Amtrak San Diegans
Steve's review of the Amtrak San Diegans including travelogues and
photos of the train, the accommodations and scenery along the route.
Special Note: Browsing through my own web site here at TrainWeb,
I just ran across this page on January 18, 1998 and realized it has been
quite a while since I first wrote it! I have traveled the Amtrak
San Diegans many many times since I wrote what you will find below.
Much of what is below is still accurate. Until I get a chance to update
this page, your best bet at finding more information about
the Amtrak San Diegans is to go to my
California Travelogues Page and
read about my more recent trips on the Amtrak San Diegans. I ride the
San Diegans so often that I have not written about every travel
experience on them, but I think you will find informative those that I did
Let me start by telling you the great things about the Amtrak San Diegans!
From my home in Anaheim Hills, California, I can hop on a San Diegan at
the Anaheim Station (or the Fullerton Station if taking the San Diegan
express which doesn't stop at the Anaheim Station). That will take me
direct to San Diego in 2 hours and to Santa Barbara in 4 hours.
There are a LOT of tourist things to see and do in both San Diego and
in Santa Barbara. I don't think that a lot of people realize they can
just park their car in Fullerton or Anaheim and then relax while they
ride the train to either of these two popular vacation spots! Round
trip should be under $40 per adult and $20 per child.
The San Diegans are jointly funded by both Amtrak and by CalTrans.
Recently, 70 new trains called the "California Cars" were purchased.
Delivery of these trains has started. Initially just one has been
placed into service on each of the California commuter lines: The San
Diegans, The San Jonquins, and The Capitals. Thus, the new California
Cars are only used once each day from San Diego to Santa Barbara and
back again each day. All the other trains on that route are the older
trains. As the year goes on, more and more of the older trains will be
replaced by these new California Cars.
In November, my family and I rode on the California Cars just to get from
Fullerton to Los Angeles to connect to the Coast Starlight. Because this
was the introductory month of the new bi-level California Cars, everyone
on the train was given a free pass that could be used for one free round
trip between San Diego and Santa Barbara or beyond (or any points in
between). Thus, I received 4 of these free round trip tickets.
As of January 1996, the new California Cars are only used on one round
trip per day, and only on weekdays - not weekends. Thus, to get the full
value of my free tickets, I decided to set aside a time to take the full
round trip all the way from San Diego to Santa Barbara. I had made plans
to take my family since I did have 4 tickets, but those plans fell through.
My next alternative was to turn the trip into an enjoyable working business
conference and invite 2 of the people I work with along with me. That
didn't exactly work as planned, but I did end up taking that trip with
my business associate and friend, Ray Burns. Starting out in San Diego
would also insure that we got seats with a table.
This is a little side note about exactly what happens to the seating on
the train as it moves from San Diego to Santa Barbara. Starting from
San Diego, you can pretty much get the type of seating you want: a table
with 4 seats, coach seats that recline, a single seat by itself, or even
seats or tables with electric outlets for notebook computers. You can
even grab a seat in the sightseer lounge car. Many commuters traveling
alone board the train on the first segment of the trip to Los Angeles.
Invariably, each person seeks out a seat where they can sit alone. By
the time the train gets to Santa Ana and Fullerton, there are no seats
left where you can sit alone. Thus, starting from those stations you
have to sit in a pair of seats or at a table with others. If you are
traveling with 2 or more other people, you will probably have to split
up. That's another reason why I decided to start this special "tour"
from the beginning of the line in San Diego.
Once the train gets to Los Angeles, all the commuters get off and the
train becomes practically empty. Hardly anyone is traveling from
Los Angeles to Santa Barbara at 9 a.m. The train remains fairly empty
for the rest of its journey.
On the return trip, we have exactly the opposite. The train starts out
from Santa Barbara at 2:30pm in the afternoon and leaves from Los Angeles
at 5:15pm, the start of the rush-hour home. Thus, the train is pretty
empty from Santa Barbara to Los Angeles, but just about fills to capacity
once it gets to Los Angeles. The train drops off many more people than
it picks up all the way down to San Diego.
My entire "tour" consisted of the following: We drove down to San Diego
the night before the trip and slept in a motel in San Diego. In the
morning, we drove to the train station and parked in a self-park lot.
I started to get annoyed when I realized the train getting ready in
the yard did not have a California Cars train engine but a regular
Amtrak engine. But then I noticed that the passenger cars were still
the new bi-level California Cars. Evidently the engine had a problem and
had to be replaced by the standard Amtrak engine, but they were still
running the new California Car passenger coaches with the older engines.
We too the #771 train out of San Deigo at 6:33am and arrived into
Santa Barbara at 11:36am. We had a very productive business meeting
taking strategic breaks to enjoy the views at the best points. This
included quite a bit of scenery along the coast. In Santa Barbara,
we hung around the station for a little while waiting for the northbound
Coast Starlight to arrive. This allowed us to take a number of good
photos of the arriving train and time for me to give Ray a "window"
tour of the Coast Starlight.
We next walked the few short blocks to the ocean and had lunch on the
patio of the "Moby Dick" restaurant. The food was good and the view
was great! After lunch, we looked around Stearn's Wharf a bit and then
headed back to the Santa Barbara train station.
The San Diegan train (#780) that we took back was the exact same one
that we took up. After having dropped off all its passengers at 11:33am,
they just parked it on a side rail for 3 hours until it was time to head
back. Thus, that is the one daily round trip of the only California Cars
on the San Diegan route at this time. We arrived back into San Diego
Now the things that aren't so great...
I very much enjoy riding on the new Amtrak California Cars. Because they
are bi-level, you are up pretty high and get a good view of things, just
like on the bi-level Superliner Amtrak trains. They also have very large
windows and were designed with a very open look. You feel like there is
a lot of room in each passenger coach. Even any needed partitions are
made of clear plexyglass so that your view down the car or out the window
is not obstructed! The tables make a great place to work, or just for a
drink and snack that can be purchased from the onboard cafe.
Unfortunately for now, the new Amtrak California Cars only make this trip
once each day. The San Diegans make many trips each day between San Diego
and Santa Barbara, with one even going all the way up to San Luis Obispo,
but much older equipment is used on those trips.
That older equipment is all single-level coach seating. You do have more
space than on an airplane, but that is one of the few advantages. The
windows are narrow on the older equipment. I don't know what the person
was thinking that designed these cars. To me, the view is one of the best
advantages a train has over other transportation methods. To restrict it
unnecessarily is practically a crime. Compared to the new California Cars,
the older equipment places you lower down on a single-level with smaller
windows. The windows are also positioned to not give you the best view
unless you sit up tall in your chair. You can't lay back, relax, and get
a really good view at the same time unless you just want to watch clouds
and the tops of buildings and trees go by.
The older equipment also has a very rounded shape to it, much like an
airplane. This gives a sense of being crowded or closed-in, similar to
the feeling that many get on airplanes. Quite a shame since I doubt this
aerodynamic shape ads anything to the efficiancy or speed of the train.
This definitely detracts from my enjoyment of a train trip and I would not
go out of my way just to take a ride on one of these trains.
I am definitely looking forward to the day when ALL of this old equipment
is replaced by the new Amtrak California Cars! I hope they place the
very next set of Amtrak California Cars on the #776 and #779 trains, the
only one that goes all the way up to San Luis Obispo. The segment of
track between Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo runs right along the coast
and is claimed to be one of the most scenic segments of rail to be found
anywhere in the world! It is a shame to have to try to appreciate the
view out the window of the older equipment. The only way to appreciate it
now is out the window of the Coast Starlight that just runs once each day
and only goes as far as Los Angeles, not to Orange County nor San Diego.
With luck, those new Amtrak California Cars will be in service and replace
all of the older equipment sometime late this year or next year.
Please select one of the following:
San Diegans Page /
Amtrak Route Index
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