• Intrastate (Florida) Day Trip

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

Moderator: David Benton

  by Ocala Mike
I wanted to file this report while it was still fresh in my mind, having just completed this day trip a little over three hours ago. Alternate titles for this thread were "Adventures in Amtrak," "No More Joy Rides," or "Deferred Maintenance Blues."

I wanted to take an intrastate day trip, and decided that Palatka to Winter Haven and return would fit nicely into my plans. Going down on the Meteor and back on the Star would afford me a side trip to Tampa down the Auburndale Connection (a never done).

I caught #97 right on time at Palatka, and had a pretty uneventful trip down. We were delayed for only about 20 minutes at a meet with #98 south of Orlando. I met and briefly conversed in the Cafe Car with a vacationing couple from Chicagoland, obviously Amtrak aficionados judging by the "National Train Day at Chicago Union Station" tee shirt the gentleman had on. Seems they were
sleeping car passengers enroute from Chicago to Miami via the Capitol Limited to Washington and the Silver Meteor the rest of the way. Nice folks. We arrived in Winter Haven just after a thunderstorm had hit, and only slightly late. For the technically-minded, our consist was 2 P42 engines (in good working order - this comes into play later), Baggage Car, 3 Viewliner Sleepers, Diner, Cafe, and 4 Coaches.

Now for the fun. I only had to wait a little over an hour for the N/B leg on #92, the Silver Star. The consist was the same as above except only 2 Viewliner Sleepers for the Star. The 2 P42 engines in good working order?...not so much.
I sat in the Cafe Car almost the whole trip, and got to know and talk to the conductor, Rick Jones, who bore a striking resemblance to Eddie Murphy. Since he had his radio on the whole trip, I gleaned the following information mostly through listening to his communications back and forth with the engine crew.

Not long after we left the "A" line at Auburndale heading for Tampa, I found out that the trailing unit of the engine duo had been shut down since the train left South Florida due to a "balky" traction motor; we had only one "good" engine, and one being dragged behind as a "passenger." Not a problem, until, after leaving Tampa, the engineer reported back that the lead engine had a critically low water level due to a leak in the cooling system somewhere. Sure enough, we basically broke down just outside of Lakeland. Visions of a monumental delay and a CSX rescue engine danced through my head until the engineer coaxed the trailing unit with the recalcitrant traction motor into limping us in to Lakeland where the lead unit was filled with water out of what amounted to a garden hose.

We got on our way, only about 45 minutes late, and I have to hand it to conductor Jones. He kept the passengers informed at all times about the nature of the delay, and he rolled up his sleeves at Lakeland to assist in "watering" the engine (no. 179; didn't get the no. of the trailing unit).

Everything was fine until we got an order from Amtrak to stop at Sanford, just opposite the Autotrain facility, for the purpose of adding a third engine, no. 123, "borrowed" from the Autotrain pool, I guess. We completed the trip to my stop at Palatka with ONE LIVE ENGINE DRAGGING TWO DEAD ONES AND NINE PASSENGER CARS through the Florida night only about an hour or so late after all that. Found out too that the live engine was having wheel slippage problems, probably due to the extra burden of the two broken down units behind it.

Promises to be a long night tonight for no. 92. Will have to call Julie tomorrow morning in order to check on its progress.

I wrote an e-mail commending conductor Jones for his efforts. Besides what I commented on above, he also was instrumental in saving time when they were putting the third engine on in Sanford. He had them position the train back of a timed-lock switch in order to save as much time as possible making the switch of engines.

All in all, I spent nearly 12 hours on trains today, quenching (I hope) my thirst for a drink of Amtrak. After today, I am of the opinion that the people of Amtrak are far superior to the equipment of Amtrak.