Southward ho: Baltimore to Norfolk

Last year, I took Amtrak’s Northeast Regional to its northern terminus in Boston so this year I figured it might be fun to try and take it to its southern terminus – Norfolk, Va. The problem with this proposition is the city has ONE inbound (9pm) and ONE outbound train per day (6:10am), but no adventure is without its compromises.

I arrived at Baltimore’s Penn Station at 1:30pm, a full hour before my train was scheduled to depart.

Unfortunately, by this time it was already “delayed” and every time I checked the monitor above the Information desk, the departure time got pushed farther and farther back. However, the train itself arrived only 10 minutes behind schedule…just for it to sit in the semi-shaded station for another ten minutes due to the “excessive heat warning” from their bosses in NY (there was a heat index for 101 degrees forecast for today, and it easily felt like twice that for the ten minutes I was out in it).

The same thing happened when we reached DC an hour later. Except, this time it was a full half hour we were waiting in the underground station before slowly making our way south.

We got an excellent, if fleeting, view of the Chesapeake Bay as we departed Quantico Station and equally fleeting views of farms and fields through the rough overgrowth as we crawled towards the idyllic postcard town of Fredericksburg, Va that eventually gave away to the bland industrial landscape of exurban Richmond.

The truth was, I was hoping we’d be past Richmond (the unofficial “halfway point” of the trip) by 6pm. However, the various “heat delays” slower traveling speed made that virtually impossible as we pulled in to the city’s northern suburban station around 6:39pm.

We limp our way south through the dense forestlands of Central Virginia as I made my way to the café car which was already out of nearly everything “except sodas, chips, candies and beer.” Fortunately, I was just there for a snack.

The sun starts to set and train finally starts to pick up some speed just to slow down for its next station in Petersburg. From then on, the train lumbers along before coming to a full-fledged stop somewhere outside of Waverly before barreling our way through a variety of towns that were too dark to see outside my train window.

It was at this point that the crew came over the PA to announce the obvious: “we will not be arriving at Norfolk on schedule. However, we will be arriving around 9:15pm.”

Fortunately, the actual arrival time was 9:13pm and there were still numerous friends, family members and assorted taxi drivers waiting at the bottom of the ramp leading to the otherwise ordinary train platform.

Now, all I needed was to find my hotel and get some rest so I could be ready for the first day of my vacation.

Categories: Amtrak, transportation, writing | Leave a comment

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