Steve's Winter Wonderland Rail Journey
Monday through Wednesday, Jan. 27 - 29, 1997
Steve's Winter Wonderland Rail Journey - Third Segment: Travel on the Amtrak Desert Wind from Chicago, Illinois to Fullerton, California.
Boarded the train and we are off on time! It is snowing lightly in Chicago and everything is covered with a thin layer of snow. It also has been snowing over the past several days so that anything that wasn't cleared of snow prior to this snow flurry is now covered in a few inches of snow. I think snow makes the scenery that much more appealing.
Ooops! We have stopped at the Metra Stone Avenue Station. This is not a normal Amtrak Station. We've only been traveling for 15 minutes and we already have problems.
About 10 minuts ago I noticed my computer screen intensity go up and down a couple of times. That usually indicates the AC power is down. I looked over to my AC power transformer and noticed the green light had gone out. The AC power on the train was definitely out! I checked the reading lights in my room and they weren't working. I checked the full room light and the night light and those were working, though I think the full room light is much dimmer than usual. They must be powered by the DC power system on the train which has a large bank of battery backups.
Having just been in the maintenance facility I noticed that what they use is Nickel-Cadmium Batteries. Huge versions of the type of rechargable batter that you use in your camcorder and cellular phones. The ones on the train are bigger than even car batteries and the train uses several of them. I had asked if they had the same "memory" problem as the little rechargable batteries and they sure do! For proper use, they are suppose to drain them down before recharging them.
I turned on my scanner. The Conductor, Engineer and Dispatcher were all talking on 161.100. I was able to follow the attempt to fix the problem blow by blow. Something is seriously wrong with the Head End Power (HEP) System. Whenever they try to turn the circuit on it makes little explosions. We are now pulling into the Main One Congress Park. Ooops! The Engineer was heading to Congress Park but just found out that Congress Park is behind us! He just brought the train to a stop and now we are backing up and heading back to Congress Park.
The Chief of Onboard Services just made an announcement about the electrical problem and that we would be holding the train in Congress Park until people from Amtrak's mechanical department get here to repair the problem. Personally I don't mind these adventures on Amtrak. They give me something extra to write about. However, I do know that these events do nothing to improve the impression that passengers and the public have of Amtrak. Actually, if we end up with no more and no less than a one to three hour delay getting to Fullerton, the timing will be ideal for me. I need to take a Metrolink to Anaheim and the scheduled arrival of this train is much too early to make that connection.
We are about 10 minutes west of Chicago Union Station. The Dispatcher just asked our Engineer if help has arrived yet. It hasn't. The Dispatcher is going to call the Mechanical Department and let them know that help hasn't arrived at the train yet. The Dispatcher and the Engineer keep refering to this train as one thousand five. I know what the five refers to. This is train number five from Chicago to Salt Lake City, and then the part from Salt Lake City to Los Angeles gets called train number 35. I don't know what the "one thousand" part of the name refers to. I'll have to see if I can find that out.
We are sitting next to a couple of cabooses in the Congress Park Yard. There seem to be some people in them. I don't know if the people in them work there, live there, or both. I saw a green Burlington Northern pickup truck pull up next to the caboose near the train. I was wondering if those were the repair people they sent. I couldn't understand why they would send BNSF repair people when the Amtrak repair yard was just 10 minutes down the road. I got my answer when the person got out of the truck and carries several bags of groceries from the truck into the caboose! I guess that wasn't the repair people we were waiting for.
The Engineer called over the radio to the Conductor and asked if they had any hot coffee available. The Conductor replied: "No, we can't make any. You won't give us any electricity, remember!" The Engineer then replied in humor: "We tried to give it to you, but you just won't take it!" which refered to the circuit breaker blowing every time they try to throw it.
The train crew decided to bypass the problem so the train will at least have electricity while waiting for the Amtrak Mechanical Department people to arrive. Their first attempt at this didn't go so well. When they tried to bring up the power, it went right back down. They are going to try and cut out the first car from the circuit and apply power to the second car.
Here they go again! They got it up this time. I've got power to my room again. I guess they had to bypass both Coach Cars. The Coach Cars do not have power. It must be starting to get cold in there! The Chief announced that Coach passengers can move up to the Sightseer Lounge Car if they wish. The Lounge Car does have power, light and heat. The Lounge Car Cafe Attendant also announced that food and drinks were available for purchase and are now being served. The Mechanical Department people are still not here yet, but the Dispatcher has assured us that they are still on the way. The Dispatcher has assumed the delay is the weather and road conditions. Traffic is probably adding to the delay since we are about 14 miles from the yard, but most likely it took them a while to leave the yard while they hunted up some of the tools and supplies they needed to take with them.
There is a freight train that wants to get into the Congress Park Yard and we are evidently in the way. They waited us for a while, but I might have heard something about another way into the yard that they could use.
Still here, and nobody from the Amtrak Mechanical Department has shown up yet! The Engineer and Conductor are getting a bit concerned because they are going to go "dead" before they get to the end of their run. That means they will have put in as many hours as they are allowed to by law in one day and have to be relieved by a new crew. I think the Conductor and Engineer brought a train in today from Galesburg and was suppose to just take this train back as far as Galesburg. The Dispatcher is already in the process of getting another crew together to relieve this Engineer and Conductor before their hours run out.
I can hear some of the Amtrak staff complaining that somebody in Amtrak made a bad decision and they should have just sent us back into the Chicago Mechanical Yard rather than put us here waiting for the Mechanical Yard people to come to us. Fortunately, the Sleeping Car Attendant just brought up the topic to the others that it really isn't appropriate to be second guessing Amtrak's decision in front of passengers. I don't mind listening in on employee opinions and criticism of their own company's operations, but he is right.
It sounds like the people from the Mechanical Department just arrived. The Lounge Car Attendant just announced that there will be no movies on this train because they don't have a video monitor. They usually do have movies, but I guess the one on the Lounge Car of this train broke and they didn't have any replacements available in Chicago.
We have full power! Looks like it only took the Mechanical Department people 25 minutes to repair the problem once they got here. The Conductor has made contact with the Dispatcher to let her know that Train 5 (California Zephy & Desert Wind) is ready to go. The Dispatcher want to know what the problem had been. The problem was reported as a "Power Cable into Car 31517 had shorted."
We're moving again! My Sleeping Car Attendant has set up Room 1 as a "hospitality suite." He has all sorts of soft drinks, bottled water, orange juice, cups and ice in there. He also has freshly brewed hot coffee available in the coffee service area at the center of the car. The Car Attendant also put out some literature in Room 1 that is usually placed by the table of each room. There is a sealed packet containing the history of the Zephyr along with writing paper, an envelope and a post card. There is also a "Guest Services Directory" and a new "Welcome Aboard - Things You Should Know" single page with the items available from the Cafe Lounge Car listed on the back. I had never seen that single page before and it doesn't refer to any specific train on that flier. Maybe Amtrak plans to hand that out on all trains in the near future. Not wanted to miss out on anything, I took one of each.
Unfortunately, the Sleeping Car Attendant has not set out any schedules nor any route guides for the passengers. I sometimes overhear people talking and they are totally confused as to when we will be arriving where, when to set our clocks back, and have no idea what sights will be appearing when. If you have obtained an Amtrak schedule and Route Guide from a previous trip on the route you are about to take, bring it along! Quite often these items will not be available on the train. Sometimes you can find the schedule available at the station or you can ask the ticket agent for a copy of the schedule or the latest National Timetable. I have never seen copies of the route guides anywhere but on the train. If I have a copy of the route guide for the trip you plan to take in the Routes Section of TrainWeb, then do print it out and take it with you! For some routes I have both the older and newer version of the Amtrak Route Guides posted. The older versions might be out of date when it comes to describing the services on the train, but those older versions have a lot more detail about the sights you will see along the route!
The Engineer has reported to the Conductor that he is going to have to go back to the second Engine in Naperville because the second Engine is not getting up to track speed.
I guess the problem of the second engine not getting up to track speed wasn't too serious as we didn't stay in Naperville very long. Just as we pulled into Naperville, they had the first call for dinner in the Dining Car. So far today I had once slice of leftover Stuffed Deep Dish Healthy Heart Spinach Chicago Pizza for breakfast (left over from the 3 slices I had for dinner last night!) and a free bran muffin in Amtrak's Chicago Metropolitan Lounge. So, I was pretty hungry for dinner and headed down there for the first call.
While I have a chance, let's go back and talk about boarding in Chicago. I arrived in the Chicago Union Station just before 8 A.M this morning. I went to the Luggage Locker area that I had explored yesterday. You can fit just about any size luggage in those lockers! They have lockers of all sizes. You have to pay for the lockers for every half-hour of use. The larger the locker, the more you pay. I had to use the largest locker to fit both my rolling suitcase and my backpack. You pay 75 cents to get the locker open to start with. Then, you put your items in and lock the door. The electronic locker mechanism then prints out a slip with your locker number and the secret code that you need to open you locker when you come to get your luggage. The largest locker, the one that I had to use, cost $1.25 per half-hour up to a maximum of $7.50. I think that $7.50 was the maximum for all of the lockers.
There is an Attendant just for the luggage lockers and there are many change machines to turn $1 and $5 bills into quarters. The luggage lockers themselves only take quarters. I didn't want to wait until just before my train to find out that I'd have problems getting quarters. I don't know how difficult it would be to get my luggage if the change machines ran out of quarters later in the day. Maybe they never run out of quarters, but I didn't want to take a chance. Thus, I made change for two $5 bills so that I would have $7.50 in quarters if I later needed that much. For future reference, be aware that many change machines will not change all $5 bills. There is a year for $5 bills, I think it is 1985, that many change machines thinks are counterfeit. They will give you the $5 bill back, but they won't make change. I first discovered this problem at the change machines for the Light Rail Vehicles (LRV) in San Jose, California. They have a bulletin and appology for the change machines not accepting those bills. True to form, the Luggage Locker change machines rejected about half the $5 bills that I tried to change. It took me a short while to fine two in my wallet that it would accept.
After storing my luggage, I went to the Amtrak ticket counter and picked up a hot coffee along the way at one of the stands in the station. I sat at a fountain near the Ticket Counter where there were plenty of seats. I had a free "USA Today" that I picked up at the hotel and read that for about the next hour. The person that I was to meet arrived at about 9 A.M. That was the start of my tour of Amtrak's Intercity Mechanical Facility which is covered in a travelogue all by itself.
(Note: That travelogue is not written yet and will probably wait until the 6 rolls of film I shot at the Amtrak Intercity Mechanical Facility have been developed and uploaded to the web. I need those photos to help me remember and write about the entire experience. I will post a link to that travelogue on the "What's New" page as soon as I write it.)
After my tour of Amtrak's Mechanical Facility, I returned to Union Station at a bit after 1 P.M. I went to the luggage area and redeemed my luggage for $6.25. I then went to the Amtrak Metropolitan Lounge, checked in, got my boarding pass, stored my suitcase in the special "carry-on" area, and found a seat. I also poured myself some of the free coffee and took a free bran muffin. I had plenty of time to write up an order slip for the 6 rolls of film that I shot at Amtrak's Mechanical Facility and I mailed out the film from a mailbox that I found in the station.
Around 2 P.M., an announcement was made for one person from every party to go see the Conductor at the desk. I was the closest to the desk and reached the Conductor before anyone else was in sight. He tore off my ticket and punched my ticket stub. Around 2:15 P.M., everyone in the Metropolitan Lounge was sent out to board the train. People that needed Red Cap help had already boarded. The rest of the Sleeping Car passengers board next and the Coach passengers board last.
My Car Attendant wasn't there to open the door to my 3530 car, but the 3531 car was open and boarding those passengers. Once all the 3531 car passengers boarded, the Sleeping Car Attendant of that car came down to the 3530 car and opened the door for those of us that were boarding the 3530 car. I dropped off my big rolling suitcase in the luggage rack and headed to my room with my backpack. I had the room set up the way that I like it in no time. It wasn't long before my Sleeping Car Attendant came by and introduced himself.
New problem! The toilets in my Sleeping Car aren't working. The Car Attendant isn't sure if it is low voltage or lack of air pressure. He said they will try to fix it when we get to Omaha, Nebraska which will probably be about 3 A.M. Not a real big problem. The next Sleeping Car has 4 bathrooms and most other cars on the train have additional bathrooms. I guess I'd be pretty disappointed if I had a Deluxe Bedroom and the private bathroom wasn't working, but I only have a Standard (Economy) Bedroom and it isn't much harder to get to the toilet in the next Sleeping Car as the one in this car. This train normally stops in Omaha for about 25 minutes so that it can be serviced, so they might be able to solve the problem then if it isn't too difficult.
I just woke up and I really don't know exactly where we are nor what time it is. We are suppose to have crossed into Mountain Time somewhere soon, but assuming that we remained 2 hours and 40 minutes behind schedule, then we should be somewhere near Hodrege, Nebraska and still on Central Time. I just hear the Car Attendant telling someone about a broken rail up ahead. If that is the case, we could even be much futher behind schedule depending on how long ago the train stopped because of this problem. The train was not moving when I woke up and is still not moving. We are out next to some dried corn fields with a thin layer of snow on the ground.
I heard the Car Attendant tell some of the passengers that there is a broken rail ahead and that we will need to wait here until the broken rail is fixed.
As far as my prediction that this train would probably arrive into southern California 2 hours late and that I wouldn't have long for a Metroling to take me to Anaheim, I don't think that is going to work out. This train will probably get into southern California so late that the Metrolink will already have stopped running for the day! As long as we get to Fullerton, California before about 10 P.M., there will still be one train remaining that I can take to get to Anaheim. Otherwise I'll have to take a cab.
A more important concern is the loss of daylight hours. For the people who expected the grand scenic tour of the Rocky Mountains, this trip is already in trouble. We will probably have hours of daylight before we get to Denver. There isn't any extraordinary scenery heading west before this train gets to Denver. We already have daylight now and that daylight is being wasted on nice but common train scenery. The passengers on this train will get to see a lot of Rocky Mountain scenery west of Denver, but a lot of dramatic scenery will be present right up till sunset. I think some of that dramatic scenery will be in the dark after sunset. The longer we are delayed, the more Rocky Mountain scenery that will be missed.
We just started moving again! I guess they fixed the broken rail. I just returned from breakfast. The Car Attendant is moving people from 2 of the other Standard (Economy) Bedrooms to the next Sleeping Car. He said "This car is shutting down," but I think he meant that figuratively and not literally. The toilets still aren't working in this Sleeping Car so we still have to go to the next car to use the toilets. The main heating went out during the night so the air system is blowing lot of cold air into the center aisle. I suppose it would be blowing lots of cold air into my room too if I didn't have the vent closed. The door at the end of the car that leads to the next Sleeping Car opens when you push the button, but then doesn't close afterwards. Because of that, the door has been open and letting more cold air in from outside all night. Every time I go through I give the door a little help to close and then it closes the rest of the way by itself.
I do believe the temperature control in the bedroom does control the vent directly under each window. Since it was getting chilly before I went to bed, I had closed the overhead air vent and put the temperature control on maximum "Warmer". It is a good thing I did that before I went to bed. That heat is working and the only heat coming into my room is radiating from that vent under the windows. The floor heater that appears to be controlled by the Car Attendant is only giving out a little heat. As long as I leave my overhead air vent closed and my door closed, the heat from the vents under the window are plenty to keep my room just the right temperature! But, I don't dare leave my door open long or I risk losing much of that heat and having to start over to warm up my room. It doesn't seem to take long to warm up such a small space though.
Minden, Nebraska is not on the schedule or in the route guide, but that is the town we are going through. There is also a place here called "Pioneer Village."
I often don't mind a late train since I usually try and put an overnight stay between connecting trains, or in this case, I'm just heading home and a few hours difference isn't critical. The only time I do mind is if there are some specific sights that I wanted to see and photograph and a late train will plunge that scenery into nightfall. Looking at the schedule, I'll be able to see everything I expected to see and a lot more as long as we get to San Bernardino by about 5:00 P.M. Metrolink trains run between my local station and San Bernardino, so I can get photographs along that route anytime. I have never taken the route of the Desert Wind northeast of San Bernardino before and I am hoping to get photographs of the canyons and desert in that area. If we get to San Bernardino before sundown, then I'll have the daylight that I need. We are probably close to 3 hours and 40 minutes behind schedule now and will just make it to San Bernardino in time if we don't lose any more time. On the other hand, we are going to get daylight many hours before Las Vegas and I should be able to see and photograph sights that are usually in darkness before dawn on this route!
I finally have confirmation of exactly where and when we are! We are at the Holdrege, Nebraska Amtrak Station and still in the Central Time Zone. The train was suppose to be here at 4:16 A.M. Central Time, so we are running 5 hours and 18 minutes late! Anybody on this trip to see the sights of the Rocky Mountains is going to be pretty disappointed. We won't be out of Denver, Colorado until about 3:00 P.M. and the sun will set about 2 hours after that. Almost all of the scenery of the Rocky Mountains will be in the dark after sunset. Passengers that have come for those sights might be able to catch some of the Rocky Mountains on the return trip, but arrival into Denver on the eastbound train isn't until 7:10 P.M. Thus, even on the return trip, two hours of the sights west of Denver will still be after sunset.
With our present delay, we won't be getting to San Bernardino until 6:38 P.M. That means that the Cajon Pass will definitely be after sunset, which I've heard is one of the most scenic aspects of these route. Victorville, California is expected to be at about 5:33 P.M. There may still be enough daylight for photography at that time so I can expect to have enough light for everything up to Victorville tomorrow. If we can make up about an hour or so enroute between here and Victorville, then I might still have enough light for the Cajon Pass.
On the other hand, with this delay, we will have daylight many hours before we reach Las Vegas, Nevada. I have Jack Swanson's book, Rail Ventures, and John Pitt's book, USA By Rail, with me and they give some details about the scenery northeast of Las Vegas.
Neither book says much about the scenery near Milford, but they both talk about the Rainbow Canyon and how the Desert Wind travels 26 miles (46km) along the Meadow Valley Wash, flowing into Lake Mead. They mention that there are intriguing rock formations and the train goes through 8 tunnels. The Rainbow Canyon usually cannot be seen from the Desert Wind because of darkness, but this time we should be traveling through it in the light.
Actually, the "old" Amtrak Route Guide for the Desert Wind gives the most details about the scenery along the route between Salt Lake City and Los Angeles. Click here if you would like to view the "old" Amtrak Desert Wind Route Guide now. Don't bother with the new Amtrak Desert Wind Route Guide, it has very few details about any scenery on any part of the route.
If you are wondering what scenery is outside the window since we are not heading through the Rocky Mountains as we were suppose to be doing at this hour, it is all Nebraska farmland. There is miles and miles of Nebraska farmland out the window. That is all I have seen since I woke up a few hours ago. The farmland is very pretty, but about an hour of it would be enough. Each mile looks pretty much the same as the last mile. The farms are just large enough such that you usually catch sight of the next silo, barn or farmhouse before you lose sight of the previous one. Since this is the winter, the fields are all yellow with the dried out stocks of last year's crop. Occasionally you will see cattle grazing in these fields. Small towns quickly drift by from time to time. The train has been moving pretty fast. I don't know if this is the normal speed of the train through these parts of if the crew is trying to make up some time.
We are running 5 hours and 12 minutes late. That means we made up 6 minutes since the last stop. If we can just keep this up for the next 10 stops, we can make up an hour.
I think they got the heat in this car working again. I had to turn the temperature control for my room down because it was starting to get too hot in here. The door at the back of the car seems to be working a little bit better and more people have been manually shutting the door behind them as they go through. The toilets still aren't working in this car and I doubt they are going to get them repaired before this train gets into Los Angeles.
We just passed a building with an "Amtrak Akron" sign on it. It looks like Amtrak once had a station here not that long ago. The sign was one of the red, white and blud signs with the Amtrak logo. The sign was on a small building which must have once been an Amtrak station. We just zipped right past it at a pretty good clip.
I think I might have dozed off for almost an hour. I can see the first signs of the snow covered Rocky Mountains in the background. I took a picture of them far in the distance beyond a farm field lightly covered in snow.
My room is very warm now and there is even the smell of something plastic melting. I looked around and checked my computer stuff to make sure none of my wires are too close to the heat vents. Then I heard someone from one of the Deluxe Rooms saying that there is the smell of something burning in that end of the car. The Car Attendant went to check it out. The smell went away and I haven't heard any more about it. I have had my temperature control on maximum "Cooler", but the vents under the window are still quite warm. Thus, I'm still not sure exactly what that temperature control does control. It was getting so warm that it was getting unpleasant in here. Then I remembered that I had my ceiling vent closed! I opened that up and in a short while the room was back down to a comfortable temperature. Even I have to continue to remember that the way to get the correct temperature is to balance the heat coming up from the vents under the window and near the floor with the cool air that I can let in from the ceiling vent.
We are in the suburbs outside of Denver. The Chief said it should take us about another 20 minutes or so before we get into Denver. The train is stopped right outside a freight yard. I imagine they are waiting for some freight traffic to clear out so that we can pull into the Denver station.
The Car Attendant says the toilets in our Sleeping Car should work again as soon as they fill up our tank with water. How our tank lost its water, I'm not sure. He thinks the reason our toilets stopped is because they froze up when we were stopped for hours to fix the electrical cable and then stopped again to fix the broken rail. I'm not sure why the water would vanish just because a mechanism froze. Since we are filling up with water right here in Denver, I guess we'll find out if that fixes the problem.
I had time to go to the gift shop in the Denver station and pick up 2 rolls of 24 exposure film. I probably won't need them, but I don't like to feel pressured to reduce the number of photos I can take for fear of running out of film.
There is someone running through the train trying to make sure they get off before the train leaves the station. They made it out O.K. Seemed a bit risky to have stayed on as long as they did. Announcements are not always made for visitors to get off the train. I just heard an announcement outside from the station, the last call for people to board this train.
We are pulling out of the station now. We were suppose to pull out of Denver at 9:35 A.M. this morning which means we are 4 hours and 42 minutes late. The place we made up the time was from the slack in the schedule before arrival into Denver. Our scheduled arrival time into Denver was 8:45 A.M. and we arrived at 1:25 P.M. Thus, when we arrived into Denver, we had already reduced our late time to 4 hours and 40 minutes.
We did pull out of the Denver station, but we have stopped underneath the freeway because we are waiting for a long freight train to get out of our way and into the Burlington Northern yard. The Chief just got onto the P.A. system, explained in detail about the delay, explained that the dispatchers down the line will try and put all freights into sidings to keep them out of our way and try to keep us from losing any further time. He also explained, however, that sometimes that isn't possible and that our train will sometimes be put into a siding so that a freight train can get by going the other way. The Chief said that we weren't expecting any further delays and that he would get right on the P.A. system if there would be any change. I have found it rare for the staff to be so candid about the detailed cause of the delays and giving passengers assurance that they will be given a "heads up" on any futher problems.
The freight finally did get out of the way and we were able to move a little bit forward. We are on a curve and I can see the front engine waiting at a red signal.
Some Coach Car passengers that had gotten on in Denver came through our Coach Car looking for the Conductor so they could see what a simple "Pullman" room looked like in case they wanted a more comfortable place to sleep on the way to Las Vegas. My Car Attendant told them that all of our Standard (Economy) Rooms are taken, but there are some available down in the next Sleeping Car. Later, I heard the Conductor talking to someone that those people thought the quote he gave them of about $100 was much too high. The Conductor said he tried to explain to them that the fare included lunch and dinner for both of them today and breakfast and maybe lunch for them tomorrow depending on our arrival time. When you consider the cost of meals for two people in the Dining Car for all those meals, especially looking at beverages, coffee and desert, that is a value of between $50 and $60 right there. The value is even more if they are here for lunch tomorrow. Thus, they are paying less than $40 for the Sleeping Car Bedroom for their trip. That seemed reasonable to the Conductor and it seems reasonable to me too.
There is a lot of talk among the staff on the train about some training class that I think they were suppose to attend after they finish their current trip. I don't know if the class is suppose to be in Los Angeles or Chicago, but evidently they won't make it back in time to attend because of this late train. Each are discussing their options of when they can attend the class and the discussion seems to revolve about how to work it in so that they get more paid hours in. I guess that Amtrak only guarantees them so many hours of work per month. Since this class is mandatory, they don't want to waste their guaranteed time on the class. I guess the trick is to take the class in a month where they have already gotten all their guaranteed hours and then the time they are paid to be in the class will just add onto that. If they take the class in a month where they haven't been given all their guaranteed hours, then the class will count toward those hours and they will be given less hours of work on the train, and thus, bring home less pay for that month.
We were finally able to get past that red signal. They said that a helper engine was being removed from a freight train and we had been waiting for that. So how we doing on time now? We were suppose to leave Denver at 9:35 A.M. and we are finally leaving at 2:52 P.M. We are back to being 5 hours and 17 minutes late again! Looks like that slack built into the schedule in Denver didn't help us catch up at all!
It is already very overcast. Without a clear sky, it is going to get dark very fast when that sun sets.
Some of the staff were talking about sitting in the Dining Car that we are deadheading to Los Angeles, but they said the smell in there was too bad to sit in there. Without the electricity turned on, anything that hasn't been 100% cleaned out would definitely start to smell. It is like a refrigerator that has been emptied out and unplugged. Los Angeles is where they service the Dining Cars, so they will be doing whatever cleaning is necessary so that it is ready to be used again for food preparation.
They just came through for diner reservations. They always start with the Sleeping Cars first. I guess the Steward just stepped out of the Diner and started at the first bedroom in the first Sleeping Car she came to, which is our Sleeping Car. That was good. I made my reservation for 7:00 P.M. because I wanted to take advantage of the flexibility of viewing and photographing the Rocky Mountain scenery during the few hours of daylight that we have remaining. The Dining Car is O.K. for viewing scenery, but I often need the flexibility to move around to get a shot I would like, or to even leave my room and go to a window or the vestibule on the other side of the car. I've missed a lot of good photographs in previous trips because of the inability to take good photographs from the Dining Car. I figure it will be dark by 7:00 P.M. and I won't be able to take any more pictures anyway.
A minute ago we were traveling through the backyards of suburban Denver homes, but these homes looked a lot larger than homes in my neighborhood. I wouldn't call them mansions though. They look like regular tract homes and are packed in about as close together, but the homes were much larger than what I am used to seeing as tract homes. My home is about 3200 square feet. Relative to that, I'd say these homes ranged from 5,000 to 6,000 square feet. A short while later we were going through an area where the homes were quite a bit smaller, but the land around the homes was quite a bit larger!
I haven't been commenting too much for the last 40 minutes or so as I have been awe struck by the view as we climbed up into the Rocky Mountains. I haven't taken too many photographs as I have quite a few from previous trips. I did take some photographs of views that I don't believe I shot. Much of the beauty of the Rocky Mountains is difficult to photograph from a moving train. The view is very impressive being here, but it is hard to capture it on film. Mountains that are a medium distance away can be very impressive when you are there but not look like much on film. Very impressive mountain gorges are sometimes barely seenon film because the foreground is made of grey rock mountain and the background is grey rock mountain. Perhaps a professional photographer would know how to capture the beauty that can be seen from being here live. Take a look at the photos of the Rocky Mountains that I post here, but don't assume that captures the whole experience. You have to take this trip to really be impressed by the experience of going through the Rocky Mountains by train.
The Car Attendant just announced that we have had to shut down the Head End Power because we are having problems with the second locomotive. I guess they need all the power of both locomotives to get us to the top of our climb. They usually shut all the ventilation down for the duration of the Moffat Tunnel anyway so that fumes from the engines aren't blown into the passenger cars. They are going to leave our power off until we get to and through the 6.2 mile long Moffat Tunnel. Once we get to the downgrade, they won't need so much power from the second locomotive and hope to be able to restore Head End Power (HEP) to the passenger cars. I was right about the main overhead light. It lights up the room brightly when we have AC power but becomes a dimmer emergency light operated by the DC batteries when the AC power is out. All other lights in my room must be AC as none of them work without the AC power. I'm glad the battery power to my notebook computer takes over when the AC goes out!
Power just got restored to the Passenger Cars and we haven't gotten to the Moffat Tunnel yet. However, we are moving a lot faster and appear to be on a downgrade. I guess we didn't need all that second engine has to give once we got out of the steep climb.
We are now in the Moffat Tunnel. The air from the ceiling vent is still blowing into my room. I'm not sure if my Car Attendant turned off the ventilation as he was asked to do by the Chief to prevent engine fumes from being pumped into the car. The last time I went through this tunnel, the Car Attendant completely shut down the ventilation system. Maybe the Car Attendant was able to switch from "Outside Air" to "Recirculate Inside Air". I hope so. With the way the temperature in this car has been swinging between extreme cold and extreme hot, I don't have a lot of faith that the Car Attendant has a good grasp of how the ventilating system works.
To avoid unnecessary discomfort, I have closed my ceiling vent and closed the door to my bedroom. If the ventilation is blowing engine fumes into the car, it will take a little bit longer to seep into my room!
This is a snow covered beautiful little town up in the mountains. You can see the snow covered peaks of the mountains and the forests at the outskirts of town right from the train in the station. You can even see much of the town right from the train. We were here 3 minutes and we are rolling again! Looks like they are going to try the best they can to make up some of that late running. The last time I was here was on the California Zephyr and we arrived early. I was able to get off the train that time and walk around for several minutes. I had a chance to take quite a few photos of this area the last time through. Looks like we are now running 5 hours and 26 minutes behind schedule so we have actually lost another 9 minutes in that climb into the Rockies.
We seem to have stopped. No explanation has been given yet. We started moving again at 5:13 P.M. and I still don't know the reason for the stop. No train seems to have passed us. The sun has set behind the mountains and the lighting is starting to drop. The quality of any further pictures taken outside through the window would definitely be questionable. Until tomorrow morning, I'll probably restrict my picture taking to indoor shots and just those outdoor views that are worth the risk. There is a good chance that there might be none of either.
We were in and out of that station in less than a minute! Since we were suppose to be leaving here at 12:00 Noon, we are now exactly 5 hours and 31 minutes late. The train has lost another 5 minutes, probably from that stop we made a while back with no reason supplied. I can still enjoy the view outside, but it is getting darker and darker every minute. It would not be possible to take pictures of anything outside anymore. Soon, it will be so dark outside that I will have to turn off all lights in my room and close the curtain in order to see anything outside. I'm not sure that will even help. I don't know how much moonlight there will be, but the sky is fairly overcast. Making the room as dark as possible works great for looking out at cities and towns since there is a lot of sources of light outside the train, but the moon is the only source of light outside the train when going through the mountains at night.
The eastbound California Zephyr just passed us. Looks like they are running about one and three-quarter hours late. They should have been into Granby at 4:00 P.M. Our train has slowed down a lot. Once again, I don't know why, but we are barely rolling. Spoke too soon! Looks like we are speeding up again. There are the sensor wires outside the window that are used to detect falling rocks. If a rock falls on the tracks, it would have to break a wire to get to the tracks. A broken wire will then turn a signal red and the Engineer would have to get out and investigate. I imagine that can create quite a delay. They would probably have to get some special equipment up here to push the rock off the tracks. Even if it was a small boulder, I don't think safety procedures would allow the locomotive to just move ahead and push it off the tracks.
Since we were suppose to arrive here at 3:15 in the afternoon, that means that we are now running 5 hours and 53 minutes late. Looks like we continue to lose more time the longer we get along our route!
The termperature in my room feels like a sweltering 100 degrees or better and the window and floor heating is continuing to produce heat. The air vent is blowing in some cool air, but not enough to offset the heaters. As usual, I have my temperature control set to maximum "Cooler" where it has been just about all day. I was going to call the Car Attendant, but when I stood up to check the ceiling air vent, I noticed that the temperature near the upper bunk was just about right. If anything it was a bit on the cool side near the window. I know that I felt a little like I was sleeping in a refrigerator last night and everyone complained about how cold it was. Maybe this car has soom serious heating problems and the Car Attendant has to set it up this hot near the seats in order to get the beds to a comfortable temperature.
I'll sit with it for a while and see how it goes. After a couple of glasses of wine with dinner, I was pretty tired and went to sleep before 10 P.M. After 4 hours of sleep and having gone to bed early, I don't feel tired at all now, but I know it will hit me in a couple of hours and I'll need to get 2 or 3 more hours of sleep. This is why I usually sleep on the top bunk and leave my computer set up at all times down below. I feel like I have a whole suite instead of just a bedroom: upstairs is my bed and downstairs I have 2 chairs and a table with my computer set up. I can sleep or work whenever I want without setting anything up or tearing anything down!
Most of the time I leave my computer plugged into the "120 Volts Razon Only" A.C. outlet. I think notebook computers are fairly impervious to power fluctuations and other "dirty power" problems because the AC is immediately turned into low voltage D.C. by a transformer. Between the transformer and the battery power to the notebook PC, I don't think the dirty power problems get to the PC. I've never had a problem with power on the train, but don't necessarily take my word for it. I wouldn't want any of you blaming me for having burnt up your computer on the train! Personally, I would not hesitate to plug in any notebook computer into the train's power unless that PC did not have an external transformer such that I could verify that the notebook is being powered by low voltage D.C.
I'd check with someone professional before plugging a notebook computer that fed A.C. directly into the computer without first going through an external transformer that converted it to low voltage D.C. Such a transformer could be "built in" on your computer, but I would first verify that with an expert or else bring along the best power protection A.C. adapter that you can buy. I'm sure the voltage on the train does vary quite a bit with a wonderful assortment of spikes. I think the "Razor Only" notice is strictly to prevent Amtrak from being held liable for damage to your equipment, not to protect the train's electrical system from damage by your equipment. I've seen Car Attendants tell people to go ahead and use their 1200 watt hairdryers in that outlet! If the outlet can handle that, then it surely can handle the few watts required by your notebook computer!
The power source on the train that provides electricity to your room is the Head End Power (HEP). This is the same power source that provides the electricity throughout the train to power all A.C. devices including all the room and water heaters, air conditioners, most of the lighting, and everything used in the kitchen to cook your food! With all this electrical power on the train, there is plenty to run your notebook computer. There is a low amperage circuit breaker protecting that "Razor Outlet" from drawing too much current, but if a hair dryer or razor isn't going to blow that circuit breaker, than transformers for notebook computers and cellular phone rechargers aren't going to do it either. I wouldn't suggest plugging in any sort of delicate electrical equipment that doesn't run off an A.C. to D.C. transformer or using a good power filter, but the train itself does have televisions, VCR's, and tape or CD players plugged into the train's A.C. power. I don't know if they use filters or not. Maybe they don't and maybe they blow out their TVs and VCRs frequently. Maybe that is why there is no background music and there are no TV monitors on this particular train to show movies, though most Amtrak trains do have monitors, do show movies and do have background music on 2 of the channels in each room.
I don't understand the power of the train at a very detailed level, but it is my understanding that the diesel engines are used to operate electrical generators. The electricity generated is then used to directly drive the train. Thus, most engines today are "electro-motive" and operate by the electricity produced by the diesel engine rather than having the power of the diesel engine be mechanically linked to directly power the wheels. In cars and trucks, the engine is mechanically linked to the driving wheels via a drive shaft. Most trains you see today are powered by electricity, but the generator to make that electricity is right inside the engine itself. Also, I believe it is this same electricity that is used to power all the A.C. electrical systems on the train. That is why they needed to shut down all A.C. power on the train when our second engine was having difficulty generating enough power to help pull the train up the steep climb into the Rocky Mountains. That extra A.C. power could be applied to help drive the wheels on the train.
I'm guessing that the place we just stopped was Helper, Utah. There were a few engines sitting on a side track which may have been those "helper" engines needed by freight trains to help them over the Rocky Mountains. Also, if we are running almost 6 hours late, then the timing is right for this to be Helper, Utah. Unfortunately, since we were suppose to be here at 8:25 P.M., that would make us 6 hours and 23 minutes late. The only other option is that last stop being Provo, Utah, but it seemed too small and deserted to be a city of that size. Also, we would had to have made up quite a bit of time to have arrived in Provo that early; the train would only be 2 hours and 18 minutes late and there is no way it could have made up that much time!
We just left Provo, Utah. We didn't even stop for one minute. Probably nobody getting off or on. The train is currently 6 hours and 17 minutes behind schedule. I'm going to head back to bed and get a bit more sleep before sunrise. I got a bit of work done on the computer, but feel this would be a good time to get a bit more sleep. Those heaters are still blasting hot air into this room, but the upstairs bunk seems a bit cooler. Just another hint: I closed the top bunk while I was working. Getting the overhanging bunk out of the way seemed to allow more of the cool air from the ceiling vent to reach the lower area of the room and I was comfortable while I did my work. Now that I have lowered the top bunk again, it is quickly starting to get warm in this area again! Lowering the top bunk effectively diverts the flow of cool air into that top bunk area and blocks much of the heat rising from the room heaters which are all below the level of the window. Basically, the bunk divides the room into a cold section and a hot section. You might want to keep that in mind if you are traveling with someone and one of you likes it cool and one of you likes it warm when you sleep.
Still in Utah! We must have entered Utah just after midnight last night and almost none hours later, we are still in Utah! I awoke about an hour ago, just before the first call to breakfast, and I have just returned from breakfast. I've had the scrambled eggs and the vegetable omlette on previous days each served with hash browns and a biscuit and they were quite good. I did too much talking on the second day and the hash browns were cold before I got to much of them! Today I had the pancakes. Nothing special, but then, I'm not sure it is easy to either ruin or make pancakes something special.
Outside the train is desert, or at least what is considered desert in these parts. I see endless land covered with dried out scrub brush. In the very far distance is hills and mountains, some covered with snow. Actually, we just left an area where much of the desert was covered with a thin layer of snow! For a while we were in an area where people had carved a number of ranches and farms out of the desert. This looks like it could be turned into good agricultural land with irrigation. Occasionally there are roads near the tracks and sometimes a road will head off perpendicular to the tracks straight into the distance as far as the eye can see. Once in a while I see a sign along these roads, but I've only seen one car on the road so far.
We had been moving at our maximum allowed speed of 79 miles per hour for a long long time, but now we have stopped again for just a minute. A freight train is passing us and I'm sure we'll be going back up to maximum speed as soon as that freight train gets by. I overheard people saying how we will make up time going this fast. Actually, I think the train is expected to go this fast along this stretch and I don't think this speed is going to make up any of our lost time.
My guess as to where we were when I awoke this morning was correct, but now I know for sure. We just stopped at the station for a moment and are now heading on again. The train is 5 hours and 45 minutes behind schedule. Looks like we made up some time. Most likely there was some slack built into the schedule before arrival into Salt Lake City and then we probably didn't stay in Salt Lake City for the full one hour that this train usually sits there. Here is where we set our watches back one hour to Pacific Time. There is about another hour of travel before we get to some interesting scenery just before Caliente, Nevada.
I got quite a few good shots of Rainbow Canyon along the Meadow Valley Wash. I think that the towering moutains beside the track along with the unusual colors and rock formations would compete with some of the beauty of canyons in the Rocky Mountains. Not too much is made of this scenery in any of the route guides since this area is usually traversed by the Desert Wind at night in both directions. Thus, the only time passengers would get to see this area is in the longest of summer days just after dusk and when a train heading west is very very late like this one.
The Car Attendant set up Room 1 right across from me as a "Hospitality Suite" again. He has wine & cheese, bread, fruit and cookies. I waited for the line to go away before I stepped across the aisle to get some for myself The bread and cheese was excellent. Though a little early in the day for wine for me, it was a light white wine, so I took some anyway.
I think we left the Las Vegas station at about 2:10 P.M., so we were in and out in about 12 minutes. That means we are now running 5 hours and 50 minutes behind schedule. At least we've dropped below 6 hours behind schedule. We are also probably back to moving at 79 mph.
I skipped lunch. That "hospitality suite" was enough food for me for lunch!
Off to my right was the Genstar Company which crushes limestone to produce wallboard and cement.
The new Conductor that just got on board in Las Vegas got on the P.A. system and welcomed us to California and also gave us a complete explanation as to why the train was late.
We have stopped on a siding to let a freight pass going the other way. I think there are two sidings here or they are trying to double track this segment of track. There is an empty track outside of my window and the freight train is passing us on the other side. Thus, there are 3 sets of parallel tracks at this point. Out the window I see a forest of Yucca trees that stretches off as far as I can see.
The train started going again at 3:30 P.M. I guess we lost another ten minutes. The crew had to shut down the power for about two minutes while they reconnected an air hose.
I just got back from dinner. They gave everyone on the train a complimentary dinner. I don't think there are too many people still on the train. I think that the next Sleeping Car 3531 has only 1 person in it. I'm not sure if there is anyone in my Sleeping Car other than myself. I probably should not have had dinner. The pancakes for breakfast and the wine & cheese would have been enough for today. I thought I could go into the Dining Car and order the pasta with marinara sauce that I had last night. However, when they said complimentary, they meant complimentary. Everyone was served a ground sirloin steak with rice and corn along with a dinner roll and a choice of just coffee, tea or milk. I guess all other foods and beverages had already been packed away since they were starting to prepare the train for arrival into Los Angeles.
We seem to be sitting here for a while in Barstow. I'm not sure why. There is no hope of taking any pictures of Cajon Pass on this trip as the sunlight is vanishing fast. I doubt there was adequate light for the two pictures that I took of Barstow. By the time we get to Cajon Pass, there will not be enough light to see out the window. I'm going to have to think seriously about taking this train again on the outbound side at least as far as Barstow before the planned discontinue date of May 10th. I'd like to get some photos going through Cajon Pass.
We started rolling again at 5:44 P.M. and all I can see of outside light is a thin ribbon of red on the horizon. Everything else out the window is shadows. We are 6 hours and 4 minutes behind schedule. Unless we make up any time or there is some slack in the schedule, I calculate that our arrival time into Fullerton will be about 8:34 P.M. There will not be another San Diegan to get me from Fullerton to Anaheim until San Diegan Train #511 at 10:08 P.M. However, that is the San Diegan that carries the Coast Starlight Coach Cars from Train #11. That doesn't leave Los Angeles until the Coast Starlight arrives. Thus, that train could be even later in the Coast Starlight is late. I think I'm best off just taking a taxi from the Fullerton Amtrak Station to the Anaheim Amtrak Station. It might even be less expensive than the train!
We literally stopped here for about 3 seconds if that long! The train stopped, blew its horn twice, and started going again!
Everyone going on to points south on the San Diegan were dropped off at Fullerton and shuttle vans were hired to take them to their destinations, even as far as San Diego. I guess aftter the train was so late, Amtrak felt it wouldn't be right to have those people wait another 90 minutes to 2 hours for San Diegan #511 to pick them up and take them south. The vans were waiting at the Fullerton station when we arrived.
I was thinking of just trying to hop on one of them to the very next station, Anaheim, where my car was parked. But, I didn't have a ticket. I'm not sure if they would have let me on without one. I could probably have purchased a ticket at the station or from the Conductor on our train, but I figured the cost of the ticket would probably be almost as much as a taxi for the short distance. I suppose the Conductor might have even given me a free pass as courtesy compensation for the late train. Instead, I just took a taxi which was waiting at the station. The taxi fare was $20 including tip, which was a bit more than I had predicted. I think I could have found a shorter way to go, but the taxi driver did take a back route that I have driven myself between the stations. Thus, I don't think he was purposely trying to boost the fare. The route is a reasonable one to take.
My car looked just fine in the Anaheim station parking lot. I put my luggage in the truck and started the car to make sure it was still working O.K. Everything was fine! I drove to a parking space near the station building and then went inside to talk with a friend of mine that works as the Amtrak ticket agent in the station. I didn't stay too long as I hadn't seen my family for a week and wanted to get home. I drove home and arrived around 9:30 P.M.
Upon unpacking, I found that the sum of my gifts from Amtrak ended up being a full wine service. I had received a bottle of wine as a parting gift on the Amtrak Coast Starlight and two wine glasses with the Amtrak Empire Builder logo etched into them as a give from that train! Thus, I pulled a bottle of wine and two glasses out of my suitcase. And with that, I'll conclude this travelogue!
Click here for the first segment of this "Winter Wonderland" journey.