Amtrak Texas Eagle
So the next stage of our journey across the USA is from Chicago to Dallas by Train. In fact, Train 21 from Chicago goes to San Antonio but we would be taking it as far as Dallas on this leg of the trip. It’s called the Texas Eagle and is another of Amtrak’s long distance sleeper trains.
Chicago Union Station
We headed back to Chicago Union Station but decided not to trust Amtrak checked baggage with our suitcases again. So we kept them with us this time and took them onto the train ourselves. We arrived back into the Metropolitan lounge where the clerk recognised us from the day before. Then we settled down to wait for the train which was scheduled to leave about 30 minutes late. The 1st class lounges are an excellent place to hang out and wait for the train. They provide comfy seating and free self-service coffee/tea/soft drinks and snacks. I stocked up on a few packets of pretzels and some crisps in case of any delays (more of that later).
The Texas Eagle
When boarding was announced we all gathered together ready to walk to the platform. Sleeper passengers get priority boarding, in theory, and so we all lined up to be counted. The 19 of us then followed our escort to the platform via a circuitous route This involved walking outside into the freezing Chicago air again before making a complete loop around and entering the building again. Our guide pointed us towards platform 14 and told us to keep walking all the way down to the front. Off we set, still in procession, following an elderly chap who was pushing his wife in a wheelchair.
However, we didn’t make it on to the train. Instead, an official-looking Amtrak employee insisted that we could not board. Apparently, he was the conductor and he informed us that he had not called for sleeper passengers to board the train. The procession stopped – ‘turn around’ he tells us ‘and go back to the lounge’.
So, it turns out that there are no linens on the train. Of course, we all know that you cannot board a train which has no linens. Even our guide backs down in the face of such catastrophe and urges us back into the lounge. As a group, we shuffle gratefully back along the platform. The platform is outside and it is, just in case you’ve forgotten, freezing. Being sent back was immeasurably preferable to remaining outside. Passengers in coach class, who apparently do not need or care for linens were, however, allowed onto the train. Fortunately, the linens were soon loaded.
Life on the train
The Texas Eagle is an Amtrak Superliner train. That is a double-decker. So most of the passenger rooms, including ours, are upstairs so you get an elevated view of the world outside. Our roomette was similar to the one of the NY to Chicago train but without the toilet. I think that’s a good thing although it does mean walking down to the end of the carriage in the middle of the night. Our sleeping-car attendant, Jim, introduced himself over the tannoy system. Our first impression was that Jim did not like passengers very much. At least he had a very low opinion of them which may well have been based on previous experience, I suppose.
He had a long list of things which we should do. Many of them associated with using the toilet including locking the door when using and shutting it firmly when exiting (there were others but really you don’t want to know). Then there were the things we shouldn’t do – no smoking (more on this later), no walking around the train with no shoes on – I think he uttered the immortal words ‘no shirt, no shoes, no service’ at one point but I’m not actually sure as we were giggling a bit by that point and not giving him our full attention.
Actually, Jim turned out to be ok – nice, even. In person, he had a rather jovial air about him, which is why I suspect his suspicion for his passengers was based on some previous, and possibly unpleasant past experiences. As people who can use a public toilet without detailed instructions (yes, really) we were pretty confident of staying on his good side and this proved to be the case, although his fears about some of our fellow passengers proved far from groundless.
As I may have mentioned already, sleeper passengers get meals in the dining car included in their rail fare. This is a pretty good deal especially if you book early at a low price. Tony, the Dining car attendant came round to ask us what time we would like dinner and we booked in for 7 pm. After thanking him, he rather incongruously asked if we were Canadian? Apparently, they say ‘cheers’ a lot up there too. Having established that of course, we weren’t Canadian he spent the rest of the journey waving enthusiastically at us and shouting ‘cheers’. Then on one occasion ‘tatty bye’ – which is a phrase apparently associated with the British.
He did seem to take a liking to us though so when it became clear that rather than arriving in Dallas before lunch the next day, we would be some time later, he very kindly invited us into the dining car for an extra free meal.
We have now had the chance to try a number of the choices on the Amtrak dining menu and all have been very good so we definitely cannot complain about the food.
Another Delay on the Chicago to Dallas Train
You have to expect some delays when travelling across the USA by train. In the morning our train waited behind a broken down freight train for a while. The tracks don’t seem to allow for one train to get past.
Not very far along, however, this came to an unscheduled stop once more while we were eating our free lunch. Word quickly spread that we had stopped because someone had been caught smoking on the train. As we all peered out of the window we saw several police officers arriving from the conveniently situated police station right opposite where we had stopped.
Shortly afterwards, three passengers exited the train with their suitcases. Then they were escorted away by police officers. As you can imagine, a buzz of excitement swept through the passengers previously rather subdued by the delay. Jim conspiratorially confided in us that he rather liked this kind of thing happening as it served as a warning to any potential sleeper passengers who might think of breaking the rules too.
Errant smokers disposed of the train picked up the pace and we arrived in Dallas just 3 hours late. The weather down here is considerably warmer although nothing you could refer to as hot. It’s different in the south. In NY and Chicago, there were large signs saying ‘No crossing the tracks – trespassers will be prosecuted’. However, the signs at Dallas station instructed us to ‘Look both ways before crossing’. We scooted quickly across before a very long freight train could delay us again. The trip from Chicago to Dallas by Train was interesting and reasonably comfortable. We’ve got further to go though but more of that later.