The 2008 O Scale Convention was in Worcester, Massachusetts, which offered an opportunity to do some research for the a-building model railroad as well as to evaluate some of Amtrak's eastern operations.
The services from the Lakes to the East Coast have almost always been the weakest parts of the Amtrak network, in part because of the railroad desert the carrier inherited from Penn Central, and in part because Amtrak management can't decide whether to be a corridor operator or a cruise train operator. Thus the traveler from Chicago east has the choice of a Cardinal by way of West Virginia, a Capitol Limited by way of Washington, D.C., or the Lake Shore Limited. The first two go the long way around. The third is a pale imitation of the New York Central's eponymous train, although it offers a few more amenities than Penn Central's 98-72, a coach-only service on a comparable schedule with a snack bar east of Buffalo.
Juist before the end, Penn Central offered three eastbound trains, a morning departure from Chicago with food service that added a Buffalo-New York sleeper, a midafternoon departure loosely on the New England States schedule with sleeping cars Chicago-New York and Detroit-New York, and the aforementioned late night coach-only service. The midafternoon train, sans the Detroit section, provided the pattern for the early version of Amtrak's Lake Shore. The more recent timing surrendered to the realities of sharing The Water Level Route with the freight traffic of two railroads as well as late arrivals of the western transcontinental trains. A coast-to-coast train trip is thus possible, with connections (rather than the hotel and the substitute service, often on Amtrak's dime) almost always made in Chicago. At Chicago, the train accepts passengers at 8 pm for the 10 pm departure, with a social hour available to sleeper passengers before departure. (This gesture may itself be an economy move as it permits the Chicago Metropolitan Lounge to close at 9 pm.)
The train itself was full. (The September issue of Trains hit my mailbox and Amtrak is again in the situation of having more riders than it can handle, with the possible loss of goodwill when delayed or overcrowded or unavailable trains induce riders to look more favorably on expensive gasoline.)
Amtrak Lake Shore Limited 48, Chicago - Albany, 21-22 July 2008: Genesis locomotives 182-166, baggage 1762 (a converted coach), Viewliner sleepers 62033 Scenic View, 62047 Village View, 62005 Cape View, Amcafe 28012 reconfigured as the diner, Horizon dinette car 53509 set up as the lounge, Amfleet II coaches 25046-25003-25087-25075, deadheading traditional diner 8521. The dinette car as lounge works well for card games but less well for swiveling in one's seat to sightsee or to mingle with other passengers. Crew quarters are mixed in with the revenue space in the lead sleeping car.
Leave Chicago on time, 10 pm. South Bend 12.32.48 - 12.41.06, Elkhart 12.59.23 - 1.01.12, turn in. Sleep quite well for a train, shower time comes somewhere west of Erie, Pennsylvania (that Nickel Plate track just outside the window on the south side of the train gives the location away.) Go to breakfast at Erie, leave 8.31.15, there's a railroad museum with a South Shore 800 at North East, Pennsylvania; Buffalo 10.07.50 - 10.17.06 (an hour faster than Penn Central 98, which also had 15 minutes to turn into 72, an Empire Service train). Rochester 11.16.25 - 11.21.47, new Amtrak station grafted into the old New York Central plant, complete with moldering round-end platform canopies beyond the current boarding area, Syracuse 12.41.54 - 12.48.28.
There's time to stretch at Syracuse. This high-level platform is the boarding facilities. A proper corridor ought to have provision for simultaneous use of the station by trains in both directions.
Go to lunch after Syracuse. Table companions are wondering about falling further behind schedule, with one person worried about 45 minutes alloted to the 19 miles Schenectady to Albany. These are passengers who have come from points west on Burlington and Santa Fe lines and the experience of being 30 minutes late at Naperville and early into Chicago registers. I note that it's a 110 mph railroad on the West Albany hill.
Utica 1.47.30 - 1.51.36 (these stops would be shorter if train crews would check tickets ON train rather than as passengers board); the Adirondack Scenic has some good looking cars and some rusty projects, including Metro-North FL-9 2031 in the yard; Schenectady 3.30.55 - 3.14.35 (no double stop, why this took so long I don't know); out of Schenectady the engineer skins it back and we're into Albany at 3.37.33 versus a scheduled 3.40 arrival, and yes, I timed a few miles at 110 down the hill.
There's a new station at Albany, no doubt built at great expense, and it's well cared for, but the plant is too small. Fory-eight is in the station from 3.40 until 4.55. (That's one way to deal with serious delays further west, but it occupies one of three platform tracks for a long time at a very busy time). The concourse above the tracks is not quite large enough for all the passengers stretching their legs or transferring to an Empire Service train that leaves at 4.05 or to the Boston connecting train that leaves at 4.10 let alone to accommodate the passengers arriving on 283, the midafternoon Niagara Falls train photographed arriving. (There is potential for some connectivity here: Poughkeepsie to Pittsfield without the joys of the Taconic Parkway. There are other connection possibilities through Albany, although I will defer those until the report on the return trip.) In the picture, 244 to New York is at left on the "main" track, with 448 to Boston behind it, 283 is arriving on 1 and 48 occupies 2. There will be another arrival at 4.50, just before 48 continues to New York.
The Boston connection is one Amcafe and two long-distance Amfleet I cars, and it's full. The train gets going at 4.30.02 (has nobody studied how the British make use of platform tracks to load and go in a hurry) although the very leisurely schedule permits recovery of most of the time lost, with an expeditious stop at Pittsfield, 5.30.24 - 5.32.55, Springfield 6.46.25 - 7.04.54 and some passengers changing trains for Connecticut, and Worcester 8.11.32. The Worcester station has been restored, although there aren't a lot of tenants.
It was in much worse shape at one time.
Thus the fun of getting there. The convention, and some other railroad investigations, are ahead.