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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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 "http://trainweb.com" 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
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
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
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
- Chief of Onboard Services: Bill Harrison
- Sleeping Car Attendant (0130): Ashley Woullard
- Sleeping Car Attendant (0131): Ed Lemons
- Dining Car Steward: Bill Knott
- Dining Car Service Attendant: Mary Lou
- Dining Car Service Attendant: Maurice
- Dining Car: Tony (Chef), Armanda (Chef?), Bret (Chef?)
- Ch 66 - Mile Post 0673.9 - (btw Jacksonville,FL & Lake City,FL)
- Ch 66 - Mile Post 0697.5 - (btw Lake City,FL & Madison,FL)
- Ch 66 - Mile Post 0673.9 - (btw Lake City,FL & Madison,FL)
- Ch 66 - Mile Post 0719.0 - (btw Lake City,FL & Madison,FL)
- Ch 66 - Mile Post 0738.5 - (btw Lake City,FL & Madison,FL)
- Ch 84 - Mile Post 0648.5 - (btw Atmore,AL & Mobile,AL)
- Ch 84 - Mile Post 0749.2 - (btw Gulfport,MS & New Orleans,LA)
- Ch 84 - Mile Post 0770.9 - (btw Gulfport,MS & New Orleans,LA)
- Ch 84 - Mile Post 0781.4 - (btw Gulfport,MS & New Orleans,LA)
- Ch 84 - Mile Post 0786.7 - (btw Gulfport,MS & New Orleans,LA)
- Ch 84 - Mile Post 0791.9 - (btw Gulfport,MS & New Orleans,LA)
Train Length: 962 feet, Axles: 44
- Ch 96 - Mile Post 0036.1 - (btw New Orleans,LA & Schriever,LA)
- Ch 96 - Mile Post 0049.6 - (btw New Orleans,LA & Schriever,LA)
- Ch 96 - Mile Post 0064.4 - (btw Schriever,LA & New Iberia,LA)
- Ch 96 - Mile Post 0076.1 - (btw Schriever,LA & New Iberia,LA)
- Ch 96 - Mile Post 0094.4 - (btw Schriever,LA & New Iberia,LA)
- Ch 96 - Mile Post 0177.4 - (btw Lafayette,LA & Lake Charles,LA)
- Ch 96 - Mile Post 0210.0 - (btw Lafayette,LA & Lake Charles,LA)
Axles: 48, Speed: 66 miles per hour
- Ch 96 - Mile Post 0242.1 - (btw Lake Charles,LA & Beaumont,TX)
- Ch 27 - Mile Post 0444.0 - (btw Beaumont,TX & Houston,TX)
- Ch 27 - Mile Post 0433.6 - (btw Beaumont,TX & Houston,TX)
- Ch 27 - Mile Post 0422.0 - (btw Beaumont,TX & Houston,TX)
- Ch 27 - Mile Post 0413.5 - (btw Beaumont,TX & Houston,TX)
- Ch 27 - Mile Post 0402.6 - (btw Beaumont,TX & Houston,TX)
- Ch 96 - Mile Post 0156.4 - (btw Houston,TX & San Antonio,TX)
- Ch 96 - Mile Post 0227.7 - (btw San Antonio,TX & Del Rio,TX)
- Ch 96 - Mile Post 0243.0 - (btw San Antonio,TX & Del Rio,TX)
- Ch 96 - Mile Post 0257.4 - (btw San Antonio,TX & Del Rio,TX) - 79mph
- Ch 96 - Mile Post 0274.5 - (btw San Antonio,TX & Del Rio,TX)
- Ch 96 - Mile Post 0287.9 - (btw San Antonio,TX & Del Rio,TX)
- Ch 96 - Mile Post 0292.8 - (btw San Antonio,TX & Del Rio,TX)
- Ch 96 - Mile Post 0304.7 - (btw San Antonio,TX & Del Rio,TX)
- Ch 96 - Mile Post 0311.0 - (btw San Antonio,TX & Del Rio,TX)
- Ch 96 - Mile Post 0327.7 - (btw San Antonio,TX & Del Rio,TX) - 74mph
- Ch 96 - Mile Post 0345.5 - (btw San Antonio,TX & Del Rio,TX) - 79mph
- Ch 96 - Mile Post 0359.0 - (btw San Antonio,TX & Del Rio,TX) - 68mph
- Ch 96 - Mile Post 0362.0 - (btw San Antonio,TX & Del Rio,TX)
- Ch 96 - Mile Post 0369.2 - (btw San Antonio,TX & Del Rio,TX)
- Ch 96 - Mile Post 0374.0 - (btw Del Rio,TX & Sanderson,TX) - 57 mph
- Ch 96 - Mile Post 0386.0 - (btw Del Rio,TX & Sanderson,TX) - 72 mph
- Ch 96 - Mile Post 0471.9 - (btw Del Rio,TX & Sanderson,TX) - 40 mph
- Ch 96 - Mile Post 0485.1 - (btw Del Rio,TX & Sanderson,TX) - 70 mph
- Ch 14 - Mile Post 0521.5 - (btw Sanderson,TX & Alpine,TX)
- Ch 14 - Mile Post 0579.1 - (btw Sanderson,TX & Alpine,TX) - 79 mph
- Ch 14 - Mile Post 0580.7 - (btw Sanderson,TX & Alpine,TX)
- Ch 14 - Mile Post 0595.7 - (btw Sanderson,TX & Alpine,TX) - 75 mph
- Ch 14 - Mile Post 0603.9 - (btw Sanderson,TX & Alpine,TX) - 39 mph
- Ch 14 - Mile Post 0615.5 - (btw Alpine,TX & El Paso,TX)
- Ch 14 - Mile Post 0626.0 - (btw Alpine,TX & El Paso,TX) - 57 mph
- Ch 14 - Mile Post 0688.2 - (btw Alpine,TX & El Paso,TX) - 77 mph
- Ch 14 - Mile Post 0706.8 - (btw Alpine,TX & El Paso,TX)
- Ch 14 - Mile Post 0721.5 - (btw Alpine,TX & El Paso,TX) - 61 mph
- Ch 14 - Mile Post 0734.5 - (btw Alpine,TX & El Paso,TX) - 59 mph
- Ch 14 - Mile Post 0748.4 - (btw Alpine,TX & El Paso,TX) - 60 mph
- Ch 14 - Mile Post 0765.5 - (btw Alpine,TX & El Paso,TX) - 74 mph
- Ch 14 - Mile Post 0776.2 - (btw Alpine,TX & El Paso,TX) - 68 mph
- Ch 14 - Mile Post 0788.8 - (btw Alpine,TX & El Paso,TX) - 65 mph
- Ch 14 - Mile Post 0800.1 - (btw Alpine,TX & El Paso,TX) - 69 mph
- Ch 14 - Mile Post 0811.5 - (btw Alpine,TX & El Paso,TX) - 68 mph
"Malfunction Detected!" (No problem was found)
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