HOME   |  


APRIL 11, 2009   

More Grand Canyon trip pictures & commentary on this site from 4/11 to 4/20. Our travel tips and suggestions at From the Cuyahoga to the Colorado.

Drawing of train conductor scratched on paper cup dispenserTrain to Chicago...and beyond

On board the Southwest Chief headed west, a couple hours from Kansas City. The graffiti in the restroom is more good-humored than most.

We left Cleveland at 5:55 a.m. (three hours late) on the Capitol Limited and pulled into Chicago Union Station at noon. Apparently mechanical problems with the train's lounge car had caused the delay earlier in the trip.

We had only three hours in Chicago, but it was enough for a quick walk to Millennium Park where a couple of new sculptures have been added.

It was sunny, about 50 degrees but felt colder due to a brisk wind from the north. We paid a visit to "The Bean," the mirror-finished abstract sculpture that I just learned cost $23 million, up from its original $9 million price tag. I wonder if Chicago citizens who may have rightly been outraged by the enormous cost of Millennium Park now are grateful to have it. As a tourist I love it and visit every time I'm in town, but the folks whose taxes paid for it may not share my enthusiasm.

We had lunch at Corner Kitchen, one of my favorite spots, and bought extra bread to eat with the cheese and apples we brought from Cleveland. We walked back to Union Station in plenty of time to stand in line for about an hour before boarding.

Back on the train

The Amtrak "boarding experience" varies depending on the station and who's taking tickets. Generally it's pretty much of a rush to the door. Unlike airlines, Amtrak hasn't figured out a process to board by seat (not assigned in advance), destination or even group numbers like Southwest Airlines.

Writing on back of napkinI'm hoping that with the Obama administration sending more money Amtrak's way so that they aren't constantly on the edge of bankruptcy some of these things will be improved.

It's incredibly odd in this era of computers, barcodes and scanners to see the Amtrak train crew literally writing on the back of a napkin the number of chicken, pasta and seafood dinners sold to passengers. Is this any way to run a railroad?

I'm hoping that the next batch of equipment that comes online will include things like computerized displays of the train's location, arrival time, etc., similar to what you see on international flights. And maybe the dining car crew could use computers like restaurants in the real world.

Still and all, travel by train is great if you have the time. Joanne and I sat in the lounge car, her with a glass of white wine, me with a Sam Adams beer, and watched the Illinois cornfields roll by the windows. We stayed for a streaky orange sunset, then went back to our coach seats to eat cheese, apples, and bread.

Trash bin labelled for RecyclablesWe'll be on the train for almost another day, scheduled to arrive in Flagstaff around 9 p.m. Tomorrow the cornfields will eventually be replaced by desert as we go through Colorado and get to New Mexico near midday.

I was encouraged to see Amtrak taking steps to become more "green." In the Chicago rail yard I noticed signals powered by a combination of solar cells and small wind turbines. The baggage tractors had LED headlights. In this train's lounge car there's a place to recycle bottles, the first I've see on any train here or in Europe. So we're getting there.

Top   |      |    AddThis Social Bookmark Button





Video icon Video  Audio Audio

2009 APRIL