I marked off in order to attend the 2013 O Scale National Convention in Worcester, Mass. The headquarters hotel is a short walk from the Amtrak station. Thus a sleeper from Chicago to Worcester and return is in order, and I got my reservations in plenty early. Unlike five years ago, there now is a Boston sleeping car. But summertime is also track construction season on CSX, and setting a maintenance window so that it inconveniences the one passenger train a day is more profitable than delaying the intermodal trains. Thus I knew in advance that my journey would require the bus bridge from Albany to Worcester. Amtrak even refunded some of my fare, in recognition that a bus seat with no meal service is not first class.
The Lake Shore still runs on essentially the old New York Central Chicagoan schedule, and the carrier compensates for the absence of dinner in the diner by opening the train for boarding at 8 pm, and offering wine and snacks in the dining car. But to conserve on switching expenses at Albany, the train is marshalled with the Boston sleeper, Boston coaches, cafe car, New York coaches, diner, and New York sleepers. Thus a Worcester passenger has to walk to the front of the train, stow kit in the sleeper, walk back through all those coaches to the diner. And, run the gauntlet of boxes in the lounge, where provisions are being put aboard from a truck using the old mail platform. Since the lounge closes an hour or so out of Chicago "to prepare for our return to New York" and the rake sits in the coach yard all day, rather than covering some other train, this is an unacceptable practice. At least there's a Gewurztraminer on offer and some decent grapes and cheese and conversation at the diner.
Amtrak 448-48 Lake Shore Limited, Chicago to Worcester, 23-24 June 2013: Genesis diesels 46 - 11, baggage 1857, Viewliner sleeper 62045, Amfleet II coaches 25072 - 25019, cafe car 28004; Amfleet II coaches 25026 - 25008 - 25094 - 25115, diner 8552, Viewliner sleepers 62042 - 62015, baggage 1720; ME 2001 L&N office car Ohio River. Under way 9:30.22; dining crew closes the bar in order that they can get their rest before serving breakfast the next morning. Flying is "something out of Torquemada's dark mind" these days, and there's no convenient way to get to Waterloo or Bryan or Erie by air anyway, and all six coaches are full, apart from a few blocks of seats held for groups boarding along the line. The lounge car is not yet open, another unacceptable practice, as is the practice of securing an entire table for crew, and removing another table to provide space to stow luggage. Regular passengers, particularly passenger train advocates, might be understanding of or accepting of some of these things, but what impression does it give to the first-time or occasional traveller.
The sleeping car attendant is amenable to me using the upper bunk. In the Viewliners, the upper bunk has its own window, and that leaves plenty of room on the floor for my kit bag. A few years ago, stowing stuff in the space at the top of the room was easier than it now is. The Viewliner, however, makes the best use of the available space of any of the contemporary Amtrak sleeping cars.
Set watch ahead to Eastern Daylight Time. South Bend 12:04:50 - 12:08:53, Elkhart 12:29:09 - 12:31:58, time to sleep. Set alarm for 6:55. During the night, the danse macabre of the money-makers takes place. Forty-Eight is due out of Sandusky at 4:12 and Elyria at 4:51; Twenty-Nine out of Elyria at 3:29 and Sandusky at 4:02; and 49 out of Elyria at 4:18 and Sandusky at 4:55. Complicating this story problem is a Sandusky platform only on the north track and one Elyria platform on the south track and a large number of freight trains. One strength of Penn Central was in moving as much of the freight traffic as it could, including for Pittsburgh and Baltimore, onto The Water Level Route as far as Cleveland. Conrail had the funds to make that happen, and Norfolk Southern bought the parts of Conrail it did with that in mind. Somewhere in the middle of those freights, 48, 29, and 49 have to swap tracks, and it gets even messier if Thirty is running late. Norfolk Southern has requested that any Amtrak station rebuilds along its lines include a platform on each side of the tracks. That may be a good sign for Passenger Rail advocates, in that Norfolk Southern isn't anticipating a reduction of the national network back to one train on that route.
Sleep well enough, alarm rings, shower available, wash up and procure a coffee. Erie 7:18:28 - 7:28:56 (there are two platforms and four tracks (!) may actually be available), head to the diner for French toast and coffee, the latter had been reported unavailable first thing in the morning, arrive Buffalo 8:53:20, smoking and stretch stop allowed.
The trackage immediately to the east of the station reflects its New York Central past.
The station does not. Forty-Eight occupies the one available platform. That has to affect the pathing and scheduling of the Empire Corridor trains, four trips each way. It's a sobering thought that the two daily Empire Builders can both be in the Columbus, Wisconsin station at the same time, and that Hiawathas routinely meet at or near Sturtevant.
Leave Buffalo 9:07:57; another one-track station at Rochester, where the ruins of the former passenger platforms are easily observed, 10:07:02 - 10:12:47, Syracuse 12:02:35 - 12:12:44 (I have to wonder how much time is consumed with those on-platform ticket checks, rather than trusting passengers to have the proper transportation and lifting the tickets on board); Utica 1:05:22 - 1:09:30. Now begin a series of slow orders for extensive track maintenance in progress. When New York Central reduced to two tracks, it left the backbones of all the bridges in place. Schenectady 3:07:02, double stop, leave 3:16:23, held outside Albany station 3:35, arrive 4:02:19. I'm informed the trackage in the Albany area is to be reconfigured. Although there are six available platform faces, only two or three of them can be used at any time. The Boston section is separated and brought in first, the waiting areas are not adequate for the large crowd being held until the bus bridge (actually, the westbound buses to connect to 49) arrives, in the middle of the mix 244 makes its 4:15 departure for New York, then 48, which ordinarily precedes it, arrives to discharge its Albany passengers. Evidently nobody on 48 was holding tickets to Hudson or Rhinecliff for which a transfer to 244 is required.
It's raining as 48 leaves. In the foreground you see the one connecting track to Boston.
Shortly thereafter, 235 arrives from New York. The Worcester bus gets away at 5:20. I'm in the hotel at 8:30. There's an Uno Chicago grill adjacent to the hotel, seems like a logical place to catch game 6 of the Stanley Cup after getting the room sorted out. Looked like that game was headed for overtime, but boy did that place get quiet with about a minute left.