Thank you for the nice responses to my “genesis post” on this adventure. I have struggled how to break my Train Trek down in segments to share, but have finally come up with this plan below, for a series of posts.
INTRODUCTION – GENESIS COAST to COAST to COAST
Leg One – LAKE SHORE LIMITED – Boston to Chicago – 8-9 June
Leg Two – CALIFORNIA ZEPHYR – Chicago to Sacramento
Part One – Sunday, 9 June
Part Two – Monday and Tuesday, 10-11 June
Leg Three – COAST STARLIGHT – Sacramento to Portland – 11-12 June
and, 24 plus hours in Portland, Oregon
Leg Four – EMPIRE BUILDER – Portland to Chicago – 13-15 June
Leg – Five – LAKE SHORE LIMITED – Chicago to Boston – 15-16 June
So, here goes with Leg One on the Lake Shore Limited running from Boston to Chicago. I trust some may be interested in the cost of this experience, so I will be detailing that at the end of this page. Also, this adventure may develop later into a book, thus the time I am spending on developing this “first draft” with details not found in one place on-line about Amtrak, these routes, and history and things to see along my excursion Coast to Coast to Coast. The Lake Shore Limited route map below may be enlarged by clicking.
Not liking to “miss the boat,” or train in this instance, I headed to my son’s homes on Friday, June 7. Nice Friday evening, and then Saturday number one son and I ran errands. He dropped me off at number two son’s home about 11 so we could head to South Station in Boston. They made fun of me wanting to get there over an hour early, but I “won.” As Gary and I buckled up, my phone rang. The recorded message started, “There has been a service disruption to your Amtrak departure…” and it faded out.
I asked Gary to get started downtown (about a half hour drive without traffic) while I called Amtrak back – maybe my trip had been delayed, or worse? A representative finally answered when we were halfway downtown, and replied to my question, “no, the train is on time, I see no problems.” Arriving at Boston’s South Station, to be safe, I asked Gary to wait outside while I checked the train’s status.
At Amtrak information I was told the train was “on-time” but had been replaced by a bus. The incoming train was delayed for 14 hours, and the crew had not had their federally mandated requisite rest time. I later learned (and saw the wreckage) of the derailment in Byran, Ohio, causing the problem. I called Gary, and told him it was safe to go. I headed up to The Metropolitan Lounge for First Class Passengers (Business and Sleeper class) and settled in for departure. Note the clock – I had an hour.
This trip I will not be able to board a train from the platforms, due to the bus replacement. About ten days before departure I received a call from Amtrak telling me my sleeping car had been eliminated from Boston to Albany, so I would receive a refund for my roomette on that segment. I would be directed to my Viewliner Sleeper Car in Albany.
I was disappointed not being able to follow the rails across Massachusetts. We still would make stops in Worcester, Springfield, and Pittsfield, but I have visited those stations in earlier explorations – it is the rail countryside I wished to see in between. The bus left at 1:16 – 26 minutes late, setting a pattern for the next eight days – but typical and expected.
The Lake Shore Limited begins/ends in both New York City and Boston, and combines cars in Albany, NY. In 2018 I explored the Albany, NY, Amtrak station (which is actually across the Hudson River in Rensselaer, NY). I can get to Albany in the same time as to Boston, and with long-term parking at $6 a day in Albany, with better, more convenient, connections in NYC, Albany is a viable alternative for future train travel, and more convenient than leaving Bellows Falls, VT, with only one train a day. Arriving in Albany, I captured this image of the station concourse at 6:37 PM.
then it was time to head out to the tracks
down to the platforms
where at 6:40, Walt, my car attendant, greeted me.
On the east coast, single level Viewliner cars are the norm (you can click on the car diagrams for larger views). The Sleeper Cars have this layout. I was in a Roomette – bunks for two (best for one), and a hidden sink and toilet. You can find videos on YouTube touring the sleeper options on Amtrak.
The passageway is narrow, as are the roomettes, thus hard to capture a full view for you.
Here is a gallery of interior views – note that the seats fold down for a mattress for sleeping, and the top bunk slides down. Tight for two.
Both Viewliner, and Superliner roomettes are tight for baggage storage, but unlike on a Superliner roomette, there is a location in the Viewliner car to store your carry-on bag in a cubby above the hallway. I travelled with my Rick Steves roll-on bag, and also a backpack with all my electronics. I could keep my roll-on atop the toilet (when not in use) on the Viewliner, and on the Superliners there was a step for the upper bunk that served as a shelf for my bag. I was thinking I should carry my backpack for safety all the time, but from the start, on all trains I just stowed it under one of the seats, well out of view, and safe (sleeper rooms do not have locks from the outside).
Getting settled, I then headed off exploring (carefully)
going through the dining/lounge car, I found this empty coach car. I later learned that the seats are filled based upon embarkation and departure stops. Amtrak’s personnel try to avoid having to disturb sleeping coach passengers when new travelers board.
turning back to the Dining/Lounge car, I encountered this sign.
Here is the layout of this car
looking past the sign into the kitchen area
and, here are the booths for eating and observation while lounging – I planted myself at a table and remained hypnotized by the passing scenery.
departing, we crossed the Hudson River with Albany on the west shoreline. You will see ghost like images in many of my pictures – sadly you get glare and reflections from the lights in the cars.
Amtrak has a modified meal service on the Viewliner trains on the east coast. Items on the menu are prepared elsewhere and then heated prior to serving. A pleasing menu (click on this link to view), not hotel or inn dining, but alright. On Leg Four on this journey I chatted with a retired Amtrak official who was traveling for 30 days on her pass. She explained that the modified Viewliner dining service saved three personnel, and many other expenses. We talked about many of the cuts of the niceties and amenities that added to the service from the 1940s, 50s, and 60s. But, the meal was good, and in way of compensation you get one free alcoholic beverage from their list.
Much of the initial trip is along the Erie Canal. I have travelled this section on the canal itself, watched it from the south while on the NY State Thruway, and now these views are from the north bank while riding on the rails.
and, the sun began to set
see those ghost reflections from the lights on the walls of the car? Coming into Utica an announcement came, “anyone with medical experience please come up front.” I learned someone had a seizure, an ambulance was called, the passenger taken off, and our stay at Utica’s grand restored Union Station was 25 minutes longer than planned.
Once the sun set I retired to my roomette to sleep as I wanted to awake early to plant myself back in front of a window in the dining/observation lounge car. I slept well to the rocking click clack on the tracks, only awakening during a dark stop at a station. I arose by 6:30 AM as we passed Toledo, Ohio (scheduled called for 5:54 AM), and then I also saw the derailed freight cars in Byran.
About a week before packing I was looking through my personal railroad library, fortunately re-discovering a fantastic book I had forgotten about – USA BY RAIL PLUS CANADA’S MAIN ROUTES by John Pitt – A Bradt Travel Guide published in England. Written by a knowledgeable British train travel writer, this book served as a great asset listing the train’s stops, and points of interest at those stops, and along the way. I took the Amtrak schedules and noted on the route descriptions what I should see where, and when. It is what I have learned from this guide that will delay my postings as I do more research to share with you.
In the rural areas the train stations are old and varied vintage architecture. Here is Waterloo, Ohio.
the next stop was at Elkhart, Indiana
Yes it was raining again – and on the other side of the tracks is the National New York Central Railroad Museum
they are many, many small train museums and static railroad displays at remote stations around the country. One could spend months discovering them all. The rural farmland of Indiana eventually became industrial scenery and in South Bend the old steel mills went on forever.
And, then it was arrival in Chicago at 11AM on Sunday 9 June – about 1 hour and ten minutes late.
Chicago’s Union Station, particularly the grand hall is impressive, and you may recognize this stairway.
Departure was three hours later at 2PM – which in “Ray time” meant I had about two hours running time in Chicago. I attended school just north of Chicago in Evanston (don’t ask which decade), and used to haunt Chicago when I could, but was unfamiliar with this area. I checked my bag at the Metropolitan Lounge, put on my windbreaker since it was raining, and swung on my backpack and spent one and a half hours swinging my new hip. I first crossed over the Chicago River
towards The Loop where I passed one of the “Elevated Stations” – I used Chicago Transit from Evanston, often exiting at one of The Loop Stops.
but, close to Union Station I had to make a stop I had not been to before. I was looking for Jake and Elwood, but I think they already made it from the Richard J. Daley Plaza into City Hall before “the troops” arrived.
It was drizzling, hot, humid, and I was soaked not from the rain, but from carrying my backpack and all the walking. It was time to head back to Union Station.
through the doors
and down the Iconic Stairway (think Brian De Palma UNTOUCHABLES 1987, not to mention the wonderful 1994 spoof – NAKED GUN 33 1/3)
Some time in the lounge with hoards of other first class passengers. Fruit munchies, some rest, and then the call to board the California Zephyr, my home for the next almost three days.
If you made it this far, you may remember I promised to explain the purchase and cost of this trip. When the Amtrak reservation agent realized I had multiple trains I wanted to travel with a flexible time for departure, I was transferred to Amtrak Vacations. In about two hours, this is a copy of the E-Ticket I received.
What did each leg cost? I have absolutely no idea. I told the agent the trains I wanted to take, and a departure window (I have to balance trips with my CLARION publishing schedule). I had in my mind that this round trip should cost less than $3,000. The agent played with the routes, and different departure dates. Rates can vary based upon day of the week, tickets already sold, and who knows what else goes into their algorithms. He said, “wow, I cannot believe this low rate for you on the Empire Builder if you leave on the 8th from Boston. Another rate goes up, but overall this is great.” The schedule included an over 24 hour stay in Portland, Oregon, but they have arrangements with The Benson there. The price quoted was $2710, which included a $199 trip insurance policy. I said fine. Ultimately I had refunds of $140 – so my trip (including The Benson) was $2570 (and rooms start at the Benson at $200 a night) – thus eight days at $321 a day for travel, lodging, and food along with expansive scenery and entertainment (the other travelers). A tad high compared to some of the party cruise ships – but overall not bad for a land rail cruise of 6,787 miles. Hey, that is only 37.8 cents per mile. BOOK IT!
1 – Read and study as much as you can about Amtrak’s “named trains” their routes and scenery
2 – Decide where you would like to go, what you would like to see, and do as David told me, “…call Amtrak.”
3 – One thing leads to another. I never say I won’t be back, exposure to something on a trip leads to additional learning, and hopefully more trips
4 – Never say “never” – just do it.
By the Way – a statistic for you – this is the 300th post I have written.
Very Informative, Ray. I have always loved train trips, so thank you for this information. Can’t wait for your next posts!
How I envy you this wonderful trip across the USA by train. Can’t wait to see all your pictures and read about California too. I hope you’ve included San Francisco in your travels.
Amtrak, sign me up. Fascinating first leg, can’t wait for #2
Enjoyed the trip to Chicago. have seen some of the areas passed buy from totally different angles. Looking forward to part 2
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