Dodge City to Los Angeles.
At 5:00 a.m., as promised, Kurt, my host at the Boot Hill B&B, was waiting for me at the bottom of the stairs ready to drive me to the Dodge City station. The Chief was running nine minutes early, so there was time to say hello and express thanks to the volunteer manning the station. Dodge City is a crew change and the new conductors were already there. One called my name, scanned my ticket and, when the Chief pulled in, escorted me to the 330 car and pulled the door open. The car attendant was nowhere in sight, but when I got to my roomette, the bed had been made up and was ready for me to crawl in.
Later in the day, on the platform at Raton, New Mexico, I met Karl, a young man–mid-30s, I’d guess– who is also in the 330 sleeper with his wife and six-month-old son. He’s German, but is fluent in English with only the barest trace of an accent. His wife is from China, and Karl is also fluent in Mandarin. In addition to her own language, his wife speaks German. What about the baby, I ask? Karl says they want their child to be at least bi-lingual, so he speaks only German to the baby while his wife sticks to Chinese. They’re touring the U.S., mostly by train, on what I gather is some kind of sabbatical.
“Why Are We Stopped?”
They say that’s the most frequently asked question on an Amtrak long-distance train and I believe it. Ten or 15 miles east of Lamy, New Mexico, the Chief slows to a crawl. We finally arrive at Lamy, unload and load passengers, and continue on our way . . . still at a crawl. This is about where we should be meeting the eastbound Chief and, sure enough, five or six minutes after departing Lamy, it rumbles past. Still, our train continues to creep along at 10-12 miles an hour with no announcement from the conductors. This my pet peeve. Some passengers don’t know and don’t care, but when we’re stopped in the middle of nowhere or running at very slow speeds, more than a few passengers would like to know why.
Failing an official announcement, there is a general rule that is often the correct explanation: If there is another track outside, parallel to the one we’re on, we’re probably on a siding waiting for a train coming from the other direction. If there is no second track outside, we’re probably following a slow freight. Most everyone understands that but, in my opinion, delays of more than a minute or so should be explained with a brief P.A. announcement. More times than not, there ain’t none!