The Multi Modal Adventure Winds Down 11/11/2014

Chicago. Not as cold as I feared it would be. And we got in pretty much on time. Like, the 1st time that's happened in several months. There have been chronic and severe delays on this line and one other, mostly due to freight train congestion between Toledo and Chicago. ,

For those of you who don't follow this sort of thing, back in the early 70's when there was discussion of creating Amtrak, the deal went sort of like this: Railroads were required to provide passenger service, but were steadily losing ridership and revenue to the airlines. Congress came along and said, "Hey, we'll create a national passenger rail service, so you freight carriers can be relieved of the obligation to lose money on passenger service, and concentrate on your profitable freight hauling business. All we ask is that you give that new company priority access to your rail lines, so they can maintain their schedule integrity". The rail companies, eager to bail out of the passenger service mandate, agreed. And have been fighting against complying ever since. This particular current issue in the midwest is being driven by the need to haul all that shale oil from the Dakotas across to Pennsylvania. Freight lines are at capacity, and the lines are leaving fully loaded freight trains sitting on the track for lack of crews to operate them. They need to train crews, or build sidings, or both. But in the meantime it's pretty chaotic for the Capitol Limited and the Lake Shore Limited out of New York, with 4 hour delays being average, and 8-10 hours not uncommon.

BUT - That lack of a lounge car I was bemoaning earlier? Somehow that figures in to the solution, for Amtrak, anyway. They've created a spare "consist" (train speak for the types/numbers of cars linked together on a route), so that when an arriving train is late, it can go in to service and the departure will be on time. Obviously, if you have a 6 hour turnaround, and your 8 hours late getting started, etc, it snowballs. This avoids that, and apparently it's working, as delays in the last couple weeks have gotten better. Sadly, there just isn't enough rolling stock in good repair to make the new consist the same as the old, so we're stuck with that stupid lounge/diner combo thing. But, like I said - it got us to Chicago on time, so I guess it's a solution.

At Union Station in Chicago, I checked my bags, headed out in to a brisk and breezy morning, called Uber and headed over to the Omni Hotel, which I thought was the site of a travel trade show, where I was planning to just hang out for a bit and say hi to some people. When I got there, no show! So I took the time to go online and see that is was clearly at the Chicago Hilton. No idea why I thought otherwise. So, I stepped outside to call another Uber, started talking to the doorman, and the Omni's driver overheard, asked me if I wanted a ride to the Hilton, because she was headed that way to make a pickup, and off we went in the limo. Nice. Sadly, no one out front at the Hilton to appreciate my grand entrance.

But I did go in, say hi to a few people, have a little coffee in the lobby, etc. Hung out there til 11:30 or so, when I decided to Uber back to Union Station. Stopped in Arturo's right across the street for a great little sub sandwhich, chips and a drink for $7 deal. The sandwich was excellent. Then over to the train station, where I checked the mobil app and see they have finally dropped the price on accomodations (about 2 hours before departure), so I quick ran to the ticket counter to get myself a roomette. Two nights sitting up in Coach class is enough. Spent the rest of the 2 hours pre-train in the Metropolitan Lounge (another nice perk of having a room, if you're Amtraking it thru NY, DC, LA or Chicago). Nice comfy seats, electric outlets everywhere, free wifi, a couple of computer stations, a place to store your bags, and some chips and fruit along with a soda fountain, put it miles ahead of the regular boarding areas. And you get to slip out the back door to board your train, before the coach passengers get on.

So, I got onboard the Southwest Chief, found my room, and got all nested in. Tight quarters, but more than adequate for a solo traveler. It just takes a while to get everything in it's proper place. Everything being a laptop on the folding table, the tablet/hotspot in the window tray, and the phone on the opposite seat so everything can be plugged in and charging from a single outlet. My neighbor across the hall, Dave, and I chatted a bit. But mostly I've been just chilling in here, getting some writing done, etc. I did venture out for dinner which was another steak, nicely prepared, and some cheesecake for dessert.

Yeah, it's boring. But on purpose. In fact, I think I'll close this blog series out now. It's almost 8am, I am in La Junta Colorado, and I can already tell you how it ends. I am going to sit here most of the day, with a couple of runs for coffee or whatnot, and type type type as Colorado gives way to New Mexico, with the Raton Pass being the only visually interesting section. I'll probably video that. Then Albuquerque, I'll get off and stretch my legs, as we have a half hour there. Back on board, and it will be dark before we get to Arizona, and I'll be home at 4 or 5 Wednesday morning in Victoreville. And it will all be boring. On purpose. Because every once in a while some of us just need to really get away, and be alone with ourselves.

However, those times make sucky material for a blog. So, adieu til next time - probably end of this month when I am cruising on the Norwegian Getaway!

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