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We rode the Silver Meteor and Silver Star in June 2012. We began our journey on an Empire Service train to Penn Station in New York on 22 June, a hot summer day. Because the train originated in Rensselaer there was no food service, but we had Business Class tickets so enjoyed the very comfortable 2-1 seating. An added benefit of being in Business Class was access to the railfan window at the rear of the train. A summer thunderstorm arrived as we rode down the west side of Manhattan, the first of much rain we encountered on the trip. We arrived in Penn Station on time and made our way to the Acela Lounge where we snacked on some chips and soda and waited to board the Silver Meteor.
The Silver Meteor was delayed about an hour leaving New York due to equipment problems, but soon we were escorted to the platform and our Viewliner Roomette, our home for the next 24 hours or so. That evening we took the earliest dinner seating in the dining car and enjoyed a very tasty salmon dinner. Toward Washington, DC we encountered more thunderstorms, and decided to drop the beds and turn in reasonably early as we rolled through northern Virginia. Storms continued to appear periodically overnight, and at times I found it quite enjoyable to lie in bed and watch the light show while being gently rocked by the rails. For our first night sleeping on a train we both slept reasonably well although the movement did take some getting used to.
We awoke very early the next morning as we rolled through the fog-covered South Carolina low country. We stepped out for a few minutes in both Savannah and Jacksonville to stretch our legs, and then spent much of the day watching the Florida scenery roll by. As we approached Orlando we slowed a bit as we traveled past multiple new stations under construction. The train largely emptied at Orlando, our midday stop, so although we were the first ones in the dining car for breakfast in the morning, we waited until the last seating for lunch. We also stretched our legs for the last time at Orlando, watching the throngs of people waiting for the northbound train. As we continued south we were surprised at how rural the landscape became, especially considering the population just a few miles away on Florida’s east coast.
We left the Silver Meteor at West Palm Beach, and after a few minutes of figuring out how to purchase tickets, boarded a Tri-Rail train to Boca Raton. We encountered a few storms during our ride, but luckily the rain stopped before we arrived at our destination. We made the sweltering walk to the hotel between storms, but still grumbled that at one time the station had been right next to the hotel, making it far more convenient.
Watching the news at breakfast the next morning we learned that the storms that kept rolling through were part of a larger tropical storm moving up the west coast. Seeing the weather radar it became clear that another heavy band of rain was going to hit during our walk to the station. Luckily we were able to take the hotel van to the station since as we were leaving the rain came down so hard it would have been like standing under a waterfall. Our Tri-Rail train soon arrived and took us to Miami through the almost constant downpours. We actually took Tri-Rail all of the way to Hialeah Market since we had plenty of time and wanted to cover as much of the route as possible. Happily the rain stopped for awhile and we were able to make the walk from Metrorail Transfer to the Miami Amtrak station under dry skies. Although the neighborhood around the Amtrak station looked a little sketchy, we had no problems at 10:00 on a Sunday morning.
We departed Miami on the Silver Star right on time, but were held near West Palm Beach while cleanup progressed after a ‘mini-tornado’ came through and made a mess of the area. Overturned dumpsters, bent signs, and other debris could be seen as we went through the area. At the many grade crossings, bent or broken crossing gates were visible and most likely a key reason we were delayed. The heavy rain continued for much of the trip across the state, with flooding visible as we rode through Tampa. Further delays meant we didn’t reach Kissimmee and Orlando until well after dark. We stepped out in the pouring rain in Orlando for a few minutes to get some fresh air, but then turned in for the night soon after we departed.
When the sun rose the next morning we were still well inside South Carolina. I stepped out for a second into the cool morning air when we stopped in Columbia, remarking that I was probably the only one on the train who was happy we were running 3 hours late so I’d be able to see this part of South Carolina. Pleasant sunny weather greeted us for the rest of the trip, until Richmond where the skies once again darkened. Our stop in Richmond was greatly abbreviated as we tried to make up some of the lost time. Between Richmond and Washington heavy thunderstorms returned, but ceased by the time we reached Washington for our engine change. I hoped we’d make up time on the Northeast Corridor as we had on the Carolinian a few weeks earlier, but unfortunately we were held in Wilmington for quite some time waiting for other trains to pass. When we finally arrived back in New York, we had missed our planned connection, but were booked on the next train and arrived back home later that night.
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Copyright 2013 by Robert Mortell