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Amtrak Historical Society 1998 Conference
Travelogue of the rail journey of Steve Grande and Ray Burns to the Amtrak Historical Society 1998 Conference on the Amtrak Coast Starlight.
Thursday, April 30, 1998
Ray and I drove to the Fullerton Station in my car since Ray uses a high-level vehicle that does not fit into the overnight garage at the station. Most van conversions and some full-size pick-up trucks probably will not fit into the garage at the station. Since the garage is the only place near the station where overnight parking is allowed, you have to take that into consideration.
If you are taking a rail journey of less than 3 days, then you can just park almost anywhere in the garage. However, if you need to leave your car for more than 72 hours, then you can get a parking pass from the Fullerton Ticket Agent that will be good for the length of your rail travel.
There is a specific Amtrak San Diegan that connects with the Amtrak Coast Starlight. That is train #769 Monday through Friday, and train #759 on Saturday and Sunday. Sometimes I've even left a little early and taken a Metrolink from Fullerton to Los Angeles Union Station (LAUS). By arriving early, it gives me a chance to look around the station. This time, however, I decided to go first class all the way and booked the new Pacific Class tickets to Los Angeles! The regular one-way adult coach fare from Fullerton to Los Angeles was $6 and the Pacific Class surcharge was an additional $9 for a total of $15. That may seem like a lot for the surcharge for the upgrade, but it is more worth it when you travel further on the San Diegans. I think the $9 surcharge is either the same regardless of how far you travel, or it might be just a little more for longer distances.
The train arrived into Fullerton pretty close to schedule. Since the first three trains from San Diego to Los Angeles each morning are the new Amtrak California Cars, that was the consist of our trainset. On the single level Amfleet/Horizon combo trainsets, a new Concept 2000 Car is used for the Pacific Class Service. On the bi-level California Cars, a Superliner is used for Pacific Class Service. All Pacific Class seats are reserved, but unassigned. Unlike regular coach seats on the Amtrak San Diegans where your tickets do not indicate any particular train number and time, Pacific Class tickets indicate the exact train number and departure time. You are guaranteed to have a seat on the train! "Standing Room Only" on the San Diegans is infrequent, but it has been happening more now than in the past, even after the San Diegans have increased service to 10 trains each way each day. Just as a side note, you tickets will indicate "Custom Class" rather than "Pacific Class." I don't know if they intend to actually make the tickets read "Pacific Class."
I was surprised at the difficulty we had in finding two seats together. It seemed that Pacific Class was filled to at least 50% capacity, and probably more. As usual, people that were traveling alone would occupy the window seat of each seat pair. While there were plenty of empty seats, the only empty pairs of seats that we could find were a couple near each end of the train.
In addition to the more comfortable guaranteed seating with plenty of room, Pacific Class passengers are also provided with free coffee, juice and the morning newspaper. Depending of the time of day, they are also given free pastries, cheese and crackers, a fruit plate, and even free wine or champagne! Everything is served to you at your seat by a Car Attendant dedicated to the Pacific Class Car. Since we were going to be going directly to the Coast Starligth with similar offerings on the Pacific Parlour Car, we just took the free juice and newspaper.
Our train pulled into a track right next to the Coast Starlight as we came into Los Angeles. Amtrak tries to have these trains right next to each other in the station to make it easy for passengers and baggage to be transferred.
Our reservations to travel to this event by the Amtrak Coast Starlight had been made months ago through Slotsy Tours & Travel. Best I can tell, Arrow, the Amtrak reservations system, assigns requests for Standard Bedrooms by starting with the lowest numbered room in the lowest numbered sleeping car and works its way up. Arrow seems to first give out all the rooms on the upper level of the sleeping car before it begins to give out rooms on the lower level. Since I usually make my reservation many months in advance of my travel, I often get room number 2, the lowest numbered room of car number 1430 the lowest numbered sleeping car. Room number 1 is reserved for the car attendant.
That is exactly what happened when I made my reservations for this rail trip. We were assigned room number 2 in the 1430 car. The first two digits of any Amtrak car number is the same as the Amrak route number. Since the northbound Coast Starlight is Train #14, then all the cars on that train start with the number 14. The first sleeping car is number 30, the second is 31, and the third is 32. When the Coast Starlight has an occassional fourth sleeping car, that is numbered 33. If you hear Amtrak staff talk about a particular car number, they will often just use these last two digits. You will hear them say: "in the 30 car." I think sleeping cars on all amtrak trains are numbered in the 30's. By the same token, coach cars start with 10. Thus, on the Coast Starlight they are numbered 10, 11, 12, 13, 14. Yes, 5 coach cars are not uncommon at all for the Coast Starlight!
For those of you that are railfans and keep track of car numbers, when I say "car number", I am talking about what you think of as "loading number" or maybe some other term. 1430, 1431, 1432, etc. are the changeable numbers that you will find backlighted near the outside of each center vestibule door and even in the aisle vestibules near each end of the car. There is another number that is actually painted on each end of the car both inside and out which is the actual car number that is of interest to both railfans and the people that maintain the cars. But, to the onboard service staff and to us rail travelers, it is the "loading" car number by the outside of the door as we enter that is of interest to us!
Unfortunately, this Coast Starlight did not have the new Pacific Parlour Car. Instead, it had one that had not yet been remodeled. At first, I thought this was a good sign. I was sure that 3 of the 5 or 6 Parlour Cars had been completed. Since there are only 4 trainsets on the route, the chances of a newly refurbished Pacific Parlour car being on all of the the other trainsets was about 100%. I was concerned that the rail outing of the Amtrak Historical Society on the Coast Starlight on Saturday have one of the refurbished cars since a tour of that car was one of the main purposes of that outing.
Further unfortunately, I heard from a railfan on the train that the northbound Wednesday Coast Starlight had a dining car substituting for the Pacific Parlour Car. That would end up being the one that we would tour on Saturday! Later, I heard further confirmation from others that only one of the three Pacific Parlour Cars was in service! Of the other three, one was the old one that we came up with and the other two were substitute dining cars. So, that was a bit of a disappointment as there were several people coming to the Amtrak Historical Society Conference from all over the country that had been expecting to tour this new car.
While we were onboard, someone mentioned that the "Tack Geometry Car" was at the tail end of our train! We decided to take a look at it and get some photos of it in Santa Barbara. This was a long Coast Starlight with two engines, a baggage car, a transition sleeper, three revenue sleeping car, the Pacific Parlour Car, the dining car, the sightseer lounge car, five coach cars, a deadhead dining car, and then the track geometry car. Knowing it would be quite a walk from our sleeping car to the rear of the train, we set out to go as far back in the train as we could before we reached Santa Barbara. We got as far as the very last coach car. The deadhead dining car door was locked.
When we got to Santa Barbara, we got out and walked two coaches back to the track geometry car and took a number of photos of it. Someone got out of the track geometry car and also took some photos of other parts of the train and station themselves! I started to get a bit worried as we were still down by the end of the train as the station started to clear of passengers. We walked toward our sleeping car, but not wanted to try to make it all the way past 3 cars with doors (lounge, dining and parlor cars), we boarded the coach car closest to the lounge car and walked the rest of the way back inside the train.
The view of the coastline from the Coast Starlight is spectacular! You get to see about an hour of the surf pounding against the cliffs between Oxnard and Santa Barbara. After Santa Barbara, the train again approaches and runs right along the coastline for an additional two hours between Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo. In some places, the Coast Starlight runs right at sea-level just feet from the edge of the water. At other times, it runs along the cliffs high above the pounding surf. The view of the green covered mountains rising out of the Pacific Ocean can be awe inspiring!
If you take this trip, I would strongly encourage you to include this northbound segment of the Coast Starlight in your travels. By going north from Los Angeles, you are guaranteed a view of the ocean during daylight. The southbound Coast Starlight will sometimes go along this coastline in darkness, especially if running late during the winter when there are less daylight hours.
If you are getting a Standard Bedroom (what was once called an "Economy Room"), then I would suggest that you get a room with an even number going up and an odd number going down (think: "even up, odd down"). If you do that, you have a 99% chance of being on the side of the train with the ocean view! If your Amtrak ticket agent or travel agent isn't that familiar with the Coast Starlight, they may give you an argument and try to convince you that you have a 50/50 chance of being on the ocean view side no matter which side your room is on. But, I guarantee you that is not true! Of all the travel I have done on the Coast Starlight, only once was there one sleeping car in the entire trainset that was oriented "backwards". And, that was because there had been terrible rains for many days and trainsets were being turned at locations other than the endpoints of Los Angeles and Seattle. Thus, if you get a room number that is "even up or odd down", though no guarantee, you are almost certain to be on the oceanview side of the train! That is why I recommend that you do use a travel agent like Slotsy Tours & Travel (Ed. Note: No longer books Amtrak travel.) or Zephyr Travel & Tours. They know about the orientation of the sleeping car rooms and will help you to book a room with a view of the ocean. By chance, if all those rooms are sold out, you can just relax in the Pacific Parlour Car and watch the ocean from there! You may want to do that anyway, even if you do have a room with the view of the ocean.
If you have booked the Family Room or the Special Handicapped Bedroom, then you will have a window on both sides of the train and it won't matter to you which side the ocean is on! Deluxe Rooms are another story and it could very well be that the orientation of the cars of the Coast Starlight was arranged to accommodate the Deluxe Bedrooms. When traveling north, the view in of the ocean is in the morning and early afternoon starting just a couple of hours after leaving Los Angeles. The Deluxe Bedrooms are on the same side of the car as the even numbered Standard Bedrooms and thus get a direct view of the ocean on the northbound segment of the journey. Southbound, you can open the curtain and/or door to your room and look across the aisle at the ocean. Though you do have a view of the ocean either way, it is much more comfortable to look out the window in your Deluxe Bedroom on the northbound trip than to look across the aisle on the southbound trip.
Around 3 P.M. there was the Wine Tasting in the Pacific Parlour Car. The Wine or Champagne Tasting is a regular feature in the Pacific Parlour Car and usually starts sometime around 2:30 or 3:30 P.M. Crackers and cheese along with a variety of fruit is also served. There are usually three glasses of different wines served. We were handed a paper that described each wine that we were served. Bottles of the wine can also be purchased right in the Parlour Car for about $10 per bottle. The paper mentioned that usually only three wines are served, but that we would have a special "fourth" wine to taste today. For some reason, that fourth wine was never served. Despite that minor dissapointment, the wine tasting was a very enjoyable experience as it usually is in the Pacific Parlour Car!
The Coast Starlight leaves the coast shortly before arriving into San Luis Obispo on this northbound segment. Right after San Luis Obispo, the train goes winding around the famous horseshoe curve where you can see both the front and back ends of the train at the same time if you are near the middle of the train (such as in the Pacific Parlour Car!).
Once you get up to the Salinas area you will see large farms that stretch off as far as you can see until they reach the mountains. This view alone goes a long way to helping people understand how California is able to produce many of the fruits, vegetables, and even wines that are shipped to the rest of the nation and the world! However, to many, it is even more of a surprise to find out that these seemingly endless acres of farmland are small compared to the hundreds of miles of farmlands that you can see vanish into the distance as you travel up the San Joaquin valley! Take a trip on the Amtrak San Joaquins that run between Bakersfield and Oakland to see this phenomenal amount of farmland yourself!
North of Salinas there is a bridge on rollers that takes us over a river and the San Andreas fault. These rollers allow the bridge to roll back and forth during an earthquake and minimizes damage that could be done to the bridge and tracks. We had to go fairly slow through this area.
For dinner we both had the Jack London Broil. That was the same steak that I had some months ago on the Coast Starlight that I thought was the most delicious steak I have had in my entire life! The steak was very good, but they did not prepare it the way it was described in the menu. They said that there would be blue cheese with it. That is the way it was prepared last time and I think was the key ingredient that made it the best steak that I've ever had! This one was prepared just as well and was quite delicious served along with garlic mashed potatoes and snap peas, but was missing that one ingredient of blue cheese that would push it to the top of my rating system!
We arrived into the Jack London Square Station in Oakland, California, pretty much on schedule. We hauled our heavy suitcases that were loaded with Amtrak related books and tapes the few blocks to the Jack London Inn. While we were registering in the hotel lobby, the Coast Starlight caught up with us heading down the tracks that go right down the middle of the street just a few feet in front of the hotel door.
The Jack London Inn is under new management. They have definitely fixed up the outside and the front lobby. It also seems they have done quite a bit of work to fix up the hallways and various aspects of each room. I definitely found it a more pleasant place to stay than in the past, but it still could use quite a bit of improvement. For example, the drawers fell out of half our dresser and the air-conditioning still doesn't seem to be working properly on the top two floors, but it was obvious that the management is actively working on upgrading the facility. They had a new phone system installed and each phone has a data port for a modem. There weren't any instructions on the phones nor any phone books in the room yet, but a guess at dialing "9" before local and 800 calls worked fine. From the bill, it does appear that they do not charge for local and 800 calls.
With the view of the tracks from many of the front facing rooms of the Jack London Inn, I am more inclined now than ever to recommend this as the best place for railfans to lodge in Jack London Square. I may still have to apologize for some of the problems that you will find at that hotel, but at least those problems are getting to be less and less.
Friday, May 1, 1998
Happy 27th Anniversary Amtrak! At about 9 A.M. Ray and I were heading down to breakfast, but to our surprise, the Atrium Room was open and Jeff Kocar, President of the Amtrak Historical Society, and Dave Mangold, V.P., were setting up the tables. We decided to also set up our material now rather than later. Ray and I had brought along two suitcases almost filled with Amtrak books and videos. When we placed them onto a long banquet table, they almost filled the entire top of the table. I also had baseball caps from almost 20 different Amtrak routes and set those out. In order to fit them all on the table, we had to lean one on top of the other, but we finally did fit everything! We also set up a three slide shows on my computer and placed the computer on the table. The three slide shows were: (1) The new Amtrak Coast Starlight Pacific Parlour Car, (2) The new Amtrak San Diegan Equipment, and (3) The innaugural Texas Eagle / California Service.
David Mangold had set up the largest display of Amtrak Timetables I have ever seen, dating back to the early years of Amtrak operation! All the attendies were given a goody bag that contained various items from Amtrak and various rail groups, including an Amtrak related video!
The first person to present was Joe Deeley, the Product Line Manager for the San Joaquins. He showed us a number of slides displaying the increasing ridership and on-time performance of the Amtrak San Joaquins. Next, he covered the expected addition of new train service direct from Bakersfield to Sacramento, diverging from the normal San Joaquin route at Stockton.
After Joe Deeley's presentation, there were slide shows by David Mangold, which displayed photos of a lot of trains showing various phases of the Amtrak paint schemes, follow by a detailed slide presentation of the journey of the Amtrak Southwest Chief through the state of New Mexico.
Saturday, May 2, 1998
We all met at the front of the hotel at 7:15 A.M. From there, we were taken by the Amtrak crew shuttle vans to Emeryville. Our particular van was also taking 3 members of the crew for Train #6 to their train, the eastbound Amtrak California Zephyr. Thus, we first stopped at the Oakland Yard to let them off. Ray and I didn't realize that we would be stopping at the Oakland Yard first and we didn't immediately realize that is where we were. We started to get out until Jeff Kocar told us we weren't at Emeryville yet! I had seen Emeryville many times from the train, but never from the front. So I was mystified about seeing all the engines and railcars around me until Jeff said that we weren't at Emeryville yet!
Since the group had come to Emeryville by multiple vans and methods, we all got back together in the station. The southbound Coast Starlight arrived a little late. Our group was assigned to the very last Coach Car so we had quite a ways to walk. The Sleeping Cars stopped pretty close to the station and we had to walk past the dining, lounge, and four other coach cars before arriving at our coach car.
Some Amtrak people from Caltrain met us in Emeryville and handed out Caltrain goody bags to everyone. I noticed a web address for Caltrain that I don't believe I had seen before which was: www.caltrain.com. I've already gone ahead and added this link to the web page at: www.trainweb.com/amtrak.html. Just to clarify any confusion you may have about what Amtrak has to do with Caltrain, Amtrak provides all the Conductors and Engineers for Caltrain and also does all the dispatching and maintenance for Caltrain. I'll mention more about this topic later.
Bruce started his narration in Emeryville. We were introduced to a few other people from Caltrain and I will be providing the names of each in the report on this conference that you will be able to find at www.AmtrakHistoricalSociety.com.
The Coast Starlight arrived a bit late. The sleeping cars were right in front of the station and we were assigned to the last coach on the train. We had to walk past the first class lounge car, the dining car, the regular lounge car and then the first four coach cars before we got to our coach car.
As we expected, this train had a dining car substituting for the Pacific Parlour Car. Thus we didn't even bother to take a tour through the rest of the train. Without a Pacific Parlour Car, the consist of the Coast Starlight is pretty much the same as the consist of most other Amtrak long distance trains. Regardless, the ride from Emeryville to San Jose was pretty pleasant and the Conductor provided narration of some of the sights along the way.
Bruce also provided narration during parts of the journey. Once we arrived into San Jose, we were gathered together on the platform and introduced to a few other members of the Caltrain staff. Each of them explained their roles in relation to Caltrain.
We boarded the next northbound Caltrain and took it to one stop up to Santa Clara. There we had about 15 minutes to look around the museum and model railroading layout inside the historic depot before boarding the next southbound Caltrain.
Once we got back to the San Jose Station, we were given a presentation about the history of the station. Then, we walked up a block to the operations center for Caltrain. I was very surprised to find that this was an Amtrak facility rather than a Caltrain facility! I knew that Amtrak provided the operations and maintenance personnel for Caltrain, but I had no idea of how strongly related they were to the Amtrak theme rather than the Caltrain theme.
Certainly for all outward appearances, the public sees Caltrain as just Caltrain. There aren't any Amtrak logos on the trains and only the Caltrain logos appear on the trains and all timetables and other literature. But, once we got to the Caltrain operations building, about the only identifies I could find were those of Amtrak! The building had Amtrak signs on it as well as a logo on the lobby wall. There were many Amtrak souveniers on display in the front lobby. Every document that I was able to observe on desks and walls had the Amtrak logo and not the Caltrain logo. Yet, this is where all Caltrain operations are done!
All the Caltrain personnel were wearing clothing with Amtrak logos. It was explained to us how they try to instill a company spirit into the new hires into the Caltrain program, the Amtrak company spirit! They think of Caltrain as being the "little Amtrak" in contrast to "big Amtrak". "Little Amtrak" runs the penninsula trains while "big Amtrak" operates the statewide and nationwide passenger rail network.
We assembled in the conference room, were served cookies and Snapple, and were give a slide presentation about the Caltrain operations. On our way out of the presentation, we were each given two buttons that are otherwise hard to find.
Next, we went into the room where dispatching of the Caltrains is done. The room wasn't real large so only 5 or 6 of us could go in at a time to view the operations. There were 4 large computer screens being used by one person to handle the dispatching.
There was suppose to be a hardhat tour of the Caltrain maintenance facility, but we had to skip that as we were running a bit behind schedule. The Amtrak people already had enough sets of hardhats and goggles all made up for us, but there just wasn't enough time to do that part of the tour.
It seems like this day wasn't going exactly as planned. A UP car that was putting down ballast derailed while we were being given this tour. No Amtrak trains could be run from San Jose up to Oakland until this problem was cleared up. Thus, instead of the Amtrak Historical Society getting to see the inside of the California Cars, they were going to get to see the inside of an Amtrak Thru-Way Bus!
Kirk Schneider, author of California By Train, Bus & Ferry and WebMaster of www.catransit.com, suggested that we go back to Jack London Square by Caltrain, Muni, and then by either the Ferry or Bart. That sounded like a much better option to me than taking a bus back! And who could be a better guide to help us weive our way back to Oakland than Kirk Schneider, who wrote the book on it!
At first, there were just 4 of us then went to buy the Caltrain tickets while everyone else boarded the Amtrak bus. Ray went back to let the others know that we would not be taking the bus. Ray told them we would be taking the Caltrain and the ferry. Actually, Ray didn't realize that we were only going to take the ferry if there was enough time to get back to the hotel for the next presentation. Otherwise, we were going to take BART across the bay and then walk the 5 blocks or so back to the hotel. But, I think it was the mention of the ferry that inspired almost everyone else to change their plans! Within a few minutes, all but about 4 people had gotten off the bus and purchased tickets for the Caltrain!
Several of us boarded the last car of the Caltrain. However, it wasn't until Bruce (from Caltrain/Amtrak) went through the train and gathered up all our members and moved them to the last car with us that we realized that almost 20 of us had switched to take the Caltrain back!
Bruce gave us a narrated tour all the way up the penninsula to San Francisco. This really worked out great! The Caltrain was not planned as part of the outing for today, but it made a great substitute for the Amtrak California Cars that we could not tour. It also fit in with the events of the day better since we had just completed the tour of the Caltrain offices in San Jose.
Once we got up to San Francisco, we switched over to the new muni line and that took us right up near the ferry building. If we had wanted to transfer to BART, we could have done it right inside the subway without even going above ground. However, we were able to postpone from 3:30 P.M. to 4:30 P.M. the talk that was to be given by Amtrak. Bill Scott, a Conductor for the Amtrak Coast Starlight between Oakland and Sacramento, was also attending the Amtrak Historical Society Conference and was with us on the rail journey up from San Jose. He was able to reach Dawn Soper, who would be presenting for Amtrak West, and let her know that we would not reach the hotel until 4:30 P.M.
We took the ferry from the ferry building back to Jack London Square. The ferry left us off at the dock that is directly in front of the Amtrak West Oakland Headquarters and two blocks from the Jack London Inn. We arrived in plenty of time for the rescheduled 4:30 P.M. presentation.
Dawn Soper gave us a presentation about what is happening in the Pacific Northwest. I will cover those items in a summary of this conference at www.AmtrakHistoricalSociety.com. For a quick summary, I'll just mention that 4 new Talgo trainsets are being built. Three of them are being paid for by the state of Washington and the fourth by Amtrak West. These trains will go into use later in the year to add additional services between Vancouver, Seattle, Portland and Eugene. The entire service in this area will be renamed to The Cascades, but each trainset will be given the name of one of the mountains. Dawn gave us an overview of what the interior and exterior of these trainsets will be like and how both employee and customer input played a great role in the design and layout of these passenger cars.
Dawn then went on to talk about the Los Angeles - Las Vegas Service that is expected to go into operation in 1999. A Talgo train is already in the works for this service and it will be basically the same design as The Cascades, but with a color scheme more in line with the glitz of Las Vegas. Dawn also talked about the new trainsets planned for The San Diegans which is covered extensively on this web site at www.trainweb.com/2000.
The Amtrak Historical Society Banquet was held later that evening. Unfortunately, the expected keynote speaker from Amtrak West was not able to make it to the banquet. Instead, an alternate program was quickly put together. Dorris Brigs of NARP told us a number of amusing stories that she had heard during her Amtrak travels and she encouraged all of us to collect stories during our rail travels. Then, we were given a talk about Operation Lifesaver. The evening was rounded out by a number of Amtrak slide shows.
Sunday, May 3, 1998
On Sunday morning we went over to the Jack London Square in Oakland and were given a tour of the station, including the back room and baggage area. That was pretty much the end of the Amtrak Historical Society 1998 Conference.
I worked in the hotel for most of the rest of the morning and the early afternoon. Ray and I then went down to the Jack London Amtrak Station in Oakland. We found John Raina there who also attended the Amtrak Historical Society Conference and who also runs the "East Bay Railroad Sightings" web site.John connected his computer up to the internet right from the counter at the Amtrak Station. I was able to check on a couple of sites online and even take a quick look at the activity in the Fullerton Station using our webcams at: www.RAILcams.com.
Ray and I caught a late afternoon Capitol train and went down to visit a friend in San Jose. We came back on the Coast Starlight. This Coast Starlight was running pretty late, but we still almost missed it! It was running late, but it came into the station earlier than the reservations people at 1-800-USA-RAIL predicted. Fortunately, we had made a reservation for the Coast Starlight. If we had not already made the reservation, they would not have sold us a ticket and we would have had to purchase a ticket onboard from the Conductor with a significant penalty.
This Coast Starlight was the same one that the Amtrak Historical Society took south from Emeryville to San Jose the previous day, but now it did have the newly refurbished Pacific Parlour Car! I later heard that particular car had a problem and was unexpectedly taken off to be serviced and that is why it was not on the trainset for the Amtrak Historical Society.
We arrived into Oakland fairly late. John Raina was at the station again as I guess he often is at night. After a brief chat, we said our final good-byes for this trip and headed for our hotel.
Before retiring for the evening, I connected to www.amtrak.com and checked on what time the train was expected into Oakland. The reservation system indicated that it was right on time! I set the alarm for 7:45 A.M. and called the operator to have a wake-up call at 8 A.M. That would give us time to check-out and be down to the station by 9:20 A.M. The station is only about three blocks from the hotel.
Monday, May 3, 1998
I tried to get the latest status of the southbound Amtrak Coast Starlight from the web page at www.amtrak.com, but was not able to connect to it this time. Thus, we just assumed the train was still running on time.
After we checked out of the hotel, we started heading down to the station. Immediately after stepping out the front door of the hotel we could see that there was already a train in the station. The time was 9:11 A.M., so the Coast Starlight had arrived at least 10 minutes ahead of schedule. Since we didn't know how long it had been there, we didn't know exactly how far ahead of schedule it had arrived.
By process of elimination, we had guessed that this Coast Starlight would have the newly refurbished Pacific Parlour Car and it did! I saw our Car Attendant help someone into the car with their bags. By the time we got to the door, he had already headed up the stairs helping that person. So, we just put our suitcases on the rack by the vestibule and headed up the stairs and into our room, room 2 in the 1130 car, by ourselves. As soon as we had put a few items in the room, we headed straight to the diner for breakfast. As long as the southbound Coast Starlight is running on schedule, there is plenty of time to go to breakfast after boarding in Oakland. We figured we'd eventually catch up with the Conductor and be able to give him our tickets.
There is a wide selection of items available for breakfast. We each had the two eggs with home fries, toast and bacon on the side along with orange juice. In addition, I also got a cup of coffee. For those of you that have yet to travel in a Sleeping Car on Amtrak, all food and beverages served in the dining car, except alcoholic drinks, is included in your ticket price. In other words, all your meals, including salads, soups, main entrees, breads, deserts, and non-alcoholic beverages are free! So, when you think about whether to travel coach or sleeper, be sure to take the cost of food and beverages into consideration. The difference may not be as great as you think, especially if two of you are sharing a room!
After leaving the Dining Car, we headed straight for the newly refurbished Pacific Parlour Car and sat in a table on the western side of the train. We were looking for some old small steam engines that we had seen on the western side of the route the other day. Actually, there are three different parallel rail routes between Oakland and San Jose. Sometimes the Coast Starlight will be diverted to use a different one of the routes for various reasons. We evidently did not take the same route south today as the Coast Starlight took yesterday. Yesterday we say these engines on the side just after we crossed a river but before we got to the salt plants. Today we didn't see the river nor the engines by the time we got to the salt plants.
We went to the early seating for lunch at just about noon. I wasn't really that hungry and was just going to order Soup & Salad. Our server, however, convinced me to also order the Black Forest Ham & Cheese Sandwich. I ended up eating all of the soup and just half of the sandwich. Both were excellent, but I just couldn't eat any more than that! I skipped the desert and had them wrap up the other half of my sandwich to take home.
After lunch we went back to our room for a couple of hours. For most of the journey from Oakland to Santa Barbara, Conductor Bruce Adair (B. Cameron Adair), pointed out many interesting sights along the way, including quite a few that were not included in the Route Guide!
We headed back to the Pacific Parlor Car at about 2:30 P.M. to avoid the rush before an announcement was made for the afternoon Champagne tasting. We sat at a window on the ocean side. Soon the tasting began! They served two types of Champagne. First, they gave each person a little sip of each Champagne. After you decided which one you liked better, you could have as much as you want of the one that you liked!
We ran on-time all the way to San Luis Obispo. At that point we had to back up quite a bit and go switch over to the UP yard track. The northbound Coast Starlight pulled into San Luis Obispo and we headed south on the UP yard track. I guess we must have joined back into the main at some point south of San Luis Obispo.
While in the Pacific Parlour Car we had an interesting discussion with four friendly people including two ladies in the booth right behind us, Ms. Jackie Tatum and Ms. Chandler Caldwell.
Ray and I had made reservations for the last seating for dinner which was for 6:15 P.M. That is about the latest you can eat dinner on the Coast Starlight when it is running close to schedule. We departed from the Pacific Parlour Car and went into the Dining Car. Ray had the Salmon and I had the Coast Classic Roast Beef. We had a nice couple sit with us, Donald and Jane Howland. All of us greatly enjoyed our dinner. The food was excellent! And for those of you worried about any cut-backs in the quality of food and the food service, it is not happening on the Coast Starlight! First, everything was served using real china and silverware along with white linen napkins. There was a choice of 5 different entrees for dinner: New York Strip Steak, Brian's Chicken Breast, Salmon Steak, Raviolis and Coast Classic Roast Beef! With that you had your choice of either Baked Potato, Garlic Mashed Potatos, or rice. Plus, for a vegetable you could have either mixed vegetables or snap peas. Does that sound like a cut back in food service quality to you? Our server for both lunch and dinner was Shelley Pratt and her service was also excellent!
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