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National Train Day!

May 7, 2011, 11:17 PM

Today was National Train Day, and so I headed on down to Union Station to check it all out. I had been to National Train Day once before in 2009, so I kind of knew what to expect, but still, it’s always neat to see the different rolling stock that they had on display. Rail cars that travel over the national rail network are very different from those on urban mass transit systems, and so it’s always a treat to see them.

I took the Metro from Grosvenor (yes, Grosvenor) to get to Union Station. The way I figured, since I was also going to a Wikipedia meetup afterwards in Tenleytown, this made more sense than going all the way around to Glenmont afterwards. Plus I’ve never originated a day’s Metro riding from Grosvenor before.

Arriving at Union Station, I found the line. Specifically, the line for the train equipment display. After all, I came to see the real trains. The model trains don’t interest me so much. I want to see the real thing when I go out. The line was long. The end of the line, when I found it, was out in the shops, back here:

The end of the line was way back here!

And I followed the line through the corridor next to Starbucks, and then around to the corridor past Sbarro:

And I followed the line through the corridor next to Starbucks, and then around to the corridor past Sbarro.

At the Sbarro corridor, the timed ticket holders joined us in a separate, adjacent line. Note people lined up on both sides of the rope. The general-admission folks were on the left, and the timed ticket folks on the right. For the record, I don’t see the purpose of the timed tickets, because (A) you still had to wait in line, and (B) didn’t really get any priority or preferred treatment. So whatever.

The line then curled around the corner, and through the doors where MARC passengers go to catch their trains. On the way, though, one man was working to entertain the kids with a few sleight-of-hand tricks:

A man performing tricks for the kids

A man performing tricks for the kids

Going in, they were handing out little paper conductor hats. I took one:

Going in, they were handing out little paper conductor hats. I took one.

For those wondering, yes – I have a big head. That hat’s on the biggest notch, and that’s the best I could do. I ended up carrying it for the most part, but there you go, I suppose.

The first train we saw was the Acela Express. That was mostly the same as before, but they weren’t letting people get on the PA system this year to say “all aboard” like they did in 2009. Since the train was basically the same as before, I focused on other things, like the food:

This is a display of the Acela breakfast options. Starting at the bottom and going clockwise, you have the fresh fruit and cheese platter, the mushroom and swiss omelet, the French toast with fresh berry medley, and then the continental breakfast.

This is a display of the Acela breakfast options. Starting at the bottom and going clockwise, you have the fresh fruit and cheese platter, the mushroom and swiss omelet, the French toast with fresh berry medley, and then the continental breakfast. One thing I know right offhand is that my doctor would probably have my head if I went near the omelet or the french toast. The fruit might work, and the continental looks good, but they all come with that bowl of cantaloupe, and forgive me, but I just don’t like cantaloupe.

Unlike the Capitol Limited, the Acela Express uses real glasses. I've never liked it that the Capitol Limited uses just about all disposable materials in the dining car. I'm sure there's a very good reason for it, but it seems wasteful.

Unlike the Capitol Limited, the Acela Express uses real glasses. I’ve never liked it that the Capitol Limited uses just about all disposable materials in the dining car. I’m sure there’s a very good reason for it, but it seems wasteful.

The connection between two Acela Express cars.

The connection between two Acela Express cars.

After the Acela Express, we got to see the first of a number of privately-owned historic coaches. This was the Scottish Thistle, and, while certainly more done up than your typical Amtrak coach, this was actually the least opulent of the privately-owned historic coaches.

Lounge area of the Scottish Thistle. Compared to what we would see later, this was downright casual, though certainly impressive as an appetizer.

Lounge area of the Scottish Thistle. Compared to what we would see later, this was downright casual, though certainly impressive as an appetizer.

After the Scottish Thistle, we saw more Amtrak rolling stock. First, we saw the single-level Amfleet cars:

Vermonter business class seating.
Vermonter business class seating.

Northeast Regional business class seating.
Northeast Regional business class seating.

Then we entered a Superliner transition sleeper, and we were touring the equipment normally used by the Auto Train. I soon figured out that we were looking at Superliner II equipment here. Remember these from the summer?

Superliner II fire alarms

I’ve only seen fire alarm equipment like that on Superliner II cars. Additionally, the roomettes were obviously Superliner II, with the open clothes-hanging area, compared to the Superliner I roomettes’ enclosed closet space.

In the dining car, I was surprised about what I saw:

Auto Train dining car

This was not the layout I was expecting. I was expecting this car to look like this, but apparently the Auto Train’s Superliners didn’t get some of the upgrades that the other Superliners got. Of course, noting a few differences in color schemes and such on the Auto Train vs. what I’ve seen on my trips on the Capitol Limited, I have a feeling that the Auto Train has specially designated rolling stock that never does anything except Auto Train service.

The lounge car was different, too:

Auto Train lounge car

The seating arrangement here is completely different compared to the Superliner lounges I’ve been in, but the major difference here is that the snack bar is on the upper level of the car. On the Capitol Limited, the snack bar is on the lower level. On the Auto Train cars, the lower level is a smoking lounge, and having food down there amongst the smoke would be a Bad Thing. The Auto Train is the only train to have a smoking area (all other trains are entirely smoke-free), since unlike the Capitol Limited, which has designated stops where they allow people to step outside for a few minutes and have a cigarette, the Auto Train is for the most part nonstop to Florida. I suppose it’s easier to furnish a smoking room than to have the smokers clawing the walls by the end of the trip, no?

And then it was on to the 40th Anniversary Train. This train was painted in classic Amtrak colors, and converted to a museum exhibit. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to enjoy this as much as I should have. I think I had spent too much time standing and photographing, because I was in a bit of pain by this point. I don’t know what I did, but my lower back had really stiffened up and was actually kind of painful. I don’t know if I pinched a nerve or what have you, but I was not in my happy place going through that train. I was doing okay in the trains with plentiful seating, but then once I was on the train without seats, that’s when the pain became, well, a pain. But I managed.

One thing that amused me was seeing some of the old uniforms:

  

That uniform on the right is certainly not the style we see Lou in when we take the Capitol Limited, that’s for sure. But the red certainly does look nice.

Like I said, I didn’t get to appreciate this exhibit like I otherwise would have, because I was in find-a-place-to-sit mode. There was a lounge car at the end of the train, and so I parked myself there. Once I was able to sit down and stretch by back the other way, I was doing a lot better, and the pain went away. I don’t know what I did, but it wasn’t pleasant, and the act of sitting down was a bit awkward, too, as I got some sharp pains in the process of sitting down. But again, once seated and doing a little stretching, all was well again – just in time to enjoy a few more private coaches.

This first car put the Scottish Thistle to shame. It had thick padding under the carpets, real wood paneling, and look at the chairs! This car and the next car were owned by a husband and wife, and this was the wife's car.

This first car put the Scottish Thistle to shame. It had thick padding under the carpets, real wood paneling, and look at the chairs! This car and the next car were owned by a husband and wife, and this was the wife’s car. And it was pretty amazing. Even the sink looked opulent:

Even the sink looked opulent.

Then there was the husband’s car:

The husband's car, the Greenwich Estate, had far less wood, and took a more modern appearance.

The husband’s car, the Greenwich Estate, had far less wood, and took a more modern appearance.

Then after that was a dome car:

Wouldn't it be fun to ride in one of these? I would love to sit in one of these dome rooms during the winter, sipping hot chocolate, and watch as a snowy landscape goes past. That's my idea of a good time.

Wouldn’t it be fun to ride in one of these? I would love to sit in one of these dome rooms during the winter, sipping hot chocolate, and watch as a snowy landscape goes past. That’s my idea of a good time.

Then the next car, the Silver Meteor, was basically the dome car at regular height, for use in areas where a true dome car would not fit. Take a look:

Interior of the Silver Meteor

It kind of reminds me of the Amtrak Superliner sightseer lounge cars, as they share the same big-windows-around-the-roof design as this car. Still, I would certainly love to ride in a dome car.

With all of these amazingly opulent private cars, when I asked and the people working the show couldn’t give a ballpark figure for how much it would cost to charter one of these, I think I was likely fairly accurate in describing the price as, “If you have to ask, you cannot afford it.” A few fellow exhibit-goers agreed with me!

And that was that. All in all, it was a fun time, save for that bout of back pain. I’ve never had that happen before, and hopefully it won’t happen again. Once I got done, I took some time to sit down again and really decompress a bit, and I felt more like myself again.

Web site: YouTube channel for "DaGuyism", whom I met while waiting in line. He's really into mainline railroads, while I'm more into transit, but we had a good conversation.

Song: This is just cool, where a train track in what appears to be an Asian city becomes a marketplace when the train's not there. They really have the train's clearances down pat, as they just get out of the way and retract their awnings when the train comes. Note how the train just passes over some of the product.

Quote: By the way, for those of you keeping track, in my many years of riding Metro I have originated for the day from Pentagon City, Vienna, Franconia-Springfield, West Falls Church, Huntington, Forest Glen, Glenmont, Wheaton, Silver Spring, College Park, Greenbelt, Shady Grove, Branch Avenue, and now Grosvenor.

Categories: Amtrak, Events