Amin Ricker's Transcontinental Train Trip
Tampa, Florida to San Diego, California
via Amtrak's Sunset Limited and Pacific Surfliner
July 20, 2003 to July 23, 2003
I had made reservations for my trip the week before, using my USA Rail Pass. On the morning of July the 20th, I got all my baggage ready and put it all in the van. My dad and I drove to Tampa station to pick up my tickets. After doing so, my dad had a great idea that the whole family should see me off in Orlando. At around 10:30am, we left home for Orlando, arriving at around 1pm, we arrived at the Old Amtrak ex-Seaboard Orlando station. The Seaboard sign could still be seen today at the main entrance of the station. We went out on the platform around 1:30pm to await the Sunset Limited's arrival. The southbound Silver Meteor, train #97, arrived at 1:35, while the Northbound counterpart, #98, arriving a short while later. 98 had about 5 baggage carts full of baggage to be loaded, in addition to inbound baggage. At around 1:45pm, an announcement came on that informed us that we would be bused to Sanford since out train, #1, was running late. My family tailgated the bus I was on, and arrived in Sanford about 40 minutes later. On arrival, we were once again told that our train was not yet ready, and that it would be another 25 minutes. I jumped for joy when our train arrived, and noticed that we would be running backwards.
I boarded the train at close to 3pm. I put all my luggage on the overhead rack, made my nest, and headed to the sightseer lounge car. I had an overview of the loading process, and saw my family at the platform. We departed at 3:10pm, and ran backwards all the way to Jacksonville, arriving at 6:15pm, having made up some time. Since it was a smoke stop, I detrained and inspected the consist. I went to the rear (front) and found the conductor uncoupling the engine, P40DC #836. The power went out on the train for about 20 minutes while the engine was wyed and coupled to the correct end, thus the electricity went back on. We departed at 6:50pm and we made up some time enroute to Pensacola, as evidenced by the 1:45am arrival in Pensacola, only 10 minutes late. I went to bed after we highballed Pensacola, with my pillow and blanket I pulled the seat all the way down. It was comfortable, to be honest. I slept like a sweet baby till 8am, while enroute to New Orleans.
I brushed my teeth and cleaned my face and went to the Sightseer Lounge. We were passing by Mississippi, the scenery was really great. We passed by Marshlands, rivers, and even hugged the Gulf of Mexico for a few miles. I ate dinner at the dining car on last call, which was 9:20am. I went back to the lounge to sit back and chill. We passed over some very interesting drawbridges, and also some small towns and cities. We finally arrived in New Orleans at 9:50am in the morning. We had to wye the train and back into the station. We had a 2hour layover in New Orleans, and, since I met 2 very nice families, we went together and toured New Orleans. We saw the Superdome, and I forgot the other famous place, but we went there too. We bought some shirts and necklaces. We also went into a hotel, and upon entering, were greeted by a real piano with a dummy man playing the piano playing Jazz, since New Orleans is famous for Jazz. We took a van taxi back to the station since we didn't feel like walking. Considering the traffic, we got to see New Orleans a lot, since we were going at least 20mph. The station in New Orleans was quite grand, with marble arches and pillars. While on the platform, I got the consist for the Sunset Limited, and upon reaching the engine, found out that they changed the engine to P42DC #130 and P40DC #839.
We highballed New Orleans at 11:55am, on time. About half an hour later, we crossed the mighty Mississippi River over the famous Huey P. Long Bridge. It is one of my most exciting part of the trip. We crossed the bridge just as a freighter was passing under us. There were a good number of barges on the riverbank, along with a couple of tugboats. Upon descending the bridge, we entered Uncle Pete's territory, the starting of bad trackage and poor dispatching. We started losing time due to going into the hole for freights and also due to a freight train that broke down just an hour from Lafayette, LA, which we took a 1hr30min hit. A movie was shown every night in the Sightseer Lounge car at 6:30pm and 9pm. On the first night they showed "Chicago" and "How to lose a guy in 10 days", "Sweet Home Alabama" and "Chicago" on the second and "Chicago" and "Chicago" on the third. I think I might have memorized the whole "Chicago" movie. I got sick of that movie since they showed it every night. So I just hung out at my seat, kicked back and enjoyed the scenery and lights, and listened to my music.
I woke up the next morning, and we were passing by Texas on UP's Sunset Route. We passed by lots of trains, including our Eastbound counterpart, #2. Today we would be passing by Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona. There were lots of mountains and valleys, the scenery was magnificent. An on-board tour guide boarded the train somewhere in Texas, and provided commentary about the history of that land we are passing, and also the scenery and my favorite, the highest bridge in North America, the third highest in the world. We were limited to 20mph over the bridge. The Texas Eagle combined with our train, giving us a total of 3 engines and 16 Superliners. Since the Eagle had its own diner and lounge, the train was not crowded. I went to bed at around 9:30pm, after we highballed Tucson, Arizona.
I woke up the next morning at 7am as we were near Palm Springs, California. We were running 5 hours late, when I found out we were supposed to depart Palm Springs at 3:23am. I hung out in the Lounge car for the rest of the trip to Los Angeles. About 30mins from our destination, I went back to my seat to pack up and get ready to detrain, and so did my friends (a family). When we arrived in LA, I hugged my friends and bid them good bye. It was hard for me to leave them, but I was also grateful I arrived in Los Angeles. We arrived in LA at 11:50am, 5 hours and 10 minutes late. When I detrained, with my 3 large pieces of baggage, I used all my might to hurry to my Pacific Surfliner to San Diego, which was due to depart in 5 minutes. I finally boarded the train and walked all the way to the front cab car. I put all my luggage on the overhead rack and met with the engineer. We skirted the California Coast for miles, stopping at stations along the way. I arrived in San Diego at 3:30pm, 3 hours later. I detrained and I met my sister. This is the end of the first segment of my trip, from Tampa, Florida to San Diego, California. Stay tuned for the next segment in the next issue of Side Track.