Amtrak Coast Starlight
Travelogue and Photos by Steve Grande
California Rail 2000
Fullerton to Sacramento, California
November 14 - 17, 1996
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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 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
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
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
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.
- Sleeping Car Attendant: Donald Gilliard (I would rate a 12 on a scale of 1 to 10!)
- Sleeping Car Attendant: Carol (very dilligent)
- Chief Of Onboard Services: Donald E. Fullman (?)
- Entertainer: Tim (T-Bone, the Jester)
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