|Not our train, but a similar long distance Amtrak Superliner service departs from Union Station beneath the Chicago skyline.|
|Some hours before departure train #3|
The Southwest Chief is on the boards.
As the train begins its journey west there is one final view of the Chicago skyline from the right hand side of the train before we brace our selves for 'Prairie Day'. Before entering the prairies there is time for our first delay of the trip- only 13 minutes, caused by a Metra commuter train performing 'station work' in our path.
|Philip welcomes passengers aboard.|
After booking our slot in the dining car for dinner it is time to explore my favourite part of the train, the lounge car. The coach features comfortable seats around tables at one end with the remainder of the car formed of seating in on es and twos which face out of large floor to ceiling windows. Freight trains and ranches pass by as we continue our journey at a good speed across the prairies of Illinois.
|Why fly when you can enjoy a comfortable seat and amazing views from the Superliner Sightseeing Lounge?|
|Dinner in the diner- one of the pleasures of an Amtrak trip.|
Having studied the schedule for the train we decided that the long layover in an hour of two at Kansas City is worth staying up for. The train is on time when we arrive here and there is amble time to walk to the front of the train for a look at the engines. Quite a lot of passengers change here and once we depart after 22:00 it is time to ask Philip to lower the bunks to convert our seats into beds. This time I have drawn the short straw and have the far less comfortable upper bunk- my sleep will suffer as a result.
|A pause in Kansas City- 120 and 837 prepare to head train #3 through the night.|
It isn't long before 'James, party of two' is broadcast by Kimberly across the train. Our breakfast companions are Stephen and Rebecca- who has just returned to the US from a vacation to London to see her son in Islington (small world). Stephen comments on how they had picked up our English accents passing through the train and had hoped to be paired with us for a meal, and 'here we are'. I am again thwarted in my efforts to order French Toast for breakfast as it appears the train is part way through a menu change and it has been replaced by pancakes. 'French Toast that is really Pancakes' however is very good, as is the breakfast conversation. Stephen and Rebecca are well travelled themselves and as it happens met in London as students. Like us they see the train as part of their holiday and like to take a long Amtrak trip once a year. We discuss journeys we would like to make when Kimberley kindly reminds us that the table is required by more guests waiting for their breakfast. We retire to the lounge car to continue the conversation.
|A pause for a leg stretch at La Junta, CO|
|Watching the Colorado scenery from the lounge car.|
|The Santa Fe Raton Pass provides stunning morning scenery.|
Albuquerque is our major stop for the afternoon and although the train is running some 40 minutes behind schedule due to 'Signalling Problems', how familiar that sounds, we still need a good 35 minutes here for a crew stop and for the train to be serviced - This includes a fuel top up for the locomotives from a road tanker as well as trash collection and a chance to clean the windows. For the passengers it is also a chance to re-fuel from the somewhat underwhelming station cafe, or to peruse through the offerings of several stalls on the platforms which are selling local crafts. Of course I don't need any of this tat and a Mexican hat is unlikely to travel well in my bursting suitcase anyway. Despite this I am relieved of $27 which I have spent on soap. I seem to have a weakness for buying soap as this isn't the first time this has happened. Maybe I should get a t-shirt; 'If you're selling soap, I'm your man.' I chat to Frances on the platform who is thriving among the craft stalls, though I see she hasn't brought soap- or anything else for that matter. I also manage to pick up a postcard for home at the station and just before re-boarding I am cornered by the 'Pumped for Trump' ladies who have thus far forgotten to have their picture taken with the train.
|New Mexico scenery from the sightseeing lounge.|
|Our train has been alone for much of the day, but by late afternoon the|
landscape is littered with lengthy freight trains of the BNSF.
Eventually the train slows for Williams Junction from where we will be getting off for our pre-booked bus to Williams itself. I seek reassurance from Philip our car steward that the bus will wait for the delayed train - I already know it will be but it I still feel reassured to know for certain. Frances bids us farewell and best wishes for our trip ahead as we pass in the corridor to collect our bags. Williams Junction turns out to be somewhat of a 'nothing' location from what I can see in the darkness. I'm not even sure if it is a junction- I must check that on Google maps sometime. [edit: I did, and it is.] Indeed the halt here is so diminutive that the train must follow a rather arduous procedure to set down and pick up its passengers; the platform (if you can call the piece of concrete and solitary lamp such a thing) is only long enough for one coach of our train, so each car with passengers for the stop must pull up individually, causing some initial confusion as to why we are not let off when the train first stops. On the second stop Philip opens the door, we bid our farewells and disembark. What awaits is not an air conditioned coach with Amtrak branding as I suspected, but a minibus pulling a luggage trailer. It is actually getting a bit cold so we give our luggage to the driver and take a seat in the somewhat dilapidated bus from which the paper is peeling from the walls. Some passengers are already on board and enquire whether we forgot to get off when the train had first stopped. As we explain, the train draws forward one final time to allow seated passengers off from the rear. With that the Southwest Chief is gone, the station light goes out and our bus is left alone in the darkness of the woodland. The driver, Clay, does a headcount and although we are one short there is no prospect of them arriving now the train has gone so the engine is started. The passenger light is flicked off and we start on the gravel road for Williams. The 10 minute journey is a rather un-glamorous end to our 30 plus hours of travel from Chicago.
Read the final part here.