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SUMMER 1997 AMTRAK TRAVELOGUE

PART V - AMTRAK SAN DIEGANS

by Carol Larsen

SUNDAY, JULY 6, 1997

The Globus "California Coast Vacation" tour ended after breakfast at the Travelodge Harbor Island in San Diego, my "home" for the last two nights. My plan had been to take a morning San Diegan to Oceanside, where my aunt lives. While I was in Chicago, our friend Bruce decided that instead of my taking that train, he would drive my aunt down to pick me up. I then spent the rest of the day at my aunt's house, until it was time to catch the 6:09 PM San Diegan.

Bruce returned at 5:15 PM so they could take me to the Amtrak station in Oceanside. It was only about a 10-minute drive, thus we were there in ample time. The multi-mode Oceanside station is very modern and serves Greyhound as well as Amtrak. I was somewhat disappointed as I had expected to see a quaint, older station much like the others in the area that are on the National Historic Registry. I guess I should be pleased with a well- designed newer station, which is much preferable to the possible alternative of a poorly maintained older station.

Soon droves of people began arriving, as could be expected for the end of the 4th of July weekend. When the train announcement was made, we discovered we were waiting on the end of the platform that would be closest to the custom class cars, so I had to move up to the more crowded end. For the short ride to Fullerton where I would transfer to the Southwest Chief, I had selected coach over custom class. After a quick good-bye hug to my aunt and Bruce, I fell in line with the rest of the boarding passengers. Conductor Carl Bryant boosted my suitcase up behind me. I placed it behind the end seats and selected the first empty seat, which was on the left side of the aisle near the middle of the car.

This northbound San Diegan, train number 593, was pulled by an F40PH engine and had F40PH 250 at the end of the train for southbound operation. The coaches were single level Amfleet cars with one Horizon car in the middle. I didn't care to roam around the crowded train, but there was apparently a cafe car in the consist, as people were returning to their seats with beverages and snacks. That was probably the Horizon car.

I had known that I wouldn't have the opportunity to ride in California cars on this run, but saw them and also the Coaster, while I was with the tour group in San Diego. I would have liked to have been able to see the inside of the cars. After having a taste of more Amtrak routes in California and reading about them on TrainWeb, it's too bad for me that my aunt is thinking about moving back to Chicago. If I could visit her for a longer time next summer, I would spend some of my days riding Amtrak routes!

Although the train had arrived on time, it lost at least 15 minutes in loading the large number of passengers. As we pulled out of the station, I waved to my aunt and Bruce who were waving. I doubt that they could see me since I wasn't in a window seat. Soon I discovered I was on the wrong side of the car for the best scenery, although I hadn't really had a choice. Most of the other people probably knew that the right side was the ocean side for some distance. Now my aisle seat gave me a slight advantage as I had only two people to look past for an ocean view instead of three.

Before we arrived at San Clemente, we lost more time waiting on a siding for a passing southbound train. I didn't mind because that would mean less time between trains at Fullerton. We arrived at Fullerton at 7:51 instead of 7:33 PM, so I had only an hour and 24 minutes to wait, instead of almost 1- 3/4 hours. Most of the people detraining there were probably transferring to the Southwest Chief as I was. Carl helped me with my suitcase again. I wheeled it along toward the station building, out of the way of the detraining passengers and others waiting.

Once on the platform, I investigated the station area and the inside of the building. This 1930 station building is on the National Historic Register and is of interesting design both inside and out. Here I found the best of both worlds--a well-maintained older building and a well-designed platform area. The platform remodeling project I read about on TrainWeb is now complete and affords attractive outdoor lighting and seating areas, as well as elevators and an overpass for those needing to reach the opposite platform.

A man on the platform asked me if I was taking the Southwest Chief and going in coach or sleeper. He directed me to the north end as the area where the sleepers stop. As I gradually worked my way to that end, I found him in a group of men who might have been retired railroad employees. I thought perhaps they had attended a meeting in Fullerton and were returning home to one of the next stops. They must have realized that my ears pricked up over their conversation about trains. They told me that they didn't work for the railroad, but live nearby and come to the station regularly to visit and watch trains and people. I said that I might do the same if it wasn't 160 miles from where I live to the nearest Amtrak station!

While I waited for the Southwest Chief, a southbound San Diegan stopped on the opposite platform and a northbound BNSF freight came through. Between 8:30 and 9:00, two announcements were made on the PA informing the waiting passengers which ends of the platform were for boarding coach or sleeper. As the sun set, I found that I was no longer comfortable in shorts and a short-sleeved top, so pulled my jacket out of my shoulder tote. I could have waited inside the station, but much preferred remaining outside where I could soak up the last minutes of the palm tree-lined California setting.

Copyright 1997 by Carol Larsen

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