Transit Adventures

An Empty, Wet Great Plains and Crowded Eastern trip back from Colorado

Well I’m finally back in New York as of last night after 50 hours taking a Greyhound Bus, the California Zephyr, the Capital Limited, and a 9 car sold-out evening of Memorial Day train back to New York from Colorado Springs.

The purpose of this trip was to move, after I graduation from Colorado Springs back to New York. Amtrak’s completely ridiculously large baggage allowance fit the bill although the monetary price of the ticket (not including baggage) was more than flying, especially because of the holiday weekend.

To return to Denver the only option was Greyhound but with only my camera, computer bag, and bag of food. I walked down to the station at 3PM, assumed buying a ticket would not be a problem but the agent said “Your lucky there is room on that 3:55 departure” and issued me a ticket. The bus came a tiny bit late around 4PM and had maybe one empty seat. I spent the ride up to Denver contemplating how Colorado Springs was no longer my home, and how happy I was that I was only on a short hour and a half Greyhound ride and not a 48ish-hour bus ride cross-country, since I was switching to Amtrak. We got to the Denver Bus Station on time at 5:30, the driver skipping the ‘Union Station’ as the schedule still says stop, guess there were no tickets for it. I asked when I was buying mine and was told it would be $25 instead of the $15 I paid, I declined, not minding the walk. Once I got to Denver I had fun walking by Coors Field during a game before having issues remembering how to cross under the other (and presently non-existent due to construction) train tracks that lead into the Union Station construction site). I eventually reached the station and around 6PM retrieved my bags and ate a few cheese sandwiches. I was told the train was late and it pulled in at 6:45 and they boarded us quite quickly so we left at 7:15, I got settled into a window seat and as we left was told to move to an asile seat (at an end of the car without a tray table) which I did under protest. Luckily my seatmate was only going as far as Lincoln, so I’d get the window at least back then. This was a silly move I later learned there were plenty of empty two-seaters to go around for the rest of the trip and doubling up was not necessary.

I decided that the sightseer lounge car was going to be the place for me on this trip. We slowly left Denver, it suburbs are huge, and I watched the sunset over Colorado’s eastern plains. During the night a massive thunderstorm hit Eastern Nebraska lighting up the train, I decided to attempt to sleep in the lounge car especially after my seatmate fell asleep across the two seats, grabbing my pillow and blanket. The night in the lounge had its share of amusements from the usual slight drunkards that occupy the lounge car. The best was a 50 year-old tipsy man asking me around midnight if I wanted to come downstairs and smoke a bowl with him, the window does open down there. I respectfully declined. The lightning storm was impressive, as I could not really get comfortable on the lounge car seats. We got to Lincoln, Nebraska, a locomotive crew change point that I’ve slept through twice before at 4:25am, I had a nice little walk on the platform getting some night photos of the steam locomotive and waterfalling water tower that call the station home. We left at 4:38am I then was not joined by anyone and fell asleep across both seats waking up for another fresh air walk (arrived 5:43) as dawn was rising in Omaha, we left at 5:14, only 44 minutes late. I watched us cross the Missouri River into Iowa before we slowed down tremendously, there were flash flood warnings in the area and we had gotten stuck behind the inspector train making sure the tracks were okay. As delays go this one made sense, the rains were horrendous. A couple of windows in the sightseer lounge leaked, I watched the conductor inspect them. I passed out some more across both seats as we made the other small Iowa stops, and through the small towns and cornfields. When we got to Ottumwa (Ar. 11:17 Dp. 11:34) I got off to get a few more photos for my page when we stopped there for that quick fresh-air stop. After this I went between my seat dozing and the lounge car eating some of the foot I brought. The ride through Illinois was uneventful, I stepped off briefly in Galesburg (Ar. 1:58am Dp. 2:03, 2 1/2 hours late) and stabbed a few more photos, and we finally arrived in Union Station at 4:49, 2 hours late.

At Union State we arrived on the farthest track from the station this made for great photos as I walked around through the station, and to the departure lounge to a wait for the boarding of the Capital Limited. I got in line and attempted to check my e-mail but the regular passenger lounge has not been equipped for wi-fi. The signal from the Metropolitan First Class Lounge was too weak. At about 5:30 stuff started becoming a rush, with the seniors allowed to walk up to their special boarding area. It was then a crush out to the platform which was right in front of the train. I got to my attendant who was doing the handing out seat checks with numbers on them rutein to assign us seats. I asked for a window but he just handed me a number, saying “Here is your seat sir,” annoyed I had asked for a specific seat, it was odd meaning a window. I understand and support the need to seat families together but I have had travelers tell me they prefer the aisle (at least yesterday leaving Denver when the attendant was asking singletons which seat they wanted), why can’t the attendant at least try to accommodate these simple requests? In the past they have. I guess there is no reason for these long-distance trains to line-up early, they will assign you a certain seat whether you like that one or not. The lady behind me in line promptly sat down behind me, she was in a tizzy because she had health issues and needed help with her luggage and was told in Chicago by the agent “That everyone needs help with their luggage.” She was one of those seasoned Amtrak veterans that I have a feeling had a fear of flying. Before we left Chicago the conductor came upstairs and made sure we were all going to Washington, (anyone not, please raise your had), not to throw anything but toilet paper into the toilets, throwing away trash would make him happy, that this car’s doors would never open until Washington, announced the smoke/fresh air stops (Toledo, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, and Cumberland) so go only go to a car with a member of the train crew (I also asked for verification about this). He turned out to be a perfectly hospitable attendant, and kept the car clean (my primary concern of the sleeping car attendants after my terrible one who hadn’t kept her bathrooms in order on the Sunset Limited) and was fairly friendly.

The train left Chicago on time at 6:10 and I got an 8:30 CT reservation (the only time they had space available), and went to the place I spend my time if I have a seat mate, the lounge car. Here I watched us leave chicago and go through Indiana, the dunes visible in a few places, something I had not noticed before. I also chatted with a fellow recent math-major from Williams total nerd graduate. Our stops in South Bend and Elkhart uneventful. I was getting quite hungry and at 8:30 an announcement was made (my one of the dining car attendants who had an unusual accent) that they were running late. At 8:45 I was finally seated, and had what will be extremely memorable dinner. One party were two college rising sophomores who were traveling ‘the country’ as they put until I got annoyed at them because it turned out they were only going two Toronto, Detroit, Chicago, and Pittsburg, entirely by MegaBus except for this leg (and Toronto to Windsor) where Megabus doesn’t run. One of them turned out to be roommates at Yale with a good friend of my brothers. We were all New Yorkers and it was a fun meal that took us until we were pulling into Toledo (Ar. 11:20 Dp. 11:33), no apparent reason why we were running a measly half-hour late, where I detrained for a quick stop and a few night photos. My two dinner mates almost missed the train due to their decision to walk into the station house, not knowing they weren’t supposed to.

Then it was time to sleep and I slept quite well in my single window seat, sleeping quite well, putting my head beneath the current to block out the unextinguished lights over the stair case since my seat was directly across from it. I had fun watching the lights a bit while I fell asleep awaking just once in what I believe were the Cleveland Suburbs and awaking to the lights of Pittsburgh where I got off to take another walk (Ar. early at 4:28, Dp. on time at 4:50), and some photos of the two trains at the darkened platform, not that many people detrained, probably because Memorial Day was running a Sunday schedule with the Pennsylvanian not leaving until 1:20pm, at least what used to be a common connection. Amtrak’s currently evaluating running through car connecting service. It will be really interesting to see a transition sleeping car is open to the public or if passengers won’t be able to transition between the two trains for options like dining service. On my way back from the one open coach, I walked by a bunch of empty seats and decided to fall asleep in them. The newly boarded conductor came by with his flashlight, asked me how far I was going, I told him Washington, I said I had a seat but asked if I could could sleep there. He said fine but he might need the seats at the next stop and I fell asleep on a pre-used pillow that had been left there, neglecting to go back to my seat to grab my blanket and genuine pillow, I slept for over another hour until after 6, after daybreak when we were following the Youghiogheny River (according to Google Maps) that we followed the twist and turns of (with some tunnels) through the rugged Appellation Mountains.

The rest of the ride although interesting had a similar rhythm, of a rugged railroad built into tree covered mountainsides, with lots of short tunnels and rock cuts, that was always following a river of one form or another. I spent the morning in the lounge car and during it enjoyed some donuts from the cafe which I asked the extremely chatty attendant to warm for me, a request he had never gotten, but I told him the attendant on the Sunset Limited had and he seemed impressed I had ridden that route. I got off at the final smoke stop in Cumberland, Maryland, (Ar. Dp. , late), a stop with a very short platform where first a stop was made to change engineers, then one for sleeper passengers getting off and finally us for the smoke stop with just one coach. As we were waiting blocking off the center of town, the attendant let me hang my camera out the window for a photo of town and approaching the station platform which seemed longer than originally advertised. The rest of the ride included the funness of entering Marc trackage (pitty the Brunswick Line is peak-direction rush hours only) its a line I’d love to railfan), and also explore Harpers Ferry who’s crossing was dramatic. We eventually arrived at Union Station at — pm. It was a fun walk of photo taking into the station from the restricted track areas because the SuperLiners must pull in quite far away from the station on what seems like a special track with a low-level platform for them to avoid height restrictions from a building and canopies that overhang the station.

I was then off to see if I could change my ticket, from the 5:20 (I booked it because the other offered connection, the 3:20 was like $30 more, and to arrive in Penn Station after the arrival of the Lake Shore, the train where my luggage was traveling) a no, all trains were sold out. I then asked to check my carry-on bag to New York “Sorry Sir all these trains are carry-on only” and found out that the only left-luggage place in the station has been contracted out to a private company with two quite unprofessional (and not wearing identification or uniforms) rude employees (possibly because of everyone complaining about there absorbent rates) who charged me $24!! to store my bag for 4 hours ($30 would have been 24 hours). I could book a bed in a hostel for that $30!

Anyway, rant about DC luggage storage over, I ended up walking out of the station and to the mall, I had no interest in railfanning on a Sunday Memorial Day Schedule, I have relatives in DC who I can stay with (although I hadn’t been since our 8th grade trip for two days to sightsee). The humidity was killing me after dry Colorado. I first tried to go to the visitors center at the library of congress to see what it was all about but they wouldn’t let me in because I had forgotten to put my Leatherman Knife in the bag I left at Union Station. I then went to the National Botanic Garden and wandered through there greenhouse which had no security, before trying my luck at the Museum of the American Indian where the security guard barely looked in my bag. I returned to Union Station a half-hour before my train left at 4:50 and saw my longest Amtrak line ever stretching from the gate. (Union Station is like Chicago with gates, although they are in one of the grand halls of Union Station with vaulted cielings), beyond the huge shopping mall area. I went to grab my luggage and the line started moving due to boarding beginning. I joined the end and reached my 9 car Amfleet train. I walked down the platform to the first car from the quiet car and there were maybe two people in it at that point, it got crowded before we left Union Station and all seats were taken by far. I had fun looking out the window, and realizing just how much faster Northeast Regionals go on the NEC, (125mph is a top speed) than those 79mph long-distance trains I’m used riding in the rest of the county. The legroom or the seats I found limiting, and the Amfleet-I windows felt really small. There all trains I have of though. It was an uneventful crowded ride up to New York, I had one seat mate for a brief period of time who was chatty and it was fun to say “I got on in Denver!” The other was a headphones too loud Amtrak Employee (he flashed his badge for his complimentary ride). We got to New York at 8:45 on schedule. My entire family met me, the man at the baggage office was really friendly as he opened up the claim area to have me point out my bags, he took my claim checks and tags off my bags (Amtrak actually compares, unlike the airlines that almost never do). We drove home (it was late enough in the evening that they were able to park right across the street from Penn Station), I had a we-bit too much luggage for the subway.

The photos from my fresh-air stops should be on tomorrow.

Here is my ridiculous number of checked baggage claim checks:

One reply on “An Empty, Wet Great Plains and Crowded Eastern trip back from Colorado”

You know that there is transfer-free direct Greyhound service from Denver to NYC, right?

Anyway, glad you see that you used Amtrak’s baggage rules to your advantage.