Alastair Majury on an Amtrak “Land Cruise”
In February 2018, Alastair Majury travelled around the USA by rail using some of Amtrak’s most iconic routes including the Capitol Limited, Southwest Chief, Coast Starlight, and the Empire Builder.
First up was the Capitol Limited from Washington DC to Chicago, the Wikipedia entry describes as follows:
The Capitol Limited is one of two Amtrak trains connecting Washington, D.C., to Chicago, running 764 miles (1,230 km) via Pittsburgh and Cleveland (the other is the Cardinal via Cincinnati and Indianapolis). Service began in 1981 and was named after the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad’s Capitol Limited which ended in 1971 upon the formation of Amtrak. It carries the Amtrak train numbers 29 and 30, which were previously assigned to the discontinued National Limited.
Between Washington and Pittsburgh, it mostly follows the historic B&O route along narrow river valleys hemmed in by steep slopes, including the upper Potomac, Youghiogheny, and MonongahelaRivers. Rail trails parallel much of this route, often on the opposite banks. The route straightens and levels out from Ohio onward.
- Amtrak Washington Union Station, part of the Northeast Corridor
- CSX Metropolitan Subdivision, Cumberland Subdivision, Cumberland Terminal Subdivision, Keystone Subdivision, Pittsburgh Subdivision, and P&W Subdivision, Washington to Pittsburgh
- NS Pittsburgh Line and Fort Wayne Line, Pittsburgh to Alliance
- NS Cleveland Line, Alliance to Cleveland
Which brought me to Chicago.
The next leg of the journey was then on the Southwest Chief from Chicago to Los Angeles. The wikipedia entry describes it as follows:
The Southwest Chief (formerly the Southwest Limited and Super Chief) is a higher-speed passenger train operated by Amtrak on a 2265-mile (3645 km) route through the Midwestern and Southwestern United States. It runs between Chicago, Illinois and Los Angeles, California, passing through Illinois, Iowa, Missouri, Kansas, Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona and California.
Unique among all long-distance Superliner trains, the Southwest Chief is permitted to run up to a maximum of 90 mph (145 km/h) along significant portions of the route because of automatic train stop installed by the Santa Fe railroad. Given Amtrak’s projected 41-hour travel time, the average speed is in excess of 55 mph (including stops).
<Videos to follow>
After seeing the famous ‘Rail Runner’ during the journey, the next stop was Los Angeles.
The next route was the famous Coast Starlight route though sadly the Parlour car had already been discontinued, which you can read more about here. The wikipedia entry has this to say about the route.
The Coast Starlight is a passenger train operated by Amtrak on the West Coast of the United States. It runs from Seattle, Washington, to Los Angeles, California, via the San Francisco Bay Area. The train was the first to offer direct service between the two cities. Its name is a combination of two Southern Pacific Railroad trains, the Coast Daylightand the Starlight. The train has operated continuously since Amtrak’s formation in 1971. Unique among Amtrak’s long-distance trains, up until February of 2018 the train featured a Hi-Level lounge for sleeping car passengers named the “Pacific Parlour Car.”
Until April 25, 1982 the Coast Starlight used Southern Pacific Railroad’s “West Valley Line” between Tehama and Davis, Californiawith a stop in Orland, bypassing Sacramento. It was rerouted to the line between Tehama and Roseville, east of Sacramento, via Chico. In southern California it had a stop in Glendale, later replaced by the current stop in Van Nuys which, unlike Glendale, has Amtrak staff for checking baggage. (Glendale had an Amtrak ticketing office until Amtrak discontinued the Coast Starlight’s stop there.)The route also passes directly on Vandenberg Air Force Base property next to the ULA and SpaceX launch pads, both visible to passengers aboard the train.
<Videos from Coast Starlight to follow>
Then it was an overnight stay in Seattle including a visit to the Space Needle.
The next stage was then the famous Amtrak Empire Builder taking the Seattle to Chicago route. This was featured in Extreme Trains.
This is what the wikipedia entry has to say about the route:
On June 11, 1929, the Great Northern Railway inaugurated the Empire Builder in honor of the company’s founder, James J. Hill. Known as “The Empire Builder,” Hill had reorganized several failing railroads into a transcontinental railroad that reached the Pacific Northwest in the late 19th century. Following World War II, Great Northern placed new streamlinedand diesel-powered trains in service that cut the scheduled 2,211-mile-trip between Chicago and Seattle from 58.5 hours to 45 hours.
The schedule allowed riders views of the Cascade Mountains and Glacier National Park, a park established through the lobbying efforts of the Great Northern. Re-equipped with domes in 1955, the Empire Builder offered passengers sweeping views of the route through three dome coaches and one full-length Great Dome car for first class passengers.
In 1970, the Great Northern merged with other railroads to form the Burlington Northern Railroad, which assumed operation of the Builder. One year later, Amtrak assumed operation of the train and shifted the Chicago–St. Paul leg to the Milwaukee Road route through Milwaukee along the route to St Paul.Before 1971, the Chicago–St. Paul leg used the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad’s mainline along the Mississippi River through Wisconsin. The service also used to operate west from the Twin Cities before turning northwest in Willmar, Minnesota, to reach Fargo.
The train passes through Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Illinois. It makes service stops in Spokane, Washington, Havre, Montana, Minot, North Dakota, and Saint Paul, Minnesota. Its other major stops include Vancouver, Washington, Whitefish, Montana, Fargo, North Dakota, and Milwaukee, Wisconsin. It uses BNSF Railway’s northern route from Seattle to Minneapolis, Minnesota Commercial from Minneapolis to St. Paul, Canadian Pacific from St. Paul to Glenview, and Metra from Glenview to Chicago.
The Seattle section uses the Cascade Tunnel and Stevens Pass as it traverses the Cascade Range to reach Spokane, while the Portland section runs along the north side of the Columbia River Gorge. The cars from the two sections are combined at Spokane. The train continues into the mountains in eastern Washington and northern Idaho. The schedule is timed so that the train passes through the Rocky Mountains (and Glacier National Park) during daylight — an occurrence that is more likely on the eastbound train during summer. Passengers can see sweeping views as the train skirts the southern edge of the park, crossing the Continental Divide at Marias Pass.
After three stops near Glacier National Park — Whitefish, Montana, West Glacier, Essex (a flag stop), and either East Glacier in the summer or Browning in the winter — the train enters the Northern Plains of eastern Montana and North Dakota. The land changes from prairie to forest as it travels through Minnesota. From Saint Paul Union Depot, the train crosses the Mississippi River at Hastings, Minnesota and passes through southeastern Minnesota cities on or near Lake Pepin before crossing the Mississippi again at La Crosse, Wisconsin. It passes through rural southern Wisconsin, turns south at Milwaukee, and ends at Chicago Union Station.
<Videos to be added>
Then there was a brief stop in Chicago before returning to Washington DC using the Capitol Limited as discussed earlier.
<Videos to follow>
Dining on Amtrak sleeper trains in the dining car (as oppossed) to the cafe car is with food freshly prepared in a kitchen below the dining level.
Dining on Amtrak is normally via ‘community dining’ where passengers share a table of four. This was a great way to meet people where I met someone travelling home to see his father who sadly was in hospital, a couple of nurses from Hawaii, another group from Hawaii on a special 40th birthday trip, people from elsewhere in the states leading to some good conversation. The final leg I met someone from Financial Services and the Barry Wood with great knowledge of Eastern Europe, and many other topics.
This was certainly a “Land Cruise” as one of my fellow passengers/dining companions put it of epic proportions, consisting of:
Capitol Limited 780 miles / 17.5 Hours
Southwest Chief 2,265 miles / 43 Hours 15 mins
Coast Starlight 1,377 miles / 34 Hours 45mins
Empire Builder 2,206 miles / 45 Hours
Capitol Limited 780 miles / 17.5 Hours
Meaning a total of 7,408 miles and approximately 158 hours not including delays, time at stations between trains, and overnight stays.
Alastair Majury resides locally in the historic Scottish city of Dunblane, and is a Senior Regulatory Business Analyst working across the country. Alastair is also a volunteer officer at the local Boys’ Brigade company, a charity which focuses on enriching the lives of children and young people, and building a stronger community. Alastair Majury also serves on the local council (Stirling Council) as Councillor Alastair Majury where he represents the ward of Dunblane and Bridge of Allan, topping the poll.
And the speeded up videos that are above: