Appreciating Amtrak passengers’ most cherished traditions

With the travel industry poised to make its post-Coronavirus comeback, it’s almost time for Amtrak passengers to return to the excitement. One can imagine all the traditions and activities that Amtrak passengers enjoy on a time and again basis. Whether traveling short or long distance, there are activities and traditions that are carried on from one avid railfan to another. Some of these traditions are like a right of passage, carrying on the beloved lifelong ritual of being a railroader. Now is the time to revisit these traditions and at best appreciate them even more as the Coronavirus is at the beginning of its end. One often wonders what the top five Amtrak passengers’ most cherished traditions are. Long live these top five Amtrak passengers’ most cherished traditions. Long may they be part of every railfan’s traveling routine.

5) Visiting historic Amtrak stations: There is no better place for a railroad journey to begin but at the station. There are scores of train stations around the United States that are frequently visited and often photographed. Whether it’s Denver Union Station, Los Angeles Union Station, Chicago Union Station, Springfield (MA) Union Station, Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station, or the glorious Washington, DC Union Station, they are all breathtaking structures. Together, these stations tell the story of the railroads that once served them prior the Amtrak era. Each and every one of the historic Amtrak stations around the country have had their share of ups and downs during throughout their time. These and all other stations serve as living time capsules, capturing the imagination of Amtrak passengers of all ages.

4) Run-by action: Watching run-by action is a tradition carried on by railroad fans from grandfather to son, father to son, son to son, and beyond. Watching passenger trains race by at speed can’t get the heart pumping any faster. Run-by action is what railroading is all about. There are a ton of locations to watch Amtrak trains put on their daily show. There’s Secaucus Junction in the New Jersey meadows, just outside New York City. There’s the PATH station in Harrison, NJ, where Amtrak and New Jersey Transit trains pass by in and out of Newark Penn Station. Certainly, there is no shortage of run-by action in Chicago, as Amtrak trains pull in and out of Union Station. No one can tell when a friendly engineer will blow the horn, acknowledging Amtrak fans capturing the action. It’s like a railfan and a train exchanging a salute or friendly handshake. In Sunnyside, Queens, where Amtrak and Long Island RR trains race in and out of the East River Tunnel, the run-by action is endless. Catching run-by action is more than just a railfan’s activity. It’s a tradition that runs in the blood of every Amtrak fan. 

3) Staring at the Solari board: In each and every bustling passenger terminal, is the famous train information board. It’s also known as the Solari board. Trains arriving and departing within every 30 minutes are posted on the Solari board. One can identify the loud flapping of the train information slots changing every few minutes. Every time the Solari board information changes, passengers congregate in front of it to get an update on their trains’ arrival and track assignment. No longer does the Solari board have that infamous flapping sound. Nowadays, the Solari board is digital. The flapping sound of the train information changing is as digital as the sound of passengers’ cell phones. 

2) Chatting with the conductor: Everyone assumes that the engineer is in charge of the train. The conductor is the boss. However, the conductor is the most knowledgeable person on board. The conductor, along with his/her crew, know each and every mile of the route from start to finish. They know the amount of time in between stations, even when the train is running behind schedule. However, the conductor is the most personable member of the crew. Passengers ask the conductor if the train is running on time, how his/her day is going, and even asked if it’s his/her last trip of the day. The conductor and his/her crew put in serious hours of work each and every day even on weekends and holidays. At the end of their journey, passengers are known to thank the conductor and members of his/her crew for the exceptional job getting them to their destination. The conductor hearing a “Job well done!” from the passengers is what makes their job well worth while.  

1) Changing engines: At various cities around the country, Amtrak’s trains are known to change engines at some point of their trip. Whether in  New Haven, CT, or in Washington, DC, changing engines is a necessity, especially if part of the route is not electrified. It is indeed a fun experience. It’s part of the trip at which passengers learn something up close. Changing engines involves the shutting down of the power throughout the train consist. The lights go out. Plus, the toilets don’t flush. When the replacement engine backs up for coupling, yard workers are seen preparing the engine’s power and brake lines. Once coupled, the yard workers reattach the power and brake lines. The process isn’t over until the yard workers activate the engine’s power generator. The lights throughout the train consist come back on, and the toilets are flushing again. Finally, the engineer gives the train an air test. Then, the train stands ready to proceed with the remainder of its journey. Changing engines is not just part of a train’s journey. It is a tradition experienced by each and every passenger. 

Traveling by train is an experience enjoyed by people of all ages. Whether for business or pleasure, the level of anticipation and enthusiasm amongst railfans is unmatched. With Amtrak about to make a strong comeback from the Coronavirus pandemic, the excitement can’t be at a higher note. Avid Amtrak riders are anxious to get back to the traditions they miss engaging in since the pandemic began. Visiting historic Amtrak stations around the country is a favorite of railroad history buffs, while catching run-by action at railroad hot spots adds to the ongoing love affair. While at the station, becoming mesmerized by nonstop action on the Solari board keeps Amtrak passengers off their heels. On board, having a friendly chat with the conductor makes the trip all the more pleasant. For passengers on a long-distance journey, changing engines gives them the opportunity to see Amtrak’s yard crews at their very best. No matter what the purpose of the journey, it is the traditions that railfans and passengers share that make railroad travel a love affair that will forever stand the test of time.     

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