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Tuesday 30 November 2004

Back At Tino Manor

We are back for a while now from our travels, and regular ranting should resume here soon. At the moment, though, I am trying to recover from all my aches and pains and am not up to much besides that.

My ribs are all bruised up thanks to Amtrak bouncing me around all last night like a fourth-class parcel. Our sleeping compartment was on the end of the car, right over the truck. There are two things you need to know to fully understand why this is a problem:

  1. The American loading gauge is quite large, and
  2. American railroads’ tracks are maintained for hauling coal, not passengers i.e. they do not give a particularly smooth ride.

#1 means that American train cars are, relative to those in other countries, enormous, which in turn means that the cars act as levers to exert a whole lot of force on the trucks at each end. #2 means that most of the track in this country is horribly bumpy. Well, okay, three things you need to know: perhaps because there’s more track in the United States than in most other countries, the American approach has generally been to build fancy suspensions into the railcars rather than to fix the tracks. This contributes to the general wallowing motion of Amtrak trains as their giant springs rebound from absorbing the bumps in the track.

Anyway, all of this means that the compartment over the trailing truck on a Superliner car gets bounced around quite a bit, and it gets whipped back and forth a lot, too. The only respite comes in Florence, SC, where the train stops for fuel and a crew change. Unfortunately, it does this in a middle of a relatively busy freight yard, where CSX spends a lot of time humping cars.

In railroad terms, humping refers to connecting railroad cars together by opening the couplers and sending them down a little hill, at the bottom of which is a partly-assembled train.

You can probably imagine what the collision of empty railroad cars sounds like, but in case you can’t, here’s a representation:

Boom! Boom! Boom! Booooooommmmmm! BoomBoomBoomBoomBoomBoomBoomBoomBoom!

That last bit is the train being pushed back to its starting position from where it’s rolled from the impacts. Repeat this for about forever, and in much bigger type, and you get the idea.

So it’s somewhat less restful than it might be, despite the Superliner being the world’s finest sleeping car. A room somewhere in the middle of the car is essential; this way you might be able to sleep through the BOOOOOMMMMing. I didn’t, and so I’m still a bit wrung-out, and I just offer these pictures:

Amtrak lounge car 33101, still showing evidence of its off-track excursion in April 2002. Four people died in the derailment of the Auto Train due to a track misalignment. Ironically enough, all the fatalities occurred when the walls of the cars twisted and allowed the grommet-retained emergency-exit windows to fall out; the unlucky passengers were thrown from the train, which then fell over on them. Lounge #33101 wound up on its side in the ditch. The fact that Amtrak has not even repaired the scrapes and gouges on this car tells you something about their finances.

The world’s smallest and bounciest room. Actually that’s probably not true, but it is a pretty small room in any case. Also Tino’s knees. Those seats are horribly uncomfortable for sitting in, but they do fold out into a bed.

amtk_coffee_1.jpg amtk_coffee_2.jpg
Two views of the coffee-and-ice area at the top of the stairs in the middle of a Superliner sleeping car. My elbow and/or forearm appears in many of these pictures, for which I offer no apologies. Taking pictures in a moving train is hard enough without having to worry about whether your elbow is in the frame. This lens has a field of view of 180°, so some part of you will almost always be in the frame.

amtk_stairs_1.jpg amtk_stairs_2.jpg
Going down the stairs. What handsome feet I have. In case you haven’t already figured this out, clicking on any of these pictures will cause a larger version to appear in a pop-up window.

amtk_lower_vestibule.jpg amtk_lower_vestibule_2.jpg
At the bottom of the stairs. The bags are full of dirty linen. Down that hallway you can see doors to the shower, a bathroom, and the Family Bedroom.

The Amtrak shower. The towels used to say ‘NPRC’ (for National Passenger Railroad Corporation, the True Name of Amtrak), but they don’t any more. I suspect that they were stolen too often. Note the large speaker on the wall, so you can’t escape the smooth jazz even in here.

Posted by tino at 15:08 30.11.04
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Tino a railfan? Who knew? I’ve taken exactly one trip on Amtrak and I’d have to admit it was better than taking the “dog” (go Greyhound, a rolling bad neighborhood). Thanks for sharing your ride “on the cushions”.

Posted by: steel at November 30, 2004 09:11 PM