Thursday, January 15, 2009
The eastbound California Zephyr stops at Glenwood Springs, Colorado, last Tuesday with a grimy but still colorful Union Pacific freight locomotive on the point, subbing for a sick Amtrak engine.
The Lady Friend and I have returned, a bit weary but happy and rested, from Glenwood Springs. Hang Fire, the fourth Steve Martinez novel, is now 20 pages longer and I'm feeling good about it.
Our train trip back on the eastbound California Zephyr was as pleasant as the westbound one, albeit a lot longer. One of the train's two locomotives took sick, and a freight engine had to be borrowed from the Union Pacific to haul the train over the steep Rockies to Denver. There that engine was replaced by another freight locomotive from the Burlington Northern Santa Fe.
All to the good, but freight engines are geared for running no faster than 70 miles per hour, while passenger locomotives can go as fast as 79 and often do. This means the train lost more time while in 79-mph territory. By the time we got to Denver, the Zephyr was 4.5 hours behind schedule.
Worse was to come. Yesterday, on the last day of the trip, a westbound Southwest Chief derailed just after departure in the yard at Chicago Union Station, throwing the entire BNSF and Metra commuter line from Chicago to Aurora into gridlock for hours during bone-chilling cold. When our train finally crawled in shortly before 10 p.m., it was nearly six hours late.
That was nothing compared to what the Metra commuters had to endure. That very morning all inbound trains were held up for two hours while black-clad cops converged upon a Metra train believed to be carrying a man with a gun. It was, but he was a Secret Service agent.
Bad luck both coming and going for the poor straphangers. But the Lady Friend and I were snug, warm and well-fed all the way, except for the 20 minutes of waiting for a taxi in arctic weather outside Union Station.
And that is all I shall be writing about my rail-riding enthusiasm for the next few weeks, if we are lucky.