Cold Plays Havoc with the Lake Shore Limited.
CHICAGO–The Lake Shore Limited starts out as two trains. One section leaves Boston about noon and heads across Massachusetts, passing through Springfield and Pittsfield, arriving at Albany, New York, about 5:30.
The other, bigger section departs New York’s Penn Station at 3:40 in the afternoon, heads up the eastern bank of the Hudson River, and reaches Albany at 6:20. That’s where the two sections are joined and the combined train departs for Chicago just after 7:00 p.m. and makes 14 stops between Albany and Chicago, including Buffalo, Cleveland, and Toledo.
When it’s on time, the westbound Lake Shore Limited arrives in Chicgo at 9:45 in the morning. We got here at about 8:45 … tonight.
There were a lot of reasons for that horrendous lateness, but there was just one root cause: the terrible, numbing, brittle, miserable God-awful cold east of here.
Yesterday’s train ran into trouble almost immediately.The Boston section had to stop while crews removed and replaced a broken rail somewhere between Springfield and Boston. That took over three-and-a-half hours.
By the time the Boston section arrived in Albany, was joined up with the New York section, and the combine train departed Albany, it was 10:30 … almost four hours late.
The 240-mile run from Albany to Rochester takes four hours and that put the Lake Shore in Rochester, NY, at 2:30 a.m. and that’s when, quite properly, the Amtrak reservations people started letting those of us waiting for the train up ahead when we could expect the Lake Shore to be arriving. I was in Buffalo, an hour’s run for the trains coming from Rochester, so I was anticipating the Lake Shore arriving at about 3:30 a.m.
Back in Rochester, the operating crew–engineers and conductors–had reached their legal limit of 12 hours on duty and they “went dead”. So train 49/449 sat in the Rochester Station while Amtrak was trying to find two conductors and two engineers qualified on that stretch of track, eligible to work, and who could get to Rochester through the awful cold in terms of minutes rather than hours.
Finally the new crew as was assembled, transported to Rochester, and trains 49/449 headed west again. It got as far as Lancaster, New York, coming to a halt just short of a switch that had been frozen in he wrong configuration for the Lake Shore. Lancaster is just six miles from the Buffalo station where, by now, 30 or 40 passengers were waiting with varying degree of patience.
Meanwhile, because our train was now running about six hours late, it had long since fallen out of “the slot” created for it by CSX dispatchers and for the rest of the day, we were repeatedly shunted off onto sidings while ponderous CSX freights rumbled by on the main line.
All of these problems were essentially caused by the terrible cold. How cold was it? Minus 21 degrees when I arrived at the Buffalo station at 3:15 a.m. and Minus 7 when we finally boarded Train 49 and departed Buffalo on our way to Chicago.
I asked the cab driver what the temperature was here in Chicago when we were heading for my hotel. “Thirteen degrees,” he said.
“Plus or minus,” I asked.
“That’s thirteen above zero,” he said.
Piece of cake!