Saturday, April 30, 2011

Off Again – This Time On Amtrak’s Cardinal

After two nights on the Empire Builder and a 24-hour layover in Chicago, I’m ready for another overnight ride. This one will be aboard the Cardinal, which I think is Amtrak’s best-kept secret among all its eastern trains. In my opinion, the eastbound train is the better choice because you will pass through more of the fabulous New River Gorge during daylight hours.
The Cardinal runs in both directions between New York City and Chicago, as do both the Lake Shore Limited and the Capital Limited, but it travels over a longer route and swings much farther south. That longer route, in my view anyway, makes this train special and the best choice if you have a little extra time and are interested in scenery. (See note below.)
Near Fayetteville, West Virginia, the Cardinal passes under the New River Gorge Bridge. It’s well over a half mile long and almost 900 feet above the river. In the photo above, you can just make out the railroad tracks running along the left (northern) bank of the river.

Later in the day, as frosting on the Cardinal cake, you’ll be in Virginia and crossing the Blue Ridge Mountains. Absolutely lovely!

I’ll be leaving the Cardinal in Alexandria, Virginia, (one stop before Washington’s Union Station) to attend a 3-day meeting of NARP’s* Council of Representatives. The Cardinal will continue on up through the Northeast Corridor and finally terminate in New York City.

One additional note: The Cardinal only runs three days a week, so you may have to adjust your dates or connecting trains accordingly. There continues to be agitation for making the Cardinal a daily train and that would no doubt be a positive change. As always, of course, the issue is finding enough rolling stock. As it is, there is usually just one Viewliner sleeping car in the consist, so if, like me, you usually opt for that comfort, be advised that you’ll need to book the Cardinal well in advance of your travel dates to be sure of getting sleeping car accommodations on your travel date of choice.

*National Association of Railroad Passengers

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Los Angeles to Seattle on Amtrak's Coast Starlight

The first leg of this extended trip is over … and was pretty much everything I had hoped. I met my daughter, Kris, and granddaughter, Olivia, in Los Angeles and together we boarded Amtrak’s Coast Starlight on Sunday morning for the overnight ride to Seattle.

Shortly after departing, I led them on a brief tour of the train, starting with an orientation of their roomette. As I expected, they were both surprised at how small the room first appears, but soon realized that it’s very well designed and quite functional. Besides – and this is one of the big plusses for train travel – you’re not confined to your accommodations, but can get up whenever you wish and walk around from car to car.

Immediately to the rear of our car, for example, was the Pacific Parlour Car, a delightful lounge car exclusively for sleeping car passengers. There are plush easy chairs, booths for playing card games and where the attendant serves meals for those not opting to go into the adjacent dining car. And should you be in the mood for it, the attendant, will be delighted to serve you drinks – soft or otherwise. (Kris and I each opted for a Bloody Mary … a delightful way to begin our journey up to Seattle.)

Olivia was fascinated to see the small theater on the Parlous Car’s lower level – some 20 seats facing a giant screen TV. In fact, at 3:00 on our first afternoon, she spent two hours in the theater watching a movie.

After dinner in the dining car, I spent some time reading on my new Kindle while Kris read and Olivia played games on one of these new electronic devices.

The next morning we met a mother and 4-year-old daughter who had boarded in Sacramento. The child was introduced as Maili, which is a popular Hawaiian girl’s name.
I remarked on that, of course, and the mother said she had lived in Hawaii for many years. Where in Hawaii? In the town of Kailua on the island of Oahu, about a dozen houses up on the same street i where I lived for 25 years. What are the odds of that!

As always the ride across the Cascade range in Oregon was extraordinary and we arrived in Seattle about 45 minutes ahead of schedule.

To be continued.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

AND ... I'm off!

(Posts to come as I can get to them.)

Monday, April 18, 2011

Another Long-Distance Amtrak Trip Coming Up

In a few days I’ll be off on another cross-country train trip. I really have two destinations: the first is Washington, DC, for one of our semi-annual NARP* meetings, and then Boston, where I will indulge my other passion and see four Red Sox games in venerable Fenway Park. But before all that I’m going to have the pleasure of introducing one of my granddaughters to overnight train travel. She’s almost nine and I’ll meet her and my daughter in Los Angeles for the overnight ride up to Seattle aboard Amtrak’s Coast Starlight, which features the luxurious Pacific Parlour Car for sleeping car passengers. It’s a wonderfully scenic trip and a highlight is waking up early on the morning of the second day near Dunsmuir, California, as the train circles around the base of spectacular Mount Shasta – still covered with lots of snow this early in the year. After a couple of days in Seattle – and at least one lunch and one dinner at my favorite Italian restaurant, Assaggio’s – I’ll take the Empire Builder on the two-night ride to Chicago and, after an overnight there, catching my favorite eastern train, the Cardinal.
This train is, in my opinion, Amtrak’s best kept secret. After the overnight ride down through Indiana and Kentucky, the train takes several hours passing through the spectacular New River Gorge before climbing over the Blue Ridge Mountains and heading into the Washington area. As always, I’ll do my best to post regular accounts of events of interest along the way.

*National Association of Railroad Passengers

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Funding Slashed for Amtrak, High-Speed Rail

The following email has been sent to the 20,000-plus members of NARP, the National Association of Railroad Passengers. It's time to get pissed off, folks!

April 14, 2011

Congress will be eliminating all high-speed rail investment from the 2011 budget, and will actually take back $400 million in FY2010 high-speed money. That adds up to a total of $2.9 billion in cuts to the popular program. The hits don’t stop there—Congress will chop $128 million from Amtrak’s budget for capital improvements and debt service, and $502 million from New Starts transit funding (as compared to last year’s budget).

This is a big setback for the American public, who stood to benefit greatly from this investment in modernized train service. The high-speed rail program had found itself caught-up in political gamesmanship, culminating in the newly-elected governor of Florida rejecting high-speed rail money. However, last week 24 states (along with the District of Columbia and Amtrak) submitted 98 passenger train projects totaling almost $10 billion. That’s half of the United States, representing a vast majority of its population. Applicants included 12 Republican governors—including Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin, who had previously turned down high-speed rail funds—signaling a truly bipartisan enthusiasm for this important, jobs-creating program. The public is also eager for more trains, having driven Amtrak to a 17th straight month of growth in ridership and putting the passenger carrier on track for yet another annual ridership record.

We cannot let this setback dissuade us from fighting for what we know to be right.

The budget battle for 2012 begins now. By pushing for adoption of the President’s 6 year, $53 billion plan for high- and higher-speed intercity trains, we can remove the year-to-year budgetary seesaw that has hindered Amtrak’s growth for so many decades. If America is going to deal with steadily-rising gas prices, a stagnant manufacturing and construction industry, and a rapidly growing population, we will need to invest in passenger trains.

Thank you for your continued work in this important struggle. Together we can bring about a modern train network that provides a travel choice Americans want.

Sean Jeans-Gail
Vice President, NARP

Friday, April 8, 2011

Proving once again: It never hurts to ask!

Well, here’s a real feel-good story (and my thanks to Honolulu Notes for finding and reporting it):

The National Railway Museum in Great Britain is located about 200 miles north of London in the town of York. Last summer, the museum’s director, Andrew Scott, announced that he was planning to retire after some 16 years on the job. I have no doubt there were a number of applicants eager to replace him, but one of the aspirants submitting an application was Sam Pointon ... and Sam is 6 years old.

Unfortunately, the qualifications on Sam’s resume, while impressive for someone his age -- he can "control two trains at once" -- were a tad less than the job requires and the Prime Minister named one Ian Blatchford to replace Scott. Notwithstanding that, the museum’s board created a new position and promptly named Sam to fill it.

And here he is now … The Hon. Sam Pointon, Director of Fun.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Yet Another View on the Merits of Train Travel

Anyone who visits this blog even occasionally knows that I believe the U.S. should continue and, better yet, increase efforts to bring more and better and faster trains to America’s traveling public. This is admittedly a generalization, but liberals are mostly in support of Amtrak and high-speed trains, while many conservatives tend to go the other way.

Comes now conservative columnist George Will who has his own view on passenger train travel:

"The real reason for progressives’ passion for trains is their goal of diminishing Americans’ individualism in order to make them more amenable to collectivism."

Gee … all this time I thought I was supporting more and better trains because of safety, comfort and the benefits to the environment. And isn’t offering a better choice to the traveling public the exact opposite of collectivism?

This is going to sound like a digression, but if you love the great American game of baseball, you really must read Men At Work. It is one of the two or three best books ever written about our national pastime.

It was written by George Will. Before he lost his mind.