The last time I took an overnight train trip was in December 2020. So it has been a while for me, and time for a new adventure. Fall is an excellent time to take a trip to see the Fall colors; at least, I hope to see some on this trip as I travel to Philadelphia.
I am going to see friends.
I started in Chicago on the Texas Eagle while they began in New Orleans on the Sunset Limited. Before heading to LA, these two trains come together in San Antonio, TX.
After that first meal, we planned our meals together for the rest of the trip.
One neat experience on that trip was there was a private car, the Patron Tequila Express. While at the El Paso, TX, stop, the guys and I could see the inside.
Since that first ride, Sean and I have taken a few train trips together, including Hiawatha and the South Shore Line. We also did a reunion run on the Texas Eagle, but we both started in Chicago this time.
David is not as big of a train enthusiast as Sean and I, and his work hasn’t allowed him to join us.
A few years ago, they bought a home and offered me a place to stay when I visited Philidelphia. Once again, I decided to take them up on their offer.
The goal for this trip
The goal for this trip is simple, solo train time, hang out with friends, see a few places, and relax before the rest of the year gets busy.
I am already working on Christmas music and holiday travel plans, so some time to relax will be excellent.
Kev’s travel options
Driving is not an option for this trip; one main reason, renting a car these days is challenging and expensive. Plus, I want to sit back and relax. Besides, this option isn’t the cheapest.
The map apps claim it takes about fourteen hours; it would probably be closer to fifteen to sixteen hours when you add breaks or more with traffic.
On a road trip, I’m not particularly eager to drive more than nine hours in one day, especially on my own. So, that means I would have to get a hotel; it could be fun, but all this gets expensive fast.
I am not opposed to flying when I travel.
I have three international airports to choose from, Milwaukee and Chicago’s O’Hare and Midway. These options often give me several choices for finding something in my price range and schedule. But even with that, things do not always work out how I want for the price I want.
Taking a bus/Greyhound would cost about the same as airlines, but the times and layovers were not great for me. I had slept on buses before, so I knew I could handle that, but it was not what I wanted for this adventure.
I don’t mind shorter bus trips, and I have looked into taking the bus to my sister’s in Nebraska.
One downfall busses have, for me, is they do not have food onboard to purchase.
One thing I like about Amtrak trains; most of them have a cafe car. If you have a layover without food, a snack can hold you over until you get on the train and purchase something more substantial.
I can and would pack enough food for the trip, so I wouldn’t have to worry, but I would prefer not to pack a lot. I know there are some food stops, but those can get tight if the train is full.
Also, most buses do not have a tray to put things on, and I don’t want to hold my iPad or computer in my lap for that long trip.
I know all of these issues are “first-world problems.” but sometimes comfort is part of what you want for the journey. And as you will find out, there is another reason.
The train schedule works well and allows me to have a relaxing Sunday afternoon before the trip.
Being a church organist and the producer of the service videos, I appreciate a little relaxation before a trip.
Sometimes I don’t get done until 2 pm, so there is time to regroup before going, in case something goes wrong.
There is a hidden reason for wanting to take the train on this trip. Over the years, I maintained several travel traditions, like being on a train every week. Sadly most of them have stopped for various reasons. One practice I have been able to hand on since 2013 is taking the Capitol Limited every year.
I have a few options with the train, and I like them overall.
What did I choose?
I am taking the train if you haven’t picked it up by now.
I did look at the other options. With the Fall colors and wanting to maintain my remaining travel tradition, the train was my preferred choice from the start.
My train options
There are a few other options for me to get to Chicago, like Metra, but I bought my Hiawatha tickets on sale, and the $2 extra over Metra is worth the comfort and convenience.
The Cardinal – I wish this bird worked out
The Cardinal is an effortless option for this trip. And one of the trains I wanted to take, but as you will find out, has one big problem.
I love this train because I can go from Chicago to Philadelphia without another layover.
But the downside of this train is that it only operates three times a week, and none of those days work for me in either direction for this trip.
Sigh. I love the Cardinal, and I think it’s a hidden gem on the Amtrak system; maybe next time.
Capitol Limited – One train with two regional options
The Capitol Limited does not go directly to Philadelphia, so I need to transfer to a regional train to get to Philly. My transfer points are either Pittsburgh, PA, or Washington, DC; both options have advantages and disadvantages.
Transferring in Pittsburgh means I will detrain the Capitol Limited early in the morning and wait to depart on the Pennsylvanian. This scenic route also allows me to see the Horse Shoe Curve. The Pittsburgh station is not my favorite station for a layover, but in the big scheme of things, the time there is not significant as it relates to my whole trip.
The other option is taking The Capitol Limited to the end of its route, Washington DC. From there, I take an Amtrak regional North. I have more food options and places for me to walk around. I have been to Washington Union Station, mainly transferring to the Silver Meteor.
Lake Shore Limited – the last train out of Chicago
The final option is Amtrak’s Lake Shore Limited, which would take me from Chicago to New York City and then down to Philly.
The Lake Shore is the last Amtrak long-distance train to leave Chicago every night. I would have a very relaxing afternoon leading into the early evening before catching the Hiawatha.
I like the ability to book business-class accommodation from Chicago to Albany, NY. I would leave the business class car in Albany and then go to a coach car that heads to New York. The Lake Shore Limited is one of the three Amtrak trains that split or come together en route. From New York, I would take a regional South.
The problem with this plan is I would arrive later than I wanted. I want to do something on the day I arrive.
What I chose
I will take The Capitol Limited to Pittsburgh and transfer to the Pennsylvanian.
I chose this because I thought it would be a pretty route with leaves starting to turn, plus then I will have a different view from when I come back.
Because when I come home, I am taking Acela from Phillidelphia to DC with Sean. He and I are spending a chunk of the day in DC before I must leave in the early afternoon. The Capitol Limited takes me back to Chicago.
I have coach class tickets for all trains, but for Acela, the base class for that train is business class. I hope to use the complimentary upgrade passes I earned from Amtrak Guest Rewards on the Acela and Pennsylvanian.
Also, I am trying Amtrak’s Bid-up program, where I hope to get a sleeper on the way home.
Trip length and lodging
My October trip will run from Sunday to Friday with two-plus days in Philadelphia and surrounding areas, plus half a day in DC.
I will have two nights on the train for this trip, one in each direction. As I said, I hope to get a sleeper for the ride home. While in Philadelphia, I’ll be with Dave, Sean, and their two cats.
What are our plans?
When I talked to Sean about this trip, I had a few things in the back of my mind that I wanted to do, and luckily for me, he was open to them as well.
If you have been following for a while, you know I am an organist, and the two most significant pipe organs in the world are a short train ride apart!
Neither organ is in a church or concert hall; one is in a store, and the other resides in an arena that has hosted the Miss America contest and sporting event!
The famed Wannamaker Organ, known as Baby, is used for daily concerts for shoppers to enjoy or organ geeks to take advantage of a free show.
Years ago, during a trip to Philly, I could sit at this glorious beast’s console, have my photo taken, and go behind the scenes to see parts of the organ.
The Boardwalk Hall Auditorium Organ in Atlantic City, NJ, amazes me because I never thought this organ would play again, but I can happily admit I was wrong.
From my understanding, construction crews accidentally cut a cable, making the organ unplayable years ago. Also, a large portion of the organ was not playing during that time. With those two strikes against it, I concluded that it was the end for that organ. Sometimes I am glad that I am wrong.
These days a lot of the organ is functioning, and more ranks work yearly. You can hear the organ for events and weekly concerts that you can attend in person or see on YouTube. Recently they brought back their tours of the organ. (I bought tickets for Sean and me to go behind the scenes).
Something odd but could be fun to do
We are discussing visiting a few other places, such as the Mutter Museum.
Have you ever seen something pop up on your Youtube feed that seemed odd yet intriguing? After watching said video, you ask someone else about it, and they say, I have always wanted to go there, but no one would go with me? Yeah, that is what happened here. Sean knew about the place and was interested in going.
The Mutter Museum holds within its walls an eclectic collection of medical exhibits.
What else we do will depend on how much time we have. If we do not get to everything this time, we can go to my next visit; we have already started talking about my next visit.
I am not sure what else I will see, Sean had a few other suggestions that I forgot, but we will have fun!
I am looking forward to seeing Sean and David again. As of now, it seems like a pretty packed trip, and that is okay. I have time to unwind while on the train.
The train ride should be fun; the only part I am not looking forward to is the Pittsburgh layover, but I am looking forward to riding the Pennsevainin again.