This travelogue covers my journey on the Amtrak Southwest Chief from Kansas City, Missouri to Fullerton, California.
As most of you who are frequent visitors to TrainWeb already know, you can click on any photo on this page to display a larger image of that photo.
YEAR MON DA DAY Actual-Departure-Time (Scheduled-Departure-Time) Time Zone
1999 MAR 27 SAT 23:42 (23:32) Central Time Kansas City MO Arrival
This is the first time I have ever boarded a train in Kansas City. As soon as the Amtrak Southwest Chief started to pull in, everyone in the waiting room went out of the station waiting room. The Kansas City platform is extremely long and the station building is all the way at the end of that platform. At first, the Genesis locomotives stopped right outside the station building. Then, the train slowly started moving ahead. Eventually all of the Coach and Sleeping Cars passed by the building and kept on moving slowly away. The train finally stopped way down the platform. I think they needed to be able to access the mail and express cars from the platform and thus had to get all of those cars by the station platform.
The train stopped, but nobody knew what to do. The passenger cars were way way down the platform. There had been no announcements at all during the 3 hours that I had been waiting in the station. We were never told if the train was on time or when to expect it. There was no announcement of the arrival of the train. Nobody said to go board the train and nobody said to wait by the station until the train is ready for boarding. Thus, everyone started the long walk down the platform passing all the express cars on their way to the passenger cars.
As the large crowd of boarding passengers had finally reached the last express car before the start of the passenger cars, an ominous figure approached from the train scolding the boarding passengers. He said: "Who told you to head down the platform? You are supposed to wait in the station until you are told the train is ready for boarding! There are still passengers getting off the train and we are not ready for you to board yet!"
In defense of themselves, a number of passengers started arguing that there was nobody in the station telling us anything. The Amtrak person responded: "They would have told you the train is ready to board! You aren't supposed to be coming down here!" In further defense of themselves some boarding passengers started blaming the agent in the station for being remiss in his duties. One thing was for sure: after walking all the way up from the station while hauling their luggage, nobody was about to turn around and go back.
The angry Amtrak figure continued on down the platform toward the station carrying luggage for some of the passengers who had just gotten off the train in Kansas City. Just then, a Car Attendant came along and said: "Who here is for the Sleepers? I'm ready for people to board my car." That Car Attendant then proceeded to board just the passengers for his Sleeping Car. He then told the passengers for the other sleeping cars that their Car Attendant was not yet ready to board them and that they should go wait by the doors of their sleeping cars.
After everyone had boarded the train except for the 3 passengers going into my sleeping car, they released the brakes and the train moved a couple of inches. This made the other two parties a bit nervous and one hopped onboard. I was listening to the radio scanner and knew the train wasn't about to go anywhere yet. I explained that to the other person waiting to board, but just in case, he stepped up close to the door. The Onboard Service Chief then stepped into our car and took the tickets from all of us. He looked down the platform and said: "Here comes your Car Attendant." It was the Amtrak person that had scolded the boarding passengers!
Let's look at this situation a bit. Did the Car Attendant have a reason to be upset? Yes, he did. Quite often at stops in large cities like Kansas City, a number of passengers will be leaving the sleeping car and new passengers will be coming onboard to go to the same rooms that were just vacated. Kansas City has a 23 minute layover. At such station, some passengers will often request help from the Car Attendant with their luggage. But, not only does the Car Attendant have to help with luggage, but he also has to make up all the rooms of the people that just came off the train so they will be ready for the new passengers boarding the train. Thus, the Car Attendant was serious when he said he was not ready for the boarding passengers yet!
I would guess the normal procedure in this particular station is that the station agent will tell passengers over the P.A. system that the train is not yet ready for boarding and that there will be an announcement when the train is ready for passengers. This would give the Sleeping Car Attendants a chance to get the rooms ready for the new passengers. Not having heard any announcments about anything during the entire time passengers were in the Amtrak waiting room, they had no other conclusion to reach other than there was no coordination. Without instructions to the contrary, it is reasonable to assume you are supposed to go to the train after it has stopped moving. After all, that is what you do at all other stations where the train only stops for a couple of minutes to let passengers on and off!
The Sleeping Car Attendant had reason to be upset, but he certainly was not justified in taking it out on the boarding passengers! He immediately assumed those passengers had jumped the gun and were attempting to board after being given instructions to wait. He should have asked himself what might be the reason for this hoard of passengers to be coming down the platform sooner than expected. His first assumption should have been either they were instructed to do so or that no instructions at all had been given to the passengers. The proper behavior of anyone is to assume that the other person is doing what they thought was the right thing to do. You can save your anger until you find out that the other person has acted intentionally wrongfully. This is especially an important way to behave when you are in a customer service position like that of a Car Attendant.
Can you imagine what impression you would have been given if this was the first time you were taking an Amtrak train? Maybe I haven't flown enough, but I've never seen airline personnel treat passengers this way. Airline customer service people can often be politely unco-operative, but I've never seen them loudly scold anyone. Amtrak's passengers have paid good money for their travel on Amtrak, especially those in the Sleeping Cars. The Amtrak staff is supposed to make this a pleasant experience for the passengers and leave them with the feeling that they want to do this again. This experience was not a good start for an first time Amtrak travelers!
My purpose of this coverage of this incident is not to be critical of the Car Attendant. My concern is for Amtrak and also to those of you that might run into incidences like this once in a while. I don't want you to get the impression that this is common nor that the idea that this is acceptable behavior by an Amtrak employee.
I know who the Car Attendant is and he has been my Car Attendant on at least one previous trip. He happens to be one of the most dilligent Car Attendants that always has everything ready for the passengers in his car and is prompt to take care of their requests. I don't plan to include names of the staff in this travelogue. E-mail that I've received indicates that there are Amtrak managers that do read my travelogues from time to time. I don't want to get someone in trouble that is a good Car Attendant outside of this one incident. Also, now that I'm starting to be recognized at times on the train, I don't want Car Attendants to be thinking they've got trouble on their hands when I step on board. In order for me to relay to you what travel on Amtrak is like, it is important that I be treated the same as the next passenger by the staff. I don't want to start receiving special treatment for fear of what I might write about a particular staff person on the train. For that reason, you will find that I almost always avoid mentioning the names when I receive poor service, but am quick to include names and praise those Amtrak employees who are doing a superior job.
1999 MAR 27 SAT 00:16 (23:55) Central Time Kansas City MO Departure
1999 MAR 28 SUN ??:?? (01:21) Central Time Lawrence KS
1999 MAR 28 SUN 01:54 (01:54) Central Time Topeka KS
1999 MAR 28 SUN ??:?? (04:02) Central Time Newton KS
1999 MAR 28 SUN ??:?? (04:39) Central Time Hutchinson KS
1999 MAR 28 SUN ??:?? (06:28) Central Time Dodge City KS
1999 MAR 28 SUN 07:14 (07:14) Central Time Garden City KS
I didn't think I was going to be too inspired for lunch today so I made a determined effort to get up and go to the dining car for breakfast today before they made first call. When I got to the dining car, it was already almost full. I sat with a family of 3, parents and their son. They were heading off to Flagstaff to tour the Grand Canyon and the Southwest.
On my way back from breakfast, another passenger stopped me and asked if I was Steve Grande. Looks like another first! I don't believe any visitor to TrainWeb has just run into me on the train before and introduced themselves. Dennis Gipe introduced himself and his wife, Betty, and explained they were from Indiana and have done some previous Amtrak travel. They hadn't been on the Southwest Chief before.
Dennis was a bit excited, not just because I was on the train, but because Henry Kisor, author of Zephyr, Tracking a Dream Across America,was also on this same train! I told Dennis that I had read Henry's book and speak highly of it on the web site. I hadn't had the chance to meet Henry Kisor before and made a note to try to speak with him at the first opportunity.
In the photo of Dennis and Betty above, don't start to think this is the wrong photo because the loading number of the car indicates this is Train #29. That is the train number of the Amtrak Capitol Limited. The Capitol Limited that arrives into Chicago from Washington,D.C. in the morning is just cleaned up and sent out as the Southwest Chief in the afternoon. Somebody just forgot to change the loading number to that of the Southwest Chief.1999 MAR 28 SUN 07:34 (07:34) Mountain Time Lamar CO
1999 MAR 28 SUN 08:53 (08:53) Mountain Time La Junta CO
Above are photos of Henry Kisor, author of Zephyr, Tracking a Dream Across America.I'm in the second photo with Henry. Dennis Gipe was kind enough to offer to take that picture with my digital camera.
If you are planing to travel on the Amtrak California Zephyr or just want to get a feel for what it is like to travel on that train, you should get your hands on a copy of Henry Kisor's book. I read it quite some time ago and it is good reading for anyone interested in rail travel. You can click herefor more information about the book, including where to order the book!
I've been in touch with most of the authors that have writen about Amtrak travel, but have never managed to reach Henry Kisor. So, it came as rather a surprise to find him right on the same train with me!
When I set out on this particular journey, I was wondering if I should plan anything special to commemorate the completion of my travel of all the Amtrak routes. Having TrainWeb visitors come out to meet my train just to exchange greetings and finding that the popularity of TrainWeb has grown enough so that I'm now starting to run into visitors on the train is celebration enough of this event for me! Meeting a well known rail travel author like Henry Kisor onboard really topped things off! Having completed the Amtrak miles and having met these people during this journey ensure that this particular rail excursion will remain a memorable experience.
We arrived into La Junta, Colorado pretty early. I got a chance to walk all the way to the front of the train noting the car numbers along the way and take a couple of photos of the lead Genesis locomotive. Returning to the outside door of my Sleeping Car, it was still 10 minutes before departure time!
1999 MAR 28 SUN 10:14 (10:07) Mountain Time Trinidad CO
1999 MAR 28 SUN 11:45 (11:11) Mountain Time Raton NM
The Chief requested over the P.A. that passengers please not ask to get off the train in Raton to smoke. He said we would be making a very brief stop and that the next station where we would be stopping long enough for passengers to step out for a while would be Albuquerque. He then made the mistake of announcing that this train has a smoking car which is downstairs in the Coach Car right after the Sightseer Lounge Car. Because this train is missing its usual Smoking Car, we are going to take a little longer than usual at Raton and give passengers a chance to get off the train and smoke.
1999 MAR 28 SUN 13:05 (12:54) Mountain Time Las Vegas NM
They decided to make this another smoking stop and I got another chance to get off the train to take pictures. I don't smoke so I didn't have to waste any time with that. I took a few photographs of the old Harvey House and the buildings near the station. I miss the days when they didn't have the Coach Smoking Car and we'd be stopping for a few minutes at a lot of the stations. It is kind of nice to be able to get off for a few minutes, stretch your legs, and maybe take a few photographs.
The Engineer just told the Conductor that if we had another unit we would probably be on time. I would assume the train is not picking up speed as fast as the engineer likes as it just doesn't have enough power to do so with 3 locomotives. The Conductor said that the last time they had 3 units with 20 cars they had to shut down the HEP (head end power) in order to make it over Raton pass. The HEP is what supplies the passenger cars with power for lights, heating and air-conditioning as well as the power to run the galley. Thus, passengers had to do without these things and the galley wasn't able to prepare meals while the train made it over Raton Pass. The full power of all 3 units was needed to pull the train over the mountain. The Conductor and Engineer concluded that we must have some light express cars on our end since we don't seem to be having any problems like that. We might not be able to go fast over the mountain, but we were able to go over the mountain without a problem.
They are playing music in the backgound on the train. It has been quite a while since I have heard that and it is quite relaxing. Quite often they crew does not play the music in the train. I don't know if that is by choice or if the electronics that plays the music is broken or missing.
1999 MAR 28 SUN 15:05 (14:36) Mountain Time Lamy NM
This was supposed to be a double spot at Lamy, but looks like we are going to turn it into a triple spot! The Engineer didn't realize that we were deadheading an Amfleet Car (he called it a "heritage car"). Thus, he overshot the station platform thinking that was where the baggage car was. We then had to make a third stop since the last Sleeping Car, loading number 0332, didn't fit into the platform.
1999 MAR 28 SUN 16:08 (16:08) Mountain Time Albuquerque NM Arrival
Many of the On Board Service Chiefs, Car Attendants, and other passengers have told me that the food truck that meets the Amtrak Southwest Chief at the Albuquerque Station. I decided to skip dinner on the train and give their burritos a try. They have a number of different types of burritos including both red and green beef, chicken and bean. I purchased a mild beef burito and a bean burrito without anything hot. The burritos are home made wrapped in aluminum foil and then wrapped again in plastic wrap. They were every bit as good as everyone claimed them to be! I think I will be skipping whatever meal comes around the time we hit Albuquerque on each of my future trips to enjoy burritos from that truck again!
Also meeting each Southwest Chief is Cheryl's Bustore which carrys many items that you will not find on the train including toiletries, souveniers, T-shirts, and much much more.
1999 MAR 28 SUN 16:33 (16:33) Mountain Time Albuquerque NM Departure
1999 MAR 28 SUN 18:59 (18:58) Mountain Time Gallup NM
The track seems to be very rough between Gallup and Winslow. People are bouncing around a bit. It doesn't cause me much problem in typing on my notebook computer, but trying to write can be a bit difficult at times. There were some children playing in the corridor that were banging against my door a number of times. I think they were having fun being jostled about by the train as their banging agains things was followed by laughter rather than crying.
1999 MAR 28 SUN 20:31 (20:51) Mountain Time Winslow AZ Arrival
We arrived at Winslow early, but I guess that was in the plan. This seems to be where they often add or remove a Roadrailer car from the end of the train. I forgot about that! I should have gotten the numbers of that car in Albuquerque. Evidently it appears they need to move or to place the FRED (Flashing Rear End Device) on the last car of the train now that the Roadrailer has been removed. Unfortunately, they can't get that one to work. After some tests, they've decided to bad order it and get a new one from the roundhouse. The 'herder?' is acquiring a new one for them.
We had to bring the train down to the service area in order to get the End Of Train device replaced.
1999 MAR 28 SUN 21:23 (20:51) Mountain Time Winslow AZ Departure
1999 MAR 28 SUN ??:?? (21:52) Mountain Time Flagstaff AZ
1999 MAR 28 SUN ??:?? (21:58) Mountain Time Flagstaff AZ
1999 MAR 29 MON ??:?? (00:49) Mountain Time Kingman AZ
1999 MAR 29 MON ??:?? (00:47) Pacific Time Needles CA (Laughlin NV)
1999 MAR 29 MON ??:?? (04:26) Pacific Time Barstow CA
1999 MAR 29 MON ??:?? (05:02) Pacific Time Victorville CA
1999 MAR 29 MON 06:21 (06:21) Pacific Time San Bernardino CA
1999 MAR 29 MON 07:26 (07:26) Pacific Time Fullerton CA
* = "Mail Service Only CHI-LAX"
The detectors were reporting 96 axles before the Roadrailer was removed in Winslow and then 92 axles after that.
Click here for additional photos from this travel segment on the Amtrak Southwest Chief.
Click herefor the travelogue of the first segment of this rail journey.
Click herefor the travelogue of the previous segment of this rail journey.