Kevin Standlee (kevin_standlee) wrote,
Kevin Standlee
kevin_standlee

Worldcon Trip Day 2: Cab Ride Through Moffat Tunnel

After a day of spectacular views, our train pulled into Winter Park for what was supposed to be a relatively short stop. Passengers were told they could step off the train for a couple of minutes, which mostly means smokers stream for the doors, but Lisa and I like to get off when we can and walk the length of the platform. We walked from the rear of the train where our sleeper was toward the baggage car at the front, admiring the small Winter Park station platform. We were just about to head back toward our end of the train when there was a commotion ahead of us near the center of the platform. We walked part-way back that way when we saw a man get knocked over and land hard with his head hitting the yellow bumper strip on the edge of the platform. About that time the conductor waved everyone aboard and we got on at the first open door. I said, “So much for a quick stop.”

Drama had indeed erupted on the platform, with two passengers getting into a fight, and the drunken fellow who by the accounts I heard started it getting knocked out by another passenger. There had clearly been a lot of drinking going on, much of it from hidden stashes people had brought with them. This fellow had been noticeably loud and argumentative, and it got him into trouble. The Amtrak train crew, however, couldn’t leave until the police arrived, whereupon they put the drunk (who apparently wasn’t seriously hurt as we didn’t see an ambulance) off the train and into the hands of the local authorities.

After the half-hour delay at Winter Park, we departed for Denver, and they made an announcement that we would be passing through the long Moffat Tunnel in about five minutes, and that to prevent diesel fumes from getting into the cars, would everyone please find the car in which they would stay for the transit of the tunnel and not move between cars, as doing so lets fumes into the cars. Lisa had a sudden brainstorm and said to me, “Quick, let’s get down to the front!”

Due to a peculiarity of equipment scheduling, we had a stroke of luck that we had observed earlier in the trip. Normally, the crew dormitory car is what’s known as a “transition dorm” car, so-called because it has the high-level inter-car connection on one end (Superliners connect between cars on the upper level only) and a lower-level connection on the other end. This allows the transition car to connect Superliners to standard-height cars, including the baggage car ahead of the coaches. In this case, however, a regular sleeper was being used as the crew dorm, spliced between the forward coach and the baggage car. Because it was an ordinary sleeping car with the connecting door (locked out of service) at the upper level, two people (and a stuffed bear) could stand at the forward end of the car and look out through the window in the car door over the baggage car and the two locomotives, sort of like the great old-time dome cars.

Normally, passengers are not supposed to go into the crew dorm, but Lisa had made friends with the forward coach car attendant earlier in the trip, and we’d entered through that dorm at a previous stop as well. In this case, as Lisa headed forward, she said to the attendant, “Shh! Don’t tell anyone; I want to go up front and watch as we go through the tunnel.”

The attendant smiled and said, “That’s okay, go ahead.” I followed Lisa forward and we (and travelswithkuma) poked our heads above the roof line of the shorter vehicles ahead of us and watched as the train labored up the grade to the west portal of the tunnel.

It was an interesting perspective looking forward through the tunnel, where we saw strange light effects as the locomotive’s lights played through the diesel exhaust. At one point, I said, “There’s a red signal ahead!” Turned out it was the light at the end of the tunnel filtered through the locomotive’s exhaust.

After the long transit of the tunnel, our train erupted through the east portal, and as the fumes cleared, we made our way back to our room. This isn’t the longest tunnel we’ve ever been through in a train (We’ve been through the Channel Tunnel and the Seikan Tunnel, and Lisa once got a cab ride in a BART train through the Transbay Tube), but it was interesting.

After making our dinner reservation plans for the eight members of TrainCon, we went to the lounge car for the descent toward Denver. Even though Winter Park and Denver aren’t far from each other as the crow flies and even only 62 miles by rail, the timetable allows two hours to make the trip, and the train needs it. The rail line down from the tunnel to the flats at Denver is slow and twisty, with several horseshoe curves to change altitude as gently as possible. The views are almost as stunning as those back in the canyon. We saw deer grazing alongside the tracks, apparently unconcerned about our train passing by as we headed for Denver.

I was concerned that we’d miss our chance to get out at Denver because we’d be at dinner, but as it happens we were finishing just as the train backed into the single-track temporary stub at Denver. Those of you who rode the train to Denvention 3 will remember that all trains back into Denver Union Station, located at the foot of the pedestrianized mall and near the baseball park. As part of a major rebuilding of Union Station to a multimodal transit hub including commuter rail, the Amtrak station has moved a bit to the north with a temporary single-track stub and station building across the street.

Denver is a major servicing stop for the Zephyr and we had plenty of time to walk up and down the platform and see what could be seen; however, it’s not close enough to any shops or service to be able to run quickly and grab something. (I had hoped I might be able to grab some more medicine for Lisa’s deep chest cough.) That’s as much due to the idiot at Winter Park as anything else. If it had not been for that mess, we would have been as much as an hour early at Denver and might have been able to run out on an errand. As it was, the recovery time built into the schedule meant that we were pretty much on time as we left Denver.
Tags: amtrak, kuma bear, lisa, traincon, trains, worldcon
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