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?