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Steve's Daily Rail Commute
on Metrolink & Amtrak

Combined travelogues of my daily round-trip commuting for the year 2000 between Irvine and Fullerton using Metrolink northbound and Amtrak southbound.

Thursday, February 3, 2000

My oldest daughter, Jodina, started at a new private school in Irvine, California on Thursday, February 3, 2000. Using the new 241 and 133 toll roads, the school is 25 miles from my house. There are shorter routes by toll-free highways and back streets to the school, but the morning commute traffic would make driving a torture. The toll roads provide a very fast route from my house to the school. Even though there is a good amount of traffic on those toll roads during the commute hour, it is tolerable and it usually moves at an average speed at or above the posted speed limit!

I knew there was an Amtrak/Metrolink Station in Irvine which is right on the same line as the Fullerton Station where our TrainWeb office is located. I just had to see if there was a reasonable way I could work a train into my daily commute!

After examining the various options, I think I came up with the ideal solution to my new commute. My younger daughter's school is just a slight detour off the path from my home to the older daughter's school in Irvine. The timing works out perfect such that I can leave my house at 7:30 AM, drop the first girl off at school at her usual time and then get to the Irvine school between 8:00 AM and 8:10 AM using the toll roads.

The Irvine Amtrak/Metrolink Station is just 4 miles straight down the street from the older daughter's Irvine school! I can get to the station by about 8:20 AM. That gives me enough time to park my car and take the northbound 7:35 AM Metrolink. That train takes about 30 minutes to get to Fullerton and drops me off right at my office! All I have to do is go up the stairs and I'm at work at just a couple of minutes after 9:00 AM.

For the return trip, I take the southbound 12:57 PM Amtrak San Diegan. Even though this train originates in San Luis Obispo at 6:35 AM, it seems to get to Fullerton almost on the dot every day! At that early hour that far up the coast, the train apparently doesn't run into many freight trains. By the time the train gets down into the commute area of Los Angeles, most of the Metrolink Commuter Trains have finished their morning runs of taking commuters to work. Without much to interfere with that particular train's schedule, it seems to usually run on time!

Once again, the timing works almost perfect for the reverse trip. I don't break for lunch until I get to Irvine at 1:26 PM each day. I work while commuting on the train in both directions. I take my lunch during the hour from 1:26 PM to 2:20 PM, the later which is the earliest that I can pick up my older daughter from school. I then head back on the toll roads and arrive at my younger daughter's school just a couple of minutes before her school gets out! From there, I take both daughters to my wife's office which is already half-way between the second school and the TrainWeb office. So, after dropping off my daughters at my wife's office where they work on their homework, I continue on back to the TrainWeb office. I'm usually back at TrainWeb by 3:30 PM, 2.5 hours after I left. With putting in about an hour of work on the train and taking my lunch during that 2.5 hour diversion, that only impacts my daily schedule by about 30 minutes or so. The extra time I put in on evenings and weekends certainly more than makes up for that loss!

Obviously, I enjoy commuting by train each day. But, I do have to make sure that this makes sense in terms of time and money. As far as time goes, I do get an extra hour of work done on the train that I could not possibly do while driving my car. If I drove from the Irvine school round-trip to TrainWeb in Fullerton each day, it would cost me up to another $6.50 per day in tolls (unless I wanted to avoid the tolls and tackle the morning commute traffic on the I-5). Using the toll roads, the distance between the Irvine school and TrainWeb in Fullerton would be almost 60 miles round trip each day. That alone would easily be another $4.50 per day in gasoline plus uncalculated but significant additional costs in maintenance and depreciation to the vehicle.

Taking the train between Irvine and Fullerton avoids at least $11 per day in just tolls and gas without taking into consideration the additional maintenance and depreciation incurred. A Metrolink Monthly Pass between Irvine and Fullerton costs $116.50 . I can't take Metrolink for my southbound trip since Metrolink trains do not start running that early on that route. But, I can use the Metrolink to Amtrak Step-Up Program which costs me just $2 each time I take Amtrak instead of Metrolink between Fullerton and Irvine. That will add about an additional $40 per month for 20 school days each month. Total cost of taking the train is $156.50 per month. Minimal cost of doing that same round-trip segment by auto each day would be $220.00 per month (and then add the additional maintenance and depreciation to that). Plus, I avoid the aggrevation of the traffic and get in another 20 hours of work per month on the train.

I think the train wins over the auto hands down in terms of cost savings, time savings, avoidance of aggrevation and just for the shear enjoyment of the ride!

Monday, February, 7, 2000

There seems to still be one link in my plans and a source of uncertainty and aggrevation. Two new Metrolink stations are in the works south of the Irvine Station. Until they are open, all the people that would normally park at those station and take the train from those stations are instead parking and taking the train from Irvine. Since I take the last Metrolink out of Irvine, it is very difficult to locate a parking space!

When I arrive, the least desireable parking places furthest from the platform are already taken. The only way to find a space is to start at the parking closest to the platform and check every aisle in the hopes that someone arrived on a train and drove out in the morning. So far, I've been able to find a spot every morning. The available parking spots have been buried in a very crowded lot, but are usually spots that are pretty close to the station.

Temporarily, Irvine is also providing courtesy attended parking for the overflow. If you can't find a place to park your car, an attendant will park your car in a special reserved attended part of the lot for you. The Attendant can fit a lot more cars into that part of the lot by parking them 2 and 3 deep. He keeps the keys so that he can move the cars around to get the buried ones out when the owner returns. The courtesy attended parking will end when one or both of the other stations are built and parking becomes more available in Irvine.

Tuesday, February 8, 2000

I noticed that northbound Amtrak San Diegan #571 arrives into Fullerton just a few minutes after my northbound Metrolink train. Train #571 would be the ideal train for me to take from Irvine to Fullerton since it does run only a few minutes after the Metrolink, but it would take the pressure off me in the morning to quickly get from the Irvine school to the station, find a parking place, and then rush to the platform. An extra 5 minutes would be all that I need. Unfortunately, of the 11 northbound Amtrak San Diegans that run each weekday, Train #571 is the ONLY northbound train that does not stop at Irvine! Doesn't it just figure? Of all the trains that serve Irvine each day, the specific one that I really would like to take is the only one that does not stop at Irvine!

Thursday, February 10, 2000

Today the plan is totally different! My younger daughter, Sherica, had a big school project due today. It was actually a group project that three other students were supposed to put a good deal of time into, but if you are a parent, you may know how that can sometimes go. My wife and I are not really demanding about getting our children getting top grades. None the less, excellent grades mean a lot to Sherica and she usually makes the Principal's Honor Roll every semester. Thus, she was determined to put the work needed to get a good grade on this project even if it meant making up for the slack of others. Her older sister, Jodina, helped out a lot with the cutting and pasting. My wife and I didn't do much on the project itself other than to provide the taxi service to run around to find the needed supplies. The bottom line, however, was that all of us were up almost the entire night providing whatever support we could to help her complete the project before school.

I spent from 11 PM until 4 AM at the TrainWeb office while my daughter's designed and printed materials on the color printer. My only role at that time was just to babysit. I got an awful lot backlog of TrainWeb work done that night, but I was in no shape to go into work in the morning. After driving my older daughter, Jodina, to school, I decided to spend much of the next 5 hours on the train until it was time to pick her up from school. My plan was to sleep on the train. I find I have some of the most enjoyable naps when I am riding on the train. Unfortunately, things have not quite gone as planned. The few times that I do have to stay up all night, I'm usually pretty awake the next day, but then turn dead tired by the next night. Thus, I'm quite awake right now which is why I'm writing about this. However, I'm sure my lack of sleep will catch up with me this evening!

Here was my plan: I was going to take the Amtrak San Diegan from Irvine down to San Diego and back. Realizing I might not have time to purchase a ticket when I arrived at the Irvine Station, I pre-purchased my ticket on the internet. When I got to the station, I just stuck my credit card in the ticket machine and quickly retrieved my tickets. That gave me just enough time to get to the platform and board southbound Amtrak San Diegan Train #568 at 8:23 AM. So far, this trainset has been the Amtrak California Cars since I started commuting from Irvine on Feb 3, 2000. I sat in my favorite single seat at the end of the car and headed south.

Checking the schedule, I realized that I would either end up spending more time than I wanted in San Diego or else I would arrive back into Irvine too early. So, I got off at Solana Beach and purchased a Business Class ticket to Los Angeles and an Unreserved Coach ticket from Los Angeles to Irvine. The timing would be too tight in Los Angeles to try to get off the train and go all the way into the station to purchase a ticket for my southbound segment. Thus, it seemed wiser to get the ticket ahead of time so that I could just go from one platform to another in Los Angeles without have to go all the way into the station to purchase the ticket.

I met Mary Kay Bumstead, maybe for the first time today. Mary Kay used to be the editor of the Amtrak San Diegan News before it was merged in with The Tourist, the now official onboard publication of all the Amtrak West trains. I had talked with Mary Kay a number of times on the phone and exchanged e-mail with her when she was editor of the San Diegan News, but I don't think I had met her in person before today. She was the ticket agent at the Amtrak Solana Beach Station this morning.

I got to be the Pacific Business Class Car Attendant today! While I was pouring myself a cup of coffee at the self-serve breakfast and snack area, a man came to me and asked where he could get a newspaper to read. I pointed out the rack above the snack area, glanced through the stack of newspapers while explaining: "They seem to have stocked the car with only USA Today." Sometimes they have 2 or 3 different newspapers in the rack. Later, an older lady came up to my seat. She saw that I had my seatback table open. She asked me how to get it open. I demonstrated how to open the table using the one next to my seat. She turned to look back at where she was sitting and looked totally confused about how to repeat what I just did. I got up out of my seat to help out and immediately discovered her problem. She was sitting at two sets of double-seats that were facing each other! Naturally there is no way to open the table for that particular configuration since there are no seatbacks when the two sets of seats are facing each other! I explained to her why it was not possible to open up a table where she was sitting. She decided to move to another seat and again asked me to demonstrate how to open and close a table. I did so and then asked if she would like me to leave one open for her. She replied in the affirmative and said that she would appreciate that. Maybe it is something about the TrainWeb logo on my baseball cap and sport shirt that leads people to believe that I'm part of the onboard staff.

At just about 12 noon, I saw an Amtrak California Surfliner Car for the first time with my own eyes as we passed the Redondo Yard while taking the sharp curve! I'll have another chance to get a glimpse of it as we head south out of LAUS again.

I was a bit worried about making the change between the northbound and southbound Amtrak San Diegans in Los Angeles Union Station. The northbound is scheduled to arrive into LAUS at 12:05 PM and the southbound scheduled to leave at 12:25 PM. That only gave me 20 minutes between trains. When we left Fullerton just 6 minutes late, I felt pretty good about the timing, though it is not hard to lose another 15 minutes between Fullerton and Los Angeles.

We arrived into Los Angeles at 12:11 PM and that gave me plenty of time to get to the southbound train which was already in the station.

There was a problem with the ATS in the Cab Control Car which delayed our departure out of LAUS. They could not get it fixed. Rather than delay the train any further, they decided to continue to run the train with the F59PHI in the lead instead of the Cab Control Car. Thus, they backed the train out of LAUS onto the northbound track until they cleared all the switches. Then, the train headed south with the F59PHI in the lead. A number of people that do not like to sit facing backwards who were already used to switching seats in LAUS had to play musical chairs again to keep facing forward. We left LAUS about 10 to 15 minutes late.

Wednesday, February 16, 2000

It was a rainy day today as it has been for most of this week. The southbound Amtrak train overshot the Anaheim station by maybe 50 feet or so and had to back up to return to the platform.

Thursday, February 17, 2000

A large group of school children boarded the north bound Metrolink train this morning. They boarded the very last of the 3 cars, the one that I normally board. To avoid the crown, I boarded the middle car today. This car seems much emptier than the last car that I usually board. I think I'll give this middle car a try a few more times to see if it is normally less crowded. Actually, crowded is probably not the right word. I've never seen the rear car have more than one person per pair of seats. The first time I took Metrolink on this commute the car was very empty. I don't think it has been quite that empty ever since. Usually there is almost one person for every 2 or 3 pairs of seats. Metrolink is quite successful, but this particular train is probably more of an equipment move than really intended to serve passengers. This train doesn't arrive into Los Angeles until well after 9:30 AM, a rather late time to start work! The trains that arrive into Los Angeles earlier have much greater passener loads. The main purpose of this run is to get this equipment into Los Angeles so that it will be in the right place to take commuters home after work.

Do you prefer to obtain your tickets from an Amtrak Ticket Agent or from a Ticket Machine? If I don't know the Agent, or if it is one of the Agents that I would rather avoid, then I prefer the Ticket Machines. My number one choice is to obtain my Amtrak tickets from one of the travel agency sponsors of TrainWeb (see: But, if I'm justbuying a short hop ticket up and down the San Diegan line at the last minute, getting the ticket at the station is the only practical way to go. Of course, even that will probably change once Slotsy Tours & Travel moves to the Fullerton Santa Fe Depot!

The problem with using an Amtrak Ticket Agent at the station is that they will sometimes generate too many restrictions which can sometimes prevent you from picking up your ticket or result in a higher ticket price. One example of this is trying to pick up tickets when you don't have the AAA Club or NARP Membership card of every member of your party. It can also be a problem if you are trying to pick up a ticket for someone else who is either a Senior Citizen or a Student. It can be a problem if you are just trying to pick up a ticket for someone other than yourself! It seems the Ticket Agents have a lot of restrictions about who they can issue the ticket to and what proof is required before providing a discount ticket.

You won't have any of these problems picking up your tickets from the Ticket Machine! The ticket machine doesn't offer all the options and discounts available from a live Ticket Agent, but the trick is to make your reservation on the phone or via the internet first. You'll have most of the options available using either of those methods. Then, you just use your reservation number to pick up your pre-paid tickets from the Ticket Machine.

Unlike some Amtrak Ticket Agents, the Ticket Machine will not ask to see the AAA or NARP membership card of everyone in your party, it won't ask to see the Senior Citizen or the children traveling in your party, and it won't even ask you if you are the person that purchased the tickets or will be doing the travel! I'm not saying that all Amtrak Ticket Agents will put you through this first degree questioning, but it has happened to me.

I don't always have the AAA or NARP card on me for the people that will be traveling with me. I sometimes purchase a ticket for someone else with their name on the ticket, but I will want to pick it up for them. And, I will sometimes purchase a ticket for a child or a Senior Citizen, discount tickets for which I personally don't qualify but for which this person that will be traveling does qualify. I have been given a hard time and have been refused tickets by Amtrak Ticket Agents in some of the above situations. I've never met an Amtrak Ticket Machine that refused to issue me a ticket for which I have already paid and been given a reservation number!

I know that in most cases that the Ticket Machines have been installed to supplement the live Amtrak Ticket Agents during peak periods and during times that a station is not staffed. However, I think either policies or attitudes need to be changed or many passengers might prefer the Ticket Machine over the live agent. I do want to re-iterate that it is only a small minority of Amtrak Ticket Agents that give potential passengers a hard time. But, even that small number makes me a lot less apprehensive when approaching a ticket agent that I have never met before vs. a Ticket Machine that I have never met before!

Friday, February 18, 2000

The southbound Amtrak train arrived only about 5 minutes late, but I noticed it was very quiet in the train after I boarded! The power was off in the train which meant the air conditioning and blowers were also off. That is what made the train so quiet.

After the train sat in the Fullerton Station for about 5 minutes, I started to set up my radio scanner to keep track of the problem. However, they got the power back on before I even had a chance to get the earphone into my ear!

Saturday, February 19, 2000

I took my whole family which includes my wife and two children, to San Diego for the 3 day weekend by train. To avoid the temptation of doing work on the weekend, I didn't even bring my notebook computer with me! Thus, you won't find a travelogue of the weekend. However, I did want to mention that the Governor of California, Grey Davis, was onboard my train on the southbound leg of my journey. He was heading to Solana Beach for an event celebrating the anniversary of Coaster Commuter Rail Service. I personally did not see him. I didn't even see him get off in Solana Beach, but I was told this my an Amtrak employee onboard who was on the train. My guess is that they had the Governor up in the Cab Control Car which Amtrak does not usually use for passenger service unless the other cars get too full.

Tuesday, February 22, 2000

This is not related to my rail travel, but it is a convenient place to put an interesting incident that occured today. A BNSF freight train stopped right in front of our office today at about 4:30 PM and the crew came up to our office. I guess they may have been having a problem getting their track warrants over the radio and were told they could stop at the Metrolink Dispatching office and pick them up in person. Unfortunately, the office now used by TrainWeb has not been used for switching for many years. Thus, we couldn't be of much help to them.

I told them that the Metrolink Dispatching is not located at the Fullerton Santa Fe Depot, but they seemed happy to find out that the Amtrak Ticket Office is downstairs. I mentioned that I didn't think Amtrak was going to be able to help them with their track warrants, but they headed downstairs to find out for themselves.

This is the second time in the last two and a half years that TrainWeb has been here that a BNSF crew has come up here looking for something related to their job. I think the last time was when a crew was looking for a ride back to the yard, but the driver that was suppose to pick them up had no idea where to find the Fullerton Santa Fe Depot.

Monday, February 28, 2000

I had a 2 PM Dentist appointment today so I was not able to work the rail commute into my schedule. Instead, I drove my daughter to Irvine and then drove back to the TrainWeb office in Fullerton via the I-5 and SR 55. I actually arrived into Fullerton 5 minutes before the Metrolink train. There wasn't as much traffic on the road as I had expected, but there were still quite a few slow parts to the drive and some stop and go traffic on the interstate. Although faster this morning, it certainly wasn't as pleasant as going by train and I was not able to get any other work done while driving. However, one round-trip toll road cost should probably be subtracted from my above comparison of costs as it seems that traveling via the non-toll roads would be adequate for the round trip from Irvine to Fullerton and back.

Tuesday, February 29, 2000

The northbound Metrolink out of Irvine is very empty today. There has been a hazardous spill in Pico Rivera and there are no trains traveling between Norwalk and Los Angeles at this time. Metrolink has made an announcement that they will make it to Fullerton without any problems. They also said they will make it to Norwalk where people can transfer to the MTA Green Line, but there will be major delays between Fullerton and Norwalk. Metrolink also announced that there is no guarantee that the train will provide service all the way to Los Angeles and they suggested that passengers find other methods of transportation. Anyone who has already validated their 10-trip ticket can use it tomorrow. Amtrak has announced that the southbound train will be delayed due to the hazardous spill. Current estimates are that the train will be an hour late, but that can change.

I'm going to risk taking the train to work today. According to the announcement, I should have no problem getting to the office. If the blockage continues into the early afternoon, I'll probably have to take a taxi back to Irvine.

Maybe I didn't hear the first announcement correctly. At Santa Ana, Metrolink is announcing that this train definitely will not make it to Los Angeles!

As we stopped at the Orange Metrolink Station, 2 southbound Union Pacific locomotives passed us. It is very unusual to see any freight related trains on this section of track during the commute hours and especially unusual to see Union Pacific locomotives on these tracks.

We pulled into the southbound track at the Fullerton Station (what the station calls Track #2 and BNSF calls Track #3). It is very rare for a northbound Metrolink to stop on the southbound platform. Amtrak is known to stop on the wrong platform at times, but it is very rare for Metrolink trains to do so. However, there was already an Amtrak train stopped on the northbound platform leaving the Metrolink train no choice but to stop on the southbound platform.

I think the Amtrak train was the northbound San Diegan #769 which was due out of Fullerton at 8:16 AM. That is the train that makes a guaranteed connection with the Amtrak Coast Starlight. Due to the hazardous spill, it must not have been able to go any further north than Fullerton. At about 9:15 AM, buses arrived to take passengers that would be connecting to the Amtrak Coast Starlight and other points north. Looks like the Coast Starlight will also probably be held up for a while waiting for these buses from Fullerton!

If this is northbound San Diegan #769 at the platform, they are now going to turn it around and make it southbound San Diegan #570 which was not able to make it south out of Los Angeles. This Amtrak train was held at Fullerton for more than an hour. They waited for a couple of vans to come down from Los Angeles, I assume carrying the passengers that were supposed to be on southbound San Diegans #568 and #570. The train finally departed at 9:30 AM instead of the scheduled time of 9:05 AM for #570.

A south or eastbound Metrolink also came through about 9:20 AM. I have no idea which Metrolink that was suppose to be. There is no south or eastbound Metrolink scheduled to go through Fullerton at around this time. I assume it is just a northbound Metrolink that they turned around since it could not make it to Los Angeles.

At about 10 AM, another northbound Amtrak San Diegan arrived. I can only guess that this has to be northbound train #571 that was suppose to arrive here at 9:11 AM. They will probably send this one south as train #772 that is supposed to leave here at 10:12 AM, though it is already 10:21 AM. Once again, they are probably waiting for vans to arrive with passengers from Los Angeles. Train #772 did finally leave at 10:50 AM.

The crews are being changed at Fullerton. Normally the crews change in Los Angeles. Some passengers are being sent north on taxis. There are usually quite a few taxis waiting in front of the Fullerton Santa Fe Depot, but they used them all up and are waiting for more to arrive.

Northbound Amtrak San Diegan Train #773 arrived late, was turned at Fullerton, and sent back out as southbound Amtrak San Diegan Train #574 at 12:15 PM. Southbound Train #574 was supposed to depart Fullerton at 11:32 AM. Northbound passengers were moved to buses. Train #574 waited for southbound passengers to arrive on buses from Los Angeles.

Northbound Amtrak San Diegan Train #575 arrived into Fullerton at about 12:20 PM, about one hour late. The crew had all the passengers get off the train and sent them to buses out front. The crew started to prepare the train to run south (San Diegans run push-pull). However, at 12:30 PM, the Dipatcher announced that the tracks to Los Angeles are now open and that #575 can continue to run north to Los Angeles!

The crew contacted Amtrak and the decision has been made to stick with the plan to flip this train here and send it south as Train #776 which departs Fullerton at 12:57 PM. That makes sense as the passengers from Train #776 that arrived into Los Angeles at 12:10 PM are already on their way to Fullerton by bus.

The Amtrak Train Status Web Page is showing the southbound San Diegan Train #776 as running 4 minutes late with an estimated arrival time into Los Angeles at 12:14 PM. But, it is already 12:44 PM so I still don't know if and when Train #776 arrived into Los Angeles! It is going to take 15 to 20 minutes for the passengers from that train to walk from the train all the way through the tunnel and the station to the bus loading area and then will take another 35 to 45 minutes for the bus to drive from Los Angeles to Fullerton. I don't expect to see the buses from Los Angeles to get here until at least 1 PM to 1:15 PM.

This is actually the train that I need to take to Irvine. By the time the buses get here and the passengers transfer onto the train, the train will be luck to leave by 1:30 PM. That will still get me to Irvine by 2:00 PM which will be enough time to pick up my daughter from her school on time.

They did not board the train until the buses arrived from Los Angeles. That was about 1:20 PM and the train did leave about 1:30 PM. Because of the unusual departure time, we met with other trains at places and times not normal for this train and that caused further delays. We finally got into Irvine about 2:10 PM, which still left me enough time to pick up my daughter on time at 2:20 PM.

Driving back to Fullerton I have to first pass through Yorba Linda in order to pick up my other daughters and drop them off at my wife's office in Anaheim. On the way, I saw an endless stretch of freight trains waiting to head west. They were along the stretch of tracks that parallels the Santa Ana River in Yorba Linda. Once I did get back to Fullerton, one freight train after another went through the station heading west. These were all the trains that had been held up waiting for the hazardous spill to be cleaned up.

As it turned out, an estimate of only 4 gallons of an ammonia related substance had leaked from a tank car in Pico Rivera. According to the news, hundreds of residents had been evacuated in addition to the tracks being shut down for several hours.

Wednesday, March 1, 2000

The Amtrak trainsets will probably be all mixed up today. For the first time since I've been commuting by rail, southbound Amtrak San Diegan Train #568 that departs Irvine at 8:23 AM, a few minutes before my northbound Metrolink train, was the trainset with the Legoland Cafe Car instead of a set of California Cars. It it wasn't for the hazardous spill, I would have been taking the Amtrak San Diegan trainset with a domecar yesterday. We saw the trainset with the domecar head up to San Luis Obispo the day before, which would mean it would be on the trainset that I take south the following day, yesterday. Now, I have no idea which trainsets have the domecars and which have the California Cars.

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