Tuesday through Tuesday, July 22 - 29, 1997
Click here if this is the first time you have ever read one of my travelogues.
Note: This rail travelogue was accidentally deleted and lost for many years. We managed to recover it in 2017 from archives and re-post it to TrainWeb.com. These are some of my earliest rail travels and travel writings. My experience and understanding of Amtrak and other rail operations was quite a bit less than today and my writing style may have been a bit less experienced back then. So please pardon any problems that you might find in these earlier rail travel reports. A number of these earlier reports also have few or no photos or very small photos which was intentional to reduce download time during the early days of the web when almost everyone had slow dial-up connections to the internet!
Since I have traveled all of these routes before and written extensively about them, I do not plan to log this trip in detail. This trip was not taken as part of my effort to cover all the Amtrak routes as I have already traveled on each of these routes many times. Instead, I plan to just sit back, relax, and enjoy my rail travel. However, I will report on any particular new items of information that I do learn on this journey. If you wish detailed information about each of these Amtrak routes, then use the following links:
You might be wondering why I planned such a convoluted route to get from Southern California to Dallas, Texas. Before the Texas Eagle service was modified, I would have just booked a reservation on the Texas Eagle from Los Angeles, California to Dallas, Texas. However, since the Texas Eagle now terminates in San Antonio with all continuing passengers being required to change to the Sunset Limited, there doesn't seem to be adequate seating on the Sunset Limited for all those desiring to travel that route. By removing one thru-coach and one thru-sleeping car of the Texas Eagle from the Sunset Limited, the passenger capacity of the Sunset Limited appears to have been seriously reduced.
Thus, I was not able to obtain a standard (economy) bedroom for my trip from Los Angeles to Dallas on the Sunset Limited. Actually, there weren't any deluxe bedrooms available either. For part of the trip, there weren't even any coach seats available!
I looked into the "Amtrak National Timetables" to figure out an alternate route. Surprisingly, the Southwest Chief would be just as good and maybe better for getting me to Dallas as the Texas Eagle even though the Southwest Chief would detour me to Chicago! To take the Southwest Chief, I'd leave from Fullerton on Tuesday night, July 22, change in Chicago to the southbound Texas Eagle on Thursday night, July 24, and arrive in Dallas Friday afternoon, July 25. Taking the Sunset Limited, I'd still have had to leave Tuesday night, June 22, but I'd have to make a short one hour trip from Fullerton to Los Angeles to catch that train. The Sunset Limited would have gotten me to San Antonio at 3:15 A.M. on Thursday morning, July 24. I would then have had to wait almost 4 hours, probably dozing in the station, until the Texas Eagle would be ready to leave at 7:00 A.M. The Texas Eagle would have arrived in Dallas at 3:25 P.M. on Thursday, one day ahead of taking the Southwest Chief. The only problem with the Sunset Limited / Texas Eagle route is that I arrive one day ahead of schedule and have to spend an extra day in a hotel in Dallas. I wouldn't mind that, but if the Texas Eagle ran daily with thru-cars from Los Angeles, I could have left a day later and remained comfortably in my accommodations all the way from Los Angeles to Dallas!
Unfortunately, the Southwest Chief was totally sold out for the day that I needed to leave! I couldn't leave a day later and still make the meeting, but I could try to leave a day earlier. No luck! The Southwest Chief leaving on Monday was also totally sold out!
This left only one remaining possibility. To go up to the San Francisco Bay Area, take the California Zephyr to Chicago and then the Texas Eagle down to Dallas. That would work, but would take an extra day. Instead of leaving home late Tuesday night, I'd have to leave home early Tuesday morning. I mean real early Tuesday morning, like 30 minutes after midnight! Thus, I'd have to leave my house about 11:30 P.M. on Monday to make sure I was down to the train station by 12:30 A.M. on Tuesday morning. I checked availability and a Standard (Economy) Bedroom was available for the entire trip. This would cost me $400 more than the $700 it would have been for the Sunset Limited, but this route eliminated one night in a hotel and food for a day in Dallas. I figured that worth $100, so the difference was down to $300 extra. For that extra $300 I would get to ride on the most scenic Amtrak route in the nation, through the Sierra Nevada and Rocky Mountains, plus get a long ride on the Texas Eagle from Chicago to Dallas. The extra $300 seemed worth the upgrade from the Sunset Limited route.
There were some glitches in planning this route, but it still seemed feasible. I made the reservation myself on the Amtrak website. I would take the Amtrak thru-way bus from Santa Ana to Bakersfield and then the San Joaquin train up to Martinez where I would change to the California Zephyr. There is a 2 hour layover in Martinez which isn't a bad little town for a layover. There are many little restaurants including one right across from the station and several antique shops within walking distance. However, the computer would generate a price for my ticket if I specified Martinez as the place where I would change trains! The reservation system kept reporting that a software error has occurred and that Amtrak would look into the problem. I was determined to make this reservation myself over the internet, so I selected a different stop at which to change trains, Richmond. There would only be a one hour layover at Richmond between trains. Richmond is not a good place for a layover. There is nothing to see or do near the station, unless you want to watch BART trains, and the safety of the Richmond station is questionable. I would only be in Richmond for an hour, which isn't bad, but I could also switch trains in Martinez even though my ticket said Richmond. The chances would be pretty remote that my Standard Bedroom would be sold to someone else during the short 30 minutes the train would travel from Richmond to Martinez, but it isn't impossible. Coach travelers do sometimes put in a request with the Conductor to be upgraded to a bedroom if there are any "no shows". If I changed trains in Martinez instead of the station listed on my ticket, Richmond, then I would be betting that there weren't any such requests yet or that the Conductor would not have time to service such a request in the 30 minutes between Richmond and Martinez. Otherwise, I could end up sleeping in coach the rest of the way!
Going via the California Zephyr would get me to Chicago at 4:20 P.M. on Thursday, July 24. I'd change to the Texas Eagle which would leave Chicago at 6:30 P.M. giving me about a 2 hour layover in Chicago. I'd arrive into Dallas the next afternoon at 3:05 P.M. on Friday, July 25. Coming home, I'd leave Dallas on the southbound Texas Eagle at 3:15 P.M. on Sunday, July 27. That would get me to San Antonio by 11:59 P.M. on that same day, Sunday. My understanding is that I will be allowed to remain in my bedroom on that train until the arrival of the westbound Sunset Limited scheduled to arrive into San Antonio at 4:35 A.M. When they had Texas Eagle thru-cars, they used to just attach these cars onto the Texas Eagle. Thus, you could go through San Antonio without ever waking up! Now, you have to wake up, gather up your things, and move to another train in the middle of the night! The Sunset Limited is scheduled to arrive into Los Angeles at 6:05 A.M. with a connecting San Diegan at 8:30 A.M. arriving into Fullerton at 9:12 A.M.
Normally, I do not like to schedule layovers of less than 4 hours. I've been on too many late trains to know better. If time is not a serious concern, then scheduling a stay in a hotel at a city whenever the layover is less than 4 hours will pretty much guarantee that you will travel all segments of your trip by rail. With less than a 4 hour layover between trains, Amtrak might be forced to bus you part of your route if one of your trains is late. In this particular case, I had no choice but to go with the 2 hour layover in Martinez and the 2 hour layover in Chicago.
You can usually leave it up to Amtrak to make alternate plans for you if your train is late. This will sometimes involve sending you by bus for part of your route, putting you up in a hotel until the next train, or in very rare cases, put you on a plane to your destination. If they put people on a plane, that is always optional. They know that some of you take the train because you can't or won't fly and won't force you to do so. They will just put those people up in a hotel and then on the next train the following day. Evidently Amtrak has not realized that some of us don't want to take a bus either and would also like to be put up at a hotel at Amtrak's expense until the next train!
Under extremely adverse weather conditions my whole family was once stranded in Seattle. We were suppose to go on our "Winter Wonderland" rail journey that would have taken us from Southern California to Seattle via the Coast Starlight, Chicago via the Empire Builder, and back to Los Angeles through the Rocky Mountains via the Desert Wind. Amtrak got us as far as Portland by train, bused us to Seattle from there, and that was as far as we got! All the rails and roads going east were closed due to heavy snowfall and avalanches. Amtrak offered us no alternative transportation other than to refund the unused portion of our tickets! At the end of five days, Amtrak still had no idea when any trains would leave Seattle. There weren't any trains even going back south to our home because the tracks we had gone over on the way up got washed out the next day. Thus, we couldn't go by rail from Seattle in any direction! After a pleasant 5 day vacation in Seattle, we all flew home at our own expense.
Ever since then, I explore my own alternatives in case things go wrong and Amtrak doesn't provide an alternative. I think such a thing happening again would be quite unusual, but I like to be prepared. Thus, I noticed that if my San Joaquin train started running late on its way to Martinez, I could get off at Stockton and take the Amtrak thru-way bus up to Sacramento which is scheduled to arrive 3 hours and 35 minutes ahead of the California Zephyr. Thus, the train could be running as much as 3 hours late up to Stockton and I'd still be able to make the connection with the California Zephyr. In Chicago, I noticed that I could get off the California Zephyr in Naperville and take a taxi about 15 miles to Joliet. The train could be as much as 4 hours late and I'd still be able to make that connection. Pleased with the alternatives that I found to solve the problem of late trains, I made my reservation over the Internet.
When I actually did head north on the San Joaquins, I had no problem deciding on whether to change trains in Martinez or Richmond. The Conductor was totally mystified why I had reservations to change trains in Richmond and just told me point blank: "You will change trains in Martinez." He wanted no part of risking missing the connection between trains if his train started to run a little late. He assured me there would be no problem of my bedroom still being available. I think that was really a hollow guarantee as I don't think he was psychic, but I also placed a 99% probability on my bedroom not being resold to someone else in that short 30 minute interval. Thus, I had no problem complying with the Conductor's suggestion since I probably would have decided to do the change at Martinez instead of Richmond even without the Conductor's suggestion.
On the California Zephyr:
An announcement was made that this train is completely sold out. Every seat would be needed and the crew asked that people please not place luggage on the seat beside them. They also mentioned that they would be reseating people who boarded the train and wasn't assigned a seat by the Car Attendant. The reason for this is that there are many couples and families traveling on this train. To try to keep couples and families together, they will be putting individual strangers together in pairs of seats so that couples and families will also be able to sit together.
The Sleeping Cars are also quite full. The 31 and 32 cars are just about full. The 33 car that I am in is the only one with a large amount of open rooms. However, these rooms are probably reserved by people that will be boarding down the line. Generally the reservation assigns rooms from lowest to highest. I often get room 2 or 3 when I make my reservation 6 or more months in advance. Since I made this reservation less than a week before the start of this trip, I got room 13. That meant they were getting close to running out of rooms. When I boarded the train, however, the Car Attendant asked me if I would like to sit upstairs. He had room 6 available. There was probably a last minute cancellation that made this room available. I took it since the view is better upstairs than downstairs.
Channel 96 - 161.550 - MP 37.1 - Track 1 - "Stop The Train!"
Channel 96 - 161.550 - MP 45.1 - 12:32 P.M. (PDT)- "No Defects"
Channel 96 - 161.550 - MP 63.2 - "No Defects"
No problems were discovered after the "Stop The Train!" warning and we went ahead.
Channel 96 - 161.550 - MP 078.7 - 01:21 P.M. (PDT) - "No Defects"
Channel 96 - 161.550 - MP 110.2 - 01:54 P.M. (PDT) - "No Defects"
Channel 96 - 161.550 - MP 111.0 - 01:54 P.M. (PDT) - "No Defects"
Channel 14 - 160.320 - MP 148.6 - 02:50 P.M. (PDT) - "No Defects"
Channel 14 - 160.320 - MP 167.7 - 03:54 P.M. (PDT) - "No Defects"
Channel 14 - 160.320 - MP 186.0 - 04.38 P.M. (PDT) - "No Defects"
The old California Zephyr Route Guides with the extensive detailed route information were available on the train. However, they were not placed into each room. I found a stack of them on the downstairs luggage rack by the vestibule as I entered the train and took one. Later, I found a huge box of them on the floor. I may take a few back with me just in case these become very hard items to obtain in the future. I suspect they will continue to replace these with the new less detailed route guides as these still say "Desert Wind" on them in addition to "California Zephyr."
I found a new convenient way to pack my luggage. I pack everything that I will need into my room into a thin carry bag that I then place inside my suitcase. Just before boarding the train, I remove this pre-packed bag from my suitcase. Once I board, I put my suitcase on the downstairs luggage rack and bring the pre-packed bag to my room. Everything I will need for this segment of my journey (until I get to a hotel) is in that bag. I won't need to use anything from my suitcase until I get to the hotel.
Every train I have ever been on has served endless complimentary non-alcoholic beverages for the entire journey. A large variety of soda, bottled water, juice, etc. is usually to be found on top of the coffee center. You can have as much as you want during the trip. If they run out of anything, you just ask your Car Attendant to bring more. Sometimes a small bottle of wine would even be placed into the room of each passenger at no charge. At other times, I have been given a voucher for any type of beverage, even alcoholic, from the lounge car.
I guess the austerity measures are starting to have their affect. Instead of having endless soft drinks available, I was given a voucher that read as follows:
FIRST CLASS SERVICE
Please enjoy a complimentary
of your choice.
Simply present this Cart to
your Lounge Car Attendant at
any point during your trip and
receive your beverage.
Thank you for choosing
First Class Service
aboard one of our...
GREAT TRAINS OF THE WEST
Car & Room No.________
One card per person, per trip.
What is your opinion of this new policy? Maybe you should express that directly to Amtrak.
Channel 14 - 160.320 - MP 206.0 - 05:12 P.M. (PDT)
Channel 14 - 160.320 - MP 224.0 - 05:22 P.M. (PDT)
Channel 54 - 160.920 - MP 592.1 - 09:37 A.M. (MDT) Wednesday, July 23, 1997
Channel 54 - 160.920 - MP 578.9 - 09:52 A.M. (MDT)
Channel 54 - 160.920 - MP 563.1 - 10:09 A.M. (MDT)
Channel 54 - 160.920 - MP 549.0 - 10:28 A.M. (MDT)
Channel 54 - 160.920 - MP 530.1 - 10:54 A.M. (MDT)
I think I finally got some clear photos of small antelope right by the tracks. I've taken photos of antelope and elk that I've spotted from the train before, but the animals have either been too blurry because they were too close to the fast moving train, or they were too small because they were too far away. This time, two antelope were walking about 60 feet from the tracks. I took 4 shots with the zoom lense and hope some of them come out fine.
Channel 54 - 160.920 - MP 519.0 - 11:19 A.M. (MDT)
Channel 54 - 160.920 - MP 508.3 - 11:39 A.M. (MDT)
Channel 54 - 160.920 - MP 490.0 - 11:59 A.M. (MDT)
I found something else interesting to do while on the train. Before your trip, purchase a map of the U.S. Railroads from Altamont Press and then purchase a good compass from a sporting goods store. Open your map to the section covering the current route segment and place your compass on top of the map. There will be an arrow on the compass which you should point toward the front of the train. In this way, you will always know what direction the train is heading and will have a good idea where you are on the railroad map. This has often answered the mystery why the sun will sometimes be out the left window of the train in the morning while the train is heading north. Since the sun shouldn't be in the west in the morning, I have sometimes been baffled by that. Naturally the sun really wasn't in the west in the morning. Tracks were built in a way that they sometimes go in a direction opposite from the destination of the tracks. This was to get around difficult obstacles, to wind their way through a canyon, or to produce a mild grade while climbing or descending from mountains. Thus, a train can sometimes be actually going due south even when your ultimate destination is at a higher latitude than where you started. Using the map and the compass, these mysteries are resolved immediately.
Channel 54 - 160.920 - MP 467.8 - 12:12 P.M. (MDT)
Channel 54 - 160.920 - MP 454.7 - 12:37 P.M. (MDT)
Channel 23 - 160.455 - MP 433.5 - 01:22 P.M. (MDT)
Channel 23 - 160.455 - MP 419.5 - 01:48 P.M. (MDT)
Channel 23 - 160.455 - MP 406.5 - 02:02 P.M. (MDT)
Channel 23 - 160.455 - MP 389.2 - 02:15 P.M. (MDT)
Channel 23 - 160.455 - MP 375.4 - 02:29 P.M. (MDT)
Channel 23 - 160.455 - MP 365.0 - 02:39 P.M. (MDT)
Channel 23 - 160.455 - MP 344.6 - 03:29 P.M. (MDT)
Channel 23 - 160.455 - MP 039.2 - 07:20 P.M. (MDT)
On the Texas Eagle:
Channel 54 - 160.920 - Chicago to Joilet, Illinois
Channel 78 - 161.280 - MP 044.0 - 07:57 P.M. (CDT) - Joilet, IL
Channel 78 - 161.280 - MP 062.8 - 08:12 P.M. (CDT)
Channel 78 - 161.280 - MP 080.4 - 08:30 P.M. (CDT)
There are only 3 Deluxe Bedrooms and 4 Economy Rooms empty on this train. I don't know how many Family and Handicap Rooms are available, but there is at least one Handicap Room empty. A party of 3 in coach wanted to upgrade to a sleeper to Dallas from Chicago. Because they are taking rooms that would go empty otherwise and they have already paid the railfare portion of their journey, they get was is called the "deep discount". An upgrade to the Economy Room costs $115. An upgrade to the Deluxe Room costs $236. An upgrade to the Handicap Room costs $152, which is only allowed because they already know by now that no mobility impaired person has reserved it. The Conductor told them the Handicap Room sleeps 3 and they decided on that. Now that is strange. I've always stated the Handicap Room as sleeping 2. This could be interesting. There are only seats for 2 in the Handicap Room unless someone is going to sit on the toilet! The Handicap Room is actually identical to an Economy Room except that it has a lot of extra space for a wheelchair and a toilet behind a curtain. Personally, I'll take an Economy Room over the Handicap Room anyday!
Thursday, July 24, 1997
Channel 78 - 161.280 - MP 096.6 - 08:30 P.M. (CDT)
Channel 78 - 161.280 - MP 115.1 - 08:47 P.M. (CDT)
Channel 78 - 161.280 - MP 133.8 - 09:26 P.M. (CDT)
Channel 78 - 161.280 - MP 147.6 - 09:37 P.M. (CDT)
Channel 78 - 161.280 - MP 163.4 - 09:53 P.M. (CDT)
Channel 78 - 161.280 - MP 176.6 - 10:04 P.M. (CDT)
Channel 22 - 160.440 - Springfield Diverging (CDT)
Channel 78 - 161.280 - MP 191.1 - 10:29 P.M. (CDT)
Standard (Economy) Bedroom numbers 2, 6, 8, 13 and 14 are now empty in the 31 car (2131). They seem to be getting quite a few people wanting to upgrade from coach to sleeping cars. They just moved another couple into room 6 from coach. I think Amtrak should have kept the name of the room to be "Economy" instead of changing it to "Standard Bedroom". When I first got on the train, one family took a look at a "Standard Bedroom" and declared taking a bus would have been as good as that accommodation! Fortunately the were heading to the wrong room. They were actually suppose to be in Deluxe Bedroom "E" which is much larger. Hopefully they were more pleased with that accommodation. Personally I find the Standard (Economy) Bedroom just the right size when traveling alone and don't find any problem with it when traveling with my wife or one of my two children. If you expect something the size of a hotel room or even the size of a small cabin on a cruise ship, you will be shocked. I still think the best way to visualize the size is to think of 3 telephone booths in a row. That is about the size and dimensions of the Standard (Economy) Sleeper. Actually, the Standard Sleeper might be just a bit wider by a few inches. That leaves enough room for 2 very wide chairs, but lengthwise doesn't give much room for those chairs to recline. The chairs in Coach recline much more than those in the sleepers, but the chairs in Coach can't be turned into a flat bed!
Thursday, July 24, 1997
Channel 78 - 161.280 - MP 214.6 - 10:49 P.M. (CDT)
Channel 78 - 161.280 - MP 229.9 - 11:04 P.M. (CDT)
Channel 78 - 161.280 - MP 239.8 - 11:14 P.M. (CDT)
Channel 78 - 161.280 - MP 255.6 - 11:28 P.M. (CDT)
Friday, July 25, 1997
Channel 26 - 160.500 - From before St. Louis to before Little Rock
Channel 42 - 160.470 - Around Little Rock, Arkansas - 08:15 A.M. (CDT)
Channel 27 - 160.515 - From Little Rock on south - 8:56 A.M. (CDT)
Channel 27 - 160.515 - MP 395-- - 09:05 A.M. (CDT) - 72 MPH
Channel 27 - 160.515 - MP 406.3 - 09:14 A.M. (CDT)
I just lost power to the electrical outlet in my room. The lights and everything else work fine. Only the outlet doesn't work anymore! The Car Attendant came by about a half hour later. He found that a circuit breaker had to be reset. I have often seen power to the outlet go out, but only when power to the entire train was cut from the Head End Power (HEP). Then, all electrical except emergency lighting goes out. This was the first time I had ever seen just the electric outlet go out and the lights continue to work. It turns out that there is a seperate circuit breaker just for the electrical outlets. There is just one for each side of the car. Thus, if anyone plugged something in to overload the circuit in any of the bedrooms on my side of the train, it could have tripped the circuit breaker. Once the Car Attendant reset the circuit breaker, everything was find. Since there are only a few more hours left in this journey, I decided not to attempt to recharge one of my empty spare cellular batteries nor plug in my electric clock. I didn't want to take a chance on losing power again and being left with only 2 hours of battery life on my notebook computer.
Friday, July 25, 1997
Channel 27 - 160.515 - MP 432.0 - 09:47 A.M. (CDT)
Channel 27 - 160.515 - MP 441.4 - 09:55 A.M. (CDT) - "Defect Detected. Axle 6 at head end of train" - 56 MPH
The engineer stopped the train fairly quickly. After he reported that no defect could be found, the train continued.
Channel 27 - 160.515 - MP 453.. - 10:15 A.M. (CDT) - 76 MPH
Channel 27 - 160.515 - MP 476.. - 10:48 A.M. (CDT) - 74 MPH
Channel 27 - 160.515 - MP 006.. - 11:17 A.M. (CDT) - 74 MPH
Channel 27 - 160.515 - MP 018.. - 11:29 A.M. (CDT) - 72 MPH
Channel 27 - 160.515 - MP 029.. - 11:39 A.M. (CDT) - 74 MPH
Channel 27 - 160.515 - MP 046.. - 11:56 A.M. (CDT) - 72 MPH
Channel 27 - 160.515 - MP 062.. - 12:29 A.M. (CDT) - 64 MPH
We seem to have made up a little time and Longview came up faster than I expected. Longview is where Ray Dunbar, Chairman of the Regional Conference of Rail Passengers was going to board the Texas Eagle. I was about to head to the Coach Cars when Ray stepped right out in front of me and said: "Are you Steve Grande? I'm Ray Dunbar." Ray decided at the last minute to get a Sleeper instead of a Coach Car and was just a couple of rooms down from mine in the same Sleeping Car. After introductions, we went on a hunt through the train for other people that would be attending the meeting. Bill Pollard of Conway, Arkansas was in one of the Deluxe Rooms with his family. We also met Bill Eldridge who had made up and was wearing one of the "Don't mess with the Texas Eagle" T-Shirts. He had given them free to all the Amtrak staff up and down the Texas Eagle line and was selling them to others for $10 each. I purchased one and wore it to the meeting.
First thing we did when we arrived into Dallas was to put our bags in the trunk of the cars of one of the people that drove to the meeting. We then boarded the Trinity Rail Express and took that to Irving, Texas, just 20 minutes outside of downtown Dallas. This rail line only runs on weekdays, so this would be our only chance to ride this train this weekend. They use old budliner cars on this route which have been totally refurbished. The seating was comfortable and the ride was great. To ride this train, you use the same pass as is used on the DART which costs $1 for a single ride, $2 round-trip and $3 for an all-day pass. Children, seniors and disabled can ride for half-price. Round-trip, including a short wait at the end of the line, was under an hour. The Trinity Rail Express will be extended to reach all the way to downtown Ft. Worth, Texas over the next couple of years. For there end of things, Ft. Worth decided to purchase push-pull equipment instead of budliners. As a matter of fact, they out-bid Los Angeles for a few sets of "GO" equipment and the Los Angeles Metrolink is going to have to wait a little longer to get the equipment that they had intended to purchase.
Once we got back to Union Station in Dallas, we took a DART (Dallas Area Rapid Transit) light rail vehicle one stop to the Hampton Inn, our hotel, at the West End DART station. If you come to Dallas, that is a nice place to stay. An even more convenient place to stay is the Hyatt Regency which is directly connected to Dallas Union Station by an underground tunnel. However, I've heard that room rates start at around $179 per night. We did explore the hotel and it is a really beautiful place. There is a huge indoor atrium where you can look up and see the balconies of the corridors to every floor of the hotel. There is also a bar and a cafe in that atrium area. A major "Mary Kay" convention was going on while we were in town and you couldn't help but see Mary Kay people everywhere in every hotel!
After dropping off our bags, we all walked a few blocks down to the "West End" where there are many restaurants. We ate at the Spaghetti Warehouse. I can't remember the names of everyone that was there, but there were about 7 of the people that would be presenting at the conference the next day.
I'm not going to go into details about the meeting as I'm sure you will be able to find that at the "Mobility Dallas" web site shortly. I can't give you the web address nor see what's posted there yet as I'm still on the Sunset Limited right now! As soon as I am able to get that web address, I will provide it to you here and post it to "What's New".
I will say that I thought that the meeting was well worth my while to travel from California to Dallas. I met a lot of people with whom I had been exchanging e-mail for many months and would only have been able to meet them at a conference like this.
There were over 50 attendees from at least 6 states. That is an excellent turn-out for a meeting that was announced on such short notice. There were both up-points and down-points to the meeting. The down-points included the announcement that the half-cent gas tax had failed to materialize from the Senate/House Conference Committee. That means that Amtrak will continue to be a year-to-year political football and won't know what its existence or budget will be from one year to the next. Without a devoted source of income, Amtrak cannot make any long term plans and has to pay the highest rate of interest on all their loans for capital equipment. On the other hand, the high point of the meeting was the announcement by Amtrak that the Texas Eagle has been placed back into the online reservation system for booking beyond October, will have the full capability of being booked like other routes as soon as the Fall'97 timetables are announced, and will live-on indefinitely. In other words, the plans to scrap the Texas Eagle have been scrapped and the Texas Eagle will live on so long as Amtrak lives on! This does go to show what a grass-roots effort can achieve and shows that we need the same grass-roots effort to get support for the entire Amtrak system.
After the meeting, a few of us boarded the DART and took it up to the north end of the line at Park Lane. There is a really big shopping center near that station with a free shuttle between the DART station and the shopping center. I didn't get a chance to go to the shopping center this trip, but those that did have a chance enjoyed it.
After the DART trip, we ate at a place called THE YO RANCH RESTAURANT at 702 Ross Avenue (214-744-3287) in the West End. The steak and mashed potatoes were some of the best that I have ever had and the service was great!
Ray Dunbar and I met downstairs at the free continental breakfast at the Hampton Inn in the morning. After a cup of coffee, we headed out to explore the rest of the DART system. Starting at the West End DART station, we took the Blue Line down to Ledbetter and stayed on for the return trip as far as Cedars. We got off at Cedars and the southbound Red Line DART was already in sight! We crossed the tracks and took that train down to Westmoreland. We stayed on that train for the return trip all the way back to the West End station. Between yesterday and today, we had traveled the entire DART system.
After checking out of the hotel at noon, we headed back to the West End for some lunch. I think we ate at a place called Crockodiles. The food was pretty good there.
There wasn't much to do after that other than to head down to Dallas Union Station and wait for our trains. We met quite a few of the other conference attendees there. Everyone was going north except for me. Both trains were running a little late. The Dallas Channel 4 Fox TV News showed up because of the news that the Texas Eagle had been extended indefinitely. They interviewed three of us on camera from the conference: Bill Eldridge, Bill Pollard and myself. They also filmed the "Don't mess with the Texas Eagle" T-shirt plus some shots of the station and the arrival of the southbound Texas Eagle as well as interviewing other passengers.
Sunday, July 27, 1997
Channel 78 - 161.280 - MP 237.. - 04.44 P.M. (CDT)
Channel 36 - 160.650 - From Ft. Worth, Texas heading south.
Channel 36 - 160.650 - MP 331.3 - 06:16 P.M. (CDT)
Channel 36 - 160.650 - MP 307.8 - 06:48 P.M. (CDT)
Channel 36 - 160.650 - MP 301.1 - 06:52 P.M. (CDT)
Channel 36 - 160.650 - MP 285.9 - 07:01 P.M. (CDT)
Channel 36 - 160.650 - MP 265.7 - 07:25 P.M. (CDT)
Channel 36 - 160.650 - MP 247.. - 07:42 P.M. (CDT)
Channel 36 - 160.650 - MP 224.8 - 08:10 P.M. (CDT)
Channel 24 - 160.470 - From Tempie, Texas heading south.
Channel 24 - 160.470 - MP 892.. - 08:45 P.M. (CDT)
Channel 24 - 160.470 - MP 911.. - 09:08 P.M. (CDT)
Channel 42 - 160.740 - From Taylon, Texas heading south.
Channel 42 - 160.740 - MP 183.1 - 10:25 P.M. (CDT)
Channel 42 - 160.740 - MP 198.. - 10:42 P.M. (CDT)
Channel 42 - 160.740 - MP 227.. - 11:34 P.M. (CDT)
Here we are in San Antonio, Texas waiting for the westbound Sunset Limited. The Sunset Limited is suppose to be here at 4:35 A.M., but the last word we have heard is that it won't be here until at least 11 A.M., more than 6 hours late. There are about a dozen people in the Sleepers making the transition from the Texas Eagle to the Sunset Limited and I don't know how many in the Coach Cars. The passengers are about to start a revolution. There is coffee here, but no breakfast and not even any pastries, donuts, or anything. That is probably because there isn't any crew here either other than the Chief of Onboard Services, and he has his hands full!
You might be wondering why there is no crew for this train. We have to go back a little to explain that. Before the May 11, 1997 timetable changes, one Coach Car and one Sleeping Car from the Texas Eagle would be moved from the Texas Eagle onto the Sunset Limited in San Antonio. The Car Attendants and all the other service crew members would remain with the Texas Eagle until morning. In the morning, a new set of Car Attendants would show up for the cars that were being moved from the Texas Eagle to the Sunset Limited. Since there are no thru-cars from the Texas Eagle to the Sunset Limited anymore, everyone is suppose to get off the Texas Eagle and onto the Sunset Limited at 4:35 A.M. Theoretically, no crew is needed on the Texas Eagle in the morning since everyone is suppose to be off the train by 5:00 A.M.
Then, we have an occasion like this morning, which is actually quite common for the Sunset Limited. The Sunset Limited is delayed by many hours and we are left with no Car Attendants on the Texas Eagle. I think it is wonderful that they do let us sleep on the Texas Eagle from 11:59 P.M. at night until the Sunset Limited does arrive. When they first got rid of the thru-cars, they were having ALL passengers get off the train at 11:59 P.M. after which they would have to spend the night sitting in the station! I just hope they don't try to solve this "missing crew" problem in the future by having everyone spend the night in the station again. That would kill what little "through travel" remains between the Texas Eagle and Sunset Limited after the elimination of the thru-cars.
When there used to be Car Attendants on the thru-cars in the morning, they'd immediately work on solving the breakfast problem as soon as they realized the Sunset Limited was late. Last time I took the Texas Eagle, the Sunset Limited was also late, but they had breakfast for us from Denny's pretty early in the morning. But I'd rather put up with a late or missing breakfast anytime rather than spend the night in the station, especially after having paid for a sleeping car bedroom!
At around 10 A.M., they did bring us breakfast from McDonald's. They had us all go up to the downstairs of the very last Coach Car. That was a bit interesting. The downstairs of the Coach Car was all set up as a snack bar, though it usually isn't used on this train. I think they usually just keep it locked up. It must be a leftover configuration that was used on Amtrak routes that had Superliner Coach Cars but didn't have the Sightseer Lounge/Cafe Car. I had to walk outside to get to the last Coach Car. The Dining Car and Sightseer Lounge Cars were all locked up and you could not walk through these cars from on the train. Seems to me that people might have been a lot more patient if they could have used these cars and not been confined to their Coach seats and Sleeping Car rooms, but I suppose that wasn't possible without the full on-board crew to service these rooms and keep them clean.
I got my McDonald's meal. I think they had some different ones, though most of them were the same. They asked us to please just take the next one they put out and don't ask for a specific type of meal. They asked us to see if we could trade with our neighbor if we didn't like the one that we got since it was too difficult to hunt through each meal to provide each person with the specific meal they wanted. The one I got was the one with pancakes, eggs, sausage, muffin, hash browns and orange juice. I think that is what most people got, but I did see some that appeared to be packaged differently. I had no complaints about the breakfast. I actually like McDonald's breakfasts but try to avoid them. But, this occasion was a good excuse to just dive in!
While down at that Coach Car, I met another person wearing the same T-Shirt that I was wearing "Don't mess with the Texas Eagle" from the Arkansas - East Texas Association of Railroad Passengers." He was from the National Association of Retired and Veteran Railway Employees, Inc. Another person traveling with him, which I think was his brother, was active in the National Railroad Historical Society. We talked about the Texas Eagle and other trains for a while, exchanged business cards, and I gave them each a notice about the upcoming Amtrak Historical Society meeting next May.
The latest word that we have now is that the Sunset Limited won't be here until 12:30 P.M. or maybe 12:45 P.M. I can understand the impatience of everyone, especially those that are suppose to connect to the Coast Starlight in Los Angeles. Fortunately, I don't have any specific time that I need to get back. With my computer here, I have plenty of work that I can get done right here! Unfortunately, my cellular provider doesn't appear to have a cross-agreement with either of the cellular providers in this area. I can't make a call from here without using a credit card and I've always had bad experiences using credit cards for cellular phone calls. Twice my phone has gotten blocked and refused to work until I brought it back to my cellular company and the only one time it did work, the charges for a short 3 minute call were over $10! Thus, if I can't get just call direct on my cell phone, I don't use it. For most of the entire nation, my cell phone works just find. Texas is about the only area where it doesn't work just fine.
We've just been told that they are going to make an announcement about 11:45 A.M. or noon, asking people to gather their stuff together and to get off the train by about noon so that everyone will be ready to board when the Sunset Limited arrives. They apologized that it is hot outside and that the station is very small and crowded, but that they have to get everyone off by about noon to avoid anyone from hurrying or hurting themselves when the Sunset Limited does arrive. I guess that means we may be standing out in the heat with our luggage for about 45 minutes to an hour waiting for the Sunset Limited to arrive and getting ready to board. They have 3 big green box cars and one express car on the end of this train which I'm sure they are going to want to switch to the Sunset Limited before they let any passengers off or on. That is usually the way they do that, and switching cars can take a bit of time.
First signs of the Sunset Limited! The Dispatcher was just telling a repair crew that they had better hurry up and finish. He said the Sunset Limited is at East and Randolf. He said he'd flag him if he could.
Just boarded the Sunset Limited and am on my way! The train is well over 7 hours late at this point.
The crew on this train seems really great! My Car Attendant helped me with my bags without even asking, immediately brought me a newspaper, and then brought a Diet Pepsi with a cup of ice and let me know she had plenty more drinks if I wanted anything else! She managed to squeeze in this service even though she had a lot to do getting a lot of passengers off and on at San Antonio and this Sleeping Car is totally sold out!
The Conductor was great too! He saw the T-Shirt I was wearing and we got into a brief discussion about the Texas Eagle. Even the Cafe Car Attendant was great and also talked a bit with me about my T-Shirt and the latest news of the Texas Eagle! Even with this train being extremely late, this segment of the journey is off to a great start!
Monday, July 28, 1997
Channel 14 - 160.320 - San Antonio, Texas.
Channel 22 - 160.440 - San Antonio, Texas.
Channel 96 - 161.550 - MP 287.9 - 02:56 P.M. (CDT)
Channel 96 - 161.550 - MP 292.8 - 03:01 P.M. (CDT) - 65mph - 95 degrees
Channel 96 - 161.550 - MP 296.3
Channel 96 - 161.550 - MP 304.7 - 03:11 P.M. (CDT)
Channel 96 - 161.550 - MP 311.0 - 03:17 P.M. (CDT) - 58mph
Channel 96 - 161.550 - MP 327.7 - 03:34 P.M. (CDT) - 73mph - 91 degrees
Channel 96 - 161.550 - MP 345.5 - 53mph
Channel 96 - 161.550 - MP 359.9 - 04:07 P.M. (CDT) - 68mph - 88 degrees
Channel 96 - 161.550 - MP 362.0 - 04:09 P.M. (CDT)
Channel 96 - 161.550 - MP 369.2 - 04:18 P.M. (CDT)
Channel 96 - 161.550 - MP 374.0 - 04:23 P.M. (CDT) - 61mph
Channel 96 - 161.550 - MP 386.0 - 04:39 P.M. (CDT) - 74mph
Channel 96 - 161.550 - MP 388.2 - 04:41 P.M. (CDT)
Channel 96 - 161.550 - MP 398.7 - 04:51 P.M. (CDT) - 48mph - 91 degrees
Channel 96 - 161.550 - MP 417.2 - 05:11 P.M. (CDT) - 38mph
Channel 96 - 161.550 - MP 434.4 - 05:37 P.M. (CDT) - 42mph - 91 degrees
Channel 96 - 161.550 - MP 459.2 - 06:12 P.M. (CDT) - Problem Detected
The Conductor got out and walked down to where the problem was detected but couldn't find anything. After another 20 minute delay, we proceeded on our way.
Monday, July 28, 1997
Channel 96 - 161.550 - MP 462.7 - 06:33 P.M. (CDT)
Channel 96 - 161.550 - MP 471.9 - 06:46 P.M. (CDT) - 38mph
Channel 96 - 161.550 - MP 485.1 - 07:05 P.M. (CDT) - 67mph - 87 degrees
Channel 96 - 161.550 - MP 497.2 - 07:16 P.M. (CDT) - 50mph
Channel 14 - 161.320 - From Sanderson, Texas on west.
Channel 14 - 161.320 - MP 557.3 - 08:18 P.M. (CDT) - 77mph
Channel 14 - 161.320 - MP 571.1 - 08:38 P.M. (CDT) - 78mph - 74 degrees
Although the freight railroad dispatchers are suppose to give priority to the Amtrak passenger trains, the Union Pacific is notorious for ignoring their contractual obligation to Amtrak. They consistently give their own freight trains priority over the Amtrak Sunset Limited. Each time this train was delayed, the crew made a special effort to point this as the cause of each delay. They would announce that the train was being put into a siding so that one or two freight trains could make their way by the Sunset Limited. This was a large factor in the 8 hour delay that this train has experienced on this run.
There are complicating factors, however. There is a lot of rail repairs and construction going on between Florida and Texas. This tends to make all of the trains on these lines late. However, it is very possible that the UP is more likely to give their own trains priority during this construction because they are already under a lot of pressure from their own trains being delayed by the construction. Letting them go ahead of Amtrak keeps them from getting even further behind, but it has a terrible impact on this passenger train which is suppose to run close to schedule.
I had a wonderful dinner with a couple of young guys, one from England and one that just starting his Navy tour of duty. I went up to the Dining Car at what I thought was about 8:39 P.M. Up until about 7:00 P.M., I thought the calls for the reservations were going early. They called the people with the 7:30 P.M dinner reservations at 7:00 P.M. But then, I didn't hear another call. It was already 8:39 P.M. and I had an 8:30 P.M. reservation. I decided to investigate, figuring either I missed the call or they didn't want to use the P.A. system that late at night. When I got to the Dining Car, I found out that it was really almost 9:30 P.M.! I don't know how my clock got off by about 45 minutes, but take all the above times with a grain of salt. I'm pretty sure the time we left San Antonio was accurate, but I think my electric clock lost some time while I had it unplugged. It has a battery that is suppose to keep the time correct when the power is out, but maybe I accidentally hit the buttons that change the time. My pager had the correct time on it, but I don't look at that as long as my electric clock is set up in my room.
The service people in the Dining Car were wonderful. They apologized for the confusion. They actually had not made the call for 8:30 P.M.! They had still been full with the 7:30 P.M. Diners and other people, such as diabetics that have to eat on time. That wasn't a problem with me nor with the other people at my table. I had made the last available reservation because I wanted to start getting used to California time again. An 8:30 P.M. reservation for Central Time was only 6:30 P.M. Pacific Time! The service people were really exhausted. That was totally understandable. This train was sold out so they had an awful lot of people to feed. I wasn't in a rush to get back, but a lot of people were tense because of the late running train. They had people to meet and other trains to catch. That can create an edgy atmosphere that can be wearing on the entire crew.
I've got to make sure I get this Car Attendant's name before I get off this train. She is one of the hardest workers I have ever seen on an Amtrak train. She is working non-stop. Some people wanted meals in their rooms and she delivered them right to the rooms. She also came by and brought me another Diet Pepsi right to my room with ice. I had to tell her to not worry about making my bed. I might not go to bed until 2 A.M., which will only be 12 midnight California time. I didn't want her waiting up expecting a service call at any time in the night to come put down my bed. After 60,000 miles of Amtrak travel, I told her that I wouldn't have any problem taking care of that. I've met many Car Attendants that I have given the max tip for their attention to their passengers, but this one goes beyond the call of duty. Even those other good Car Attendants vanish for various intervals of time. They have the refreshment center loaded up with beverages, they make sure that everyone is happy, but then they may vanish for an hour or so quite often during the day. Once they have taken care of everything, I think they like to hang out in the dormitory car or maybe just go to their own room. For the hours they keep, I'm sure they often deserve those breaks. Those are actually good Car Attendants since a lot of others don't come close to even doing that much for their passengers. But this Car Attendant seems to go around looking for things to do! Even if nobody is calling her, she checks to see if anyone needs anything. I didn't need a Diet Pepsi at that moment, but if you ask me if I want one, I'll certainly take one! There is always more that a Car Attendant can do for their passengers to make their trip more enjoyable if the Car Attendant goes looking for those things to do, but most of them don't go looking for extra work. This one does! But, she also doesn't disturb people with such attention if their door is closed and curtain drawn, which is also an important quality for a Car Attendant to have.
Monday, July 28, 1997
Channel 14 - 161.320 - MP 626.6 - 10:32 P.M. (CDT)
Channel 14 - 161.320 - MP 640.1 - 10:46 P.M. (CDT) - 69mph - 68 degrees
Channel 14 - 161.320 - MP 656.0 - 11:01 P.M. (CDT) - 70mph
Channel 14 - 161.320 - MP 671.0 - 11:11 P.M. (CDT) - 79mph - 70 degrees
Channel 14 - 161.320 - MP 706.8 - 11:40 P.M. (CDT)
Channel 14 - 161.320 - MP 721.5 - 11:50 P.M. (CDT) - 55mph
Tuesday, July 29, 1997
Channel 14 - 161.320 - MP 734.5 - 12:04 A.M. (CDT) - 59mph
Channel 14 - 161.320 - MP 765.5 - 12:32 A.M. (CDT) - 74mph
Channel 14 - 161.320 - MP 776.2 - 12:41 A.M. (CDT) - 69mph
Channel 14 - 161.320 - El Paso, Texas
Channel 54 - 160.950 - El Paso, Texas heading west
Channel 96 - 161.550 - MP 1016.4 - 06:51 A.M. (CDT)
Channel 14 - 161.320 - Tucson, Arizona - 06:52 A.M. (CDT)
Channel 14 - 161.320 - MP 888.4 - 08:13 A.M. (CDT) - 74mph
Channel 14 - 161.320 - MP 878.7 - 08:21 A.M. (CDT)
Channel 14 - 161.320 - MP 865.0 - 08:33 A.M. (CDT)
Channel 14 - 161.320 - MP 873.5 - 08:44 A.M. (CDT)
Last night the Conductor found what is called a "carry-by" on the train. That is someone who is still on the train after the train has left the destination station for that person. That person was suppose to get off at El Paso, Texas but wasn't discovered until almost 2 stations and over 150 miles later after Deming, New Mexico. He wanted to know when he could catch the next return train. That wouldn't be unil Wednesday morning! That person would have to stay in a hotel for a couple of nights! The Conductor said that the man should stay on this train all the way to Los Angeles and then take the next return train back. They'd issue a "713" which would allow him to ride back to El Paso, Texas without charges. Instead, the man decided to get off at Lordsburg, New Mexico. Amtrak would pay for a night in the hotel and then he would find his own way back to El Paso, Texas. It is very important that you be in your seat as the time approaches for your station, especially if it is in the middle of the night. The Car Attendant or Conductor will wake you up to get off the train at your station, but they can only do that if you are sitting in your seat. They will hunt the whole train for you if you aren't in your seat, but that can cause delays for everyone, and sometimes they might not be able to find you in time before the train leaves!
Tuesday, July 29, 1997
Channel 14 - 161.320 - MP 834.9 - 79mph
Channel 14 - 161.320 - MP 821.8 - 09:07 A.M. (MST) - 71mph
Channel 14 - 161.320 - MP 806.6 - 09:22 A.M. (MST) - 78mph
Channel 14 - 161.320 - MP 790.0 - 09:33 A.M. (MST) - 79mph
Channel 14 - 161.320 - MP 772.7 - 09:46 A.M. (MST) - 79mph
Channel 14 - 161.320 - MP 758.2 - 10:00 A.M. (MST) - 64mph
Channel 14 - 161.320 - MP 740.2 - 10:45 A.M. (MST) - 80mph
Between the stations of Tucson, Arizona and Yuma, Arizona, we had to go into two different sidings to wait for 3 freight trains to pass us in the opposite direction. The rumors that the UP is paying very little attention to their contractual obligation to give Amtrak trains priority certainly seems true. We are now over 11 hours late. All of the delays while I have been on the train have been because of going into sidings to let freight trains pass. The other passengers tell me that it has been the same story for the segment the train traveled before I came onboard.
A lady in the room next to me is going into hysterics. She is crying and moaning and is having trouble breathing. Her husband and the Car Attendant are tending to her. From conversations I overheard earlier, they seemed to have a lot of knowledge of rail travel and be real enthusiasts. This may be the trip that changes that for them. I can understand that. This trip has been one delay piled on top of the next.
If you have read a lot of my writings, then you know that I always recommend that you never schedule a connection between trains of less than 4 hours, even though Amtrak guarantees 1 hour connections. Those 1 hour guarantees are fine, if you don't mind part of your rail trip being converted into a bus trip, a plane trip, or an extra night in a hotel. If you want to do your whole trip entirely by rail, make sure you have at least 4 hours between connecting trains, even if that means staying over in a city an extra day. Do a little touring and get to know that city!
For the Sunset Limited, you might want to throw the 4 hour suggestion out the window and always plan on staying one night at your connecting point. If you want to relax and enjoy your travel on the Sunset Limited, then you have to arrange your travel on it so that it doesn't matter if the train is 12 hours late! Then you can just sit back and enjoy the trip knowing that you have a cozy bed waiting for you in a hotel and a truly "guaranteed" connection of a train heading out the next day. Until the construction work on this line is finished and the UP gets a better attitude about making sure Amtrak gets through in a timely manner, I'd just suggest always booking your connecting train for the day after the Sunset Limited is suppose to arrive into that connecting city.
Right now there are 2 slow freight trains in front of us heading in the same direction as us. The Dispatcher says he'll try and get them out of our way as soon as he can.
Tuesday, July 29, 1997
Channel 96 - 161.550 - MP 723.7 - 11:55 A.M. (MST) - Yuma, AZ
Channel 96 - 161.320 - MP 722.5 - 11:56 A.M. (MST) - 56mph
Are you ready to hear about the connections? They finally announced how they are going to handle people who have missed their connections. After you hear how they are going to do this, you would do well to heed my warnings about always doing a layover of one day between the Sunset Limited and whatever train you are connecting to.
People who were going onto the Coast Starlight to points north of Sacramento will be put up in a hotel for this evening in Los Angeles and will then be put on the Coast Starlight tomorrow. I wonder what they do if that train is sold out and they don't have enough bedrooms for everyone? Usually they can find a Coach seat here and there to make sure they get everyone into Coach, but I'd be mighty disappointed if I had reserved a bedroom and had to go Coach on the Coast Starlight.
People who are going to any cities north of Santa Barbara all the way up as far as Sacramento, such as San Luis Obispo, San Jose, Oakland, San Francisco, and Sacramento itself, will get off at Ontario and be taken by bus to their destination cities! That is a pretty awful alternative to the Amtrak Coast Starlight, the flagship of the entire Amtrak system. I'd be very upset if I had planned a journey on the Coast Starlight as part of my rail vacation and missed the 3 hours of coastal rail travel. I wonder if you could insist to be put in a hotel in Los Angeles with the others so that you could take your planned rail travel on the Coast Starlight the following day? If you read the fine print on your ticket about "alternate arrangements", you will see that Amtrak's view of themselves is as a "transportation company" and not as a "tour operator". As long as they can get you to your destination at the fare they quoted, then they feel they have done their job. They don't have to give you the option to go by rail or even give you a refund of any sort so long as they provide you with alternate transportation. I've often questioned this policy as I know many people (maybe that is most people) who book Amtrak because rail is the only way they want to go.
For long rail journeys, I think Amtrak should offer a sort of "rail protection insurance" the same way that some travel agencies offer "trip protection insurance". For an extra $10 or $15, you should be able to buy a guarantee that 100% of the rail portion of your journey will be by rail. If there are any interruptions, then Amtrak would only be allowed to make alternate rail arrangements for you or put you up in a hotel until rail accommodations equal to or better than what you purchased are available. Usually, this will just mean one night in a hotel until the next train. But, if you had an Economy Bedroom and none was available on the next train, Amtrak would have to put you into a better accommodation on the train if it was available, or put you up for another night with the expectation there would be availability the next day. I think that it would be rare that anyone would have to spend more than one night in a hotel, except or trains that don't run daily. There is usually one accommodation of one type or another available on the train, even if it is an unbooked handicapped room or an Economy Bedroom in the crew's Transition Sleeper. There are also a lot of "no shows" and a large number of rooms that remain empty for intermediate segments of the journey. A person might have to change rooms in the middle of their trip when placed onboard at the last minute like this, but at least they get the accommodation they planned and paid for!
The last set of people that have to be bused from this train are those going to cities along the route of the San Joaquin. They are going to bus them from Ontario also. I don't think they are busing them to Bakersfield, the southern starting point for those trains. I think they are going to bus each person to their destination city! The last San Joaquin train leaves Bakersfield about 5 P.M. It takes over 2 hours for a bus to get from Ontario to Bakersfield. Thus, there isn't enough time to make that last San Joaquin. Thus, I'm pretty sure the bus is going to go to every stop along the San Joaquin route for which people are destined on this train.
Tuesday, July 29, 1997
Channel 96 - 161.550 - MP 700.4 - 12:28 P.M. (MST) - 79mph
Channel 96 - 161.550 - MP 685.9 - 12:40 P.M. (MST) - 81mph
They gave everyone in Coach a free breakfast and a free lunch. Breakfast was sort of a free-for-all as far as scheduling. I was in on the first seating so there wasn't much problem, but it got very confusing as more and more people came from Coach for their free meal. For lunch, they started feeding Coach first at about 11:45 A.M. I guess they figured they would get them all out of the way first before bringing in the Sleeping Car passengers. They just came around taking names for lunch but they don't have any idea when the names might be called yet.
The person that took the names for lunch saw my notebook computer and told me that he often brings along a Radio Shack surge protector for people that have computers. He suggested that I get one. I've been using notebook computers on Amtrak for about 60,000 miles without a single problem and I have had to do absolutely zero maintenance on my systems so far. My older notebook computer has seen a tremendous amount of use and hasn't had a single failure yet. I think it is about 3 years old, when the best computer on the market was a 486 33MHz system! I probably need a real electronics person give me the true word about the surge protectors. I'm only guessing, but it seems notebook computers are a bit different than desktop computers in the way they are powered. The notebook computers have an external power supply that converts 110 volts AC down to some low voltage DC usually between 12 and 24 volts. Thus, an AC outlet sort of gives your computer an endless battery supply. I would think that any voltage problems would hit the power supply rather than the computer itself. I'm not sure on that, but I've never used a surge protector. The only measures I take to not push my luck is to unplug my computer when the power to the train goes off. That way, I'm not going to take a hit when they power the car back up.
Tuesday, July 29, 1997
Channel 96 - 161.550 - MP 670.5 - 01:02 P.M. (PDT) - 44mph
Channel 96 - 161.550 - MP 643.8 - 01:26 P.M. (PDT) - 81mph
Channel 96 - 161.550 - MP 627.0 - 01:38 P.M. (PDT) - 83mph
Channel 96 - 161.550 - MP 584.5 - 02:44 P.M. (PDT) - 48mph
Channel 96 - 161.550 - MP 583.2 - 04:19 P.M. (PDT) - 68mph
Do you belive it? They put us off into a siding again! We are sitting here waiting for two more freight trains to go by. One went by about 10 minutes ago and we are now waiting for the second one to go by. The impression that I get is that these UP dispatchers aren't making any effort at all to give priority to the Amtrak trains. They just seem to pick whichever one is more convenient to put off into the siding. If that means our train, then so be it.
I sat at lunch with a couple that is going up to Seattle. They are being put up in a hotel tonight and will go up on the Coast Starlight tomorrow. Amtrak will get them on, but they can't guarantee them a bedroom. They will just have to wait and see what is available. They would get a refund for the extra cost of the bedroom, of course. The man that sat beside me at the table was very upset. He was retired and had purposely planned to take the Coast Starlight up to Oakland. He would rather stay in a hotel in Los Angeles and get on the Coast Starlight tomorrow than to be hurried up to Oakland tonight by bus. He said he was going to make a fuss when we got to the station. I guess that would be the Ontario station where he is suppose to change to a bus. He will have to make a fuss with the Conductor since there aren't any agents at that station.
The engineers on many of the freight trains that we pass comment about the 3 big green box cars on the end of this train. Mostly they something like: "So you are carrying freight now?" I don't know if I mentioned it before, but those 3 big green box cars are carrying beer from a brewery in Longview, Texas. I saw them take some big green box cars off the southbound Texas Eagle in Dallas and replace those empty cars with these full cars. I've been told that beer goes to Los Angeles. They did switch those cars from the Texas Eagle to the Sunset Limited in San Antonio. From there, they go empty up to Seattle on the Coast Starlight. They put something else in those cars in Seattle and take them to Chicago on the Empire Builder. They then put them back onto the Texas Eagle and take them back to Dallas. That is where the empty cars are switched for some full ones and the circle starts over again. I also heard they are working on making it possible to do the swap of cars in Longview, Texas instead of Dallas, Texas. That will eliminate the need to truck the beer down from Longview, Texas.
All this while, I was sure that I had seen our Car Attendant before. That is not unlikely with all the travel that I had done over the last two years. Now, however, I was starting to be certain that she was the Car Attendant on the very first Amtrak trip I had ever taken! That was back in 1985 and it was with my two children in the Family Room on the Coast Starlight.
I asked her if she had ever worked on the Coast Starlight. She said that she had and that she remembered me and my two girls. She didn't say anything because I hadn't said anything to her about it. She figured that I didn't remember. I explained that she looked familiar from the moment that I stepped on the train, but I don't have a good memory for names and faces, especially after all the travel that I had done on Amtrak. She hasn't worked the Coast Starlight for over 2 years and that would explain why I hadn't run into her again in my frequent travels on that particular route.
Her name is Ashley Woullard and she is based out of the Los Angeles Amtrak offices at 800 N. Alameda, Los Angeles, CA 90012. She gave me her business card which says: "Thank you for allowing me to provide 1st Class Service." We had a lot to talk about. I still think Ashley is the best Car Attendant that I have had in over 60,000 miles of Amtrak travel in the last two years. She may have played a large role in why I fell in love with train travel during my very first Amtrak journey. It certainly helped taking that first journey on the Amtrak Coast Starlight, noted above all other routes for its attention to customer service. But Ashley made sure that was a 1st class trip! Although the Coast Starlight instills a customer oriented attitude in their staff members, I don't think that was needed for Ashley. She seems a natural at wanting to please her passengers and knowing how to keep them happy. Her attitude and great service continue, even though she has not been a regular on the Coast Starlight for two years. Her level of service is probably an unusual surprise to some people that frequent other Amtrak routes.
Meeting her again was certainly an unexpected, but enjoyable surprise!
We finally arrived, 12 hours and 35 minutes late! The service crew is going to have a fine time trying to get this train ready to head back east again just 3 hours and 35 minutes from now. Usually they have all day to get it ready, from 6:05 A.M. until 10:15 P.M., but now there is less than 4 hours before this train has to be ready to leave again.
The southbound Amtrak San Diegan pulled in on time at 6:50 P.M. on the track right across for the Sunset Limited. I got down to Fullerton on time at about 7:50 P.M.