The car picked us up at 9:30 this morning, and we arrived at Boston’s South Station at 11. A kiosk immediately disgorged our tickets to Chicago and then to LA, and a 35-year Amtrak redcap, Tom, took us to the lounge and stowed our luggage.
Twenty minutes later, he retrieved us and, pushing the traditional baggage cart, took us to the front of the Lakeshore Limited and handed us over to Bob, the sleeping car steward. Bob is 6’7″ and clears the car roof by a scant inch. He has worked for the railroad for 39 years of Amtrak’s 41-year existence, and has grandchildren.
Bob escorts us to compartment A and explains the room and the drill (lunch reservation, dinner reservation, making up the beds, fresh linen, etc.). There is one car on the train for sleeping rooms, and only two of those are really rooms—the rest are “roomettes” which are ingeniously versatile but basically two seats and a table with fold-down beds and sink. We have a private toilet, shower, two large beds that fold down, storage, and so on. Nevertheless, our room is the size of one of our house’s guest bathrooms. And we’re living in it!
The Lakeshore Limited, train 449, is actually two trains that meet in Albany. One comes from New York and meets ours, out of Boston. Several cars are attached and detached, making a much larger train for the overnight trip from there to Chicago (we’ll arrive tomorrow, Friday, at 9:45 am Central Time).
For lunch at our assigned time, Mark, the café car steward, puts out a tablecloth and silverware (everyone else just lines up at the counter and takes a table or goes back to their seat). My burger is very good, as is Maria’s Caesar Salad. All food is included with the ticket price with the exception of alcohol.
At dinner, the formal dining car will have joined us, and we’ll walk seven cars back to get there! Our assigned time, which includes all of our sleeping car, is precisely 7:05 pm. We’re told the food is great, and includes steak, chicken, fish, and pasta.
These are old railroad cars, from about 1996. They cram an amazing amount into a confined space, and are surprisingly comfortable. But the really wonderful aspect is the service. Every Amtrak employee we’ve met has been personable, professional, and proactively helpful. You don’t worry about a thing, they anticipate your questions and needs. There’s a real value to long-time railroad men, who have preserved the service memory of the once-glorious trains.
I can’t help thinking of Atlas Shrugged.
© Alan Weiss 2012. All rights reserved.