Posts Tagged ‘Train Journeys’

One of the main aims of our trip to USA in October was to cross the country from New York to Los Angeles by train. That takes a few days, so we split our journey up into manageable chunks. The first section of this amazing train journey was on the AMTRAK “Lake Shore Limited” from New York to Chicago, an overnight journey.

P1100786  ©  JT  of jtdytravels

P1100786 © JT of jtdytravels

A few memories stayed with us as we prepaared to leave New York and one of those was a very pleasant lunch at the Times Warner Centre (above). One very wet morning, we had intended to visit the Museum of Natural Science….  but a few thousand other people had the same rainy day program in mind.  So we took the much easier option to have a simple but delicious lunch in one of the quieter restaurants in New York.  Amazingly, we could actually chat without the need to shout at each other.


P1100787  ©  JT  of  jtdytravels

P1100787 © JT of jtdytravels

After lunch, when the sun came out, we enjoyed the abstract reflections in the glass of this tall, modern building. The varied architecture of New York is one of the fascinating aspects of this city. But, after more than a week exploring the Big Apple, it was time to board our big, double decker AMTRAK train bound for Chicago.


P1100932  ©  JT  of jtdytravels

P1100932 © JT of jtdytravels

For the first hour or so of the journey, the tracks run alongside the Hudson River. The trees were just on the turn and gave a hint of the autumnal colour to come.


P1100951  ©  JT  of  jtdytravels

P1100951 © JT of jtdytravels

Being an overnight journey, we opted for a small room with beds.  And small was the operative word! To begin the journey, we each had an armchair from which to watch the world go by. As the sun set, and the whispy clouds began to turn to salmon pink, we were called to go to the dining room.  Dinner was an acceptable if not exciting repast. Conversation was pleasant with strangers we knew would never see again.  Interestingly, as Aussies, we seemed to be the ‘exotics’ on the train and we were able to add to our dinner companions’ knowledge of our country… and dispell some rather unusual myths and beliefs as well!


Rocking our way back to our room, we hoped that the attendant had made up our beds whilst we were away. Not so!  David did an heroic effort of working out the mechanisms for changing chairs into beds and then wrestling with sheets and blankets in such a confined space. I opted for the lower bunk, of course, giving David no option but to have to climb the ladder into the top bunk. The only place for the ladder was over the top of the ‘loo’ which was right beside my bunk. In fact, one of the best ways to meet your neighbours on the train was to have a chat out in the corridor while your partner used the ‘loo’.  The room was small but we were able to sleep as the train clickety clacked its way on towards Chicago. The only times I woke were when the train was stationary on a siding waiting for a goods train to pass us by. Goods trains have the right of way always on these tracks and, as the hours rolled by, we became ever later on our schedule.


P1100965  ©  JT  of  jtdytravels

P1100965 © JT of jtdytravels

Next morning, we woke to a very different world; a world of quintessential American farms.

It was delightful to watch the scenery slide by…


P1100972  ©  JT  of  jtdytravels

P1100972 © JT of jtdytravels

wide open spaces and fields of golden corn…


P1100974  ©  JT  of  jtdytravels

P1100974 © JT of jtdytravels

and the ubiquitous red barns on each farm.


P1100994  ©  JT  of  jtdytravels

P1100994 © JT of jtdytravels

This is dry country.  The wide arcs of watering systems were much in evidence.


P1110014 ©  JT  of  jtdytravels

P1110014 © JT of jtdytravels

Here, most of the trees had already lost their leaves.  Winter was on the way.


P1110016  ©  JT  of  jtdytravels

P1110016 © JT of jtdytravels

And then we came to the derelict and silent, but once very busy, steel city of Gary in the state of Indiana.  I read a fascinating report about this ghostly place written by Don Terry on July 2, 2012, in a journal “The American Prospect”.  A couple of sections from that article may decribe what has happened to Gary much better than I can:

Terry commented that this “shrinking, economically depressed hometown of Gary, Indiana—Steel City—was, once upon a time, a wonderful place to raise a family. That it had good public schools and well-maintained city parks and streets. That there were department stores, restaurants, movie theaters, nightclubs, and crowded office buildings up and down Broadway, its main thoroughfare. That a young guy could go outside, play some ball, flirt with girls, and not worry about getting killed in a drive-by shooting. That he could graduate high school, and if he didn’t want to go to college or join the military, he could just stay put and make a decent living in one of the smoke-belching steel mills that ringed the city and provided paychecks to tens of thousands of workers. That Gary used to be part of the American working and middle-class mainstream, a place folks moved to and put down roots in—not some decaying, can’t-wait-to-pull-up-stakes-and-get-the-hell-away-from-here outpost.”


P1110022  ©  JT  of  jtdytravels

P1110022 © JT of jtdytravels

Terry quotes a young teenager who told of joining other teenage volunteers, armed with bottles of Windex, to wash windows in a senior citizens’ apartment building. They donned yellow plastic gloves and T-shirts that pleaded Bury Guns, Not People. The young lad said, “ My dad told me how he used to love to play outside. Now there aren’t a lot of kids in our area. Everybody has moved away. When you do go outside, you have to watch to see if someone is following you home. There’s nothing here for young people. No jobs. No future. I’m leaving as soon as I can.”


P1110027  ©  JT  of  jtdytravels

P1110027 © JT of jtdytravels

Terry commented that “this is what happens when work disappears and dreams die. A once-bustling American city turns into Gary. A model of industrial might for much of the 20th century, sometimes called “the Magic City” by early boosters, Gary today is anything but. Over the past four decades, the jobs and the people have been chased away as Gary’s biggest employers had to grapple with low-cost foreign competition and responded by installing technology that enables two steelworkers to turn out as much steel as a dozen did a quarter-century ago. The five steel mills of Northwest Indiana—including the largest, the U.S. Steel mill in Gary—used to have a combined workforce of up to 100,000. They now (in 2012) employ roughly 20,000 people and are producing as much steel as ever.” The old less productive mills are now silent.


P1110033  ©  JT  of  jtdytravels

P1110033 © JT of jtdytravels

“Like Flint, Detroit, Cleveland, and Akron, like hundreds of cities and towns across the once-industrial Midwest, Gary is emblematic of the new American poverty, the poverty that descended when the factories closed down. The city (in 2012) is half the size it was in 1970, its population reduced from 170,000 then to 80,000. Its poverty rate (in 2012) was 28 percent. A fifth of its houses, churches, school buildings, and other structures are vacant and boarded-up. The hulking steel mills still line the Lake Michigan shore in northwest Indiana, but,” comments Terry,  “they’ve been hemorrhaging workers for decades.”

There’s much thought provoking comment in this article. To read more, just Google:

Where Work Disappears and Dreams Die

We had plenty of time to take in this area as we waited for yet more goods trains to pass us by. We wondered what nearby Chicago had in store for us.  We were in for a very pleasant surprise; Chicago is one city I would recommend anyone to visit.  I would like to return one day.


P1110035  ©  JT  of  jtdytravels

P1110035 © JT of jtdytravels

Our Chicago hotel, the Renaissance Blackstone Hotel, was an older building; they call it “Classical Revival Beaux-Arts” architecture. Whatever the style name, this hotel, in times past, has hosted Presidents, Politicians, Film and Sports stars…. and now it hosted us!


P1110265  ©  JT  of  jtdytravels

P1110265 © JT of jtdytravels

Although the rooms have been updated to include many modern amenities, there are still reminders of the grand old past in the public rooms.


P1110269  ©  JT  of  jtdytravels

P1110269 © JT of jtdytravels

The public room ceilings are elegantly decorated.


P1110271  ©  JT  of  jtdytravels

P1110271 © JT of jtdytravels

The beautiful old wall clock gave us the hint that it was time to get outside and see something of this city.  With advice from the friendly reception girls and a map in hand, we set off to explore.


P1110245  ©  JT  of  jtdytravels

P1110245 © JT of jtdytravels

By contrast to our hotel, this building almost next door, is an ultra modern glass construction.  This is the Spertus Institute of Jewish Learning and Leadership.  The contrast between these two buildings was the beginning of our fascination with the architecture of this city. But, our interest for the afternoon was the long park that runs the full length of our street, South Michigan.


P1110037  ©  JT  of  jtdytravels

P1110037 © JT of jtdytravels

This park is a corridor of green between the busy street and the railway lines. Beyond the railway is another extensive park along the banks of Lake Michigan. This was a great place to explore.

I’ve added the photos of this walk in Chicago onto our flickr site:


The album title is US: Chicago- Afternoon walk


P1110153  ©  JT  of  jtdytravels

P1110153 © JT of jtdytravels

After a few hours of walking and enjoying especially the Millenium Park in Chicago, we made our way back to our hotel in time to see a glorious sunset from our room.  We looked forward to a good night’s sleep in a much larger room, in a much more comfortable bed, with no clickety clacking and rocking of the train.  That would come again the next night, and the story of that part of our journey will be the topic of my next post.

Jennie and David


All Photography Copyright ©  JT and DY  of  jtdytravels

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‘Townsville’ is the third name this settlement has had.  It was originally called Cleveland Bay, then Castle Town, after Castle Hill which dominates the central part of town, and now Townsville.

Castle Hill fro CBD P1080173 DY of ‘jtdytravels’

The first settlement, in the late 1850’s, came about as a port was needed to ship in the needs required by the first settlers and of course ship out their produce.  It is now a city of over 130,000 residents, not the least of which are 17,000 military, mostly army, personnel.

A quick tour of town took us past some majestic old buildings including the old railway station; the foreshore and its Strand and a climb up Castle Hill for an overall view of the city and surrounds.

Magnetic Island from Castle Hill lookout P1080177

Pandorea pandorana (Wonga-wonga Vine) P1080187 DY of ‘jtdytravels’

Old Colonial Building in CBD P1080175 DY of ‘jtdytravels’

Old Townsville Station P1080164 DY of ‘jtdytravels’

Great Northern Railway facade P1080189 DY of ‘jtdytravels’

We ended our quick tour of Townsville at a very derelict set of sheds which housed the North Queensland Branch of the Australian Railway Historical Society.  Their collection of bits and pieces was most uninspiring but they put on a good morning tea, which in most cases, doubled up as lunch.  Medium sized home-made pies, cakes, scones with jam and cream, various cakes and a good cup of tea.

Warning sign in railway museum P1080195 DY of ‘jtdytravels’

It was then off to the station which was just around the corner to await the arrival of the ‘Inlander’ from the marshalling yards.  The ‘Inlander’ was to be our home for the night.

The ‘Inlander’ at the new Townsville Station P1080199 DY of ‘jtdytravels’

There was a technical hitch with the locomotive which resulted in us not leaving until some 50 minutes late.

The ‘Inlander’ consists of 6 carriages and a single diesel loco.  The Queensland Railways runs on track which is 3 foot 6 inch gauge.  I have a single berth cabin which is quite cosy but manageable.  All the couples have three berth cabins but there is nobody allocated to the upper berth!  I’m very lucky having drawn the straw that put me in the last cabin in the carriage – the one closest to the opening doors, shower and right on top of the squeaking bogie and carriage buffers.  What more could I possibly want.

QR, like British Rail, is not known for good food.  Whilst waiting on the station to board our train, we saw dinner go past.  It consisted of moulded food shapes that contained our dinner in separate depressions.  Talk about depression!  We found out after leaving that these ‘nasty’ shapes contained chicken and veg or corned beef and veg or bangers and mash.  Which one would you choose?  If we’d known what they contained we may not have boarded.  The other horrible thought is, was it the microwave to heat our dinners that was the technical problem which caused our delay?!  Hope they fixed it properly.

The road journey from Townsville to Mt Isa is a distance of 906km.  The railway line parallels the road for all but the last 120 or so kilometres into The Isa.  Instead of continuing pretty much due west from Cloncurry, the line dips SW for 180km to a mining area called Duchess before heading NW to its destination.  This adds an extra 75 kilometres to the journey which takes around 20 hours all up.

There is quite a bit of road traffic on the highway which parallels the tracks.  The roadway must be all of 100 metres from the track for many kilometres at a time, and dead straight.  Many cattle trains use this road.  Most are a semi-trailer prime mover with two semi-trailer sized ‘dogs’ behind.  Overtaking must be a formidable task for all but the most powerful of cars.

Since leaving Townsville we have slowed to 25km/h many times to traverse passing loops with the odd complete stop for reasons totally unknown to the train’s passengers but obviously for good railway reasons.  (From people on the left hand side of the train I later heard that we passed trains carry ore to the coast.)  That works out to be an average speed for the complete journey of a bit under 60km/h.  Not bad for QR!

Passing ore train at Duchess P1080204 DY of ‘jtdytravels’

The whole area traversed so far is through relatively flat savannah grasslands with eucalypts and wattles.  There is the odd chain of little hills and rocky outcrops scattered across the broad landscape.  It is very good grazing country for Brahman and Brahman/cross cattle.

It is half 5, the sun is about to drop below the horizon so it must be time to break out the cashews and wash them down with some of that ‘medicinal’ whisky I’m carrying around.  Anything to lighten the load, and to mask the thought of dinner.  I’m foregoing the strawberry cheesecake or Black Forest cake for dessert.

More anon   David

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