Mo & Terry Smedley


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Home Again, Home Again...Jiggety Jig

Our homeward trip began with a short commuter hop from Exton, Pennsylvania to Philadelphia, where we changed trains to Amtrak's Regional Service to Washington, D.C.  For West Coasters, Amtrak's corridor service is very crisp - these trains run on Amtrak owned and operated track, are not subject to freight train interference, and the equipment is capable of operating at speeds of 125MPH (Regional) or 160MPH (Acela).  Compared to a leisurely ride on the Cascades Talgo at 70MPH or so, it's positively exciting to watch the corridor scenery scream past at 125MPH.  There's a real "wow factor" when two high speed trains pass each other, with an approach velocity of 250MPH or more. 

The East Coast communities, and some of the Chicago suburbs, grew up around the railroad tracks.  What makes high speed rail possible there is the absence of grade crossings (where roads cross the tracks).  For nearly all of the route, the locomotive horn is silent.  Without grade crossings, there are few technical obstacles to operating trains at 120MPH or more.  Compare that to a trip from Portland to Seattle on the Talgo, where you encounter a more or less continuous string of grade crossings and the locomotive horn is blowing constantly.  To retrofit a high-speed rail corridor between Portland and Seattle would require astronomical capital investment to remove the grade crossings with overpasses, flyovers, or underpasses.    But it is interesting to compare that rail investment to future freeway infrastructure improvements that will be required to keep up with increased Interstate 5 traffic, especially when the energy, environmental, and safety advantages of rail are thrown into the mix.

We had about three hours in Washington to grab lunch, and take a quick walk down to the Capitol and Mall areas.  It was HOT there, and we were glad to get back to the air conditioned comfort of Union Station.  Our train into Chicago was about four hours late, so we didn't have time to walk down to the lake, but we have plenty of time to make our connection.  We'll be boarding the Empire Builder for home momentarily.

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This trackage was just outside Philadelphia.  I thought the parallel tracks, each at a slightly different elevation, was interesting.  I'm guessing that these may have at one time been separate tracks for the collection of individual East Coast railroads that were operating prior to the collapse into Conrail in the 1960s. The interior of Philadelphia's 30th Street Station is spacious and elegant. 30th Street Station, Philadelphia `Massive columns on the exterior of 30th Street Station
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Inside the Philadelphia station is this sculpture commemorating WW II contributions by Pennsylvania Railroad employees. Here's GPS proof of our 125MPH speed.  I didn't want to drag out my laptop on the short hop to Washington, so I just took this (fuzzy) picture of the GPS, that shows our current speed as 125MPH. Mo on the Capitol steps looking toward the Washington Monument. On the steps of the Capitol.
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It was HOT.  Mo got us a couple of cool drinks to get through the rest of our walk. We had hoped to get all the way down to the pool at the base of the Washington Monument, but it was just too hot, and we were running a little short of time.  This is as far down the Mall as we got. We first saw this outdoor sculpture on the Smithsonian grounds six years ago when we passed through DC on our American Orient Express tour.  It's still one of my favorite outdoor art pieces. My hat and hand sticking through the sculpture.
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We saw several Segways touring the Mall area. I was practicing good photo composition on our walk back to Union Station. The exterior of Washington Union Station. The Great Hall at Washington Union Station.  Notice how the design captures so much daylight in the interior.
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Another interior view of Washington Union Station.