TRAVEL: Death at Dawn

The Santa Fe's stainless steel El Capitan, an all-coach express of 16 cars, glittered eastward at 90 m.p.h. on the last leg of the run from Los Angeles. It was 5:40 a.m., and Chicago was only 148 miles away. On an adjoining track, also Chicago-bound, the slower Kansas City Chief clicked along at a modest 65. In both trains, as they raced side by side near Monica, Ill., dawn and restlessness had prodded light sleepers into wakefulness. Washrooms were crowded with women prettying their faces and men shaving.

As El Capitan began sliding...

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