Reflections 2015
Series 1
January 1
The Gulf Coast by Rail


Travel Bucket List    The term "bucket list" is based on the term "to kick the bucket", meaning "to die", reinforced by the image of suicide by hanging by standing on a kickable bucket. It was further popularized by the 2007 film of the same name, and is defined by the Oxford Dictionary, as used in US English, to mean A number of experiences or achievements that a person hopes to have or accomplish during their lifetime. I think it's a great term, except that some people put a damper on this very handy term by using it to imply imminent demise, which I believe was the case in the film. Nonsense. A teenager can profess a wish to see the Grand Canyon someday, or to do a parachute jump. They're on his bucket list, with no demise in sight.


Perhaps two decades ago, I put together a travel bucket list of places in Europe and North America that had fallen in between the cracks over the years, plus adding world destinations much further afield. It also included some additional activities, like riding in a helicopter (I don't parachute). Readers of this website have since seen trips to Spitsbergen, Greenland, special Swiss trains, Antarctica, South Africa, Japan, China, Australia, the Pacific Islands, and a lot more, being ticked off the bucket list one by one. A flurry of six helicopter flights took place, all between 2008 and 2010, and in conjunction with the one in 2009 in Bora Bora, I went down in a (tethered) submarine. The trips weren't all long-distance, either, with regional trips on the Vermonter and Ethan Allen, and drives out to Montauk Point and the Jersey Shore. I'm also a firm believer in revisits, which are sometimes—maybe usually--better than initial visits. I cite many recent destinations in Canada as an example Québec, Ottawa, Louisbourg.


Rationale1: Amtrak    In the last year, after the China trip and with the Rideau/Maritimes trip ready to take place, I decided it was time to complete something else on the bucket list, riding four specific overnight Amtrak routes I'd never been on. At the end of all the postings on this trip, I expect to present a summary of train routes traveled, but for now, let's discount day trains, like the recent Maple Leaf. Discount other day trains that cover just part of longer overnight routes like the Carolinian, a day train from New York to Charlotte NC, that covers just part of the route of the overnight Silver Star/Silver Meteor, which go all the way to Florida. We're just talking here about named, overnight Amtrak routes, all of which have sleeper service.


By my count, there are fourteen such overnight trains. Up until leaving on the current trip for four weeks starting the last week of this past October, I'd been on ten of them, usually end-to-end, and of those, I'd been on eight more than once. This is because all these routes went where I wanted to go. That sounds silly, until we look into the four routes I'd never been on, which for my purposes, were out-of-the-way. I rode these four routes on this trip, and now I've ridden on all fourteen named overnight Amtrak routes. Copy and paste the Amtrak national route map:,0.pdf


Use the plus sign (+) at the top to enlarge the map to inspect the routes connecting New York and Chicago. The most convenient, and fastest one to take is the Lake Shore Limited, which I've been on multiple times. I'd never taken the Capitol, which, as its name implies, leaves Washington (not New York) via Pittsburgh and Cleveland to Chicago. Out of the way, yes, but I wanted to complete my bucket list, so to start the current trip, I took a regional day train to Washington, and then the Capitol to Chicago.


Now find the train that takes a long, but scenic mountain route out of Chicago via Indianapolis, Cincinnati, West Virginia, Virginia, Washington, all the way to New York. This is the Cardinal, and I used it at the very end of the trip to come home. Use 'em or lose 'em.


You can see how, without a doubt, Chicago is the hub of passenger rail service in the US. It seems that "everything" connects in Chicago. Now scroll down to San Antonio at the bottom. I'd been twice on the Sunset Limited going through San Antonio, and using a Chicago connection was not vital to getting there. But if I wanted to ride the Texas Eagle, which leaves Chicago (see map) via St Louis, Dallas/Ft Worth, to San Antonio, I had to go out of my way to do so, which made San Antonio my first of two destinations. Now swing over to New Orleans and to find my last missing train, the City of New Orleans whose route via Memphis goes back to Chicago. You'll note that the Crescent goes from New Orleans directly via Atlanta to New York, but I'd been on that, which is what I mean about the City of New Orleans being out of my way, at least for me. But I enjoy riding trains, I get a lot of writing done on the laptop (when on these trains, about the Canada trip), and I'm willing to go out of the way this time to fill in the last pieces of the puzzle.


So to summarize: we're going from New York-Washington-Chicago-San Antonio, by taking a regional train (New York-Washington) + the Capitol Limited (Washington-Chicago) + the Texas Eagle (Chicago-San Antonio)

And we're returning from New Orleans-Chicago-New York by taking the City of New Orleans (New Orleans-Chicago) + the Cardinal (Chicago-New York)


That means the trip has two really unrelated parts, just as the recent Canada trip did (Rideau Canal, then Maritimes). The first part is Texas. The second part is best described as the Lower Mississippi River, a theme that will be further expanded on an upcoming trip this coming September. By Lower Mississippi, we mean from Memphis past New Orleans to the Gulf, covering Louisiana, Mississippi, and in Tennessee, just Memphis. The travel connections between the two parts of the trip will NOT be via any additional rail, but via two car rentals, a steamboat (!!), and a private sport boat (!!), but use the Amtrak map anyway to check out the entire area just described.


Rationale2: Gulf Coast    But the two end points of San Antonio and New Orleans are not arbitrary. They are both in the south-central US, adjacent to the Gulf Coast, and it's time to do more there. We've done plenty of visiting of the east and west coasts of North America, and we even counted Churchill as visiting the north coast. Now we want to see more of the Gulf Coast. To review that, we need to look at the Gulf of Mexico. Copy and paste this link:


I'm most lacking on the south side of the Gulf. I've visited Mérida, when we flew to the Mayan ruins there from New Orleans on our way to study Spanish in Mexico City. Otherwise I haven't been on the Mexican coast, nor in Cuba. Let's look closer at the US side of the Gulf. Copy and paste:


Owning a property in Florida, I've seen that part of the Gulf coast best, actually rather extensively. Of the places on the map, I've been to Key West, Fort Meyers, the Tampa Bay area, Panama City, and Pensacola. In 2008/2 under "Gulf Coast", we described a visit to Gulfport/Biloxi in Mississippi and Mobile, in Alabama. But all that is on the east side of the Gulf Coast. On this trip, we'll add Galveston on the west side and the "Birdfoot Delta" of the Mississippi in the central area.


Historical Movements Westward    As it turns out, this combination of train travel and waterway travel ("rail 'n' sail") provides us with a rather accurate illustration of how travel between the east coast, specifically the populous Northeast, and the Gulf coast was connected historically, as well as travel from the east coast to the central part of the country. To represent the Northeast, we can refer to the cities of the Northeast Corridor, Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Washington, and cities in between.


We need to go back to the early 19C. Land travel via stagecoach on dirt roads was slow. Preferred travel was by water, which is why there were so many coastal services along all coasts, as well as river services. The question is, from the populous Northeast, where were the specific destinations farther west, and how could they be reached (overland) by water? Canals were the answer, until they were superseded by railroads. (Use the Amtrak map as a guide here.)


Chicago, certainly, was a major destination, since it had further access to the West. Chicago is on the Great Lakes, but to sail there from the east coast involves a circuitous route along the Atlantic coast and via the Gulf of Saint Lawrence and the Saint Lawrence River.


The other destination of note might come as a surprise, so let's go backwards, starting on the Gulf Coast with New Orleans. How best to connect that area to the Northeast by water without sailing all around Florida through the dangerous Florida Straits, famous for the loss of colonial Spanish ships? Well, the Mississippi, of course. Trick question: how MUCH of the Mississippi? To see, copy and paste this map of the Mississippi watershed:


The Mississippi slices right down the US from Minnesota to Louisiana, separating the easternmost third from the rest. How can the river help connect to the Northeast? Well, the Lower Mississippi, certainly, as it passes an important city like Memphis as well, but of all the branches of this "tree", it's the Ohio River that connects best to the Northeast, and even gives access from the Northeast to the Upper Mississippi for St Louis and beyond. And the Ohio River starts in Pittsburgh, famously where the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers join (2006/10), and it's Pittsburgh that's the other city, with Chicago, that's a water, later rail, destination from the Northeast.

 When I was at Rosalie Plantation in Natchez on this trip, the guide explained how the daughter of the house, whose paintings were on display, studied art in the Northeast before the Civil War. She would regularly take the steamboat from Natchez to Pittsburgh, then continue overland (by that later 19C date, probably by rail). I also know that wealthy southerners would use this route in the 19C to vacation in Saratoga NY and also the Eastern Townships of Québec (2011/24).

But before rail, eastern cities were clamoring to get canal connections to Chicago or Pittsburgh to ship freight and for passenger travel, and as the Amtrak map shows, canals pointing westward were followed by railroads.


The northernmost of the Middle Atlantic states with access to the west is New York State, and through its center was built the most famous canal in the US, the Erie Canal (here c 1840), connecting Albany with Lake Erie at Buffalo. Ships from New York and the Atlantic could go up the Hudson and via the canal reach the Great Lakes and Chicago. The Erie Canal put New York on the upswing as the east coast's premier city. But then railroads took over, and it was the New York Central that followed the canal route, then continued along the Lakes to Chicago. Its premier luxury train was the 20th Century Limited, and the railroad, reflecting its canal forebears, referred to this route that avoided mountains as the "water level route" (Map by SPUI) (canal in blue, NY Central in purple, West Shore Railroad—soon absorbed by the NYC--in red).

 The luxury of the 20th Century Limited is reflected in the fact that a crimson carpet (Photo by Rickyrab) was rolled out in New York and Chicago for passengers walking to and from this train. The picture shows the carpet at Track 35 in New York's Grand Central Terminal, waiting to serve passengers across the platform at Track 34, the train's original departure site. It was the luxury associated with this carpet for this train that caused the term "getting the red-carpet treatment" to pass into the English language as a sign of ultimate luxury.

Today, Amtrak's Lake Shore Limited (see Amtrak map) runs this route, with train sections coming from Boston and New York joining at Albany to continue to Chicago. And the name Lake Shore still reflects the waterway forebears of the route.


South of New York State, Pennsylvania is the next state with access west, this time out of Philadelphia. Pennsylvania is the Janus state, facing both east from the Allegheny Mountains to Philadelphia and west to Pittsburgh, the very goal we discussed. The canal built to connect these two cities, the Pennsylvania Canal (Map by Finetooth & Ruhrfisch), actually had some rail sections, most notably the fabulous Allegheny Portage Railroad, which wasn't exactly a railroad, but a system to drag canal boats over Allegheny Mountain (!!!). A damburst on this canal was the cause of the famous Johnstown Flood. Details of all this are in 2006/10.


But that canal was superseded by the Pennsylvania Railroad, not only connecting those two cities, but also reaching to Chicago on one end and New York on the other. It, too, had a premier train to compete for luxury travel with the New York Central, the Broadway Limited. The unusual name for this luxury train had nothing to do with going to the theater in Manhattan. Many rail lines have only one track, larger ones have two tracks, but the PRR was proud of the fact that for minimal traffic congestion, a large portion of its right-of-way was an incredible four tracks wide. This was the "broad way" being referred to, a boast of speed.


This train is also gone, and there isn't any through train to replace it. Amtrak runs the Pennsylvanian from New York via Philadelphia to Pittsburgh (also in 2006/10), but there a connection would have to be made to the Cardinal to go to Chicago.


We've talked about the route out of Boston/New York; then out of Philadelphia; that leaves Baltimore/Washington, and this is the route we're going to take on this trip, once we get to the narrative. The (incompleted) canal built in this area was the C&O, the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, along the Potomac River. Since the Potomac flows into Chesapeake Bay, that reference in the name is obvious; less so the word "Ohio", which many, perhaps most, would immediately associate with the state—and that makes no sense. No, the reference is to the Ohio River, as we'd said, which is the route to New Orleans and the Gulf. Since the canal starts in the Georgetown section of Washington, an alternate name might have been the Washington and Pittsburgh Canal, since that describes exactly the two cities to be connected. In any case, when you understand that the name C&O does refer to two waterways, this ideal route becomes clear, Chesapeake Bay-Potomac River-C&O Canal-Ohio River-Mississippi River-Gulf. Perfect! You couldn't want a more ideal sailing route!


But it never happened. The canal only reached Cumberland MD, making it about half completed, because just at that point, railroads took over as the main means of transportation, and it wasn't worth the trouble to go any further. Today, the stub-ended canal is used for recreational purposes as the C&O Canal National Historical Park. This map of the entire proposed route of the C&O Canal shows what exists, and what was never built. You can see that, as the Potomac forms state line borders, after a bit in DC, the canal was exclusively on the Maryland side, and never strayed over to Virginia, or to what later became West Virginia. After passing through the narrow wasp-waist of Maryland, it reached Cumberland, at which point it was meant to turn north and leave the Potomac. The unbuilt portion would have then entered Pennsylvania and made its way to Pittsburgh and the Ohio River on its way to New Orleans. Sic transit (once again, pun intended). For the sake of completeness, note this sketch within Cumberland (Map by Bonnachoven), where the canal ends, but was meant to enter along a side creek on the way to Pennsylvania.


I don't too often describe things I haven't actually seen personally, and I admit I haven't seen most of the C&O. But I've seen a bit, within Georgetown. Copy and paste this map of Washington, and keep it for later use:


Look to the west (click). Find Rock Creek running into the Potomac. Almost at its mouth, you can see the very beginning of the C&O, that is, the zero milepost, exiting from Rock Creek westbound, into the neighborhood known as Georgetown; before DC was created, Georgetown was a town in Maryland.

 We have a little surprise here. Look at the east bank of Rock Creek on the map and you'll find the (in)famous Watergate Complex directly adjacent to the zero milepost of the C&O Canal. Part of the land of the Complex had belonged to the C&O, and the canal's large wooden water gate (Photo by 842U) at milepost zero to this day sits opposite the Watergate Complex named after it, shown in the background, across Rock Creek. As we know, the last syllable of Watergate, connected with the scandal that ended Nixon's presidency, has become a suffix actually meaning "scandal", such as Irangate, Camillagate, Monicagate, applied to the end of any other scandal. Thus, while the reference of the suffix –gate is directly to the Watergate Complex, it applies indirectly, for those in the know and who care about such marvelous trivia, to the C&O Canal.

Find a major N-S street in Georgetown, Wisconsin Avenue. Right after it crosses a major E-W street, M Street, you come to the canal, as well as a favorite Italian restaurant of mine, Filomena's, on the east side of Wisconsin Avenue. The south wall of the restaurant is on the canal, and this view (Photo by AgnosticPreachersKid) is across Wisconsin Ave looking west down the canal. Click to inspect this very red-brick-and-gray-stone neighborhood, which is what Filomena's canal view is like as well. To the right of this view is a monument. If we go stand behind the C&O Monument and turn around to look east, we see the white façade of Filomena's. Perhaps you can understand why I tend to associate the C&O Canal with Italian food.


The railroad that took over the C&O Canal route had a similar name and similar initials, the B&O, or the Baltimore & Ohio. The name had no need to make a reference to the Chesapeake and named instead Baltimore, the major commercial corridor city that wanted to reach the west. Remember, Washington was still a smaller town in the early-to-mid 19C and even today is a one-industry town, the "industry" being government. But that the railroad, instead of calling itself the Baltimore & Pittsburgh (or beyond) continued to use "Ohio" in its name, when that river was now less important. Keeping "Ohio" in the name can only be seen as being in deference to the name of the canal whose route it was roughly following.


The B&O had its own premier train, the original Capitol Limited, that ran from New York via Baltimore, Washington, and Pittsburgh to Chicago. It didn't start in Baltimore—neither did the PRR's premier train start in Philadelphia, since all railroads needed to access New York, the country's largest city, to connect to what was then its second city, Chicago.


The route of this train was longer, and to compete with the other two trains it added luxuries such as secretaries, barbers, manicurists, and valets. Of the three luxury trains, this is the only one that allowed Amtrak to continue using its name, although those special luxuries are all gone. We will now take a ride on Amtrak's version of the Capitol Limited.

 Take one more look at the Amtrak map. We'll be returning from Chicago on the Cardinal, which is the only Amtrak route between Chicago and the east coast not based on a canal, or on any single railroad. First of all, we have to point out that there actually was a railroad called the Chesapeake & Ohio, the C&O, but it had nothing to do with the canal. As the B&O was a Maryland railroad, the C&O was a Virginia railroad, and connected Newport News (hence "Chesapeake") via Richmond with Cincinnati (hence "Ohio"), and eventually, Chicago. When Amtrak was formed, it connected the New York Central/Penn Central's James Whitcomb Riley between Chicago and Cincinnati with the C&O's George Washington between Cincinnati and Newport News. It then renamed the combined route the Cardinal, because, rather surprisingly, the cardinal was the state bird of every one of the six states the route connected, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky, West Virginia, and Virginia. Amtrak eventually altered the eastern terminus of the route from Newport News to Washington and New York. The variety of five different state birds of DC, MD, DE, NJ, and NY apparently didn't mind the intrusion of the Cardinal on their turf.

Northeast Regional    Since the first train of the trip leaves from Washington, it's necessary to connect from New York via what is referred to as a Northeast Regional train. In the late morning we arrive in Penn Station in New York to leave for Washington down the Northeast Corridor (Map by SPUI). As it turns out, I had enough Amtrak points for this stretch, so it was free.


Sections of the right-of-way actually owned by Amtrak are in red, which includes everything from New York to Washington. (Blue indicates sections with commuter service in addition to Amtrak.) Parts of every route to Chicago we've talked about so far can be seen here. Sections of the Lake Shore Limited connect from Boston and New York (up the Empire Corridor) in Albany; you can see the Pennsylvanian from New York via Philadelphia to Pittsburgh, where connections can be made. In Washington, three routes are shown. The Capitol Limited will leave to the NW toward Pittsburgh. The Cardinal will come up from Virginia from the SW to join the route coming up from Charlotte. Going south are trains to Richmond and on to Florida. Our train from New York is going on to Richmond via the tunnel under the Capitol building, so it stops at the lower-track area of Union Station. When it emerges later, those passengers will get a marvelous view of Washington's buildings, which we'll also get coming back on the Cardinal.


We have a bit of a layover at Washington's Union Station, which has gone from riches to rags and back to riches. Union Station (Photo by Jason Quinn), which dates from 1907, was built by the PRR and B&O (and later joined by others) to replace two stations that were close to, or at the National Mall, one of which is today where the National Gallery of Art is. In the 1970s the station went through a highly misguided renovation and was eventually closed. I remember seeing it under both circumstances. Its present reincarnation dates from 1988—this is the gorgeous main hall (Photo by Marku1988). The station remains a major transportation hub, and leisure destination, with the addition of many restaurants and shopping.


We take a walk around the main hall, but then we're sure to step outside, because this building has been blessed with an unusual setting. Look back at our Washington map above. Disregard that picture of the ugly sightseeing bus, and find Union Station right below it. Note the park setting south of it in what is known as a patte d'oie, or goosefoot formation, with avenues leading down to the US Capitol building, of which there's an iconic view right from the front of the station down Delaware Avenue. This park also complements the layout of the National Mall to the west of the Capitol.


Amtrak has special lounges for sleeping-car passengers (and others, such as Acela passengers in the NE). The one in Washington is an Acela Lounge, so we'll wait there for our train. They offer light snacks, and then we are led to the sleeping car before the general announcement for the coach passengers, and depart on time at 4:06 PM. It's late October, and there's not too much daylight left.

 I should warn in advance about delays. It's always been a problem, since Amtrak owns no track outside of the NE Corridor, but uses that of other railroads. They've always been persnickety about passenger trains "in the way" of their freight trains, but it's gotten worse lately. The biggest problem has been specifically on the route of the Capitol Limited (!!!), and before leaving home, I got both an email and automated voice message from Amtrak telling about how bad it's gotten, and that this route has had up to four hours delay, particularly when approaching Chicago. Later I got news of a considerable improvement once a fuss was made, but it remains an ongoing problem on many Amtrak routes.

Capitol Limited    This is the route of the Capitol Limited (Map by jkan997). It's a little shorter than the three others we'll be doing, unless you add on the stretch from New York. The route is not far away from the C&O Canal as far as it goes—nor is it always directly adjacent to it—for those first four stops, in Rockville MD, Harpers Ferry WV, Martinsburg WV, and Cumberland MD—the border hopping in this narrow valley into West Virginia alone tells you that, since the canal stays in Maryland. Actually, there's little to see of this historic route after Harpers Ferry, since it gets dark then, compounded by an hour's delay we'll end up with waiting for two freight trains right after Harpers Ferry. Then it's overnight until breakfast, which will be after Elkhart IN. So if there's anything to see, it's coming down to the Potomac Valley early on, which makes it worthwhile, since that's where the canal is, and of course, the river.


Let's start by looking at this early stretch. Copy and paste this map of Maryland rail lines, and adjust the magnification to taste, using the plus sign at the top:


We can start at the upper right and follow the Amtrak route we'd taken into Washington. It starts out on its own line in black, then joins with the Penn Line of Maryland Area Regional Commuter (MARC, serving MD, DC, and WV) via Baltimore to Washington. When the Capitol Limited leaves Union Station, it's in conjunction with MARC's Brunswick Line to Martinsburg WV.

 We cannot avoid a huge aside here to give some prime rail history, especially after we've already talked about the 1832 LIRR in 2011/19 and the 1832 New York & Harlem in 2011/8. The B&O was not the first US railroad. When calculating this sort of thing, there are always railcars on tracks in coal mines and other work sites that will tend to be the oldest railed vehicles. However, the B&O was (1) the first common carrier, (2) the first to offer scheduled passenger and freight service, and (3) the first intercity railroad in the US. It was chartered in 1827 to connect Baltimore to the Ohio River, as the name says. The first train left Baltimore's old Mount Clare Station (now the B&O Railroad Museum) on 22 May 1830, departing Baltimore first to the SW and then cutting off westbound along the Patapsco River valley. The first section went as far as Ellicott's Mills (later renamed Ellicott City), on a now disused stretch. The Ellicott City Station, also dating from 1830, is the oldest remaining train station in the US and one of the oldest in the world, and is part of the above museum.

Consult Baltimore on our rail map to see and confirm this, but then also consult the special Baltimore inset on the lower left. You see the museum at the original station. MARC's Camden Line is only slightly younger (1835) and leaves from the still younger (1852) Camden Station on Camden Street, at the beginning of the (red) Camden Line on the map. (The Camden Yards ballpark is directly next door, presumably built on former rail yards.) In 1861, Lincoln traveled through Camden Station, and on the present Camden Line, to his inauguration in Washington. In 1863, Lincoln changed trains at Camden Station to go to Gettysburg to deliver his Address. In 1865 Camden Station was the first stop out of Washington of Lincoln's funeral train on the way to Springfield, Illinois. I am digressing even further now, but I think it's worth it.

I've read that, at the main branch of the B&O museum, in addition to seeing rolling stock and other memorabilia, you can purchase a 20-minute round-trip train ride on the Mile One Express, which runs, as they advertise, "along the first commercial mile of railroad track laid in America, recognized as the birthplace of American railroading!" Trying to reconstruct the original route from the Baltimore inset map, it would seem that the (red) Camden Line had originally been laid five years after the original line, and connected with it for a short distance before separating to go to Washington. Therefore, if one wanted to ride the Oldest of the Old, in addition to the Mile One Express, it would seem that a ride on MARC out of Camden Station on the 1835 Camden Line (we on Amtrak came down on the Penn Line) would shortly connect with a piece of the 1830 route for a short distance leaving Baltimore, up to the point where the 1830 route turned west along now disused track to Ellicott City. One would then continue to Washington while pondering history, both about the oldest US rail route and about Abraham Lincoln.

The first vehicles to run on the railroad were horse-drawn coaches and wagons. This is reminiscent of the 1838 Russian line in Tsarskoye Selo (2014/15). Peter Cooper had built his Tom Thumb, the first American-built locomotive, specifically to convince B&O that steam traction would work on railroads better than horse traction. This was demonstrated in a famous race between a horse and locomotive right in Ellicott City. Even though the engine had some mechanical troubles and the horse won, the engine was adopted anyway and they were used as of 1832. It's amusing to consider the alternative. This is a replica of the Tom Thumb.

Check our rail map. As we noted, that original 1830 line cut west to Ellicott City. Its first extension reached close to Frederick in 1831, and a bridge was completed across the Potomac to Harpers Ferry in 1834, where it connected with the Winchester & Potomac railroad, which was the first junction of two rail companies in the US. Cumberland was reached in 1842.

Go back to the main part of the rail map. In 1873 a line was run from Washington to meet the line out of Baltimore at Point of Rocks, forming a triangle, and from then on, more and more service out of Baltimore went to Washington first before going west. That relegated the top arm of the triangle redundant, and it was then called the Old Main Line (OML). It became a secondary, local route, and then this historic route was abandoned.

Switch to modern times. MARC is formed, and the Baltimore-Washington route becomes its Camden Line (as does the Penn Line), and its Washington-Martinsburg line (no further, at least not for now) became the Brunswick line, passing through the town of that name. Then, the stretch of the OML is reopened for service to Frederick, but the rest, including in Ellicott City, remains abandoned. In any case, the Capitol Limited starts out on MARC's Brunswick line. While the first part of our ride dates to a reasonably venerable 1873, after Point of Rocks we're back on the extension of the original line that reached Harpers Ferry in 1834. While that's not the 1830 date of Ellicott City, it will serve well enough. End of the aside.

After Union Station we stop at Rockville at 4:29 (on map, station not shown), and we find we're parallel to the river and canal, although not on it, but shortly thereafter the routes join, and river, canal, and rail line, south to north, are adjacent up until Harpers Ferry at 5:16. They'll join again later, but in the dark, so we should appreciate it now. We can to that because I've found an interesting pair of illustrations online. I learn now that, shortly before Brunswick is Lock 29 (Photo by Bonnachoven) on the canal, shown here with the Lock House near the village of Lander. And here's a YouTube video (1:25) of an eastbound Capitol Limited--not ours unfortunately, since it's going in the wrong direction--but enough to show the cheek-by-jowl nature of the rail line at this point and the canal—and river.


A little further along is the point where the rail line crosses the Potomac into Harpers Ferry WV. I remember our driving to Harpers Ferry years ago, to see the historical sites there, principally connected with John Brown's raid on the armory. He was the white abolitionist who thought that only open insurrection against the government would end slavery. He attempted to start a slave revolt in 1859 in Harpers Ferry, but was hanged for his efforts. The Harpers Ferry National Historical Park covers much of this area in the Blue Ridge Mountains. There is also a Harpers Ferry Historic District.


Note on this map that Harpers Ferry is the easternmost town in West Virginia, and that John Brown's raid took place at #1, right where the Shenandoah River comes up from the south. This geographic location makes, for spectacular river and mountain views. When Thomas Jefferson visited Harpers Ferry in 1783, he called "the passage of the Potomac through the Blue Ridge perhaps one of the most stupendous scenes in nature."


It's a juncture of two rivers and three states. MD—and the canal--is north of the Potomac and the other two lie south, WV west of the Shenandoah and VA east of it. The train is leaving Maryland and enters Harpers Ferry, WV here, and stays on that side, returning to Maryland only later, in the dark.


This next view, from above, is of our westbound Capitol Limited (Photo by jpmueller99) leaving the Harpers Ferry Tunnel in MD (click), and looks down the Potomac back toward Washington, with VA on the right. It's crossing into WV and the town. The Shenandoah is not visible here, but off to the right, behind the town. This view (Photo by MONGO) is from above the tunnel looking west, and shows VA, the view up the Shenandoah, WV with the town, and the upstream side of the Potomac on the right. Both bridges were built by the B&O, the left one down the Shenandoah in 1894, ours in 1931. Together they form the B&O Railroad Potomac Crossing, which is on the National Register of Historic Places.


The 1889 Harpers Ferry station (Photo by jpmueller99) is right by those trees after our bridge. I very clearly remember our arrival and short stay at Harpers Ferry (YouTube video: 1:21), since the area was so attractive, both the town and the rivers. To better appreciate the setting, look at this other YouTube video of the view from above, but which is of the eastbound train, coming FROM Chicago and going into the tunnel (1:37).

 It's difficult to imagine the political confusion at this point in 1861. VA and WV were still one state, and didn't split until two years later, because WV didn't want to secede. So it was MD on the north side and VA entirely on the south. VA wanted to secede. MD was vacillating, wondering if it should secede as well—but didn't. Still, the B&O was a MD railroad, which then went west into VA (now WV) and turned south into the Shenandoah Valley of VA, that was becoming enemy territory. Before WV broke away, this was the perfect location for an attack on the B&O, including the Great Train Raid of 1861, and subsequent destruction of bridges, track, and confiscation of rolling stock.

When traveling, one meets all kinds of people, some quite interesting, and good conversations develop. On the Capitol Limited at dinner I met an Australian couple from the Darwin area, who did quite a bit of traveling. This trip they crossed Canada eastbound on the Canadian, took the Acela from New York to Washington, now the Capitol Limited and would be taking the California Zephyr out of Chicago to San Francisco. It's nice to see the routes that people plan.


Early the next morning, the Capitol Limited is somewhere in northern Ohio, since the route now uses the former New York Central's Water Level Route (see route map) at its western end (YouTube video: 0:50). We had never caught up on the hour we lost after Harpers Ferry, and it was getting later still. We finally made it into Chicago in the late morning, 2h50 late, but I still had plenty of time for my early afternoon connection to the Texas Eagle.


While years ago there were many rail stations in Chicago, all Amtrak lines, and many local commuter lines, have been consolidated into Chicago's Union Station. Copy and paste this map link:


Notice how the station is in two parts, straddling Canal Street. The red box designates the Great Hall, but the "business end" of the station is on the east side, right along the Chicago River, between Adams on the north (my favorite exit) and Jackson on the south (neither named here). As you see, it's an actual pass-through station, not a terminus. Although I have arrived at from its north side in the past, I'm much more familiar with arriving from the south, and because of the layout, I always have the feeling we're slipping in under the city at the basement level. Even from quite a distance, you can see the Chicago skyline ahead, and when you're this close (but this train is leaving) (Photo by Russell Sekeet), the Willis (ex-Sears) Tower almost across from the station is right in-your-face. But all those buildings are across the Chicago River from the station up ahead (in white). If the maze of tracks leading you under the station and "into its basement" isn't obvious enough in that picture, copy and paste the link to this one:


All these tracks are below street level, and one arrives under the station. For this reason, the outdoor look of Union Station to me is secondary. I virtually never see it. Well, let me modify that. I said I like the Adams Street exit because then you can go outside there at the river to see—and cross if you like-- the Adams Street Bridge. Copy and paste:


You then get close-up views up and down the river, and of the skyline, and can walk it to Chicago's Loop, shown on the map by the gray lines of the elevated as it loops around downtown. Finally, here's a plan of the station. Copy and paste:


As you see, the interesting part of the 1925 station is all on the east side, along the river. We can go peek into the Great Hall (Photo by vincent desjardins), and step outside at Adams Street for a quick look-see, but otherwise, we head to what is called here the Metropolitan Lounge, in dark blue. It's one of my favorites among Amtrak's lounges.


This station is the third busiest in the US after (1) Grand Central in New York (today, commuter rail only), and (2) Penn[sylvania] Station in New York, which has both Amtrak and commuter rail. But the Metropolitan Lounge here is larger, and seems much busier. I feel the reason is that there are so many more individual major rail lines here that require more changing of trains, such as we're doing.


I really like this Lounge. You have your snacks, WiFi, and areas to unwind, but there's its efficiency. You always check in and show your ticket, but here, once they certify when and where your connection is, the issue you immediately with a pass, so that you can go in and out of the lounge at will, to food courts, to visit downtown, or the rest of the station, and come back easily. And you don't just leave your bags on a rack as elsewhere--there's a manned storage room where you're issued a receipt for your bags. It all works so well. There's also a large, cozy gas fireplace. It wasn't needed on this day, but was needed—and appreciated--on the stop here on the return trip a month later, when it was much colder outside. This is a short (0:23) YouTube video of Chicago's Metropolitan Lounge. It starts with the refreshment corner.


After some refreshment, I had computer work to do. Amtrak doesn't have WiFi on most of its trains, and I have trouble using it on trains that do have it. Since I do so much writing on trains, in advance I have to go to my online notes, which include links, and open window after window of pictures I want to use, and articles that I may want to consult further. After some emailing, that's what I spent time doing, getting a roster of some 20 webpages ready to go for the time on the Texas Eagle when I couldn't be online.


Texas Eagle    When boarding time got close, those of us for the Texas Eagle were escorted directly to the track, we boarded, and off we went. I have a YouTube video that's much too long (10:00) of the Texas Eagle leaving Chicago Union Station as viewed from the rear of the train. Watch as much as you like, but I'm including it for the part where the train finally leaves the station starting at 2:00 and ending at 4:18. You will see exactly what I mean about having the feeling of coming out of (or entering into) the basement of a building, and then getting wonderful views of, among other things, the Willis Tower.


As with all four trains we'll be taking, I have a wonderful—but misleading!--map of the route of the Texas Eagle (Map by jkan997). From Chicago it traverses Illinois, then crosses the Mississippi River to enter Missouri at St Louis. It traverses Arkansas, and ends in Texas, notably stopping in Dallas. It's actual final stop, at 9:55 PM, is San Antonio, and not beyond, as you can tell by the dark line on the map.


However, three times a week, the Sunset Limited comes over from New Orleans, stops in San Antonio, and continues to Los Angeles, as you can see by the red line on the map. There is now a handy new service, for those that need it. One coach and one sleeping car stay at the San Antonio station over midnight until the Sunset Limited picks the two cars up at 2:45 AM, and this particular trip happened to fall on one of those three days. For this reason, it can be said that the Texas Eagle goes to California. That's technically correct, but is misleading. Just think "San Antonio", which is the final stop of most of the train.


The rail history here is less interesting than on the east coast. Amtrak has been trying to add, or restore as much service as possible to unserved cities that had in the past had rail connections, but the Texas Eagle is where the current status lies. The name of this train, however was retained from a Texas Eagle run by two railroads mid-20C, but that train had a shorter route, only between St Louis and San Antonio.


By dinner time, we were already in southwestern Illinois and it had gotten dark. The dining car wasn't too busy, and I was seated with just one other person, a distinguished-looking gentleman who stood out from everyone else's casual attire by his tie and jacket. It turns out he runs a major arts center in Irving, in the Dallas area, and is always arranging exhibits. He used to have an arts position in Illinois, which explains his current trip. He's in New York frequently, but was not familiar with the Neue Galerie (2006/10 "Klimt"). Yet he wrote down the pertinent details of that museum when I told him. I'm glad I had information he felt useful.


I asked him about the stresses of his job, and there were many, mostly about getting appropriations from the town for exhibits he wants to put on. Apparently the mayor has limited tastes, and even when he explains to her they need to have diversity, she doesn't want to sign for appropriations. For one exhibit that he needed only $1000 for, he cornered her in a supermarket and got her to sign for it. He pointed out he planned to retire within the year. No surprise.


Nice views from cross-country trains are more often than not rural, such as a train through the Rockies. Interesting urban views are rarer, such as seeing the Chicago skyline. (Arrivals in New York are subterranean, and most have little to no skyline views, other than from a distance.) I've always said that the trains leaving or arriving in Washington DC from the south have the best urban views, and we'll get that at the end of the trip. However, now that I've been on the Texas Eagle, I can add that to the list of trains with good urban experiences.


I was fully aware of an outstanding urban view in Dallas, and had researched what we'd be seeing to take full advantage of it. But I hadn't given thought to St Louis. As we approached it on the Illinois side, the Irving gentleman and I began to see, between buildings, beautifully illuminated views. Then the train turned right onto the bridge over the Mississippi, and on our right we saw the illuminated Gateway Arch (Photo by Daniel Schwen), which Beverly and I had gone to the top of many years ago. Now I'm not saying the view was as picture-perfect as this twilight view—it was pitch-black night, to boot—but the Arch was a magnificent sight standing out above the river. Once we were on the Missouri side, we had an angled view like this (Photo by Kbh3rd), including of the river, but again it was a dark night view with the upstream bridges fully illuminated as well. The train then passed right along Busch Stadium and arrived at Amtrak's newish (2008) Gateway Station, which is multimodal, also serving buses and the MetroLink light rail system that services both sides of the river. Amtrak has four tracks, with two island platforms, and MetroLink has two tracks with one island platform.


By the next morning we've crossed Missouri and most of Arkansas, arriving in the morning in Hope, in southwest Arkansas, where Bill Clinton, the 42nd president of the US was born. I've just read that the town is a child of the railroad, and that its unusual name is the result of being named after the daughter of a railroad executive. Given that background, it's odd that it became a stop on the Texas Eagle only in April 2013.


It was announced that the Clinton Home National Historic Site is right near the tracks, and we were told to watch for a green-roofed house as we left the station. However, there was another train blocking the view between us and the house, and we saw nothing. Therefore, we're all seeing the Clinton Boyhood Home together, via this picture (Photo by J Williams).

 Quick childhood bio: The family name was Blythe, but his father died in a car accident three months before he was born. He lived with his maternal grandparents for four years in this house while his mother studied nursing in New Orleans. On her return, she married his stepfather, whose surname was Clinton, and the family moved to Hot Springs AR. He adopted his stepfather's surname, but remembers him as being an alcoholic gambler who was abusive to the family.

The next stop, less than an hour later, was Texarkana, whose name shows it straddles the Texas-Arkansas state line, but, as I've learned, also includes a reference to nearby LouisiANA. I'd in the past had experience with Bristol, Virginia and Bristol, Tennessee, both of which de facto function as one metropolitan area but which de jure are two cities in two states, separated by the appropriately named State Street, running east-west, with the state line marked down the middle. Where Texarkana, Arkansas abuts Texarkana, Texas, it works under the same principal. Copy and paste this map:


As you see, this is, I suppose rather proudly, just a map of Texarkana, Arkansas, and Texarkana, Texas is dismissed with minor mention over on the right side. From here we see there is a north-south Stateline Avenue (Photo by Billy Hathorn) between most of the two cities. That street doesn't cross the station area, yet the line is still marked on the platform, as I discovered. This is the Texarkana Post Office (Photo by Chris Litherland), which straddles the line and is located in both states. While the train had a few minutes in the station, the thought suddenly struck me that I should walk across the state line if possible. Talk about doing sightseeing from the train! I only found out on arrival that the station had purposely been built on the border as well, and that the platform crossed the state line. I was in the front of the train which, I was told, had already entered Texas, so I got off in Texas and walked back up the platform into Arkansas—clearly marked--where I reboarded the train further back. When it left, I entered Texas again!


I was looking forward to something I expected to see right from the train in Dallas, where we had a 20-minute layover at midday, followed by a stop in Fort Worth. Copy and paste:


We can see the size of the metropolitan area, including Irving in between, where that arts center was. At this point, our train approaches from the east to access the south sides of both cities. I was very glad to see that the Dallas station was so attractive, with the gently arched canopies covering each of the outdoor platforms behind the white Dallas Union Station building. I was very glad to see an active station, busily shared by light rail and commuter rail, in different colors. Our arrival is just as bright and sunny as in this YouTube video of the Texas Eagle at the Dallas station. At 8:52, it's overlong, so you'll probably want to skim it, since I'll point out specifics below.


The yellow trains, such as at 2:00 for example, are DART light rail (Dallas Area Rapid Transit). The train with blue markings saying TRE at 7:20 is the Trinity Railway Express, a commuter line between Dallas and Fort Worth that is owned equally by DART and the Fort Worth Transportation Authority. It's named after the Trinity River, which flows through both cities down to the Gulf and is the longest river entirely in Texas. Copy and paste this map of the system:


Locate Union Station and note how it's perpendicular to the bulk of downtown, as indicated by light rail routes. Locate the dark blue of the TRE, which is the route the Texas Eagle will also be taking to Fort Worth.


Now go back to the video and stop it at 6:03, where we're looking past the Texas Eagle to the glass façade of the Hyatt Regency Dallas, located to the LEFT of the tracks. It's where we'll spend one night when we drive back to Dallas in four days. Why stay at a big hotel, right next to the tracks, and not at a cozy b&b? Location, location, location. To see why, stop the video at 0:24, where we're looking at the direction in which the Texas Eagle is about to depart. Note that to the RIGHT of the tracks there's a brown building. Disregard the upper attic floor and look at the top row of arched windows on the sixth floor. Note the window furthest to the right. The sixth floor was where the Texas School Book Depository had been in 1963. That window on the right is where Lee Harvey Oswald shot President Kennedy from. In front of that building is Dealey Plaza. The Plaza is two blocks down Houston Street from the front of Union Station, with the brown building on the far side of the Plaza.


I'm not going to say too much more now, beyond the view from the train. We'll explain more when we're back here, but will not go into many details about the event. For now, just copy and paste this map of downtown Dallas:


I'd planned months before that when we pulled out of the station, we'd be going right over the "triple underpass" I'd heard about years ago, but never understood. Now, sitting on the train, it became perfectly clear. It all started with the fact that the train tracks crossed the downtown area, requiring an underpass for the very train we were on. On the map, the station is on Houston (not named) between Young and Wood. If you walk on Houston past Jackson, the next three streets are Commerce, Main, and Elm. All three were important downtown streets, so the three together were led down under the tracks. That downward slope was landscaped, and became the park known as Dealey Plaza, named after a local newspaperman. The brown building is at the far corner of Houston and Elm. Part of the downward slope on the far side of the Plaza became known as the "grassy knoll".


I will provide more illustration when we're back in Dallas. For now, picture the Texas Eagle pulling very slowly out of the station, providing those who knew what they were looking at with a perfect downward view of Dealey Plaza, the three streets emerging from Downtown to go under the train we were on, and the brown building to the left. You cannot get a better view of a historical place than from this train, here in Dallas, which is why I rank it high on showing urban vistas.


I have to add one delicious distraction, and that's a purpose-formed paradoxical statement. Here I was, having only the seconds that the train took to pass the Plaza, furiously trying to absorb everything just described—which I did—and then I noticed what the British liked to call a "noble pile". Behind the right-hand side of the Plaza, up at the top on Houston, was a building I couldn't take my eyes off. It was what seemed like a red Victorian stone fortress that sucked in one's view like a black hole. You may disagree if you don't care for red Victorian stone fortresses, but I LOVED it, and still do. I found out later what this delicious distraction from the business at hand was. Stay tuned.


By the time we reached Austin, the capital of Texas, it was dark, and there wasn't much to see. No matter. We'll be driving back through there on our return to Dallas. But we were several hours late at this point, and I was concerned about getting in overly late to San Antonio, given a scheduled arrival time that was already rather late. Well, I know that Amtrak sometimes puts a lot of fat in its schedule, especially right before the last stop. We were due in to San Antonio at 9:55 and arrived just eight minutes late, at 10:03. Even at that hour, a pleasant late-evening adventure still lay ahead.

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