Update as of November 3, 2003:
Actually, I have not heard anything new on the status of Amtrak service to Las Vegas for many months. However, I do have some information that is more current than that listed below. An Amtrak spokesman stated at one of the rail advocacy meetings that I attended within the last couple of years, that it is highly unlikely that the Las Vegas Talgo Trainset will ever serve on a run between Los Angeles and Las Vegas. During the delays to get this service initiated, a need for another trainset came up in the Pacific Northwest. Since there are already 4 Talgo Trainsets on the Amtrak Cascades route in the Pacific Northwest, it made sense to relocate the Las Vegas Talgo to that area. The Las Vegas Talgo trainset was just sitting around in Los Angeles unused with no start date in site. Meanwhile, all the parts and maintenance crews experienced with the Talgo were all located in the Pacific Northwest with the rest of the Amtrak Talgos. So, the Amtrak Las Vegas Talgo Trainset was placed into service on the Amtrak Cascades route and is very unlikely to ever be taken off that route.
Meanwhile, many Surfliner trainsets have been built, delivered, and put into service on the Amtrak Pacific Surfliner route (formerly named the Amtrak San Diegan route). If service ever does start between Los Angeles and Las Vegas, it is very likely to have Surfliner type trainsets on it. All the parts and maintenence crews experienced with the Surfliners are located in Los Angeles. Plus, with so many Surfliner Trainsets based out of Los Angeles, it makes it a lot easier to substitute equipment when necessary and even to swap out cars for routine maintenance.
As far as an actual start date, we do not know of any specific start date. Currently, Amtrak or Congress has placed a ban on the start-up of any new routes. If we hear of any changes in the status of the start-up of this service, it will be posted as a headline story at TrainWeb.
Well, here we are on the Amtrak Las Vegas Talgo! We are on our way to ... San Diego?
On Tuesday, November 2, 1999, we received word that the Talgo that had been built for the Las Vegas run would be operating on the Amtrak San Diegans. The Talgo had just completed a test run from Los Angeles to Las Vegas and back. On the return trip the train passed westbound through Fullerton between 5:30 AM and 6:30 AM on Wednesday, November 3, 1999.
The initial rumor was that the train would be on southbound Amtrak San Diegan Train #570 on Wednesday morning. Checking with Amtrak, we found that the first run planned for the train was to be the southbound Amtrak San Diegan Train #570 departing Los Angeles at 8:30 AM and arriving in San Diego at 11:25 AM on Thursday morning, November 4, 1999. The train was then to be immediately turned in San Diego and come back as northbound Amtrak San Diegan Train #779 departing at 11:55 AM for San Luis Obispo, arriving there at 8:35 PM. The train will spend the night in San Luis Obispo and come south as Train #776 departing San Luis Obispo at 6:35 AM on Friday morning, November 5, 1999, and travel all the way back to San Diego arriving at 3:10 PM. The Las Vegas Talgo set may continue to be used on further Amtrak San Diegan runs, but schedule information is not available at this time.
Amtrak did not wish the initial run of this trainset on the San Diegans publicly announced. Respecting their wishes, we made no announcement of the train until after the train completed its first run to San Diego. However, by late Wednesday afternoon, word and schedules of the Talgo run were bouncing all over the internet anyway!
Let's go back to Tuesday, November 2, 1999 for a moment. The first rumor that we heard was that the Talgo would be heading south through Fullerton at 9:05 AM on Wednesday morning. At that point we were not sure if it was a special VIP train that would not be picking up regular passengers or if was going to be used as the regular San Diegan. If it was going to be used as the regular San Diegan, we figured it might be booked pretty solid with people just on for the special run, just as had happened on previous demonstration trains..
Ray and I purchased regular coach tickets for the train. If the Talgo was not used for the run on Wednesday, we figured we could use the regular coach tickets anytime. Once we got the confirming word from Amtrak that the first run would be on Thursday, November 4, 1999, we purchased round-trip Business Class tickets between Fullerton and San Diego.
Just in case there was some mix-up, Ray and I went out to meet the southbound Amtrak San Diegan Train #570 on Wednesday morning anyway. Because of some traffic and construction, the train ran about 30 minutes late. Ray and I were very uncomfortable without jackets on the unusually cool southern California morning! Once the train was in sight, and it was a regular Amfleet / Horizon set as we expected, we headed back to our office not even waiting for the train to arrive into the station.
We repeated our steps again on Thursday morning, November 4, 1999, but this time totally expecting the Las Vegas Talgo trainset! There were a number of railfans out on the platform since the word had already spread quite a bit even without any help from us. While waiting for the train, we talked about the Talgo sets being used on the Amtrak Cascades in the pacific northwest and about the rumors of the status of the Amtrak train to Las Vegas.
There was a very large escorted group of school children at the southern end of the platform. They were not here to see this special run, but were here to board the train for a field trip. School groups often board the Amtrak trains in Fullerton for field trips. I doubt that these students would even know that this trainset is not the usual trainset used on the Amtrak San Diegans! This was one time that Ray and I were pretty happy that we had purchased Business Class. We are very happy to see schools taking students on the train on field trips. In this part of the country, many of these students will be learning for the first time that Amtrak and passenger rail even exists! Thus, it is an excellent service that these schools are providing. However, on these school field trips, Business Class tends to be a bit more calm and quiet than unreserved coach!
On most southbound San Diegan trains, the Business Class is at the rear of the train (and at the front of the train on the northbound run). Because this was a special run, the trainset was oriented the other way and Business Class was at the front of the train. This would cause a little extra delay at each station since passengers accustomed to waiting at one end or the other of the platform would have to walk to the reverse end. This was certainly true in Fullerton where that huge group of school children were all the way down by the locomotive and had to walk all the way past the locomotive, 2 Business Class Cars, the Bistro and the Dining Car to get to the first door where they could board into Coach Class!
The first thing that we noticed different about Business Class in the Las Vegas Talgo vs. the Amtrak Cascades Talgo was the bright purple upholstery on the seats! The seat fabric is a noticeable bright purple. The curtains, rug, and fabric covering the bottom of the luggage racks use a much lighter shade of purple. The ceiling seems to have a light purple tinge to it, but I think it is really grey and is reflecting the dominant purple color of the rest of the interior.
Unreserved Coach Class on the train had bright red seats! They definitely are trying to get everyone in the mood for the glitter of Las Vegas when they board this train! The ceiling in the Bistro was black with starlight.
We arrived into San Diego one minute early, having made up the little bit of lost time along the way by the padding at the end of the schedule.
Ray and I stepping into an area of two facing seats and set up our 360x360 camera equipment so that we could use all the layover time in San Diego to take photos of the train interior. Many people continued to remain in their seats, a bit confused and not realizing that we were at the end of the line. I myself remained calmly sitting in my seat waiting for everyone else to leave. That probably didn't help give people the message that everyone had to get off at this stop!
Finally people realized that they had to get off and finally did leave the train. I thought we'd be able to take our 360x360 photos while the train was relatively empty. Little did I realize how much goes on in the train during this short layover! Cleaning people immediately boarded the train and started picking up trash that was left in the seats or aisles and began taking out all the trash bags and setting up new ones. One of the staff members that was traveling with the Talgo began reversing the direction of all the seats so that they would be facing forward when our train began to travel north.
The Bistro Car staff also started cleaning up. There was so much activity onboard that it was a bit difficult to take the 360x360 photos throughout the train!
Ray went out to meet Saylor at the San Diego Amtrak Station. Saylor would be coming back up to the TrainWeb office with us and we wanted to make sure that he had upgraded to Business Class so that he could ride in the same car with us.
They designed this train to have little boxes above each seat number to place the seat checks. Most Amtrak trains have no place to put the seat checks and the Conductors just push them into any crack in the luggage rack molding to hold the seat checks. On the Talgo, the clear plastic with the seat numbers above each seat is a small holder for the seat checks themselves. On first pass, the Conductor on the northbound segment inserted the seat checks under the molding as usual. Once he realized there was a special place for the seat checks, he went back through the train and moved the seat checks into the boxes for them.
Just as in the Amtrak Cascades Talgo, everything is semi-automatic. When you just touch a door handle, it automatically opens up the rest of the way.
A Car Attendant came through Business Class and explained to all the passengers that they can take their ticket stubs to the Cafe to get a split of wine and a package of cheese and crackers. He further explained that there was muffins, Danish and juice in the vestibule area between the two Business Class cars. That Car Attendant then handed out little packages of peanuts and pretzels to everyone and then left the car.
My understanding is that a Car Attendant dedicated to Pacific Business Class has already been eliminated. I'm not sure why a Car Attendant kept going through the car checking on everything. He did not seem to be a member of the Talgo staff as he was unfamiliar with the equipment. Unlike the previous dedicated Pacific Class Car Attendants, this Car Attendant did not do much for the passengers other than explain the procedures of "self-service" to everyone. He did come through the car to make sure the seatback at every seat had a copy of the explanation of "The New Amtrak Pacific Business Class Service" and menu on the reverse. See the link below for the contents of this "New Pacific Business Class" and menu.
There are a few experts traveling along with the train explaining some of the features to both passengers and crew. Since the crew is just as new to this train as the passengers, they are also unfamiliar as to how anything works. Ray and I already knew how most passenger features worked from our travels on the Amtrak Cascades. Just a few items to note: (1) The seatbacks first pull toward you as though you were going to fold it down completely. Once it separates from the back of the seat, you pull up on it and then put it down when it is fully extended. Most people attempt to first pull directly up on the seatback and it will not operate that way. (2) To open the foot rest, just grab it and put it down. There is no release lever. (3) There are cup holders between the seats in Business Class. Firmly grab under the center arm rest and slide forward. (4) The seats do not lean directly back. Instead, the seat bottom slides forward. The bottom appears to slide much more forward than in the California Cars. The idea of having the seat bottom slide forward instead of the seat back going back has some merits. When you want to recline, you use up some of your own legroom instead of moving your seat into the space of the person behind you. Thus, your trade off is between how much legroom you want vs. how much you want to recline. (5) At first it seems there is not enough room in the luggage rack to hold normal size luggage. This is an illusion. The luggage racks hold good size suitcases. Because of the illusion, the Conductor told a few passengers they should leave their luggage in their legroom area as it will not fit in the luggage rack. We had the same mistaken perception the first time we rode the Amtrak Cascades Talgos and were very surprised to find that some rather large luggage fit above the seats with plenty of room to spare!
The ride between Fullerton and San Diego was extremely smooth. Much of the track on this line is continuous welded rail, just as much of the track between Seattle and Vancouver. However, I have hearded that the ride in the Talgo trainset can be less comfortable than the heavier Amfleet / Horizon Cars over jointed rail. Ray and I experienced this rough ride over a short amount of our travels between Seattle and Vancouver than used jointed rail. I don't know what type of rail is between Los Angeles and Las Vegas, but hopefully most of it is continuous welded rail to provide the maximum comfort to passengers.
I heard the crew discuss that they don't have the baggage car on this train, but they also said that they don't need it either. The onboard baggage handler is dressed in a bright bluejumpsuit with a small Amtrak logo in the area where a shirt pocket would go (but there is no pocket there).
I worked on getting the 360x360 photos ready right up to Anaheim, just 5 minutes before our arrival in Fullerton. At Fullerton, we got off the train and took a number of still photos and a few video clips of the train leaving the station. The train arrived into Fullerton pretty close to on-time.
Additional information about the proposed Los Angeles to Las Vegas Amtrak train:
According to Brian Rosenwald or Amtrak West who spoke at the November 6, 1999 TRAC meeting, negotiations between Amtrak and the hotels and Union Pacific have made significant steps toward conclusion. The service is not likely to start up until September of the year 2000. Current proposals have the Talgo train leaving Los Angeles at 9:15 AM each morning and arriving into Las Vegas at 2:45 PM after a 5.5 hour rail journey. The return trip would start out from Las Vegas at 4:30 PM and arrive back into Los Angeles at 10 PM each day. The stops along the way are likely to be Montclair (because of the large amount of available parking), Barstow (for the crew change), and at The Strip in Las Vegas by the Rio Hotel. Future stops will probably include Stateline and Downtown Las Vegas once sponsors for these locations have been obtained. It is expected that the hotels might pre-buy the entire set of coach seats for the year and then resell those seats direct to the public or through travel or tour agents.
One of the requirements of the Union Pacific is that Amtrak make significant improvements to various portions of the rail line between Los Angeles and Las Vegas to support the speeds required to make the trip in 5 and one half hours, including adequate sidings to keep freight train delays to a minimum. A requirement of the hotels is that the total travel time between Los Angeles and Las Vegas be kept under 6 hours and as close to 5.5 hours as possible.
In order to achieve a travel time of under 6 hours between Los Angeles and Las Vegas, the train will not be taking the route of the old Amtrak Desert Wind, but will instead take the route of the Metrolink San Bernardino line. In the opinion of TrainWeb, the Las Vegas casinos are missing the boat on this one. Although the people who live in downtown Los Angeles will be able to get to Las Vegas in under 6 hours by rail, taking a route that does not go through Fullerton will probably add at least 3 hours of travel time to all the residents of Orange County and San Diego County. In the days of the Amtrak Desert Wind, travelers would take the train up from San Diego and south Orange County and change to the eastbound Desert Wind in Fullerton. From Fullerton it was only about 7.5 hours to Las Vegas. Making these travelers change trains in Los Angeles instead of Fullerton will add at least 3 hours to their travel time making a trip to Las Vegas by the new Talgo train take longer than the old Desert Wind! It is about 40 minutes from Fullerton to Los Angeles, another 40 minutes from Los Angeles to Montclair, and it will probably be at least an hour layover in Los Angeles between the arrival of the one train and departure of the other.
Trainweb would like to see this new Las Vegas train routed through Fullerton where it would be convenient to the large population of Orange County and be a fast connection for those coming up by train from San Diego and south Orange County. The impact of people departing from Los Angels will be minimal adding no more than 30 to 45 minutes to their total travel time to Las Vegas.