Denver To DC: Inside the Real Amtrak


It is about 5:30 on Saturday afternoon, June 28th, when we are dropped in front of Denver’s newly renovated Grand Central Station. A really beautiful afternoon was slowly giving way to a cool Denver evening.  While the remaining renovations were still taking place, we zigzagged through wire fence barriers with our baggage to find the Amtrak Ticket office and passenger waiting room.

There we found the ticket window with two station attendants and their computers.  Our check-in is a breeze! Reservations on the 7:10 California Zephyr east bound were confirmed. We soon learn that the train was delayed and would arrive about 45 minutes later.  What to do now!

Fortunately there are a number of new restaurants open and in sight of the train platform. Our choice is an outside table at a rather large café next to the Station and part of what is referred to as “lodo”, or lower downtown.

In a more relaxed mood, we bid farewell to the café and head over to the train platform. What a sight we see.  The flying sail overhead adds luminous soft light and blends with the blue sky overhead. It gives  the concrete train platform a modern and massive design accent.

Train Platform 4 at the Denver Station.

We are not the only ones anxious to depart Denver for Chicago and ultimately DC.  Some folks are anxious about the trip, while others with backpacks are passing the time reading their I pads or texting on their Iphone.  For Cathy and myself, we are looking forward to our evening meal on the train and spending the night in our compartment on the rails. I keep thinking are we in for a surprise? You bet.

The Real Amtrk_0867

Well train time came and went as we admired our surrounds.  The sun is beginning to set into the western Rocky Mountains and Train 65 is not here yet.  Talk among passengers reveals that the train is 45 minutes late and e won’t depart until shortly before 8:00 this summer evening.


Finally we look down the track to see the back end of a sleeper car coming our way. It is Amtrak’s Train 6 backing to our platform.  Waiting passengers loaded down with carry-on baggage surge down the platform. Most of the passengers waiting are headed for the two passenger coaches while others are waiting to board the sleeper cars.  Soon the dining car, snack bar and observation will attract the attention of all the passengers, as the California Zephyr makes ready to ride the rails east.

We note our sleeper car is second from the end and head that way.  A Porter greets us and directs us up a tiny stair case to our roomette on the upper level. As we twist and turn up the narrow stair way, bags in hand, we run into other passengers making their way down the stairs or through the very narrow corridor of the upper level. Finding our roomette, we immediately wonder if we have made a mistake.  We put our suitcases down next to us in the seats. There isn’t room to put them on the floor.  My bag squeezes under my seat, but Cathy’s suitcase is about an inch or two higher and has to stay beside her.

 We test the curtains and find that they Velcro together for privacy in addition to locking the compartment door.

Our Porter drops by and introduces himself.The Real Amtrk_0586

He introduced himself as “I’m Maurice and I’ll be your car attendant to Chicago.” he said.  Now I have already arranged for you to have dinner in the dining car at 8:30. The dining car closes at 9:30  You will hear your name called when they are ready to serve you. After dinner you may want to visit the lounge car. So what time would you like your beds made tonight?”

We tell him that 10:30 pm seems to be ok. Maurice advises that we can stow out bags on the lower level of the coach, but that he could not promise their security in the open storage rack at the foot of the stairs in this sleeper coach.  We tell Maurice that we will make do with our circumstance.


The Real Amtrk_0881

Outside the train, we note the golden setting sun over the Rocky Mountains to the west as our train moves east to Brighton and the Ft. Lupton.  Sometime during dinner we will reach Ft. Morgan, Colorado, but it will be dark then.

Enjoying our compartment on the California Zephyer


After settling into our tiny compartment, we survey each other and learn about the reading lamps, the air conditioning, or lack thereof, and the overhead lighting.  Some of these things adjust, but it took some detective work to find the essentials.  I am glad I thought to bring a flashlight. A single 110 Volt receptacle provided power to recharge our cell phones, while wifi was not available this trip. 

With  a toilet down the hall and showers on the lower level of this sleeper coach, we are evidently traveling in style, although I don’t believe my Engineer grandfather would quite agree.  The seats were comfortable in the roomette for a while, but with the option of walking back two cars to the dining car and the snack bar, we decided it was time to find comfortable seating in the Observation Lounge Car. We also meet fellow travelers who are more than willing to converse about any topic, especially how different train travel is compared to air travel.  No TSA presence anywhere!

After passing the time in conversation, I glance at my watch. Its 8:30 and no call for dinner yet. I decide to find out how long the wait will be. The dining car attendant tells me they are running behind in the dining room and it will be just a few minutes. We are seated at 8:45 pm.

The Amtrak menu seems to be standard fare. We are told that the Angus Steak is the best dinner served on Amtrak.  I decide to check it out, while Cathy orders the Noodles and Veggies, along with a glass of chardonnay.  A few minutes later, the steak, broiled as I requested, arrives with green beans and a baked potato with sour cream and butter, along with a fresh wheat roll.  While I enjoyed the steak, Cathy did not enjoy the noodles and veggies.

Following dinner, we note the rocking of the train as it picks up speed approaching the Nebraska border. Occupied as we were, we didn’t even notice the stop in Ft. Morgan.   


Note to readers;  This is the first chapter of a book by the same name.  Will hope to publish in November.