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Amtrak Coast Starlight
Thursday, 7:50 P.M. (Pacific Time), 11/14/96, San Jose, California
I had made my reservations for this trip to go to the California Rail 2000 meeting several months ago. Many things have happened in between that maybe should have influenced my plans to go, but I decided to stick with the original plan.
Click here for photos & more info about the Coast Starlight.
A while back, Amtrak contacted my company about doing a live feed from the train of a special joint presentation they planned to do with Warner Brothers. Warner Brothers was introducing a new album by the jazz artist Ken Mahogany. Since there has been a relationship between jazz and trains all the way back to the time that jazz was born, Amtrak and Warner Brothers were interested in doing a joint promotion of this new jazz album and of the Coast Starlight. What they wanted to do was a live broadcast from the train!
We sought every resource at our disposal. Our company has high level resources within the phone company, the aerospace and communication satellite industry and the broadcast industry. We did find a number of ways to do a full video live feed off the train, but each method was going to cost a great deal to implement. Neither Warner Brothers nor Amtrak had planned on an expense of such magnitude to promote that one jazz event on the Coast Starlight.
I thought that the entire effort had been canceled because of the high cost of the live broadcast. After some last minute checks, I found out that Amtrak was still interested in at least doing a professional video recording of that event which could be broadcast at a later time. Thus, at the last minute, we pulled together our video crew and got them scheduled to leave on the Coast Starlight on Friday, November 15th, 1996. Amtrak would provide full sleeping accommodations with meals to our crew of 5 for free in exchange for the time and materials that we were devoting to make a video/audio recording of this event for later broadcast from the Amtrak West web site.
This trip on November 15th conflicted with my trip to California Rail 2000 on November 14th, so I would not be able to make it. The rest of my video crew would be able to make it and were certainly qualified to do this project without my help. Thus, everything was scheduled for them to go!
My familiarity with Amtrak procedures led me to ask where they would be staying in Seattle, Washington on Saturday night and who would be paying for that stay. They had assumed that Amtrak would allow them to sleep on the train. I gave them my opinion that I didn't think Amtrak was planning on that. Even the Engineer, Conductor, and all on-board service people are put up in a hotel. Even they aren't allowed to sleep on the train Saturday night when the train lays over in Seattle. They called Amtrak to ask about this, and sure enough, my guess was correct! No provision had been made of where they would stay and they certainly couldn't sleep on the train while it was empty of ALL staff.
I suggested that they check out the Pioneer Square Hotel in Pioneer Square in Seattle, Washington. They did that. At first it looked good that the Pioneer Square Hotel would allow them to stay free in exchange for including some promotional footage of the hotel in the filming for this project. In the end, however, the hotel was only willing to give them the rate they give to Amtrak crew.
So, here I am again on the Coast Starlight between San Jose and Jack London Square / Oakland, California on my way to Sacramento, California! In San Luis Obispo, I passed the southbound Coast Starlight that tomorrow morning will become the northbound Coast Starlight of that Jazz event. Everyone seems excited about this trip. Looks like I missed my one chance to finally take a free trip on Amtrak after the thousands of paid miles that I have logged this year!
Thursday, 8:30 P.M. (Pacific Time), 11/14/96, Oakland, California
A friend of mine that lives in the San Jose area came down to southern California with me when I returned from a business trip to Vallejo on the San Joaquins. He returned home to the San Jose area by coming along with me on this Coast Starlight trip north. The previous stop was San Jose and he just got off there. He doesn't mind traveling by train, but he isn't a real "rail person". He was mostly fascinated by a gal named Christina that he met on board. She was probably 20 years old which is less than half the age of my friend. Nothing came of it, but he does get intrigued by gals of that age. I guess he is going through a mid-life crisis. On the other hand, I think was maybe always like that.
This morning was a unique experience. I knew that since November 10th, the coach cars from the Coast Starlight would be on the San Diegan Express. The San Diegan Express has been divided into two express trains, one that leaves San Diego at 6:18 A.M. (Train #571) and one that leaves at 7:13 A.M. (Train #773). The San Diegan Timetable lists both as the new Amtrak California Cars. I was wondering how that could be unless more trainsets have arrived. Up until now, there has only been one of the new Amtrak California Car trainsets on the San Diegan routes. I thought they might have split it up into two smaller trainsets and purchased a new Amtrak California Car Locomotive. That doesn't seem to be the case since the train in which I was riding had all 4 Amtrak California Coach Cars. So, I will have to check sometime to see if the San Diegan schedule is correct in stating that Train #773 also uses the new Amtrak California Cars.
Train #571 is made up of an Amtrak California Car Locomotive, an older dining car being used for the snack car, a Sightseer Lounge Car, four Amtrak California Car Coaches, the two Superliner Coaches from Coast Starlight Train #14, and one additional Amtrak California Car that we appear to just be towing somewhere. Anyone going north of Los Angeles is being assigned seats in the coaches from the Coast Starlight. Once we reach Los Angeles, those coaches are taken off the San Diegan Express Train and added to the end of the Coast Starlight. Those passengers then continue their journey north as part of the Coast Starlight. However, people like myself that have sleeping cars on the Coast Starlight are just being placed into the regular UNRESERVED COACH section of the San Diegan Express Train. We have to get off the train in Los Angeles and reboard the Sleeping Cars of the Coast Starlight.
Something seems wrong about the layout of the Express train going from San Diego to Los Angeles. I was trying to analyze this one. Everyone that is just going to Los Angeles from as far south as San Juan Capistrano probably already took one of the three less expensive Metrolinks that run during the hour right before the San Diegan Express train. Thus, not too many people going from any of the stops between San Juan Capistrano and Fullerton will be on this train. All coach passengers that are going north of Los Angeles have already been seated in one of the north bound Coast Starlight coaches at the end of this train. Thus, the only passengers that will be in the UNRESERVED COACH section of the San Diegan Express are those that got on between San Diego and Oceanside and those that will be transferring to Sleeping Cars on the Coast Starlight. That isn't too many people and the emptiness of the UNRESERVED COACH cars show that is true. I would think that everyone going to Los Angeles and beyond on this train could have easily fit in just the Coast Starlight coach cars. I'm going to have to ask someone to find out why they are using so many empty UNRESERVED COACH cars on this San Diegan Express Train.
Thursday, 9:06 P.M. (Pacific Time), 11/14/96, Emeryville, California
Earlier today, Christina, who I mentioned above, was seated by a Dining Car Attendant to sit with my friend and myself. Another guy was also seated with the three of us. Most of the lunch conversation was paired off. My friend spent most of his time taking to Christina. I became curious about the other guy seated at our table when he mentioned he was going to be going down to Mexico soon to ride a train through Copper Canyon. The only people that I have ever known to have taken that trip in Mexico or to have even expressed an interest were Railfans. He said that he was not a Railfan. I let it go at that, but wasn't satisfied with that answer.
Later in the afternoon, my friend and I went to the Pacific Parlor Car for the free "Wine Tasting Happy Hour" where three different California Wines were served along with cheese and fruit. When we arrived in the Pacific Parlor Car, we found Christina sitting at a table for two by herself. We sat at another table for two right next to Christina. Then, the other guy that we had lunch with stepped into the Parlor Car and sat in the other seat of the two seat table with Christina.
After just a few minutes, my friend made what I though was a rather bold move. He went over to their table and suggested that he and that other guy should swap seats so that my friend could talk with Christina while the other guy and I "talk trains"! I was a bit startled by that, but the other guy seemed totally amenable to that arrangement. At any rate, that guy and I did start talking trains. My suspicions were confirmed! He might not be a Railfan in the official sense of the word, but he had more than a passing interest in trains. He had been a locomotive engineer for many years and had just left Amtrak in 1990!
I don't remember all the details, but basically he took an early retirement from Amtrak because of problems he was having with his vision. I was very interested in how and why he became a locomotive engineer. I asked if he had an interest in trains before we went to work for the railroad. He told me that he had no prior interest. Basically, he was out of work and got his first job with the railroad just by going to the unemployment office!
He started with the railroad doing yard work, but eventually applied to be a locomotive engineer because it paid better than the yard work. I was amazed that one could eventually end up being an Amtrak Engineer when their only objective was to go to the unemployment office to find any suitable job!
I've been on the Coast Starlight before when the entertainment was a Magician or Guitar Player. This time the entertainment was a Court Jester! This was a bit weird. The entertainment consisted of the Jester basically making a fool of himself, balancing a Ping-Pong ball on his nose with the help of glue, reading a Silverstein Poem, reading a children's story book about a Jester, juggling a tennis racket, and doing one magic trick. Other than watching him juggle a tennis racket between two sticks, I didn't find much of anything else he did entertaining. Judging from the reaction of the rest of the audience, I don't think they found much of the rest entertaining either. I think kids under 10 years old probably would have enjoyed everything he did. The rest of us were just waiting for him to finish so we could get back to our individual conversations.
The Coast Starlight now has a "Kiddie Room" where kids can go to play and be entertained from 7 A.M. until 9:30 P.M. The "Kiddie Room" is in the lower level of one of the Coach Cars. Kid videos are sometimes played and I'm sure the kids did appreciate the performance of the court jester there!
My understanding is that plans are still underway to convert the downstairs of the Pacific Parlor Car into a "big screen home theater" by placing a 48" or 60" big screen TV, video player and new seating into that area.
I did stay for the entire free "Wine Tasting Happy Hour" in the Pacific Parlor Car this time. They served 2 white and 1 red wine along with plates of fruit and cheese. Every few weeks, they change the wines that are served.
Thursday, 8:50 P.M. (Pacific Time), 11/14/96, Oakland Rail Yard, California
We are in the Oakland Rail Yard. I think they are removing the one Amtrak California Car that we have been towing all the way up from at least Los Angeles and maybe even San Diego. I do not know why the Coast Starlight towed an Amtrak California Car all the way up here. Just to make a guess, it could be one of the new Amtrak California Bistro Dining Cars being placed back into service on either the Capitols or San Joaquins after being repaired by the manufacturer.
Friday, 4:30 P.M. (Pacific Time), 11/15/96, Vallejo, California
I had to make an unexpected emergency trip to Vallejo. Normally, someone else at my office would probably make this trip, but since I was only a couple of hours away, I'm the logical choice. I had to get up at 4:30 A.M. to catch the 5:15 A.M. Capitol train to Richmond. From there, I took the BART just one stop to El Cerro Del Norte. From that BART stop, I caught the Vallejo Transit #80 bus which goes express to downtown Vallejo. It is just two blocks from there to our office in Vallejo. I was hoping to get out of there in time to get back to Sacramento by 6 P.M., when the Cocktail Reception started for TRAC's "California Rail 2000" Annual Meeting that I was attending. Unfortunately, what I had to do in Vallejo took much longer than expected and I missed the Capitol by about 30 minutes. I had to wait 90 minutes for the next Capitol which placed me back in Sacramento at close to 8:00 P.M., just in time for the Cocktail Reception to end! The task I had to do in Vallejo was more important than the Reception, but it did mean that I really didn't get much time to meet many people at TRAC's Annual Meeting.
Saturday, 9 P.M. (Pacific Time), 11/16/96, Sacramento, California
I apologize for not providing a summary TRAC's "California Rail 2000" meeting which was all day today from 9 A.M. to 9 P.M. I'm already swamped trying to process my travelogues and those of contributors, hundreds of photos, and e-mail which I am over 2 weeks behind in my replies. I don't view myself as a general reporter of passenger rail events, though I do like to attend what meetings I can. TRAC, the Train Riders Association of California has their own Web Page and hopefully they will post a summary of the meeting. Since I have enough of my own work to do, I will avoid duplicating their efforts.
Sunday, 6:15 A.M. (Pacific Time), 11/17/96, Sacramento, California
I just boarded the train for the trip back to Los Angeles and then on to Fullerton, California. I've noticed that Amtrak has placed a lot of padding into their schedule for the arrival into Sacramento from both the north and the south. Heading north, the train is scheduled into Davis at 10:43 P.M. and then into Sacramento at 11:37 P.M. However, the schedule only indicates a distance between those two stations of 13 miles. They have allowed almost one hour to cover just 13 miles! Heading south, the train is scheduled into Marysville at 4:16 A.M. and then into Sacramento at 6:30 A.M., 2 hours and 14 minutes later. The schedule indicates that to be a distance of 52 miles. That is, 2 hours and 14 minutes to cover 52 miles! Needless to say, if the train is running on time, you will definitely get into Sacramento quite early. If your train is running just a little late, it will probably leave Sacramento on time. I called 1-800-USA-RAIL this morning to find out how late the train might be before I left my hotel. They said it was running 20 minutes late and would therefore be into Sacramento at 6:30 A.M. I thought that was an odd statement since the schedule says the train is suppose to be in Sacramento at 6:30 A.M.! I guess the Amtrak computer accounts for that padding and knows the train will be into Sacramento on time if it is only running 20 minutes late. Actually, Sacramento is a place where the Coast Starlight changes crews, dumps the trash, and takes on fuel and water. Thus, regardless of whether the train is early, on-time, or late, it is going to be in the station for at least 15 minutes. Normally, Amtrak indicates these extended stays at stations on their schedule. I guess they didn't want to do this for Sacramento so they would have the flexibility to arrive and leave at any time up to the published time and still be considered "on time."
When I boarded the train, the Car Attendant told me to just go ahead and take any Economy Room available. I guess he already had someone or something in my reserved room, room 2. Room 2 is the Economy Room directly across from the Car Attendant's own room. Maybe he likes to keep that room empty or for his supplies so long as all the other Economy Rooms aren't all booked up. There were a few Economy Rooms available. The Coast Starlight is often booked solid on Sunday. I figured that these empty rooms had probably been occupied somewhere between Seattle and Sacramento and the occupants had already left the train. At any rate, I sure didn't mind picking my own room. Room 2 is an "even numbered" room and I have always found that it is the odd numbered rooms that get the ocean view when heading south. Thus, I moved into the first empty odd numbered room, Room 5.
Sunday, 7:45 A.M. (Pacific Time), 11/17/96, Martinez, California
The Sleeping Car Attendant is definitely in a happy mood. He is singing up and down the corridor while taking care of his passengers and converting beds to seats for those passengers that are awake. Of the Amtrak trains that I have taken in late October right up to this trip, I have noticed a drastic improvement in the attitude of the service staff. I don't know why most of the Amtrak staff seemed to have a sour disposition in the late fall. Service had been wonderful most all of the year, then late fall almost all the staff seemed sour. Now most trains have staff with an excellent disposition, always ready to do what they can to serve the passengers. Perhaps it was all the plans that were made in late summer to cut many Amtrak routes that put everyone in a sour mood. All those cuts have been delayed until March or May, and the Texas Eagle might never be cut. Maybe the possibility of a brighter future for Amtrak has relieved the concerns of the staff, at least for now.
I had breakfast with one of the people that was elected to the Board of Directors of TRAC, the Train Riders Association of California and a Criminology College Professor whose family had been involved with trains for generations. The TRAC Director had just barely made it to the train. He had called Amtrak in the morning to check the status of the train just like I had. He also heard the train was 20 minutes late and erroneously translated that into thinking the train would be leaving 20 minutes late. Unlike the Amtrak reservation that I spoke to, I guess the one he spoke to didn't say the train would be leaving at 6:30 A.M. He told me he had just barely made it to the train before it left. I arrived at the Sacramento station pretty close to 6:00 A.M. thinking I would be early, but the Coast Starlight pulled in just as I was arriving. I always like to be a bit early to the station just in case anything goes wrong that would delay my own arrival into the station.
The college professor said he had once been a cook on Amtrak for a few months and that he had relatives currently and in the past that were Car Attendants and even one that was an Engineer on Amtrak. This is how he inherited his love of trains. The college professor was on his way back to Kansas City. He was taking the Coast Starlight to San Jose, then would take a plane to Los Angeles, the shuttle bus to Union Station (or maybe the Los Angeles Metrorail since he had plenty of spare time), and then catch the Southwest Chief to Kansas City this evening. You used to be able to take the Coast Starlight all the way to Los Angeles and then make a connection with the Southwest Chief. Now, there is almost a 23 hour layover in Los Angeles if you try to make that connection.
Actually, if this train stays on-time for 100% of its trip, the college professor could actually make his connection to the Southwest Chief. The Coast Starlight schedule says this train is due into Los Angeles at 9:15 P.M. The Southwest Chief leaves Los Angeles at 8:35 P.M., but a 100% on-time Coast Starlight makes it into Los Angeles pretty close to that time. The Coast Starlight leaves Oxnard at 7:05 P.M. and has only 66 miles to go to get into Los Angeles. The next 2 stops, Simi Valley and Glendale are only for dropping off passengers and the train can leave those stations immediately after without waiting for the published departure time. Thus, if there are no delays, the Coast Starlight can make it into Los Angeles between 8:15 and 8:30 P.M., with just barely enough time to hop onto the Southwest Chief if there are no checked bags. Since the official schedule says the Coast Starlight arrives 40 minutes after the Southwest Chief has left, Amtrak not only can't guarantee the connection, but they won't even let you book your trip that way, unless you want to pay extra like the college professor and fly for part of your trip to get ahead of the Coast Starlight!
Sunday, 8:30 A.M. (Pacific Time), 11/17/96, Emeryville, California
We are now traveling through the area of track improvements to the Capitols that we saw presented in a slide show yesterday by the Union Pacific. The added knowledge of what is going on with the construction work on and around these tracks has added to my enjoyment of this part of the ride.
The Car Attendant is still singing away. His happy attitude is contagious and makes for happy Sleeping Car Passengers! He delivered a "San Francisco Examiner & Chronicle" newspaper a few minutes ago. I like his way of announcing his presence at the door. He says: "Hello? Is anybody home in there?" If nobody answers, he gives a running commentary on what he is doing! Room 7 had their "Push To Call (Attendant)" light on, but they had left the room. The Car Attendant walked to the room saying along the way: "I wonder what the people in Room 7 would like. Hello? Anybody home in there? No answer. I guess they want me to make their bed." Then the Car Attendant went back to singing while he made their beds!
More sample conversations: Passenger: "Can we get things from the Dining Car and bring them back to our room." Car Attendant: "Tell me what you want. I have to get it for you. What would you like." Passenger: "Do they have any muffins or something like that?" Car Attendant: "Yes, actually they have little muffins in the Parlor Car. I'll go get a few for you." The Car Attendant then proceeded to get the muffins for the passenger and also brought some coffee to their room. The Car Attendant also let people move from the even side of the Sleeper to the Odd Side if they wanted that view. One passenger asked: "We'll be able to move to the other side of the train for the ocean view?" The Car Attendant said: "Well, let's see what I have." He checked his manifest and found that he had no more empty rooms on the Ocean View side. He went and checked with Car Attendants in the other Sleeping Cars and found empty ocean view rooms for everyone that wanted them! That is very unusual! No matter how nice the Car Attendant, they usually find passenger requests to change to an Ocean View room troublesome. Often this train will be full and there just isn't any way to honor that request. It can become a very bad incident if their travel agent had promised them a room with the view of the ocean. Amtrak reservations at 1-800-USA-RAIL will tell you it is impossible to tell from the computer which are ocean view rooms. Believe me, from over a dozen trips on the Coast Starlight, the ocean view has ALWAYS been from the even numbered rooms going north and the odd numbered rooms going south (even up, odd down)!
I thought it was really nice of him to arrange for ocean view rooms for all of his passengers that wanted them, even going so far as to find empty rooms in other Sleeping Cars. This Sleeping Car attending has already placed himself into a category above and beyond my usual 1 to 10 rating system!
Some Car Attendants get very upset when passengers move into the undisturbed nice clean sleeping rooms that are all set for the next reservation, even though the room is empty for this trip. Don't be too concerned if you are on the wrong side of the trip for any views. You can always go to either the Parlor Car or the Sightseer Observation Lounge to get a view out either side of the train at any time.
It is now 8:52 A.M. and the power has gone off in the Oakland Train Yard. The Car Attendant said we are adding an additional Coach Car here to handle all the people going from San Francisco to Los Angeles and then further south to the cities between Los Angeles and San Diego.
Sunday, 9:30 A.M. (Pacific Time), 11/17/96, Oakland, California
We are at one of my favorite places along the Coast Starlight route. First, I love going slowly right down the middle of Second Street seeing the buildings, people, and even cars on each side of the train. Jack London Square and even the Amtrak station is all so new that it gives a vibrant accent to travel by train. There are so many abandoned and run down historic stations along the route that I sometimes feel like I'm in the Twilight Zone. Everything is new here and it definitely gives the impression that there is still life associated with train travel!
I also love the flurry of activity at the Oakland Jack London Square Amtrak Station. A lot of people get on here from San Francisco and a number of bags need to be transferred to the train from the thruway bus from San Francisco. The train is scheduled to arrive here at 9:20 A.M., but often arrives 10 or 15 minutes earlier than that. The train isn't scheduled to leave until 9:35 A.M. Thus, I usually have plenty of time to step outside, explore the station, and walk the length of the entire train with time still to spare!
The Car Attendant is now walking up and down the corridor saying: "Ladies and Gentlemen, that was beautiful downtown Oakland. What a place, what a town! The next stop will be beautiful downtown San Jose. What a place, what a town!" He continues to repeat this a couple of times walking down the corridor. I find this entertaining and it is obviously just for entertainment. If the Car Attendant seriously wanted everyone to hear these announcements, he would have done them over the intercom. But in reality, the train stops in neither "downtown" Oakland nor San Jose. The Amtrak stations are quite a ways from the actual "downtown" of both those cities, though maybe within a brisk 20 minute walk of the stations.
The Coast Starlight is so much more enjoyable now than last year when it ran on a schedule that was suppose to put it into Los Angeles 2 hours earlier. A year ago I would often board the Coast Starlight in San Jose and it always seemed so dead! The coffee would be turned off, the train would be as quiet as a cemetery, the Car Attendants would seem worn out, the Parlor Car appeared closed up, and the Dining Car would reluctantly serve lunch at noon. Dinner was not served since the train was scheduled to arrive into Los Angeles too early for dinner. That train was very late into Los Angeles more than 70% of the time and that made crew and passengers even more dour!
The new schedule has the Coast Starlight leaving Seattle, Washington about 2 hours later than the old schedule. I think the onboard staff is able to get a little more sleep and come to work with a much better attitude. Since the train now arrives into Los Angeles 2 hours later, dinner is served and the entire train is now alive throughout the day. The staff no longer packs up early and pretends the San Jose to Los Angeles segment is the last leg of the journey. Everything on the train now seems just as alive as the first day of the trip! Plus, by scheduling the Coast Starlight 2 hours later, it no longer has to play "leapfrog" with all the rushhour Metrolink and freight traffic that made the Coast Starlight a guaranteed late performer. The Coast Starlight now arrives into Los Angeles 86% on-time or early!
The only drawback to the new schedule is that it no longer makes a connection with the Southwest Chief, which leaves 40 minutes before the official arrival time of the Coast Starlight. Under the old schedule, the Coast Starlight was late so often, that this connection presented a problem and put everyone's nerves on edge, staff and passengers alike. Most of the time it meant the Southwest Chief had to be held which would get that train off to a late start. Many times the Coast Starlight was so late that passengers would have to get off in Santa Barbara and be bussed to San Bernardino to catch up with the Southwest Chief. Under the new schedule, there are no frayed nerves about this connection because this connection is completely gone unless you want a 23 hour layover in Los Angeles! I'll let you decide for yourself if the improved service and performance was worth the loss of this connection. It is just a shame that Amtrak's Chicago Intercity unit is not willing to move the Southwest Chief up to a 10:30 P.M. departure time to preserve that connection. The Coast Starlight does still provide a connection to the Sunset Limited and the Texas Eagle which depart Los Angeles as a combined train 3 days each week at 10:30 P.M. One train goes to Florida and the other to Chicago.
Sunday, 11:19 A.M. (Pacific Time), 11/17/96, Gilroy, California
Gilroy, California, self-proclaimed "garlic capitol" of the world. The Coast Starlight doesn't stop here, but you can get off in San Jose and transfer to a CalTrain that will take you to Gilroy.
Heards of cows can be seen outside the window including many newborn calfs. After checking around my Coast Starlight Sleeping Car, I found that most of the rooms are empty. Evidently there are enough people traveling by coach that they needed to add an extra coach before Oakland. I'm a bit disappointed by the lack of Sleeping Car passengers. Maybe it is the lull before the holidays. Almost all Amtrak trains get totally sold out, both Coach and Sleepers for the holidays. I was thinking the Sleepers would be fairly full from people returning home from the weekend. Then, I realized that people returning on Sunday from Seattle and Portland will be on the next Coast Starlight and not this one. Another Coast Starlight did leave Seattle this morning and will pass through Portland today. The only Sunday passengers that I should expect to see in Sleepers are those that boarded the train around Sacramento. Not many of those get a Sleeper since it is only a day trip to the end of the line.
It is raining hard outside and the visibility isn't too good. I don't mind. I've seen this route many, many times. I like to see the rain since rain is so infrequent in southern California. I like to see the way the rain beads up on the windows of my room. Since I moved to California, I miss the smell in the air from frequent rain showers. The hills and trees are soaked and when passing through towns, I like to look at the wet streets and watch the rain splashing into puddles and the windshields of cars. It is so much more enjoyable watching the rain from the train than trying to drive through it in a car.
Sunday, 3:26 P.M. (Pacific Time), 11/17/96, San Luis Obispo, California
I almost went into full cardiac arrest! We arrived into San Luis Obispo 40 minutes ahead of schedule at 2:50 P.M. I was wandering around the station. I came out of the station and noticed my train had all its doors closed and was slowly pulling out at about 3:15 P.M., 15 minutes ahead of schedule. I know that trains ARE NOT allowed to leave ahead of schedule, but that didn't stop me from going into full panic of the train leaving without me! It turns out that the northbound Coast Starlight was just pulling in and my train had to pull out of the way so passengers could get on and off of the southbound train. My train did stop once it had almost pulled completely out of the station.
I got onto the very last coach car of the train and walked all the way through the train up to my Sleeping Car. There are 4 Coach Cars on this train and they appear to be almost booked solid with an occasional empty seat here and there. Looks like this Coast Starlight has plenty of Coach passengers. They just need to get more to upgrade to Sleepers.
I had lunch with that same Director from TRAC again, and with a career fisherman and a college history major from San Luis Obispo. I probably should be writing a human interest story at this point, but I'm not going to. I don't drink very often since I'm usually the designated driver, but on a train I don't have to worry about that. I have no car at the Amtrak station waiting for me, so there is very little chance I'll be doing any driving today at all. Thus, I've had a little more to drink than what I usually allow myself. In this weakened state, I will tell you more about myself than I might usually allow. I really have no interest in writing human interest stories. If you want to write one from your train travels and submit it to me, I'm more than happy to post it. Personally, despite how interesting my discussions in the dinner on the train, it does not usually generate enough excitement in me to jot it down. That just isn't the part about Rail Travel that gets me excited. I usually look at it as a chore to go back to my room and relay the dinner conversation, even when it has been particularly entertaining. Keep in mind, this is a rare glimpse of my personality. When I'm a bit more sober, I may have to come back and erase this part. I'm not sure I can ever turn these travelogues into a book that can be published without following the mold and making it one human interest story after another connected by the common experience of all the participants of the rail journey.
Sunday, 8:06 P.M. (Pacific Time), 11/17/96, Simi Valley, California
I had dinner with the crew of a freight train deadheading back to Los Angeles from San Luis Obispo. Also at our table was a person that used to make films. He said he tries to take one long distance Amtrak trip each year. One of the freight crew was a locomotive engineer and the other was a conductor. Mostly we discussed the merger of the Southern Pacific with the Union Pacific.
Sunday, 10:08 P.M. (Pacific Time), 11/17/96, Fullerton, California
We arrived into Los Angeles at about 8:30 P.M., about 45 minutes ahead of schedule as I had expected. That person that I spoke about earlier who flew from San Jose to Los Angeles to make his connection to the Southwest Chief probably made the correct decision. The Southwest Chief must have pulled out of the station just moments before we arrived.
The Coast Starlight has been providing through service to San Diego for one week now. Unfortunately, the Sleeping Cars go no further south than Los Angeles. Just before pulling into the station in Los Angeles, an announcement was made that those going south of Los Angeles should proceed to the last two Coach Cars. Only the last two Coach Cars were suppose to go south from Los Angeles. Actually, they sent the last three Coach Cars south because there were so many people going south from Los Angeles.
I put on my backpack and grabbed my one carry-on bag and carried it through the train to the next to last Coach Car. I had to wait for the people getting off in Los Angeles to get off the train before I could find an empty seat. People in the Sleeping Cars that had more luggage than I, ignored the announcement to move to the last two Coach Cars. It would be almost impossible to go through the train with more luggage than what I was carrying. Instead, the Sleeping Car Attendants helped them off the train with their luggage and they moved down the platform to the last two Coach Cars. Red Caps were also available to help those that needed it. Personally, I wanted to walk through the train to the last two Coaches so that I could really say that I took the Coast Starlight all the way from Sacramento through to Fullerton without getting off the train!
Since the Coach Cars were pulled off the back of the train on down to San Diego, the Coach Cars ran backwards! This is very unusual for Superliner Coach Cars. Superliner Coach Cars are almost always pulled forward so that passengers are facing forward. Since they didn't want to waste time turning around the Coach Cars at night and then again in the morning, they just have the Coach Cars travel down to San Diego facing backwards. That will leave the Coach Cars facing in the correct direction when they come back up on the morning train.
Believe it or not, this is the first time I had ever traveled in Superliner Coach Class! I've traveled in the Superliner Coach before, but not as "Coach Class". The San Diegans Express Train uses a Superliner Coach as their "Custom Class" car and I have traveled in that before. I only did that once since I found that I like the Amtrak California Cars regular coach seating better than the first class seating. The regular coach seating on the Amtrak California Cars offers tables and several single seats with large window views. I like those seating options more than the big reclining chairs in the Superliner Coach Cars.
If the Coast Starlight arrives into Los Angeles at the scheduled time at 9:15 P.M., there is just a 20 minute wait for the train to continue south. Since there is a lot of padding in the schedule, the Coast Starlight often arrives as much as 45 minutes early. That means, we had an hour wait before the train left to continue south! It is connections like this that make me seriously consider driving and parking at the Los Angeles station. If I had my car at the station, I could have been home before the train left Los Angeles Union Station!
What would be great is if this southbound train was exclusively for dropping off people that arrived on the Coast Starlight. If that was the case, then the train could continue south regardless of the arrival time into Los Angeles. If the Coast Starlight arrived early, it could continue early out of the station. If the train arrived late, there would still be no problem since the train would just continue south from whatever time it arrived into Los Angeles. I thought that might be the purpose of running the Coast Starlight south to San Diego. Evidently, that isn't the reason they eliminated the change of trains to the San Diegan train. I'm not sure why they eliminated the connection other than to make more train sets available to the San Diegan line.
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