May 2023 northern loop trip.

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Lead Service Attendant
Dec 12, 2022
Waiting for Amtrak to clear
My second big loop trip began May 22, from PHL. The plan was to take 84>49>5>14>28 to Whitefish, Montana. Enjoy a few days and then return 8/28>48>657. I’ll probably post in a couple chunks. This was a lot of time in coach for me to digest and recollect on.

General notes: a great trip, weather was lovely throughout. America is beautiful, in more ways than one. Amtrak has no average employees. They’re all remarkable…one way or another. Also for the first time this year, I ran into the issue of rail pass segments being limited on most trains. Is this new, or have I just gotten lucky in the past?

I had wanted to begin the trip with the Pennsylvanian and the Capitol, but over a month out, the “Capitol Limited Availability” was 80% full with no rail pass segments available. I had to inform the PHL ticket agent that there are other itineraries available (forced smile probably very apparent), so I wound up on 84>49 change in New York. When I arrived at PHL, I had hardly sat down when an announcement was made that train 84 had suffered a “major mechanical failure at WAS and will be delayed. No estimate is available at this time.” Well 84 to 49 is a quick connection to begin with, so I was off the the races to get to the ticket counter, where I encountered a phenomenal agent who quickly noticed I was using a USA RailPass and became just a little frustrated. Apparently, agents can’t override the computer’s pass rules (No Acela, no guaranteed connections only, etc.) even in the event of a service disruption. So the solution was a true manual reservation. He walked me down to the next train to New York and told the conductor I had a reservation. This man deserves a medal.

For all his trouble 84 eventually came into NYP at 3:45ish, so 49 held for connections, leaving 10 late, consist of 49 was 3 Amfleet II coaches, Viewliner II Diner, 2 Viewliner I sleepers, and Viewliner II baggage. We were met in ALB by 449, sporting 3 P42’s (one headed to the yard), 2 Amfleet II coaches, Amfleet cafe (I really can’t tell them apart from the outside, and I didn’t patronize it), and 1 Viewliner II sleeper. The coach attendants have a “let the zoo run itself” type of policy with regard to seating on this train, but with 5 coaches, no one seemed terribly grieved. Train was about 40 late into CHI, due to CSX congestion (shocking it wasn’t NS) during the night. I will say that this run seemed to have plenty of space, I’d guess about 80% full most of the way, which is where you would really want the trains at on a weekday before the summer peak truly starts. The Hudson valley was as lovely as usual. I’m always happy to wake up in the flatness of western Ohio.
I made a same day transfer in CHI to train 5, the California Zephyr. If I may, AMTRAK Chicago (insert trade) division, means worst in the nation (except for OBS, I rather liked all my Chicago OBS people). The ticket agents are snarky. T and E is hit or miss. The station boarding agents think their running some sort of longest preschool safety rope line competition. Chicago mechanical was infamous when the PRR still had it and hasn’t gotten any better reputation since. Tirade aside. Nowadays when you board in CHI, you wait in the Great Hall, which is a really good idea. I’m glad they made the change from those lounges trackside. Then they call you into this alcove and line you up like Sister Mary Clarence’s first grade class and walk you to your track, double file, disrupting the pedestrian flow of the entire station in the process. The reader may now note that I think this process is asinine. Just announce the track half an hour before the train leaves and let people figure it out, like they do at every other major terminal in the country. Anyway, this is time consuming. The Texas Eagle leaves at 13:45, the California Zephyr at 14:00. They weren’t ready for us until 13:40ish. When we finally got to the platform at 13:50, the Conductor was assigning seats. He had his trainee hand me the check. It read 6/7, that or 617, which is impossible. Well six and seven were full, so I come back down. He turns it over and says nastily “49” I don’t know what kind Rorschach test I was taking, but I thought 49 was only two numbers, but, then again, I never learned the New Math. Well 49 was now also full and I am now thoroughly annoyed. He sticks me in the lower level while “it works itself out.” Why run your train when you can let it run itself? I hope he has a different approach to calling signals and directing shove movements. Upstairs some passenger has taken over because her and her husband were put in different ends of the coach. She was in 50, tosses the guy in 49 (who they apparently didn’t bother to give a check to) out of the seat, assigns me to her husband’s old seat, and puts her husband in my seat. It worked out great. They were lovely people, downgraded at the last moment to coach from Roomette. They seemed to enjoy the ride, but I’m not so sure they’ll do it again. When the train finally left, 5 late because of the zoo that was boarding, ensuring further delay because of the congested nature of the line to Aurora. I noticed the consist, 2 P42’s, a Viewliner II baggage, a Superliner transdorm, two Superliner sleepers, Superliner diner, SSL, two Superliner coaches. Significant delay approaching Galesburg as we held for both 4 and 6. One wonders… There was also a lengthy delay in SW Nebraska due to flooding. I’m just happy the train ran. The scenery was stunning, albeit somewhat obscured by smoke from the Canadian wildfires. The wildlife was incredible. Conductors Cody and Joe offered excellent commentary, pertinent updates, and fine operating abilities. There was evidence of the mudslides. Cafe Attendant Rob Pasko and his “ICE COLD BEER!” announcements really made you want to come down and see what he was selling. The CO River was flooded and people were thrilled, a subtle cultural difference from the East where floods are always a disaster. The Rockies and Sierra Nevada were still full of snow, providing a beautiful ride and much hope for the locals aboard. A UP freight over the Donner Pass held us to about 40 the whole way over, costing us about another hour. No one seemed upset. At this point, I was considering a visit to the diner, but it suffered a mechanical failure at Reno and sandwiches were brought aboard to cover sleeper meals only.
I made the same night connection to the now anemic 14 at Emeryville. It showed up promptly at 21:30 sporting 1 ALC-42, 1 P42, 1 Superliner coach still in Ski Train wrap, 1 Superliner business acting as a coach, SSL, Superliner Diner, 2 Superliner sleepers. The coach attendant was very new and a bit of a mess, but had a great energy and attitude. He’ll be great after a few runs. I was a little upset quiet hours didn’t start until midnight. I don’t know if that’s typical. A woman was making her first trip and was impressed by everything, and expressed such loudly. I was impressed by her enthusiasm. Oregon was perhaps more stunning than Colorado. We would have made Portland on time, but railroad police had to remove a suicidal person from the tracks before things got messy. This train was packed the whole way and really could have done with at least a third coach and I’d imagine a third sleeper. Also, I didn’t care for the leather business class seat. I’ll take 90’s cloth any time.

Upon arrival at PDX, I made a quick change to 28, running ALC-42 301 (50th Anniversary Edition), SSL, 2 Superliner sleepers, 1 Superliner Sleeper. Coach was maybe 60% full to Whitefish. Sleeper seemed less than packed. We were joined by the Seattle section, 1 ALC-42, 1 Superliner transdorm, 2 Superliner sleepers, 1 Superliner diner, 1 Superliner coach. I found the Columbia River gorgeous, especially as the sun set. I didn’t notice the hour delay BNSF dumped on us. I found this coach attendant, whose name I forget, to be the best I’ve ever encountered, very pleasant, quite competent. I was surprised at the volume at Pasco. Arrival in Whitefish was about 10 late. While I was in Montana I think I saw all five Empire Builder sets, and only one P42. The rest were ALC-42’s, so it seems that the route is now nearly fully equipped.