Leave No Station Unphotographed: The Blog of SubwayNut.com


My First Time in Rommette on an On Time but Slow Diner Texas Eagle eating $75 worth of Food

Greeting from the small (maybe sofas a few leather chairs a single bathroom and a computer with a printer) but modern First Class Lounge at the Gateway Transit Center in St. Louis, Missouri.

I have been really bad this trip for some reason about posting and I have a bunch in the works that I am planning to pre-date about my time in Austin and San Antonio. I am in this lounge waiting to make a connection on the Missouri River Runner to Kansas City. St. Louis I hope to return to sometime soon but I only have one night to spend in Missouri and decided on Kansas City, mainly to attend a Royals game. It would be cutting it to close before I board the Southwest Chief tomorrow night if I waited, that was my original plan. I have access to the little, unstaffed lounge that I am alone in (and the only complimentary beverage is water bottles) because I just traveled in my first roomette from San Antonio. I booked a roomette because for once it was only $100 more than coach fare including 4 meals and a better nights sleep compared to hundreds more. I am a heathy eater and managed to eat about $75 worth of food in the dining car (I did not quite get the maximum value in terms of coach menu prices in the dining car which would have been about $9 more because I didn’t have my dessert a-la-mode at lunch, didn’t have a soft drink at dinner and had only time to order the Continental breakfast before I got off in St. Lewis since the dining car’s service was so slow). I also booked my ticket to Alton for about a $1 more (the stop north of St. Lewis) knowing it would give me full occupancy of my sleeper during the up to an hour layover there.

The day began yesterday at about 5:15am. The hostel was a two mile walk from the Amtrak station which I knew would be a good start to my day before spending all of it on the train. When I am awake I really like going for early morning walks and there was something fun about wondering the dark streets of San Antonio. I got to the station early, which I wanted just to be safe especially because I couldn’t print my ticket off the day before. I go into the station, there is a slight line for the ticket window so I use the Quik-Trak machine. I then sit outside the station and wait for sunrise to get a few more pictures and boarding. I talk to a station attendant who tells me that there is no pre-boarding for the sleepers, we have to join the line which is forming outside of the station where our tickets will be lifted on the platform. He also starts to tell me that my sleeper is at the other end of the train but I correct him. He apologizes and says they just moved the sleeper. The train has two one at each end, the front run a transition which I believe also has passenger space sold in it and is also the crew’s dorm. I finally the join the end of the line and notice the farther with his wife and kids has just the internet print out and tell him he needs to run inside, he runs back to grab his wife’s license as the line slowly moves and comes back just before the end of the line boards at about 6:50. I walk back towards the sleeper and my attendant is manning the rear coach (behind the diner, the Eagle has such a strange consist) he checks my name off his list and I board my first Superliner going upstairs to Roomette 7, in my favorite place on the train, just one set of Rommettes before the back door. The Texas Eagle today has its unique Superliner consist of a single P42 followed by the Transition Sleeper, then a Coach/Baggage car, followed by a regular Coach Car, next is the Sightseer Lounge, Diner, another Coach car and a Sleeper (these two cars are positioned at the back because if today’s train is a through train to the Sunset Limited they are switched in an out from the Sunset).

At 7:00 we start backing out of the station as I hear the conductor at the back window. He hasn’t opened the back door. We get an announcement from the dining car saying not to come, it hasn’t opened yet.

My attendant, David who seems like exactly my age and the youngest on Amtrak gives me an intro speech that sounds straight by the book. This includes showing me how to use the Amtrak call button. The other sign of his age is the Game Stop (video game store) loyalty tag hanging from his keys.
At 7:18 the back-up move ends as we stop and start moving forward. Then we cross a river and start leaving San Antonio as I go down and shower. I rolled out of bed this morning realizing I might as well skip the hostel’s slightly nasty shower and try Amtrak’s. It’s a perfectly decent shower, hot water readily available. My only complaint is a lack of shampoo.
Afterwards I feel refreshed for the day and hungrily wait the call for breakfast. I sit with my feet up on the opposite one in my small roomette (who’s seat i find less comfortable than a coach seat) as we follow I-35. There is a frontage road on each side of it quickly out of town. We block many grade crossings of morning rush hour commuters. Pass a bunch of motels advertising $35 a night (plus tax I assume) too far out of town for someone without a car.

At 7:40 the first call for breakfast comes and I go in and sit with an older couple who have come to San Antonio from Fort Worth for their 50th Anniversary and their son who just spend three months driving from Cape Town to the southern Sudan. I get in and it’s an express menu with only Scrambled Eggs, French Toast and the Continental. Dinner is just a burger, chicken or pasta. I ask the steward about this menu who makes it clear that the rest of the meals will have a fuller menu. I have the French toast and bacon, which is quite good. Just like the couple I had dinner with coming down into Texas, they also prey (asking me first). They lived in Kansas City for awhile and tell me its a sprawling city that requires a car. We stop at the Amshack in San Marcos (two canopies) and I am disappointed I didn’t bring my camera.

Breakfast takes me all the way to close to Austin, a fresh air stop. I was just there but didn’t get back to it on my one day in Austin, so I only currently have nighttime photos of it from my arrival. I go to the back window as we cross the colorado river and enter the station. We arrive at 9:30. I notice a long line of passengers and that there ripping tickets and issuing seat checks on the platform. I have enough time to run up to the locomotive and back to my car. A family goes to the family bedroom after the attendant gets their picture. We pull up at 9:49 closer to the station to let a women in a wheelchair get on to the accessible bedroom at the bottom of my car. They use the little portable ramp, not the wheelchair lift in the newly built platform enclosure. There is a bad moment as she crosses the unused track next to the used one, her power chair barely making it. Soon we are in the middle of Loop 1, the freeway which takes us out of austin.
At 10:00 we move from the middle of Loop 1 to the side of it. The dining car announces he has closed for breakfast. Those boarding the sleepers in Austin do get breakfast. This is followed by the cafe car attendant who says he is still open for breakfast with the required safety announcement. His twist is “Children tell mommy and daddy no running and jumping”

  • 10:06 – leave the highways beyond and continue through the suburbs
  • 10:10 – pass what looks like a cement factory and enter a more rural area
  • 10:16 – pass Chasco.
  • 10:20 – Hutto, it has a decent sized high school football field. We soon are back in fields of Alfalfa (I think)
  • 10:24 – now a water tower for Hutto.
  • 10:32 – We stop briefly to let a freight train go by, over the PA we get Austin history a little late. He mentions the state capital and the famous bats that I never saw, the largest urban bat colony. He says to use the upper level to get from one part (not the car) to other parts of the train. We’re 4 minutes from our stop next stop, Taylor.

Were moving again at 10:40 and I decide to sit in the almost completely empty lounge. We pass a hub for the Carts bus which I saw evidence of in Austin so maybe I could have gone on a bus adventure up to Taylor, Texas. We slowly go through a freight yard as we enter town and come to a stop at a simple brick building. I get a few photos from the train before deciding to do the back window ride in. We’re doing a double stop for the sleeper an I go down stairs, see David has the window open and ask if I can snag a picture but David the attendant says he is so new he’s on his introductory probation and doesn’t want to get fired. I understand and expected a no, but have gotten photos like that a few times before.

We pull up at 10:53 for a sleeper passenger. I get a picture of a maybe a ten foot long platform with a tactile warning strip as we slowly leave. The lady who got on the sleeper in Taylor is just going to fort worth. We pass a cemetery as we leave Taylor and enter the farms and fields of Texas again. Corn here I think.

At 11:09 we get an announcement that freight train congestion by the up has been delaying us again. We enter a yard with a few abandoned switches and two other rusty rail as a freight train waits for us on one blocking a grade crossing. It’s a mixed goods train mainly of Idaho (and other lumber) and some tank cars followed by coal and then box and hopper cars. It’s an old fashioned train, not a modern intermodal one. We’re 40 minutes late. I hope we can keep that lateness into St. Lewis for breakfast purposes. My camera battery dies and I exchange it but realize the single plug is too far inset into the headrest consul in my sleeper and need to go up to the Lounge to charge it. I do that, it’s luckily a newer one with outlets. I notice the coaches are on my much more preferred first come first served half reserved for groups, half singles, no seat assignments being given.

  • 11:42 – quickly pass through a town my phone labels as little river academy.
  • 11:43 – Pass some cows around an irrigation pond. One I notice is peeing in it.
  • 11:47 – Go over a loop road with intersections and start to enter Temple Texas, the next fresh air stop as we pass houses and slowly switch railroads.

We arrive into Temple Texas at 11:48 to maybe 30 people getting on. I hop off and go through the gated opening in the fence and get some pictures of the historic cars. The main station is closed since its Monday I don’t get into the little Amtrak annex. We finally leave at 12:07, the luggage rack is getting crowded in the sleeper. I get back to my room and notice a copy of USA today at the door. I go sit in my sleeper as we leave the houses of Temple beyond which is the transportation and heritage museum.

At 12:17 is an announcement that lunch hasn’t started yet because of breakfast going on so late. Were just 25 minutes late to McGregor Texas. I am actually quite hungry again waiting for the first call to lunch.

At 12:35 we get to McGregor as the line for lunch extends into the next Coach and am seated with a mother and high school son on his way to Tanglewood’s summer camp, Boston they tell me is their final destination. Their actually going to Pittsfield, Mass. There is also a man who is a retired electrical engineer from San Antonio. The service is abysmal since there is just one chef downstairs cooking for the entire, full diner. We almost immediately to through Crawford, home of the Bushes and stop in Celborne when our food finally appears. I have fried chicken and mashed potatoes. This is the market place special that I thought would be similar to what looked so good on the Sunset limited, it was a little too fried for my tastes. The dinner roll and salad were just what I needed to tide me over for the 2:00 meal. One man at another table (who’s service was faster than ours) is screaming at the attendant, who is telling him to call up Amtrak’s customer complaint line. I am finally eating my cheesecake and quickly finishing it as we pull into Fort Worth. I step off again, The Eagle, going the other way, is getting set to leave about 30 minutes late across the platform. I get a few pictures but it leaves before anything decent. A TRE train comes through and I re-board my sleeper seeing the conductor opening the back door. I ask about the backup move and why we don’t just use the TRE tracks into Dallas since this would render the time consuming back-up move unnecessary. I am told that “the TRE doesn’t want us messing up their schedule.”

  • 2:55 – start backing out of Fort Worth. The conductor has the door open. I sit in my room and enjoy the noises of the train yard, door open. Sitting facing forward for the back-up move on the opposite seat.
  • 3:04 – still in the yard, finally start moving again back to beneath the highway interchange to continue the back up move.
  • 3:08 – hear the conductor closing the back door and leave. Soon we’re moving forward again. I realize it’s time for an afternoon nap as we take the ridiculously slow trackage into Dallas. I already blogged this track on my way north. The Eagle needs to be moved to use the TRE tracks. I doze off a bit and they announce were starting and stopping due to equipment on the tracks as we go through Grand Prairie. I see plenty of workmen along the tracks.
  • 4:15 – keep seeing water as we enter Dallas. We then go under freeways and stop again.
  • 4:37 – Dallas coming up announcement. I realize it took us double the Trinity Railway Express’ trip time. We stop again for a red signal due to local commuter traffic. We stop over the I-77 and I see the light rail as we pull in on the far platform at 4:38. I run up and get a loco photo and unsuccessfully try and get TRE, DART and Amtrak all in one shot, unfortunately there are too many platforms to make this possible. All aboard is sooner than I think at 4:52. I jump on one of the coaches and decide to leave my rather uncomfortable roomette seat for one in the lounge which is almost totally empty and a bit warmer. We follow Dart out of Union Station briefly, no fence between us and it’s tracks. It leaves us before the convention center stop. The sign of an early light rail system. Not up to FRA code today and leave it as we go through the convention center.
    • 5:00 – go under Dart again and come to a stop in bushes because of a westbound freight.
    • 5:10 – the dining car steward announces he will come through and as always start in the sleeper car for dining car reservations. I return to my room as this freight train passes.
    • 5:13 is a double toot and were on our way
    • 5:19 – the dining car steward comes through with dinner reservations I am still stuffed from lunch and ask for an 8:00 reservation everyone around me is choosing the earlier times. 6:15 is most common. We cross under dart again and I can see houses beyond us, we go over a few suburban roads.
    • 5:31 – announcement for the family in room A to see the conductor, I wonder why?
    • 5:34 – Pass the mesquite flying center
    • 5:36 – Now “The please where shoes at all times announcement. We don’t want any unintended pedicures.” I like that twist from the crew
    • 5:44 – follow US 40 as we go through Forney, there is a train waiting on a siding as we go by at high speed. The track is as straight as an arrow we slow down a bit as I stand at the back window waiting for a curve as we come to a stop and leave this town behind still following a highway. There are more trees around us, compared to going through the hill country.
    • 6:00 – the conductor comes on asking for specific passengers. Paperwork issue? Tickets not collected?
    • 6:04 – were running faster as I decide to return to the lounge. I see the dining car steward cutting up apple pie. I’ll have to have that for dessert. We go through Wills Point a cute little downtown before we return to trees and fields.
    • 6:12 – get to another town with houses on each side of the tracks. We pass the first double stacked container train that I can remember of the trip. Many empty cars. We keep following a highway
    • 6:18 – leave towns and go back to trees with some stretches of empty pasture. I feel like I am back in the east coast. This is a quiet train, even the lounge car is a road appears again.

    At 6:34 I see a few locomotives in a yard as we get the Mineola announcement. We get to town, a caboose and random shelters and nice little building I try and get rear window shots, a mistake because of the glare from the setting sun. The conductor announces he needs all seats available for Longview. It is next with lots of people getting on, and a few getting off. This is because its the bus connection to Houston, via what I believe is an Amtrak charter The conductor also says the train is sold out in the sleepers. No in route upgrades. We leave this town and are back into a forest which feels very eastern, also because of the trees

    • 6:51 – really feel like I’m east as we pass a freight train who’s motive power is two CSX locos followed by a UP. We then come to a stop briefly before passing.
    • 6:57 – cross a few swamps in the trees
    • 7:00 – The town of Hawkins with Jarvis Christian college . Cafe says he will close soon for the service stop of Longview for the Texas eagle. We slow down again.
    • 7:13 – start passing through another larger town, Gladewater. We have 14 miles to Longview.
    • 7:18 – speed up again as I see more water then a few oil wells.
    • 7:22 – pass a steel plant as we reach the outskirts of Longview.

    Another announcement that the train will be sold out after longview, a second reminder to just take up one seat. I use the Amtrak app and realize this isn’t true I can still buy a ticket. We are allowed to step off because of all the station work but it’s not a designated smoke stop. We arrive at 7:23 and get the all aboard at 7:38. I have time to get the two waiting rooms one with a small ticket office inside the old union pacific building. I do the back door to supplement my platform time, graham my battery I’ve left in the lounge and wait for my dinner call. I here the conductor lifting sleeper tickets right on the train. Here elevator again and I think it’s the cook wanting the dumbwaiter. I go and wait in the lounge realize I have left my fully charged battery. The one outlet in my roomette is too far indented, says saving only, and can’t fit my camera charged. I decide to stay here till the 8:00 dinner reservations are called as we pass strip malls and trees leaving Longview. I see the attendant writinge down empty seat numbers for those boarding in the night. The lounge is again empty.

    • 8:00 announcement for Marshal, which is a crew change double stop but not a fresh air stop. I wonder why not?
    • At 8:03 pull into Marshall as I go to the dining car for dinner. I am sitting with the same elderly man from lunch, and two scientists who have a wonderful debate about global warming. One is a chemist who fully supports it, the other things its just global cycling. The old man is convinced that we won’t do anything about it because it won’t effect us in our life times. I just listen to the discussion my viewpoint being made by the chemist. I have the usual small salad (have to grab the dressings from another table) and roll and of course the $25.75 steak that I’m too cheep to buy. I ask for it rare its more cooked then I like, the service isn’t quite as slow. I realize why I never pay for the steak, its slightly small and the chicken definitely gives you more food. Dessert comes and I have to have the apple pie. I ask for it A-la-mode which I only know is allowed as a sleeper car passenger from once glancing through the employee on board service manual that was released by a Freedom Of Information Act request. It is not offered by the steward. I get my pie and a Haagen-Dazs cup of vanilla that I dump on it, It’s delicious. Dinner isn’t as long as lunch and at 9:30 as we stop in we stop at the quite large station in Texarkana, possibly a fresh air stop and I enter to Arkansas for the first time our dinner comes to a close. Those with alcohol are paying up and I wonder back to my roomette to finally sleep in it. I find David, my porter who is overwhelmed since everyone else wants their beds made at the same time. I should have asked before dinner, although I keep seeing him in the dining car getting meals for those choosing to dine in their rooms.

      At 10:00 we go through Hope, home of the Clintons (after Crawford home of the Bushes and the train ends in Chicago home of the Obama’s). It doesn’t seem to be a station stop yet (it is on the timetable with a time and opening date to be annouced) All I want to do is go to bed but there is no sign of my overwhelmed attendant.

      At 10:13 I finally get my bed made. It’s stored in the upper birth, a thin mattress cover with a sheet and blanket already on it. No good night chocolate and just two small pillows, I think just one if I was sharing the room, the upper birth does remains up. I immediately realize that I would take a VIA Section over an Amtrak Roomette any day. The bed is more comfortable, Amtrak’s feels like your sleeping on a couch and you get a full comforter instead of a thin blanket. There is incredibly more light leakage on Amtrak because the curtains out to the windows to the aisle are not nearly as good since the door is made of glass. It is still darker than coach and I sit up in bed for a bit looking out the windows:

      • 10:29 – speed by a neat old depot in Gurdon
      • 10:43 – come to a stop in Arkadelphia I’m on the wrong side of the train to see town, seeing just a silo/grain elevator and a grade crossing beeping away. Now just 40 minutes late, dang probably no breakfast.

      I don’t fall asleep cold, waking up quite a few times during the night. I definitely wake up to see the Little Rock Station and its skyline (stop at 11:54).
      I fall asleep until about 5:30 (waking up briefly in the Poplar Bluff Station) when I see the main scenic highlight of the trip (at least I have red). The sun rising across the Mississippi River. If I was staying on through Chicago I would have just sat in bed watching it rise. I though want to get another Amtrak shower in before I attempt at getting breakfast and go downstairs and do that. I grab my backpack and finish packing before leaving my room at 6:15 and see no sign of breakfast yet.

      At 6:25 I am told to go wait in the lounge. Breakfast in ten to 15 minutes. At 6:29 we get an announcement we are stopped four miles from the St Lewis station. Breakfast hasn’t begun yet. We start moving again slowly entering St Louis. At 6:38 we are told the additional Coach Car, #322, will be added before anyone can detrain, and we should be losing power.

      The steward finally beckons us into the diner. Somehow everyone gets there orders in and my table is last. I am sitting with a Father and Sun who were planning to go in a sleeper until there plans changed and the sleepers were sold out. I order the Continental knowing that ordering any of the two cooked options (its the dreaded Express Menu again) won’t get me my food in time in St. Louis. For some reason choose Frosted Flanks as the cereal, might have gotten oatmeal but that sounds to time consuming. The lights go out for the extra car and the Steward says union regulations prohibit the cook from doing anything in the dark. At 7:00 we get power again and the de-boarding announcement for St. Louis. At about 7:05 I am the only one served in the diner with a peal top disposable of bowl of frosted flakes, a glass of milk and two of Amtrak’s disposable dishes (don’t getting me started on the amount of plastic my Sleeper ride wasted) covered in foil. One has strawberries and a grapefruit half, the other a biscuit, a disposable bowl for my cereal, and a single serving of strawberry yogurt. David, my attendant walks through and reminds me that I have until 7:55. I eat the strawberries and cereal, wrapping the biscuit and yogurt up in the foil to take with me. I like my table mates and chat with them for a while until about 7:35 when I walk back to my sleeper, grab my luggage and detrain as a stream of people walk towards me since the first boarding call has been made for the local going to Chicago. All the through travelers are going in the newly added rear coach, intermediates have to deal with sleeping bodies finding seats in the middle coaches. I end up using the elevator up to the glass overpass because the one escalator is going down to the platform and the staircase is narrow with people coming down. I go inside to the ticket office saying I just got off a Sleeper on the Eagle and am waiting for the Missouri River Runner (the train to Kansas City). An attendent lets me into this little lounge where I am now posting.

  • Comments

    1. Nice Trip report! This is my Home Train, Ive ridden it hundreds of times, you can’t Leave Austin without riding the Eagle! LOL Jim

      Posted by jim hudson

      Link | September 17th, 2012 at 15:26