- The train arrived about an hour and fifteen minutes late, although Julie seemed to have no clue; and it took another 45 minutes to begin boarding.
- In addition to attaching the MSP coach and a private car to the end of the train, it seems "Chicago" wanted us to dead-head a broken engine back to Chicago; and it took quite a while to hook it up to the three functioning units. After a while, it was disconnected and set aside. While I was snooping around the front of the train during the long wait, an official looking person with an Amtrak badge said that the bad engine wouldn't "take power". I presumed he meant that it would prevent the cars from getting power from the engine (so-called HEP) for lights, A/C, etc, or that its brakes wouldn't function, or both. Eventually, we got underway a little over 2 hours late. I was getting a bit nervous since we had only two hours between the scheduled arrival in Chicago and the departure of the Illinois Zephyr for Quincy. To make matters worse, we would have to find someone in Chicago to let us down into the bowels of the station where bicycles are stored, then reassemble them in order to roll them onto the Quincy train.
- The sightseer lounge car had been left behind in Portland due to mechanical or electrical problems. So no cafe or nice place to sit. I had to go all the way through the train to the first Seattle sleeper to find coffee to steal. Didn't bother my conscience at all.
- Because of refrigeration problems, the dining car would serve only sleeping car passengers, which we weren't since it was a day trip. Fortunately, they brought KFC box lunches on board at Wisconsin Dells and distributed them free to coach passengers. Not my first choice; but I was too hungry to complain.
- There was no A/C in the bedroom half of the Portland sleeper; and it was hotter than h.... I also saw seat checks over seats in the adjacent coach with "sleeper" written on them, instead of the destination code. Boy! I'd be steamed in more ways than one, especially if I paid high bucket.
The temporary lake between Reeseville and Watertown, WI, had deteriorated into a small stream snaking its way through a mud flat. We lost a little more time; and upon departing Milwaukee, they announced that passengers to Michigan, St. Louis, Carbondale, Quincy, and Indianapolis would be bussed. At least the two overnight trains to the East coast would not be affected.
Upon arriving in Chicago, we were informed that a van would be taking Illinois Zephyr passengers to their destination, but that it could not accommodate bicycles. A customer service agent expeditiously rebooked us on the early morning Carl Sandburg and gave us vouchers for a hotel and food money. I was so pleased with the service that I declined cab money since we would be bicycling to and from the Hotel.
So while Jeanine went to the ticket counter to get new tickets and cash in the voucher, I found someone who quickly let me downstairs where I could retrieve and reassemble the two bicycles. All this took about and hour from the time of arrival; and as we were about to roll out of the station, we saw an agent lining up the passengers for the Quincy van. I believe we were fortunate in that although the running time of the IZ from Chicago to Quincy is 4 hours and 20 minutes, arriving at 10:12PM, Google says it would take 5 hours and 34 minutes, not counting stopping, to drive to only Galesburg in addition to Quincy. Worse if there were passengers for other stations along the line. Seems the interstate doesn't follow the original, more direct CB&Q route to Quincy built in the mid 19th century. I'm guessing our arrival time in Quincy would have been 1:30AM
As we rode north out of Union Station, our destination was the Best Western Inn of Chicago on Ohio Street near North Michigan Avenue. At first we were able to ride on the sidewalk since the the Loop was almost empty by this time. However, it was a different story immediately after we crossed a branch of the Chicago River and found ourselves in the River North Entertainment area: lots of car and pedestrian traffic. So we had to move to the street. Not being wiped out by a rampaging taxi, we arrived at the Inn of Chicago in about 20 minutes total. It turned out to be a very nice hotel in a great area. I just wish we hadn't been too tired to take advantage of it. The earlier KFC had to surfice.
By leaving the next morning in plenty of time to catch the 7:25 Carl Sandburg, we encountered no traffic and our ride back to Union Station took only 15 minutes. When traveling with bikes, it is always nice to be eligible for priority boarding due to our advanced age. After rolling the bike to the train, we were instructed to stash them at the first seat in our car (You never know where it will be; last time it was the wheel chair space, the time before the cabbage).
The ride to Quincy was smooth and uneventful, arrived about noon. But there was one weird occurrence. When the assistant conductor, who was very friendly and had helped us with the bikes, collected our tickets, I asked him if that was him I saw in the lobby of the hotel where we had stayed. He said yes, and added that we were lucky that we didn't make the train the previous evening. Seems the conductor working that train doesn't allow bikes. Even with bike tickets says I? I didn't follow the response. But I remembered Amtrak rule number ONE. If you don't like an employee's answer to a question, ask someone else.
On the positive side:
- Good customer service in Chicago (although I might disagree were I on that van)
- Got a good nights sleep at a nice hotel before a leisurely morning ride to Quincy - instead of arriving at 10:12PM after a long coach ride from MSP
- Got to see an interesting area of Chicago I had not been to before.
- Got to ride a train I hadn't before - the Carl Sandberg.
- I'd rather see Amtrak spend their money on preventive maintenance instead of hotel, food, and taxis for stranded passengers.
- Five critical equipment failures (one Everett to MSP and 4 MSP to Chicago) make be nervous. Is this a trend?