Monday, December 6, 2010

Chicago Part 1 of 8 - Amtrak

Amtrak Train 351 at the Ann Arbor Train Station
 Wolverine Service between Pontiac Michigan and Chicago
This was our first Amtrak Train (and non car) trip and it was great.  We left our house early Saturday morning by bike and came home Monday evening.  In between we rode the train, a bus, and walked all over Chicago.

Leaving in the dark Saturday morning
Amtrak's webpage is here

I found the Amtrak website a bit cumbursome to use but I was able to eventually navigate the site and order tickets online.  Each ticket was about $30 per person per trip so altogether it was $300 to get our family of 5 to and from Ann Arbor to Chicago and back.  This is not the cheapest way to travel to Chicago but it sure was stress-free. The train was warm and relatively clean.  Seats were wide and comfortable.  Plenty of bathrooms, overhead bins, etc. 

Locking up the bikes.  We're not the only ones.

Waiting for the train at the Ann Arbor Station along with about 100 other people
I was surprised how many people were waiting for a train first thing Saturday morning, possibly a 100? 

When the train arrived at the Ann Arbor station, I counted about 6 train cars and by the time we reached Chicago, we were more than  halfway full.  Most seats were taken. 

There was even a dining car at the end of the line of train cars.  Not like the old Cary Grant/Alfred Hitchcock heyday with table cloth service but a little place to purchase coffee, hot chocolate and donuts sort of place.

Dining car with the snack shop at the far end.  Conductors in upper left of photo doing paperwork
Kris enjoying a snack in the dining car
Jake and Kat with a movie, hot chocolate and Dutch almond cookie - tradition

Kalamazoo Train Station
The train does a quick 10 minute stop in Jackson, Battle Creek, Kalamazoo, another place in Michigan, Hammond Indiana and maybe one other stop before Chicago's Union Station. 

Hammond Steel

Conductors were using shovels to knock snow and ice off the train steps when we arrived at Union Station
The train ride was delayed 30 minutes in route for some freight traffic with priority and then there was a switching problem.  It seemed like we had lost about 40 minutes but we arrived only 12 minutes behind schedule.  I'll definitely add the train to my list of transportation options, it was a great way to travel between Ann Arbor and Chicago for a few days of vacation.

Chicago's Union Station, Grand Hall

We are  now in Chicago - the adventure begins.  See the next post here, Part 2 of 8

After we returned from the trip, I happened to stumble on another review of Amtrak and I learned several things. 

The "first class" section of the train is located in back of or front of the snack bar, depending on which direction you are travelling.  These seats cost about $10 more between Ann Arbor and Chicago.  Because of the location of the seats in relation to the rest of the cars, there is not a constant trail of foot traffic in the First class section.  Every seat has a power outlet, a complimentary drink is included, and the perk that I find is probably worth the extra money is that each seat can be switched so that it faces "forward.

When we boarded the first time in Ann Arbor, it was all so fun, new and exciting that we just plopped down in the first set of seats that were together.  We then discovered a few minutes later that we were sitting backwards!  Duh!  I get "car sick" and sitting backwards for five hours was not going to work for me.  I ended up either sitting sideways, turning to face forward in my seat (not very ladylike), or hanging out in the dining car.  So the First class seats has some worthy features in my book.

According to the review I read, not every regular seat has access to a power supply.  I don't know if we were lucky to get seats with power both ways or if these were upgraded cars and all seats had power.  My kids watched movies on a laptop, read, looked out the window, had a snack, and generally had a swell time.


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