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Washington D.C. By Train

Feb 17, 2009

by Robert Manning

Realizing that this may be the best funding period in Amtrak’s history, the RailPAC board of directors thought that we should have a hand in helping this come to fruition. RailPAC sent Dick Spotswood (RailPAC Secretary) and this writer to Washington D. C., in order to meet with senior Amtrak officials, members of our California Congressional Delegation and NARP in order to discuss the Amtrak stimulus package and how this may benefit California and Amtrak.

I decided that I should take the train because that was my purpose for going to Washington and I could schedule meetings along the way.

My trip started February 17, 2009 when I departed from Riverside, CA on the 2:24 PM Metrolink train for Los Angeles Union Station. I arrived at LAUS at 3:45p.m., in time for a meeting with Jack Rich Amtrak Director, Product Management and Ken Fiske Manager of Serviced Quality. We discussed at length the Sunset Limited and agreed to have further meetings regarding this train. Mr.Fiske then walked with me to track 11 where I was scheduled to depart on the Southwest Chief at 6:45 PM. Just before boarding the train I met RailPAC Vice President South, James Smith. After meeting Mr. Smith I boarded the train and we departed on time at 6:45PM.

My car attendant Tony had a dinner reservation for me at 7:15PM. The dining car steward (steward sounds better then LSA) Antoinette and Michael the waiter were very friendly and informal which made dining a very good experience. One very important point I have to make is that you always tend to meet many interesting and unique people while traveling on the train. I met two ladies Nancy from New York City and Maggie from Annapolis, Maryland. Both of these ladies take the train at least once a year across the country and back in order to visit family and friends. Like so many people I talked with on the train they all enjoyed the relaxed atmosphere, looking at the scenery and enjoying the diversity of our very large country.

I detrained Thursday February 19 at 10: AM in La Plata, MO., for my first scheduled meeting with Ray Burns President, of TrainWeb.com and also the headquarters of TrainParty.com. Ray met me at the station on a very cold, but sunny morning and drove me the Depot Inn and Suites Motel.

This is a very unique place. This motel has a train theme with many pictures and artifacts of trains and this is an exceptionally nice motel. I would have to rate this as a four star motel located in rural Midwest America.

Ray and I had lengthy discussion regarding Amtrak, long distance trains and the financial future for Amtrak and other train related issues.

I departed the next Friday morning at 10: AM on the Southwest Chief for Chicago, ILL., where I spent the night at the Downtown Homewood Suites Hotel. This hotel is used by Amtrak staff and “passengers that missed a connection”.

It had snowed all night and it was a very cold, snowy and windy Saturday.

My next train the Cardinal, departed on time from Chicago Union Station at 5:45PM. I had roomette 6 in car 5000 which is a single level Viewliner. The Viewliner has a toilet, a sink, and an upper level window for the upper bunk. I found that the upper bunk is larger then the lower bunk and the upper window provides for a less claustrophobic environment when using the upper bunk. The view liner roomette is larger and much nicer then the superliner roomette.

The dining car is also interesting. One half of this car is used as a lounge car and the other half of course is the dining car. After I boarded the train and went to the dining car for dinner, I was told by our waiter Kelly, no salads they were frozen and no mashed potatoes because they were not delivered to the train, but we have everything else.

I met another very interesting pretty young woman, Susan who was recovering from a brain Aneurysm. This young lady from Northern California was traveling across the country by train, visiting friends and family in Pennsylvania and the New Mexico area. Susan related a very interesting story regarding the impact of her Aneurysm resulting in her partial impairment and gave me the following website:

http://aneugal.wordpress.com

My car attendant James was a very caring person and he especially looked out for Susan. The dining car staff Kelly and Elizabeth both went out of their way to accommodate all passengers and especially Susan.

The Cardinal arrived on time Sunday February 23, around 6p.m., to a very cold, windy Washington D.C.

Dick Spotswood and I met early Monday Morning, discussing our agenda and meeting plans.

We first met with Amtrak Vice President of Transportation, Richard Phelps. Mr. Phelps was obviously energized and very enthusiastic with the recent overall funding of Amtrak. Richard talked about the bright future for passenger rail, discussing some possibilities for added passenger service in California and long distance trains. After a lengthy discussion we were introduced to Mr. Emmett Fremaux , Amtrak’s Vice President of Marketing & Product Management. Mr. Fremaux was also very excited about Amtrak’s financial future and we all talked in detail regarding the future of the Sunset Limited and other long distance train possibilities.

We were then introduced to Mr. Joseph Boardman the President and CEO of Amtrak. I must say that Mr. Boardman was very gracious and talked very positively regarding the future of Amtrak. This was and exceptionally great Monday!

Tuesday morning was again a very cold, windy day in Washington D. C.

Dick and I met at the Cannon Building for a meeting with Congresswoman Mary Bono Mack who represents the 45th District which includes the Coachella Valley. The Congresswoman who was apparently ill from the cold-flu bug was very kind to meet with us even though she was not feeling well. The Congresswoman who is a conservative Republican stated that she does support passenger rail service to the Coachella Valley. The Congresswoman did support the Amtrak Reauthorization Bill, this past June.

She was one of only seven Republicans to do so and I thanked her for her very important vote.

We then met with Congresswoman Jackie Speier from the 12th District which includes San Mateo and portions of San Francisco. The congresswoman was an old friend of Dick Spotswood and stated she is a very strong supporter of passenger trains and showed us a model of a Cal Trains “Baby Bullet”locmotive with her name on the engine. This very nice lady was obviously extremely proud of this train and “she is reason this train exists”. The Congresswoman went on to say how she is a very strong supporter of rail service and that she would do her best to help us in the future with any rail related project. The Congresswoman also expressed her strong admiration for Sam Trans Commissioner Art Lloyd who is also RailPAC Vice President North.

Our next meeting was in the Hart Building with Senator Barbara Boxer’s Legislative Assistant, Bridget Petruczok. Bridget stated that she new who we were and that the Senator strongly supports passenger train service. Bridget also stated that she handles transportation issues and that she would be the contact person and would provide any help that she possible could.

Our next meeting was again in the Hart Building with Senator Dianne Feinstein’s legislative assistant Matthew Nelson. Mr. Nelson stated that the senator is an avid supporter of passenger rail and that he believes California needs more rail service and that if our organization has a specific project we should go thorough him and that he will help us if he can.

Our last meeting was with Congresswoman Lynn Woolsey, from the 6th District (Marin and Sonoma County) whose office is located in the Rayburn Building. Congresswoman Woolsey is an ardent supporter of passenger rail and talked about her support of the recently passed SMART (Sonoma Marin Area Rail Transit) project which will provide passenger rail service between Sonoma and Marin Counties. The Congresswoman stated that California needs more rail service and that she would support our efforts in that area.

We finished the day meeting with Ross Capon Executive Director of NARP. (National Association of Railroad Passengers) Ross talked about some of the partial funding for Amtrak and how the new funding (yet to be decided) may impact on Amtrak’s future. We also discussed Amtrak’s future and the present long distance train and scheduling.

An interesting note regarding the NARP office is that it is located directly behind Washington D.C., Union Station. At this location you can see the many trains including local commuters as well as the many Amtrak trains coming and going. With the maze of overhead electrical (catenaries) wiring for many of these trains this is truly something to see.

I have to admit that I was surprised at the level of support that we received from our California Congressional Delegation, all of whom supported this badly needed passenger train service.

I was also very pleased at the kind reception and the enthusiasm by the Amtrak officials who were genuinely excited at the bright prospects for Amtrak’s Future and the many good things to come.

I arrived at the Washington D.C. Union Station around 4:30 p.m., Wednesday so I could drop off my bags at the Metropolitan Lounge, have a snack and walk around the station. I was due to leave on the Crescent at 6:30p.m., on my way to New Orleans for a meeting with John Sita, who chairs the SMART (Sunset Marketing and Revitalization Team) organization.

While I was walking around the station near the boarding platforms, I met Amtrak Chief of Police, John O’Connor who was in full uniform. As a retired California police officer we had a great conversation. As we were talking, up walked Richard Phelps. (Amtrak Vice President of Transportation) After a brief conversation I walked out to the platform and observed a number of private railroad cars and met M. Diane Elliott, who was hosting a private party for the American Association of Private Railroad Car Owners. After a brief talk I realized I had only ten minutes to catch my train in an extremely crowded train station. I retrieved my bags and boarded the Crescent, which departed on time. I had Viewliner Roomette 1 in car 1910 and a 7p.m., dinner reservation. My sleeping car attendant was Marcia, and the other sleeping car attendant was Claude. Both of these people worked very well together. You could ask either one for assistance because they worked as a team and both were very good.

At 6:45p.m., I walked into the diner and was seated next to a German couple who were going to spend a few days in New Orleans before boarding their next train the Sunset Limited going to Palm Springs, CA. Well, we had a lot in common, because I live in Palm Springs. After dinner I walked the train which I usually do before going to bed. I remember sleeping very soundly only waking up once. The next morning I was told that in the middle of the night the train hit a man who was laying on the tracks. And this guy was still alive when the ambulance picked him up! Anyway the train was several hours late and later in the day we were delayed again by freight train that stalled right in front of us. As a result we arrived into New Orleans close to 10: p.m., two and a half hours late. I was talking via cell phone with John Sita and due to the late arrival we just continued our conversation by phone the next day.

After a good nights sleep at the Holiday Inn in downtown New Orleans, I departed on the Sunset Limited the next day. I had roomette 9 in car 0130, and a wonderful car attendant, Alicia. Actually the entire staff on this train especially the dining car staff did a very good job.

The second night when we were some where in Arizona the train was delayed for about an hour due to a broken rail. Then the next morning as we were traveling in California adjacent to highway 111, the train stopped and was boarded by the US Border Patrol. Border Patrol Agents walked through the train with two dogs and removed an apparent “illegal”. We then arrived into the Palm Springs Station at 7:30 a.m. With the new unpublished schedule the Sunset Limited is due to arrive into Palm Springs at 6:07 a.m.

Over all this was a very productive and enjoyable trip.

Several things I would like to add regarding Amtrak:

  1. The menu was the same on every train, only the Cardinal did not offer oatmeal for breakfast. The food was okay.
  2. The equipment is worn out! Some curtains were torn, worn out and some would not close. The carpets were worn and stained the gaskets were coming off the bathroom doors, door locks would not work. I could go on and on, the equipment needs to be rebuilt.
  3. Three coach cars for one attendant DOES NOT WORK!
  4. One lone cook/chief in the dining car DOES NOT WORK WELL!

Robert Manning

















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