Take the A-Train

BWI to Chicago

Rex's USA Diary


BWI Airport Station

Baltimore - Washington International Airport Station

There was nothing exciting about 24 December 2003 - a cold, gray mid-winter day and not one for hanging around on platforms waiting for delayed trains. I hadn't even started my journey and the delays had already started! That said, actually starting a journey that had been schemed over for weeks did put me on a bit of a high. My friend Brendon had come with me to the station and taken my car off for safe-keeping and so I passed the time filming bits and pieces, like other trains passing through.

These days American's are a bit twitchy about security when they travel, and there could be mufti cops anywhere. So it didn't come as much of a shock when a guy who had been watching me filming stepped over and asked 'What are you doing and why?'. He was a bit abrupt, but I told him about holiday memories and he seemed satisfied. Later we chatted for a bit and Chalin revealed that he knew that NZ had a female leader, and that a friend of his had come back from there 25 years ago with details of a new invention - a fencing technique using high tensile wire. Chalin was off to visit his Mum in southern Maryland.

Our train arrived 20 minutes behind schedule and the first leg of my great tour of America began.

Washington DC

Union Station, washington DC

Union Station, Washington DC

About 40 minutes later I was at my first way-point and was wandering around Union Station, Washington, DC checking out the building.

Quirky Fact: Using Wikipedia, I counted 141 Union Stations in the USA, two of which are in Washington DC. I didn't count the Union Stations in Australia, Canada or the United Arab Emirates. Wikipedia says a Union station is a train station used by more than one railroad company, line or service provider.

As well as its 133 + stores, 46-vendor food court and 9-screen movie complex, Union Station (Washington, DC) has 46 statues of Roman soldiers guarding it. My source of all things quirky told me that the sculptor had not given some of the statues any pants - and very short skirts.

I checked out this rumor while exploring the vast halls. Nothing seen there, so I later checked the Wikipedia article on Union Station, Washington DC. It tells a fascinating story of how Union station was constructed but fails to mention the soldiers personal details. Consequently, I figure my quirky friend must be full of BS and he has caught me out again. Until I find this website, sigh!

The Capital Limited

The Capital Limited

My next train, the Capitol Limited, pulled away smoothly from the station on time at 5.23 PM and we drifted out into the early winter dark and the suburban lights of the nation's capital city.

etrex GPS

It is time to introduce a toy. I had wanted to know where I was if I woke up somewhere in the middle of the night. So for some days I had been plotting my journey on a computer map and downloading way-points into my GPS receiver. The GPS was therefore stuffed with information and I used it to see how far the train had come from Washington (3 miles) and how far there was to go to Cumberland (107 miles). Suitably satisfied with our direction, distance, speed and altitude, I moved on to my next toy.

CD Player

This bit of research was based on the thought of many miles of train travel staring out a window at a barely-changing landscape, or the dark of night. I wanted to take books, but didn't want the weight or volume of carting them with me. I had a reasonable collection of (copyright free) audio books off the Internet and had researched all sorts of high-tech (and expensive) MP3 file players.

My device of choice turned out to be a cheap portable CD player that ran on two AA cells. What a magic device! I packed a few music CD's and burned my audio books onto disc, so that in a little bag slightly bigger than a CD and less than two inches thick I could carry both my player and over 50 books plus music. Hard to beat that with the electronic MP3 players!

Even more impressive, my re-chargeable NiMH batteries powered the player for over two intensive days of use before needing changing. I accepted a pillow off the coach attendant and settled down to begin a long series of Westerns - appropriate as we powered our way in that direction.

Harpers Ferry

Harpers Ferry from Maryland Heights

John Brown
John Brown

This part of my journey was on historic B & O (Baltimore and Ohio) track and places of significance included Harpers Ferry which saw much fighting during the Civil War because of its strategic position at the junction of two rivers, three states plus railroad and canal routes - and brings the story of John Brown (as in the song about John Brown's body!) Previous visits had me hiking through here on a part of the 2000 mile-long Appalachian Trail.

Pittsburgh, once known as Iron City, was cleaned up at a cost of US$3 billion and is the birthplace of Gene Kelly and Perry Como. We travel along the southern side of Lake Erie, pass Cleveland which hosts the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Superman and John D Rockefeller, then on past Toledo with its glass capital reputation and for being the home of the Willys Jeep.

Willys Jeep

On the train our day dawned on a snowy landscape and once we cleared Toledo we ramped up speed along a 68 mile straight called 'the airline route' - wow, did we make the snow fly! It shot up in great plumes higher than the windows of our double-decker carriages and my GPS told me we were doing 80 mph! A great start for Christmas Day. The snow eventually cleared and we headed further west into blue sky, a crisp clear day and another giant body of water, Lake Michigan.

Arrival in Chicago, the home town of Indiana Jones, was quiet - we got in around 50 minutes late and had moved from Eastern Time into Central Time, so watches (and GPS's) went back an hour. Just in time for elevenses and to scout out somewhere for Christmas dinner!

Capital Limited Route