Our older daughter and her family just moved into a “new” house, so we decided to spend some time with them to help unpack. We have driven the Interstate many times, and it has become very boring. We have also flown to LAX many times, and that also has its own stressors. That inspired us to think about riding the Amtrak from our home station in Lamy, New Mexico to Union Station in Los Angeles. The trip was supposed to start at 2 PM, catching the Southwest Chief that had originated in Chicago at 8 AM and arriving in Los Angeles at around 8 AM the next morning. At least that was what was supposed to happen.

The day before our trip we received an e-mail announcement that the train would be 24 minutes (very specific) late because of delayed connections from the East Coast in Chicago. That seemed innocent enough.

The day of our travel, just as we were about to go out the door to go to the train station, we received another e-mail stating that the train would now be 4 hours late. OK. We hung around home a little while longer and then our neighbor took us for the drive to Lamy. When we arrived, we learned that the train would be even more delayed. The report was that it had been through some very heavy wind and rain storms. The engine struck a fallen tree lying across the tracks, so the engine had to be inspected and a second engine was added just in case. That seemed like cautious good judgment.

Finally, the train pulled into the station at 8 PM, a full six hours late, and we abandoned our plans to enjoy the scenery of New Mexico as the darkness enveloped us even before we got to Albuquerque. Still, we thought we might be able to enjoy the scenery on the other end the next morning. (Barstow??)

We had the car attendant make up our births and we went to sleep, expecting to awaken somewhere in California. That was not to be. The train came to a dead stop in Gallup and didn’t move for two hours. It seems that a drunk had driven his car around the flashing guard gates and smashed his car into the ill-fated engine. He survived without injury, but the engine again was subjected to a careful evaluation. As well, only emergency power was available while they checked the engine. That meant that the toilets did not work and there was no water for 2 hours with a train full of people.  Enough said.

Finally, the train started up again and made it to Winslow, Arizona, a highway distance of only about an hour and a half. Then it ground to a halt. By this time, the engineer and the conductor had used up their travel time so that a new crew had to be brought in from someplace else in order to complete the trip. After another 2 hours or so, the new crew arrived, and the train resumed its travel. By now we were over 12 hours late, but we were assured that the crew “would make up time across the desert.” Nothing like that happened, and the dining car and lounge car staffs were beginning to worry about running out of food as additional provisions had not been arranged.

Which might have been not all bad. It is a pleasure to watch the scenery while you have a meal served with silverware and a cloth napkin, but the flimsy plastic “china and glassware” flew off the table when I tried to puncture one of the slippery whole cherry tomatoes in the salad. In fairness, the staff was very accommodating and just as frustrated as the passengers at being 12 hours late, but their solicitousness didn’t make up for the food.

Unfortunately, I was unable to find a worthwhile food image to make or a dish that I wanted to try to replicate when I got home. On the other hand, my daughter outdid herself with cooking in her new kitchen – barbecue and all the trimmings, panzanella, chocolate velvet ice cream, and cherry-peach crumble. On top of that, she took us to a local seafood restaurant where we feasted on cioppino, raw oysters, and linguine with steamed fresh clams and clam broth.

As to the train, we arrived over 12 hours late, but there turned out to be some very special parts of the trip. We got to see some beautiful scenery around Flagstaff, Arizona, and we met some very nice fellow travelers at the dining table as well as outstanding staff members in the station attendant in Lamy, our railcar attendant, and the wait staff in the dining car. In fact, we would even be willing to chance another trip to Los Angeles.  Surely, there can only be one train from (to?) Hell.




Filed under Food, Photography, Travel

9 responses to “THE TRAIN FROM HELL (OR IS IT TO?)

  1. Your two are very brave indeed…I would certainly think twice about another train ride. The visit with your daughter sounds lovely though.

  2. Trapped on the train!!!! I will definitely avoid the NM train, which has always intrigued me… but I assumed the train was slow-paced, much life the lifestyle here. 😉 Positive: great that you helped your daughter and paid a visit.

  3. In retrospect, it was really not as bad as I painted it. We sort of felt like we were on the Orient Express with Agatha Christie.

  4. Sinfully Tempting

    Wow, sounds like quite the adventure. I’m glad all worked out in the end! Beautiful photos! 🙂

  5. Well, it gave me something to write and talk about. Glad you liked the images.

  6. Sorry that I have been negligent of all the blogs, Darryl. Despite the train experience,(and I have never heard of a good Amtrak experience), I hope all is well

  7. So glad to have you back in the blogosphere with your warm comments.

  8. Paul

    We left Chicago the day after you posted this on the same route. We also arrived 11 hours late into LAX, similarly they more or less ran out of food too. While it sounds like you had some bad luck, like the drunk, ours was down to engine trouble and a poor decision at Chicago not to change the engine when they had the chance – they ended up having to do it later. We were constantly told ours was an exception and the train was never this late usually and yet it sounds like it happened just a few days before too. Amazing.

    • Thanks for sharing your experience. Yes, it is amazing that we had such similar experiences. Other words come to mind: inexcusable, commonplace, etc. But now we both have a good story for parties.

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