2021 04 08 Amtrak 92, The Silver Star MIA-WAS

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JCTakoma

Train Attendant
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Nov 8, 2019
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22
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Georgetown, DC
Sunny in the 70s at 10am, a beach full of chairs but largely empty of people. The crowds on the southern tip of South Beach tend not to wander north to the pricier and more family oriented restaurants of Lincoln Road, not to mention the top end hotels, on the northern part of South Beach. The bartender was just turning on the pina colada machine poolside, and we were sorely tempted. Sad, too, we couldn’t take one more stroll on Miami Beach’s beautiful winding beach walk shrouded in oleander, bougainvillea, and palmettos.

35 minutes by taxi to the train station, which is also not far from Miami’s international airport. Miami mandates a flat rate of $35 to and from the airport but we were on the meter to the train station, $41. Our driver, of Cuban descent, has lived in and around Miami all of his life, and had lots to say about Uber drivers, mostly favorable: “They make us taxis better.”

The station is in a dilapidated, quite poor part of Miami, but was itself clean and functional, if rather old and desperate for renovation or replacement. The fixtures in the men’s had been recently upgraded; masks certainly helped in there.

The station personnel we encountered were exceptional. A staffer popped out of an employees-only door and offered us a cheery good morning. A kindly station manager strolled through the masked crowd quietly advising passengers not to wait in the ticket line if they already had e-tickets, where to check their luggage, and how the boarding process would unfold. Our train awaited on the tracks outside.

We’d been booked automatically by the reservations system into a sleeper just behind the dining car. We called and asked to switch to the last car, which we’d heard was more likely to be one of the newer models. We paid a bit for the change, not that Amtrak is charging extra for the newer sleepers, but because prices in general had risen since or initial booking. We were excited to find ourselves in a brand new sleeper bedroom compartiment, happy that our gamble paid off, but laughed when we learned the train actually has three sleepers: a new, an old, and another new.

The physical quality of the room itself certainly exceeds anything one could get on the most exclusive first class flight. Lots of 120-v outlets. Bright overhead and vanity lighting, reading lights in every corner, and a pleasant blue night light. The ventilation fan speeds are easily controlled with simple shutters. Plenty of storage space for up to four carry-on roll-a boards, and more space under the sofa for hand bags. The closet could hold two suiters. The combo toilet and shower has decent elbow room and is simple to operate. There’s a ladder to the upper bunk. I do like these one-level cars for their roominess in the top bunk.

It’s all what the cruise ship industry would call a “refresh”. Structurally, it feels the same, but everything is, well, nice. The colors and shapes are minimalist modern rather than Orient Express, roughly comparable to what we saw recently on the Austrian night train between Vienna and Venice or the Caledonian between London and Inverness, a sure step above France’s 2003 night train between Toulouse and Paris.

What the manufacturer has done with the refresh strikes me as quite fine. As for the Amtrak linens and service, I’d suggest it be called minimalist. The towels are fine but not plush. The pillows are light foam. A topper for the lower bunk adds welcome cushion, and has a kind of foam lip, perhaps to keep the occupant from rolling onto the floor. The top bunk mattress is thicker than I remember from the Crescent. Ask me again tomorrow morning.

Most welcome, the dining car (aka the “First Class Lounge” according to the onboard announcement) is open for sleepers. Every other table is blocked off. There is no table service, but sleeper passengers are welcome to dine on their takeaway meals at these tables or in their compartments. The dining car is one of the newer ones, with the same wood finish trim and deco lighting as the new sleepers. The pull-down sunscreens are lovely. (I’ve been on other trains recently, specifically the Crescent, where staff have commandeered the dining car for their own lounge, no passengers allowed.)

We’ll get to know Preston, our sleeping car attendant, over the next two days. He’s a veteran of Amtrak, cheerful, very friendly, and so far has popped in three times to make sure everything’s ok, what I’d expect from first-class service. The food and drink service, alas, is international economy class at best, prepackaged meals warmed in an oven, served on a tray or in a bag. More on that after we’ve sampled dinner, but we presume it’ll be precisely what we had recently on the Crescent.

Haven’t figured out the dining car attendant’s name yet, but she and Preston have a jovial rapport that livens things up considerably. The service style throughout Amtrak’s system, when it’s working well, is what I like to call “American Neighborly”, as compared to Europe’s often “Cordially Efficient”. I rather like both, each in their own place.

For lunch as we passed West Palm Beach (still on time), we dined in our compartment on delicious “pizza rustica” and “pizza gran” delivered to our hotel the previous day by our Florida cousin. As the train headed inland toward Central Florida, the scenery quickly turned almost desert like, with scrubby pines and bushes, beautiful in its own way.

Around the town of Okeechobee, we moved to the dining car, where a complementary Barefoot Merlot perfectly accompanied a plastic-wrapped chocolate brownie. I get another “free” alcoholic drink tonight for dinner since my traveling companion is a teetotaler. We’ll forgo dessert at dinner in favor of a bag of Italian homemade pie crust cookies.

Lots of orange trees out the window, Tampa cigars up next, no sign yet of Mickey. So far a thoroughly pleasant and relaxing ride. And did I mention we’re only three minutes late on our first pass by Lakeland?
 

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JCTakoma

Train Attendant
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Georgetown, DC

Cal

Conductor
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Looks great! I wish the Cardinal will have these by late July, but I seriously doubt they will. :(
 

Bob Dylan

Conductor
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Austin Texas
Looks great! I wish the Cardinal will have these by late July, but I seriously doubt they will. :(
ALL of the Eastern Viewliner Trains should have a VII in the consist and the Bag Dorms should be fully used where necessary also!
 

Cal

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ALL of the Eastern Viewliner Trains should have a VII in the consist and the Bag Dorms should be fully used where necessary also!
They should! But I'm not counting on Amtrak to have all of them with VII's by this summer
 

JCTakoma

Train Attendant
Joined
Nov 8, 2019
Messages
22
Location
Georgetown, DC
Obviously some mechanical structural differences between the new and old sleepers. During the smoke break in Orlando (my goodness, STILL on time...) I snapped shots of the brakes. The brake that has a little tube pointing at it (file name ends in “13”) is from the old car.

And doesn’t Orlando have a lovely train station. Smoke break wasn’t long enough to visit inside, but the outside looked outstanding, as did the city itself, very smart. One gets so accustomed to visiting the backsides of cities and towns (I’m talking to you, Miami), it’s nice to roll through the better looking parts (thank you Orlando).

It’s 7:42. Time to try the mysterious enchiladas with fake meat. If this is the last message I post, you’ll know what happened to me...
 

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Seaboard92

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Dec 31, 2014
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Obviously some mechanical structural differences between the new and old sleepers. During the smoke break in Orlando (my goodness, STILL on time...) I snapped shots of the brakes. The brake that has a little tube pointing at it (file name ends in “13”) is from the old car.
That is your Decolstadt that you are referring too. There should be a pair of those on each side so that each axle has one. Basically how that works is pumping the brakes so instead of applying force that could lock the wheel to stop the train it applies/releases/applies in such a way to prevent the wheel from locking and causing a flat spot on the wheel. They are relatively easy to replace. In a perfect world you will never feel that they are working, but when they do work you will know.
 

railiner

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Palm Beach County
That is your Decolstadt that you are referring too. There should be a pair of those on each side so that each axle has one. Basically how that works is pumping the brakes so instead of applying force that could lock the wheel to stop the train it applies/releases/applies in such a way to prevent the wheel from locking and causing a flat spot on the wheel. They are relatively easy to replace. In a perfect world you will never feel that they are working, but when they do work you will know.
So, they don't work like ABS on a car, which only 'pumps', when lockup is detected?
 

Seaboard92

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So, they don't work like ABS on a car, which only 'pumps', when lockup is detected?
That I can't tell you because I've only ever felt them once when I could knowingly feel them. That time I was on the rear of a 30 car consist and for every application you could feel them. I will see if I can ask someone who knows more though.
 

JCTakoma

Train Attendant
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Georgetown, DC
I’m informed that the mattresses and toppers came with the new sleepers. Would that make these the new more luxurious bedding that I’ve heard Amtrak talking about? If so, oh my, quite uncomfortable. Extremely stiff foam. Tossed and turned all night. Same sheets and pillowcases as on older trains. Same blue blankets, though no static, perhaps because they were packed in the humidity of Florida.

It would be an easy fix, though. Make space in the baggage care to store cushion-y mattress toppers and more plush pillows. Then make sure there’s at least one sleeping car attendant per car, plus a supervisor-floater to help with problems and to coach newer staff. With the rather astonishing prices they’re starting to charge for the long-distance trains, it should be easy enough for Amtrak to afford it!
 

JCTakoma

Train Attendant
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Nov 8, 2019
Messages
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Location
Georgetown, DC
What a lovely ride it is between Miami and DC, particularly in the newer sleeper bedrooms. If the cost stays around that of first class air, if full dining service is restored in August as has been rumored, and if a full complement of staff is returned so that there’s one per sleeper plus five in the dining car, we’re sure to do this again. That’s a lot of “if’s”, but we remain ever hopeful.

We awoke somewhere south of Raleigh and had our showers — a bit brisk, but refreshing. We took our coffee in the dining car — I refuse to call it a “Sleeper Lounge” as staff are now saying. We’re not breakfast people, so we pocketed a couple of muffins for later and returned to our compartment to enjoy the scenery, read books, and write. The wifi was sporadic at best, so I generally kept my iPad on cellular service, though even that was spotty when we passed deep into eastern woodlands and swamps. Lots of redbuds popping out of the forest to signal full on springtime.

Pulling into Alexandria. We’ve got 15 minutes to pack up!
 

Cal

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I’m informed that the mattresses and toppers came with the new sleepers. Would that make these the new more luxurious bedding that I’ve heard Amtrak talking about? If so, oh my, quite uncomfortable. Extremely stiff foam. Tossed and turned all night. Same sheets and pillowcases as on older trains. Same blue blankets, though no static, perhaps because they were packed in the humidity of Florida.
I do not believe that that's the new bedding, I believe the new bedding is a new blanket and an amenity kit. I think it's currently only on the AT.


I assume the mattresses are stiff because they haven't been broken into yet, not sure.
 

MARC Rider

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I assume the mattresses are stiff because they haven't been broken into yet, not sure.
The preferred firmness of a mattress is a matter of personal taste. We went shopping for a new mattress last year, and the range of firmness of the new mattresses on offer was pretty remarkable. I can't imagine how anybody would want to buy some of those mushy no-support softies that we tested, but they must sell them to somebody, or they wouldn't be making them. I prefer my mattress more on the firm side, and I've had no problems with the ones on Amtrak sleepers. Anyway, one can't expect Amtrak to be able to customize their equipment 100% to everyone's taste.
 

Bob Dylan

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The preferred firmness of a mattress is a matter of personal taste. We went shopping for a new mattress last year, and the range of firmness of the new mattresses on offer was pretty remarkable. I can't imagine how anybody would want to buy some of those mushy no-support softies that we tested, but they must sell them to somebody, or they wouldn't be making them. I prefer my mattress more on the firm side, and I've had no problems with the ones on Amtrak sleepers. Anyway, one can't expect Amtrak to be able to customize their equipment 100% to everyone's taste.
I prefer Firm myself.

The " Mattresses" used on the Downstairs Roomettes on the Texas Eagle are VERY Thin. much more so than other Rooms on Amtrak.
( but still beats sleeping in the Coffin uptop!)
 

NYP2NFL01

Train Attendant
Joined
Aug 8, 2014
Messages
28
Rumor: Full-service dining on the Silver Star resumes in August. (Source withheld to protect the guilty.)
Ooh, I hope so! I'm booked on the Silver Star NYP to KIS on 9/12. If so I hope they keep the brownie. I thought they were delicious. In fact, I purchased a set of eight (8) directly from the vendor. :)
 
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