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December 9th, 2018

Train Ride!

By this time next Sunday, if all goes well, I should be in my Viewliner roomette on The Cardinal, now past DC Union Station and the engine swap (electric to diesel) and somewhere in Virginia, heading to Chicago by a circuitous route through Charlottesville, then to Charleston West Virginia, Cincinnati and Indianapolis. A friend will be house sitting and cat sitting while I’m away. It’s a strange route but it gives me a roomette the moment I step on the train in Baltimore, all the way to Chicago. They say when the leaves turn in autumn it’s one of Amtrak’s most scenic routes.

I’ll have a five and a half hour layover in Chicago, which given how nice Chicago Union Station is it won’t be a hardship at all. And I’d rather have a buffer of many hours between trains than the less than an hour I have in LA to get off the Southwest Chief and onto the Pacific Surfliner. A late train could make me miss that connection. I’d still have options, but I really want to take that train just to watch the California coastline pass by. Also, that line runs right past the ancient ancestral Garrett homeland so it’s a nostalgia thing too.

Really looking forward to it. On the two night two day trip on the Southwest Chief I sprang for a full sized bedroom compartment with its own bathroom and shower. I did that at the last minute on the trip back last year and it’s the only way to go on a multi night journey. But last minute tickets are at the max price. This year I bought mine back in April and that put the cost over a roomette at half, or in other words I get it round trip for the one way price I paid last year.

Below is the layout of the Superliner sleeper cars. The difference between Viewliner and Superliner is the Superliners are double deck cars whereas the Viewliners are single level. Viewliners are used between Boston and Washington DC because the double height Superliner cars won’t fit through the tunnels in the northeast corridor. This is why the Cardinal, which runs from New York to Chicago, is a Viewliner. Nice thing about the older Viewliner sleepers is the roomettes all have their own private toilets and sinks. But that is awkward for couples traveling together so the next generation of Viewliner cars won’t have toilets anymore, but I’ve heard they still have their sinks. I’m hoping my car on the way to Chicago next week is one of the older ones. It’s a pain in the neck to have to get dressed in a tiny roomette to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night. This is why I’m paying extra for the full size bedroom on the two night trip from Chicago to LA. That and my own shower. Plus the beds are a bit wider.


The train is still Very pricey if you get a sleeper, versus just riding coach. But overnight in coach is not fun and the sleeper cost is about what I’d be paying for a road trip anyway. It’s the motels mostly that drive up the cost. On the train I’m carrying my room with me and meals in the dining car are included in the sleeper price. Plus I’m not doing any of the work (and neither is my car). I can relax and watch the scenery go by. I still love the road trip, and want to do more of that when I get a chance, probably not until after JWST launch and commissioning. Maybe. But if I’m just wanting to get from point a to point b and it’s a vacation the train is now my preferred way to travel.

Until at least, the current Amtrak CEO makes travel by passenger train just as miserable as he made it for the passengers on the airlines he used to be CEO of.

I did this last year, more or less, and it was Wonderful. Last year I took a local from Baltimore to Washington DC Union Station, and from their picked up the Capitol Limited to Chicago, and there I got the Southwest Chief. The Chief runs the same route as the legendary Santa Fe Super Chief and it is the fastest route from Chicago to California. Hanging out in the lounge car with a drink and snacks and watching the southwest scenery go by was definitely the way to go. Like Biergarten in Epcot Germany you get communal seating in the Amtrak dining cars, and as a solitary traveler I’m basically filler so it’s never hard to seat me. And just like Biergarten now I have fellow travelers I can chat with and trade travel stories with. When you’ve been single most or all of your life, you tend to treasure those modes of travel and dining that give you opportunities to socialize, which a table for one does not.

It’s not for everyone, especially if you get motion sickness. But mom used to take me on the train when we went on vacations to Florida and it brings back memories and the motion of the train at night actually helps me sleep. Except I can’t because I am always looking out the window at the passing scenery.


by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on Train Ride!

December 10th, 2017

Train Ride!

All my life I’ve wanted to do the big cross-country train ride to California and back. This holiday season I’m finally doing it and I can’t begin to describe how thrilled I am. Last July you may recall, I did Amtrak to Orlando and Walt-Disney World. I booked a roomette there and back on the Silver Meteor and loved Every Minute of it. So I gave some serious thought to doing the Christmas/New Year holiday trip to California by train instead of making it a road trip as I usually do. Comparing the cost of a round trip ticket to past trips to the west coast I found them nearly identical, and the time spent just a tad shorter since the train is always moving even when I’m sleeping. So shortly after I returned from Florida I bought my tickets.

The itinerary is thus: Northeast Regional from Baltimore Penn Station to Washington D.C. Union Station. From there I catch The Capital Limited to Chicago Union Station. One day later in Chicago Union Station I catch The Southwest Chief (which runs the route of the legendary Santa Fe Super Chief) to Los Angeles Union Station. That last leg is two nights and two days. So three nights total, and maybe three and a half days. The drive has usually taken me four and a half days and more, but I stop frequently for stuff and a road trip is for exploring. A big reason why I’m more in favor of the train these days is my vacations give me less time to explore the road. Things are coming to a head on the James Webb Space Telescope and even though launch has been moved back to (possibly) spring of 2019, there is still a tight schedule and a lot of work ahead of us. So when I take time off it’s limited to windows I can be away, and usually it’s only a week of time I can be spared. So I mostly use those windows for Walt Disney World trips. Christmas/New Year is another window where I can take more time, but that’s for family holiday stuff and once again it’s just a matter of going from here to there, not exploring roads I’ve not been down before. But I still want that disconnect from my work life for a spell, and if I can’t get it on the road I’ve discovered, to my delight, I can still get it from the train.

The fact that a train ride is slower than riding jet airplane to anyplace is a feature, not a bug! Every vacation, every time away from the office, needs a gateway into and out of your normal everyday world. The road can be all that. So can the train. As I’ve written before, you can get your own room on a train and the food in the dining car is Much better than air fair and you get to chat with your fellow passengers and hang out in the lounge or stroll around which you can’t do on an airplane which is relentlessly made for getting you from point to point and for nothing else. A road trip is a journey. A long distance train ride is a voyage. Either one can be your portal into a different mode of life for a while, where you can find your inner bearings again, look around, consult the compass and chart a course.

As of today I am pretty much all packed and ready to go and it’s only Sunday. I’ve been working it for two weeks now and it’s been a challenge because this trip I really need to travel light and yet there’s a bunch of stuff I will need for two weeks plus in California.

I divided things into two groups…that which I can mail to my brother in California prior to the trip, and that which I either need for the train ride or things I don’t want to risk going through the mail. Turned out most of the first group were clothes and shoes. Two small boxes went to California.

I decided on one backpack and one mid sized carry-on suitcase, both Briggs & Riley made. These take the clothes I need for the train ride, my toiletries kit (I’ve never showered on a train before so this will be an experience…), a small first aid kit, penlight, two books to read, the Leica M3, 50 & 24mm lenses, Gossen Pilot light meter and ten rolls of B&W film, the Sony-Hasselblad (for color photography), assorted travel snacks and a flask of Grand Marnier because Amtrak lounge car liquor menus are pitiful, a small power block with USB charger ports, assorted cables, three nice cigars in tubes (for when I’m in California), my Garmin for navigating the rental car in LA, and watching my train’s progress as I travel, locking cables to keep my luggage secure in my roomette, and my travel folder with my tickets and rental car agreement. The backpack and suitcase will also hold one of my household laptops, the office laptop and charger block.

Plus travel pillow.

The backpack holds mostly clothes and snacks. The suitcase everything else.I’ve already test hoisted the suitcase and it is Heavy but will roll smoothly: Briggs & Riley make them with oversized wheels. It seems a lot to describe here but it’s actually a pretty small luggage set compared to what I generally see on the train and in the stations. My goal was to not have to store any luggage in the central luggage area of my Superliner Sleeper cars, but keep it all in my roomette. Basically all I am taking with me is a backpack and a suitcase that maybe ten years ago would have qualified as airline carry-on. I’m almost expecting someone to ask me where the rest of it is. I’ll tell them it went by UPS and it’s already there.

A friend has kindly agreed to house sit for me (in exchange for food and money). I still need to tell the alarm company about him, and show him around to the neighbors when he gets here so they won’t think I’ve got a squatter.  I will also be posting about my adventures as I go along. This is going to be so very cool…I have never done the long distance train ride cross-country before and I am so much looking forward to it starting this coming Thursday.


The Southwest Chief

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on Train Ride!

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