Boston to Chicago was my first experience of Amtrak, and indeed of train travel outside Europe. Originally the Boston and New York trains were joined together at Albany, but I was told, after booking, that the schedule had changed and I had to telephone them. The times were the same; the only change was that I had to change at Albany.
At Boston South Station, you walk into a big food court, with common seating for all the stalls – except one area where a chess master was playing simultaneous games with about 20 people. I sat on the sunny side of the train, which was probably a mistake as it got quite hot. I had hoped to see wonderful leaf colors, but either I was too early or they were the wrong kinds of trees. We arrived in Albany on time, to be told that the New York train was late and they did not know which platform it would us. This gave me time to eat a small tub of clam chowder and a cookie.
When the train did arrive, there was a problem and we were between 30 and 45 minute late leaving Albany – not much daylight left to admire the view. There were very few announcements, so I did not know where we were. The train staff checked where everyone wanted to get off and came to wake them up if necessary and help them with baggage. Unlike the first train, this one had the air conditioning full on, and the wiser passengers had brought a blanket. I settled for putting my sweatshirt and trousers on over my shirt and shorts, and was not too cold, but found it hard to get comfortable on a reclining seat. It would have been better in an upright position. Two things to remember next time. I did get some sleep eventually, and when I woke up it was almost daylight. I sampled the cafe car, limited selection but reasonable prices. We were due in to Chicago at 9:45 and arrived just after 11.
The next train journey, from Chicago to Denver, was a double-decker. The train journey from Denver to Emeryville is the longest of the whole journey – 33 hours. There were a few “smoking stops” when we were allowed to get off for a few minutes and take photos, but usually not to leave the station.
It was no easier to sleep this time than on the previous Amtrak trips. I was assigned a seat at the upstairs front of a coach car, subject to frequent disturbances when train staff came through the two doors separating us from the one in front, bringing a drought with them. One of them was so tall he had to bend his head to get through the doors. The coach behind us was an observation lounge, with comfortable chairs but ferocious air conditioning. I guess they don’t want people falling asleep there.
Three things made up for the lack of sleep: the scenery, the observation car which gave an opportunity to move around the train, and friends on the way, especially Bob who took the seat next to me at Denver. The crew were more communicative than on the previous train, and encouraged us to share tables and conversation in the dining car.