Florida and back

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eagle628

Lead Service Attendant
Joined
Oct 24, 2010
Messages
264
Location
Vermont
Basically, this particular trip came about because I wanted to see an Iron Maiden concert, and having missed them when they played in the Northeast, was only able see them in Florida. So I figured Amtrak would be a pretty nice way to get down there. Never been to Florida before, so this'd be a new train/route as well (previously, the only long-distance train I'd been on was the Lake Shore Limited, because we've family in the midwest and it works out real well to go from Albant to Chicago).

Left for Florida on 14 April via train 290, the Ethan Allen Express. Second time I've taken it to New York; even though the Vermonter stops only a dozen or so miles away in Randolph or White River Junction, the Ethan Allen's earlier arrival in New York is much more convenient (especially for this trip, when the connection at Penn Station depended on it). Actually boarded the train in Fort Edward, so I didn't have to leave the house as early. Since the train is painfully, excruciatingly slow over the Vermont Railway, leaving the house at about the same time the train left Rutland and catching up to it in Fort Edward worked perfectly. Arrived at the station (very nicely restored building, and the platfornm looked recently rebuilt too) about fifteen minutes before the train was supposed to leave. I looked up the tracks, and saw the train sitting about a mile or so north of the station. Obviously ahead of schedule, but it couldn't wait at the station because it would have blocked a grade crossing. First time I've ever seen an Amtrak train early.

Train 290 left right on time, with about a half dozen people getting on. Passed a lot of CP crews doing trackwork between there and Saratoga Springs, but it didn't wreck too much havoc on the sechedule; we left Saratoga only five minutes or so down. South of there, the running was quite fast, and we left Schenectady on time, at the same time an Empire Service or Maple Leaf went west on the other track. Made it through the infamous stretch of track between there and Albany without incident, and rolled into Albany on time, at the same time an Empire Service train with three (?!?) locomotives arrived on the next track over. (just as an aside, I can not get over how much I like that station. Just the right size for the number of people who use it, not intimidating like Penn Station is, busy enough so it feels like a proper transportation hub, there's pretty much always at least one train at the platforms, above ground so you can see what's going on...wonderful) A crowd of people, as usual, boarded at Albunay, but did so in other cars, the coach I was in was pretty much full by now. I was surprised and pleased to see how many people got on north of Albany, and on the return trip would be surprised and pleased again to see how many people took the train north of Albany. Left the station on time, and went down the Hudson River. I had seats on the right side of the train to get views of the river, and was not dissapointed. Another advantage of the Ethan Allen over the Vermonter is the scenery, courtesy of this stretch of track. Alas, our brilliant on-time performance couldn't last, as we fell a bit behind schedule south of Poughkeepsie, and ended up waiting for a bit north of Yonkers. The reason was unclear, since no train passed us and in any case I think that section of track is double-track. This stop kept my record of having never been in a train that disn't make at least one uncheduled stop alive. Despite that, we made up time towards the end of the trip, and arrived into New York only five minutes late.

Penn Station was extremely crowded, the most I've ever seen it, when we arrived, but literally seconds after we walked in a Regional to Boston was called and the place emptied out instantly, or at least as empty as Penn Station ever gets. There was an hourish long wait until the southbound Silver Meteor was called, which was passed by checking some baggage in a rather long line. Not impressed the conspicious lack of adequate people at the baggage check. C'mon Amtrak, NYP is your busiest station but you still can't be bothered to put more than one person there? The Silver Meteor was called twenty minutes before departure, which struck me as not a lot of time to load such a populated train (probably half the crowd staring at the departure board left when that particular train was announced) but it was pulled off without any fuss. This was my first experience with assigned seating on Amtrak, and I actually thought it worked nicely considering the number of people boarding. Last fall I was part of a huge crowd of people getting on the LSL at Albany and it was chaos in the coach section halfway to Schenectady while people tried to find seats.

Speaking of coach, the entire trip was in coach, which I realize is viewed as practically sacreligious here. But the price (something like a hundred and a bit for a one-way ticket from FED to ORL was impossible to resist. Sleepers were four or five times that amount, and even airfare was (except on Allegiant) more expensive. Besides, I think coach works fine for a single overnight (I've never spent two nights on the train, but I think doing that in coach might get old sometime during the second night) in an Amfleet II, with the seats that recline more than in an Amfleet I and the leg/footrests. The only complain I have is that leaving some of the lights on means it's harder to see out when it's dark. Overall, though, I have no problems with coachclass for long-distance trips. Even though it's undeniably less pleasent than sleeper, the price differential and the fact that it's still pretty comfortable make it worth it by a long shot.

Back to the trip...the Silver Meteor left on time, right next to the northbound version of the train I came south on, which headed into the Empire Connection as we went into the Hudson tunnels. Somehow I had completely not realized that there's a big spot where the tracks aren't in a tunnel that's only a few hundred feet or so from the platforms until then. Oops. The trip down the NEC was quite nice until about Philadelphia, where just south of there we sat for at least ten minutes. Um, what? How come, with no less than four tracks at its disposal, Amtrak can't manage to keep trains, on its flagship route, in motion? Not cool. Despite this inconvenience, the long stop at Washington (my first visit to Union Station) had sufficient padding so we left on time. After leaving DC (nice, if brief, view of the Washington Monument against the setting sun), I went to the diner for dinner at nine. Three Viewliners worth od people had taken up all the earlier seatings. Upon the serving of meals (a very nice chicken), the train came to a stop and remained so for about as long as I was in the diner. While I appreciate a table that's not wobbling while I try to eat, I appreciate a train that's going somewhere more. Bad CSX! I stopped keeping track of how well we were ontime after Richmond, where we left ~20 minutes late or so, but stayed awake until about Fayetteville. By Savannah, we'd made up all the time (at one point during night we were up to 45 minutes late) and arrived Jacksonville early, where I had breakfast.

Okay, south of Jacksonville, the track speeds are just awful for a lot of the time. It's kinda pitiful to be ambling down the track at about 30 or 40 mph while cars are speeding along and handily beating you right outside the window. Why is federal money getting spent on wild pie-in-the-sky dreams while tracks like this are hanging around? A few million here, a few million there would do wonders.

Anyhow, the train arrived in Orlando, my destination, about five minutes late, no big deal. Watched it leave as the baggage was being returned. Due to the number of people there (at a guess, probably over a hundred people detrained, including I believe every person from the coach I was in) this took a while, and we didnt end up leaving the station until about the time the northbound Meteor came in.

Did touristy things in Florida for most of the time, including touring Cape Canaveral (my cousin works for a company that launches rockets there that isn't NASA but whose name escapes me), kayaking/swimming a bit (saw manatees, extremely cool), couple of hikes, except they were flat and, being from Vermont where we have mountains, I can't call walking on anything flat a "hike," and picked large amounts of fruit that made the baggage back very heavy. And of course saw Iron Maiden. Ears were ringing for at least a day afterwards, but it was the highlight of the trip.

Left on the twentieth, on the hottest day of a vacation that made me believe one of the landmarks of modern civilization are air conditioners. Left Orlando on time, along with about 100+ people also getting on there again, and suffered through Florida trackage up to Jacksonville again. Heading north we brought food on board for dinner (before anyone says "but you would've got food free if you were in sleeper," let me say that it cost less than ten dollars to buy dinner, which also served as dinner on the Ethan Allen the next day). Once again a fairly uneventful trip, though we did sit for a while twice, one in Florida while a maintainance-of-way crew did something and once in South Carolina while we waited for the soithbound Palmetto. We did, however, make it up again by Florence. CSX dispatching for the win! At Florence, the south bound Auto Train stopped on next to us for its servicing/crew change stop. That is one long train. I went to sleep after that, and didn't wake up until somewhere north of Richmond. We made all our stops north of here early (!!!), and arrived into New York about twenty minutes early. According to something I overheard, an Amtrak inspector of on-timeness boarded at Washington for the trip north.

There was about a four-hour wait in New York, during which my earlier favorable impression of Penn Station evaporated completely when it was determined there were no lockers in the station like there are in Chicago to store stuff. Worse, the baggage check wouldn't store laptops. This meant that it was neccesary to carry a laptop and a very heavy backpack apiece around while we touristed in New York. (insert choice words here) Went to Ground Zero (Freedom Tower is looking nice, the memorial preview thingy is pathetic, try to fit over a hundred people into a space rather smaller than the size of an average condo and you'll get the idea) and the something or other street ship museum, where there's a bunch of old ships tied up. That was actually quite nice.

The northbound Ethan Allen left at 3:15, another very crowded train. Luckily, there were still a couple seats available to look at the Hudson. Stayed on time until Schenectady (which has seemed to crop up an awful lot in this), where we waited at the station for about fifteen minutes. According to the all-knowing voice on the PA, this was according to a freight train ahead, which was the first time I remember being told why we're stopped. But then, the onboard crew on this train was exceptionally good, and I've told Amtrak so. We ended up in Fort Edward about ten or fifteen minutes late, the culmination of a very enjoyable trip.

Just as an aside, I saw a few unusual pieces of equipment that I was wondering if anyone knew more about. Just north of the Orlando station, there's an old steam engine and some passenger cars, looking rather decayed. Anyone know anything about that? In a siding at Washington Union Station, there was what looked like an Amfleet II coach that had a slightly different window pattern and was named "Corridor Clipper." Is that a private car for Amtrak, like they have an Amfleet with an observation deck cut out at the end? Struck me as odd because it was named. Lastly, at the Albany station, there were three private cars, including at least one dome car. They had purple and gold stripes, and one of them was named "Puget Sound." anyone know the story behind those? EDIT: found a website for that one.

Lastly, on-time performance for three of the trains I took, the southbound Meteor entry was blank except for Miami.

http://74.102.95.143...th=04&selday=14

http://74.102.95.143...th=04&selday=20

http://74.102.95.143...th=04&selday=21
 
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eagle628

Lead Service Attendant
Joined
Oct 24, 2010
Messages
264
Location
Vermont
Never noticed the steam train N of Orlando. Will need to pay attention to that next time. Any photos of it? Was it before Winter Park?

No, no photos, unfortunately. It was well before Winter Park, literally minutes from the Orlando station, still within the city.
 

VentureForth

Engineer
Joined
Jan 23, 2007
Messages
6,209
Location
West Melbourne, FL
I know that there is a static steam display at Church Street Station, an entertainment district that used to be a Southern station, I think.

I thought that was South of ORL, and I don't remember it being delapidated. But it's been 15 years since I lived there so I don't know... I'm barely about to be 39 and I'm going senile...
 
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ACVitale

Service Attendant
Joined
Feb 13, 2011
Messages
105
Location
Somewhere between Florida and the Carolinas
The Equipment at Church Street Station used to be in perfect condition (Yes, I know I just dated myself) but, over the last decade or two has gone dramatically downhill. It certainly looks derilict now and could use a nice restoration.

Rather sad situation.

I had forgotten about that. The Church Street Station consist is most likely what the original poster saw. Nice catch Venture Forth.

The Orlando station is just south of Church Street Station.
 
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