Friday, July 31, 2009

Clippy's log - page 10

21/7 1:35pm. Krista takes us through a car wash - in technicolor! The soap is a mix of pink, blue, slightly green and white - like bubblegum.

3:03pm. I stay with Krista as Midga goes to find Rosuav - after departing one of the most amazing stores to walk in 98°F heat to a bank. Did he find him? Does he have money after all? Walk to a bank instead of seeing the ocean - the Atlantic ocean, oh my gosh!

3:06pm. Still no sign of either brother. Aaaaack!

3:07pm. Midga returns, which is OK even though I was enjoying the company of Krista and Jodi immensely. The male-female balance in the clipboard population gives me fairly bad odds, and since Orange left me things have been bad. Anyway, moving right along... We're out shopping at Wal-Mart. Midga has certain pre-conceived ideas about it from "In Search of Excellence" and they couldn't be more wrong. The place is huge - think of a nice big Coles, a big KMart, KMart Auto, Garden Centre, and a fairly huge Liquorland, put them together as one shop and shove about 40 registers at the front. Then put mini shops out the front like it's a shopping centre of its own!

3:20pm. We visit Sam's Club, which is a Bunnings and a big furniture shop with a dash of Autobarn and (interestingly) fresh food. They also own the car wash outside.

22/7 5:53am. Krista, who rises early in the morning anyway, gets us all up to finalise preparations for a large and growing party to go to Disneyworld. Hey, it's pi day, let's email a happy birthday to Belinda. I like her, she always greets me when Midga takes me to work.

6:01am. Rosuav and Jodi seem to be up, which is not far short of a miracle since we were all up drinking and talking until well after 3am. And we had only about 4-5 hours of sleep the previous night.

6:36am. Off we go! Krista drives a Prius, but it seems just like any other car to ride in. It sometimes switches its motor on at unusual times (to run the air con maybe?) but not usually off. There's a nice LCD saying how much power has been reclaimed through the regenerative brake, and average fuel consumption. It sits on the 70mph speed limit with ease.

9:45am. Tsii has brought Sparkie along. He's the Mini-Threshcon mascot, and I must say he enjoys it. He poses for all sorts of ridiculous photos and makes everyone laugh a lot.

10:49am. We're here, we've met Elise, got our tickets, and we're getting the "tram" to the gate. It's like the one at the airport - a train of rubber tyred toast rack vehicles. A nice TUAG service is provided. Even without rails it manages the u-turn (quite a bit of the tail moves the opposite direction to the tractor) without any problems.

1:57pm. We've just come out of a tour of the special effects studio. Awesome stuff, lots of burning propane and high pressure water. We rode another of those "tram" thingies through an actual set. There was some stunt driving too, skid turns with obstacles to avoid, good fun. Now for something sweet and frozen for those poor human beings who try to stay at their own temperature instead of adapting to the atmosphere's.

2:19pm. Krista took me and Sparkie on a small journey to visit with Mike and Sully from Monsters Inc. They are a bit late clocking into work.

3:50pm. We just got out of the Star Wars exhibit. First was just a bit of loose animatronics around the old props. Then we go through an airport lounge (hey, we know them!) into a small room which is a full on flight simulator! Combined with some great graphics and sound, we get the full benefit of the hydraulics - lots of positive G. Complete awesomeness!!

4:11pm. We have just found seats for "Lights Motors Action" - a display of stunt driving. What we saw before was just the bits that leaked off the main set. The show includes jetskis... this promises to be great! World+Dog were in the queue, but we're in a full stadium so there's lots of space.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Clippy's log - page 9

7:05pm 18/7. Boarded the Crescent bound for Spartanburg. It's a single level train all through - almost all new carriage layouts to us. Midga just divested himself of his coat and noticed there's a bit of stomach developing there... Amtrak are feeding him well, and you know he always finishes his dinner.

19/7 3:46am. Conductor calls us - 15min to Spartanburg. Rosuav can't work out how to talk to my pal the phone and keeps hanging up on Jodi. As we alight, a freight!

6:26pm. We've been to church, visited Mandy, and dropped in on Jodi's parents so Ros can fix their computer which is "running slow". A three chocolate problem.

6:39pm. He's done it. Spybot was running at full priority, which effectively means "even though I've been idle for two hours, you've just moved the mouse and I have to check the whole system to see what's been installed since I last checked 45 seconds ago". He backs it down to idle and the system becomes useable. Well, looks like no more geeky excitement anound here, time for another crazy game with Jodi's family?

20/7 12:37pm. We haven't been taking many notes, the boys are enjoying having three extra sisters (two younger and one older) and Traal and I are enjoying being treated like real people. At the moment we're in the car preparing to send the girls off to camp with their grandparents while we take a flight to Florida to see Elise and co. Lots of fun...

5:41pm. The girls have been sent off, we've checked in at the airport (we're getting used to that - although I'm glad clipboards don't get cancer, the amount of x-ray I've been subjected to is making me hot under the clip). Greensville is a nice airport - plenty of windows, sun on the tarmac, not overly commercialised - in fact, it fits in with the surrounding countryside. It is actually an international airport, with only a very few international flights. It's not easy to photograph the planes, they taxi so fast!

6:32pm. We're on board the plane - it's an MD-80 and right outside our window is the engine! Seating is 2+3, the body is narrower than the 737s we've flown in before. The throw-up bag in the seat pocket has a patent number in it!

6:45pm. Takeoff! The noise of the engines is more of a buzz than a roar. A wisp of condensation edges around the air intake from the fuselage side - there must be some disrupted airflow somewhere. It's the only indication of the huge amount of air rushing in - other than that the engine cowling looks like it's doing nothing like a loco's elephant ear. Most of the houses below have a black roof, and against the greenery the effect is like printed circuit board!

8:18pm. Landed, waiting to disembark. It's not even dusk yet, welcome to Florida.

8:32pm. We get out into the humid Florida atmosphere. A sign above the lifts says "this way to the tram". We have high hopes but it turns out to be a rubber tyred vehicle towing a passenger trailer! Naughty. Very, very naughty.

21/7 1:15pm. After staying up all night with various combinations of Rosuav, Jodi and Krista, Midga has just got up and had a bit of breakfast. Krista makes Rather Good pancakes apparently, and the smell of bacon almost makes me wish for a human digestive system.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Clippy's log - page 8

18/7 2:20pm. Midga splashed $US2 on a Metro pass, in order to get in range of the trains. Union station is only on one of the five lines, and is treated like any ordinary station (20sec dwell time). Frequency seems to be around 8-10min, on a Saturday arvo - not bad. The trains have an outline like the Perth A sets, and run in two-carriage units. Each carriage is 18m long and has three doors. Seating is 2+2. Today they're running in six car sets, but the platforms seem to be long enough for eight. The pax are informed by PA of train length (it's also on the PIDS) and they ALL move up! The doors are VERY quick opening and closing. The motors sound like a Z3/A-class tram! The platform is an island, 10m wide and 190m long. It has several PIDS on widescreen LCDs, but some of them seem to be off or defective. The PIDS displays service interruptions on all lines, including station-based ones like lifts being out of order. The lines go through the city centre and out the other side, but they're U or C shaped so it's not very intuitive. A few trains are running late and it's announced as "The train is now servicing Brooklyn, it will be here to service you in approximately 8 minutes". The ticket barriers are very like Metcard ones, but slower moving.

3:26pm. Having arranged emergency plans with Rosuav, Midga and I are now going for a ride on the Metro. At one level all Metros are the same, so Midga can validate his ticket faster than some of the locals. Interchange between the Red Line and the others is at two places - Gallery Place for the Green and Yellow lines and Metro Centre for the Orange and Blue. Those pairs meet at another station, so there's three different places to interchange. Not exactly an ideal arrangement, but at least there's no case where two lines never meet and it takes another journey to make the interchange.

3:37pm. We get on. There's fairly good loading, all the seats are taken. The interior is clean, it looks like the carpet has been replaced recently. Seats are vinyl covered and have fairly good padding. There's no internal PIDS but the driver gives good announcements.

3:45pm. We're at Gallery Place. The upper level has the Red Line and the lower level Yellow and Green lines. The levels are a right angle apart, and each have just two platforms, one each way. No recovery time. The upper level is side platforms, which is rather annoying if the lower level (which is effectively the footbridge for swapping sides) is full of pax making it hard to cross. There are no clocks on any of the platforms! The fare system is a flat fare per trip, but the trip is from station entry to station exit, so interchanges aren't a disincentive to travel. Late running is getting bad for some reason, so it's impossible to tell what the frequency is. There's no timetables, it's a TUAG service, which would be great except for the service interruption. We get on another Red Line train to see if it will pop above ground at some interesting place. It's sardines, apparently there's been an accident or something. Unlike a suburban system, they can't bustitute a section, it's a busy city up there! So they just run really late. Dwell time is blown out too, so instead of going to Shady Grove terminus we bale out at Woodley Park.

4:34pm. Underground stations are dead boring! Some have slightly different features, but they don't hold interest. They're clean though - even nicer than Melbourne Central. There's not much rubbish on the floor and no grime - people will happily sit down on the platform. There's no AT&T service in the station - a flat No Signal everywhere. Other people seem to be using phones though - maybe AT&T only.

4:41pm. There seem to be various sub-classes of rollingstock. 6096 has a PIDS (just saying Red Line) which 4027 didn't. Also it has a white interior instead of cream. But all seem to have the same body shell and traction package (since they can MU). So far we've seen leading digits up to 6, and second digits up to 2. Some in the 1xxx and 2xxx range have AC underneath. Current working theory is that the leading digit is the batch or generation, batches can be up to 300 cars, and the early ones have been retrofitted with air con.

5:03pm. We get on AT LAST, should be no problem getting back to Union by 5:30. We're on the leading car in an attempt to avoid the crowds, although it doesn't help much because it's the dwell time that will kill us. We're spending about 2min in each platform! People and staff have no concept of waiting for the next service - or else they think there isn't going to be another.

6:31pm. Having left his water bottle at Kate's, Midga looks around Union Shopping Centre (it's like an airport, in three levels and including a movie theatre) for somewhere to buy a new one. No luck, the place is full of eateries and beauty shops, not a single mini-IGA. Oh well.

Clippy's log - page 7

18/7 6:03am. The train has now departed, after making a double stop in order to get some luggage out of the van. I wonder why it's late. Unlike the train we came down on and the southbound we saw while waiting, it's a bi-level. The train number is 22/322 so I guess they withdrew a normal train and built up the coach class capacity on the Texas Eagle to compensate. We run express from Joliat to Chicago like a long distance train should. There's only one loco and the same length train as the South West Chief, but we seem to be holding 79mph fairly easily - maybe the second loco was only due to the Rockies. A couple of new types of carriage - 37xxx dining cars, with tables for larger parties and a cafe style kitchen, and 31xxx sitting cars with a combo baggage section.

8:32am. We checked into the first class lounge at Chicago Union again. Traal was low on battery because the power points in the coach class cars had been switched off. We have just 15min before we board the train for Washington DC, so no checking out the Chicago Metro, which disappoints everyone - even Rosuav, who has very little interest in gunzelling but thinks those steel cars look Hitachi era and wonders if they have the same nice seats.

9:24am. Just boarded the train for Washington DC. We're in roomette 4, same as last time! There's a couple of private cars on the end - single deckers, maybe old Pullmans.

10:40am. We've just crossed into Eastern Time, so my pal and I are changing off Melbourne time zone at last. Welcome to 8:40pm.

18/7 6:30am. Midga is taking me to breakfast today, to help him get the consist of the train. We pull up in a loop for some reason, with a train of over height vans beside us. Due to the air holes in the sides we had thought they were for livestock but the plate said "Auto rack". Every one we've seen so far has been empty - wonder why. Also we ran beside a river which was very scenic - trees all round and full of white caps. Must have a fairly constant flow, any Australian river would have periodic floods and get rid of all the rocks that make the white caps.

12:52pm. Approaching Washington DC. We're in Metro territory - it's a third rail system, on a mix of ground level, underground and elevated. We saw some people jump the fence to cross the track - maybe that's why they don't bother with fences in rural areas.

1:56pm. We're in the Lounge, using wifi, have caught up with people, activated the mobile internet on my pal the phone, and now it's time to gunzel the Metro. At last. The Lounge is even more sumptuous than the Chicago one! How do I even describe the station? It's more like an airport than anything I recognize. The long distance platforms, tracks 23-28, have two concourses. They're low level platforms, and electrified with overhead wires. Somehow they run bi-level stock under the wires, yet the electric stock looks fairly normal in proportions. After track 23 is a dormant island platform, with an operational track on the track 23 side and a bunch of Atco huts (or the US equivalent) on the other. There's no third runaround tracks on the other platforms but there's access out both ends. After the Atco huts there's a sheer concrete wall and then the station continues at concourse level - with dead end track 20. Tracks 15-20 are electrified for the Acela etc; tracks 7-14 have interurbans like the one we took to BNL. We can't get out to those platforms though, so we couldn't take photos of the Acela or even work out what happened to tracks 1-6.

Incidentally, tracks is USA-ian for platforms. With low level platforms I guess that's fair enough. Grins, runs and ducks.

More to come. Much, much more.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Clippy's log - page 6

Hello again humans,it's an honour to be able to write to you again. The above post was pages 1-5 of the log, which I realise was a bit much for one post. Anyway, onwards!

17/7 5:43am. We're not far from Chicago, in the Illinois Metro (Metra) area. There's three tracks, all high quality. The rail section of Metra is run with diesel locos and bi-level cars, and station spacing is a mite close for an interurban. Dwell time must be fun, one door per car. Stations consist of a low level platform about 200m long and a brick building - full station building on the up side, shelter only on the down.

7:58am. We're justabout to leave Amtrak's Metro Lounge - free for all first class pax (including sleepers). Air con, comfy seats, tables, power, wifi, iced water, soft drinks, tea/coffee, chippies, airport quality toilets, big TV, newspapers, info desk, baggage lockers. Wow.

8:15am. Just caught the train to Bloomington Normal - tight due to some last minute hitches getting some $US currency. It's a loco hauled train of single decker coach class cars. Power points at each seat. Comparable to XPT seats. 2+2 seating giving an aisle wide enough to carry luggage through. Ride quality is comparable to an N set. Windows are tiny. It runs through a lot of urban areas, and with three or four toots on the horn (long and short) for each level crossing of any kind whatever, that's a lot of horn usage - almost constant. The train consists of a loco, four sitting cars and a combo buffet and first class car, with another loco at the end. The buffet car is a different shape to the rest, almost circular. It has 1+2 seating for first class. Mismatched carriages, a bogan element of pax making a mess of crumbs on the carpet, people trying to sleep across two seats etc makes this the spitting image of a Bacchus Marsh pass in the days of E and K cars. Almost like an XPT but better patronised. It's not packed despite being peak time - Chicago must not be a major place of employment for people from points south. The doors are the stable type, and someone left the top half of one unlocked! Alas when we come back with the camera it was shut. Doorways have moving platforms for high or low level stations. Some stations are short so the connie announces "Everyone move to the front of the train if you're getting off" - thank goodness we aren't doing triple stops. Single track causes some delays - we get put in a loop to let the Texas Eagle and another train pass us.

10:44am. Arrived Bloomington. It's a fairly typical country town, but with a university and a couple of insurance company head offices. That would never happen in Australia, no matter how much we try to push Transit Cities. Kate meets us at the station and she and the boys natter most of the night and the next morning. Her cats talk to me though. One of the advantages of being a piece of stationery is that I can speak all languages, animal as well as human, with equal fluency.

1am 18/7. It's 10am local time and our train is at 11:34. Kate wants to introduce us to a chocolatier of some repute, so we gather up stuff and bid the cats farewell. The chocolatier is certainly worth a look. They make a lot of it on site, and the rest is sold bulk so you can mix and match. It's priced pretty high though. Midge persuades Ros to buy a t-shirt in the shop's livery, then we head to the station.

1:40am. Ros decides we've been waiting too long and wanders inside to gather news. He comes back with a grave face - the train was timetabled at 11:08! But it's running late so we haven't missed it. How late? Three hours. Wow. Kate decides to show us a good spot for lunch. Pizza of course. But not before a freight goes through - three GPs in UP livery, hauling about six oil pots. I wonder why. Maybe it's the vaunted US "short line" style which everyone says Victoria needs to become.

4:30am. Back to the station - now the PIDS is saying the train is due 2:45-3pm! So we drive around town for a bit.

6am. The train arrives at last - 3hr 55min late. Hugs all round, see you next time - hey what?

Friday, July 17, 2009

Clippy's log of Midga's Big Trip

Regular readers will know that Rosuav and I are visiting the USA and England. This blog and are your official information sources for details about the trip.

Today we have a guest author on - Clippy, the world's most famous piece of office equipment with gunzel tendencies. Clippy is my official recorder and biographer for the Big Trip to USA and England and will be taking you through the journey step by step.

Ladies and gentlemen, Clippy.


14 July 2009, 1am. What am I doing on the dining table? Midga put me here at about 10pm last night and the house has been quiet ever since (itself a rarity). I was aware overseas trips necessitate some changes but this is ridiculous. Ah well, at least I know I can't possibly be left behind.

7:30am. The house has just woken - all at once instead of one by one as usual. The family farewell Midga and Rosuav for a bit. I've never been separated from my family for more than a few hours, it must be hard.

8am. I sit on the dashboard of Talldad's Commodoore while Midga eats his breakfast. He hands me to Thea for a bit while he dashes into Officeworks (he just can't keep away from the place!) for some power plug adaptors.

8:19am, Holmesglen station. An unmitigated disaster occurs. Midga validates his Metcard as the train is already in the platform and then dashes for the door. He hasn't yet had a chance to put his camera and the plug adaptors into his backpack, and as he jumps aboard and the doors close, my good friend the camera slips away and falls, not onto the platform but through the gap (as in, mind the gap when boarding) and onto the ballast! Midga never panics but I sure did.

8:21am. We get off at East Malvern leaving Rosuav to take the luggage to Spencer Street and grab Skybus tickets. The station staff at East Malvern are great - they ring the station hosts at Holmesglen and explain. The hosts apparently saw the camera fall and rescued it. We cross to platform 2 to go back to HOL and pick it up.

8:30am. The 8:24 Glen Waverley arrives and we board.

8:32am. We get off at HOL and Midga says "Hi, um -" to the station hosts. One of them says "Ah, you're here for the camera?" - good one! He unlocks the station office (Midga's never been in there before, not even in the old days of "You got any twains?") and there's my dear friend and comrade sitting on the table. The host says "You've lost the batteries and there's a bit of case damage" but Midga and I agree that's a very small price to pay. And we jump on the next up Xtrapolis. Thanks tons guys!

9:10am. We get off at Southern Crustaceon, a few minutes down after a Ringwood service held us at Burnley. A quick walk to the Skybus terminal and there's Rosuav. Midga bins the last Australian apple core he's going to produce for a while (these humans are always eating), the tickets are bought and hey! The next bus is arriving in two minutes!

9:18am. Skybus departs 3min down. But who cares? It's a true turn-up-and-go service, the key metric is an average 20min travel time to the airport including waiting time. Getting out onto the freeway is city traffic, but once there the beast shows it has guts! The ramp to the Bolte is taken at speed, and we overtake most of the other traffic - in a heavy 3 axle bus. Cruising at 100km/h in a low floor vehicle is quite something. When we get to the airport the driver's PA announcements are clear and courteous. If it takes a $16 fare to get good service, how soon can we get the price of a Z1 2hr Metcard up to $16?

9:50am. We're in the queue to check in our baggage. Sighs.

11am. We get on the plane. Usual deal.

11:55am. Runway! We must have departed +10 or so.

12 noon. From the air Midga sees a town. Sunbury? Melton? Bacchus Marsh? There's a single track railway leading to it and no hills so it must be Melton.

12:15pm. Pink Panther is on the in-flight entertainment system!

2:30pm. Movie over and it's time to land already! I guess I should have been recording the conversations of the people behind us - it's a bunch of guys from Fuchs talking about their sales strategy. Ah well, Talldad will just have to beat them with good service and dealing in good faith. He can't lose...

2:40pm. Flight crew are buckling in so we must be close to Auckland. It's 10/10ths cloud outside though. Some of the flight crew are the perfect caricature Kiwis, it takes us back to the old days of Knox City Presbyterian Church!

3:20pm. We've landed and are killing time at Auckland international airport. It has a kind of business centre thing in one of the lounges - a writing desk (or escritoire if you feel Goonish) with envelopes, paper (with a letterhead advertising themselves, but who'd begrudge them that?), power and free Cat-5 ports. Rosuav is kicking himself that he left his cables in the hold luggage, because the wifi costs money! My pal the Googlephone is down to 79% charge, not bad for a day away from a power point. What was that criticism of the G1 battery life?

3:30pm. The airport is much like any other. The only thing that's never the same is the hand driers in the toilets - in fact, I can't recall any two airports having the same type. The water fountain here is better than the one at Tulla though - it has some height so you can fit a 1.25l water bottle under the tap and fill it right up. Rosuav has meanwhile bought some wifi time, but the Android browser doesn't like it.

3:50pm. The combined geekiness of Midga and Rosuav can't make the browser work, so hooray for the money grubbing airport beancounters who specified broken internet standards to make sure people couldn't steal bandwidth. Local time is 5:50pm but it's already completely dark outside. Not much plane spotting to be done. Midga has a snooze so I'm off duty.

4:40pm. Midga tries out the local Burger King (that's Kiwi for HJ's). An Aussie $5 note brings a box of mini doughnuts (maybe the Kiwi alternative to onion rings?) and $3.50 in New Zealand coins. Nice.

5:15pm. We're on the plane again, due to take off at 7:45pm local time. We were scheduled to leave at 6:20 but when we got in it was showing 7:05 for some reason. And then the flight was held to wait for some pax transferring from a late running flight from Brisbane. The crew chief says we'll be on time into LAX though as there's a tail wind.

5:49pm. Push back. The usual PA annoucement mentions "We realise you may have seen this safety video before" - nice.

7pm. Some forms have just been distributed up and down the plane for entry to the US. Are you entering the US to engage in espionage? Tick yes or no. Wow. Interestingly, all the date fields specify DD/MM/YY!!! On an official US government form!

8:30pm. Dinner is over. Midga does a Come Bumpers (the wine doesn't cost him a penny) while Rosuav puts the crew to the Chocolate Test by asking for another piece of cheese. They pass with flying colours (no pun intended).

8:45pm. One of Rosuav's longish term projects is to create a database of Looney Tunes episodes, categorised by characters and a rating out of ten. That means spending time watching them all... happy days!

9pm. Midga must be sleepy, he's unpacked the airline issue blanket and stretched out. Time off for me.

15 July 1:50am. It's daylight outside but they keep the plane dark (lights down, windows closed) so people can sleep. The Looney Tunes are done to a logical point, Savoynet is caught up and Traal is playing random bits of music. We've been climbing at intervals during the flight, now at 38,000ft. The IFE flight data screen gives it all in metric!

3:15am. The cabin has just been lighted and breakfast is going to be served. It's incredibly bright outside, dawn reflected on a layer of white cloud, so the window shutters are mostly staying closed. Under 2hr to LAX, anticipation is building.

4:20am. Breakfast is taken away. The sun has risen high enough that we can open the window without being permanently blinded. (Not that I have any vision to lose, but if Midga loses his I'm out of a job.) Instead of a complete layer of white cloud it's a belt of mist at about our altitude and a matrix of cirrus clouds several thousand feet below. Outside air temperature is -48C and there's frost on the outside of the window.

4:40am. 45 minutes to our destination. Still at 11277m and 948km/h.

4:50am. Midga and Rosuav have agreed to keep different time - Ros will change to LA local time while Midge stays on home time - until we all settle on Eastern time when we get there.

5:10am. Landfall! Looks pretty rocky. No photos though, the window is too small (about A5 size!).

5:14am. All that's visible out the window is hills, but it looks like Mythbusters territory!

5:27am. Landed! There's a while lot of new tail liveries to photograph. Ehee!

5:51am. Finished a VERY long taxi and the usual disembarkation. Waiting in queue for immigration.

6:28am. Through the queue, got our bags, where now? So, with not a penny between us, half a globe away from anything familiar, without even a map (Traal couldn't find wifi), we start walking to where Midga hopes the Bank of America is. A friendly rent-a-car place gives us final directions.

8:14am. Finally opened our accounts! Time for a hot chocolate and wifi at Starbucks.

9:29am. Rosuav lingered somewhat over the wifi, and then we had to see about some telephony. Now how on earth do we get to the station before our train goes?

9:45am. We get on a Metro Route 42 bus to get to Union Station. The bus looks about 30 years old, seats feel like a steel frame with a cloth cover. It has a bike rack on the front! The driver is a carbon copy of Grumpy from the 733. Most of the pax don't talk to him, even to say thanks when getting off. The bus has some guts, or else it's just being flogged badly. The pull cord runs along the windows! Ticketing is a hybrid of touch cards and pay-per-trip; the driver doesn't handle the money, and the ticket machine doesn't give change! Let's not copy this system.

10:40am. We get to Union station after a grand tour of the rough bits of LA (ie most of it). Glad to be out and personally unpunctured. Union station makes up for it though. Very grand - the main entrance walkway is the size of South Yarra including all tracks! New signage has been done with respect for heritage - same font, same colour, same raised stone lettering. Time for a Sunday Survey. The Metro Red Line platforms are a carbon copy of Melbourne Central but slightly bigger and with a higher ceiling, making it even more open and airy. The walls are simple ribbed concrete but it's clean so it looks nice. Unfortunately we didn't get a chance to ride the Metro. :( Midga got approached twice in very quick succession for the usual "Can you spare any change buddy", but this time the usual "Sorry, haven't got any" was true. He thought it best to qualify the answer as "Not US coins sorry, I've got some Australian money but that won't help you"! There's no evidence of vandalism at the station, which is surprising considering its locality. There are signs up everywhere saying "No loitering, no trespassing, no soliciting" - hm, I think we can skip the idea of an overnight in LA. Not without a guide who knows exactly which areas to keep well clear of.

11:10am. Our train to Chicago is called, so we make our way there. The underpass is just like the one from the sorely missed Spencer Street Station - and interestingly, there's no crime or vandalism there. We go up the ramp to Platform 11 with nostalgia, and there's a low level platform with a rake of bi-level carriages! We go on board, dump the luggage and then Midga takes me to get down the consist. 99 Genesis is on the front! But there's no dome cars alas.

11:45am. We're settled into our cabin and ready to resume gunzelling the station, what we can see of it without disembarking. To our right is platform 12, then an extra road and a high level platform full of departmental equipment. On the other side are the interurban and metro platforms. The weather shelter looks normal from down here, but a rumble says otherwise. The roof continues past the end of the platform, and curves round so we can see - there's a tram line on top! And following the line we see more tram platforms right among the rail platforms. Why not?

11:52am. We're off! Local time is 6:52pm so we're 7min down, but who cares. There's a whole heap of good gunzelling spots along the side of the track - carriage stabling, Metro train maintenance yard, and an intermodal yard. The intermodal yard is almost totally hidden from us by a rake of locos - all high horsepower main line jobs, and the rake is as long as the yard, probably 1.5km or more!

12:24pm. The happy gunzelling places finish. Nearly dinner time.

1:50pm. Back from dinner. The dining car has a great view - of all the passing freights. Some are easily 1.5km long, and there are five of them in 86 minutes! Track, wagons etc look like a model layout somehow - clean, even and in good running order. Heavy rails and close sleepers help too. Maybe models look wrong due to faults in the prototype... Incidentally, just about every factory seems to have a rail siding, and lots of them seem to use it. The other thing I notice is that flat diamond crossings (a local freight track crossing the main line at or near right angles) can be taken at full speed.

16 July 12:55am. It's 8:55am local time and we're in Gallup, New Mexico. The boys have just had a massive breakfast (all paid for as part of the sleeper fare) and it's time to explore the train. There's two locos up front, 99 and 170. Both high speed GEs, with streamlined noses (not an EMD, not a DL, not even an AN, but streamlined) and with a full width body. The horns are quite musical, not quite like our five chimes but way better than a V/Locity. Next is a single decker baggage car, then come the bi-levels. They all look similar from the outside, like any good set of carriages I guess. All the cars have a stairway in the middle, leading to the vestibule and toilets. Only one exit, Airbus would be horrified. Standing in the vestibule is like standing in the doorway of a low floor bus - we're right down on the ground so there's a sensation of speed and we look locos in the axle boxes. Walking through the train is all done on the upper level.

First is "transitional sleeper" 39010, with a section just for the crew up front. After that sleepers 32073 (ours) and 32066. They have a few sleeper cabins on the lower level and more up top. Half the car is centre corridor with cabins on both sides, and half is side corridor. We have a half size cabin, which consists of two facing seats which fold down to become the lower bunk, and a top bunk that swings down the same as ever other type of sleeper (except it's arranged longitudinal instead of transverse). There's almost zero space for storage with the bed made up - no cupboards, just a hook with 250mm of space between the wall and the beds. We're managing pretty well though, with the big wheely in the hold area downstairs. There's another cabin across the way so we can only see out our side unless we go to the vestibule. And interestingly the upper bunk is totally above the window, so Rosuav can't see out at all. The vestibule has a water cooler and an urn of complimentary coffee - this is a premium class on a premium service after all.

Next is dining car 38057. It has a kitchenette in the middle and tables at each end. The view is great. The lower level is crew only, probably food storage and cooking, with just serving up top. Then there's Lounge car 33000 - really nice, not quite the dome car Midga was hoping for, but it has a glazed section up high in the sloping part of the roof (like a Tangara) and massive side windows. On the top level it's a mix of tables and rotating seat sets facing sideways/diagonally, on the lower level it's all tables with a cafe at one end.

Then come the plebs in sitting cars 34042, 34008 and 34074. They have a few seats on the low level for wheelchair passengers (remember these cars use low level platforms, so low level entry is perfect). Seating is 2+2, which on a loading gauge like this means there's heaps of space. Seat pitch is generous too, even better than the refurb Overdue which I thought was nice. All the cars seem to be full, not bad for a premium service in the middle of an economic crisis.

2:55am. It's 10:55am local time and reservations are being called for lunch. Anton the chef is quite a character - the way he makes his PA announcements is nothing short of theatrical!

3:50am. Albuquerque - the famous Bugs Bunny navaid. We take some snaps of ostentatiously Turning Left, that'll be worth some fun later on. There's a few minutes here, enough for recovery time and train servicing. The locos are fuelled from a road tanker, windows are washed with a squeegie on the end of a long pole, axle boxes are checked (by a guy with a prominent ID tag but no hi vis clothing at all) and the dining car is restocked. It's all low level platforms, some like a super stop (about 300mm off rail level) but most are just a concrete hardstand at about rail height. They didn't take the opportunity to continue the concrete to the rail line tram lines though. It feels so wrong to cross the track just anywhere, but the locals seem to do it all the time. Knowing the speed the freights run, we look carefully both ways before stepping out.

4:37am. We're still at Albuquerque - we were supposed to have left 40 minutes ago but there's still pax boarding. We're in the lounge car looking down on the next track. It has wooden sleepers, but they're spaced about a sleeper width apart! And there isn't a single dog spoke missing. The ballast is finer than most and full of dirt - due for a bit of work. The rails themselves are big - a lot more to step over than ours, and with a wider head.

4:59am. We depart at last.

6:01am. Stop at Lamy, New Mexico - there's a heap of historic rollingstock around the station, wooden boxcars, a single decker streamliner car done up as a dining room, and an old Pullman named Hamilton done up as a home.

10am. Just passed the Raton Pass and tunnel into Colorado, and on this side of the mountain it's raining. It's steep, tight curves and not a place for a derailment so we're taking it slow. It would be Rather Good to hear a bunch of roots blown EMDs take a freight through here - alas those days are long gone, it'll all be high horsepower stuff now.

11:50am. La Junta - crew change stop. A coalie goes out while we wait - two locos (plus two pushers at the back), about 1.5km of fully laden coal cars, and without any excessive use of the throttle it gets to 30km/h in about 250m! Less exciting than listening to five Ts on the quarry train, but it just makes perfect sense in every other way.

1:40pm. We've just been told about breakfast arrangements for tomorrow, and to change our clocks to 10:40pm, Central time. Midga is ready to turn in and give me a break.

17 July 4:40am. Breakfast and lunch are over, and we're on the final stage of this leg to Chicago. Time for some general thoughts about US railroads - or at least the Super Chief line. Locos are big. The smallest (and oldest) are GP38-2s, and they seem to be used like we use Ts. And the sheer amount of traffic is mind blowing. We might have one or two Melbourne-Perth double stack trains a day - over here there's more like one an hour. And that's AS WELL as all the other trains - coalies hauled by four Dash-9s, quarry trains, livestock trains (with new build double stack height livestock cars), TOFC, bulk liquids, you name it. And to top it all, Route 66 (the road that runs sorta kinda parallel) is full of semis. The size of the freight task is one metric of a country's economy. If this is a recession, boom time must be unbelievable.

Another curious thing is that the freight railroads, while right up to date with high capacity wagons and big locos, is still in the steam age in terms of branch lines and private sidings. On leaving LA (and again in most other places) we noticed that every factory or industrial land anywhere near the rail line had its own siding - although everything around Westall has that too and it means nothing. But we saw a scrap metal yard with a single open wagon in, and a crane compacting bits into it - obviously it had been shunted in for filling and would be shunted out again later. In Oz the railways would charge a four digit figure for the shunt and the customer would decide it's easier to use a road trailer. I wonder how it works here.

Track quality is another mix - standard sleeper spacing is much closer (= high quality), axle loads are higher, loading gauges are bigger, but there's just as much rough track as on the V/Line network. Level crossings are about as common, although there are some obvious recent grade separations (mostly done by lowering the road). But none we've seen so far have bells, only booms and flashing lights. The use of the loco whistle at crossings is much more pronounced. There are practically no fences along rail lines, and often no back fences of the houses next to them. Hence Idiot Dave has to make a big thing of "Don't ever play on or near railroad tracks".

In general the American people are friendly and ready to help tourists as much as possible. They can't pick accents though, or else they can't believe that a couple of Aussies would venture right across the globe. Most of them are aware we had a huge bushfire, and Midga can shock them by saying it was about 10 miles from where we live. :) The only thing to get used to is their manner of speaking. If we respond to a general making-conversation type conversation with "uh-huh" it's considered rude, but here it's normal.

Right now we are in Chicago Union Station, which is a big enough topic for it's own blog post.