my business. Someone had stuffed paper towels down the toilets and one being out affects the whole plumbing system of the car.

A B&O Tunnel.

Ever been in a tunnel that is in another state than you are on the train? I have! The tunnel portals are both in West Virginia but inside in the dark you are in Maryland.

MARC commuter power lays over the Easter Weekend.

Martinsburg also still has the old B&O Roundhouse. We then headed towards Harpers Ferry. Since the dining car was not serving lunch, I went to the lounge car for a hot dog. When we arrived in Harpers Ferry, I looked for the Hilltop House where I had stayed on my first cross-country train trip.

Looking across the Potomac River at Maryland.

The etching on the rocks.

Looking back west at West Virginia, the Potomac River and the Hilltop House.

B&O Canal.

Point of Rocks Station. We made our way to Rockville then made the final miles into Washington Union Station arriving there at 2:06 PM{11:30 AM}.

Washington Union Station-Club Acela 4/16/2006

I was the first person off the Capitol Limited because I was trying to get on Regional 156, but the conductor told me I had to exchange my ticket. I went to the ticket counter but learned train 156 was sold out. I had forgotten it was Easter Sunday so I headed to Club Acela.

The front counter at Club Acela.

Views around Club Acela.

Once I had checked in, I tried both of their computers, but neither of them worked. I used the self-serve beverage area before I relaxed until it was time to board my train to Philadelphia. I called Steve Grande of to report on the trip so far. Then I talked to the Club Attendant and showed him my website, which he enjoyed. I sat down and mentally prepared myself for the train ride to Philadelphia.

Regional Train 168 4/16/2006

I walked out of the west door of Club Acela at 3:06 PM and made my way to Track 10, boarding Amfleet Coach 21704. The train consisted of AEM7 921, Business Coach 44706, Cafe 43352, Coaches 21150, 21704, 82524, 82523, 82541 with 44279 bringing up the markers. I was looking forward to being aboard Amfleet again en route to Philadelphia. We departed Washington Union Station on time and sped to New Carrolton, followed shortly by Baltimore Washington International Airport, where the detraining passengers had to be in the front five cars. On the way to Baltimore, a motor scooter had been placed between the rails in our path, but when we got there a young man and woman were standing off of the tracks with it. We entered the First and Second Baltimore Tunnels, where work was taking place on the east track before we stopped at Baltimore. Since this was Easter Sunday and we had heavy passenger boardings, our conductor decided to throw the timetable "out the window" and we would get there when we get there. It was a beautiful spring afternoon as we crossed the arms of Chesapeake Bay along our route. The train ran non-stop to Wilmington, Delaware, then made the sprint to 30th Street Station in Philadelphia where I detrained, very happy to be there.

Philadelphia-Club Acela 4/16/2006

I went up to the 30th Street station and found the entrance to Club Acela on the second floor. I used my Guest Reward Select Plus Card to gain entry and once inside, decided to have a look around.

There are several computers that passengers can use and also some very nice comfortable chairs.

The room overlooks the station, like the Club Acela in Boston. I used the computer to check my e-mail. This Club Acela has plenty of room and is well stocked for passenger's use. Later, I went to the SEPTA ticket window and told the agent what I wanted to do in Philadelphia. She suggested day passes, of which I bought two for my visit to Philadelphia. I took a SEPTA train over to Market East and then walked to the Holiday Inn Express where I checked in, before going out to ride SEPTA..

Part 2 Riding SEPTA, River Line and PATCO.