Across the Country

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Tlcooper93

OBS Chief
AU Supporter
Joined
Jan 9, 2021
Messages
669
Location
Boston
This was my first cross country train trip. While I have done each leg separately, I have not crossed the country in one continuous journey. I was particularly excited for this trip, especially because of the return of traditional dining, and to try the Empire Builder. My personal hope was to take the train during a snowstorm/winter wonderland, and I was lucky enough to experience this. There is something really cozy about trains in the now. While LSL did not deliver in this respect, the delayed Empire Builder more than made up for it.
Both trains were completely full the entire way.

Lake Shore Limited:
449 left on time, and we had a roomette booked until Syracuse; we had a bedroom for the rest of the journey. I found the bedroom to be a fundamentally problematic design. It is really nice to have a big bed, but getting in and out of the room is near impossible when it is in sleeper mode. Somehow, I wonder if there isn’t a better design for a room with a sizable bed.

We got café credit aboard 449, which is to hold you over until Albany. After we got our diner in Albany, we tried some flex dining. The meals are noticeably better than before (June 2021 aboard the Silver Meteor). In fact, I enjoyed my flex enchiladas more than the traditional dining tortellini the following evening.

Unfortunately, about two hours outside of Chicago, the Late Shore Limited struck again. A freight train got in front of us, and subsequently broke down, causing us to arrive two and a half hours late into Chicago. Our dreams of getting some real deep dish were quickly squashed.

The Chicago lounge is very nice. It was quite full, but we were able to find a few chairs to sit down and chill out. The station itself is spectacular in many ways, though certainly is beginning to show its age.
union station entrance.jpg

Empire Builder:
As usual, when boarding our western train, there were many Amish folks boarding with us. Unfortunately, we were in the dorm car which was a nonrefurbished all roomette superliner. The car was really showing its age, and there was an odd smell that lingered from the time we boarded until the time we exited. That said, I never get tired of boarding Superliners at the beginning of any given trip. They are truly spectacular.

Amtrak long distance trips are so different with traditional dining. Even ignoring the food itself, having a quasi-restaurant experience aboard a train makes a difference, and just feels so much nicer. My wife and I genuinely enjoyed going to the dining car each time, and were excited to be served real food.
Dinner setup.jpg

At the beginning of the trip, I made a special request to put aside some vegetarian options, and the dining car attendant assured me they had enough of everything. Of course, they did not. My favorite dish, the chili, ran out. I will say however, they made an admirable effort to make up for it at the final dinner.
In terms of dishes, my wife and I got to try a few different things. She covered the meat stuff, I covered the veggie stuff. I’ll give a small rundown:

Tortellini – I was very underwhelmed, and won't get it again. It was clearly poor-quality pasta, and I didn’t feel it was any better than flex dining.

Chicken – It was dry, but decently cooked with minimal seasoning, with a mediocre risotto to accompany it.

Vegan Chili – Very good, even for a moving train. I really liked it, but was VERY disappointed when they ran out of it. The baked potato it came with was a really nice addition.

Burger – A decent diner-level burger with fresh ingredients. The slaw on the side was good.

Flat-iron steak – cooked exactly as asked, decently juicy, maintained flavor, with very nice cheddar polenta and veggies.

Tamale – Another personal favorite of mine. The taste was great, but the presentation was poor at best, and the portion was slightly too small. It should be served alongside something else, if not just some type of garnish.

French Toast – Pretty bad in my opinion. Too hard, and an odd taste at best.

Three Egg Omlette – Could I make a better omlette? Yes. Could I do it on a moving train again and again? No. The veggies were fresh, and it was mostly cooked. Came with a run of the mill biscuit that went well with grits.

Scrambled Eggs – Decent. Fresh cheese and veggies. Came with a biscuit or a bad croissant.

Grits – Just your typical diner grits, which was perfectly fine with me.

Home Fries - Really nicely done! The portions were really inconsistent. The final morning, I only recieved 5 potatoes.

Cheesecake – again, quite a disappointment. Glaze tasted too sweet, and overly processed.

Chocolate torte – Not bad at all! Definitely would get again.

Because they ran out of the vegan chili on the final dinner, the kitchen staff did a makeshift meal of sides and a larger salad. This actually ended up being a highlight of the trip for me. I loved the polenta, veggies and salad.
Here are some pictures we took of all of the food we tried, minus the cheesecake and tamale.
unnamed.jpgfood collage 2.jpg


The views on the westbound Empire Builder are not as good as the eastbound. The first day or so was pretty at times, but overall underwhelming. In the final 6 hours however, we had a spectacular snowy morning filled with breathtaking views, possible in part because we were two hours late, and had more daylight to view them. This made our delay certainly more bearable.
Mountain snow.jpg winter wonderland.jpg

One aspect about the EB that I appreciate is seeing the small rural communities it serves, such as Minot ND. My line of work would never bring me there, and I have no other reason to do so; it was really cool to see some of these places.
IMG-0931.jpg IMG-5978.jpg

Seattle King Street Station, for me, is one of the most spectacular stations in the country. Its in great condition and working order, easy to navigate, and its spectacularly pretty. The station staff were friendly. I bonded with a particular clerk who also played the violin. He got a real kick out of my instrument, and couldn’t believe his eyes when I took it out and showed him the date (1751 Napoli). After leaving the station, we headed over to Pike Place and enjoyed Seattle Dumpling House.
unnamed.jpg

I found the $10 fee to store bags odd. I was hoping that Select Plus/Executive would have a perk where this fee would be waved, but that was not the case.

Overall, I really enjoyed the trip. My wife and I agreed however, that 3 nights aboard a train is definitely the upper end for us. I think a two night maximum would be in our interest, at least with Amtrak level accommodations. Unfortunately, our fellow passengers were slobs, and seemed incapable of cleaning up after themselves. Wow, everything got dirty.
IMG-0998.jpg

Because of this trip, I managed to get Select Executive. Cheers!
 
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oregon pioneer

Engineer
Joined
Feb 15, 2011
Messages
2,530
Location
near Seneca, Oregon
Thanks so much for the trip report! I will be on the EB #28 and then the LSL, headed to BOS, in exactly two weeks. So, yes, I'm getting quite excited about the trip!

Thanks for the thorough review of the food. I intend to try the salmon, if it's available, and probably a steak. I have a question about the breakfast biscuits on the EB. At one point, they were serving what I called a "tan" biscuit -- not 100% whole wheat, but at least it wasn't pure white. Is this the case now, or did they go back to the 100% white flour product?

Like you, I enjoy the "winter wonderland" aspect of traveling this time of year, and the small towns we pass by on the route. Looking forward to this!
 

Maglev

Conductor
Joined
Sep 4, 2016
Messages
1,207
Location
Orcas Island, Washington
Thanks for the report and photos!

I think the Superliner Bedrooms are well-designed when compared to Heritage Bedrooms, which as I remember had both upper and lower berths the same width. I gladly give up some mobility for the wider lower berth (3' 4" in a Superliner versus 2' 7" in a Heritage on Via). Also, the windows are bigger than Heritage sleepers.
 

Tlcooper93

OBS Chief
AU Supporter
Joined
Jan 9, 2021
Messages
669
Location
Boston
Thanks for the report and photos!

I think the Superliner Bedrooms are well-designed when compared to Heritage Bedrooms, which as I remember had both upper and lower berths the same width. I gladly give up some mobility for the wider lower berth (3' 4" in a Superliner versus 2' 7" in a Heritage on Via). Also, the windows are bigger than Heritage sleepers.
The particular bedroom I was complaining about was a Viewliner II bedroom, not a Superliner or Heritage bedroom. I have no experience with either of those.

Thanks so much for the trip report! I will be on the EB #28 and then the LSL, headed to BOS, in exactly two weeks. So, yes, I'm getting quite excited about the trip!

Thanks for the thorough review of the food. I intend to try the salmon, if it's available, and probably a steak. I have a question about the breakfast biscuits on the EB. At one point, they were serving what I called a "tan" biscuit -- not 100% whole wheat, but at least it wasn't pure white. Is this the case now, or did they go back to the 100% white flour product?

Like you, I enjoy the "winter wonderland" aspect of traveling this time of year, and the small towns we pass by on the route. Looking forward to this!
The biscuit I ate was plain and white unfortunately. Not at all healthy, but certainly tastey when paired with grits. I look forward to trying a partially whole wheat biscuit.
 

BalmyZephyr

Rider
AU Supporter
Joined
Nov 7, 2021
Messages
106
Location
Rhode Island and Philadelphia
Great report! My husband and I took the same trip a few years ago in May, boarding the LSL in the beautiful but under-retailed Worcester MA station and doing an EB/CZ/LSL loop. Your delay may have made you miss some of the upper Midwest scenery, though it's still great crossing the Mississippi at night. Technical forum posting question: How do you get several photos to gang up between paragraphs? I'm overdue writing my Cardinal trip report, and want to be able to do that. Your pictures are great! Did you go up and walk around Minot? A great everyday (not touristy) Western main street.
 

Michigan Mom

OBS Chief
Joined
Jan 28, 2012
Messages
956
Location
MI
Nice TR! Love your photographer's eye too, such nice framing.
It's hard to believe it's been 10 years now since I took my kids on the EB (both directions).
Due to mudslides, we were bustituted from Seattle to Everett in both directions, but on the Westbound trip, the snowy forests with deep snow untouched by humans was a sight to behold.
 

Trollopian

Service Attendant
AU Supporter
Joined
Sep 19, 2014
Messages
216
Location
Washington, DC and Pittsburgh, PA
This vegetarian violist trainfan is following vicariously! This is the trip I'm dreaming of, even Minot ND and similar places so often dismissed as "Flyover Country." I was going to book it after my dear cat died in February 2020 and then, wham. Thank you.
 

oregon pioneer

Engineer
Joined
Feb 15, 2011
Messages
2,530
Location
near Seneca, Oregon
Technical forum posting question: How do you get several photos to gang up between paragraphs?
I'm going to answer this off-topic question and get it out of the way:
  1. Using the "attach files" button, upload all the photos
  2. Place your cursor in the message window where you want the photos (space-down if you want to get them on a new line).
  3. Using the "thumbnail" button, insert the photos one at a time, in the order you prefer. You can use the spacer bar to separate them by one space (as I've done below).
  4. PREVIEW to see if you got it the way you wanted.
Here are some photos from my winter 2018 the Empire Builder for your viewing pleasure:
1_trip9.jpg 1_trip14.jpg 1_trip17.jpg
 

Tlcooper93

OBS Chief
AU Supporter
Joined
Jan 9, 2021
Messages
669
Location
Boston
I'm going to answer this off-topic question and get it out of the way:
  1. Using the "attach files" button, upload all the photos
  2. Place your cursor in the message window where you want the photos (space-down if you want to get them on a new line).
  3. Using the "thumbnail" button, insert the photos one at a time, in the order you prefer. You can use the spacer bar to separate them by one space (as I've done below).
  4. PREVIEW to see if you got it the way you wanted.
Here are some photos from my winter 2018 the Empire Builder for your viewing pleasure:

Great report! My husband and I took the same trip a few years ago in May, boarding the LSL in the beautiful but under-retailed Worcester MA station and doing an EB/CZ/LSL loop. Your delay may have made you miss some of the upper Midwest scenery, though it's still great crossing the Mississippi at night. Technical forum posting question: How do you get several photos to gang up between paragraphs? I'm overdue writing my Cardinal trip report, and want to be able to do that. Your pictures are great! Did you go up and walk around Minot? A great everyday (not touristy) Western main street.
I actually used an app to create collages offline.
There’s a pesky limit of 10 pictures per post, so I created my collages to allow all of the food pictures to be posted all at once.

We didn’t get a chance to walk around Minot because of the conductors rules, but we saw some pretty scenes from the station. Charming town indeed.
 

Cal

Foamer
Joined
Jan 23, 2021
Messages
3,366
Location
Socal
I actually used an app to create collages offline.
There’s a pesky limit of 10 pictures per post, so I created my collages to allow all of the food pictures to be posted all at once.

We didn’t get a chance to walk around Minot because of the conductors rules, but we saw some pretty scenes from the station. Charming town indeed.
What’s the app called?
 

caravanman

Engineer
Joined
Mar 22, 2004
Messages
4,441
Location
Nottingham, England.
I was thinking about the cat that passed away, and the violin strings, known as catgut. (Nothing to do with cats in fact...) No offence to cat lovers intended.
 
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