• Amtrak trip report from early summer

  • Tell us where you were and what you saw!
Tell us where you were and what you saw!

Moderator: David Benton

  by JLJ061
It had been about 5 years since I had last ridden Amtrak (or any other train for that matter), before I moved from South Bend, Indiana to Kansas City, Missouri. So I figured my time was long overdue, hence the purpose of this weekend trip to Chicago in May, 2005.

Friday, May 20, 2005

I arrived at Kansas City Union Station that morning at around 6:30 in the morning. I had purchased tickets for coach, but a couple days earlier I received a call from Amtrak, asking me if I would like to upgrade my reservation to a First Class sleeping compartment. After a little consideration, I kindly turned down their offer, thinking paying for my meals would be more cost effective, than paying an extra $75 each way for a sleeping compartment that I would never really need.

Amtrak advised me that Train #4, the eastbound Southwest Chief, was running about 45-60 minutes late going into Kansas the previous evening, but still predicted an on time arrival into Kansas City at 7:30. No problem, I decided. Only more time to allow me to enjoy railfanning at the station while waiting. It turned out the Chief was still running about a half hour late, and wouldn't pull in to KCUS until around 8 am. My only regret to this was I wanted to photograph the departure of the other Kansas City train, the Ann Rutledge, as it pulled out enroute to St. Louis and Chicago. Unfortunately only passengers for that train were allowed on the platform, so I had no choice but to stay in the waiting from for the Chief's arrival.

Train 4 finally pulled into KCUS a little after 8 am, and after getting my coach seat assignment I immediately proceeded to the Sightseer Lounge Car to find a choice spot to set up my video and photo equipment. This would turn out to be a mistake on my part, which I will point out later. After getting set up I reached in my bag grab my Burlington Northern Santa Fe timetables, along with the scanner radio frequencies for that route, when I suddenly realized: Crap! I had forgotten to pick them up off my desk that morning! Fortunately my scanner has all railroad frequencies preprogrammed in its search mode, so finding them manually wouldn't be too much of a problem.

At about 8:15 Train 4 departed Kansas City, still about 30 minutes behind schedule. At the same time hunger pangs started to hit me, so I proceeded up to the dining car to take in some breakfast. This was my first experience with Amtrak's standardized menu, but it was far from a disappointment with my order of French Toast, bacon and orange juice (recommended in a trip report from another OTOL member!).

The remainder of my trip to Chicago was spent pretty much in the Lounge Car, shooting video and snapping pictures whenever the opportunity arised, as well as taking in the sights and sounds of fellow travelers. I was somewhat surprised to see quite a few Amish people on board, but then I realized... With their distaste of modern technology, how else would they be able to travel across the country? Surely their customary horse and buggy would not do for such a trip!

Somewhere between Galesburg and Mendota, Illinois I got a text message on my cell phone from a railfan buddy of mine, who happens to be a locomotive engineer for Norfolk Southern out of Elkhart, Indiana. Originally we were planning on getting together upon my arrival in Chicago, but unfortunately his message was not good news: He was called in to work that evening, and there would be no time for us to see each other as planned. Fortunately I had a contingency plan for such a situation, so it wouldn't be too big a loss for me.

After departing Naperville, the lead service attendant came through advising everyone that we were about to arrive into Chicago, and for everyone to return to their seats. Returning to my seat, I was met with an unexpected surprise: My seat was given away to another passenger! After a little discussion with other nearby passengers, I realized my mistake: When I got on in Kansas City, I didn't wait in my seat long enough to be given a seat check, so the car attendant assumed my seat was still vacant. Will have to make a mental note next time to be a little more patient before leaving my seat.

We finally pulled into Chicago Union Station at around 4 pm, about 40 minutes behind the scheduled arrival time. It would be almost 24 hours before my scheduled return to Kansas City on the westbound Chief, so I had that much time to kill with my backup plan of railfanning and riding.

Since the plans with my old buddy had fallen through, I was pretty much free to go wherever and do whatever I felt like. Since I was in Chicago and some years ago I used to be a real frequent rider of the South Shore electric commuter line, I decided to take a train to Michigan City for old times sake. I had heard of their current ongoing project to convert from ABS to CTC operation, I decided to see this for myself. So I walked from Union Station to Randolph Street Station to catch the 4:58 pm train to Michigan City Shops. This was the first eight-car rush hour train with a newer 100-series car on the head end. These cars only have one control cab on one end, and passengers can only board the car from ground level on the other end.

As usual I boarded the first car so I could watch the train's motorman in action. Since I had left Indiana the South Shore revamped its scheduling so that certain "limited" trains would skip certain stations, as was the case on this train. On the trip I got the chance to see the railroad's new station in East Chicago, complete with high level platforms and gantlet tracks to provide clearances for freight trains. All the railroad's 75+-year-old truss bridges have been replaced with standard girder bridges. Double track operation had been established between Gary and Burns Harbor. The main line through Michigan City Shops had been relocated to the siding to the south, possibly using the old main as a storage track for the extra passenger equipment the railroad had taken in.

I detrained at the Shops at about 6:30 pm, ready to start snapping pictures, only to find an unexpected problem. I was planning on photographing the remaining eastbound trains arriving from Chicago, but unfortunately the angle of the evening sun would make this impossible, so I wasn't able to take as many pictures as I had hoped. Once the evening rush ended, I just hung out in the station shelter until the last westbound of the day would take me back to Chicago. As I boarded I was met with an unexpected surprise: The train's conductor was the man I used to rise with every weekend when I was younger! Back in those days he used to let me ride at a reduced fare, while I assisted him by doing passenger counts, making running brake tests, and making station announcements over the train's PA.

During the trip back to Chicago I contemplated on what I was going to do next for the night. I didn't have enough money for a hotel room or even bus or cab fare. Since this was my first time railfanning in Chicago in a few years, I decided to make the best of it watching the trains I used to see move through here before my moving to Kansas City. But where would I see plenty of action, and still be relatively safe at all hours of the night? At first I thought of the suburb of LaGrange, where the BNSF triple-track main runs through, and then I thought of Joliet Union Station, where Metra's old Rock Island line crosses the BNSF's old Santa Fe/GM&O lines. The tracks are elevated from ground level there, and the tower is still in operation, so I wouldn't be totally alone. So I detrained the South Shore at Van Buren Street, and walked over to Metra's LaSalle Street Station. I took the second to last Metra train at 10:55 pm, which would get me to Joliet a little after midnight.

Saturday, May 21, 2005

Unfortunately my last minute planning would come back to bite me. I hadn't eaten since lunch that day, and the station with its vending machines was locked up tight earlier in the evening. To make things worse, the only place open for a bite to eat was the Harrah's Casino, which not only would be incredibly expensive, but also too far of a walk for me in this very cool evening. So alas, I was resigned to spending the rest of the night on an empty stomach. The night also turned out to be much cooler than expected, and I had nothing more to wear than a quilted thermal shirt and jeans. Subconsciously I tried to will the tower operator to take pity on me and let me inside, but no such luck. At least he wasn't calling the Metra Police on me, like the horror stories I had heard from others about being harassed by the Metra Police. Throughout the night I admired the many BNSF intermodal trains and locals, with a couple UP locals, and an unexpected CSX train on the old Rock Island. About 3:30 am my buddy called me on my cell phone to check how I was holding up. He was still working the hump engine in the Elkhart Yard, scheduled to tie up an hour later.

Daylight finally couldn't have come any sooner for me, and I anxiously waited to bring the first Metra Saturday train to Chicago into the station at 6 am. The train's air conditioning still felt much warmer than the night air, and I was finally able to catch a little shut-eye in over 24 hours. As soon as we pulled into LaSalle Street Station I hightailed back to Union Station, where the McD's was sure to be open, and I could take in a much-needed hot meal!

I still had 6 hours to kill before taking the Chief back to Kansas City, so I thought I would follow through with my trip to LaGrange for some pictures there. Fortunately it warmed up enough again to make it more tolerable, and thanks to Metra's $5 Weekend Pass with unlimited rides on any route, it wouldn't cost me anything. The downside was it kind of turned into a bust as far as action goes. It turned out the BNSF took one of the mains out of service for maintenance, and traffic was reduced considerably because of it. So returned back to Union Station with very few pictures.

Train #3, the westbound Southwest Chief, had a scheduled departure from Chicago at 3:15 pm, and the general boarding call was made exactly at 3. After a quick look at the train consist, I realized this was the exact same train that brought me to Chicago the previous day! My seat was assigned in the very last coach, just ahead of the material handling cars on the rear end. But this would be the least of my problems to be experienced. As soon as I took my seat, the seat next to me was taken by a somewhat older lady, very, very much intoxicated. She gave off a foul odor of whiskey for at least 3 feet around her. To make matters worse, she had snuck an extra bottle on board with her, and every swig she took made her speak even louder and more vulgar to me and everyone else around her. Especially to the conductor when he came to collect tickets, and she was unable to find hers right away. He informed her that she would not be allowed to go any further than Naperville unless she produced her ticket, which she finally found, to the disappointment to myself and the others. A few minutes later the Lounge Car finally opened for business, so I was finally able to break away from this nutcase until dinnertime.

When we departed Mendota the car attendant assigned to my car called the conductor to her car over the PA, where I suspected the drunken lady was causing trouble again. My suspicions were correct when over the scanner I heard the engineer contact the dispatcher and request the police meet us at Galesburg, where they will have to eject an unruly passenger. I wouldn't get the chance to see this for myself, since it was now 5:30 and it was time to make my way to the diner for dinner. Again, I was more than satisfied with the evening entree of seared catfish, mashed potatoes, carrots and vegetable medley, with a side salad and dinner roll. My dinner mates, one enroute to Flagstaff and the other to Los Angeles, agreed with their own meals. During the meal we pulled into Galesburg, where the city's finest were waiting, along with the Fire Department and a waiting ambulance. The police and paramedics boarded the train, and a few minutes later reemerged with that same lady on a gurney, the police keeping her arms restrained. From my vantage point I could see her screaming her head off, but thankfully I could not hear what she was saying.

After dinner I returned to my now much quieter and happier coach, and laid back to sleep off my dinner. I woke some time later close to La Plata, Missouri, two hours east of Kansas City. At that time the coach attendant regaled me with the ejection of that lady passenger. Apparently she discovered the lady's stashed bottle of whiskey when the police boarded the train and confiscated it. The lady then became enraged and started swinging at the attendant. According to the other passengers, this coach attendent, a 4-foot-10, 110-pound woman, blocked the blows and managed to put the lady in a headlock while the police restrained her. Upon hearing this, I quipped in asking the attendant to remind me to stay on her good side! The intoxicated lady was pretty much the story of the train for the remainder of my trip to Kansas City, where the Chief arrived on time at 10:15. As I detrained, I snapped one final picture of the train, and bid adieu to the Southwest Chief after a fun, exciting and very eventful weekend; One that I will not soon forget.

  by David Benton
Thanks for that trip report , and welcome to the rail travel forum JLJ061 !