Pittsburgh to Sacramento - Round Trip

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Train Attendant
May 18, 2008
When I retired in 2019, my plan was to take a train trip each year. COVIT stopped that plan, but I finally booked a trip on the Capitol Ltd. and California Zephyr spanning May 15 - May 27, 2023 with 4 days in Sacramento. I booked the trip in December, 2022 and glad I did! All the trains I was on were 90-100% occupied and people complaining they couldn't "get their desired accommodation."

The Pittsburgh Station has been painted and remains under construction. The Capitol Ltd. was on-time with the Conductor walking through the station scanning tickets prior to train arrival. I was in a Roomette and J.D. was a great Sleeping Car Attendant, and happened to have him on my return trip on the Capitol! "Flexible Dining" was edible although not attractive, but how sad that the Capitol used to have a dining car and sightseer lounge and more cars!

I always book a hotel in Chicago, never try to change trains the same day just-in-case, so explored Chicago Union Station and around, and used the Metropolitan Lounge the next day. Refreshments are canned drinks, bags of snacks (which people fill their bags for the trip) and coffee and tea. Guess that is the normal now. I enjoy sitting upstairs to look out the windows onto Canal Street. I used the Red Cap service to The Zephyr as now one of the "old folks" and we were on-our-way right on time. I was in the Family Bedroom as Amtrak moved me from the 0532 car to the 0531 car in January as the 0532 car was delayed to June 1. People kept staring at me, one person in the Family Bedroom. I had guests in my room when people found that I had a printed schedule, route guide, and railroad atlas with me. (couldn't Amtrak put schedules and route guides in the room like they used to?) The Traditional Dining was great, but dining car staff seemed overworked and they only used one end of the dining car. At Omaha I got out to see the renovated station which is a TV station, and overheard a comment of, "well here we go!" We went northerly into Nebraska and I followed best-I-could on my atlas (with naps between). After 7:00 am, they announced we were detouring northerly due to flooding in the McCook, Nebraska area and would rejoin the regular route at Fort Morgan, CO, which we did with a delay of 7 hours. It made no difference to my schedule of events, and answered why people were photographing us along the way. Got into Denver to a crowd of angry people who had sat in the station for 7 extra hours! "I want to upgrade to a Sleeper" were told that the train was full and sleepers were sold out in February. The rest of the trip lost 3 more hours, mainly between Salt Lake City and Elko, Nevada due to a rock on the tracks (small one quickly removed) and maintenance work requiring slow speeds. Arrived in Sacramento at 1:15 am.

I spend four days in Sacramento visiting Old Town Sacramento, and various sites and went to the Station on May 23. I remember the station pre-renovation - could they have moved the platform and rails any further away? About 45 minutes before train time, Red Caps began transporting passengers to the platform automatically, and what a distance! When we arrived at 1:15 am, there were no Red Caps and the lengthy walk was noticable. The Zephyr arrived on-time and we were off and running! The advantage of the 10 hour delay was daylight in all the places that were in the dark on the trip west! We remained on-time past Denver and remained on the regular route east but slowly lost time waiting for those LONG freight trains to pass, so were 2 hours late into Chicago.

I booked the Hotel Monoco in Chicago, new to me, and it was great. At breakfast, I kept looking at two round skyscrapers across the river and asked what they were. The waiter told me they are Marina City, and I commented that seemed familiar to me.....and he smiled and said that "older people" like me remember them from the opening credits of "Newhart Show" of the 1970s. Ah yes! That is where I remember seeing them! I walked back to Union Station to enjoy the Chicago architecture as I had all day and sat and looked around in transit. Chicago Union Station was a mess -- the Great Hall was being prepared for some event and coach passengers were jammed into the small space outside the Metropolitan Lounge. Some tried to enter the lounge, but staff were prepared. Everyone was sent "down the hallway" at train time and my gray hair got me on Red Cap service without even asking. The return trip on the Capitol was fine and I even stayed awake watching the sites until our early arrival into Pittsburgh at 4:30 am. A wonderful trip all around.