The first time I rode the train was 41 years ago, traveling from le ave in San Antonio through Kansas City to Indianapolis, where I was attending DINFOS. I remember waking up in the middle of the night to find the train stopped. I went back to sleep. The train was late enough that I finished my journey on bus. I don’t buy a train ticket to ride the bus.
I should not have been surprised, then, to experience a series of unfortunate delays on the Texas Eagle between San Antonio and Chicago.
First, we stopped south of Fort Worth while crews moved a broken freighter off the tracks ahead of us.
In Fort Worth, an injured worker on our train necessitated a visit from an ambulance and EMTs. We were told there would be no lounge car service for the remainder of the trip.
Once a train is off schedule, it needs to accommodate other traffic to keep them on time. So we would frequently stop until we found our rescheduled place in queue.
The travel itself was quite pleasant. The legroom in coach is expansive, with a tray table that pulls out. I was transcribing interviews and – since there was no one sharing my space) able to use both tables and work productively. I slept ok, including naps, though I lost my sleep mask early in the trip. I woke at 4 a.m. Thursday morning and went to the observation car to try shooting video of the sunrise.
I worried about whether we would make our connection in Chicago, where I would change to the Cardinal and travel to Indianapolis. My previous schedule said there would be a 3-4 hour layover in Chicago, enough time to walk down and see the Willis (Sears) Tower. We arrived with about 15 minutes to spare.
I should not have been surprised. Amtrak data shows that the Eagle averages 136 minutes late, so our 202 minutes was not unusual.
The schedule says I have a longer layover on the July 9 trip from Indy to New York Penn. If that turns out to be true, I will subway to the Art Institute and back. In New York, I have an overnighter both directions. I will blog that journey as well, but before I disembark, let me offer some tips:
Do not check your bags. You do not want to spend time waiting for them, and it’s nice to have all of your stuff available on demand.
Balance your load. I had one bag with clothes, and my backpack with electronics. The backpack was too heavy. On the next leg, I am going to put the laptop in the clothes bag.
Buy the comfort kit. Amtrak offers a kit with a blanket, an inflatable pillow, eye mask and ear plugs. You will like having these things.
Pack a lunch and a readily-accessible toiletries kit. Food on the train is not gourmet, but it is edible (avoid the snack bar in the lounge). Breakfast and dinner are a little more expensive in the dining car, but the food is hot and alcohol is available. I will carry cookies, a sandwich or two, fruit and bottled water on my subsequent trips. You will also want a toiletries bag – tooth care, brush, and personal moistened towels for armpits and other odor-producing areas.
Do not try to span two seats when sleeping. It will seem tempting to stretch out, but the ridge between the seats is painful. Your seat reclines without disturbing the person behind you, and your pillows (I carry an extra standard size pillow from home) will enable you to stretch out in your own seat.
The roomettes and family rooms are probably worth the extra money. If I was traveling with a comely companion, I would probably get a room. The larger ones have showers, there’s coffeemakers in your room, and meals are included.