Don Winter's Trip to the 2001 NRHS Convention
Aboard Amtrak's Texas Eagle
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
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
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
consist. Train 11 is only an hour or so late this evening, so our Train
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
later. Progress across the Sonoran desert is smooth, with the traffic
situation quite fluid. This part of the Sonoran Desert has many saguaro,
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
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
over the trestle at Maricopa. At Mescal, all the onetime railroad artifacts
(semaphores, water tank, etc.) are now gone, with only the minimal number
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
the leg from Fort Worth to Dallas (as far as I went on that occasion) was
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
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
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.
don't have tickets for that train (it was sold out by the time we placed
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
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
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
makes the same moves in the opposite order, backing into the Fort Worth
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
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
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
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
hour late, and then have a twelve minute stop waiting fro an opposing
Occupying some of the "family" seats (face-to-face seats) in front of us
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
oil field beneath the farm), another man is a local judge, and the third
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
companions asks if he's talking about (Oklahoma Governor) Keating or
(president) Bush. He answers "both"! We arrive in Oklahoma City just over
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Our table companions at dinner are a young man making his first trip out
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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,
don't want to have paid for a dinner we haven't received (regardless of
happens with the transportation cost of the Springfield legs of the trip).
Unfortunately, the staffing at SLUT in mid afternoon is quite inadequate
this task, none of the responsible people that one would see at morning
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
at 4:35 pm, but the assistant conductor on that train strongly recommends
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
slows or delays the train, at least during waking hours.
One of our lunch companions is worried about getting her lunch before we
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
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)
being used as a switcher! Two passengers have boarded in Fort Worth to
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
Austin (still two hours late), and we finish eating in San Marcos, just
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
the station, as expected.
Tuesday, June 26th, 2001
During the night, around 4 am, our cars are shoved down the track a way
the east), then returned to the station (perhaps on a different track).
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.
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
Mesquite, and then by scrub as the land becomes successively more arid.
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
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
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
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
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
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
conductor to remind the engineer of this (perhaps we're going faster than
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,
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
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
capture as we traveled along (e.g. by walking through the cars on the way
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
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
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
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
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
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),
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
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).
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
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
Don Winter (firstname.lastname@example.org)
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