Amtrak Surfliner Trainset
"Unofficial" Inaugural Revenue Run
Friday, May 26, 2000, Train #571
The Amtrak Surfliner trainset made its maiden revenue voyage as Pacific Surfliner Train #571
starting from San Diego at 7:07 A.M. on Friday, May 26, 2000. Ray Burns, Matt Melzer,
Shivam Surve, and I, Steve Grande, boarded the train in Santa Ana at 8:55 A.M. and rode it to
Click On Each Link For Photos:
Set #1 /
Set #2 /
Set #3 /
Set #5 /
Set #6 /
Set #7 /
360x360 Immersion Photo Virtual Tour of the Amtrak Pacific Surfliner:
(Use the Microsoft Internet Explorer Web Browser to view the Virtual Photo Tours)
Set #1: Business Class Car, F59PHI Locomotive Cab, Car Exterior
Set #2: Coach Car, Coach/Cafe Car, Coach/Baggage Car including Control Cab
I normally take the Metrolink from Irvine to our office in Fullerton every morning, but made
a slight change of plans and drove to the Santa Ana station instead of the Irvine station. I
would like to have boarded this inaugural train in Irvine, but Train #571 is the express
train that travels right through the Amtrak Irvine and Anaheim stations without stopping.
Santa Ana is less than 10 miles and about 10 minutes from Irvine, so it was not much of a
detour for me to drive the difference.
I arrived and parked at the Amtrak Santa Ana Station about 8:30 A.M. One northbound Metrolink
commuter train departed from the station before I got to a parking place. Matt Melzer boarded
southbound Metrolink Train #602 in Los Angeles at 7:44 A.M. Ray Burns and Shivam Surve boarded
that same train in Fullerton at 8:17 A.M. and joined Matt. I took photos of that train as it
arrived into Santa Ana at 8:34 A.M. and took photos of them as they stepped off the train.
While waiting at the Santa Ana station, the next northbound Metrolink train that I usually
take to Fullerton arrived into Santa Ana. A little while after the Metrolink departed, we
heard the horn of the Amtrak Surfliner that we were expecting and the crossing gates at the
north end of the platform went down.
As the Amtrak Surfliner Trainset rounded the corner coming into Santa Ana from the south
I took the above picture of it. The train approached the station in "push mode" with
Surfliner Coach/Baggage (Cab) Car #6900 at the head end and
F59PHI locomotive #456 on the tail end.
The door closest to us was the one directly north of the Surfliner
Coach/Cafe Car and we boarded through that door.
After heading up the stairs, we went through the door into the coach seating section upstairs
in the Coach/Cafe Car. We continued walking through the car until we got to the end of the car
right next to the Surfliner Business Class Car. Because seats on both
sides at that end had been arranged facing each other and one side was isolated from the
rest of the car by the clear plastic wall of the stairway, the seating seemed like a private
office for up to 8 people!
Charles Roebuck III on left, Steve Covall on right.
Once we settled in, Ray and Matt went downstairs in the Coach/Cafe to the "Surfliner Shoppe."
There they met Charles Roebuck III (Administrative Chief of On-board Services, photo above),
who gave them a warm greeting and offered them any refreshments that they would like free from
the cafe. Ray and Matt selected some beverages and Krispy Kreme Doughnuts
("Krispy Kreme Doughnuts" is a trademarked name and the correct spelling!).
Ray took Charles' picture and a number of other pictures in the cafe.
Shivam and I headed down to the cafe a bit later and received the same warm greeting and free
We took a number of photos of the passengers and activity on the train which we were not able
to do when the train was empty in the yard on our previous photo shoot. You can view those
photos by clicking on the links above.
While on the train, we also ran into Steve Covell (Manager Equipment Maintenance),
Bonnie S. Mellott (Coordinator, Amtrak West Mechanical Department) and
Jack Wilson (Operations Manager). Steve was the person that had escorted us through the
Surfliner trainset earlier in the week so that we could take the photos to produce the virtual
tour. Steve has seen this trainset, and the F59PHI, from inception through delivery, and was
an integral part of the overall project. We've run into Jack at a number of Amtrak West
special events, but had not seen him for quite a while. Photos of all these people will be
found at the links above.
The trainset has an extensive audio system. A mix of current music was played softly
throughout the train during our journey. In Business Class, the James Bond 007 Movie
"The World Is Not Enough" was playing on the seatback video units.
One problem that we noticed was that a great number of coach passengers would go into the
Business Class Car to exit. As coach passengers riding in the coach seating section of the
Surfliner Cafe Car headed toward the south end of the train to find an exit, they would find
that the stairs at that end of the car was blocked and marked "Authorized Personnel Only."
Thus, those passengers would continue walking south into the Business Class Car and exit from
that car. I think that is going to produce a lot of traffic for people sitting between the
stairs and the door in the Business Class Car. One of the reasons that people pay a premium to
be in Business Class is because of the reduced amount of aisle traffic in the car.
I think there is a solution to this problem. That solution would be to reverse the orientation
of the Surfliner Cafe Car. Then, coach passengers would find an exit before reaching Business
Class. Those coach passengers that headed away from Business Class who encountered the blocked
stairway would either continue in the same direction into the next Coach Car, or turn back and
find the exit from Coach/Cafe Car before having to proceed into Business Class.
A related issue is that doors were not opened in the Coach/Cafe Car at station stops. That is
the normal procedure for the Amtrak California Cars, but the Cafe in the Amtrak California Cars
does not have any revenue seating. Passengers are supposed to return to their seats as it gets
time to depart from the train. Thus, there should be no passengers in the Cafe Car in the
Amtrak California Car trainset that need to get off the train. The Surfliner trainset is
different. There is revenue coach seating upstairs in that car and there are passengers that
will want to depart at stations. Hence, the reason why I thought that some doors are supposed
to open in the Surfliner Coach/Cafe Car.
Wheelchair bound passengers will find the new Surfliner Coach/Cafe Car probably the easiest
to navigate. With tables for 4 on one side of the car and tables for 2 on the other, there
is plenty of room for a wheelchair to move down the center aisle. The lower level of the
Coach/Cafe Car has a very large ADA restroom and a spot has been reserved at one of the tables
in the cafe where a wheelchair can pull up. There is a ramp at the large double doors in the
Coach/Cafe Car so that passengers in wheelchairs can board directly into the car.
All of the Surfliner car types are fully and equally ADA
compliant and accessible. All cars have the large toilet room and access ramp
located at their B end vestibules. All car types have wide, wheelchair
accessible aisles on the lower level for easy passage to wheelchair parking and
transfer seat/stowage locations.
In addition to the large restroom on the lower level of each Surfliner Car, there was
also a smaller, but adequate, unisex restroom on the upper level of every car. A warm air
blower is used in each restroom to dry your hands. Unlike the type used in other trains,
this one will continue to blow air as long as you keep moving your hands below the dryer.
Once you remove your hands, the dryer stops blowing. This is quite an improvement over the
older models which used a set period of time before stopping. A single interval would
seldom be long enough to dry your hands. Pushing the button again would result in a second
interval of warm air that lasted far beyond what was needed. This new dryer that senses
hand motion solves that problem.
While still talking about the restrooms, the sink faucet control has been greatly improved.
Most trains that I have been on have one lever for cold water and one for hot where the water
only flows while the lever is held. Since one hand has to hold the lever, you end up having
a choice of pouring either hot or cold water on one hand and then either hot or cold water
onto the other hand! It would really help to have a third hand to hold down both faucets so
that you can wash the other two under a running flow of water that isn't either too hot or
cold. That problem is solved with the faucet controls in the new Surfliner cars.
There is a red button for hot water and blue button for cold water which, when pressed,
produces water for a set interval. Pushing both produces a stream of warm water for a set
interval. Thus, you don't need a third hand to wash your other two hands!
There was an average number of passengers on this train. The train was not crowded, but there
were a good number of passengers on the train. There were a few people on the train specifically
for the purpose of being on the first revenue run of this trainset, but not very many. I doubt
there were even a dozen passengers on this train for that purpose, and this is counting the 4
of us from TrainWeb! I thought that was a little surprising considering the number of places
information about this run had been posted on the web.
There is a major factor that kept the number of people down that would normally
turn out for any kind of "first" on a train: the operation of the Surfliner trainset on
this run at this time was not "official!" There was a chance that this trainset might not
have operated at the expected time. A lot of people would not take off from work to attend a
"first" that might not happen.
On a related topic, Amtrak actually contacted us at TrainWeb to know if we were the ones that
had announced the dates, times and train numbers on which the Surfliner trainset was scheduled
to operate. For the record, TrainWeb NEVER posted this information to our website. We did find
that information on an official Amtrak related website and posted a link to that "official"
website. When the information vanished from the official Amtrak website, we took down our link
and posted a note and a warning that information posted by others to the web was not official
and that there was no guarantee that the trainset would operate according to what had been
posted. To add insult to injury, we were told by some of the passengers on the train that
TrainWeb had been "scooped" by our competitors as those competitors had the information about
this run posted to the web while TrainWeb did not. Unfortunately, there is not much we can do
about that. We are often given pre-release information by Amtrak. That information helps us to
plan our schedules and enables us to cover various events. We realize that we would not have
access to that information if it was posted to the web against the wishes of Amtrak. We will
continue our currently policy, even if it keeps TrainWeb from always being the first to report
an upcoming rail event. More likely, our policy will keep information flowing our way that
will allow us to continue to cover events that we would be difficult without the advance
Bottom line: we found the Surfliner trainset to be a significant improvement over the Amfleet
and Horizon equipment it will be replacing. Although I will miss the tables, single seats, and
the full Cafe Car when the two sets of Amtrak California Car Trainsets are replaced on this
route, I feel the Surfliner Trainsets are an improvement even over the California Cars.
Personally, I like these cars even more than the seating in the Superliner Coach Cars!
Amtrak Surfliner Trainset
Saturday, May 27, 2000, Trains #560 & #779
After having seen a schedule posted on another web site about a week ago of when the new
Amtrak Surfliner trainset was supposed to be in operation this weekend, I purchased
Pacific Business Class tickets for Ray Burns, Shivam Surve, and myself, Steve Grande.
When that schedule was later removed from that other web site and I got word that there was
no guarantee that the new trainset would be run at those particular times, I decided to take
my chances and hang onto the reservations that I had made. It was fortunate that I did as
the trainset was operated on the times originally indicated!
Click On Each Link For Photos:
Set #1 /
Set #2 /
Set #4 /
Click here for a 360x360 Virtual Photo Tour of the entire Pacific Surfliner trainset!
As of yesterday, I already knew that Pacific Business Class on the southbound segment,
Train #560, was already SOLD OUT! There were a few people on this run specifically to
experience the new trainset, but the majority of people on this train were just Memorial Day
weekend travelers. Amtrak normally gets very full on holiday weekends, especially on this
Matt Melzer, a part-time TrainWeb staff member, planned to work three days for us over this
Memorial Day weekend: Friday, Saturday and Sunday. To get to the TrainWeb office in Fullerton,
Matt boarded this southbound Surfliner trainset in Los Angeles. Matt contacted us by cell phone
when he was on the train to confirm that Amtrak was using the Surfliner trainset for this run.
He also let us know that the locomotive is on the north end of the trainset, which is the
normal position for the locomotive on this route. It wasn't until now that any of us realized
that yesterday's Surfliner trainset was oriented in reverse of the normal train configuration
for this route! But, that was wise for whoever decided on that orientation yesterday. With
the Coach/Baggage (Cab Control) Car in the lead, it made yesterday's run the inaugural revenue
run for Cab Control Car operation of the Surfliner trainset! It meant that a Surfliner Car
would be in the lead into every station on the inaugural revenue run instead of an F59PHI
locomotive, which would not have been new to this route at all!
The baggage agent in Fullerton had a little bit of difficulty deciding which end of the platform
to position the electric baggage cart. Normally, the baggage car would be next to the locomotive
and arrive at the north end of the platform. On the Surfliner trainset, the baggage car is the
Coach/Baggage (Cab Control) Car and will be at the south end of the trainset! Once it was
confirmed that the Surfliner equipment would be used on this trainset, the baggage person drove
the cart down to the south end of the station.
We paused just outside the common Metrolink/Coaster commuter rail maintenance facility just
north of Oceanside to wait for the northbound Amtrak train to pass. We were running just a
few minutes late, but the Conductor asked over the P.A. system for us to look out our window
at the I-5 Freeway. He announced that we would be in a lot more trouble if we had elected to
drive to San Diego as it was obvious that the I-5 was one big traffic jam that was barely
They were playing the James Bond 007 movie "The World Is Not Enough" on the seatback
video units in Business Class just like yesterday. They didn't have any of the several
other audio channels playing yet. Free sealed earphones were provided in the back of
every seat in Business Class. I wonder if that will be the standard policy or if the
free earphones are just being given out during these test revenue runs. Also, when someone
gets off the train and vacates a seat, who provides a new sealed set of earphones for the
next passenger to board and sit at that seat? The movie ended before we arrived into
Oceanside. Shivam was wondering when someone would start the next video feature. I have to
assume that reloading the video player is the responsibility of the Conductor. There isn't
enough time to play another movie, so I'd have to guess that they will not start another
movie for the rest of the trip.
New info! The Cafe Car Attendant accompanied by another non-uniformed person just headed up to
the end of the Business Car and opened up the audio/video cabinet. That makes sense! The Cafe
Car Attendant must be the crew member responsible for playing the video and audio features! He
might also be responsible for restocking the headphones at each seat at the start of each
trip, and maybe also at strategic points along the journey. They just starting playing
soft music throughout the car via the overhead sound system. That brought to my attention for
the first time that music had not been playing until now on the overhead system. My guess is
that the non-uniformed person has something to do with the technical aspects of this new
trainset and was showing the Cafe Car Attendant how to operate some parts of the audio/video
Mike Kimura was on the train with his family. They tried to purchase Business Class, but
were not able to get tickets on the southbound segment because it was sold out. Actually,
I think Mike was the person that told me about the southbound segment being sold out. I
found Mike and his family in the front car of the train, the Coach/Baggage (Cab Control) Car.
There were getting off at Solana Beach, have lunch there, and would then reboard the train in
Business Class on the trains northbound trip.
We went into a siding for another northbound Amtrak to pass just south of Solana Beach.
The northbound train was an Amtrak California Car trainset.
This train seems to have a much greater problem of Coach passengers accidentally boarding or
wandering into Business Class. That is very logical. On Amtrak's older trainsets on this route,
only one door opens to Business Class and a Conductor remains at that door to direct boarding
passengers to the correct boarding door. Because a Conductor can open and close all doors
from any door on this train, a Conductor is not always at the door to Business Class. Even if
a Conductor did cover one door, there is also a second door to Business Class. On the older
trainsets, there is almost always a unique passenger car separating Coach and Business Class.
On the Horizon and Amfleet trainsets, there is a cafe/food service area between the two
classes of service. Thus, it is fairly obvious where one section ends and the other starts.
On the Amtrak California trainsets, either a California Cafe Car or a Superliner Sightseer
Lounge Cafe Car is placed between the two classes of service. The type of seating, legroom,
etc. is also significantly different between the two classes. Since the upper level of the
Surfliner Coach/Cafe Car is all coach seating, Coach Class and Business Class are right next
to each other without any special separation. Hence, after people board the train and are
looking for seats, they wander right into the Business Class Car. Presently, there isn't even
a sign in the door between the cars to indicate that the next car is for Business Class
passengers. I'm sure Amtrak will be placing a sign in the door in the near future. That will
go a long way to solving the problem, but will probably not solve it completely.
After the train arrived into San Diego, we leisurely packed up and stepped off the train.
We stayed at the platform close to the train while waiting for the boarding call for the
northbound segment of this journey.
The Conductor announced that this was the first day of operation of this trainset. That
confused us a bit since yesterday was the first day of operation of the trainset and we
were on that train! A few minutes later, the Conductor announced again that this was the
first day of operation for the train and also said that there will be about 10 sets like
this in operation within 4 to 6 weeks! I'm afraid that prediction is a bit ambitious. I
think the original schedule called for a new set to be placed into service every 6 weeks,
but it is possible that one new set might go into operation every 4 weeks. However, I
guarantee that we will not see 10 sets in operation 6 weeks from now!
When we boarded this northbound segment of our journey, the refreshment area of Business Class
was completely restocked with cups of juice, fresh coffee, muffins, danish, plus the
Los Angeles Times, Wall Street Journal, USA Today newspapers.
We went to the lower level in the Coach/Cafe Car and purchased lunch. There is a fairly
extensive menu and the prices are reasonable. I had a Beef Buritto, Shivam had a
Chicken Buritto, and Ray had a hotdog. Shivam and I thought the burittos were quite good!
Because the bun was rubbery, Ray was not impressed with the hotdog. I told Ray about the
time that I saw how one person solved this problem and how my kids have copied that
practice ever since. Many of you probably realize that bread that is microwaved too much will
often become thick and rubbery. I once saw a patron of a cafe car ask the attendant to just
microwave the hotdog and not the bun! The attendant said he'd be glad to do that, but that he
was not allowed to touch the food once it was unwrapped. However, the attendant did explain
that the passenger could unwrap the food and move the hotdog meat to a separte plate and then
the attendant could place the plate with the hotdog into the mircowave. They did this and
that avoided the problem of ending up with a rubbery bun! Maybe the food providers should
just sell the hotdog and bun wrapped separately! Overall, it seems to me that the onboard
food has improved in both diversity and quality since Amtrak changed to using an outside
food vendor to stock the train.
We presented our Pacific Business Class ticket stubs to the Cafe Car Attendant and he gave
us a food gift box, which they are now giving out instead of the cheese plates. The gift boxes
contain cheese and meat sticks, taco chips, dark chocolate coffee beans, and two cookies.
The Attendant also gave us free beverages. I selected a single serving bottle of wine while
Ray and Shivam select soft drinks. Ever since yesterday there had been some mystery as to why
coffee beans were included in the gift box. We all thought everything in the food gift box was
meant to be consumed on the train and none of us had thought to bring along a coffee grinder
or coffee maker to be able to brew up the beans! However, I had previously purchased and eaten
chocolate covered coffee beans elsewhere and took a guess that these were meant to be eaten
directly, even though they did not say "chocolate covered." I opened up the package, and sure
enough, that is what they were! We all consumed our coffee beans right there on the train!
Matt Melzer, who was on the southbound Surfliner trainset from Los Angeles to Fullerton this
morning reported that the Cafe remained open while the trainset layed over in Los Angeles.
If that is the new policy, then I have to take my hat off to Amtrak! Usually the Cafe Car
closes 30 minutes before the train gets into Los Angeles, from either direction, and remains
closed while the trainset remains and is restocked in Los Angeles. Since the train sits for
15 to 25 minutes in Los Angeles, that is the time when people are most likely to want to get
out of their seats and do something, like puchase some food or beverage. It is also a time
when people who are less steady on their feet feel more confident to make their way to the
cafe and back! Unfortunately, that has been the one time during the run that the cafe has
traditionally been closed. If they can keep the cafe open through the short layover in
Los Angeles, I think Amtrak will see a dramatic increase in sales from the Cafe!
There are 3 tables upstairs in the Business Class Car. (I've been informed by Alstrom that
there are actually 4 tables upstairs in the Business Class Car. See Note #1 below.)
There are no tables in the Coach Class Cars. Two of the tables are toward the center
of the car, one on each side. The third table
is across from the top of the stairs. I just noticed that all three tables have a window view
that is not as good as the window view from the seats not at tables. The two tables at the
center of the train have a wall instead of a window above the center of the tables, but there
are windows directly next to the heads of the people sitting at those tables. The table across
from the top of the stairs has a square window, but there is wall space next to the heads of
the people sitting at the table. Thus, all the passengers sitting at tables have a view out
the windows, but not as wide a view as those sitting at other seats in Business Class. Also,
of course, the passengers sitting at the table do not have a view of a video screen and
cannot watch the movie. One more advantage to the non-table seats is that they have
Personally, I think the trade-off between table and non-table seating is perfect! In the
Amtrak California Cars, table seating is usually taken up very quickly. The table seats have
just as good a view as the non-table seats, but have the advantage of a nice big surface area
to spread out your things. Thus, a lot of people will sit at the table seats before the
regular seats. In the Surfliner Business Class Car, you have to decide which is more important
to you: (1) a wide window view, a video screen, a footrest, a seatback pull-down table or
(2) a large table for four people! Also, unlike the California Cars, there are electrical
outlets at EVERY seat in this trainset! The way they have outlets spaced, there is actually
more than one outlet for every pair of seats! I think most people will choose to sit at a seat
with a better view and a video screen. That is more likely to leave the tables open for those
that really want to sit at a table.
The seats to the tables are some of the few seats that cannot be turned around to face the
opposite direction. They are also the only seats to not provide a video unit on the
seatback. Since the seats are back-to-back, there is no way one could ever have a seat
facing the back of one of those chairs.
Where has this video generation gotten us? When we started out, there were three of
us sitting at the table across from the top of the stairs. But by the time we got to the
first stop at Solana Beach, everyone had deserted the table to go watch the James Bond movie!
Personally, I'd rather enjoy the novel experience of the first time this trainset has every
travelled on this northbound route out of San Diego, watching the view out the window, writing
about my experiences, talking at the table and sharing this special train event. I wouldn't
feel I was getting my almost $200 money's worth for roundtrip Pacific Business Class for 3
people if I spent most of the trip watching a video movie that I could rent and watch at home
for just a few dollars. But from my kids and from most people that I interact with, I sometimes
wonder if video entertainment has not become more important than experiencing the real life
situations in which you sometimes find yourself. Maybe it was just the novelty of being able
to watch a full-length movie while on a train that Ray and Shivam could not resist!
Ray is sitting at the next row of seats past the table and Shivam is sitting at the row
of seats on the other side of the table! Fortunately, Business Class is not too full yet
as I'm sure the Conductor might be a bit disturbed that the three of us have seized the
sitting room of 8 passengers! Though it is a common practice in the Amtrak California Cars,
I can't help but feel a bit guilty now that I am taking up this big table for four people all
We ran into some technical problem on departure from the San Diego Station. This slightly
delayed our departure from San Diego. There was also a problem with the quality of the
soundtrack on the movie. It was fine on our southbound travel. The electrician adjusted
something in the audio/video system and the sound to the movie was fine again! Minor little
glitches in a brand new trainset like this are to be expected.
A minor detraction that I noticed in the Surfliner Car that I have never noticed in any
previous Amtrak car is how much one feels the bumping as someone behind you puts their
feet on and off the footrest. I thought there was someone behind me opening and closing
the seatback table, which always causes the attached seat to bump. However, on checking,
the person behind me was just putting their feet on or off the footrest from time to time!
The footrests are attached to the back of each seat, so it does make sense that a person
sitting in the seat will feel bumping as feet are put on and off the footrest. A lot of
other Amtrak equipment does not have footrests, which would explain why I have seldom
noticed this before. Floor mounting the footrests would interfere in the ability to turn
the seats around. I wonder if it would be better to just not have footrests?
Despite the minor problems, I would have to judge the Surfliner trainset to be the best
Amtrak coach trainset that I have experienced to date! The Talgo trainset comes in as a
close second behind the Surfliner, but I think my bias for bi-level equipment is probably
what places the Surfliner in the lead. If there was a full-service sit-down dining car in
the Surfliner trainset, then the Surfliner would be far in the lead! I have not yet been
in the new Acela trainset, so I can't yet judge how that compares.
Additional Information From Alstrom, builders of the Surfliner cars:
(1) There are four movable tables upstairs in the Business Class Car, two
located symetrically about the center of the car and one each across from
the top of each stairway. The current, as delivered locations were chosen based
upon the premise that people at table seats will tend to be occupied with
activity less detracted by a marginal view. Except for back to back seats at
return air towers and stairway/locker bulkheads, all others can be rotated to
any operational configuration that Amtrak desires.
A lot more photos & information about the new Amtrak Surfliner equipment!
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