Amtrak Coast Starlight
August 8 - 10, 1998
California State Rail Museum 1998 Behind The Scenes Tour
This is the travelogue of my rail trip on the Amtrak Coast Starlight for
a "Behind The Scenes Tour" of the California State Railroad Museum. I
went up on the northbound Coast Starlight on Saturday, August 8, 1998,
attended the "Behind The Scenes Tour" on Sunday, August 9, 1998, and
returned on the southbound Coast Starlight on Monday, August 10, 1998.
For the first time since I started traveling by Amtrak, I had the photos
of my travel posted to the web before I had my travelogue ready to post!
There are two reasons for this. I am using a digital camera for the very
first time on my rail travel. This camera instantly creates a .jpg image
file onto a diskette in the camera that I can transfer to my PC and post
to the web as soon as I get to a modem! Second, I've written a CGI Perl
routine that automatically creates an index web page for all the photos
in a particular location on the web without me having to manually code the
index page for the photographs. Thus, I was able to post all the
photographs of my northbound rail journey before I even returned home!
The follow method of displaying the photographs from my rail travel is an
experiment and still under development. I do not have descriptions for any
of the photos yet. I would suggest that you select the "thumbnail" options
rather than the "quarter page" options. There are a lot of photographs
posted and it could take a very long time to display the "quarter page"
photo index! Using either the thumbnail index or the
quarter page index, you can click on any photo in the index to
bring up a full size image of the photo.
The photographs are posted in the same sequence as the order in which
they were taken. The first set was taken on the northbound Amtrak Coast
Starlight and shows the scenery from Los Angeles to Sacramento.
Actually, the last photo was taken in San Jose as it had become too dark
in the evening to take any further photos. The second set was taken at
the "1998 Behind The Scenes Tour" of the California State Railroad Museum
in Sacramento. The third set was taken on the southbound Amtrak Coast
Starlight and shows the scenery from Sacramento to Los Angeles. Keep in
mind that the order of each set of photos reflects the sequence in which
these scenes were observed out the window of the Amtrak Coast Starlight.
Select one of the following sets of photographs:
- Thumbnail Index:
- Quarter Page Index:
I want to thank Sam Pottinger of
Sam's Steel Rails West (www.trainweb.com/samssrw) for having lent me
his digital camera to test on this trip. Sam has a great variety of
unusual railfan photos at his web site, including several photos of
interest to railfans that were taken from a helicopter! Sam has all sorts
of maps, guides, T-shirts, caps, photos, videos and other merchandise of
interest to railfans available on his web site. Sam also posts a monthly
update of interest to railfans along with a monthly addition to the
"Mechanic's Corner", a technical perspective on rail equipment. A visit
from time to time would be worth your while!
08/10/98 05:30 AM Sacramento, CA
If your southbound Coast Starlight is running on time and you want to see
it arrive into the station in Sacramento, this is a good time to get up!
That is, a good time if you are staying right across the street from the
station at either the Vagabond Inn or Holiday Inn and can jump out of bed
and head right to the station! Actually, if the train is REALLY on time,
you will still miss seeing its arrival.
I know the schedule shows 6:30 AM for Sacramento, but remember that is the
departure time and not the arrival time! If the train is
running on time, then it will pull into Sacramento at 5:30 AM! How do I
know this? Look at the northbound Coast Starlight schedule. It only takes
the train one hour and seven minutes to get from Sacramento to the next
stop, Marysville. The southbound schedule shows the train leaving
Marysville at 4:23 AM. Add one hour and seven minutes to 4:23 AM and you
get 5:30 AM!
I went to bed last night at about 1:00 AM. Just before turning in, I
went to the Amtrak web site at
to check the status of the southbound Coast Starlight. At that point it
was running just 20 minutes late. I knew it could make that time up in
Sacramento if it was still running late in the morning. Since it was
running close to "on time" at 1:00 AM, then it would likely still be close
to "on time" into Sacramento less than five hours later. If I had found
that the train was already four or five hours late, I probably would have
called down to the front desk to find out what time the Amtrak crew
wanted their wake-up call. They also stay at the Vagabond Inn. Since the
train won't be leaving without them, then I can also put in a later wake-up
call and get a little more sleep when the train is running late.
I think I found a shorter route from the Vagabond Inn (and the Holiday Inn
next door) over to the station. Both hotels are right across from the
station, but there is a highway entrance ramp right between them and the
access to the street is all fenced in. There used to be a hole that
someone had cut in the fence, but I could not find it this time when I
arrived into Sacramento. To get across the street, you have to walk out
of the parking lot the same way that the cars leave. Don't do like I did
and try to walk diagonally to the traffic lights where the parking lot
exit meets the street. I got boxed into an area of the parking lot and
had to walk quite a way back to the station to get around the fence and
finally walk out the same way that the cars drive out!
If you are staying at one of these hotels, don't head for the station at
all. Instead, go to the train platform nearest the station if you aren't
already there. Head south along the platform, toward the freeways that
go over the tracks. When you get to the end of the platform, you will see
a sign that says: "To Oldtown Sacramento." Just follow that path. You
will see at least one more sign "To Oldtown Sacramento" above as you follow
the path. After you go under the freeways, you will see the California
State Railroad Museum on your right and a historic frontier town further
down the street. Just stay on the sidewalk to your left and keep on walking,
right under the freeway again. When you come out from under the freeway,
you will see the Vagabond Inn directly across the street and the Holiday
Inn right after that.
I did the reverse to get back to the station in the morning. This route
seemed much shorter than going the other way, especially since I was in
the lead Sleeping Car right up at the end of the station where this path
08/10/98 06:15 AM Sacramento, CA
The train must have lost a few more minutes during the night as it didn't
arrive until about 6:15 AM. Last time I went to Sacramento, the train was
already in the station when I left my hotel about the same time in the
I noticed that the refueling truck was one track over, so I crossed over
to the next track assuming that would have to be the track on which the
Coast Starlight was expected! Soon, a Station Agent came out driving a
truck full of baggage. He stopped almost where I was standing, so I figured
I must be too close to where the front end of the train will stop. I moved
a couple of car lengths north along the platform and found myself just
about exactly at the door to my Sleeping Car when it arrived!
Once again, the train was pretty full, though I don't think quite as full
as when I went north. The people that got off from my Sleeping Car in
Sacramento were the ones that were in the room that was to become mine.
Since it would take the Car Attendant a few minutes to get the room ready,
he put me in Deluxe Bedroom B for now. But, he also said that I could have
this room for the rest of the trip if I wished and if it didn't get sold
along the way. He also mentioned that it is extremely unlikely that it
would be sold to anyone boarding further south than Oakland and that it
was not too likely that it would be sold by then. On second thought, he
realized that Deluxe Room A was getting off in Oakland, so there would
be 2 Deluxe Rooms available for the journey south. He said I could move
to that room if this room did get sold.
I was somewhat looking forward to my room on the ocean side of the train.
Since I don't ride in a Deluxe Room very often, I think I'll forgo my
ocean view Standard Bedroom and enjoy this unusual opportunity!
This may be a good time to review sides of the train, room numbers, and
ocean views on the Coast Starlight. Many agents will tell you that there
is no way to predict which rooms will be on the coast, but that is pure
nonsense! Yes, there is no way to guarantee it. But, the odds are far
from 50/50 as to which rooms end up with the ocean view. Actually, if you
follow my suggestions, the chances are about 95% that you will end up
with an ocean view! Keep in mind that I have traveled the Coast Starlight
dozens of times over the last 3 years and I have rarely found a Sleeping
Car on the train oriented other than the way I'm about to describe.
Keep this simple jingle in mind: "Even Up, Odd Down." That is, get an
even numbered Standard Bedroom on your trip north out of Los Angeles on
the Coast Starlight and an odd numbered Standard Bedroom on your trip
south on the Coast Starlight. That will give you about a 95% chance of
being on the side with the view of the ocean between San Luis Obispo and
If you have a Deluxe Bedroom, you will be on the ocean side while heading
north and on the in-land side while heading south. That isn't all bad as
you can just open your curtain and look out the window across the corridor
without obstructions. If you are in the Family Room or the Special
(Handicapped) Bedroom, it doesn't matter as you have windows on both sides
of the train!
Why are the Sleeping Cars always oriented this way? I don't know, but it
may be intentional. This orientation gives the Deluxe Bedroom passengers
the ocean view while going north. Of the two directions, the ocean view
is best on the northbound trip as it is in the morning. During the
southbound journey, the train is sometimes in darkness by the time it gets
to the ocean, especially in the shorter daylight hours of winter or even
if the train runs late in other seasons. Thus, if you want to make sure
your top paying passengers get the best view of the ocean, then you will
want them on that side of the train during the northbound journey.
Conversely, in my own opinion, the best views from the train between
Seattle and Oakland on the southbound journey are on the in-land side of
the train. Once again, the Deluxe Bedrooms are on the in-land side of the
train for the southbound journey giving them the best view in that
direction again! But, it does place the Deluxe Bedrooms on the wrong side
of the train for the ocean view south of San Luis Obispo.
Once in a great while, but not often, I will see Sleeping Car #1432 (north)
or #1132 (south) oriented backwards. I've been told it has something to do
with it being connected to the Transition Sleeper, but I haven't figure
out why that would change anything. Sleeping Cars #1432 and #1132 are
usually oriented correctly even when connected to a Transition Sleeper,
just as it is in this train today. The other times I have seen Sleeping
Cars disoriented is when there has been a disruption in rail service and
the Coast Starlight is not making the entire run. That is rare, but it
does sometimes happen when the tracks get flooded (or washed out!) during
the rainy month of January. During that time and for a few days after
service is restored, the Sleeping Cars can be oriented any which way.
But, shortly after full service resumes, it doesn't seem to take Amtrak
long to put all the cars back into their usual orientation!
While we are on the topic, the usual consist of the Coast Starlight is
two Genesis Locomotives in the lead, a baggage car, a Transition Sleeper
(Car Loading #10), 3 Superliner II Sleeping Cars (Car Loading Numbers
32, 31 and 30), the Pacific Parlor Car (First Class Lounge Car), the
Dining Car, the Sightseer Lounge Car, and then from 3 to 5 Superliner
Coach Cars (mostly, if not all, Superliner II Coach Cars with Car Loading
Numbers 11, 12, 13, 14 and 15). You will find the Car Loading Numbers
right by the outside of the entrance door on each side of the car and also
inside the car up on the wall on each end where you go through the door to
the next car. The Car Loading number is a four digit number. The first
two digits are the train number. For example, they will be "14" on the
northbound Coast Starlight and "11" on the southbound Coast Starlight.
The next two digits will be the number that I have mentioned above. It
is easy to tell a new Superliner II Coach or Sleeper from an older
Superliner I Coach or Sleeper. In the new Superliner II Cars, the Car
Loading Numbers are all electronic and appear as an LCD display with
black digits on a white background. In the older Superliner I Cars, the
Car Loading Numbers are white digits on a black background mounted on
mechanical rollers. There are many other differences between the new and
old Superliner Cars, but this is one of the easiest ways to tell the
vintage of the car that you are about to board!
I went to the Pacific Parlour Car shortly after boarding the train.
It was one of the newly refurbished Pacific Parlour Cars. The time was
about 7:00 AM. From the state of the tables, I could see that
a lot of people were probably in the Parlour Car just a short while ago
and they probably moved into the Dining Car for a full breakfast when it
opened up. The Parlour Car Attendant was pretty busy cleaning up all the
Another woman in the car stepped up to the bar. The Car Attendant wasn't
there, but the Conductor was standing there having his morning cup of
coffee. The Conductor asked the woman if she'd like some coffee and filled
her cup. She then sat at the table next to my table. I turned over my cup
so the Car Attendant would know that I'd like to have it filled with some
coffee when he got a chance. To my embarassment, the woman turned around
and said to the Conductor: "This gentleman would also like a cup of
coffee!" I certainly know that pouring coffee is not a duty of the
Conductor, who is the #1 person in charge of the operation and safety of
the train! The Conductor called over to me: "Would you like decaf or the
regular blend?" I said that I take regular, but don't mind waiting for
the Car Attendant. The Conductor poured me a cup of coffee and jokingly
said: "I hope you realize this is probably the high point of your trip,
being served coffee by the Conductor!" I told him that I realized that
and certainly did appreciate it!
08/10/98 08:45 AM Emeryville, CA
125 people got off the train in Emeryville to connect to buses going to
San Francisco, mostly from the Coach Cars. Since the station and buses
were ahead of the train and I was in the lead Sleeping Car, #1132, everyone
had to pass where I was standing outside the door of the car. The line of
people seemed to go on forever! The Car Attendant said that we would be
having a large crowd of people boarding in Oakland that were bused in from
08/10/98 09:25 AM Oakland - Jack London Square, CA
Right on time into Oakland! I got off the train and was able to walk all
the way to the front and take a few pictures of the Genesis locomotives
and then walk all the way to the back of the train getting the numbers of
the consist for those of you that are interested in that. On the train
going north, one of the Coach Cars was a Superliner I. This train is 100%
Superliner II Cars in Coach and Sleeping.
Well, nobody has purchased this room yet. So, I guess I can stay in
Deluxe Bedroom B for the rest of my journey!
Just south of Soledad Prison the train went into "emergency stop." I jumped
to get my scanner to see why we stopped so suddenly. Ron Carpenter, a
friend who is traveling with me on this trip, wanted to know what I was
getting so excited about. Trains stop so slowly, even in "emergency stop,"
that you might not realize it unless you know what it feels like. An
"emergency stop," which is as fast as a train can stop, is slow enough that
even stemmed wine glasses generally do not spill. Ron said that the
emergency stop felt like the way a Caltrain Commuter Train will make a
normal stop sometimes. I don't ride those very often, so I can't attest to
I didn't get much more information from the scanner other than they were
now getting pressure back up in the brakes. The Conductor did make an
announcement over the P.A. that the reason that we stopped so suddenly
was that a car had pulled in front of the train and that we had narrowly
missed hitting the car. If you are wondering if this is a common occurrence,
it is unfortunately not as uncommon as it should be. However, I've only
seen a train go into emergency stop 3 times in over 100,000 miles of Amtrak
travel. If you are concerned about the safety of rail travel, don't be. In
one of those 3 emergency stops, the train actually did hit a car. The
people in the car were killed, but just like this "emergency stop", most of
the people on the train didn't even know that we had made an emergency
stop and were wondering what we were waiting for. Unless the train were to
hit a cement truck or some other extremely heavy object, you are unlikely
to even know that the train hit something until you are told!
08/10/98 11:00 AM San Jose, CA
Still in the Pacific Parlour Car, I decided to look for that electrical
outlet that I had found in a previously refurbished Pacific Parlour Car
under the second table from the bar on the west side of the train. It
wasn't there! I checked under every table and could not find an outlet
under any of them! I had thought that the outlets were part of the original
car, but according to the Car Attendant, the outlets were put in as part
of the refurbishing. The Car Attendant said that the Pacific Parlour Cars
are not all identical even though they look that way to passengers. As
each one was completed and placed into service, some problems were found
that were corrected before additional cars were refurbished. One such
correction was placing a drain and electrical outlet into the bar service
area. Evidently another such correction was placing an outlet under one
of the tables, probably to make it convenient for the people that need to
vacuum the floors. I like the outlet under the tables as it allows me to
work on my notebook computer in the Pacific Parlour Car without having to
worry about batteries.
08/10/98 06:30 PM Santa Barbara, CA
Tonight we had dinner in our Deluxe Room. While we were eating, there
was a tremendous crashing like noise that came from our car and then
all the power went out. It took about 15 minutes before the crew was
able to attempt to restore the power. When they did, there was another
big crashing noise accompanied by sparks and a big puff of smoke out
of our car!
I know someone that is going to get a kick out of this: Gene Poon, who
writes for the Rail Travel News
This Superliner Car is the "Arkansas". It was one of the cars used on
the inaugural "thru" Texas Eagle last February. Gene was telling me
about all the problems with this car. This is certainly another one of
those problems! It also isn't the first problem that this car encountered
on this trip. Somewhere south of San Jose, the door on the east side of
this train jammed and would not open! I can't think of any connection
between the stuck door and the electrical problem, which is on the other
side of the train near the connection to the next car, the Transition
Sleeping Car, but who knows?
I don't remember all the problems that Gene pointed out about this car.
When I used the upstairs toilet, I was reminded that this car may have
one of the only Superliner II toilets with a "Push To Flush" button.
All the other Superliner II cars have toilets that automatically flush
when you close the toilet lid.
The crew made a third attempt to bypass some electrical and reset the
system. I was standing outside my door of Deluxe Bedroom B by the window
when they did that. There was another great crashing noise followed by
a lot of big sparks and a very big puff of smoke! At this point they
gave up trying to fix electrical. The crew was very good about keeping
everyone informed over the P.A. system about the problem as they attempted
to fix it. Now, they just decided to head into Los Angeles without the
Head End Power (HEP). I've never been in such a quiet train before!
It is getting a bit warm without the air conditioning, but it certainly
is quiet without the air blowing around! Of course, the other problem
is that I only brought this one battery for my notebook computer. When
it goes, that will be it for the rest of this travelogue until another
08/11/98 04:00 PM Fullerton, CA
I'm back in my office at TrainWeb, upstairs in the Fullerton Santa Fe
Depot, putting the final touches on this travelogue. We traveled all
the way from Santa Barbara to Los Angeles, in total darkness! Eventually
it got so dark that you could not see the nose in front of your face!
Even the battery to power the emergency lights in our car eventually
died. The battery to power emergency lights in most of the other cars
lasted all the way to Los Angeles, but not in our car. The Car Attendant
obtained a box of stick lights from the emergency supplies and handed
one to each passenger. These were tubes of liquid that glowed bright green
once activated. Several of these were also taped to the walls to provide
some lighting in the hallways and stairs.
When I first went to the Pacific Parlour Car in the morning, I heard some
passengers questioning why the Sleeping Cars were at the head of the train
instead of the tail of the train. They were complaining that they could
not sleep with all the noise from the locomotives. I was a bit surprised
when I heard their discussion as I don't remember ever hearing the
locomotives from inside my room. I think the ride from Santa Barbara to
Los Angeles confirmed my observation about the noise. Without the
electricity, the train was very quiet! All that could be heard was the
wheels on the tracks, and that was not very noisy. We could not hear
the locomotives at all. What the other people thought was the sound of
the locomotives was probably the sound of the air conditioning in each
car and the sound of air moving through the vents. I don't think the
sound of that is disturbingly loud, but it is certainly loud enough
to drown out any engine sounds that might be able to be heard from the
locomotives! If they were referring to the horn on the locomotive, I can
certainly believe they heard that as it can be heard for miles away
from the train! I don't think that sound is very loud inside the train
and I regard it as one of the more pleasing sounds that is all part of
the rail travel experience. In any case, this was certainly the quietest
train ride that I have ever been on!
About 9 PM the Conductor announced that the Texas Eagle would wait for
the connecting passengers, but the southbound San Diegan would not. He
said that we would all be bused to our destination. At that point we
were in Simi Valley, just 36 miles out of Los Angeles. I knew that we
would arrive pretty close to the departure time of the San Diegan at
9:45 PM. If we were late, we would only be about 15 or 20 minutes late.
It seemed odd to me that they would not hold the train for us for such
a short period.
My guess is that they were not sure that there would not be further
delays because of the condition of the train. So, to be on the safe
side, they called in the buses to take us. Just as I had predicted,
we arrived into Los Angeles at about 9:10 PM, about 25 minutes after
the departure of the last southbound San Diegan. Thus, we completed
the final segment of our journey to Fullerton in a bus.
As far as the test of the digital camera goes, I'll let you be the judge
of that. The quality of the photographs seem to be just as good as any
of the past photographs that I have posted to the web. I think the
quality is acceptable for photographs that are to be posted to the web.
I tried both "standard" and "fine" mode. Both modes create a ".jpg" file
that is 640 x 480. The difference seems to be that the "fine" file
is larger than the "standard" file, but I had difficulty seeing much
difference in the quality of the photograph. To make a comparison for
yourself, look at the first two photos of the Northbound Coast Starlight
set. Those were the only photos taken in "standard" quality. All the rest
were taken in "fine" quality mode. "Standard" quality files seem to be
about 25K to 35K bytes in size while the "Fine" quality files seem to be
about 35K to 50K bytes in size.
If you plan to take photographs and expect to sell them or submit them
to rail magazines, I don't think this particular digital camera will meet
your needs. Some people who shoot photographs professionally who have
been looking for a digital camera to meet their needs have told me that
they have been unable to find one that can take the same quality pictures
as a 35mm camera, regardless of the cost of the camera.
Some of the good features: This particular camera stores the photographs
into ".jpg" files directly onto a standard 3-1/2" computer diskette that
you load into the camera. This diskette can be read by a standard IBM
compatible computer without any special software. The files are ready to
be uploaded to be copied to your hard drive and viewed by any standard
image viewing program, or can be immediately transferred to the web.
Diskettes are very inexpensive, usually well under $1 per diskette. Thus,
you can just about take an unlimited number of photographs at almost no
cost. Plus, diskettes can be erased are reused! Another great feature is
that you can just take a photo, even if you are not sure you want to
keep the photograph. Without any cost for developing, you can just delete
any images that you do not wish to save.
Some of the problems: The biggest problem is the quality. As mentioned
above, I don't think the qualities of these photos are adequate to
submit them to a rail magazine nor adequate for making reproductions
and selling them. The other major drawback is that you just get a
"DISK FULL" error when there is not enough room remaining on the diskette.
The photo is not saved. Thus, if you want to make sure you get the shot,
you need to change the diskette as it gets near being full and not wait
until it is completely full. You just have to guess about when it is
getting near being full. The other major drawback is that you cannot
take two photos in rapid succession as you can with many 35mm cameras.
After you take each shot, the image is recorded to disk and this recording
process takes a few seconds. That can be a problem if you want to take
2 or 3 photos of the scenery while the train is crossing a bridge, and
in any other situation where the target of your photo changes quickly.
Here is the model of this particular digital camera:
Sony Digital 10x Mavica Digital Still Camera MVC-FD7
- Chief of Onboard Services: Jay Fountain (sp?)
- Car Attendant (1432): Roger Keilbach
- Dining Car Attendant: Mae
- --115 Genesis Locomotive
- --118 Genesis Locomotive
- -1719 Baggage Car
- 39029 Superliner 2 (1410) Transition Sleeper (Crew Dorm)
- 32117 Superliner 2 (1432-WI) Sleeping Car
- 32097 Superliner 2 (1431-NH) Sleeping Car
- 32111 Superliner 2 (1430-TX) Sleeping Car (My Car)
- 39971 Pacific Parlour Car (not refurbished yet)
- 38057 Superliner Dining Car
- 33049 Superliner Sightseer Lounge Car
- 34114 Superliner 2 (1411) Coach Car
- 34515 Superliner 2 (1412) Coach Car
- 34135 Superliner 2 (1413) Coach Car
- 34116 Superliner 2 (1414) Coach Car
- 31021 Superliner 1 (1415) Coach Car
- -8004 Amtrak California Car (San Gabriel River) deadheading
- Car Attendant (1432): Herminio
- Conductor: Oakland to Santa Barbara: Bruce Adair
- Entertainer: Jeff
- --113 Genesis Locomotive
- --114 Genesis Locomotive
- -1137 Baggage Car
- 39022 Superliner 2 (1110) Transition Sleeper (Crew Dorm)
- 32072 Superliner 2 (1132-AK) Sleeping Car (My Car)
- 32095 Superliner 2 (1131-NE) Sleeping Car
- 32110 Superliner 2 (1130-TN) Sleeping Car
- 39975 Pacific Parlour Car (refurbished)
- 38055 Superliner Dining Car
- 33048 Superliner Sightseer Lounge Car
- 34111 Superliner 2 (1111) Coach Car
- 34512 Superliner 2 (1112) Coach Car
- 34103 Superliner 2 (1113) Coach Car
- 34102 Superliner 2 (1114) Coach Car
- 34107 Superliner 2 (1115) Coach Car
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