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Detour of the Amtrak Sunset Limited
On My Travel To Disney World From
Los Angeles, California To Orlando, Florida
Tuesday, Dec 14, 1999 to Friday, Dec 17, 1999

Amtrak Sunset Limited travelogue and photos of my rail journey from Los Angeles, California to Disney World in Orlando, Florida. Due to a UP derailment between El Paso and Sanderson, Texas, the Amtrak Sunset Limited was rerouted from El Paso to Fort Worth and then down to Houston, Texas. This train traveled over hundreds of miles of tracks that are not on any normal Amtrak route.

1999 DEC 17 TUE 18:15 (06:15 PM PDT)

My oldest daughter, Jodina Grande, and I left the house and drove to the Fullerton Santa Fe Depot. I had only pre-purchased tickets round trip from Los Angeles to Orlando and did not yet have tickets to get from Fullerton to Los Angeles. Sometimes there are last minute changes of plans. With almost hourly Amtrak service between Fullerton and Los Angeles, it is easy to purchase a ticket at the last minute.

We went through the usual steps that we do whenever we embark on a long trip on Amtrak. I temporarily park my car by the station, bring our luggage up to our office above the Amtrak ticket office, get a long-term parking pass from the Amtrak ticket office, move my car to the upper level in the garage, and then walk back to our office. The long-term parking pass is good for 14 days, which in this case, will take me right to the day of my return, December 28, 1999!

I had a few 50% off upgrades to Business Class for the Amtrak San Diegans that I had "won" in a "Scratch" promotion that Amtrak ran. The Scratch Ticket would expire at the end of December, so I decided to use it on this trip. The upgrades were just $4 each for the trip from Fullerton to Los Angeles.

Northbound Amtrak San Diegan Train #587 actually arrived a few minutes early at about 8:08 PM instead of 8:11 PM. This was fortunate. When the train comes in on time, or a few minutes late, they will often have it use the southbound platform on the other side of the station. The pedestrian bridge has to be used to get to the other side of the station. The reason for this is that the Amtrak Southwest Chief is scheduled to depart from Fullerton at 8:16 PM and almost always uses the platform closest to the station building.

Business Class was pretty empty on that train at that time of night. There were just a few other passengers in Business Class. We put our heavy suitcases behind the last set of seats in the car closest to the door so that we would not have to lift them over our heads into the luggage rack. We put our lighter backpacks and my jacket in the overhead rack.

We were very happy that they have eliminated the Business Class Car Attendant program and gone back to self-service. We were able to get up and immediately service ourselves. In the past, there have been a number of occasions where we did not get service from the Business Class Attendant until we were just about to pull into Los Angeles. This particular car was so empty that I don't think that getting timely service would have been a problem, but the upgrade price paid by the few Business Class passengers would not have paid for the Business Class Car Attendant on this run! In the self-service area they had available: hot coffee, orange and apple juice, peanuts, pretzels, corn muffins, and newspapers.

A short while later, we went to the Cafe Car to see what amenities we were entitled to with our Business Class upgrade. We ran into Cheri Walsh in the Cafe Car. Cheri is a Conductor on the Amtrak San Diegans who I've known for a couple of years. We presented our tickets in the Cafe Car and obtained some free snacks and beverages. We each got a free cheese and crackers snack plate. My daughter got a can of Mountain Dew Soda and I got a single serving bottle of white wine!

The train pulled into Los Angeles pretty much on time at 8:50 P.M. We headed down to the bagel shop that is near the front of the main lobby in Los Angeles Union Station. We hadn't had dinner yet and the bagel sandwiches from this place are quite good. We each had a roast turkey bagel sandwich. After eating, we went over to the historic ticket area in the station. There was a Christmas Party going on in that area! There was a large number of tables set up and they had a DJ and music playing. That seems like a great place for a Christmas Party! I'll have to inquire about the policy and pricing of having events in the historic ticket area of LAUS.

Jodina and I rolled our luggage to the boarding area where a long line had already started to form for Coach Seating on the Amtrak Sunset Limted and Amtrak Texas Eagle. There were only a couple of people waiting in the Sleeping Car line. I think that was because many of the people in the Sleeping Cars had used the Red Cap Services to take them to their rooms.

Jodina and I decided to walk down the long corridor and look at some of the railroad safety drawings that were contest winners by local school children. However, as we started to walk down the tunnel, we noticed there were a number of people up ahead of us. When we looked back, we found that there was a large crowd of people walking behind us! I guess they must have made an announcement for our train that we did not hear as we begin to head for the tunnel. So, instead of pausing to look at the pictures and risk getting trampled by the hoard behind us, we just headed straight to our car on the train!

Sydney was the Attendant for our Sleeping Car (Loading Number 0230 Room Number 02). Right away we recognized each other. Sydney even recognized Jodina! It took us a while to figure it out, but we most likely had all seen each other before on the Amtrak Coast Starlight.

The beds were already made when we boarded our room. Sydney brought cold drinks with ice individually to the room of every passenger. We stayed awake until a bit after 11 PM until we left the Ontario station. Sometime after that, we fell asleep. I sometimes wake up early and like to fold up my bed and start working on my computer on the fold down table. Thus, Jodina took the upper bed so that I could wake up and set up early without disturbing her.

MP 0000.0 CH 47 160.815 21:55 PT
MP 0516.6 CH 27 160.515 22:50 PT

I noticed that Amtrak is now supplying the trains with tall white boxes for trash. When the Superliners were originally built, I guess nobody thought about how much trash could be generated on the train. There are small trash cans in each bedroom and small receptacles built into the wall by the stairs on each level, but those are totally inadequate for the amount of trash generated on the train. To make up for that, Amtrak had been placing tall paper trash bags lined with plastic in each car. One was placed upstairs across from the coffee service area where there is a little extra room. The other was placed in one of the two downstairs vestibules. That was certainly enough to handle the trash, but it did look a bit tacky! These white tall cardboard boxes look much better. Each box even has a lid with a hole in the middle. For a photo of this new trash container, see Photo Set #4 below.

In the morning, we got up around 7 A.M. Sydney had already set out a lot of face cloths and small towels upstairs and large shower towels downstairs. Sydney was pretty creative in using the upstairs trash box as a serving area! She put a white linen cloth over the top of the box, a vase with a flower on top of that, and then set out a variety of cups and lids on top of the box. It made for a great serving table! See Photo Set #1 below for a photo of this set up. There is never enough room around the coffee service area for the juice, cream, sugar, cups, sweetener, napkins, etc. The table she created was just the extra room that was needed!

We went to breakfast around 8 A.M. They've been having a great deal of trouble maintaining the toasters on the trains and did not have any toast available. I don't know if the problem is keeping the toasters in good repair or if the problem is trying to keep the toasters on the train. A lot of this equipment gets moved around a lot and sometimes a train will leave without the full complement of kitchen applieances.

Just before we left Los Angeles yesterday, I was downstairs and my daughter came down to where I was outside the door of the train. She said that she heard on the radio that we are just waiting for two more passengers. What she heard was that we were "waiting for two more." She just assumed they were waiting for two more passengers. Actually, we were waiting for two more big coffee urns to be brought to the Dining Car! Thus, we almost left without enough urns to make coffee for everyone!

I had French Toast, coffee and orange juice for breakfast. Jodina had scrambled eggs, hash brown potatos, sausage patties, and apple juice. C. Philson was our Dining Car Attendant. He wore a bright red Sunset Limited Shirt and provided excellent and friendly service!

We sat with an elderly couple who were going to visit relatives in Oklahoma City. They had no idea that the train they would be changing to Fort Worth, the Amtrak Heartland Flyer, was a fairly new run. The last time they had taken a train was over 50 years ago and there were trains on a lot of rail lines back then that no longer have passenger service.

While we were eating, a Spanish couple sat at the table across from us. The Dining Car Steward came to them and told them that there was a waiting list and asked if they would like to have their name placed on that list. They didn't understand anything he was saying! The Conductor, having breakfast at the table next to ours, witnessed the problem and came over to help. It appears that the Conductor was fluent in Spanish and was able to resolve the problem. The Dining Car Steward took their name and they returned to Coach Seating.

It seemed less than two minutes before their names were called and they came back in and were seated right back at the table that they had just left! They must think we have some very strange customs on American trains!

1999 DEC 15 WED 12:15 (12:15 PM MT)

At this point there are 83 people in the Sleeping Cars. No count on coach yet.

MP 1030.7 CH 96 161.550 09:30 MST
MP 1036.7 CH 96 161.550
MP 1038.1 CH 96 161.550
MP 1088.2 CH 08 160.230
MP 1090.2 CH 08 160.230
MP 1136.9 CH 08 160.230
MP 1152.0 CH 08 160.230
MP 1165.0 CH 08 160.230
MP 1181.2 CH 08 160.230 77 MPH
MP 1202.3 CH 08 160.230
MP 1224.2 CH 08 160.230
MP 1235.0 CH 08 160.230
MP 1252.0 CH 08 160.230
MP 1266.9 CH 08 160.230
MP 1282.1 CH 08 160.230

I've just heard that the train is going to be re-routed. I don't know where or why yet, but some passengers that are heading north on the Amtrak Texas Eagle route will be bused. I don't think it is everyone on the Texas Eagle, but rather a few people going to one of the stations on that route that we are going to bypass.

1999 DEC 15 WED 15:36 (03:36 PM MT) EL PASO TX CH 96 161.550

MP 0811.5 CH 14 160.320
MP 0737.8 CH 14 160.320

We've just left El Paso and are now in a yard to get refueled. I just got the details on the detour. A UP freight train derailed about 28 cars 35 miles east of Sanderson. Thus, the derailment is blocking the normal Amtrak route between Sanderson and Del Rio, Texas. The UP is working on clearing the derailment right now, but they don't expect to have the line passable until 6 A.M. tomorrow morning, Thursday, December 16, 1999.

They are going to reroute our train, which is a combination train of the Amtrak Sunset Limited (Train #2) and the Amtrak Texas Eagle (Train #22). We are going to go direct from El Paso to Fort Worth, Texas. We will branch off the regular Sunset Route at Sierra Blanca and head through Van Horn, Kent, Pecos, Monahans, Odessa, Midland, Big Spring, Roscoe, Sweetwater, Tecifia, Abilene, Cisco, Eastland, Ranger, and Weatherford.

I don't know if the plans are yet definite as to how they are going to take the train from Fort Worth back to the normal Sunset Limited route. They might wait to see how long it takes us to get to Fort Worth before deciding. At the moment, the plan seems to be to take the train to Dallas from Fort Worth, and then take a line from there directly down to Houston. However, if we get very far behind, there are options available to take an even shorter route to Beaumont or even right into New Orleans!

The Texas Eagle portion of the train will be taken off at Fort Worth and sent on its way up to Chicago. It looks like that we'll be arriving into Fort Worth very early for that train and it should have a fairly long layover. Those passengers connecting with the Amtrak Heartland Flyer should also have a pretty long wait for their train in Fort Worth!

Passengers that were heading for stations after El Paso but before San Antonio I believe were taken off in El Paso and bused to their stations. Those Texas Eagle passengers heading for stations between San Antonio and Fort Worth and all passengers heading for San Antonio will be bused from Fort Worth to their destinations. This train will go though Dallas, but it is not known at this time which way the train will go to join the normal Amtrak Sunset Limited route.

Since this is not a normal Amtrak route and Amtrak locomotives have not been certified to operate on this route, there are UP pilots in the locomotive.

The Conductor just did some experimenting with the radio to see if his radio has Channel 46. He didn't reply to any of the test messages, so I guess his radio doesn't have Channel 46! The Conductor is going to try some other things to resolve the problem. I would assume that Channel 46 must be the road frequency over part of this detour that we are taking.

1999 DEC 15 WED 17:19 (05:36 PM MT) EAST OF SIERRA BLANCA TX

The first UP pilot crew will take our train from Sierra Blanca to Odessa, Texas. The UP crews that take trains along this stretch probably all know each other. Every time we pass a train going the other way, a conversation is initiated as to what an Amtrak train is doing along this route and where it is going! There is usually a very short conversation between the crews as the train passes including an exchange of holiday wishes. The tone and content of these quick friendly transactions and the knowledge of each other's first names is what leads me to believe that most of the crews seem to know each other.

1999 DEC 15 WED 16:25 (05:36 PM MT) WILD HORSE TX

MP 0737.8 CH 46 160.800 17:54 MT
MP 0706.3 CH 46 160.800 18:59 MT

We seemed to be stuck at a red signal at place along called "Wild Horse". Finally, the Dispatcher came online and gave our Engineer a Track Warrant from Mile Post 728 to Mile Post 669. There is a "Slow Order" for part or all of this segment. Actually, since this entire line only sees freight traffic, the speed along most of it seems to be below much of our speed along other portions of the Amtrak Sunset Limited route. There are also quite a few segments that seem much rougher than along passenger routes.

1999 DEC 15 WED 20:53 (08:53 PM MT) PROBABLY ODESSA TX

The train is stopped and has been stopped for more than 30 minutes. I was in the Dining Car when the train stopped, so I did not get any information about why it stopped. After the train had stopped for 15 minutes or so, they announced over the Public Address system that we are changing UP pilot crews and that we are waiting for a relief crew to be brought in. I'm not sure why the relief crew could not already have been waiting for us when we arrived here. It seems that would have saved a lot of time.

I read a notice that the staff has posted all over the train. It says that anyone that needs to be bused on this train to get to their destination will get a round-trip coach ticket good for anywhere on the Amtrak system for the next 18 months! That doesn't seem like bad compensation for this inconvenience. I guess this is the improved Amtrak policy to help improve customer satisfaction. I've had a few inconveniences much worse than this on Amtrak in the past. There either was no compensation or compensation far less than this gesture!

1999 DEC 15 WED 21:02 (08:53 PM MT) PROBABLY ODESSA TX

The relief crew has arrived and we are on the roll again! At first there was a little concern about where to fit everyone. I guess there are 3 seats in the locomotive, but there are the regular 2 Amtrak people in the cab and the 2 pilots from UP. They put the pilot Conductor in the Conductor's office which is 2 cars back from the locomotive. That is where they had the previous pilot Conductor.

MP 0644.5 CH 46 160.800 23:31 MT
MP 0613.6 CH 46 160.800 00:04 MT

1999 DEC 16 THU 07:15 (07:15 AM CT) GORDON TX

MP 0317.1 CH 20 160.410 07:15 CT

I awoke around 7:15 AM Central Time. The train was out in the sticks! But then, a lot of Texas is out in the sticks. I waited until the train passed through what looked like a small town and hunted for any signs that might indicate the name of the town. The first one that I ran across was on the side of a building that said "Welcome - Gordon - Home of the Longhorns". I saw the same message on a smaller sign as we left the town. I plugged in the Microsoft Encarta Interactive World Atlas 2000 CD-ROM (first time that I had ever used this CD-ROM) and brought up Gordon, Texas on the map. I was a bit surprised at how fast it brought it up and it even included the railroad tracks on the map! The map indicated that we were about 80 to 100 miles from Fort Worth, Texas. So, we hadn't even gotten as far as Fort Worth during the night!

1999 DEC 16 THU 08:22 (08:22 AM CT) BENNETT TX

MP 0299.5 CH 20 160.410 08:22 CT
MP 0283.0 CH 20 160.410 08:38 CT
MP 0264.0 CH 20 160.410 09:01 CT

About an hour later, the Chief of Onboard Services got on the radio (I didn't know they had one! Train Attendants don't have radios. It is usually just the Conductors and Engineers that have radios.) and called to the Conductor asking where we were. He replied that we just passed Mile Post 299.5 near a little town called "Bennett". He also said that we were about 50 miles west of Fort Worth and it would be about another hour before we got into Fort Worth. I looked at my online map, found Bennett, and could see that it was not quite half way between Gordon and Fort Worth.

If you like it sunny and warm, you should always try to sit on the south side of any trains traveling east or west. Since the United States and Canada are in the Northern Hemisphere, the sun is mostly on the south side of the train. Thus, from morning until evening, the sun will rise in the east and set in the west, but will mostly be shining on the south side of the train. By contrast, if you like it cool, or if you don't want the glare of the sun interfering with taking photographs, or you have a notebook computer and want to keep the sunlight off your screen, then pick the north side of the train. Unfortunately, I'm in a room on the south side of this train which seems to be heated by the sun all day, have the glare of the sun on the windows, and shines on my notebook screen unless I block it with my curtains!

Unlike the Coast Starlight, I don't know how well one can predict which rooms are going to be on the north or south side of the train on any particular run. Amtrak West tries its best to keep the Sleeping Cars configured a particular way such that the even numbered and Deluxe rooms face the coast on the northbound journey and the odd number rooms face the coast on the southbound journey. On this particular eastbound Sunset Limited, the even numbered rooms are on the south side. I guess I'll have to start keeping track of how consistent the car orientation is on routes other than the Coast Starlight.

1999 DEC 16 THU 09:20 (09:20 AM CT) FORT WORTH UP YARD TX

Both Channel 19 (160.395) and Channel 20 (160.410) seem to be in use in the UP yard. The Amtrak crew was using Channel 19 to try to reach the Dispatcher with no response. I was monitoring Channel 20 and heard the spillover from Channel 19, but it was very unclear. But, then I heard the Dispatcher talking to other trains on Channel 20. I set my scanner to scan both Channel 19 and 20 and began to hear communication on both channels. The communication on Channel 19 seemed to have more to do with dispatching vans to pick up and drop off crews. So, at the moment, I don't know if it is me or the Amtrak crew that is on the wrong channel!

There seems to be concern among some passengers about the Amtrak Heartland Flyer connection. The Chief of Onboard Services came on the PA System and announced that she will provide information about the connection as soon as we get into Fort Worth. I can't understand why there is so much concern about this connection. The Amtrak Heartland Flyer doesn't leave Fort Worth until 5:25 PM and right now it is only 9:30 AM! Seems like there is plenty of time to get into the station without missing that connection. Maybe the passengers want to know if they will bus them up early since there will otherwise be a layover of more than 7 hours.

Keep in mind that the reason for the 7 hour layover is not because the train is late. The Amtrak Texas Eagle was not scheduled to arrive into Fort Worth until 3:10 PM later today. Thus, for those people riding the Texas Eagle segment of this train, we have arrived into Fort Worth more than 5 hours early! I imagine they will hold the Texas Eagle portion of this train in either Fort Worth or Dallas until its normal scheduled departure time to head north for Chicago (3:40 PM out of Fort Worth and 4:55 PM out of Dallas).

For those people heading to points between Fort Worth and San Antonio, it seems the best bet would be to have them wait for the southbound Texas Eagle. That train is due into Fort Worth at 4:09 PM. The only problem with that solution is, the further south you go down that line, the later each passenger arrives from the originally scheduled departure time. For example, someone getting off at the first stop south of Fort Worth, Cleburne, will be 3 hours and 25 minutes late. However, someone getting off at San Antonio will arrive more than 8 hours late!

1999 DEC 16 THU 09:45 (09:45 AM CT) FORT WORTH TX CH 78 161.280

The train went through the Y to back the train into the Fort Worth Amtrak Station. I had quite a while on the ground and took a number of photos around the outside of the station. They told us to stay by the train as there was no set departure time. Thus, I did not want to risk exploring around the inside of the station. I figure I'll have time to do that sometime later this year when I hope to take a trip on the Amtrak Heartland Flyer.

1999 DEC 16 THU 10:30 (10:30 AM CT) FORT WORTH TX CH 78 161.280

They are making a number of announcements from the station which are difficult to hear from inside the train, thus I can't be sure of what they are saying. Unless I am mistaken, it seems they are going to send the passengers that are going to all stations between Dallas and San Antonio down by bus and that bus is about to depart now.

There was an F40 painted in Amtrak's new color scheme with the Oklahoma Heartland Flyer decal on the side in the Fort Worth station. That locomotive was #358 and was attached to an Amtrak Express car. You can see a photo of that locomotive in Photo Set #2 below. They disconnected that F40 from the express car and attached it to the rear of our car at exactly 10:30 AM. They disconnected the 3 express cars and last 2 Superliners from our train. These 2 Superliners are the Coach and Sleeping Cars of the Amtrak Texas Eagle. Those passenger cars will remain in Fort Worth until the scheduled departure time of the northbound Amtrak Texas Eagle as mentioned above.

One person asked over the radio what this consist is supposed to look like. The answer came back as 8 Superliners and 1 loaded express car. I'm not sure if that loaded express car is one of the 3 that we had at the end of our train or if it was the one that was already sitting in Fort Worth. I'll be able to check which one it is at some stop down the line when I can get out and walk the train.

Bonita, our Chief of Onboard Services, just announced over the P.A. System a final reminder that all passengers going to destinations between Dallas and San Antonio should be off the train now. Bonita said that the next stop for this train will be Houston sometime this evening! Looks like we have another long non-stop run! Does anyone know what the record is for an Amtrak train going non-stop between two stations? I would think that El Paso to Fort Worth, Texas has to come pretty close to that record. If anyone knows the "rail" mileage from El Paso to Fort Worth and then again from Fort Worth to Houston, please click here to send that to me by e-mail. That would be greatly appreciated! I have all the Altamont Press books back at the office, but I don't think any of them cover Texas.

Somone is singing "Rollin' rollin' rollin', Keep them doggies rollin'!" over the railroad radio!

1999 DEC 16 THU 11:05 (11:05 AM CT) FORT WORTH TX CH 78 161.280

They brought the cars from the Amtrak Texas Eagle onto the track next to ours in the station. You can see photos of them in Photo Set #3 below. They backed them up with a brakeman hanging off Amtrak Express Car 71092. This was followed by Amtrak Express Car 70043 and Amtrak Superliner Sleeping Car I 32020 (2230). I assumed that was followed by Amtrak Superliner Coach Car I 34087 (2215) and the F40 #358 locomotive, though it did not back down far enough for me to see those cars. As we pulled out of the station, I could see that they had pulled F40 #313 off from our train and were attaching it to the end of the Amtrak Texas Eagle.

We departed Fort Worth at 11:05 AM Central Time. The Chief of On Board Services got on the PA System and announced again that we would not be into Houston until sometime this evening. She also asked if passengers could be patient about arrival and connecting information. She said that she would have no further information until tomorrow. She said that we have 2 Amtrak Conductors onboard, but that this is not their normal route. She also said that we still have 2 UP Conductors onboard that will pilot our train to Houston over these UP tracks which are not on any Amtrak route. It was also announced that these pilots have radios capable of communicating on the frequency for this route. By implication, I guess that meant that the Amtrak Conductors do not have radios compatible with the frequencies on this route. I'm just happy that my radio scanner covers all radio frequencies!

1999 DEC 16 THU 11:35 (11:35 AM CT) JOSHUA TX CH 36 160.650

MP 0331.3 CH 36 160.650 11:31 CT
MP 0301.1 CH 36 160.650 11:55 CT
MP 0248.? CH 36 160.650 12:29 CT

I'm not sure why we have UP pilots onboard. We seem to be running on BNSF track according to the Hot Box Detectors. Maybe the Chief of Onboard Services didn't actually know which railroad the pilot crew was from, or maybe these tracks are used by both BNSF and UP with UP having trackage rights. Also, we are on a BNSF railroad frequency which is confirmation that we are on a BNSF line.

1999 DEC 16 THU 11:42 (11:42 AM CT) CLEBURNE TX CH 36 160.650

Yikes! We just passed the Cleburne Amtrak Station! I thought we'd be heading down the shortest route from Fort Worth to Houston which is a different BNSF route that does not go through Cleburne, Texas. At the moment we are following the route of the Amtrak Texas Eagle south. I'm not sure where we will branch off this route and head towards Houston. I hope we don't go all the way to San Antonio before we start to head east again!

We could switch to another route in McGregor, but that looks hard to do, with some probable reversals. More likely, we will switch off the Amtrak Texas Eagle route in either Temple or Taylor. Both of those have a place to switch off and head on a more direct route to Houston. I'm guessing that once we get onto UP trackage, we'll stay on UP trackage. That indicates that we will branch off at Taylor. If so, then it makes sense that we have UP pilots onboard.

It was just announced that our expected time into Houston is 6:30 PM Central Time. If we arrive by that time, then we will be running 9 hours late. We were supposed to arrive into Houston at 9:35 AM. If the train can keep from falling any further behind, we should get into Orlando, Florida at 12:20 AM on Saturday instead of 3:20 PM on Friday.

MP 0244.3 CH 36 160.650 12:44 CT

1999 DEC 16 THU 12:48 (12:48 PM CT) MCGREGOR TX CH 36 160.650

I heard the crew temporarily head over to Channel 22 (160.440) on the radio. I don't recall hearing the crew ever use the channels assigned to on-board services before, but according to my radio guide, Channel 22 is assigned to on-board services from Alpine, Texas on east. The reason for the switch was to inquire what the crew would like for lunch. They were given a selection from some of the Dining Car items. The answer came back as "a Train Burger and a Sandwich". They then switched right back to BNSF road Channel 36.

1999 DEC 16 THU 12:48 (12:48 PM CT) MCGREGGOR TX CH 36 160.650

We stopped to let another train pass. I didn't see what it was as I was on the other side of the train, but it was probably the northbound Amtrak Texas Eagle. That train is due through here at about this time. Over the radio that I heard that the passengers waiting for this train got very confused as we passed through the station southbound!

MP 0224.6 CH 36 160.650 13:22 CT

Sydney, our Car Attendant, came in to finish putting our beds away. She also came to lend me a newspaper from Fort Worth. Sydney got the only two copies of the newspaper that were in the station and was passing them around the car to any passengers interested. Since Fort Worth is not normally on the Amtrak Sunset Limited route, they did not have a stack of newspapers ready for the train as is provided at many stations in the morning.

I noticed that Sydney had been reading Isaac Asimov's Caves of Steel and Naked Sun during her breaks. I asked her if she was an Asimov fan. She told me that she had not read any of Asimov's books before this. I told her that if she enjoyed those books, then there are dozens of additional books by Isaac Asimov waiting for her to enjoy, including many more books in the same story series as the two that she is currently reading (though they were not originally written with the expectation that they would one day be part of a series!). I've read all of Isaac Asimov's science fiction books and even quite a few of his science fact books. I think I've even read a few of his books outside the science field. I know that Isaac Asimov had some different views about the desirability of indoors vs. outdoors plus some unique perceptions about bathrooms, but I have no idea what his views were about trains and planes!

1999 DEC 16 THU 13:38 (01:38 PM CT) TEMPLE TX ARRIVAL

I think we changed crews at this point. A couple of guys came out of what looked like an Amtrak crew base and boarded the train. A lot of work was in progress at the old Temple Station building. There were also some train cars outside the building including an old Amtrak Sleeping Car. See Photo Sets #3 and #4.

We had an interesting lunch conversation with a couple traveling to Jacksonville. I had the Sunset Whaler Sandwich for lunch. Nobody at our table and not even the Dining Car Attendant could figure out why it was called a "Whaler". The only similarity that I could find is: just like whales, this sandwich had nothing to do with fish! The "Whaler" is a squaw bread sandwich with Black Forest Ham, Cheese, mayo and pineapple.

1999 DEC 16 THU 13:48 (01:48 PM CT) TEMPLE TX DEPARTURE

MP 0178.4 CH 72 161.190 14:41 CT

1999 DEC 16 THU 15:15 (03:15 PM CT) CALDWELL TX

I see Caldwell on my railroad map! I can see which route we are taking. We branched off the Amtrak Texas Eagle route at Temple, Texas but remained on BNSF trackage. We must have already gone through Cameron and Milano. It looks like the train will continue on its southeast course through Somerville, Brenham, Bellville and Sealy. It looks like there are 2 or 3 ways to get from Sealy to Houston. I'm not sure which of those we will take. The shortest route requires the train to make a sharp turn onto a UP line out of Sealy. Another option is to cross over the normal Amtrak Sunset Limited route, overshoot the latitude of Houston, head through Rosenberg and Richmond and then head northeast into Houston. If a junction point between the route we are on now and the normal Amtrak Sunset Limited route exists just below Sealy, then that is the most likely path that we will take.

MP 0144.7 CH 72 161.190 15:33 CT
MP 0129.0 CH 72 161.190 15:52 CT

1999 DEC 16 THU 15:55 (03:55 PM CT) BRENHAM TX

MP 0107.6 CH 72 161.190 16:26 CT

A little contest was held on the train. As a result of that contest, I have the following information about the train: There are 19 crew members on the train (That does include the engineer, conductors and even the pilot crew from the host railroad) and 113 passengers.

1999 DEC 16 THU 16:27 (04:27 PM CT) BELLVILLE TX

1999 DEC 16 THU 16:47 (04:47 PM CT) SEALY TX

MP 0092.0 CH 72 161.190 16:49 CT
MP 0077.3 CH 72 161.190 17:12 CT

1999 DEC 16 THU 17:30 (05:30 PM CT) ROSENBERG TX CH 37 160.665

The second option that I suggested above is the one that we took! We crossed over the normal route of the Amtrak Sunset Limited, will follow the tracks on their eastward turn, and then will proceed northeast into Houston. I guess there wasn't any way that we could switch just south of Sealy from the tracks we were on directly onto the normal Amtrak Sunset Limited route.

MP 0034.5 CH 37 160.665 17:36 CT
MP 0030.3 CH 37 160.665 17:41 CT
MP 0028.1 CH 37 160.665 17:43 CT

The pilot crew that is taking us down to Houston is having a problem getting a ride back to where they started! The van service used by the host railroad does not drive that far. Thus, they are having the Dispatcher try to find alternate transportation back home. The Dispatcher replied: "Greyhound!" A member of the crew jokingly retorted: "This is Amtrak! What is the matter with you?" Then the crew member asked if someone could give them a ride over to San Antonio. No further explanation was given as to why they would want a ride over to San Antonio. Maybe that is where that crew originated? I don't think they want to ride Amtrak from San Antonio to Fort Worth as the next northbound Amtrak Texas Eagle doesn't leave until tomorrow morning. Maybe they figure they can hitch a ride on any freight train heading north out of San Antonio.

1999 DEC 16 THU 17:30 (05:30 PM CT) ROSENBERG TX CH 37 160.665

1999 DEC 16 THU 18:55 (06:55 PM CT) HOUSTON TX

Finally arrived into Houston back onto the normal Amtrak Sunset Limited route 9 hours and 20 minutes behind schedule.

1999 DEC 16 THU 19:25 (07:25 PM CT) HOUSTON TX

Departed Houston 9 hours and 32 minutes behind schedule. So far, that should put us into Orlando around 12:52 AM on Saturday morning.

MP 0316.3 CH 51 160.875 20:35
MP 0303.5 CH 51 160.875 20:43

1999 DEC 16 THU 21:10 (09:10 PM CT) BEAUMONT TX

MP 0264-- CH 51 160.875 21:22
MP 0256.7 CH 51 160.875 21:46
MP 0242.1 CH 51 160.875 22:04
MP 0228.1 CH 51 160.875 22:27

1999 DEC 16 THU 22:46 (10:46 PM CT) LAKE CHARLES LA

MP 0554.3 CH 12 160.290 ??:??
MP 0183.3 CH 12 160.290 23:24
MP 0177.4 CH 12 160.290 23:30
MP 0168.2 CH 12 160.290 23:39
MP 0154.3 CH 12 160.290 23:54

1999 DEC 17 FRI 00:35 (12:35 AM CT) NEW IBERIA LA

MP 0121.4 CH 12 160.290 00:44

1999 DEC 17 FRI 07:24 (07:24 AM CT) BILOXI MS

1999 DEC 17 FRI 07:48 (07:48 AM CT) PASCAGOULA MS

On the railroad radio there was a brief discussion about a Y2K CD-ROM. I think it was something personal as opposed to anything related to the operation of the train.

1999 DEC 17 FRI 08:30 (08:30 AM CT) MOBILE AL CH 84 161.370

MP 0656.1 CH 84 161.370 08:49
MP 0648.5 CH 84 161.370 09:20
MP 0638.2 CH 84 161.370 09:30

1999 DEC 17 FRI 09:55 (09:55 AM CT) ATMORE AL CH 84 161.370

MP 0616.0 CH 84 161.370 10:02
MP 0612.0 CH 84 161.370 10:19

CH 84 161.370 10:43 Wintent, Florida

Someone walking through the corridor was explaining to someone else why this Superliner I Sleeping Car is different from all the other Superliner I Sleeping Cars. He was referring to the wall coverings and the color of the fabric on the seats. The wall coverings in this car are not flat and made out of carpet like the original decor of the Superliner I Sleeping Car but instead are made of cream colored vinyl and have more of a corrugated texture. These wall coverings are on most of the corridor walls in the car and a separate section curves up to the ceiling. There are also similar coverings on the bottom of each upper bed. Photos of these wall coverings can be seen in Photo Set #4 below. The original Superliner I Sleeping Car orange seat coverings have been replaced by blue and purple seat coverings identical to those in the Amtrak Superliner II Sleeping Cars.

The explanation that this person gave was that this car was used to make a movie and they made these changes to accommodate the making of that movie. I hope the person that provided this explanation was not an Amtrak employee. That explanation is totally wrong! Amtrak is in the process of refurbishing ALL of the Superliner I Cars. Included in that process is the removal of all the wall carpet coverings and replacing them with this new vinyl covering. Also included in that process is the replacement of the old orange seat covers with the new blue and purple seat covers of the Superliner II Sleeping Cars. That is for the Standard Bedrooms. The seat coverings are green in the Superliner II Deluxe Bedrooms, but I don't remember what they were in the Superliner I Deluxe Bedrooms.

It is possible that they did make a movie in this car and either by coincidence or by request, one of the first newly refurbished Superliner I Sleeping Cars was used in that movie. I wonder what movie that could have been? I've seen movies with Amtrak Superliners in them, but can't recall one with scenes filmed inside a normal Superliner I Sleeping Car room. An episode of Murder She Wrote included scenes supposedly inside an Amtrak Superliner, but the interior train views on that episode were staged and totally unrepresentative of the real inside of an Amtrak Superliner.

1999 DEC 17 FRI 11:22 (11:22 AM CT) PENSACOLA FL ARRIVAL


MP 0668.6 CH 84 161.370 12:00
MP 0691.5 CH 84 161.370 12:24

1999 DEC 17 FRI 12:44 (12:44 PM CT) CRESTVIEW FL

The staff keeps giving the ETA into Orlando as 11 PM. From my own calculations, I come up with 12:37 AM. Right now we are 9 hours and 17 minutes behind schedule. The only padding that I see is between Winter Park and Orlando. They are giving us 35 minutes to go 6 miles. If we assume that we can do those 6 miles in just 10 minutes, we still won't get into Orlando until 12:27 AM. We are scheduled to stay in Jacksonville for 15 minutes, but I don't think there is any way that we can reduce that, especially with the extra confusion there will be of passengers inquiring about their missed connections. So, unless the crew can pull some magical padding out of the schedule that I don't see, I think even a 12:30 AM arrival on Saturday morning, December 18, 1999, is optimistic!

MP 0763.2 CH 84 161.370 14:12 TRAIN LENGTH 843 FT 44 AXLES

1999 DEC 17 FRI 14:22 (02:22 PM CT) CHIPLEY FL

MP 0781.9 CH 84 161.370 14:37

The Dining Car Steward just announced that due to the tardiness of our train, dinner will be complimentary to everyone on the train. I guess that announcement is really only important to coach passengers since meals are complimentary to sleeping car passengers anyway. From the people that I sat with for lunch, I found out that Amtrak called the people that were waiting for this train to let them know that it would be 9 hours late. Thus, instead of hanging around the station all night, most people were able to sleep in bed and come to the station in the morning in time to catch the train.

Since this train normally reaches its last stop by 3:20 PM, the galley is not normally stocked to serve dinner on the last day of this route. Thus, they did not have regular menu items. Instead, they offered salisbury steak, a half breast of chicken, or a vegetable lasagna. I had the vegetable lasagna, but I don't think it was the same as the one I had from the menu two days ago. That one was good, but this one was better! I assume they either stocked up on these extra items in New Orleans from regular Dining Car inventory, or acquired them from some other source after that stop.

Inquiring with the crew, I found out that this trainset goes to Sanford and not back to Jacksonville for the night. That makes a lot of sense. Sanford is only about 20 miles from Orlando. Since Sanford is a terminal point for the Amtrak Auto Train, it should have full capability to refresh and restock the Amtrak Sunset Limited. Sanford is tremendously closer to Orlando than Jacksonville! Tomorrow this train will be brought empty from Sanford back down to Orlando to start its next westbound journey as Amtrak Sunset Limited Train #1.

I also found out that this very trainset that I am in now will probably be the exact trainset that takes me back to Los Angeles on December 25, 1999, Christmas Day! This trainset will leave Orlando tomorrow and reach Los Angeles on Tuesday morning, December 21. It will depart later on Tuesday evening and get back to Orlando on Friday, December 24. It will stay overnight in Florida and will then leave from Orlando on Saturday, December 25, the day that I will be taking it back to Los Angeles! I checked my prediction with a crew member and they agreed that it should be the same train provided it is not pulled out of rotation for any reason.

Food for thought: For those of you that have been exploring the TrainWeb Travel pages for a long time, you know I have posted a lengthy commentary on tipping on Amtrak trains (see: days ago, I saw someone pay the Dining Car Steward for two glasses of wine. When he gave that passenger back their change, the passenger gave the Dining Car Steward part or all of the change and said to keep it for his trouble. I was quite surprised when the Dining Car Steward thanked the passenger and kept the tip!

Only twice in my 4 years and 140,000 miles of Amtrak travel have I seen someone attempt to tip the Dining Car Steward. In both cases, the Dining Car was very busy and more than one person was taking meal orders and bringing food to the same tables. I guess the diners thought that serving in the Dining Car was a team effort and attempted to give their tip to the Dining Car Steward instead of leaving it on the table for their server. In both of those prior cases, the Dining Car Stewards refused the tips and politely explained to the passengers that they should give their tip to their Dining Car Attendant or leave their tip on the table. That is why I was so shocked when this Dining Car Steward kept the tip! Of course, their is a difference. It did appear that the passenger was not confused about who they were supposed to tip. It looked like they did mean to leave a tip for the drinks with the Dining Car Steward and a separate tip for the meal with their Dining Car Attendant.

Until I get some feedback, other opinions, and some convincing as to why I should leave the Dining Car Steward a tip, I don't have any plans to start tipping that person. If you go to the web page at:,you will find a reference to the rail travel book: All Aboard! by Jim Loomis which also says that the Dining Car Steward is not tipped. I've read many references relating to onboard tipping practices and not one of them mentions tipping the Dining Car Steward.

I was trying to think of the comparable position in a regular restaurant to the Dining Car Steward. In addition to the waiter, you might tip the person that brings your cocktails or wine if the restaurant has a separate person perform this function. However, on the train, the Dining Car Steward does not take your wine order and does not bring you your wine. You Dining Car Attendant does that for you, and your Dining Car Attendant will even sometimes pour the wine for you if things aren't too busy. In some restaurants you might tip the person that takes you to your seat. But, that is usually only in fancier restaurants and part of the reason that you tip this person is to help insure that you get a good seat. In the Dining Car, there really are no seats better than other seats and most Dining Car Stewards seem to give very little thought to trying to place compatible people together in the community seating of the Dining Car. In most restaurants that are similar in quality and pricing to the dining car, a host or hostess will seat you, which is a person that you never tip for this service. Some restaurants might have a policy of pooled tips, but that is something that goes on behind the scenes of which the patrons are not normally informed.

The Dining Car Steward seems to do the jobs of the host or hostess and the cashier. A lot of restaurants also combine these positions. These are positions that one does not normally tip. If my understanding of the role of the Dining Car Steward is correct, then he or she is also the manager of all the Dining Car personnel. Thus, his position is most closely like that of a restaurant manager! In most smaller restaurants, the restaurant manager is often the one to seat you and serve as the cashier. Thus, the Dining Car Steward seems to have the same role and responsibilities as a restaurant manager! I've never tipped a restaurant manager, so it seems appropriate that the Dining Car Steward position is a non-tip position.

I welcome your comments whether they are contrary or in support of this postion. Rather than e-mail those comments to me, please click hereto post your comments to the TrainWeb Rail Travel Forum so that others can also see your comments. Please use "Dining Car Steward Tips" as the topic of your post. Thanks!

CH 84 161.370 16:00 Grand Ridge, Florida

1999 DEC 17 FRI 17:37 (05:37 PM ET) TALLAHASSEE FL

MP 0780.2 CH 66 161.100 18:00
MP 0760.0 CH 66 161.100 18:24

1999 DEC 17 FRI 18:49 (06:49 PM ET) MADISON FL

1999 DEC 17 FRI 19:53 (07:53 PM ET) LAKE CITY FL

MP 0673.9 CH 66 161.100 20:15

1999 DEC 17 FRI 20:36 (08:36 PM ET) JACKSONVILLE FL ARRIVAL CH 32 160.590

The crew moved the train back and forth a number of times and talked about giving and taking slack. I think we must have dropped off our express car in Jacksonville.


The Conductor just announced updated ETA for all the remaining stops for this train. The new ETA's are actually about 5 minutes more conservative than my own! But, I posted the departure time from Jacksonville as the official one given by the Conductor of our train. I did not count in the additional jockeing and switching that we did for 5 or 10 minutes after we left the station. That probably accounts for his ETA's being 5 minutes worse than my own. I'll update mine as soon as I know the departure time out of our next station. The only one where his estimate was optimistic compared to my own is for Orlando. I have us arriving at 12:40 and he has us arriving at 12:30. That is because he has already trimmed some of the padding off the schedule between Winter Park and Orlando and I have not done that. I just added our delay time directly to each time on the original schedule. I'll be happy if we get in ahead of that, but I would not put any bets on it! The Conductor also made sure that he mentioned that his ETA's depend on CSX letting us run all the way at line speed.

1999 DEC 17 FRI 22:33 (10:33 PM ET) PALATKA FL

MP 0734.7 CH 32 160.590 23:10

1999 DEC 17 FRI 23:29 (11:29 PM ET) DELAND FL

MP 0755.4 CH 32 160.590 23:33
MP 0776.1 CH 32 160.590 23:55

1999 DEC 17 FRI 23:52 (11:52 PM ET) SANFORD FL

1999 DEC 18 SAT 00:10 (12:10 AM ET) WINTER PARK FL

At Winter Park I called up Meers Transportation Service on my cell phone. We had vouchers for them to transfer us from the Orlando Airport to Disney World which are also good from the Amtrak station. They said they would have someone at the station in about 10 minutes. That was perfect as our train was 6 miles and about 8 minutes from Orlando!

1999 DEC 18 SAT 00:30 (12:30 AM ET) ORLANDO FL

Quite a few people got off at Orlando, the final stop for this train. Some were transfering to buses to points further south. Most were getting taxis right at the station. About a dozen or so taxis were filled by the passengers leaving the train. There were also a number of people picked up by private parties.

A van from a taxi service operated by Meers came in less than 5 minutes to pick us up. The van got us to our hotel at about 1 AM. At this late hour, there were only two people at the desk and just one bellman working. It took about 15 minutes to get our turn to check in. Then it took quite a while for the bellman to come to help us and about another 10 people with their luggage. I would have walked to our room, but the hotel is very spread out and it was raining. The bellman dropped us off first and had us to our room by 1:45 AM.

So, that is where we are now! I'm uploading the photos and this travelogue from the hotel right now at 2:35 AM on Saturday morning, December 18, 1999! There will be another travelogue posted for my return trip which starts from Orlando on December 25th and ends in Fullerton on December 28th.

Below is the letter that was given to every passenger on the train:

National Railroad Passenger Corporation, 810 North Alameda Street, Los Angeles, CA 90012

December 15, 1999

Dear Sunset Limited Guest,

Thank you for making Amtrak part of your travel plans. At Amtrak we strive to provide our guests with on time, safe and pleasant travel. As with any mode of transportation, special circumstances occasionally interrupt our usual schedules.

This morning, the Union Pacific Railroad experienced a freight derailment that damaged 23 of their cars and a yet undisclosed amount of track over which the Sunset Limited normally travels. This derailment occurred early today, approximately 35 miles east of Sanderson, Texas and Union Pacific does not anticipate the track to be restored and passable until approximately 6:00am tomorrow. In the interest of safety and expediency for our Guests, Amtrak and Union Pacific have arranged a detour around the Sanderson accident site. It is our intention and desire to make sure that you reach your ultimate destination as quickly as possible. The detour you will be traveling over is the fastest route available to reach Houston and points east. It is our hope that once we reach Houston that our regular schedule will be resumed. Any Guest, whose destination is regrettably missed, will be provided alternate transportation to their destination.

We apologize for any delay and inconvenience you may experience. Please be assured that Amtrak will make every effort to minimize your delay. Should you have any questions please do not hesitate to ask any uniformed Amtrak Crew Member.

We would like to keep your confidence and support. As a way to apologize for the difficulties you have encountered, and in hopes you will allow us the opportunity to show you how enjoyable travel by rail can be, we would like to offer you a transportation credit coupon for future travel with Amtrak. While not convertible to cash, the credit can be presented at any Amtrak ticket office or any Amtrak-appointed travel agent towards travel anywhere in our system. It is valid for up to 18 months although it may be renewed after that time. Please mail ticket stubs to Amtrak Intercity Customer Communications Office located at 210 South Canal Street, Chicago, Illinois 60606.

D. D. Willwerth
Product Line Director


This trip has provided me with rare rail mileage and a free trip to anywhere in the Amtrak system! Not bad! This almost makes up for the "under" compensation for our aborted Winter Wonderland Journey in 1997 and the double disaster that we experienced on our return trip from Disney World last year! Neither of those prior problems dissuaded me from frequent future trips with Amtrak, but this type of compensation during those trips would have eliminated my period of negativity toward Amtrak after each of those experiences. I hope the letter above reflects Amtrak's new attitude toward customers and is representative of how they will respond to problems like this in the future. Though, for some of us that collect rare rail mileage and don't mind a longer trip on the train, maybe Amtrak is the one that should be compensated for this experience!

Click here for the travelogue of my westbound Amtrak Sunset Limited trip!
Click here for a virtual tour of an Amtrak Superliner Train!
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