Support this website by joining the Silver Rails TrainWeb Club for as little as $1 per month. Click here for info.

Steve's Summer 1997 Rail Journey

Fifth Segment - Amtrak Southwest Chief

Tuesday through Thursday, June 24 - 26, 1997

Steve's Summer 1997 Rail Journey - Fourth Segment: Travel on the Amtrak Southwest Chief from Chicago to Fullerton, California.

Click here if this is the first time you have ever read one of my travelogues.

Tuesday, 3:10 P.M. (Central Time), 06/24/97, Chicago, IL

I arrived on the Capitol Limited Train #29 a bit before 9 A.M. this morning. Vince McGraw, webmaster of the Amtrak Intercity web site and instructor at the Intercity Technical Training facility, had planned to meet with me at my room on the train. This train was scheduled to leave from Chicago at 5:10 P.M later today as the Southwest Chief Train #3 after laying over for about 8 hours. Everyone that was ticketed through to Los Angeles was allowed to remain on the train if they wished, or they could get off and get on whenever they wished. The train would remain right were it stopped until it was ready to leave for Los Angeles.

Since the train came in a little early, I decided to step out onto the platform and wait for Vince outside. This was both a good and a bad idea. It was a good idea because I found my suitcase out on the platform! Whoever removed the luggage for the train evidently didn't know that some people were continuing on this same train. I picked up my suitcase and stored it back on the train. Stepping out was a bad idea because it delayed Vince and I from getting together by 15 or 20 minutes. Little did I know that he boarded the train further up the line and walked through the cars to reach my room. Little did he know that I had stepped out of the train to look up and down the platform to see if I could see him coming!

Since I didn't know before today if they would let us remain on board while the train was being serviced in the station for 8 hours, I told Vince to check the Metropolitan Lounge if he didn't find me on the train. When he saw my stuff in my room but I was missing, he went to search the Metropolitan Lounge. After I stood outside the door to my car on the train for about 10 minutes, I decided to return to my air conditioned bedroom on the train and wait for Vince there. After Vince checked the Metropolitan Lounge, he did return and we finally did get together.

All in all, that was my fault. I did say that we would meet at my room on the train and told Vince to look in the Metropolitan Lounge if I wasn't in my room. I forgot that Vince had full access to the train and it would only be logical that he board at the end closest to the direction from which he came and then look for me as he walked through the train.

We walked to the Food Court upstairs in Union Station, grabbed some coffee, and sat at one of the tables. We talked about some of the plans that he had for the Amtrak Intercity web site as well as some of the new software that we were installing on the TrainWeb server to support these new features. Vince and I also talked about web technology in general. Without effort, the conversation topic easily took serveral detours into Amtrak both in relation to the internet and in general.

At about 11:15 A.M., Vince had to return to some other work and I wanted to make a Metra train leaving at 11:35 A.M. so I could tour another part of the Metra system and a new section of Chicago suburbs. Thus, we split at that time and I headed over to the Metra ticket window. I have combined the travelogue of my experiences on the Metra today with the Metra experiences that I had when I was in Chicago just last Saturday. At the bottom of this page you will find a link to my Metra travelogues.

The return Metra train arrived into the north side of Union Station at about 2:07 P.M. The Southwest Chief was over on the south side. I walked over to the boarding area, but could not find a way out to the platform without passing a restricted area sign and going around a ribbon barracade. Actually, now that I think about it, the sign might only have said: "No Visitors Allowed Beyond This Point." I watched others approach the sign and barracade and turn back in confusion.

The Chief of Onboard Services did say that we did not have to wait for general boarding in order to return to our rooms. Since the only way I could see to return to my train was to go past the barracade, I decided to give it a shot. I walked about 100 feet directly toward the doors that would lead to the correct platform. At that point, I had no ideas if the doors would even open! But, as I got right in front of the doors, the automatically slid open. I headed straight for my Sleeping Car which was the clossest one to the boarding platform.

The next hurdle was getting onto the train. The door to my Sleeping Car was closed. I tried turning the handle to no avail. Then I noticed a lever at the top of the door that I had seen Amtrak personnel turn when locking or unlocking a door from the outside. I tried pulling on that, but that didn't help either. I'm going to have to learn how to open these doors from the outside, unless it was locked from the inside. Then I felt stupid. This is a long train. One of these doors must be open! I started walking down the platform and found the door to the very next Sleeping Car open. I walked up the stairs and was about to turn right to head back to my car from the inside. However, the corridor was momentarily blocked by two service staff memebers communicating instructions about getting the cars ready. I could see that they were about to split and head in different directions momentarily, so I just waited patiently. Then, the one that had been talking like a supervisor turned to me and ask if I was the Train Attendant he was waiting for. I said: "No, I'm just a passenger trying to get back to my bedroom in the next car." He appologized for making that assumption and let me by. I just said it was no problem. I thought it was kind of interesting being mistaken for the Attendant. First time for that for me!

The car had full power so I set my room back up the way I like it. Once I had my computer powered up, I wrote the above. There was a bit of activity going on in the train. Train Mechanical staff were doing various things including one person that was ratcheting something between my sleeping car and the next and seemed to be upset about it. After he left, I went to take a look, but everything looked the same as it was before. I'm not sure what he was doing as these two cars are just going to stay together as they have been.

An announcement was made for all passengers and crew to sit down while they attach the mail cars to the train. From that announcement I was expecting a big jolt, but it never came. My Sleeping Car Attendant boarded the train sometime after I was already on. He brought around another complimentary set of shower stuff, but it wasn't as nice as the set from the Capitol Limited. It was just generic Amtrak toiletries and didn't have anything of the Southwest Chief on it. The Car Attendant also came by again and gave me another schedule and an Amtrak Route Guide for the Southwest Chief that I hadn't seen before. Once again, it was a shorter version with much less detail than the old version.

I walked to the end of my sleeping car right by Deluxe Bedroom "A". Since that is also the end of the train, I could see the track stop out the rear window. I took a couple of photos of that unique perspective.

Tuesday, 4:30 P.M. (CDT), 06/24/97, Chicago, IL

They just loaded up the rest of the passengers onto the train, both the First Class Sleeping Car Passengers from the Metropolitan Lounge and the Coach Passengers from the regular waiting rooms. They seem to have loaded some people into the wrong cars and are shuffling them around to get everyone into the right place. An announcement was just made that this train is sold out. There are 207 passengers and there are 207 seats for them. They asked if each person would please only take one seat.

I heard the Conductor say that everyone was loaded into the wrong Sleeping Car. Everyone that had just boarded belonged in the 0330 Sleeping Car. Someone other than the Car Attendant had directed them to this car. He told everyone to move to the same room number in the next car. The Conductor said everyone in this car was suppose to move to the next car except the party in Room 11. That had me wondering why he didn't mention that I didn't have to move either. As the Conductor walked past my room, he did a double-take. I guess he didn't know I was in there. The Car Attendant immediately stepped up and told the Conductor that I was in the right place.

Tuesday, 5:15 P.M. (CDT), 06/24/97, Chicago, IL

Already off to a 5 minute late start! The Car Attendant introduced himself to everyone, the Conductor collected the tickets, and then the Train Chief made his rounds. The Train Chief gave each of us a Dinner Voucher and a Drink Voucher which could be used in either the Diner or the Cafe. He usually asks each party what time they would like dinner and writes it on the voucher, but that wasn't done this time. Instead, he announced they are having technical difficulties in the kitchen and dinner will be late. He said he would make an announcement when dinner would be served and as always, Sleeping Car passengers would be seated first. I wonder if this is still related to the problem of the water not working in the dishwasher. If so, they might be left without enough clean dishes. The last crew used plastic plates, but it is possible that nobody warned this new crew they would need a supply of plastic plates. That would leave them without enough dishes to serve dinner!

The Cafe Car Attendant announced that he had some souveniers such as Southwest Chief baseball caps and T-Shirts. As soon as I received my dinner voucher, I went right down to purchase whatever they had before they ran out. Good thing that I did! I got the very last Southwest Chief baseball cap and the two last T-shirts, one large and one extra large. I usually wear extra large and my wife and kids where large. I also purchased a ceramic with the Southwest Chief logo that looked like it is to protect tables from hot bowls or plates. The T-shirts I purchased were black, but they had a sample hanging up that was brown. The hat was also black, but a friend of mine has one that is denim blue.

I also purchased a White Zinfandel with the drink voucher and purchased an additional one for cash. Maybe they should give out two vouchers to each Sleeping Car Standard Bedroom even if there is only one person. I pay the same for my Bedroom as someone would with two people in the room. The cost goes for the room and not for how many people are in the room.

Tuesday, 5:51 P.M. (CDT), 06/24/97, Naperville, IL

Channel 85 - 161.385 - 06:08 P.M. (CDT), Naperville, IL
Channel 85 - 161.385 - 06:19 P.M. (CDT), Detector: Sandwich

Problems tonight! The Chief is being called to go everywhere! In a period of about 15 minutes, he was called to go downstairs in the kitchen of the Dining Car, to go to one of the Coach Cars, and to go to the Cafe Car!

Here is a trivia item that I found interesting. The Southwest Chief takes the same route out of Chicago as the Metra Chicago to Aurora commuter train. I thought it would be interesting to compare how long it takes the Southwest Chief to pass each of those commuter stops compared to the local train which must stop at each of them. The only one that the Southwest Chief stops at is Naperville. The Southwest Chief is scheduled to leave Chicago at 5:10 P.M. I compared it to the closest Metra train which is one that leaves at 5:34 P.M. Here are the transit times from Chicago listed in the format hh:mm:ss where hh is the hours, mm the minutes, and ss the seconds out of Chicago:

So there it is! Stopping at almost every stop takes 1 hour and 1 minute from Chicago to Naperville. Taking the same route with no stops between Chicago and Naperville takes less than 16 minutes.

Channel 85 - 161.385 - 06:44 P.M. (CDT), Detector: Mendota

Tuesday, 7:00 P.M. (CDT), 06/24/97, Princeton, IL

Tuesday, 8:30 P.M. (CDT), 06/24/97, After Galesburg, IL

I just got back from dinner and there seems to have been an interesting development. I went to use the restroom and then decided to check on my luggage on the way back. I don't know why I decided to do that since I don't need anything from it right now. I looked where I had last put my luggage on the luggage rack, and it isn't there! As I believe I mentioned above, they did put my luggage out on the platform in Chicago, but I brought it right back in. When I returned to the train at around 2:30 P.M. I moved my luggage to the center shelf on the luggage rack. The previous Car Attendant liked to keep the yellow foot step on this shelf so that I wasn't able to place my luggage on that shelf during that segment of the journey. This Car Attendant keeps the yellow foot step elsewhere so that I was able to place it on that middle shelf. That was the last time that I saw my luggage. I have looked through all of the shelves and cannot find it. I went to the next Sleeping Car and briefly looked through those shelves with no luck. I am hoping they just accidently moved it to somewhere else on this train. I have pushed the buttom to call the Car Attendant and am just waiting for him to show up to help me find my suitcase.

(I was going to write about what became of my suitcase later in this travelogue, but I guess I forgot to write it in! It is now more than a month since I posted this travelogue and I have gotten many e-mail messages from readers wondering whatever became of my luggage. As I had guessed, my luggage was mistakenly moved to the next Sleeping Car along with a lot of other luggage that belonged to passengers that had mistakenly boarded the Sleeping Car that I was in. The Car Attendant and I discovered my luggage in the next Sleeping Car and he carried it back to the proper Sleeping Car for me.)

We just crossed a bridge over the Mississippi River. There are a few riverboats docked on the western side of the river.

Tuesday, 8:48 P.M. (CDT), 06/24/97, Fort Madison, IA

Tuesday, 10:27 P.M. (CDT), 06/24/97, MP 300

Channel 02 - 160.560 - 10:27 P.M. (CDT), MP 300 (no detector)

The train seems to be having problems with one of the locomotives. The train has now stopped and all electricity has been turned off. I'm now sitting in the dark and my notebook computer is operating off its battery.

Looks like they are going to take the problem locomotive off and "set it out". We are at "Hertland". There is a "derail" here where they can put the faulty locomotive aside. Ooops! There goes my low power warning already! I'll have to shut down for now.

Tuesday, 10:39 P.M. (CDT), 06/24/97, MP 300

Power and air conditioning are back on again. They have to shut down power whenever they connect or disconnect cars. It sounds like they have removed the bad locomotive. This train has 17 cars. We will be on pretty level land for a while, but they are concerned that they will have to add another engine back on before we get to any area where the train will have to climb.

Times like these are about the only time that I find listening to the scanner interesting. The Engineer is using the cellular phone to talk to the mechanical department to see what they want to do. I think the Assistant Engineer is over on the locomotive that they disconnected getting the breaks set and the unit locked down. The crew was asking mechanical if they wanted the unit to be shut down. They said that it is right at Mile Post 300 right beside a road with easy access. They said the faulty locomotive is unit #20. Engine #37 is now in the lead.

Tuesday, 11:02 P.M. (CDT), 06/24/97, MP 300

Here we go! We are on the move again, minus one locomotive.

Channel 02 - 160.560 - 11:15 P.M. (CDT), Detector: MP 395.4

Tuesday, 11:29 P.M. (CDT), 06/24/97, La Plata, MO

That engine problem put us just a bit over 1 and 1/2 hours behind. They said there will be another engine waiting to be put on our train in La Junta, Colorado, but we won't be there until at least 11:00 AM tomorrow. The crew just called the dispatcher to warn them that there is an ATS bar on the faulty unit and that it might not clear in some yards.

Channel 02 - 160.560 - 11:38 P.M. (CDT), Detector: MP 326.4
Channel 02 - 160.560 - 11:57 P.M. (CDT), Detector: MP 344.5

Wednesday, 06:06 A.M. (CDT), 06/24/97, Newton, KS

Channel 55 - 160.560 - 06:14 A.M. (CDT), Detector: MP 192.1

Wednesday, 06:40 A.M. (CDT), 06/24/97, Hutchinson, KS

I was going to try to wake up at about 2:15 A.M. when we stop at Kansas City, Missouri for about 25 minutes, but I must have been really tired as I slept through until Newton, Kansas near Wichita! I got dressed and had the Car Attendant make up my room. I decided to just get some orange juice and coffee from the refreshment center in the Sleeping Car and skip breakfast. I only like to have 2 meals each day while on the train so that I don't eat far more than my non-traveling days. I've skipped enough lunches on this rail journey and decided that I should go for lunch instead of breakfast today. I'm getting a little tired of breakfast selections anyway.

Looks like we are only running about 1 hour and 10 minutes late. That isn't too bad for such a major breakdown last night. We'll just have to see how much of a delay there will be when we switch locomotives in La Junta, Colorado.

Channel 55 - 160.560 - 07:01 A.M. (CDT), Detector: SantaFe MP 247.9
Channel 55 - 160.560 - 07:23 A.M. (CDT), Detector
Channel 55 - 160.560 - 08:01 A.M. (CDT), Detector: MP 341.0

Wednesday, 08:33 A.M. (CDT), 06/24/97, Dodge City, KS

The train stayed here for quite some time. When the train finally did move, one of the Conductors called out over the radio that we had to stop because there was still a passenger that had to get off. After staying at the station so long it seems amazing to me that someone didn't have enough time to get off! That person is lucky they didn't have to get off at most any other station where the stop is fairly brief.

Wednesday, 09:22 A.M. (CDT), 06/24/97, Garden City, KS

Channel 55 - 160.560 - 09:22 A.M. (CDT), Garden City, KS

An announcement was just made that there is no smoking allowed anywhere on the train of marajuana and that smoking of regular cigarettes only is permitted in the special Smoking Lounge downstairs in one of the coaches. Further announced was that the smoke in the restrooms does not vent outside the train but just circulates throughout the car. Evidently someone was smoking marajuana in the restroom and the odor was coming up into the coach car. It must have been in a restroom downstairs in the 0311 car as the Conductor was immediately called to that location after the announcment.

Although I like the idea of smoking not being allowed in the restrooms, it seems odd to not vent them to the outside. Smoke isn't the only odor from the restroom that isn't desired in the rest of the coach car. I have rarely noticed offensive odors coming from the ventilating system anywhere on the train.

This train has 17 cars and we are able to keep up 79 miles per hour, even with the missing locomotive. Near the front of the train we are also deadheading a Los Angeles Metroliner Car plus we have the usual long compliment of mail cars on the Southwest Chief.

The Dispatcher needs some information from the Conductor, but the Conductor said it would take him a few minutes to get that information as he was busy with another problem at the moment. He's probably still working on the situation with the marajuana smoker in the restroom. He told the Dispatcher it hasn't been a good morning.

Channel 55 - 160.560 - 09:35 A.M. (CDT), Detector: SantaFe MP 418.1
Channel 55 - 160.560 - 09:48 A.M. (CDT), Detector: SantaFe MP 435.2
Channel 55 - 160.560 - 10:12 A.M. (CDT), Detector: SantaFe MP 46?.1

Channel 55 - 160.560 - 09:42 A.M. (MDT), Detector: SantaFe MP 499.0

Wednesday, 09:50 A.M. (MDT), 06/24/97, Lamar, CO

Channel 36 - 160.650 - 10:20 A.M. (MDT)
Channel 32 - 160.590 - 10:43 A.M. (MDT), La Junta, CO

Wednesday, 12:04 P.M. (MDT), 06/24/97, La Junta, CO

We just left La Junta after having arrived at 10:43 A.M., one hour and two minutes ago! The train was without power for the entire time so I wasn't able to use my computer to get work done while we were waiting. I have 3 batteries but only brought 1 along to reduce weight. Unfortunately, I think I brought the wrong one. This one is definitely on its last leg and can only power my computer for about 10 minutes.

The put Burlington Northern engine number 8116 on the lead. It was a big green unit with white lettering. They were able to bring up all three locomotives, but could not get a load when they put it in "dynamic". The Engineers remained in contact with BNSF for most of the time we were in the station. BNSF Mechanical suggested they swap the MU cable. After about 10 minutes of checking around, they found that a spare MU cable was not available. I guess they were about to make a call to try and borrow another from BNSF, but then Mechanical reminded them that there was one on the lead unit. The Engineer remarked they had been so busy considering their options that they overlooked the obvious. They did try that cable, but with no success.

Best as I can tell from the conversation, the only thing they were missing without this cable was the ability to use the trailing two units to help with dynamic braking. My understanding is that dynamic braking gives the train better stopping ability, but isn't absolutely necessary. They decided to proceed without enabling the dynamic braking in the two trailing units, but would still have it in the lead unit. The Engineer said there was only one place in their journey through Raton pass where it was used and that they would proceed through that area "gingerly."

While we were in La Junta, I got a chance to walk all the way to the front of the train, note the car numbers and take a few photos. Since this train has 17 cars and I'm in the very last car, that was quite a walk!

The Chief of this train has kept everyone well informed, much more so than most trains that I have been on. He has given us the name of every staff member of the train including even the Conductors and Engineers from time to time! He has also announced over the P.A. system the exact nature of each problem as they have occurred. He has also pointed out major sights from time to time.

Wednesday, 01:25 P.M. (MDT), 06/24/97, Trinidad, CO

I just returned from lunch. The diner didn't open until about 12:30 P.M. since they couldn't cook while the electricity was out in La Junta. Seems like everyone ran down to the diner at the same time and they had to start a list shortly after I sat down. That often happens when they anounce that lunch will be delayed. Everyone starts thinking about how long they will have to wait until they will be able to get lunch. Thus, they all rush down as soon as the announcment is made. I wanted an early lunch because I had skipped breakfast and I didn't want to be in the diner when we started up into the Raton Pass.

I sat with a lady traveling alone and a couple on vacation. The conversation was pleasant, but with a lot of long silent gaps. We mostly talked about the scenery. The most animated part of the conversation was trying to decide if Pike's Peak should be off to the left or the right.

I had the Garden Burger for lunch. Since I hadn't eaten since last night, I thought it would be O.K. to splurge a little and got the apple pie a la mode for dessert. I left a $1 tip, but nobody else at the table left a tip.

Channel 32 - 160.590 - 02:04 P.M. (MDT), MP 649.8
Channel 32 - 160.590 - 02:27 P.M. (MDT), MP 657.0

Wednesday, 02:37 P.M. (MDT), 06/24/97, Raton, NM

Channel 32 - 160.590 - 02:55 P.M. (MDT), MP 675.8
Channel 32 - 160.590 - 03:43 P.M. (MDT), MP 728.0

The land feature known as "Wagon Mound" actually looks a lot more like a wagon pulled by horses when you look at it while traveling west than while traveling east. The old Amtrak Route Guide is written west to east, but you might have a problem picking out this landform. The pioneers were going west when they noticed and named this formation. Thus, heading west is the way that it looks like a wagon, and not heading east.

We've pulled into a siding for a while around Shoemaker Canyon waiting for the eastbound Southwest Chief to pass us along a single track stretch of this route. Counting the cars as it went by, it seems to have about the same number of each type of car in its consist.

Channel 32 - 160.590 - 04:41 P.M. (MDT), MP 750.6

Someone just reported on the radio that they saw our train go by with both baggage car doors open. The Conductor reported back that we have a cigar smoking addict on board. I guess they allowed him to go into the baggage car and open the doors to smoke since I don't think they only allow cigarette smoking in the Smoking Lounge. I don't see why they can't allow all types of smoking in the Smoking Lounge. I think cigarette smoke smells much worse than cigar smoke.

Wednesday, 05:00 P.M. (MDT), 06/24/97, Las Vegas, NM

Most little out of the way towns seem like they'd be pretty nice places to live. I can't say that is my impression from Las Vegas, New Mexico. There was graffiti all over everything! I might expect that in Las Vegas, Nevada, but not in Las Vegas, New Mexico.

The Dispatcher wanted an estimated time that this train would get into Albuquerque. There may be some service or baggage staff that needs to be called in before the train arrives. Normally, they'd already be at the station, but with the train running so late, they might need to be called back in from home. Or, maybe it is the Indians that set up the stands where they sell jewelry and food that want to know so that they know when to set up.

I guessed the train would be into Albuquerque about 8:00 P.M. if there are no further delays. The Conductor said they expected to be into Albuquerque by 6:45 P.M. I immediately shouted out: "That's not right!", but there was nobody to hear me. I quickly looked at the schedule. I didn't think there was a time zone change coming up. The Dispatcher replied: "It's an hour and three quarters just to Lamy and then another hour from there to Albuquerque." The Conductor then came up with a corrected time and said that he estimated that the train would be into Albuquerque by 8:00 P.M. Maybe someone did hear me afterall!

Channel 32 - 160.590 - 05:07 P.M. (MDT), MP 774.9
Channel 32 - 160.590 - 06:07 P.M. (MDT), MP 809.2

Wednesday, 07:03 P.M. (MDT), 06/24/97, Lamy, NM

Channel 32 - 160.590 - 07:11 P.M. (MDT), MP 843.4
Channel 32 - 160.590 - 07:40 P.M. (MDT), MP 874.5

For a while it was getting really really dark outside. That seemed a bit odd for the middle of summer, especially when it has been very light out for the past few days until well after 8:00 P.M. A storm had been building up all afternoon, but no rain had started, just lots of dark clouds. Then, lightning started flashing and rain started coming down. That lasted all of about 15 minutes and then the sun finally came out at 7:30 P.M.! There was even a big double rainbow and I took a photo of it. After being dark all afternoon, it is now bright and sunny again!

I decided to skip dinner in the Diner and just go for a light lunch in the Cafe. The Amtrak Capitol Limited allows Sleeping Car passengers to get free meals in either the Diner or the Cafe Car, but I have seen no such policy posted for the Southwest Chief.

Sometimes I like music in my room and sometimes I don't. I have the audio system in my room set to Channel 1 which only allows the P.A. announcements to come through. Music is only playing on Channel 2. However, they are playing "That Darn Cat" in the Cafe Lounge Car and the audio channel for that is coming through very slightly on Channel 1! It is so faint that I don't mind it, but I find it interesting.

Wednesday, 08:53 P.M. (MDT), 06/24/97, Albuquerque, NM

The Engineers got the "highball" signal, but decided to delay another minute to clean the windshield of all the bugs it had picked up. They also had the freight unit removed since we don't have any further serious mountain climbing to do. Thus, they announced that we should be able to get our speed up to 79 miles per hour for several stretches.

Whoops! We are just 3 minutes since we started to roll and are bearly out of the station and the Engineer said to the Conductor that we are going to stop the Engines for a minute. We only stopped for about 30 seconds and we are rolling again. At first they were having a problem loading (electrical?) but now everything seems O.K.

Wednesday, 11:32 P.M. (MDT), 06/24/97, Gallup, NM

Thursday, 04:39 A.M. (MST), 06/26/97, Kingman, AZ

Channel 36 - 160.650 - 04:58 A.M. (MST), MP 536.0
Channel 36 - 160.650 - 05:30 A.M. (MST), MP 561.5

Thursday, 05:33 A.M. (PDT), 06/26/97, Needles, CA

Channel 55 - 160.935 - 07:14 A.M. (PDT), MP 665.0

Even though I had changed my clock before I fell asleep, that didn't stop me from still waking up one hour earlier than what I had set the alarm. I got up, got dressed, packed up everything except for my notebook computer, then went down for first call for breakfast at 6:30 A.M. I pushed the "PUSH TO CALL" button to have the Car Attendant convert my bed back into seats. I was back to my room just a few minutes after 7:00 A.M.

Thursday, 07:38 A.M. (PDT), 06/26/97, Between Needles & Barstow

I just heard over the radio that passengers connecting on to the San Joaquin are to be taken off at Barstow and taken by bus to Bakersfield. Passengers connecting to the Coast Starlight are to be taken to Los Angeles where they will be accommodated.

We just passed a sign marked "KLONDIKE". This train isn't going to get to Los Angeles until almost noon. The Coast Starlight will have already left Los Angeles at 9:30 this morning. That means they will probably give the passengers that were suppose to connect to the Coast Starlight a number of options. Those passengers going no further north than San Luis Obispo can transfer to a San Diegan train in Los Angeles and still get to their destination today. Those going further north might be given the option to complete their journey by plane, bus, or to stay overnight in Los Angeles and board the Coast Starlight tomorrow.

I'm not sure why they couldn't have taken the Coast Starlight passengers off at Barstow and sent them up by bus to meet the train in San Luis Obispo. I think there would have been enough time to make that connection. However, if someone had planned to enjoy the beautiful ocean view portion of the trip on the Coast Starlight, that option could be upsetting since the most dramatic ocean views are from Santa Barbara to San Luis Obispo.

We are heading through the desert toward Cajon Pass. For almost the last hour we have been going along an area that I think only has a single track. Directly one signal ahead of us is a freight train very slowly climbing the ascending desert plain. We have been following that freight train at a snail's pace for the last hour! Finally I can see two sets of tracks. Hopefully, they will be able to put that freight train off to the side so that we can pass it.

Shortly before we caught up to that freight train, I heard the engineer say: "This is going to get ugly." I think he knew that we would be stuck one signal behind that train and have to be moving very slow falling even more behind schedule. That was probably what he was refering to.

Thursday, 08:00 A.M. (PDT), 06/26/97, Between Needles & Barstow

We just passed one slow freight train around Mile Post 688, but there is still another one further up ahead of us that is stopped. We are still moving slowly along. I think one of the staff members has a small child along with them, either one of the Engineers or Conductors. They were asking if there would be any food available in the Dining Car, even for the kid. Because the train is running late, peole that would have gotten off the train are still on and having breakfast. I'm an example of that. Breakfast starts at 6:30 A.M. If the train was on time, I wouldn't have time for breakfast since this train is scheduled into Fullerton before 7:00 A.M. Thus, the Dining Car is running pretty low on breakfast food and can't give out anything to the operating crew, even to that person's son. At least, not until every passenger that wants breakfast has been served.

The connection announcement was just made over the P.A. system. I guess they figured out that they can make that bus connection to the Coast Starlight after all! They are going to have passengers connecting to the Coast Starlight get off at Barstow and take the bus somewhere. They didn't say where. Probably either Santa Barbara or San Luis Obispo, depending on how late this train gets into Barstow.

Passengers with connections to the San Joaquin Valley via the San Joaquin trains will get off in Barstow also. This is not big deal as they were going to be put on a bus from Los Angeles to Bakersfield anyway. They will just be taking a bus from Barstow to Bakersfield instead of from Los Angeles to Bakersfield. For a moment, I was wondering why they didn't normally have those passengers change in Barstow even if the train was on time instead of sending them all the way to Los Angeles. Checking the San Joaquin schedule, I can see that there isn't a bus out of Barstow until 12:15 P.M. which would make those passengers wait out in the middle of nowhere for 8 hours and put them on a much later San Joaquin train. By going all the way into Los Angeles, they get on the 9:55 A.M. bus which puts them on the 12:55 P.M. train out of Bakersfield. So, when the train is on schedule, those passengers can sleep all the way to Los Angels and then only have to wait a little over one hour for their connection to the bus.

Passengers going south on north on the San Diegans between San Diego and Santa Barbara were told to just get off in Fullerton as normal to just take the next San Diegan going in their direction of which there are 9 each day. Those passengers going to Las Vegas were told to get off in San Bernardino and see the Ticket Agent. He would arrange transportation to Las Vegas from there. That isn't much of a problem either. They said the passengers would probably be transferred to a Greyhound bus. Even if this train was on time, these passengers would just have been transferred to an Amtrak thruway bus. There are no Amtrak trains that go to Las Vegas anymore.

Personally, I would NEVER schedule a transfer from the westbound Southwest Chief or from the Sunset Limited to the northbound Coast Starlight. Both the Southwest Chief and the Sunset Limited are late frequently and passengers often have to be transferred by bus at least as far as Santa Barbara. That isn't too bad. But, if things are running so late that you have to be taken by bus to San Luis Obispo, then you miss two ours of travel along the ocean, arguably the best part of the entire Coast Starlight route! I usually travel in a Sleeping Car and have thus paid for a Sleeping Car. Rooms in the Sleeping Car are very expensive, but they do include certain comforts and amenities. Travel by bus is no substitute for that expense. It isn't even a decent substitute for what people have paid to travel in the Coach Car!

For those reasons, I never schedule a connection that has less than a four hours layover at the transfer station. Even that big a safety margin wouldn't have worked on this train today! Well, in a way, it would have. By requiring a four hour difference between connecting trains, I wouldn't have been able to connect to anything. Thus, I would have scheduled an overnight in Los Angeles. If you are planning to connect through Los Angeles, that is what I would recommend that you do. Come into Los Angeles one day and go back out on a train the next day. There is plenty to see and do in Los Angeles to keep you busy for one day anyway!

Thursday, 08:35 A.M. (PDT), 06/26/97, Between Needles & Barstow

The freight train ahead of us set off the hot-box detector at Mile Post 690.7 on axle 68. I guess the brakes weren't releasing on that axle. They stopped their train at 7:15 A.M. in Ludlow, California and didn't get started again until 8:35 A.M., a delay of 45 minutes. It turns out that the brake system hose was dragging underneath the car. I think they had to reconnect it and then recharge the air in the brake system. Thus, all we could do was slowly crawl up to one signal behind their position and then stop and wait.

At 8:43 A.M., Mile Post 694, the grade has started to become very steep. We are climbing very very slowly. We are passing a big while "L" on the hillside which I assume stands for "Ludlow". Even though this is a steep grade, I'm sure this train can climb it much faster. I have to assume that slower freight train is still directly ahead of us.

Thursday, 09:20 A.M. (PDT), 06/26/97, Between Needles & Barstow

Channel 55 - 160.935 - 09:26 A.M. (PDT), MP 711.1
Channel 55 - 160.935 - 09:43 A.M. (PDT), MP 733.3

We are finally back up to full speed! A major problem for all Amtrak trains is that a late train is only likely to get even later. Across the nation, specific time slots are allocated for Amtrak trains to go through according to their schedules. Once a train becomes late, other freights that were suppose to be held back until the Amtrak train has gone through, have to be allowed to proceed. Thus, the timeslot reserved for the Amtrak train gets destroyed and all that dispatchers across the nation can do is to try to fit the Amtrak train in as best as possible. Sometimes Amtrak will catch up to a freight train going in either the same direction, or going the other way on a single track segment. When that happens, a dispatcher has to try to get the freight into a siding so the Amtrak can pass, but a siding can be a long way off once the Amtrak train is operating outside its normal schedule. Thus, the late train just gets later!

An Amtrak baggage person just knocked on my door by mistake. Immediatley, he realized his mistake and went off to the next room. I had never seen a baggage handler on board a moving train. Is there always one on every Amtrak train? If so, they must stay in the crew quarters except when we are at stations. I've never seen one actually walking around the train before. The person was wearing overalls with the Amtrak logo, a cap, and had on heavy work gloves. Since many people would be transferring their luggage at the next stop, I knew someone was coming through the train to help with baggage, but I had just assumed that would be the Car Attendant.

Many people had their bags checked to Los Angeles in the Baggage Car. Some of those people will now be transfering to a bus in Barstow. Thus, their baggage has to be removed from the Baggage Car. The Baggage Handler is going through the train to find out which people need to have their baggage removed from the Baggage Car in Barstow. That is the reason for his unusual presence in the passenger area of the train. People who have checked their baggage all the way through to their destination in the Baggage Car don't have to worry about retrieving their baggage early. All those pieces will automatically be transferred to the appropriate bus in Barstow.

The Amtrak Route Guide for the Southwest Chief doesn't describe much of the scenery in this area since the train usually goes through this area at night. So far, I've seen two large strange dark mounds of earth. They look like a small mountain, but aren't that big. All around each of them were lumpy fields of dark earth and dark boulders. My guess would be that they are small extinct volcanoes. I never even thought about volcanoes coming in sizes that small until I saw the movie "Volcano". I thought that might just be an inacurate rendition of reality in the movie, but I don't know enough about them to know if small ones like tht exist. There are more large rises in this desert like that, some which are not surrounded by the lumpy black fields and rocks. Unlike the tall mountains in the background, these just stand as one big cone shaped mound all by themselves not connected to any surrounding mountains. I'm going to have to look at my other Amtrak books at home that describe the scenery along the routes in detail and see if they mention these mounds.

Thursday, 10:15 A.M. (PDT), 06/26/97, Barstow, CA

There has been a change in the game plan. Anyone going to Las Vegas has now been asked to get off here instead of San Bernardino. That makes total sense. The Amtrak Thruway bus that left Los Angeles at 9:05 A.M. for Las Vegas goes right through Barstow right at this time. The bus is at this station right now! The schedule in my "National Timetable" doesn't show a stop for that bus in Barstow, but there may exist a more detailed Thruway Bus Schedule that does show a scheduled stop for that Los Angeles - Las Vegas bus in Barstow.

There have been a tremendous number of freight trains going the other way. I'm sure there are just as many freight trains going in the same direction as our train, but obviously I can't see those except when they are put into a siding and we are allowed to pass them, or when they are traveling on a parallel track along a multi-track segment.

This route always has a lot of freight traffic. The Cajon Pass is almost the only route for freight to move in and out of Los Angeles and the rest of Southern California, and there is a lot of that freight! A large portion of everything that the 12,000,000 people living in Southern California purchase comes in by rail. Also, almost everything that comes into the ports of Los Angeles and San Diego gets shipped out of the area by rail.

Channel 72 - 161.190 - 10:28 A.M. (PDT), MP 0.8
Channel 72 - 161.190 - 10:44 A.M. (PDT), MP 28.5

Thursday, 10:55 A.M. (PDT), 06/26/97, Victorville, CA

Just before Victorville we passed some flat cars that were carrying an old steam locomotive and I think a tender car. I don't think I've ever seen one train being carried by another train before!

Thursday, 12:30 P.M. (PDT), 06/26/97, San Bernardino, CA

A light lunch was served in the Dining Car since the train was so late. I expected to leave the train in about one hour and was planning to have lunch at the Spaghetti Factory right at the Fullerton Station, so I skipped this offer of a light lunch on the train.

A relief crew was expected at San Bernardino but they didn't show up. This Engineer and Conductor could not work beyond 2:10 P.M according to law. The Dispatcher was trying to figure out what became of the relief crew. The train left San Bernardino and it was decided that the relief crew would be sent to replace this crew in Fullerton, once they were located. This crew could probably get the train into Los Angeles before they "went dead," but the Dispatcher didn't want to take a chance. If there was any rail traffic to delay this train between Fullerton and Los Angeles, then this train would go dead out on the tracks somewhere.

Channel 36 - 160.650 - 12:54 P.M. (PDT), MP 32.0

Thursday, 01:15 P.M. (PDT), 06/26/97, Fullerton, CA

We made two stops in Fullerton which tended to confuse the people waiting to get off in Fullerton. The train stopped with the locomotive at the platform so the new crew could board easily. Once they had done that, the train moved up to let passengers and baggage unload. With a total of 17 cars on this train, it had to move up quite a bit!

A Final Note

This train was totally sold out. They had a body for every seat when this train left Chicago. The only room there was for additional people to get on down the line was from seats vacated by people leaving the train. The Sleeping Cars were also almost totally full when we left Chicago and there were several points along our route where every bedroom was occupied. I spoke to a number of people on the train who had made reservations 3 months in advance and been told that this train was sold out! They had to keep calling until a spot opened up from a cancellation to get on the train. We'll never know how many others had to arrange alternate transportation because a spot did not open up for them or they couldn't wait until one did open to make their travel plans. If this train was booked solid 3 months in advance, then I think another Coach Car and another Sleeping Car could have been filled before the departure date of this train. This isn't even a weekend or holiday train and it is full! Only two Sleeping Cars and three Coach Cars were on this train. I hope Amtrak is planning to do something to re-capture those sales that it loses every day due to lack of seating capacity on the train.

Click here for the first segment of this Summer 1997 journey.

Please select one of the following:
First segment of this rail journey
Previous segment of this rail journey
Standard Bedroom Accommodations
Chicago Metra Travelogues

Click below for pages in the directory of TrainWeb sties:
0-9 A B C D E

ad pos61 ad pos63
ad pos62 ad pos64

Support this website by joining the Silver Rails TrainWeb Club for as little as $1 per month. Click here for info.