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Passenger Trains > Recent Amtrak SW Chief Trip Report

Date: 06/30/20 05:23
Recent Amtrak SW Chief Trip Report
Author: andersonb109

Last week I traveled on Amtrak's Southwest Chief. First from Albuquerque to Las Vegas NM. Followed the next day going from Las Vegas to Naperville. Here's my report.  First, it has become necessary to break a long Amtrak trip into two segments so as to have a decent dinner. My original plan was to do the Route 66 drive all the way to Santa Monica. But my friend Kelly in Venice Beach advised best not to come as the entire main street is boarded up by due to the riots there. And I certainly didn't want to get caught up in all of that should it pop up again. So I did the drive as far as Albuquerque and decided to stay at the recently restored and opened Castandea Hotel, a former Harvey House that was abandoned for many years. That brief ride on the Chief was done in coach, sitting in the lounge the entire time. Crew was friendly and professional. In the lounge, every other table was blocked off with signs. And the occasional random seat had a paper on it saying not to use although those could easily be moved around. While Amtrak has mandated masks, many passengers weren't wearing them, especially in the lounge but of course you can't eat with on on. Most crew were wearing them but had them off unless in direct contact with passengers. The trip was uneventful with an OT arrival. 

The hotel itself was great. Very nice restoration. However by the hotel's choice, dining was only available outside (indoor is allowed  at 50% in NM) and only 3 days per week. The restaurant is run by a different company. I've never before been attended to by a server who wouldn't come within 6 feet of me. And I had to remove the food myself from a different server's tray. I even had to put my room key in a bowl of water instead of handing to the desk clerk, even though she wore gloves. Masks had to be worn in all public areas even if no one else was around. That wasn't the case at the previous nights Comfort Inn.   Las Vegas is a really neat little town with lots of historic buildings. The next day I boarded No. 4 for the trip home. If the train goes to 3x per week my trip would not have been possible and I would have flown from Albuquerque. Speaking to several of the crew, many are in fear of their jobs but say nothing is finalized as of yet. I had requested a bedroom in the car not next to the power. That went wrong but I was able to move to the recently added second sleeper next to the car that was formerly a diner. Unlike the eastern trains, sleeping car passengers were allowed to choose between eating in their rooms or at designated tables in the diner.  I had a large late lunch prior to departure and brought plenty of snacks including some huge doughnuts for breakfast. Not having the dining car experience really takes away from the enjoyment of the trip. Restaurants can be open at half capacity or more so there is no reason why the same couldn't be done on the train. If passengers are afraid of community seating, then do room service. I feel like the virus is just the excuse to implement the so called "enhanced dining experience." The crew hates it and many said they bring their own food on board. On this version of the Chief, no seats in the lounge were blocked off. But there were never more than a few there at any one time so it wasn't an issue. While some of the crew out of Albuquerque weren't wearing masks, I was reminded by one of the Conductor to put mine on when outside the room. Another do as I say but not as I do. No problem at all but there needs to be a consistent policy

Arrival to Naperville was only a half hour late. I choose to drive back to Detroit because with only one Wolverine train per day, I would have been stuck in Chicago until the next night if miss connected. Not a good or even safe option. I turned my  rental car in at DTW and was home at least two hours before the train would have turned up had it been available. Following are a few photos. The one with the Veterans unit is  No.3 a few hours before No. 4 arrived. I had planned to get the hotel in the shot but screwed up thinking the train was coming from the opposite direction as the tracks run north-south at that location. As soon as I heard the whistle it was too late to move. I should have known better.  The last photo is the wonderfully restored Blue Swallow motel in Tucumcari, NM. It had gone down hill after the Interstate came through, catering to weekly and mostly clientele. A couple from Michigan restored it and returned it to it's vintage former glory. Business appeared to be good. 

To summarize, it would have been way easier and cheaper to fly. But I enjoy long distance train travel as I'm sure most on this site do. However Amtrak is making it increasing difficult with potential 3x per week availability,  and unacceptable food options for a long journey. All that said, the trip home was relaxing and enjoyable. I guess something is better than nothing.

Date: 06/30/20 07:03
Re: Recent Amtrak SW Chief Trip Report
Author: co614

Thanks much for the trip report and photos. I will be making a Syracuse- Lamy NM roundtrip the end of July and will post a report on that experience. My bride intends to pack plenty of food for our Chicago-Lamy leg so I'm sure we will not lose any weight. 

   As you said something is better than nothing.  Ross Rowland 

Date: 06/30/20 08:19
Re: Recent Amtrak SW Chief Trip Report
Author: CP8888

If I understand correctly you had three choices on where to eat. Sleeper or lounge car or car formerly known as dining car?

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Date: 06/30/20 12:03
Re: Recent Amtrak SW Chief Trip Report
Author: dcfbalcoS1

         Last time we travelled we had four roomettes as there were eight of us. With the down grade in dining, poor connections coming along ( tri weekly ), poor to maybe unavailable seating and not allowed in the dining car ( why would anyone want to be there right now ), poor maintenance of power, late arrivals and all, we are no longer using Amtrak. Enjoyed all of our trips before but there is no point in it currently. I do not have the money to just throw away and wish it could have been better.

Date: 06/30/20 16:50
Re: Recent Amtrak SW Chief Trip Report
Author: UP951West

LIKE your image of the Blue Swallow Motel  !! 

Date: 06/30/20 22:51
Re: Recent Amtrak SW Chief Trip Report
Author: Abqfoamer

Too bad the recently renovated former Fred Harvey Castenada Hotel in Las Vegas NM looks so great, but now Amstrash runs the Junkpile Chief  by it.
I'd be ashamed.

Date: 07/01/20 03:23
Re: Recent Amtrak SW Chief Trip Report
Author: 55002

Good report, Bruce. Like the photos, you found some decent places. We shall be getting more freedom on Saturday, here in England, but I'll let the crash test dummies head to the pubs first!! chris uk.

Date: 07/01/20 16:45
Re: Recent Amtrak SW Chief Trip Report
Author: viatrainrider

Thanks for the great report, Bruce, and pictures.  Had been concerned about your sleeper location on earlier posts so glad you  worked it out.

Glad you enjoyed the Castandea.   Naomi and I stayed ar the La Pagosa at Winslow on our last trip on 3 - 4.  Also a former Santa Fe/Fred Harvey  operation remodeled I believe by the same people as the Castandea.  We had a great dinner served by servers in Harvey style uniforms--pre covid 19.  On that trip noted the remodeling going on at the Castandea.

Glad your trip was good even in spite of dining downgrades.

Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 07/01/20 16:49 by viatrainrider.

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