This is how it all ends

Posted by Fred Frailey
on Wednesday, May 21, 2014

I left you with these questions: Would the Lake Shore Limited reach Chicago before the connectingTexas Eagle leaves, and if not, would the Eagle wait? We do get, more or less, a perfect shot from South Bend, "more or less" meaning we cross over at 45 mph between main tracks a lot, but the Chicago East and Chicago West dispatchers keep the Norfolk Southern trains out of our way. A perfect shot will get us to Union Station, I figure, at 1:45 p.m., which is also the Eagle's departure time.

This has certainly become one of my more dramatic train trips. I do have a Plan B, by the way: fly from Midway Airport to St. Louis to catch up with my train. It's not cheap, but the knowledge keeps me from freaking out.

1:15 p.m., Gary, 25 miles out.

1:21 p.m., Indiana Harbor, 20 miles out.

1:27 p.m., Colehour Yard, 14 miles out.

1:40 p.m., Englewood, 6 miles out, red signal at the Metra diamonds. Uh oh.

That's when it occurs to me how to learn what our future holds. I turn on my cell phone and call Mark the rep cap. Mark Entrop is a friend of some years who works out of Union Station during days. Mark knows everything. He answers on the third ring, and yes, he's at work today. After some small talk, I pop the question.

"Mark, I'm on 49. We're just starting to move at Englewood. Will train 21 hold for us?"

"Fred, everything is holding for you - 3, 5, 7, and 21."

So that is the story. We come to a stop at 2 o'clock, and it seems as if every Amtrak employee at Union Station is on the track 28 platform to direct people to their connecting train. Nineteen of us are Texas Eagle passengers, and we all make it. The Eagle leaves town at 2:22 p.m., 37 minutes late. Thanks for waiting!

This wasn't Amtrak's fault. It's not really Norfolk Southern's fault, unless you think freight railroads should clear a path an hour ahead of time for Amtrak. Railroads are still playing catchup from last winter's brutal whipping, as shippers keep replenishing their inventories. It ends well for all of us (I can have lunch at Blackbird some other time). I got to see how flat Ohio is. I got an up-close look at railroad congestion, topped off with a thrilling finish. No complaints from me.

Finally, I confess that I take the Lake Shore whenever I can precisely because I know I will have interesting experiences. I got just what I asked for. - Fred W. Frailey

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