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Steve's Fall '97 Amtrak Journey
Sept 28 - Oct 7, 1997

The eighth segment of my rail journey was on the Amtrak Sunset Limited
from Jacksonville, Florida to Los Angeles, California.

Amtrak Sunset Limited - Train #1
Jacksonville, FL to Los Angeles, CA

Amtrak Sunset Limited Superliner

Dining Car / Sightseer Lounge Car

Black line indicates my east to west travel on the Amtrak Sunset Limited

Saturday, Oct 4, 1997, 09:30 PM EDT, Jacksonville, FL

Radio: Channel 66 - 161.100 - Jacksonville,FL to Madison,FL.

I packed up everything and headed downstairs to check out of the hotel. I knew the van would be at the hotel by 9:45 PM to pick us up and heading down at 9:30 PM would give me plenty of time to take care of that. When I got out of the elevator, the van driver was already waiting in the lobby. I got quite a surprise when I checked out! I was quoted $79 for the room, but I was only charged $39.50 plus tax! I guess they pro-rate the room if you don't spend the night. This would be a great place to wait out your train connection in Jacksonville if it didn't cost $50 for the round-trip van fare! The van driver told me that the Ramada in is a lot closer to the train station, is about half the price of the Marriott, but it isn't as nice. That might be a viable option if all you plan to do is rest between trains. But, if you intend to see the sights in Jacksonville, I think the Marriott is more centrally located.

The van driver gave me the Sci-Fi/Fantasy book he just finished reading: "The Warlock In Spite Of Himself" by Christopher Stasheff. He gave me a bit of a review of the book and we briefly discussed Isaac Asimov and Robert Heinlin, two authors of which I have read all of their works of science fiction. He also discussed a bit of Arther C. Clark, an author that wrote books I liked when he used to write them by himself. I like science fiction, but I really don't like fantasy. That isn't the topic here, but there is quite a difference between the two. I have a hard time refusing something given to me by someone that means well, so I did take the book. But, I'll probably pass it on to someone that will appreciate it more than me.

We left the hotel at about 9:45 PM for what should have been a 20 minute ride. That would get us to thte Amtrak Station at least a half hour early. When we came to a railroad crossing just before the station, there was the longest freight train I have ever seen in my life going by! I didn't panic as I felt we had plenty of time. It was about 10:20 when I checked my watch and the Amtrak Sunset Limited wasn't even due into the Jacksonville station until 10:22. Even then, it couldn't leave until 10:37 PM. However, this freight train was really long! I didn't worry at all about missing our train, but I probably should have been. When the freight train finally got out of the crossing and we pulled into the Amtrak station, I could see that the Sunset Limited was already in the station and boarding! There was a long line in the station as the Conductor was taking tickets and directing people to their train cars as they left the station.

It seemed I had barely boarded the train and put my stuff away that the train was on the roll. So just how close did I come to missing this train?

Saturday, Oct 4, 1997, 10:37 PM EDT, Jacksonville, FL

The moment I got to the train, I recognized the Car Attendant. I had a good feeling about this Car Attendant, but I didn't know why. I know it wasn't the Car Attendant I had on the last trip I made on the Sunset Limited for that was Ashley Woullard. Ashley was also the very first Car Attendant I ever met on my very first Amtrak trip. That was back in the summer of 1995 on the Amtrak Coast Starlight. However, I was certain he had been my Car Attendant on the Sunset Limited before, even though it has been a while since I traveled on the Sunset Limited prior to the trip in which Ashley was the Car Attendant.

I glanced at the Car Attendant's name tag and saw that his first name was "Ed". I quickly did a computer search through my travelogues for the name " Ed ". The only one I came up with was a Car Attendant that called himself "Mr. Ed" who was on the return trip from Disneyworld my kids and I took on March 15, 1996.

I started to read about that report and "Mr. Ed". "Mr. Ed" turns out was one of those few Amtrak Car Attendants that I would put in the excellent category! He goes beyond the call of duty to make sure his passengers have everything they need to enjoy their travel. Could this be the same "Mr. Ed"? He was very friendly and helpful the moment I got on the train, the beds were already set up, and there were mints on both pillows. So far, he matched the description from my previous trip. Then I read that he always had hot coffee ready, from the time I woke up until I went to sleep. Well, that seemed a good way to double check things. Most Car Attendants pull the plug long before 10:37 PM! I went over to the coffee urn, and sure enough, there was plenty of hot coffee available. Not only that, but he didn't have just those little creamer cups. He had a whole quart of coffee creamer sitting in ice next to the coffee urn! Now there is something that does things my way! I figured it had to be him.

The next time he came by, I asked him if he ever calls himself "Mr. Ed". He said: "That's me! I sometimes call myself Mr. Ed!" I was starting to have a really good feeling about this trip. We talked a bit about my previous trip on the Sunset Limited and how my children had a wonderful time. I reminded him how my daughter drew a special freehand drawing of the Lion King for him. She is pretty talented at drawing and he was amazed when he saw the quality of her freehand art when she had just turned 11 years old. He did remember that! I was especially pleased to find out that he will be with us for the entire trip to Los Angeles. Since the Sunset Limited starts in Orlando rather than Miami, they only need one set of service staff instead of changing as they used to in New Orleans.

I asked "Mr. Ed" what his real last name was. He said: "Sourpuss." I said: "No, really ..." and then looked at his name tag to quickly realize that I will never forget his name again with that answer. His real name is Ed Lemons!)

When I first started riding Amtrak trains, I used to worry that someone would get upset at me for plugging my computer into the "110 Volts -- Razors Only" outlet. I stopped worry about that when I saw another passenger request and receive permission to plug their high wattage hair dry into the outlet. The Car Attendant told them to go ahead, and if it blew the circuit, to let him know so he could reset the circuit breaker!

When Ed saw my notebook computer, he asked if I had a surge protector for it. He said he had some spare ones in case I needed one! Now that is really thinking ahead for your passengers! I didn't ask for one. I've been using computers on the Amtrak trains for over two years and have never had any problem, even though power interruptions and voltage fluctuations are quite common. Someone with a background in electronics will have to give me the real story, but I've always assumed I was in good shape with a battery powered notebook even when plugged into the outlet. I figured the notebook was really battery powered, and thus not subject to power interruptions or fluctuations, and all the AC power did was to keep the battery charged up. If I'm wrong on this one, someone can send e-mail to me to correct me. But one last note, I don't push my luck beyond that. When the power does go out in the train, I unplug everything just incase the power surge that comes through when the power goes back on is bad for any of the electrical things I bring along.

So the adventure and saga of the Sunset Limited begins! I have no idea what is in store for us yet, but the Sunset Limited has a reputation of being VERY late into Los Angeles. That is fine with me since I don't have a train to catch and is just extra "free" hours of travel my Amtrak as far as I'm concerned. However, it can be a serious problem for those passengers expecting to make "guaranteed" connections. It can also be very hard on the crew having to apologize for events that are beyond their control and putting up with frustrated and angry passengers.

The last time I was on the Sunset Limited, it came into Los Angels 12 and 1/2 hours late, arriving at 6:30 PM instead of 6:00 AM! Some people were bussed as far north as Sacramento! Others were put up in a hotel to catch the Coast Starlight on the following day with no guarantee that Sleeping accommodations would be available for Sleeping Car passengers. Just a hint from me: If you are going to connect to the Coast Starlight from a westbound train in Los Angeles, do yourself a favor and schedule a one night layover in Los Angeles. You will travel in your westbound train a lot more relaxed knowing it doesn't matter what time your train arrives into Los Angeles!

Even though the train left Jacksonville right on time, passengers are already being told to expect a late arrival at points west. They've told the passengers they don't know how late the train will arrive in various locations, but that they will know more in the morning. They are saying that this is because of track work. I know that some of it is because of track work, but I also know that a lot is due to a tremendous backlog of freight trains all along this route. There are so many freight trains backlogged that we have the equivalent of gridlock during rush hour.

In some parts of the country, I have heard that there are so many freight trains parked in sidings either waiting for crews or waiting for opposite running trains to pass on single track, that there often are no sidings available into which freight trains can pull off the main track to let Amtrak pass. When that happens, all the Sunset Limited can do is just follow the slow freight train in front of it, sometimes for hundreds of miles until an available siding of adequate length is found so that Amtrak can pass it. This can get the Sunset Limited hours behind schedule!

The people in the room next to mine asked Ed for an extra pillow. If there are empty sleepers, this usually isn't a problem. However, the Sunset Limited often fills up its sleepers for some parts of the route, and this car seems a little short on pillows. There are often 2 pillows per bed, but there seems to be only one per bed this time. I had 2 in my room, but I'm only using one bed, so I gave them one of my pillows. Except when I go to sleep, I'm always trying to find places to stuff the pillows out of the way, especially when I'm given 4 of them! I usually don't use a pillow except when I go to sleep anyway.

I don't like big lights in my room at night. Actually, I like to make it completely dark so I can see out the window. But, if I'm working, I prefer the reading lights instead of the big overhead light. When I tried to turn on a reading light, it didn't work. I tried another one. That didn't work. I tried the upper bunk one and that didn't work either. I told Ed and he went down to check the circuit breakers. Sure enough! One of them had flipped. He reset the breaker and I had my lights!

Saturday, Oct 4, 1997, 11:55 PM EDT, Lake City (Gainesville), FL

Already running 16 minutes late! A bit hard to see the station, but it looked rather small with a good size parking lot. I saw a couple of cars in the lot about to leave. Thus, a couple people probably got dropped off by friends or family here to board the train.

Sunday, Oct 5, 1997, 12:39 AM EDT, Madison, FL

This stop is a "gazebo"! There is just a little open air gazebo by the tracks, maybe 15 feet in diameter, with a couple of park benches inside. It has a "Madison, Florida" sign on it. The gazebo, a flagpole and a small empty parking lot seem to be the whole station! I'm not sure why we are sitting here so long. The train is late, but we seem to be sitting here for a long time. I'm not sure why. I don't hear anything on the radio. We got in at 12:40 AM, just one minute after our scheduled departure time, but didn't leave until 12:52 AM, back to 13 minutes behind schedule!

I just heard over the radio that the delay was due to signal trouble. In other words, the track ahead was probably clear for us, but the signal falsely indicated that we could not proceed.

Sunday, Oct 5, 1997, ??:?? AM EDT, Tallahassee, FL
Sunday, Oct 5, 1997, ??:?? AM CDT, Chipley (Panama City), FL
Sunday, Oct 5, 1997, ??:?? AM CDT, Crestview (Ft. Walton Beach), FL
Sunday, Oct 5, 1997, 05:45 AM CDT, Pensacola, FL

Radio: Channel 66 - 161.100 - Jacksonville,FL to Madison,FL.
Radio: Channel 84 - 161.370 - Pensacola,FL to New Orleans,LA.

I don't know where, but sometime during the night between Madison and Pensacola, Florida, the road channel changed from Channel 66 to 84.

I went to breakfast early this morning. On my way down, and to my pleasant surprise, the Car Attendant in the next car was Ashley Woullard again! This is the same Ashley that I just got through writing about above! It was bound to happen that after 120,000 miles of Amtrak travel in just two years, I'd eventually have to start seeing some familiar faces! We were very happy to see each other. This is going to be a great trip with the two best Car Attendants of Amtrak on the same train!

The conversation at breakfast was enjoyable. Two of the people were traveling together and were on the train for the fist time. One of them decided this was the best way they had ever traveled and planned to make this the only way they will ever travel in the future! This was from a person whose last segment was in First Class on an airplane and was just traveling in a Coach Seat on this train! The other person didn't like the light swaying of the train and decided this would be there last train trip!

Bill was the Dining Room Steward and was a very friendly, funny and helpful person. Our Dining Car Service person was also very friendly and helpful. With the staff that I have met on this trip so far, this train could definitely challenge the best of the Coast Starlight in excellent service! This is a far cry from what I have experience on some of my past Sunset Limited travels.

Sunday, Oct 5, 1997, 07:29 AM CDT, Atmore, AL

Mobile River & Bayou Sara

This is near the site of Amtrak's worst disaster in history. On September 22, 1993 at 2:50 AM, the eastbound Sunset Limited plunged off the bridge and into the waters of Big Bayou Canot drowning 47 passengers. Two barges had broken loose, hit the bridge and caused a severe misalignment of the tracks just before the Sunset Limited arrived. Normally, such damage to the tracks would break the electrical continuity of the tracks and signal the train to stop, but this misalignment was such that the continuity wasn't interrupted. When I was at a recent rail meeting in Dallas, I spoke to someone who was on a car of that train that plunged off the bridge. He was in the upper level of a Superliner Coach Car and was able to swin to safety. The car landed in only about 7 feet of water, but some on the lower level were not able to get out. Compare the worst disaster in Amtrak history where the vast majority of passengers left the train without injury to any airline disaster where there is seldom a survivor. Our train stopped before we headed over the Mobile River and then we proceded slowly after receiving clearance.

Bill, the Dining Car Steward, just made his first announcement of the morning: "This is Bill, the Dining Car Steward. If you would like to join us for breakfast, please come to the Dining Car at this time. The coffee is fresh, the food is hot, the attitudes are great, and it is a beautiful morning!"

Sunday, Oct 5, 1997, 08:41 AM CDT, Mobile, AL
Sunday, Oct 5, 1997, 09:21 AM CDT, Pascagoula, MS
Sunday, Oct 5, 1997, 09:46 AM CDT, Biloxi, MS
Sunday, Oct 5, 1997, 10:04 AM CDT, Gulfport, MS

I just heard that a lot of Amtrak service staff do not like to work the Amtrak Coast Starlight. I never even thought about that, but I guess it does make sense. Seeing how the Coast Starlight is the undisputed leader of the Amtrak fleet when it comes to customer service, I just assumed that any Amtrak service person would consider it an honor to work on such a crack team. But, there is a downside for service staff.

Brian Rosenwald, the Product Line Manager for the Coast Starlight, likes to run his line like an exclusive resort or restaurant. You will be treated as a First Class Guest on the Coast Starlight, but I guess the service staff gets the same restrictions placed on them that staff in a exclusive resort might find. The service staff is not allowed to eat in the Dining Car on the Coast Starlight. On almost all other trains, there is usually one or two tables at the end of the Dining Car reserved just for the staff. The staff used to be allowed to eat downstairs in the Pacific Parlor Car, but that is no longer the case now that it has been converted to a Big Screen TV Movie Theatre. Thus, the Coast Starlight staff must now take their meals in the crew car break area. I guess there is a very sharp dividing line on the Coast Starlight between passengers and staff and they are not suppose to mingle except in a professional capacity.

I can see both sides of the argument on this one. Personally, I like to fraternize with the staff. If I had my way, I'd not only allow the staff to eat in the Dining Car, but I'd require that they eat with the other passengers and not sit at their own table! That actually is the policy of many cruise ships, at least for staff at the upper levels. I'd consider just about any Amtrak staff that you are likely to encounter on the train to qualify for this upper level status and be allowed to sit with the passengers. Many passengers, including me, would find conversing with staff members over a meal very interesting and entertaining. If co-mingling between passengers and staff is disallowed at meals to give passengers a first class service impression, then they better also move away from serving "bunk house" style and stop placing strangers at the same table to eat together. If the Coast Starlight administration is concerned about giving passengers First Class service, then I'd say the "bunk house" seating policy is more damaging to their credibility than having staff eat in the dining car! I don't mind eating with strangers too much, but I'd mind eating with the staff a lot less! At least some of them aren't strangers by the time we get to sit down and eat.

Probably the most disturbing to staff is the feeling that you are a "second class citizen" on the Amtrak Coast Starlight. The passengers alway come first and the passengers are always right when it comes to a complaint. The staff has no say and no defense.

I can understand that Brian Rosenwald is trying to establish a "corporate culture" in the Coast Starlight staff. Basically, the Coast Starlight policy is that it doesn't matter whether the customer is right or not, we will always assume they are right. Of course, that can rile up a staff member when they get chewed out for not having done anything wrong. I can see how the best staff would take this especially hard since it would be perceived as their excellent level of service not being appriciated when falsely blamed by a passenger. However, the service provided by the average Car Attendant is far from that which gets provided by Amtrak's best Car Attendants. How do you instill an attitude of service excellence in average Car Attendants? I think Brian is just trying to accomplish that and maintain the high customer service reputation of the Coast Starlight. His methods do have some unfortunate ramnifications for some of the best service staff, but I can't think of any alternatives. If some of the best service staff on Amtrak do not want to work on the Coast Starlight for that reason, that is probably good. The rest of the Amtrak routes need as many excellent staff people as they can get.

Sunday, Oct 5, 1997, 10:52 AM CDT, Bay St. Louis, MS

Sunday, Oct 5, 1997, 11:59 AM CDT, New Orleans, LA

Radio: Channel 22 - 161.100 - New Orleans,LA.
Radio: Channel 96 - 161.550 - New Orleans,LA to Beaumont,TX.

The schedule shows an expected arrival time of 1:10 PM CT, but we arrived just before noon. Most people are getting off the train to do a little touring of New Orleans before our scheduled 2:05 PM CT scheduled departure. On every trip I have ever taken on the Sunset Limited except for the last one into New Orleans, the train has always arrived 2 to 3 hours before departure time. The last time I was through here, I found a flyer on the train advertising a tour on New Orleans for the Amtrak Sunset Limited passengers. I decided that I wanted to take that tour with my children. Unfortunately, I think that was the time we had to detour through Hattiesburg and arrived late into New Orleans. Thus, no tour!

If you do get off in New Orleans, it is often impossible to get back on through the station until they make a boarding call, about 10 minutes before the scheduled departure. You may be able to get back on by going outside the station and back in through some other way near the tracks bypassing the station building itself altogether. However, be aware that this violates all safety rules! When you are in the station, you will find they are very adamant in not letting anyone out the doors to the platform until the boarding call, even if you only wanted to step off the train for a few minutes!

I've got quite a bit of work cut out for me, so I'm just going to remain onboard and continue to try to catch up with things. And ... I really want to avoid hanging around the station twidling my thumbs waiting for the boarding call!

While we were in New Orleans they added another Sleeping Car to the train. The power went on and off quite a few times.

Sunday, Oct 5, 1997, 01:55 PM CDT, New Orleans, LA

A large Japanese film crew just came onboard. This is the same film crew that I saw at the Orlando Amtrak Station the other day! They evidently have official sanction from Amtrak. They plan to do some filming from the head end on this trip (from the cab of the locomotive). They have a lot of people and a lot of equipment. There seems to be a main cameraman and a soundman that is connected to the camera with a wire and follows the cameraman around. There is also someone with a self contained set of equipment that is much smaller. There also seem to be people in charge of carrying around all the equipment cases and luggage. I don't think anyone speaks English except one person that isn't Japanese and seems to be doing all the translating for them.

Ed seems to have his hands' full with them! I think they have one or more of the Deluxe Rooms in this car (#0131). They are running back and forth through the train, I guess trying to get various shots they want before the train leaves the station. They also told Ed they want to stick the camera out the vestibule window as the train leaves the platform. Ed reminded them of the danger of that. The translater replied that they were use to that as they had it out the window for 3 hours coming into New Orleans on their previous train. I can imagine these circumstances are a bit tricky. Normally that is against safety regulations, but the staff has obviously been instructed to cooperate in every way they can in making this film.

That is a car way down there! We are just about ready to head over the Mississippi River on the 4.4 mile Huey P. Long bridge. The first time that I ever crossed this bridge on the train was at night. I was with my children and wasn't looking out the window until we were well above the ground. Accidentally I happened to glance at the window and noticed a view I haven't seen since I used to fly private planes! The view was the same out the window as a low flying aircraft. I quickly went to the window and all I could see were cars and houses far below. I couldn't see any railing at all! I could look as straight down out our window as possible and the only thing to be seen were cars and houses, just like from an airplane! Later, I realized that the tracks gain a good deal of altitude to get over the Huey P. Long bridge. Since the train goes fairly slow over the bridge, railings are not needed.

Sunday, Oct 5, 1997, 03:45 PM CDT, Schriever, LA
Sunday, Oct 5, 1997, 05:22 PM CDT, New Iberia, LA

I spoke to the Chief of Onboard Services, Bill Harrison, and told him that I thought he was a pretty luck guy for having the best two Car Attendants in all of Amtrak on the same train! I had just come back from dinner in the Dining Car. The service and the food were fabulous there. If this keeps up, the Sunset Limited won't be able to keep its reputation of being one of the most problematic trains that Amtrak has. (It's ever running pretty close to schedule too!) Mary Lou (but she really has another last name that she won't tell me) was our server in the Dining Car and she was great. Earlier in the day, I had Maurice as our server. He was also wonderful, but I wasn't able to get his last name. And, I think I mentioned before that the Steward is Bill Knott. This trip is going to compete with some of the best First Class travel that I have had on the Coast Starlight! If you travel the Sunset Limited, please understand that I cannot guarantee that you will have a trip this wonderful ... unless you happen to get the same crew that I have on this trip!

Almost forgot, I had the two Filet Mignon steaks prepared medium with mashed potatoes, salad, dinner roll, and apple pie al amode for desert, plus coffee. Everything was just great! They also had chicken dishes, vegetarian dishes, a fish dish featuring catfish, special meals for kids, and a specialty prepared by the chef of sausage, red beans, and some other features. The steak was tender and delicious. I didn't even need any steak sauce, which is a real sign of a well prepared delicious steak when it comes to my tastes.

Sunday, Oct 5, 1997, 05:46 PM CDT, Lafayette, LA
Sunday, Oct 5, 1997, 07:43 PM CDT, Lake Charles, LA

Lake Charles and Calcasieu River

I spoke with the Japanese cameraman and his associate, to limited effect. Their English seemed to be extremely limited and I don't speak any Japanese. I did give them my TrainWeb business card and they thanked me, but I'm sure they had no idea what use it would be to them.

Later I was able to speak to their translator and the producer of their video and also give them my business cards. The translator was American and spoke perfect English and the producer also seemed to have a very good handle on English. I also gave them my one and only copy of the "Amtrak Sunset Limited Route Guide" which I felt might be more useful to them and give me more credibility than my business card. There were no Route Guides on the train as Amtrak is printing a new version, probably one of those shorter versions with less information. (Don't forget, you will still be able to get the full length detailed Amtrak Route Guide right here at TrainWeb. If it isn't posted yet, it will be available soon!) I have a few more copies of the Amtrak Route Guide for the Sunset Limited, but not with me on the train. I told them that "" would be a good place for them to go if they needed additional background information about Amtrak. They seemed pleased with that.

Sunday, Oct 5, 1997, 09:05 PM CDT, Near Beaumont, TX

At Mile Post 276.4, the train went into emergency stop. In talking with the Conductor, the Engineer said that this is exactly where the train went into emergency stop last time! After a bit of examination, they found that the train blew a gasket on the brake air hose. It took about 20 or 30 minutes to locate and fix the problem and get the train on its way again. In the meantime, everyone gathered in the downstairs vestibule and Ed opened the windows to let some air in since the ventilation system wasn't working. The door to our car was right in the middle of the intersection so we had big red lights flashing in our face and bells ringing in our ears. A driver from a pickup truck that was trapped at the intersection by our train got out and conversed with us through the open vestibule window. It is a rare and unique treat when people on the train get to converse with people on the street in the middle of nowhere! I had my scanner on and we all listed to the repair efforts blow by blow.

Sunday, Oct 5, 1997, 09:54 PM CDT, Beaumont, TX

Radio: Channel 96 - 161.550 - New Orleans,LA to Beaumont,TX.
Radio: Channel 27 - 160.515 - Beaumont,TX to Houston,TX.
Radio: Channel 96 - 161.550 - Houston,TX to San Antonio,TX.

I walked through my entire Sleeping Car (#031) and the next one (#030) and found that there wasn't a single bedroom available! I don't know what the story is about the extra Sleeping Car they added in New Orleans.

Monday, Oct 6, 1997, 12:50 AM CDT, Houston, TX

The Japanese film crew got off here. A white panel van drove down along the side of the tracks to the position of our sleeping car on the train. They had a ton of equipment that came off the train and into the van! They filmed one person that was dressed in a suite & tie that came off the train and said goodbye to the Car Attendant. I guess he is suppose to be the main person or the narrator of the video. When he first stepped off, he headed in the wrong direction for the station. Thus, they had him get back on the train and filmed him stepping off the train and saying goodbye to the Car Attendant all over again! This time he headed off in the right direction for the station.

I met Maury Gibson on the station platform. We had a brief chat. I knew him only through his posts of the Sunset Limited status reports to Sherman Frost's "All-Aboard" mailing list.

Radio: Channel 96 - 161.550 - Houston,TX to San Antonio,TX.
Radio: Channel 22 - 160.440 - San Antonio,TX.
Radio: Channel 14 - 160.320 - San Antonio,TX.
Radio: Channel 96 - 161.550 - San Antonio,TX to Sanderson,TX

Monday, Oct 6, 1997, 08:11 AM CDT, San Antonio, TX

1968 HemisFair Tower of Americas & Alamodome / San Antonio Station Building

We departed here 2 hours and 36 minutes late. That means we are in good shape so far for those people making connections to the Coast Starlight. If we don't lose any further time, we will be into Los Angeles at 8:41 AM, almost an hour before the departure of the Amtrak Coast Starlight. However, just in case, some of the people are already being told what will happen if we lose any more time before getting to California. They are being told that they will most likely be taken off the train in Ontario and then be taken by bus for a 3 hour ride to Santa Barbara to meet up with the Amtrak Coast Starlight. If you have browsed through my suggestions at TrainWeb, you will find that I always suggest a one day layover in Los Angeles between all westbound Amtrak trains and the northbound Amtrak Coast Starlight. That will insure you have a relaxing trip on your journey west without any worry about making your connection in Los Angeles!

Monday, Oct 6, 1997, 11:37 AM CDT, Del Rio, TX

I wend down to the Dining Car to have lunch as soon as it opened at noon today. There was already quite a line at the door waiting to go in and I heard that there was even more of a line at the other end from Sleeping Car passengers who had been waiting in the Sightseer Lounge Car for the Dining Car to open.

I was talking with a father and his two sons who were on their first train trip. The had upgraded to the Family Bedroom during the trip and were having a wonderful time! They thought the service and the food were great, which they really have been on this trip! We all enjoyed our lunch greatly. I had the chef's special which was a grilled turkey sandwich and a vegetable beef soup. The others at my table had a range of items, from hamburgers to pasta. Everyone at our table enjoyed their lunch. The father made a comment that I have definitely found to be true. I'm not one for eating vegetable sides in restaurants, but the way they prepare it on most Amtrak trains, whether it is the spices or the way the cook them I don't know, but they are delicious! He is the first person who has ever mentioned it to me. Others might have had the same opinion, but it is rare that someone is so impressed with the taste as to bring it up in conversation.

Our server at dinner was Judy. I didn't quite catch her last name, but it was something like Belvenier. She was very friendly and her service was superb! I'm glad to see that all the service staff on this train have been able to maintain their good attitudes. The train is quite full which means there is a lot for all the staff to do. Meal times run longer when the train is full and the Sleeping Car Attendants have a lot more to do when every room in their car is booked.

At lunch, I couldn't help but overhear the table next to us. Just about everywhere I go on the train I hear people concerned about their connection to the Coast Starlight. I don't know why Amtrak just doesn't instruct their own Ticket Agents, Travel Agents, and Amtrak Vacations to encourage people to set aside at least one day to tour Los Angeles between their westbound and northbound trains. By eliminating the worry from everyone onboard trying to make that connection, Amtrak would leave a much better impression with everyone. Also, they could save the expense of having to bus people from Ontario to Santa Barbara or San Luis Obispo, save hotel costs of those that would have had to be put up for a night, and avoid ruining the train ride and view people expect to have from Los Angeles up to San Luis Obispo along the coast!

Monday, Oct 6, 1997, 02:25 PM CDT, Sanderson, TX

Southern Pacific Wheel Repair?

Radio: Channel 96 - 161.550 - San Antonio,TX to Sanderson,TX
Radio: Channel 14 - 160.320 - Sanderson,TX to El Paso,TX

Monday, Oct 6, 1997, 03:17 PM CDT, Alpine (Big Bend Nat'l Park), TX

Sul Ross State University / Alpine Amtrak Station

We passed the eastbound Sunset Limited Train #2. It was running about 3 hours late out of El Paso, Texas.

The detector at mile post 811.5 detected a malfunction. We rolled by there at 68 miles per hour. I heard the detector report the malfunction, but either the Conductor or Engineer did not, I don't know which. One asked the other: "Did you hear that malfunction report?" The other replied: "No, somebody stepped on it." In radio terms, "stepped on it" means that someone attempted to transmit at the same time as someone else so that neither party could be heard. But, as I said, I heard it clear as day and so did either the Engineer or Conductor.

One said to the other: "You see a light ahead?" "Yes." "Let's go down to 10 miles per hour and request they do a roll-by inspection of our train." They then requested over the radio to the other train to closely examine our train as they rolled by at 10 miles per hour. They did so and then reported: "Highball One!" "Highball" means it is OK to proceed and we are Amtrak Train Number One.

Insect bites! In over 120,000 miles of travel on Amtrak, I have never been bit by an insect. But, maybe within the last hour or so, something bit me on my neck and near my waist! Very strange.

Monday, Oct 6, 1997, 07:43 PM CDT, El Paso (Ciudad Juarez, Mex), TX

Rain in the barren lands between Texas & New Mexico

They just called the entire staff to the diner for a special "briefing" meeting, even the Conductor. Actually, I overheard the Chief talking about it was time to do that thing for Mary Lou. I guessed correctly that they were having a brief birthday celebration for Mary Lou!

Once again, the dinner was fantastic! Judy was our server again. I had the "Chicken Catalina" which was a chicken breast stuffed with spinach and cheese and served on a bed of rice with salad and a roll. The other two people at my table had filet mignons. Everyone's opinion of the food was that it was excellent! However, once again, the people that I ate with were traveling together with one person in love with train travel and the other one not understanding the "waste of time." Even though she didn't understand why one would take the time to take a train, she did agree that the food and the service were both superb!

Radio: Channel 14 - 160.320 - Sanderson,TX to just before El Paso,TX
Radio: Channel 96 - 161.550 - Just before El Paso,TX to ...

Monday, Oct 6, 1997, ??:?? PM CDT, Deming, NM
Monday, Oct 6, 1997, ??:?? PM MDT, Lordsburg, NM
Monday, Oct 6, 1997, ??:?? PM MDT, Benson, AZ
Monday, Oct 6, 1997, ??:?? PM MDT, Tucson, AZ
Monday, Oct 6, 1997, ??:?? PM MST, Maricopa, AZ
Tuesday, Oct 7, 1997, ??:?? AM MST, Yuma, AZ
Tuesday, Oct 7, 1997, ??:?? AM PDT, Indio, CA

Tuesday, Oct 7, 1997, 07:30 AM PDT, Palm Springs, CA

My guess says that this train is going to get into Los Angeles at about 10:30 AM PDT, about 15 minutes after the southbound San Diegan that I need to take to Fullerton has left! Even if we got to the station before the train left, I still have to go all the way in and purchase a ticket. The next train isn't scheduled out of Los Angeles until after noontime, and that is the Central Coast San Diegan. Of all the San Diegans, that one is the most likely one to be late since it is coming all the way down from San Luis Obispo. Thus, I could see it taking as much as 4 hours or more from the time this train leaves Ontario until the time that I will arrive into Fullerton, about 1 PM in the afternoon!

Instead, I called Ray Burns who works with me at TrainWeb and he agreed to pick me up at the Ontario Amtrak Station. That should get me back to Fullerton, less than an hour drive from Ontario, around 10 AM, a savings of 3 hours or more!

Tuesday, Oct 7, 1997, 12:15 PM PDT, Ontario, CA

At about 9:00 AM, the Chief announced that we would be arriving into Ontario in about 15 minutes. That isn't the way things turned out. Our train was just a couple of miles from the intersection of Interstate Routes 10 and 15 and that is about as far as we would get for the next 3 hours! Ray Burns, who was rushing to get to the station so that he could get there before my trains scheduled arrival at 9:15 AM, actually had plenty of time and ended up waiting at the station for a very long time!

The exact reason for the delay was not made clear. An announcement was made that a switch had burned out in front of the freight train in front of us and someone was coming to take a look at it. However, I heard other rumors that the crew in the freight train in front of us had gone dead and they were waiting for a relief crew. After about an hour, our crew realized they would not make it to Ontario before they also went dead. Thus, they called in a relief crew. The relief crew for the Amtrak train met our train before we got to Ontario.

There were a few buses waiting at the Ontario station to take the passengers off our train that were making connections. Everyone going to San Luis Obispo or further north would be placed onto a bus. Those going not as far as San Luis Obispo were to stay on the train to Los Angeles and would be taking a San Diegan to their destination.

Actually, to be fair, I think they should always give everyone that is going to Grover Beach or San Luis Obispo the option when the train is late for the connection, to either take the bus or take a connecting train out of Los Angeles. Even if they miss the Amtrak Coast Starlight, they can still take the Coastal San Diegan that doesn't leave Los Angeles until 3:20 PM. Even though they don't get a nice big Superliner Coach or Sleeper, it is a lot better than the bus, and they get to enjoy the coastal view that can only be seem from the train between Oxnard and San Luis Obispo!

After driving back to Fullerton, we stopped for lunch. By the time we got to the Fullerton Amtrak Station where the TrainWeb office is located, southbound San Diegan #578 was just pulling into the station. That is probably the train that I would have been on if I had continued on the Sunset Limited all the way into Los Angeles!

Big green box cars for Amtrak express freight.

Amtrak Sunset Limited Staff

Ashley Woullard / Ed Lemons / Bill Harrison

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