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A vision of rail travel aboard the Amtrak Cardinal from Cincinnati to Chicago

Our meeting time is 1:00 AM at Cincinnati’s Union Terminal, yet in the spirit of travel, we arrived fashionably late. My friends and fellow All Aboard Ohio members gathered to embark on a rail adventure aboard the Amtrak Cardinal. 

The Cardinal, a solitary thread weaving through Cincinnati, offers a thrice-weekly connection from New York to Chicago, with stops in Washington DC, Charleston, Indianapolis, and our very own Cincinnati. Our mission is clear: to document the lifelines Amtrak extends to Ohioans. With only three Amtrak routes serving the state, the Cardinal, the Capital Limited, and the Lakeshore Limited we were eager to hop on board and share our findings. 

At 1:07 AM, the Amtrak station attendants signaled the time had come to proceed to the platform. To our delight, the train was running an unexpected 20 minutes ahead of schedule, promising an on-time departure at 1:41 AM. Our group of 13, buzzing with excitement, contrasted sharply with the subdued mood of the other passengers. The notorious late-night departures of Ohio’s Amtrak service, designed to ensure daylight arrivals in major cities, were a common grievance among riders. 

As the train’s horn echoed through the terminal, heralding its approach, we caught sight of the Cardinal rounding the bend towards platform one. Led by a charger locomotive, flanked by three amfleet cars, and trailed by two viewliner coaches, the train promised comfort for the journey ahead.

Despite the sold-out status, we found a surprising number of vacant seats near our assigned ones. 

The thrill of departure electrified the air as we began our traverse across the Midwest. Ethan, ever observant, clocked our peak speed at 62mph before we settled into our seats for the remaining hours of the night. The seats are spacious, the ergonomics perhaps a little outdated, but with enough readjustments most of our group eventually falls asleep to the rocking of the amfleet trainset. 

At 4:56 AM, the sudden influx of light stirred me from slumber as we arrived at Indianapolis city station for a scheduled hour-long crew change. Seizing the opportunity, most of our group disembarked to stretch and explore the station’s notable amenities—an intermodal hub boasting both Amtrak and Greyhound services, complete with a staffed concession stand, ticketing office, and automated ticketing machines—features we long for in Cincinnati. 

With dawn breaking, we resumed our journey to Chicago, the cafe car opening its doors at 6:30 AM. Engrossed in conversation within the cozy confines of booth-style seating, we watched as the Indiana landscape unfurled before us, bathed in the morning light. Chicago was but three hours away, and anticipation grew with every mile. 

Reflecting on the voyage, I’ve come to appreciate the unique tempo of train travel. As long as I was in-the-know, I’ve embracing the slower pace compared to driving, one can find solace in the journey itself. We hope to have more opportunities like this making there way down the tracks to Ohio soon. From more frequent Cardinal service to new intra and interstate routes that connect us to the people around us in Ohio. There’sa certain charm in surrendering to the rhythm of the rails, finding rest, food, and connection along the way. Indeed, it’s an experience well worth the time. 


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