The Capitol Limited, MARC and Baltimore

My last few blog posts have been about journeys I have taken in Australia, but now I’ll get back to the US trip I took in August/September 2012. My last post about this trip was my first impressions of Chicago, which is where we rejoin my US adventure.

After my brief stop in Chicago, I boarded the Capitol Limited for Washington DC. The train was formed of the same Superliner stock as the Southwest Chief, and again I had an upper level roomette. As it was dusk as we left Chicago Union station, there was little to see as we made our way out through the southern suburbs, and into the Illinois evening. Again, the Dining Car fare was top class and I dined with a fellow traveller I had met on the Southwest Chief. We talked as we ate and shared tales of our travels. Once our generously proportioned (complimentary) meals were finished, we each made our way back to our roomettes. I had intended to catch up with some journal writing, but once again, the gentle rocking of the train and the comfortable cabin got the better of me and I was dozing before I knew it.

Track work equipment at Cumberland, MD

Track work equipment at Cumberland, MD

A couple of weeks prior to my journey, Amtrak had emailed me and informed me that my train would be subject to delays due to track work in Maryland. At around 09:30 the next morning we arrived in the small town of Cumberland MD, and an announcement was made that we would remain here for about 2 hours until the track work ahead was completed. Oddly, our train had not pulled up on the track adjacent to the station platform; we were 1 track over. When I say station platform, I use the term loosely; Cumberland station consisted of a small station building, and a concrete apron at ground level. There was a wooden deck at rail height on the track between us and the “platform”, so we were able to step down onto a level surface. The Amtrak staff were strictly enforcing a policy of passengers not standing on the vacant track, whilst standing on the track themselves.

The Capitol Limited stands at Cumberland, MD

The Capitol Limited stands at Cumberland, MD

No one seemed too worried about the delay, and most passengers left the train to stretch their legs. Some brave passengers made their way from the station into the town, many searching for a decent cup of coffee (there is free coffee for sleeping car passengers, but you wouldn’t drink it if you had to pay for it). I used my time in Cumberland photographing the train in the morning light. To my delight, a CSX mixed goods train arrived in the rail yard next to the station and started shunting its load. The Driver was standing on the front step of the locomotive using a remote control to operate the locomotives.

The Driver of a CSX goods train shunts using a remote control

The Driver of a CSX goods train shunts using a remote control

We departed Cumberland just after 11:30 and roughly followed the Potomac River for most of the journey into Washington. The scenery was beautiful with mountains, forests and the the river passing by the windows as we criss-crossed between Maryland and West Virginia, arriving into Washington Union Station just after 15:00.

A Kawasaki bi-level (double deck) car on a MARC Penn line service at Washington Union Station

A Kawasaki bi-level (double deck) car on a MARC Penn line service at Washington Union Station

I bought a ticket for the 15:23 MARC Penn Line service to Baltimore. The MARC Penn line uses the southern portion of Amtrak’s North East Corridor; running between Washington Union Station and Baltimore Penn Station (with some trips continuing to Perryville, MD). The journey time from Washington to Baltimore is just over an hour with up to 7 intermediate stops. My train was already boarding, so I made my way to the platform and boarded the top deck of a chunky double deck stainless steel Kawasaki car. Our train was hauled by a modern HHP-8 electric locomotive, and we smoothly made our way north through the District of Columbia and back into Maryland.

A MARC HHP-8 electric locomotive at the front of a Baltimore Penn bound train at Washington Union Station

A MARC HHP-8 electric locomotive at the front of a Baltimore Penn bound train at Washington Union Station

On reaching Baltimore, I made my way from the MARC platform to the tram stop. Baltimore has 3 tram lines; running from the northern suburb of Hunt Valley to BWI Airport and Cromwell in the south. There is also a shuttle line, which links Baltimore’s 2 main railway stations; Baltimore Penn Station and Camden Yards. Baltimore’s trams were built by ABB in the early 1990s. In addition to the tram lines, there is a 25 km long metro line, running from the down town Johns Hopkins Hospital to Owings Mills in the north west. rolling stock for the Metro was built in the by Budd in the early 1980s. Strangely, the metro line operates at a lower voltage to the trams (700v DC vs 1500v AC); both operating on standard gauge of 1435mm.

A Maryland Transportation Authority (MTA) tram in Howard St, Baltimore

A Maryland Transportation Authority (MTA) tram in Howard St, Baltimore

Baltimore was not what I expected. I had prematurely formed my opinion of the city after watching the HBO series “The Wire” and expected a dirty city rampant with crime and drug use. In fact, I found clean streets with regular people going about their normal business. Walking  the side streets between the tram stop and my hotel, I found streets filled with quaint churches, stone courtyards and statues.

An eastbound MTA subway train departs Rogers Av station

An eastbound MTA subway train departs Rogers Av station

After dumping my bags at my hotel, I went out to explore Baltimore’s Metro line. I walked to the underground State Center station, and on entering, found myself in a very normal, generic subway station. I didn’t have long to wait before a westbound train approached; a cheerful, boxy, blue 2 car train with a small destination indicator above an inter-car door. The destination indicator seemed superfluous; it could only be going one place. I took the train into the north west suburbs of Baltimore to Rogers Avenue station (close to the rail yards) where I spent some time taking photos of the trains passing through until the light began to fade.

A westbound MTA subway train departs Rogers Av subway station, past the rail yards.

A westbound MTA subway train departs Rogers Av subway station, past the rail yards.

I caught the train back to State Centre and returned to my hotel and still wary of my preconceived ideas of Baltimore, I asked the desk clerk if there were any areas I should avoid after dark. She looked slightly amused, and told me not really, it’s all pretty safe. It was dark as I left the hotel to find some dinner, and I walked towards the down town area. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but was pleased to discover an upmarket waterfront shopping and dining precinct. Tastes of all types were accommodated, with restaurants ranging from Hooters to the Hard Rock Cafe and upmarket bars and grills. I found a cosy Japanese restaurant, and ate a delicious dinner on a balcony overlooking the Inner Harbour. After dinner, I went for a walk around the waterfront area. The precinct was alive and bustling with families and couples walking in the warm evening air. It was getting late, so I walked back to my hotel along clean, well lit streets, feeling slightly foolish at my fiction fuelled ideas of a violent, dirty Baltimore.

Baltimore waterfront at dusk

Baltimore waterfront at dusk

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