Riding the Rails, Again

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Continuation of the foregoing: Well, Amtrak made good on its promise to get me to Chicago on the train from Washington. The sleeper car–I loved it except for the “sleeper” part. I liked the “roomette” compartment I had–a private compartment with facing seats that was perfect for sitting and watching the landscape roll by. The attendant on my car pulled out the bed and made it up at 10 p.m., and even though the accommodations are on the spartan side, the setup was comfortable enough. But the rocking and rolling and horn-blasting and occasional stops take some getting used to, and then I made things a little harder by not closing the curtains because I thought it was so cool to watch the countryside pass in the dark. A couple times–once in Cleveland, once in Toledo–I woke up with bright lights shining in the window from station platforms.

One surprise to me: The train fell a little bit behind schedule on its way through Maryland, but we actually pulled into Pittsburg 10 minutes or more ahead of the published arrival time, seven hours into the trip. We left Cleveland right on time or even a couple minutes ahead of time, about 3 in the morning. South Bend, Indiana, is the last stop before Chicago–about 80 miles out–and we seemed to be on time leaving there.

Then we hit Gary, maybe 30 miles from the end of the trip, and we stopped. A conductor explained the delay was due to “freight congestion.” (There’s a long history of conflict between Amtrak and freight railroads about which trains get priority on the routes the passenger trains use.) We sat for more than half an hour, then rolled forward slowly for less than a mile and sat for another 10 minutes. And that was what it was like the rest of the trip–it took about two hours to do that final 30-mile leg, and a nearly on-time trip was turned into one that was an hour and a half late. I wasn’t a big deal for me–I was in my nice little compartment and wasn’t in a hurry to get anywhere, and I actually liked taking a look at the urban scenery as we headed into the city. But watching the crowd of coach passengers exiting at Union Station, I’ll bet there was some complaining going on back there.

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Top photo: The Potomac River in western Maryland. Bottom: The Dan Ryan Expressway, Chicago.

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