Location: [Home] [Train Travels] A Weekend in Virginia
Some dear friends of ours were blessed with a baby daughter in August, and in turn they blessed us with an invitation to serve as her godparents. They live in Charlottesville, Virginia, which is a driveable distance from New Haven, if you like struggling with the traffic of several good-sized metropolitan areas along the way. We figured we would spend about ten hours on the road, and with two children under six, we added another two to the estimate. That's two very long days on the road. In addition, we had an appointment in Boston for our daughter to have an MRI scan on Thursday, which just added to the drive. Despite the expense (travelling on Columbus Day and overnight added quite a bit), we decided the train made sense, and would allow us to do some things we otherwise would not be able to do in Washington DC.
That settled, we still had another issue to resolve: our son. He's in kindergarten, and though Monday was a holiday, the full trip would require him to take two days from school. We decided to try to cut it to one day away by asking someone else to bring him either to Boston or to the Twilight Shoreliner on its way through Connecticut on Thursday night. So when I made reservations (using 1-800-USA-RAIL) I reserved three tickets on the Fast Mail and four on all the other legs. A few days later I picked them up at New Haven's Union Station.
Then we got a phone call from another doctor who reminded us of Brendan's annual eye exam in Boston--we quickly made it for October 8. He would have had to take a day off sometime, so this became it. I returned to the station and exchanged the first ticket (for three) for a new ticket for four, and we were prepared.
Trip Segments: [New Haven to Boston] [Boston to Washington] [Washington to Charlottesville] [About Charlottesville] [Charlottesville to Washington] [In Washington] [Washington to New Haven]
I still say that there's a funny gap in Amtrak's schedule to Boston--the two earliest arrivals are at 6:55 am and 12:02 pm. There are eight other trains (one of them at 2 am), most of them in late afternoon and early evening. I hope that it is part of the effort to finish work for the American Flyer for its debut next year.
In any case, we were due in Boston at 1:00 pm for both doctors, so we took the Fast Mail. The train was standing on the platform when we arrived at the station, so we headed out to it. This train divides at New Haven, with its front section becoming train 412 bound for Springfield; both sections change to diesel-electric power as the wires still end at New Haven. I saw two 900 series AEM-7s rolling back to the locomotive yard from the east end of the train; those probably brought the train from Washington. We spent a fair amount of time on the train waiting to start, and getting warm--the air conditioning on an Amfleet car is not for show!
We were very fortunate to find four seats right across for ourselves. This is an unreserved train, and I've seen it quite crowded. Our trip was filled with children passing across the aisle exchanging parents or playing with each other. We also read a fair amount of Winnie-the-Pooh.
The train headed out at 9:03 am, one minute late according to my watch--which could, of course, simply be a minute fast! In Branford we slowed to pass work on the new overhead catenary system, which was being done on the south track by bucket trucks equipped with Hi-Rails. A few minutes later we slowed and stopped, and the conductor announced that we were waiting for a southbound train because of the track work. There would be two other such meets, again because the work had turned the double-track main into a single.
The first meet was with a Shoreline East commuter train pulled by its engine in New Haven bright red, white and black McGinnis colors. The others were with Amtrak trains, 171 in Old Saybrook and 173 in Providence. Along the way I made a visit to the cafe car for one of the breakfast sandwiches, which I enjoy despite my better judgement.
The signs of the work were everywhere. Where the wire wasn't going up, the uprights were. Where the uprights weren't going up, the bases were in. Where the bases weren't in, the concrete cylinders lay waiting for the drill, which was just down the line. The train slowed for workers, horn sounding, fairly often.
Our car had white bulkhead walls, not the orange walls so common in Amfleet coaches and food service cars. It had clearly been refitted, including an electrical strip which provided an electrical outlet for each seat.
A New England fall is a glorious thing, but we were a little early. One field of shrubs in Rhode Island, however, blazed with red and gold. The beaches which had had plenty of people on them in summer were nearly empty, but I did see one man on the end of a pier of piled rocks fishing in the Sound.
With the three stops for meets and various slow sections, it came as no surprise that we arrived at about 12:30, nearly half an hour late. Our first move was to the baggage area, where Amtrak will store luggage for the day for $1.50 a piece--that saved hauling a lot of suitcases around the city! Then we dashed for the Red Line to get the kids to their respective appointments, which we succeeded in doing, if by narrow margins.
Locomotives: F-40PHR 278 and F-40PH 207 back to back
A note on consists: we were two parents with two children on this trip, and there was often time pressure. I apologize that they are frequently incomplete, as above where I'm not even sure about the MHCs. I know there was one because I saw it out the back window of the dinette, but that's about it! Still, I had other things to do, and would do it the same again.
Throughout the day the weather turned increasingly wet. Sunny when we boarded the train in New Haven, it was spitting rain when we arrived in Boston. By mid-afternoon it was raining hard. The umbrellas and raincoats got a lot of use!
Despite the late arrival, we accomplished our medical purposes for the day, though all things did not go precisely as planned--the MRI machine was down for some time, which significantly delayed Bekah's first meal of the day since breakfast! Since it was late, Brendan and I took the MBTA back to South Station to meet some cousins with whom we had planned to go out to dinner. Susan was waiting in the main lobby, having come there from work, and we found her very quickly. Jeffrey, however, was driving in from the North Shore and there is a lot of construction going on around the station's front. We waited outside briefly in the rain, and then decided we'd call his cell phone (still not something I tend to think of quickly). It was a good thing we did, as he was sitting in traffic. Since we were waiting for Evelyn and Bekah, too, we decided that the best thing to do was have dinner at the station itself. I called Evelyn and she agreed.
Fortunately, South Station has a mall-style food court which includes vegetarian, Cajun, Italian, deli-style and typical fast food (i.e., McDonald's). When Jeffrey arrived, we all went to get our supper. I had a shrimp dish at the Cajun place, which was pretty good, though no doubt not up to New Orleans standards. Brendan happily ate pizza, which he followed up with ice cream from another stand.
Evelyn and Bekah arrived with more than enough time to eat, and we had a nice time with our cousins as we waited for the Twilight Shoreliner's 8:30 pm departure.
Shortly after we recovered our luggage from the baggage area, the speaker called for the boarding of Sleeper and Custom Class passengers. A small crowd was waiting behind velvet ropes as a crew member struggled to find room for those first-boarding passengers to get through and onto the platform--people do like to get right onto a train! A privately owned railroad car, brightly painted red and white, was spotted behind the train close to the station but not coupled to it; it's often been there when I've come to Boston. A small flashing blue light on the rails warned against trains backing too far into the car. The interior was quite ornately furnished; even Brendan commented on it! "That train has a real kitchen in it," he said.
Earlier I'd noticed Amtrak GP-40PH #197 spotted at the end of another track, where I guess it's used for switching.
Viewliner "Wayside View" was the last car on the train, which means the first one on the platform (after the private car) in Boston's stub-end boarding area. Our Car Attendent, Steven (he might have used a "ph" but I'm not sure), welcomed us at the door, took our ticket, directed us to rooms 1 and 2, and suggested I disassemble my luggage cart on the platform, as he didn't think it would get through the narrow hallway. He was right, of course, and fortunately I took his advice.
It took some work, most of it shuffling children back and forth, to get our two-wheel cart, two large bags, four raincoats, child's suitcase, adult day pack, and two children's packs (plus a plastic shopping bag from the hospital) stowed away, but we managed. The kids eagerly took their own room on the left side of the train--I simply don't remember whether that's 1 or 2--and began playing with their toys. Evelyn and I, exhaused after our day, sat and looked at each other with wide eyes.
Not long after the train started off (8:32 pm by my watch) Steven came by to explain the room controls, tell us that there were dinner seatings at 9 and 9:45, and suggest that he'd make the beds while we were at dinner. We'd originally planned to get the kids into bed pretty quickly, but decided that a little more food wasn't a bad idea, so we took the 9 pm. Steven was a little uncertain about the kids having their own room, for which I don't blame him, but the most he did was to ask that they be told not to ring for him all the time. We asked him to wake us at 5 am for showers, and decided not to try to get breakfast on board before our 6:15 am arrival in DC. He also asked us about juice or coffee for the morning.
We ordered our juices, and Brendan, an experienced Viewliner traveller, enjoyed playing with the lights but not the call button. The movies that evening were not kid-suitable, but we turned on some music for them. They wanted the door closed, but we insisted that they leave the shade most of the way up so we could keep an eye on them. This led to a game in which Bekah would play hide-and-seek using the door shade!
About ten past nine Steven came by to tell us that dinner was serving, so we headed forward into the Twilight Lounge, a special cafe for First and Custom Class passengers on this train. They had a printed menu of the day's selections in addition to the leatherette folder with the standard menu, which was a nice addition since our last trip on this train. Brendan, Evelyn and I ordered beef burgundy and Bekah ordered a chicken sandwich--and we settled in to wait. These are aircraft-style meals (which you don't see on aircraft that much any more), and each had to be individually microwaved. It took a long time, especially for tired parents with two tired small children. They actually behaved quite well, and the couple at the next table complimented them on their behavior, but it was a long wait.
When it came, I was pleasantly surprised. The meal was pretty good, and the burgundy sauce was pleasant, if somewhat salty. I ate nearly the entire thing, despite having eaten less than four hours before. Brendan and Bekah ate less well, being really more interested at that point in bed.
We brought them back to our rooms and got them changed, brushed, and tucked in, which is more difficult than it sounds in a Viewliner Standard Bedroom! We told Brendan that if he needed us in the night, that he should first bang on the door, then try opening it (he could, just barely), and at last resort ring for Steven. All things considered, it took them very little time to go to sleep.
As for me, I took a walk down the train to get the consist, and at one point found that we were arriving at a station. People waiting to disembark blocked the aisle ahead, and so I stopped in the vestibule. The conductor, a woman in her late thirties or early forties, I'd guess, was standing in the open doorway looking out. She noticed me and asked if I'd move back into the carbody, as it would be safer for me and for her. I complied, of course, and we spent the time coming into New London chatting. She would be leaving the train in New Haven and returning to Boston about two hours later, probably on the northbound Twilight Shoreliner. She laughed that at the end of a near twelve hour day she was inclined to growl. I said that I didn't know how the service crew managed on long-distance trains, and asked when they slept. She replied that they weren't supposed to(!), and that it mystified her, too. She was friendly and competent, and a real credit to the railroad.
On my walk, it seemed to me that the train was about two-thirds full, even in Custom Class. I'm not sure about the sleeper compartments, though folks did board for those at stops throughout Rhode Island and Connecticut.
I turned in directly after returning, and was asleep before we got to New Haven. For the first time I slept in a Viewliner's top bunk, and it was a nice experience. The ceiling is more than high enough that my claustrophobia didn't kick in, unlike the bunks on the Portland, ME to Yarmouth, Nova Scotia ferry the Scotia Prince. I woke briefly around Stamford, because my pager (which I use for a travel alarm sometimes) woke me with its low-battery alarm. Argh. It seemed to take forever to turn it off, as I couldn't find the little bag on the wall provided for glasses and such very quickly. It's a little farther from the head and higher than I expected.
The next time I woke it was about 4:30 am, and we were probably pulling out of Wilmington, DE. I rested and dozed until a little before 5, and then headed for the shower. Steven intercepted me in the hall (that conductor may not have been kidding!) to tell me there was someone else there and that he'd call me when it was free. He did just a bit later, and then went off for the juices he'd asked about the night before. I decided to use the provided "Twilight Shoreliner" slippers, which were a little cheesy but serviceable for a short walk down the corridor.
Steven had also warned me that the mount which holds the hand-held shower had broken--had fallen on him, in fact, and "thank God it didn't hurt anyone." So I washed up and rinsed by waving it around, which certainly worked, and the bar which is placed for balancing aboard a moving train also served to keep the shower head out of the way when I needed two hands.
I came back and sent Evelyn off for her shower, and after dressing came the packing--getting out clothes for the kids, putting away overnight things, and calculating how quickly I could get two tired little ones dressed. Steven added a little bit to the confusion, as he came through looking for bags to put out in the vestibule earlier than he needed to--about ten minutes later he returned, saying that he'd got the time of arrival into DC wrong, and we had more time. But there still wasn't a lot of time to sit and drink my cranberry juice.
We arrived in Washington very close to the scheduled 6:15 am arrival, possibly a little early; I didn't check my watch. Steven was very helpful getting kids and suitcases down the steps onto the low-level platform. I reassembled the luggage carrier, and then we found we'd left one thing on the train: the plastic bag with hospital stuff in it. Evelyn returned for it, and off we went.
The locomotive had already been detached, but I'm pretty sure that the one I saw returning along a parallel track was the one which had hauled us from New Haven.
Note: as with the last time I rode the Twilight Shoreliner, the Twilight Lounge car's number does not appear on William K. Pou's Amtrak roster. Which reinforces my conviction that these two cars have been converted from something else--possibly the Lounge/Grill cars, but that's just a guess.
We now had a five hour layover in Washington, and our plans for it had been along the lines of "maybe we'll do this, maybe we'll do that." In particular, we had in mind some time in the park areas in front of the station, but weather was still damp, so we didn't. Instead, we drowsed for quite some time in the Metropolitan Lounge, to which our sleeping car ticket gave us access. We also wandered some around Union Station, beginning with breakfast in a 50's theme restaurant on the lower level.
You can find just about anything you want among the shops of Union Station, though to my distress there wasn't a barber shop. There's even a Great Train Store! Between napping, reading, shopping, and playing, the time passed comfortably before it was time to board the Cardinal.
I found something to worry about while I was there: the displays indicated that the train we would be returning aboard on Monday, the Crescent, was five hours late! I asked the Metropolitan Lounge attendant if that was common, because I had scheduled our Monday trains with a lengthy layover so that we could tour the city. He told me that a freight derailment had caused the delay, and that it nearly always ran on time. I let it comfort me as best I could!
[Next Section--to Charlottesville]