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Old Apr 26, 12, 11:52 pm   #1
 
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Trip Report--Capitol Limited 22-23 April 2012

I had a great trip on Amtrak on 22-23 April 2012, Elkhart, Indiana (EKH) to Washington Union Station on Train #30, the Capitol Limited. I wanted to share a quick trip report.

I needed a one way ride back from northern Indiana, where my in-laws live, to my home in the DC area. I had been on the road for over a week, having flown to LAS on Delta to attend a convention, and having flown east to JAX to pick up my Roadtrek RV which spent the winter in Atlantic Beach, and drive it north.

I purchased a ticket through the AAA website, where I got a $20 member discount, and was able to buy a roomette for $219 all in (substantially less than the $350+ that Amtrak wanted a few days prior). The Capitol Limited is scheduled to depart EKH at 2053, and, at the twilightís last gleaming around 2057, it pulled in to the old New York Central station at the south end of Elkhartís downtown. I was quickly aboard car 3000, and the courteous car attendant helped me with a heavy suitcase and showed me to my compartment. He told me he had made a reservation for me for the late dinner seating, and I took my seat in the dining car while passing through Goshen, the Elkhart County seat. I had three excellent dinner companions; a husband and wife headed home to central Virginia; and a gentleman who had started his train trip in Albuquerque and was headed to the nationís capital. I ordered the crab cakes, and they were delicious. The dining car staff threw us out (with a smile) when we stopped at Toledo almost two hours later; they had taken very good care of us.

When I returned to my compartment my bed was made, and I was under the covers as the train reached the Maumee River bridge just east of Toledo station. I slept peacefully until Connellsville, Pennsylvania, about 7 hours later. In contrast to the fantastic weather I had experienced during the preceding week, we experienced the Noríeasterís effect in the Allegheny mountains, and by the time we reached the tunnel just east of the towns of Confluence and Rockwood there was at least four inches of snow on the ground. The snow did not deter the twin locomotives hauling the train, and, as we headed down the mountain, the snow let up, and, by Cumberland, Maryland, there was no snow on the ground.

After dining on sausage patties and a biscuit in the dining car (washed down with a couple decent cups of coffee), I moved down to the observation car, which had been renovated; half of the upstairs portion was now filled with tables and booth seating, as opposed to the seats that are parallel to the glass window walls which are still in the other half of the car. There were two electrical sockets on the wall just below the table top. I set up my laptop and my AT&T Elevate wifi hotspot, which worked quite well in the vicinity of Cumberland, 15 miles on either side of Martinsburg, and between Brunswick and Rockville, Maryland. I got some work done and got involved in some great conversations.

We pulled into Union Station 17 minutes early at 1223. I hadnít been on an Amtrak sleeper in a couple of years and had forgotten how much fun it is to ride. Iíll be back soon.
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Old Apr 27, 12, 6:17 am   #2
 
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I set up my laptop and my AT&T Elevate wifi hotspot...
Very nice; thank you for sharing! Just wondering... do the hotspots work all right on this route? I've been wanting to try it out some time, but the inability to get away from here without taking my work stuff with me has hampered the thought.

If I can take my ATT hotspot and go, however... well, then something might be able to be worked out...
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Old Apr 27, 12, 10:34 am   #3
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Very nice; thank you for sharing! Just wondering... do the hotspots work all right on this route? I've been wanting to try it out some time, but the inability to get away from here without taking my work stuff with me has hampered the thought.

If I can take my ATT hotspot and go, however... well, then something might be able to be worked out...
It's been a long while since I took the CL, but it does go through some pretty rugged terrain between Pittsburgh and Harpers Ferry. I wouldn't be surprised if there were some dead zones.

West of Pittsburgh should definitely be no problem, though.
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Old Apr 29, 12, 11:38 am   #4
 
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It's been a long while since I took the CL, but it does go through some pretty rugged terrain between Pittsburgh and Harpers Ferry. I wouldn't be surprised if there were some dead zones.

West of Pittsburgh should definitely be no problem, though.
I can vouch for this- there were some dead zones after Harpers Ferry when I took that route a year ago. But if you're going from DC, you should be able to sleep through most of the dead zones.
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Old Apr 29, 12, 3:41 pm   #5
 
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It's been a long while since I took the CL, but it does go through some pretty rugged terrain between Pittsburgh and Harpers Ferry. I wouldn't be surprised if there were some dead zones.

West of Pittsburgh should definitely be no problem, though.
+1

Starting at Point of Rocks, Md and from there to Cumberland, the line goes through a number of relatively short tunnels, but each time you go through a tunnel you're going to lose what signals are available including any 'regular' cell phone signals.

Once the line gets into central Pa, it runs mainly in a river valley, albeit it in a relatively isolated area.

Bob H
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Old Apr 29, 12, 10:06 pm   #6
 
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Hmm... having never been on one of the long distance routes, I'm getting tempted to do one just for fun. Any particular recommendation on routes? I'd like to do some sort of sleeper accommodation, if possible.
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Old Apr 29, 12, 10:30 pm   #7
 
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Hmm... having never been on one of the long distance routes, I'm getting tempted to do one just for fun. Any particular recommendation on routes? I'd like to do some sort of sleeper accommodation, if possible.
California Zephyr is a pretty good route- lots of beautiful scenery and it goes to the bay area which is a great place to visit too if you decide to do the entire route. Sleepers are a bit expensive, but worth it for the meals and shower.

I haven't done any other long distance routes, but everything I've seen always says that California Zephyr is the one to take if you want to do it for fun. The Rockies and Sierras are breathtaking; I've done it when it was snowy and when it didn't have any snow on the ground and enjoyed both.
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Old Apr 30, 12, 10:02 am   #8
 
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California Zephyr is a pretty good route- lots of beautiful scenery and it goes to the bay area which is a great place to visit too if you decide to do the entire route. Sleepers are a bit expensive, but worth it for the meals and shower.

I haven't done any other long distance routes, but everything I've seen always says that California Zephyr is the one to take if you want to do it for fun. The Rockies and Sierras are breathtaking; I've done it when it was snowy and when it didn't have any snow on the ground and enjoyed both.
Thanks! Yeah, I've heard similar good stuff about the Zephyr. Maybe a Winter 2012 trip out west?
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Old Apr 30, 12, 10:32 am   #9
 
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Nice trip report - I've never done a truly long distance train ride (in USA) but have often thought about doing it one of these days.
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Old Apr 30, 12, 11:29 am   #10
 
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Originally Posted by phillystudent View Post
Very nice; thank you for sharing! Just wondering... do the hotspots work all right on this route? I've been wanting to try it out some time, but the inability to get away from here without taking my work stuff with me has hampered the thought.

If I can take my ATT hotspot and go, however... well, then something might be able to be worked out...
As I noted, wifi access en route is sporadic:

which worked quite well in the vicinity of Cumberland, 15 miles on either side of Martinsburg, and between Brunswick and Rockville, Maryland.

The right of way east of Cumberland criss-crosses the Potomac River between Maryland and West Virginia, and wifi service is unreliable once you get about 15 miles east of Cumberland and then within 15 miles of Martinsburg (those two cities are 75 miles apart by rail). Going "west" of Cumberland, the right of way actually runs north along a stream called Mills Creek, and then makes a sweeping left hand turn going up Allegheny Mountain, passing through Hyndman, PA and then entering the tunnel at about 2,300' above sea level (this is the same mountain where the Allegheny Mountain Tunnel on the Pennsylvania Turnpike is; the rail route is about halfway between Interstates 68 (in MD) and 76 (the PA turnpike). On the west side of the mountain, the train follows the Casselman River past Rockwood, PA; this river flows into the Youghiogheny (sp) River (I think at Confluence, PA); then it follows the "Yough" (pronounced yawk) to McKeesport, PA, where it flows in turn into the Monongahela; the train follows the north/east bank of the Mon into Pittsburgh, and turns right onto a short line which connects the historic B&O and Pennsylvania RR lines (that short line has the University of Pittsburgh on the left and the Iron City brewery on the right), before reaching the Penna main line, which it follows into Pittsburgh's station (it crosses the Allegheny River immediately after that, turns left and passes PNC Park and Heinz Field stadia, then follows the Ohio River to around Rochester, PA, then runs up the Beaver River, then turns left and runs through I think Salem, OH, and definitely stops in Alliance, OH, before turning right to run to Cleveland).
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Old Apr 30, 12, 8:16 pm   #11
 
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Hmm... having never been on one of the long distance routes, I'm getting tempted to do one just for fun. Any particular recommendation on routes? I'd like to do some sort of sleeper accommodation, if possible.
heck i like them all....the CZ & EB are awesome and the Coast Starlight is also a lovely ride...

just do NOT have to be someplace at XX day and time....i've ridden often and had several bustitutions and late..VERY late arrivals....

that said, when i am on the train, i don't really care when i get there, as long as i get there....
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Old May 1, 12, 6:52 pm   #12
 
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Hmm... having never been on one of the long distance routes, I'm getting tempted to do one just for fun. Any particular recommendation on routes? I'd like to do some sort of sleeper accommodation, if possible.
I did a cross country trip last year and my favorite route was the Coast Starlight (CS). It was nice because you get the Pacific Parlor Car if you are in a sleeper, and the free wine tasting on both days was especially enjoyable.

Feel free to read my blog about my trip on trainsacrossamerica.blogspot.com.
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Old May 1, 12, 10:26 pm   #13
 
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Thanks! Yeah, I've heard similar good stuff about the Zephyr. Maybe a Winter 2012 trip out west?
To add on to what megtravels mentioned about late arrivals because Amtrak is notorious for being late-

Delays are much worse in winter so consider that when making travel plans. Like for example, I was going from NY to SF with a train change in Chicago (Lake Shore Limited to California Zephyr) and a freight train right front of my train fell into a frozen lake in Sandusky, Ohio due to icy tracks or something. Was stuck there for 5+ hours as they had to clear the tracks, was rather surreal to see the cargo cars floating in the icy water once we could move.

I ended up missing my connection but Amtrak put me up in a posh hotel and provided money for meals and the cab from and to the station. Then, I was hit by delays again on California Zephyr when a snowplow fell through some tracks in the Sierras! It was lucky that I missed my original train as the passengers on that train had to overnight in a hotel in Reno.

But it was still incredible and seeing the Rockies and Sierras covered with snow was gorgeous! Did have a whiteout in the Sierras, but it wasn't so bad. Be careful if you're checking luggage because your bags WILL get wet if going through snowy areas.

Don't let me scare you away from doing this though! I did it twice after that and loved it. And if your train is over 5 hours late, you get free food and drinks which helps a bit Sleeper passengers get extra meals if the delay means another dining time slot too
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Old May 2, 12, 6:42 am   #14
 
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Wow... thanks for all the suggestions everyone! Really appreciate it! I'll definitely consider one of the ones out west (CS/CZ seem to be high on the list), and thanks for the heads up on Winter travel, emika! I'll definitely have to take some time off and try to do this trip with enough time to spare on both ends; that'll make for a much more enjoyable and less stressful trip, I presume! Thanks again!
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Old May 2, 12, 7:29 am   #15
 
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Wow... thanks for all the suggestions everyone! Really appreciate it! I'll definitely consider one of the ones out west (CS/CZ seem to be high on the list), and thanks for the heads up on Winter travel, emika! I'll definitely have to take some time off and try to do this trip with enough time to spare on both ends; that'll make for a much more enjoyable and less stressful trip, I presume! Thanks again!
There's another reason not to take long distance trains in the winter time -- the days are shorter by hours, so you get to see less !

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