AMTRAK train trip, San Antonio to Fort Worth, 3/27/04

AMTRAK map detail, San Antonio to Fort Worth
 
2004 AMTRAK "Texas Eagle" Timetable
 
2004 AMTRAK "Texas Eagle" Timetable advert
 
2004 AMTRAK "Texas Eagle" Timetable details
2004 AMTRAK "Texas Eagle" Timetable details
 
A group of around a dozen Texas Transportation Museum members rode AMTRAK's "Texas Eagle" from San Antonio to Fort Worth on March 27, 2004. The age range in the group was impressive, from eight to eighty. It was an overcast day which was quite suitable for a long train trip. For a group of serious train enthusiasts, it was surprising how few had ever been on a regularly scheduled passenger train before. The trip was pretty good, except towards the end. An interminable delay once within San Antonio city limits on the return leg was an unfortunate way to conclude what was otherwise a delightful day.
AMTRAK train, San Antonio, 3/27/04
 
AMTRAK train, San Antonio, 3/27/04
 
AMTRAK train, San Antonio, 3/27/04

AMTRAK train, San Antonio, 3/27/04
 
AMTRAK train, San Antonio, 3/27/04
Although this way my first ride on an AMTRAK train, I used to ride on "British Rail" trains regularly when I lived in Scotland. In my youth I would frequently ride from Kilmarnock to Glasgow, a trip of around 25 miles. Later, when I moved to Aberdeen I found that the train was the best way to visit my parents in Kilmarnock, which involved walking in between stations in Glasgow, a relic of its history of multiple railroad companies. I also went down to London on the sleeper fairly twice a year. In each case, I was used to multiple trains to choose from on any given day. AMTRAK des not offer such service from San Antonio. The Texas Eagle departs daily at the crack of dawn and returns in the dead of night. The "Sunset Limited" only runs every other day. These trains have to run on tracks almost overcrowded with profitable freight trains. But British Rail is gone now, replaced by a multiplicity of smaller companies while Amtrak is still going, albeit on relatively large government subsidies. This trip would be the first proper train ride for my daughter, aged 11 at the time. She certainly appreciated the air-conditioning, which had been lacking on the various tourist trains she had taken trips on up to this time.
AMTRAK train, San Antonio, 3/27/04
 
AMTRAK train post office car, San Antonio, 3/27/04
 
AMTRAK train, San Antonio, 3/27/04

AMTRAK train, San Antonio, 3/27/04
 
AMTRAK train, San Antonio, 3/27/04
Our group had a pleasant and relaxing day! It was not all that expensive, either. The return fare from San Antonio to Fort Worth is a very reasonable $50.00, with discounts for children and senior citizens. (This is about how much it would cost for gas for a 500 mile round trip for one person. However, with two or more persons in the vehicle, that cost does not go up, whereas each person on the train needs a ticket.) Where AMTRAK really has a problem in San Antonio is the complete lack of any parking within a reasonable distance from the depot. The nearest public parking structure is almost a mile away on the other side of Highway 281. AMTRAK passengers may not use the small lot adjacent to the depot as this belongs to the Sunset Station entertainment complex. On the day we left there were two major events going on down town, one of which the Sunset Station people were heavily involved with. As a result, the chapter group either got a taxi or had a spouse drop them off. This would have repercussions when we needed to be picked up upon our return, but more of that later.
AMTRAK railroad depot, San Antonio, 3/27/04
 
AMTRAK train, San Antonio, 3/27/04
 
AMTRAK train, San Antonio, 3/27/04

AMTRAK train, San Antonio, 3/27/04
 
The Tower of the Americas from the AMTRAK train, San Antonio, 3/27/04
As mentioned, this author was a frequent rail traveller in Scotland before emigrating to the United States in 1990. Although I have had the pleasure of riding some tourist trains in this country, this was to be my first trip out of San Antonio by rail. I was used to certain aspects of rail travel and was keen to compare AMTRAK to my memories of what was British Rail, an organization that did not enjoy the highest reputation for quality service. On the AMTRAK rip the first unsettling aspect of the day revealed itself immediately. We were over forty-five minutes late in departing. I was quite staggered by this, regardless of the fact that we were simply taking the trip for pleasure. What if I had been a serious traveller, with a deadline to make or someone waiting to pick me up at the far end? I cannot ever recall such a delay in the UK but apparently on AMTRAK it's par for the course.
Peter Shavney, Domingo Molina & Jennifer on AMTRAK's "Texas Eagle," 3/27/04
 
Lucky Tubb, grandson of Earnest Tubb, singing on AMTRAK's "Texas Eagle," 3/27/04
 
Checking out a private cabin on the AMTRAK train, San Antonio, 3/27/04
 
Checking out a private cabin on the AMTRAK train, San Antonio, 3/27/04
 
Rear window view from the AMTRAK train, San Antonio, 3/27/04
However, everyone seemed assured that there was so much slack built into the schedule that we would, in fact, arrive in Fort Worth on time. As we would only have an hour there before we had to catch out train home, or so we thought, this was unnerving, but not horribly so. When the "Texas Eagle" leaves the AMTRAK depot in San Antonio, it does so backwards. At this point we were on old Southern Pacific tracks. We went back maybe a mile or so and then moved forward and switched onto the old Missouri-Kansas-Texas line that run along IH 35 once they have crossed the city. You get an entirely different perspective of San Antonio, indeed any city, from a train. It was quite pleasurable to try to figure out exactly where you were. It almost seems like a different town as the railroad follows a much more direct path, in some ways, from the more convoluted twists and turns of the freeway and surface road system.
New Braunfels from AMTRAK's "Texas Eagle," 3/27/04
 
San Marcos from AMTRAK's "Texas Eagle," 3/27/04
 
Austin from AMTRAK's "Texas Eagle," 3/27/04

Hi-railer fuel truck and track maintenance vehicles from AMTRAK's "Texas Eagle," 3/27/04
 
Former Temple ATSF railroad station, now a railroad museum, from AMTRAK train, 3/27/04
The rail corridor between San Antonio and San Marcos is best described as congested. Union Pacific has had control of both the Missouri Pacific and Missouri Kansas Texas lines since the 1980s but the development of mile and a half long trains plus all the quarries that are served in the area give the dispatchers such nightmares you can only begin to fathom the difficulties of keeping services moving. In general, the former M-K-T is used for movement north and MOPAC for southbound trains. AMTRAK, it seems, is essentially an added nuisance to a situation that borders on chaos, and though it is supposed to receive priority, the fact is it doesn't and the train really crawls along, once it is allowed to get going at all.
The 'CLOVER GLADE' passenger car at the Temple Railroad Museum from AMTRAK train from AMTRAK's "Texas Eagle," 3/27/04
 
Pullman troop sleeper at the Temple Railroad Museum from AMTRAK train from AMTRAK's "Texas Eagle," 3/27/04
 
Steam locomotive at the Temple Railroad Museum from AMTRAK train from AMTRAK's "Texas Eagle," 3/27/04

Part of display at Fort Worth train & bus depot
 
Part of display at Fort Worth train & bus depot
I hasten to add that there are certain aspects to riding on AMTRAK which are far superior to anything I experienced in the UK. The 'Sightseer Lounge' cars are wonderful. They afford views infinitely superior to what you can see from a regular seat. Our group stayed in it for the entire northbound leg and for most of the southbound, too. While the seats are not as comfortable as those in the regular coaches, they were not that bad, either. On the subject of coach seats, they are simply marvelous. You can tilt them back quite a long way, and they even come with a comfortable foot rest. As we moved around the train, it was fascinating to see that most people were sound asleep most of the time. The smoothness of the ride over the ribbon rails was surprising, too. Long gone is the old rhythmic clickety-clack I have so associated with rail travel. Seated, you can see how much the next car seems to be moving around through the compartment doors, which have convenient foot switches should your hands be busy with beverages and other items. What's odd is that while the next car seems to be moving rather wildly, your own seems as level and even keeled as an ocean liner in port. Should you then go into the next car and look back through the window, the magic seems to be reversed and it is now the car you are in that is moving smoothly while your former seat looks uncomfortable to say the least.
Fresco panel on Fort Worth travel center
 
Architectural detail on Fort Worth travel center
 
Architectural detail on Fort Worth travel center

Old Santa Fe railroad depot in Fort Worth
 
Old Santa Fe railroad depot in Fort Worth
The coffee is better, too, though you'd hardly be surprised to hear that. During our time on the train the dining car was only open briefly for breakfast, and not at all on the return from Fort Worth to San Antonio. It was supposed to be open after Fort Worth, for passengers making the long haul all the way to the mid-west and beyond. Our first stop was in San Marcos, where there seems to be a modern, modest, depot. Our rate of travel picked up once we got under way again and we arrived in Austin around 10:30 AM. This, in a nutshell, is why such a trip is made impractical by the circumstances under which AMTRAK is forced to operate in this neck of the woods. From our scheduled time of departure, with the difficulties in parking in San Antonio I have already mentioned, to Austin in two and a half hours is pretty bad. Plus, once you get there, you would need to get a bus or taxi to your ultimate destination. Even with traffic as bad as it is on IH 35, you'd probably get there much, much quicker by car without having to pay for parking at one end and additional transportation at the other. It seems a shame that there is no will to make it better.
Old Santa Fe depot and office / warehouse in Fort Worth
 
Old Santa Fe office / warehouse main door in Fort Worth. The building has been converted into shops and restaurants.
 
Sign over old Santa Fe warehouse in Fort Worth

Older style AMTRAK train in Fort Worth
 
AMTRAK's southbound "Texas Eagle" in Fort Worth, 3/27/04
Our situation between Austin and Fort Worth improved. We fairly zipped along. Although it was not a bright day, it was delightful to watch the countryside in the spring time. There were knowledgable Texas Parks and Wildlife volunteers on board, and they provided a running commentary on the towns we approached and the general history and geography of the areas we were passing through. A delightful and unexpected bonus to our day came in the form of a talented young performer by the name of Lucky Tubb, who is the grandson of the "texas Troubadour," Earnest Tubb. Lucky was kind enough to sing us a few songs including one of his grandfather's and one of his own, plus a railroad song, the kind that was once a standard part of the repertoire of any country singer worth his salt. How cool is that!
AMTRAK freight car at the rear of the southbound "Texas Eagle," in Fort Worth, 3/27/04
 
AMTRAK sleeper car 32028 on the southbound "Texas Eagle," in Fort Worth, 3/27/04
 
AMTRAK coach 34080 on the southbound "Texas Eagle," in Fort Worth, 3/27/04

AMTRAK coach 34069 on the southbound "Texas Eagle," in Fort Worth, 3/27/04
 
AMTRAK coach 31592 on the southbound "Texas Eagle," in Fort Worth, 3/27/04
We did indeed reach Fort Worth more or less on time, which is almost shocking, given the circumstances. We were supposed to only have an hour to spend in Fort Worth so we could not stray too far but we checked out the all new "InterModal" station that has been built that handles mainline trains, buses and Fort Worth's light rail system. It is very nicely done indeed. What was surprising is that apart from a street vendor and some snack machines, there was nowhere nearby to get a cup of coffee or a snack. Sort of nearby, however, is the old Santa Fe depot, although it is a bit longer of a hike than most would care to make if they thought their bus was coming soon. The depot itself is padlocked, but you could just see inside enough to get a glimpse of the huge stained glass window on one wall of the waiting room. It is to be hoped that this historic building will be restored and returned to some kind of public use. The adjacent Santa Fe offices and warehouse has been restored and several restaurants occupy it, along with some tourist type shops. I was disappointed to be unable to find any pictures of the Santa Fe depot in its heyday. It seemed like a strange omission to me.
AMTRAK "Texas Eagle" conductor and Peter Shavney in Fort Worth, 3/27/04
 
AMTRAK "Texas Eagle" conductor in Fort Worth, 3/27/04
 
AMTRAK Sightseer Lounge Car 33013 on the southbound "Texas Eagle," in Fort Worth, 3/27/04
 
AMTRAK dining car 38009 on the southbound "Texas Eagle," in Fort Worth, 3/27/04
 
AMTRAK sleeping car 32111 on the southbound "Texas Eagle," in Fort Worth, 3/27/04
Back on board, I was not surprised when we left Forth Worth significantly behind schedule. This must be how things are on AMTRAK on this section of its operations. The train arrived late to begin with. However, we were soon rolling along at a cracking pace and as is so often the case, it seemed like the return journey was going much faster than the one outward bound. We stopped in all the places we had on the way up. Of particular interest to me was a place called McGregor. It was so nice to se an old fashioned country depot still in use for daily travel. As night fell, they began showing some movies in the Sightseer car and our group decided to move to a quieter and more comfortable lounge car. We got into some interesting conversations with other passengers and the two children travelling with us became part of a larger group of kids who really proved the point that it is much nicer to travel by train. All things considered, I was absolutely delighted with the day, or at least I was until we came back into San Antonio.
Baggage car 1245 - note old AMTRAK paint scheme - in Fort Worth, 3/27/04
 
Post Office container at track side in Fort Worth, 3/27/04. They were loading color advertising materials by the pallet load from an AMTRAK freight car.
 
Fueling up the southbound "Texas Eagle," Fort Worth, 3/27/04
 
AMTRAK locomotive 140 on the southbound "Texas Eagle," in Fort Worth, 3/27/04. The old Old Santa Fe railroad station is in background
What happened next was frustrating and hard to believe. AMTRAK runs this train every single day and pays a bonus to the railroad to get on time service and yet it seems that they are just the red headed step child as far as the Union Pacific is concerned. We came into town right on time. We were now on the old Missouri Pacific line and, as such, got the chance to see the Texas Transportation Museum from the train as it trundled along the tracks parallel to Wetmore Road. Then, to our surprise and then consternation, we came to a halt at the top end of Broadway, opposite from the airport, and there we stayed for over an hour. Both I and one of my travelling companions had already called our wives to come and pick us up at the depot. The schedule said an arrival time of 11:45 PM, and we thought we were going to be early but even so, we had not called until we actually were within San Antonio limits. Once we finally did get moving again, we inched through the city. By car from where we had stopped it might have taken twenty minutes to get to the depot. By train it took almost ninety minutes. After we had passed the old Missouri Pacific depot we still had to make a virtual 'U' turn to get ourselves onto the old Southern Pacific lines that lead to the AMTRAK depot. We did not get there until after 1 AM. It was a disturbing end to what had otherwise been a pretty good day. It is hard to blame AMTRAK itself for the situation. It seems this happens relatively often, accordingly to the crew. What makes it so much worse, in my opinion is that, as I have said, AMTRAK runs this train every day. How can it be that such a regularly scheduled event can blind-side the dispatchers so often? Of course, if there really was an answer to that question, AMTRAK just might be able to offer a far faster and more reliable service than seems is possible in 2004.

 

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