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Don Winter's Trip to the 2001 NRHS Convention
Aboard Amtrak's Texas Eagle
http://www.trainweb.com/travelogues/2001/2001f15a_421.html

The following describes our trip by Amtrak from Los Angeles to St. Louis and back to attend the 2001 NRHS Convention.

Friday, June 15th, 2001

Since we're only going to be gone for twelve nights (eleven full days plus parts of two others), we've ascertained that it will be cheaper to drive up to LA and park beneath the MTA tower at LA Union Station than to take the Metropolitan Shuttle there and back from Hermosa Beach for two people. This requires making arrangements when we arrive, so we leave time for that. We've also left time for the reticketing necessitated by the Amtrak date change on the return and our decision to add a leg to Springfield, IL, and back to St. Louis on the return.

Shortly after 8pm, we leave home for the drive to LAUS. There's less traffic than I had anticipated, so we're at the parking garage by nine. After some difficulty negotiating the innards of the structure, we park close to a manned booth and make our parking arrangements, then take our luggage and head for the Amtrak ticket counter. Passing through the tunnel beneath the platforms, that connects the MTA Building with LAUS, we encounter a partial barricade comprising a couple of Amtrak motorized carts. It seems that Amtrak cannot bring itself to acknowledge that the tunnel is now a public thoroughfare and is trying to control pedestrian traffic this way.

At the ticket counter, we process the changes in the reservation (with some difficulty due to the agent's apparent inability to comprehend what had caused the change), and check our large suitcase through to St. Louis. We also learn that the Lakers have beaten the 76ers, and thus won the NBA Championship. (One happy supporter is telling everyone in sight.) When we see that redcaps are taking people and their bags out to trainside, we head out there too, only to run into an officious Amtrak person manning the "barricade", who tells us we shouldn't be there because they "haven't yet called the train," and "the people at trainside aren't ready to deal with you, yet." He seems oblivious to the tunnel's status as public right of way, and the passengers already being taken to trainside by the redcaps.

Within minutes, however, we're allowed to go up to the platform, find out car and sleeping room, and I have time to walk the train and write down the consist. Train 11 is only an hour or so late this evening, so our Train 2 waits a few minutes for passengers and luggage to transfer from that train, then depart LAUS 15 minutes late.

Saturday, June 16th, 2001

When I awake briefly, during the night, the waning crescent moon hangs in the desert sky, above a very bright planet. The presence of these bright objects obscures the normal mass of stars visible in the desert sky. We leave Yuma at 5:03 am (1h 45 min late), and I'm awake for good about an hour later. Progress across the Sonoran desert is smooth, with the traffic situation quite fluid. This part of the Sonoran Desert has many saguaro, as well as cholla and yucca cacti along the line. We change crews at Maricopa (instead of Tucson, due to out lateness), but are out of Tucson only 90 minutes late even so.

Since we're on the sleeper that will switch to the Texas Eagle in San Antonio, there are four coaches plus the lounge between us and the diner, plus the diner's PA isn't audible back in our car. This leads us to anticipate the diner openings for both breakfast and lunch, walking down to the lounge car to wait for each. The dining car steward, Ray, blames our inability to hear his announcements on the PA equipment in the diner (which we believe, since we can hear announcements made from the lounge car), and refuses to do anything about it until several people (including our sleeping car attendant) suggest he walk to the lounge car to make his PA announcements. After that, we hear the announcements back in our sleeping room, especially those calling in various dinner reservations.

The train takes track 1 up to Mescal, the former El Paso & Southwestern line over the trestle at Maricopa. At Mescal, all the onetime railroad artifacts (semaphores, water tank, etc.) are now gone, with only the minimal number of modern signals present. East of Mescal and through Benson, were once there was only a single track, there is now double track (operated as two main tracks, not as direction of traffic single lines in each direction). Of course, there are no opposing freights along this section, but the minute we reach the single track at Dragoon, there are several opposing freights requiring the negotiation of passing sidings. Along this stretch, bridge building works show that the double track will be extended in the near future. However, the requirement to meet opposing traffic means that we're two hours late at both Lordsburg and Deming, New Mexico. The terrain east of Tucson, and especially between Benson and Dragoon, has become quite mountainous in nature, as it climbs up toward the continental divide. However, before the divide is reached, the terrain turns into areas or large salt flats and dry lakes. The continental divide itself is virtually unnoticeable. Between Benson, AZ, and Lordsburg, NM, we switch our watches ahead an hour for the change to Mountain time.

As we approach El Paso, at Anapra we pass within 20 ft. or so of the Mexican border, through an area where freight trains are often robbed (there is a shanty town just across the border). As we arrive in El Paso, I take my usual note of the presence of the fuel rack alongside the station (but not on the passenger lines). Due to the makeup time in the schedule, we're only 90 minutes late into and out of El Paso.

On the way out of El Paso, we make a number of stops passing the roundhouse and then Alfalfa yard. One of the stops is adjacent to the junction with the Tucumcari line, on which trains pass in each direction while we're waiting there. A large fraction of the Sunset Route traffic between California and El Paso takes the "Cotton Rock" line at this point, and another smaller fraction takes the former Texas & Pacific at Sierra Blanca, leaving the former Texas & New Orleans (SP in Texas) to San Antonio with much less traffic than the line west of here has to deal with.

At Tornillo, some miles east, we pass a very tardy #1. This meet delays us some more, and at Alpine we're two hours and twenty minutes late. Progress has been noticeably slower on the climb up the west side of Paisano Pass, but darkness hides whatever scenery there might be. Soon after crossing the pass and leaving Alpine, we're asleep, but not before setting our watches ahead another hour for the Central time zone. Today, we ate breakfast in Arizona, lunch in New Mexico, and Dinner in Texas, and spent time in three different time zones.

Sunday, June 17th

We awake in San Antonio, being banged around in shunting moves. A look out of the window shows that we're alongside the rearmost cars of the train we had been on the previous day: #2 has not yet left San Antonio, even though its now after 6:30 am. That train eventually leaves at 7:35am, after which our new train, the Texas Eagle can board passengers and do its station work. We're 72 minutes late leaving town. Departure is a backup move to Tower 112, followed by a forward move onto the connector from the ex-SP to the ex-MP. The first time I traveled this way, back in 1982, the Sunset Route was SP track, the leg from San Antonio to Temple a mix of Missouri Pacific and Missouri-Kansas-Texas, and after a couple of hundred miles of the Santa Fe the leg from Fort Worth to Dallas (as far as I went on that occasion) was MP subsidiary Texas and Pacific. Today, all of those lines (except the Santa Fe) are part of the ubiquitous Union Pacific system.

Although our sleeper is still at the other end of the train from the diner, on this different consist (except for the through coach and sleeper) we can hear the diner's PA in our room. We go to breakfast at first call. In the diner, I spy John (from Philadelphia), our frequent traveling companion on NRHS excursions of previous years. He has come down from Philadelphia via the Sunset Route, and will ride this train all the way into St. Louis tonight, so he can ensure he's able to take the Tuesday NRHS excursion. We don't have tickets for that train (it was sold out by the time we placed our order), so we're taking the opportunity to ride the Heartland Flyer tonight and tomorrow morning, and will arrive in St. Louis a day later than he does.

The countryside hereabouts is lush farmland, since we're now east of the 100th meridian that represents the general boundary between the arid land to the west and the lusher land to the east. Also along the railroad between San Antonio and San Marcos are a number of rock quarries providing the kind of rock used in railroad construction and maintenance, as well as road building. Approaching San Marcos, the conductor asks the engineer to "slow down near that new station; some folks have been showing up there, and I want to be able to stop for them". However, he sees no-one and we glide to a stop at the present station. Up on the hill to the west is San Marcos State University, its new high rises overshadowing the original two-story brick buildings where LBJ went to college and performed chores for the college president in return for lodging and board. Further north is the urban area of Austin, comprising not only the state capital of Texas, but also a modern high-technology industry center known as 'silicon gulch'.

Austin is left an hour and 20 minutes late. At Taylor, we switch from the former MP (now UP Austin subdivision) to the former MKT (now UP Waco subdivision), and at Temple to the former Gulf Coast & Santa Fe, now BNSF Fort Worth subdivision. Listening to engineer - dispatcher conversations along here, I am reminded once again that on any given day, railroad operations are a form pf barely-controlled chaos. One engineer remarks that "that's another gigantic mystery" in response to a dispatcher question.

After a 12 minute step at Tower 55, we arrive in Fort Worth at 3;52 pm, almost two hours late. Even so, our train 22 is there before the southbound train 21 (which should have been there first), so in the next couple of hours the Fort Worth station will have more trains than it can handle. Train 22 is there for 45 minutes, refueling locomotives and servicing passenger cars (adding water and the like). During this time, I take the opportunity to record the consist (as it existed on arrival at Fort Worth, before any additional mail and express cars were added. Then it reverses out of the station, past tower 55, then forward on the south-to-east leg of the junction and heads for Dallas. As soon as it has gone, train 21 appears and makes the same moves in the opposite order, backing into the Fort Worth station.

Prior to train 21's arrival, the station announcer tells the waiting crowd there will be "two trains in the station at once", even though there's only one platform. Then, after train 21's arrival, he says he has "just learned" that the Heartland Flyer will have to wait outside the station for train 21 to leave. Train 21 is in the station from 5:03 to 5:36, receiving the same services as train 22. Only after it leaves is the consist for train 822 able to move from its siding and enter the platform. When the train is finally called, the rush of passengers across the single path to the platform (through the building area for platforms and track of the new station under construction just to the north) looks like a small re-enactment of the Oklahoma land rush! After loading, it leaves at 6:00 pm, 35 minutes late. Departure requires a reverse move, before puling forward onto the BNSF lie north to Oklahoma City.

On this train, we have no choice but to ride in coach, and are soon reminded why we normally choose not to do so! Alongside the track at the north end of Fort Worth are some very large grain elevators. After that, the farming countryside is quite uninteresting, except for the Red River crossing, where we enter Oklahoma. After Ardmore, it's dark outside, so seeing this countryside will have to wait for tomorrow. Leaving Ardmore, we're almost an hour late, and then have a twelve minute stop waiting fro an opposing freight.

Occupying some of the "family" seats (face-to-face seats) in front of us are three couples who have spent the weekend attending horse races in the Fort Worth area, along with the grandson of one couple. One couple owns a farm several hours drive from Oklahoma City (but lives off the revenues from the oil field beneath the farm), another man is a local judge, and the third man is the horse trainer. They get to talking politics, and the judge makes remarks about being "fooled once, but he won't be a second time". One of his companions asks if he's talking about (Oklahoma Governor) Keating or (president) Bush. He answers "both"! We arrive in Oklahoma City just over an hour late (due to the recovery time built into the schedule), walk the two blocks to our hotel, and are soon checked in and asleep.

Monday, June 18th, 2001

We get up and check out of the hotel, then walk back to the station. As we're doing so, about 7:55 am, the train moves out of the track on which it has been parked all night, and Chris thinks it is leaving town until I point out its going the opposite way from Fort Worth. Today, we can see what the station is like -- a nice between-the-wars concrete structure in "modern" style. Up on the platform, we see that the train is now on the main track and moving into the station. Naturally, it is the same consist as last night. We board, and the train departs on time.

There is an interesting arrangement on the ticketing: the conductor is collecting payment from those who have boarded without tickets (but usually with reservations already, asking each person what reservations told them to pay for this leg), while the assistant conductor is taking tickets from those who already have them.

Today, we get to see the scenery in the quite scenic area alongside the river south of Pauls Valley, with the track curving back and forth as the river valley curves. After just a few miles, however, we're back to prairie farmland again.

Crossing the red River, we/re back in Texas and make the stop in Gainesville. As we approach the Fort Worth area, we see the tall light towers that mark the location of the BNSF Alliance yard, but the yard itself is not visible from the train. We again pass by the large elevators, where some track work is being done at the flat crossing, and then crawl the rest of the way to the Fort Worth station, including a lengthy pause before the backup move into the platform.

We arrive at Fort Worth an hour late, but neither train 21 nor train 22 is here yet (a good thing, since both are guaranteed connections from this train). In fact, a good look at the timetables shows that the combination of train 821's stated arrival and the stated arrival and departure times for train 21 is quite impossible to met in practice, since there's only one platform at Fort Worth, but the listed arrival time for train 821 is between the arrival and departure times listed for train 21!

Today, as yesterday, train 22 reaches Fort Worth before train 21, although even it is about half an hour late on arrival, and 45 minutes late by departure. I record the consist as the train arrives (but have to capture those cars added at Fort Worth at a later time, since I don't realize it has happened until I see the rear of the train as we're turning east after the reverse move past Tower 55).

Train 21 is waiting for us to clear, just east of Tower 55. There is maintenance work going on along the line to Dallas, which we leave an hour late, and east of Dallas, we have to wait awhile for a westbound bare table train to pass. With a number of slow areas (with no opposing traffic, but maybe we're following a freight), we're an hour and 40 minutes late at Longview.

Our table companions at dinner are a young man making his first trip out of Texas, who eats the cheapest dinner on the menu, and a young woman who may or may not be with him, who eats nothing at all. If this had not been the last sitting for dinner, the latter might have led to difficulties with the dining car crew, but there are empty tables at this sitting. During dinner, we make a double spot at Marshall. At Texarkana, left an hour and 20 minutes late, there's radio chatter about a "circus train", but we don't see it anywhere. Soon afterwards, we're asleep, although I wake enough at Little Rock to note that we're now only an hour late.

Tuesday, June 19th, 2001

I awake as we are passing through Pevely. By the time I'm up, we're running alongside the Mississippi River, which we do for some 15 or 20 minutes. Then we turn away from the river and run through old industrial areas to Iron Mountain Junction, then through railroad yards to our arrival at St. Louis Union Trailers, about 15 minutes late. How much of the gain overnight is recovery time in the schedule? There's only about ten minutes difference in the northbound and southbound schedules between Poplar Bluff and St. Louis. I record the identities of the mail and express cars on the rear, added at Fort Worth, then we collect the checked bag and take a taxi over to the hotel that will be our base until midday Sunday.


Saturday, June 23rd, 2001

As we had originally been scheduled to leave for home this evening (on train 21, at 9 pm, when it was the scheduled connection through to Los Angeles), we pay some attention to the return time of the excursion with that in mind. As it happens, we would not only have had plenty of time to catch our train, we would have had time to walk over to St. Louis Union Station for dinner, as well. But after the return time of Thursday' excursion, we would have been very uncomfortable for much of the day!

Sunday, June 24th, 2001

We take the opportunity to sleep in, then get up, pack for home, and check out exactly at noon. Following lunch in the (empty) hotel restaurant, we take a taxi over to SLUT about 1 pm, and check our big bag to Los Angeles (after some difficulty getting the agent to understand that we really do want it to go out on train 21, this evening.

We're expecting to leave on train 304, at 2:05 pm, spend three hour in Springfield, IL, and then head south on train 21 from that location, at 7 pm, in time for dinner on the train. (We added this leg when Amtrak moved our returning train from Tuesday morning arrival in LA to Wednesday morning arrival in LA, and thus Sunday evening departure from these parts.) However, train 304 proves to be several hours late on its journey from Kansas City, for reasons never adequately explained to the waiting passengers. I spend a couple of hours outside, sitting on the baggage cart, having an extended conversation with Steve Miller from Sacramento. Steve is also waiting for train 304, but only so that he can go to Alton, where he will spend the night and take train 22 (through the Illinois Central detour) tomorrow morning. It's about 85 degrees out in the sun, which is still much more comfortable than the crowded station (trailers) in which the failing air-conditioning is being supplemented by a couple of floor-standing fans. To add to the misery of those waiting, the soft-drink machine is completely out of drinks.

When it gets to 4 pm, and train 304 still hasn't even left Kirkwood, I go inside to talk to the agent about our potential need to change our arrangements and not go to Springfield after all. We don't want to find ourselves sitting in a siding, south of Springfield, watching train 21 pass us southbound. We also don't want the conductor on train 21 to sell our sleeping space, as no-shows, if we don't get on at Springfield. Finally, we don't want to have paid for a dinner we haven't received (regardless of what happens with the transportation cost of the Springfield legs of the trip). Unfortunately, the staffing at SLUT in mid afternoon is quite inadequate to this task, none of the responsible people that one would see at morning or evening passage of the Texas Eagle being present at this hour.

It takes us two hours to get things squared away. Train 304 finally shows up at 4:35 pm, but the assistant conductor on that train strongly recommends we not get on, given the circumstances. By 6 pm, we have (a) spoken to the agent at Springfield, who concurs with our decision not to come there, and who will let the conductor know why we have not shown up, and that we will be boarding at St. Louis, (b) spoken with the folks at the reservations center, who tell us what to do with the unused ticket (send it in to Amtrak with an explanatory letter; apparently it can't just be refunded because it was already issues as an exchange when we were reticketed in LA on June 15th), and what to do about the shortened journey on the Springfield to Los Angeles ticket (have the agent reissue it right there and then), and (c) watched as the "agent" had someone on the phone talk him through the process, taking 45 minutes! :-(

Finally, we get to walk over to St. Louis Union Station (and its restaurants), where we have something cold to drink, and then have dinner at one of the few restaurants still open after 6 pm on a Sunday. We then return to SLUT, and sit on the baggage carts outside until the baggage agent needs them for official business (i.e. loading our checked bag). At train time, three other NRHS conventioneers appear, one of whom (Mike Bedford) has just upgraded his coach ticket to Dallas to a standard bedroom in the sleepers.

Train 21 arrives, I record the consist as it passes, and we walk down to the rear sleeper. After I have noted down the boxcars and roadrailers on the rear, I board and find that Mike has the room directly across from ours. We depart St. Louis 37 minutes late (I didn't record the dwell time). We talk with Mike for about an hour, and then go to bed.

Monday, June 25th, 2001

I awake just as the train is stopping in Texarkana, which we depart only 26 minutes late.. We choose not to go the breakfast, since the dining car is again at the other end of the train. Mike awakes about an hour later, and gets in for breakfast just before last call. We then chat for several more hours until we have to head for lunch just as the training is arriving at Dallas, where he gets off. At Dallas, we arrive an hour late (having dropped 35 minutes since Texarkana), and leave 99 minutes late (due at least in part to the time taken to remove the mail and express cars from, and add private car Tamalpais to, the rear of the train). Based on my discussion with Steve Miller, I'm now keeping a very detailed record of everything that slows or delays the train, at least during waking hours.

One of our lunch companions is worried about getting her lunch before we get to Fort Worth, where she is transferring to the Heartland Flyer for Oklahoma City and her home a three hour drive beyond that. It transpires that she can't eat wheat, and nothing available on the latter train passes her dietary restrictions, so if she doesn't eat now it will be after arrival in OK City before she gets any food. The dining car crew on this train is the same one we had between San Antonio and Fort Worth, just over a week ago. (They have had five days off in between.) The Chicago to San Antonio passenger cars are also the same as we had had on that train, but the through cars to Los Angeles are different. The San Antonio cars have (presumably) made a full round trip in between.

Today, train 21 (us) arrives at Fort Worth first, albeit 85 minutes late, pulling south past Tower 55 and then reversing into the station. After a stay of 39 minutes, performing the usual fueling and car servicing (including propane refueling for Tamalpais), we leave 89 minutes late. One additional baggage car is also removed at Fort Worth, where a p42 (#41) is being used as a switcher! Two passengers have boarded in Fort Worth to take the sleeper space across from us, after a quick clean-up job by the sleeping car attendant, JR Applegate. As we cross Tower 55 again, we pass train 22 waiting south of the Tower.

At Temple, we leave the BNSF that we have run on since Fort Worth, now two hours late. Out 7:30 dinner reservations are called as the train arrives in Austin (still two hours late), and we finish eating in San Marcos, just as the sun sets.. We arrive in San Antonio at 10:10 pm, 70 minutes late, after a crawl around to Tower 112, and a slow reverse move into the station. Along the way, we observe a waxing crescent moon. We go to sleep with the cars in the station, as expected.

Tuesday, June 26th, 2001

During the night, around 4 am, our cars are shoved down the track a way (to the east), then returned to the station (perhaps on a different track). At 6:40 am, I'm again awakened by car movements, including some fairly violent crashes (suggesting difficulty in getting a coupler to close). When I look outside, I see the same piece of San Antonio as when we arrived. Not only that, but there's at least one Superliner in the adjacent track, plus the front of a genesis locomotive on a farther track beyond the second platform.

It soon transpires that the Superliner coach is the rearmost remaining car of the Texas Eagle consist, and that the P40 I can see is 837, leading train 2. We are now on the rear of train 1, preparing to depart San Antonio almost four hours late. The Texas Eagle consist will have to turn, somehow, before the transfer cars from train 2 can be added and it can depart northbound. As we depart westward, train 2 pulls forward to reverse into the platform we have just vacated.

West of San Antonio, the corn fields are very dry, in marked contrast with those up the line towards San Marcos, just a few tens of miles to the east. This reinforces the notion of a strong climate boundary just west of San Antonio. As we proceed west, fields along the line are replaced by stand of Mesquite, and then by scrub as the land becomes successively more arid. The sky is overcast, but our breakfast companion from temple, TX, assures us these "Gulf clouds" will burn off by 10 am, which it does. (We're several hundred miles from the Gulf, however.)

There is a rail gang just west of del Rio which is waiting for us and three eastbound freights to pass, after which it will close the line until 5 pm today for rail replacement. In common with all the remaining stops we will make today, Del Rio is a "smoke stop" at which smokers are allocated ten minutes (not in the schedule) to indulge their habit. (There is a Chief of On-board Services on this train, in contrast to all others we've been on this year, whose major functions seems to be orchestrating the smoke breaks.) We leave Del Rio 4 hours and 10 minutes late, those last 10 minutes being due to the smoke break.

We now pass through the Amistad National Recreation Area and the Chihuahuan Desert. There are some "rails and trails" guides from the National Recreation Area riding on the train, giving most of their talk in the lounge car, but making occasional comments on the PA for the full train. While this seems like a good idea, I wonder what they do if the train is (ever) on time, with a scheduled 6:35 am departure from Del Rio. These folks give commentary all the way to the next stop at Sanderson.

We cross over the reservoir called Lake Amistad, and later cross the Pecos River High Bridge. Lake Amistad is 1119 feet above see level; from here to Paisano Pass, west of Alpine, we climb about 6000 feet. At 12:35 pm, the dispatcher discusses having an eastbound crew put its train way at Amistad, then return to Shumla to recrew another train, which is picking up part of yet another train, also at Shumla. At Sanderson, the guides depart, we have another smoke break, and leave just less than five hours late. During lunch in the diner, I hear stories about people caught smoking marijuana in the lounge car.

Some time later, I start hearing the conductor telling the engineer on our train about "level 3" status at various places. At the time, I don't know what that means, but later find out this is a heat restriction applied to the Sanderson and Valentine subdivisions between noon and 9 pm each day, requiring speeds to be limited to 40 mph. I don't know what is prompting the conductor to remind the engineer of this (perhaps we're going faster than 40 mph in his estimation?). As an aside, this is a disadvantage of continuous welded rail; jointed rail had expansion gaps at every joint that could absorb some of the heat effects, but continuous welded rail is subject to sun kinks when the temperature gets to far above that at which it was laid.

As we climb higher towards Paisano Pass (highest point on the Sunset Route at just over 7000 feet), the vegetation gets ever more sparse. Scrub has given way to rocky ground and spiky clumps of "grass". At Alpine, we have another smoke break, and leave over five hours late by just the length of the smoke break (which means we have lost no time, at least since Sanderson, due to the "level 3" heat restriction). Immediately west of Paisano Pass, we enter flat (but not level) open country, still sparsely vegetated.

Awhile later, we pass through the fringe of a thunderstorm raging in the mountains off to the south. Down in the broad river plain in the last fifty miles or so to El Paso are irrigated fields and orchards that provide strong contrast to the scrub that is still evident in unirrigated areas. El Paso is one of those cities with very slow track approaches; in this case, 20 mph for the last 15 miles to El Paso Union station. By the roundhouse at the junction with the Tucumcari line, we stop in tack 106 to refuel the locomotives. This 16 minute stop erases all the recovery time in the schedule approaching El Paso.

In El Paso, I record those parts of the consist that I haven't been able to capture as we traveled along (e.g. by walking through the cars on the way to the diner), and observe four men (presumably DEA agents) and one of the drug-sniffing dogs going over the baggage in the baggage car. The two pot smokers have long since been removed from the train. Once the train is serviced, we depart still about five hours late.

We leave El Paso as the sun is starting to set, are eating dinner in Deming, and go to bed after leaving Lordsburg (5 hr, 20 min. late). Today, we awoke on Central time, spent the last few hours on Mountain time, and again set our watches back to Pacific time before bed. Wednesday, June 27th, 2001

I awake about 6 am, in the desert. This isn't really a surprise, until radio traffic tells me we're passing MP 822, well to the east of Yuma, still in Arizona. Clearly, we have lost a significant amount of time during the night, probably due to the crew that took over at Alpine timing out on the hours of service law, somewhere to the east of their destination at Tucson, and the train remaining stopped awaiting the patch crew from Tucson.

At breakfast, we finally meet the couple from the room across the corridor. They live in Ridgecrest, near the China Lake Naval Weapons Center, at which she works for contractor Lockheed Martin. At Yuma, there is another smoke break, and we leave almost eight hours late, having lost another two and a half hours on the schedule, overnight. We cross over the dregs of the Colorado River, and then over the All-American (irrigation) canal.

An hour or so later, we start to pass alongside the Salton Sea. Here, the track is almost a hundred feet below sea level, but when it was built it had been almost three hundred feet below sea level, at the bottom of the Salton Sink that was then completely dry. The present body of water was created in the first few years of the twentieth century, when a flooding Colorado River burst through the control gates at the irrigation outlet, and the flood water poured downgrade to the Salton Sink. Over the next several years, numerous attempts to close the breach in the Colorado's flood walls were unsuccessful, and the level of the new Salton Sea continued to rise. As it did so, it began to cover the lines of the Southern Pacific, which was forced to lay a new line higher up. Several years later, when forced to move the line for the third time (to its present location), the SP's management had had enough, and the railroad took on the challenge of sealing the breach. With all of the engineering resources of the railroad at its disposal, it was successful were other had not been, and the breach was closed. In the ninety plus years since then, evaporation has reduced the level of the "sea" so that in most places it no longer washes adjacent to the tracks, and in so doing has raised the salinity of the water well above that of the Pacific ocean, just 200 miles away.

As we leave the Salton Sea behind, and approach Indio (returning to sea level), the PA is full of announcements about bussing passengers destined for the San Joaquin valley and train 14 to the north, who will be transferred, along with their checked luggage, at Palm Springs. It now becomes obvious that the Chief has another function beyond orchestrating smoke breaks: he gets to orchestrate bus transfers for passengers on late trains, as well!

Although we've already climbed up from below sea level, Indio is the nominal start of the steady 2500 foot, 50 mile long, climb to the summit of Beaumont Pass. There are very few railroad facilities, even very few artifacts, left in Indio, now, except for a helper track or two, where once was a large freight yard, massive icing facilities for refrigerated cars (reefers), and a large locomotive depot, as well as a passenger station. This is the first time we've passed this way in the daylight in the twenty years since a Pacific Railroad Society excursion to Yuma and back in 1981 (our first Superliner trip), and the difference at Indio is quite remarkable. At Thermal, just east of Indio, a bridge across a creek once had facilities for several more tracks than the two it accommodates now.

At Garnett, 23 miles from Indio, we pull into the more than two mile long siding, and stop at the Palm Springs station. Actually, two stops are required: 16 minutes to unload the transferring baggage and 7 minutes to unload the transferring passengers (but the smokers get all 23 minutes). We leave at 11:03, almost nine hours late.

Seventy miles further along, in San Timoteo Canyon above the Ordway Crossovers, we change crews again, with a new "patch" crew to take us into Los Angeles. At West Colton yard, we stop for a deadheading UP crew to alight. Then we reach Ontario, where the folks across the corridor get off to rent their car (at Ontario airport) and drive back to Ridgecrest. Along this stretch of track there are quite a number of "unforeseen: speed restrictions, several of them to 10 mph. We are nine and a half hours late at Ontario, 14 minutes more at Pomona.

Finally, we reach Los Angeles, although with the aid of the extensive recovery time built into the timetable in the last leg to LA we're only seven hours late into LA, at 3:01 pm. We take our carry-on bags directly to the car in the east garage, having to walk around those carefully place Amtrak carts again, then drive around to baggage claim to get our checked bag. As the bags start to arrive, that same officious Amtrak employee shows up, yelling at various people. I decide to ignore him, we get our bag and leave. We're home a little after 4 pm, far too late to bother going in to work today. For the first time in days, the air around us is cool, here at the beach!

Don Winter (donwinter@earthlink.net)
Hermosa Beach
California, USA


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