ALB-ATL Trip Report

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ALB-ATL Trip Report

Postby Greg Moore » Thu Feb 21, 2013 5:32 pm

Once again it's time for my nearly annual sojourn to the northwest corner of Georgia. (Though I think this now makes 3 in the last calendar year alone, at least by train).

The leg ALB-NYP was uneventful. As is my usual experience, train 280 was a bit late arriving at ALB and departed a bit late. It did arrive nearly on time to NYP however. This train starts I believe in Buffalo.

In ALB, it appears to have picked up a full, or nearly full contingent of passengers.
Personally I'd rather leave Albany at 11:05 AM or so rather than 10:05 AM for this trip to reduce my layover in NYP, but alas, Amtrak seems to want a greater than approximately 45 minute layover for this connection. Honestly, given the choice I'd have preferred the later train. Oh well.

However, the upside is once my baggage is checked at NYP, I have time to run over to a deli near the Javitts Center that has a Mongolian BBQ and pick up lunch. Quite tasty.

I did almost have one issue with checking one bag. One goal of my trips is to get some caving in, especially vertical caving. So I bring that equipment with. Due to the bulk or heft, after accepting my gear, the checked baggage attendant asked me what was in the bag. I explained "caving equipment." He thought for a second and wondered if he was actually permitted to accept that. I assured him I had been doing this for about 10 years and never had a problem (and a review of Amtrak's Checked Bag policy confirms that nothing in my cave duffel is a problem.)

Once the bag was checked and lunch gotten, I went to the Club Acela. This is my last week to use it as my Select Plus membership expires in a week and since my job situation changed 20+ months ago, I have not traveled nearly as much by train (and even then mostly by USING points). If I'm lucky, I'll have enough travel by the end of the year to make "Select" status, but I certainly won't be making Select Plus or Select "Executive" this year. Oh well.

Unfortunately, once again the ClubAcela lounge WiFi proved to be unusable. This has been a constant gripe of mine and I no longer complain since other than rebooting the router (which generally doesn't fix it for very long) it gets no response.

However, the advantage of boarding early is still a big plus of using the lounge and as usual I took advantage of that. Though, it turns out it was hardly needed since as of this moment (pulling into BAL) the ATL car is probably 1/2 empty. So even without early boarding I would have had a choice of seats.

For a change, since it's the front most car on the train (behind engine 659) I decided to sit one row from the front. This gives me a window, but means no more than 4 people passing me in the middle of the night. The ride is a bit rough though sitting right above the trucks however. Oh well. I'll survive :-)

The car attendant has been very friendly and attentive. This has been a pet peeve of mine on these trips in the past is often I have ended up with a car attendant who appears to wish to do the bare minimum. He has been on top of trying to handle the warmth (way to warm when first boarded, I changed into a t-shirt in fact) of the car before we left and while en-route. In addition, he has been handing out pillows to new passengers at each stop. At first this made me think he was actually trying to avoid doing it later, but then I realized it actually creates MORE work for him, but provides passengers with pillows far earlier to use. And why not, we're going to use them when we sleep, why not use them earlier?

We just left BAL and appear to be headed for an on-time arrival at WAS.

I have a dinner reservation for 8:15 PM. I hope the steak and potato is available. But I prefer the later seating so I'm not rushed and can enjoy the dinner and the view longer, so I'll risk stuff running out.

Oh I should note, this is one of the rare occasions I've seen someone from the diner come through the train early to get reservations. However, I have not seen him since then (near NYP). But any effort they can make to get coach passengers into the diner, the better in my opinion. (The Crescent diner often seems far less patronized than what I used to see on the LSL for example.)

That's all for now.
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Re: ALB-ATL Trip Report

Postby Greg Moore » Thu Feb 21, 2013 6:52 pm

Quick follow-up, now in WAS. Lost our electric engine and now 72 is being connected. Definitely notice the jolt a bit more in the front car than the back of the train :-)

Running a little behind schedule I believe, but soon to be on our way. They're connecting the air and electric now.

Definitely a few newcomers on the train.

As of now, still have my seat to myself, which if it stays this way will make the trip that much more pleasant.
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Re: ALB-ATL Trip Report

Postby hi55us » Thu Feb 21, 2013 9:22 pm

Greg Moore wrote:As of now, still have my seat to myself, which if it stays this way will make the trip that much more pleasant.


If I ever make it big, I look forward to the day when I can buy 2 tickets to keep the seat next to me empty! Perhaps I could encourage the ticket agent to sell it at a child fare!
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Re: ALB-ATL Trip Report

Postby Greg Moore » Thu Feb 21, 2013 9:32 pm

Well, finished dinner, settling in for a night in coach. (Sorry Mr. Norman, my budget still prevents sleeper both ways, though I will admit to starting to think about flying this leg instead.)

I will say for an 8:15 dinner reservation, the diner was perhaps the best patronized I've seen it. I think this is good. (it was about 1/3rds to 1/2 full).

However, despite a reservation, I must say, the greeting I received was a bit less then cheerful and almost perfunctory. This was unfortunately a prelude of the service to come.

I ended up being seated with the young woman who happens to be sitting in the coach seat across from me. One of the reasons I generally enjoy the dining car is for the chance to meet new people and talk. While she was friendly enough, it was clear that this would not be one of those evenings that would be remembered for its conversation. (I will note I once had the chance to meet the former host of the APM's program Pipedreams on the LSL about a decade ago.)

In any case, given that my bank account was a tad flush, and that I had failed to order one in awhile, I decided to order the steak.

It took a bit of time to get our waiter to attend to us, and despite personally haven taken my reservation in coach, confirming it when I arrived and seating me, he still wasn't sure if I was in coach or sleeper. While this may seem like a small detail, it is the sort of detail that elevates service from the mundane to the special.

When the salad arrived, I must say, it definitely looked smaller than I recall in the past. I don't know if the size of the bowl has shrunk (thus saving plastic, hurray!) or the bowl AND the salad have shrunk or it was just my imagination, but it definitely seems smaller. And again, while not horrible, not great. It was clear that by the time my salad was being made, the ends of the romaine hearts were left over, I received more of them than I would prefer. Again, not an end of the world event, but one of those small details that I think makes a difference. (and as an added thought, tossing a couple of coupons on might not be a bad idea. But that's neither here nor there.)

I was a bit trepidatious when ordering my steak. I've had some very good steaks on Amtrak and some not so good ones. I ordered it rare as is my want, but quite frankly expected to arrive medium-rare or even medium. Fortunately, the cook was paying attention and the steak arrived rare. (Though as an afterthought, a bit warmer on the outside would have improved it a bit. But that is a very minor nit). Unfortunately the potato appears to have been finished off in the microwave and as a result the skin did not have a nice crisp feel to it and the innards, while hot were starchy. Amtrak, you can definitely do better on the potato. Especially for a dish as expensive as this one.

The vegetable medley was cooked perfectly, definitely not overdone as is often the case. Firm, crisp and warm. I'm not a big fan of vegetable medleys (in this case carrot, I think squash, some string beans and other vegetables) but I enjoyed this. So well done. Definitely up to the level I'd expect for this meal.

Now, back to the steak. I would have preferred starting it a few minutes earlier, but despite the promise of a steak knife being on its way, it did not arrive. I had to flag someone down to make sure I received my knife.

The first bite, was well, underwhelming. Perhaps because it was too big (due to impatience this one was cut with my butter knife). I was a bit saddened, but decided to preserver. I am glad I did. From there the bites only got better. Not listed on the menu, but appearing on the top in the steak sauce (a "signature Morel Wild Forest Mushroom" per the menu) were some finely diced red onions pieces. Their sharp flavor contrasted nicely with the deep, woody undertones of the sauce and the flavor of the meat.

I was saddened to see the steak disappear piece by piece as I truly enjoyed it. Unfortunately, I normally enjoy dipping my potato skin the remaining steak sauces, but in this case, the skin wasn't up to snuff so that part of my meal was not as good as I might have hoped.

By then I was regretting not taking the menu's suggestion and ordering some wine with the meal. Alas, that was not in my budget, but I think a Cabernet Sauvignon would have paired wonderfully with this steak. For those who don't like the deepness of a Sauvignon, the Merlot may have made a fine substitute.

So, the final verdict. Would I normally pay this much for a similar meal in a restaurant. Perhaps. I do feel it's a bit overpriced. Would I pay this price for this exact same meal no. The potato was definitely a weak point, and as the cheapest part of the meal is perhaps the one that could be improved the most. I also found the service to be, in a word lackluster.

Don't get me wrong, I definitely enjoyed the meal and the steak was very good, but a few minor details could have elevated the experience from very good to great.
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Re: ALB-ATL Trip Report

Postby MattW » Thu Feb 21, 2013 11:14 pm

Did you hear why #19 was delayed 40 minutes getting into Alexandria? Today doesn't seem to be a great day for the Crescent, #20 lost almost two hours between Birmingham and Anniston as well.
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Re: ALB-ATL Trip Report

Postby Greg Moore » Thu Feb 21, 2013 11:29 pm

MattW wrote:Did you hear why #19 was delayed 40 minutes getting into Alexandria? Today doesn't seem to be a great day for the Crescent, #20 lost almost two hours between Birmingham and Anniston as well.


Not sure, I think we got into WAS a bit late and it seemed our engine swap took longer than expected. (watched a bit from the front of the car I was in.)
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Re: ALB-ATL Trip Report

Postby Greg Moore » Fri Feb 22, 2013 9:22 am

As I always find in coach, the seats (even when you get lucky and have 2 to yourself) are not entirely uncomfortable but not quite comfortable enough either.

Thinking about it, I think while the leg rests are nice, they're a bit too short so you end up with pressure on your calves, not your heels. And while I appreciate the seat s leaning back, a bit more would be even nicer. That said, I did manage to get a decent amount of sleep considering.

The one trick I found a few years ago that really makes a difference and I was lucky to remember this year is to bring my own small pillow. I use that for my head and the tiny one Amtrak provides for the small of my back. Makes a HUGE difference. (and I of course bring a light-weight bag to toss over me to help with any concerns in regards to the heat.)

I woke up a tad late for breakfast, but that was fine. Ended up having a fine conversation with an older couple from Maryland. So while not a conversation to remember, definitely better than last nights.

As usual I enjoyed the cheese omelette, potato wedges (though I think the home fries would be a better choice) and juice and croissant. I do think the price for this is definitely far above its value though.

We were running late as it was but when I returned to my coach seat, we soon came to a stop. After a couple of inaudible announcements we finally heard one we could hear. There was a tractor trailer across the tracks ahead of us.

And now we're moving and soon this trip will come to an end. (I still have my usual rant about the Atlanta station, lack of a rental car agency and all that, but that's just old by now).

Have a good weekend all.

If I'm up to it, I'll follow-up with my ATL-PHL segment Sun/Mon.
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Re: ALB-ATL Trip Report

Postby Greg Moore » Sat Feb 23, 2013 1:42 pm

KEN PATRICK wrote:greg: i don't understand. Southwest has 6 flights/day alb-atl. probably 4 hours total with a stop in baltimore. I suspect the airfare from alb-atl was probably about the same as your amtrak dinner. And hartsfield has a plethora of car rental companies. It also offers a brief rail experience riding between the terminals. so why use amtrak? help me understand. Ken Patrick


No the cost would have easily been $100 more when all factors are considered. And addition, creates the additional inconvenience of having to coordinate between the Albany-Rensselaer train station and Albany International for my car (since I will be actually detraining on Monday in PHL for work purposes and then taking the train back from PHL-ALB on Tuesday).

In addition, since I have the time and I can work electronically from the train, and I enjoy most of the travel process there's no point in spending extra money to arrive early. Though I'll admit it was tempting.
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Re: ALB-ATL Trip Report

Postby merrick1 » Sun Feb 24, 2013 1:37 pm

hi55us wrote:If I ever make it big, I look forward to the day when I can buy 2 tickets to keep the seat next to me empty! Perhaps I could encourage the ticket agent to sell it at a child fare!


Is there any guarantee that the conductor wouldn't seat someone next to you even if you had two tickets?
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Re: ALB-ATL Trip Report

Postby mtuandrew » Sun Feb 24, 2013 2:26 pm

KEN PATRICK wrote:I'm a free market advocate. Ken Patrick

We've noticed. :razz: It's a shame that you keep falling back on that single "burn it all and let God and/or Rand Paul sort it out" argument, since RAILROAD.net's forums are home to many other free-market advocates who turn their criticism into good discussions. I'm particularly thinking of Cowford and his healthy back-and-forths with gokeefe, but others (including several moderators) share those traits.
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Re: ATL-PHL return segment

Postby Greg Moore » Sun Feb 24, 2013 11:05 pm

Trying to get this discussion back on track:

So tonight I began my trip back from ATL to PHL for this leg.

For the first time I can recall, the Crescent actually arrived in ATL about 15 minutes early.

One change I've noticed over the years that I can't understand is where they stop the train.

Previously the train would stop to the point where the engine(s) were under the road bridge and the front cars were at the very least even with the bottom of the boarding stairs. At least once, when they were still running sleeper cars first, I actually had to walk toward the head of the train to board my sleeper. The last few trips, the train has been stopped 1-2 car lengths from the bottom of the stairs. This means in the best case scenario you have to walk 3-4 car lengths (1-2 nothing, 1-2 engines (like tonight had 2) and then the length of the first car to get to the open vestibule.

It's really not clear to me why the train doesn't pull forward 4-5 car lengths as it would greatly decrease the distance (and hence the time) it takes for people to get to the stairs. As it was, being in car 2011, I had to walk quite a ways. Not that I minded, but some of that length did seem unnecessary.

And I'll comment in another thread if I remember to, about checked baggage.

Oh, I should comment also that the side street by the station now is completely closed, which makes getting to/from the station a real pain if you're arriving by car (which for most folks is pretty much the only way to do so.) Atlanta, I will quote one of my dinner companions, "They should be ashamed of their station."

I have met Tina, a 25 year veteran of Amtrak (if that's accurate, I believe she must have started working onboard in violation of child-labor laws at the age of 10!)

She has already proven herself to be a consummate professional. She arrived within minutes of the promised time to do my bed. Has given me all the water I could want and offered a wake-up call (for better or for worse I no longer require them!)

I will comment in general most of the sleeping car attendants I've encountered have been very good (especially considering they have in my opinion one of the harder customer facing jobs.)

I headed down to dinner and ended up sitting across from a woman who was from Alexandria who had traveled to Atlanta for her daughter's wedding shower.

In the dinner, the service was a marked improvement from my trip down. I was warmly greeted, quickly sat and my waiter, David, introduced. I was debating between a repeat of the fine steak I had or the BBQ ribs on the menu. I'm often a fan of BBQ ribs, but rarely eat them and didn't want to "waste" a meal on them when I knew how good the steak could be.

But, on the advice of David, I risked the ribs. When I was reminded that Georgia still seems fit to determine that no one, regardless of their faith, should be permitted the pleasure of wine or other alcoholic beverages on a Sunday, my fate was sealed. Since I had determined that if I were to have the steak again it would be with the wine this time, and the wine was now ruled out, ribs it was.

It turns out my tablemate had also ordered the ribs.

When they arrived just the smell of them wafting towards me was a pleasure. My first bite (and hers) confirmed that this was a very good choice. The mashed potatoes that accompanied the main dish were also very good. While towards the end especially it seemed clear they were not fresh and perhaps and had part of their life in a box, they were tasty. I've had better yes, but also far worse (to the point where in a few cases, I think cutting up the box with the flakes and tossing the box in would have been an improvement.)

The only real disappointment, especially considering my meal on Thursday night on the way down, were the vegetables. These were cooked far too long and were a soggy, mostly flavorless mess.

Overall, the ribs though had a good flavor, good sauce and a decent amount of fat on the bone. I was tempted to pick them up directly and go into carnivore mode, in order to extract every last morsel, but decided that perhaps I would avoid that in front of my fellow patron.

I've had better ribs at a "real" rib place, but these would be hard-pressed to beat at your average family style restaurant that didn't specialize in ribs.

As I was finishing up, David came out with a plate with two hot, moist towels, with a hint of lemon smell to them, in order that we could wash our fingers and faces. This extra detail was above and beyond and unexpected. I was very grateful for it however.

For dessert, which my pants continue to inform me I really should cut back on, but given it's free, I decided to ignore my pants, I was debating between the NY Cheesecake and one of the other deserts. At this point, the patron sitting across from us, how had also ordered the ribs chimed in and suggested the cheesecake. Since i would no longer feel guilty about the decision, "I was merely following advice", I went with the cheesecake. This to be honest is your average affair and nothing much to write home about. (I did pass on the offer from David to put some strawberry sauce on it as that's not to my liking.)

I mentioned the woman sitting at the other table. She was with her 4 yo son and they had decided to "try the train" since she and her family are soon moving to Thailand and her son, like many at that age, is fascinated by trains. He couldn't stop looking through the window, despite it being night and dark.

The three adults, myself, my tablemate and her then started talking about various subjects and basically "closed the diner down".

This will go down as one of the more memorable diner experiences because of the wonderful conversation.

I am now off to prepare for bed and relax.

Safe travels all.
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Re: ATL-PHL return segment

Postby ThirdRail7 » Sun Feb 24, 2013 11:59 pm

Greg Moore wrote:Previously the train would stop to the point where the engine(s) were under the road bridge and the front cars were at the very least even with the bottom of the boarding stairs. At least once, when they were still running sleeper cars first, I actually had to walk toward the head of the train to board my sleeper. The last few trips, the train has been stopped 1-2 car lengths from the bottom of the stairs. This means in the best case scenario you have to walk 3-4 car lengths (1-2 nothing, 1-2 engines (like tonight had 2) and then the length of the first car to get to the open vestibule.

It's really not clear to me why the train doesn't pull forward 4-5 car lengths as it would greatly decrease the distance (and hence the time) it takes for people to get to the stairs. As it was, being in car 2011, I had to walk quite a ways. Not that I minded, but some of that length did seem unnecessary.


Division notices state train 20 must stop the with locomotives short of the overhead bridge when spotting in the station. They probably don't want the exhaust building up under the bridge and wafting toward the train. Perhaps this makes it easier for the OBS crew and chef (who are apparently in charge of this procedure) to water the train.

I lament the fact 20 used to serve a mean breakfast that included some of the best grits on the planet. I used to stalk a particular chef. If I knew he was on board and had the the time, I'd make sure to grab a bowl even if I had to board and ride to the next stop. After you've had a bowl of mangled grits, you cling to those who have mastered the art of making them.
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Re: ATL-PHL return segment

Postby Greg Moore » Mon Feb 25, 2013 9:31 am

ThirdRail7 wrote:
Greg Moore wrote:Previously the train would stop to the point where the engine(s) were under the road bridge and the front cars were at the very least even with the bottom of the boarding stairs. At least once, when they were still running sleeper cars first, I actually had to walk toward the head of the train to board my sleeper. The last few trips, the train has been stopped 1-2 car lengths from the bottom of the stairs. This means in the best case scenario you have to walk 3-4 car lengths (1-2 nothing, 1-2 engines (like tonight had 2) and then the length of the first car to get to the open vestibule.

It's really not clear to me why the train doesn't pull forward 4-5 car lengths as it would greatly decrease the distance (and hence the time) it takes for people to get to the stairs. As it was, being in car 2011, I had to walk quite a ways. Not that I minded, but some of that length did seem unnecessary.


Division notices state train 20 must stop the with locomotives short of the overhead bridge when spotting in the station. They probably don't want the exhaust building up under the bridge and wafting toward the train. Perhaps this makes it easier for the OBS crew and chef (who are apparently in charge of this procedure) to water the train.

I lament the fact 20 used to serve a mean breakfast that included some of the best grits on the planet. I used to stalk a particular chef. If I knew he was on board and had the the time, I'd make sure to grab a bowl even if I had to board and ride to the next stop. After you've had a bowl of mangled grits, you cling to those who have mastered the art of making them.


Interesting that procedure must have changed, I'd guess about 4 years ago. My other guess is that it is due to that bridge dropping debris and not wanting to risk it hitting passengers or the train. (That said, the watering may be the other issue, since I believe there's still room to pull the train forward about 2 train lengths and still be short of the bridge.) The practice of stopping short was consistent enough I figured there had to be a reason, even if I didn't know what it was.

As for the grits, it's interesting you mention that. I'm a Yankee, but have been south of the Mason-Dixon line enough times to no trust grits unless I know they're really being prepared properly, so I have not risked them on the train. Perhaps next time.
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Re: ATL-PHL return segment

Postby ThirdRail7 » Mon Feb 25, 2013 12:04 pm

Greg Moore wrote:As for the grits, it's interesting you mention that. I'm a Yankee, but have been south of the Mason-Dixon line enough times to no trust grits unless I know they're really being prepared properly, so I have not risked them on the train. Perhaps next time.


They took them off the menu! I lost 10 pounds as a result! :)
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Re: ATL-PHL return segment

Postby Greg Moore » Mon Feb 25, 2013 1:54 pm

ThirdRail7 wrote:
Greg Moore wrote:As for the grits, it's interesting you mention that. I'm a Yankee, but have been south of the Mason-Dixon line enough times to no trust grits unless I know they're really being prepared properly, so I have not risked them on the train. Perhaps next time.


They took them off the menu! I lost 10 pounds as a result! :)


Oh, they're back on!

Oops, maybe I shouldn't have told you that. :-)
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