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Russ Jackson's Texas Eagle Detour

Train 21, the TEXAS EAGLE, departed Los Angeles Union Station ON TIME at 9:55 PM, December 20. Its consist was two sleeping cars, diner, lounge, and two coaches. On the front end were Genesis 39, PepsiCan 309, and F-40 355. All passenger cars were nearly full of holiday-bound passengers including my wife Susan and me, going to Dallas to be with our daughter and son-in-law.

At 7 AM MST, all had been going well overnight when the train pulled off the main line at the second siding west of the crew-change point at Maricopa, Arizona. At 7:35 we got the bad news: The UP had derailed a freight ahead of us and we would have to wait it out.

During the day in the peace and quiet of the Arizona desert we spent our time looking out the windows, reading, and doing everything we would have done if the train was moving including having three superbly prepared meals served by Roxanne or Sergio and prepared by Chef "Henry"(?) right on schedule, and hearing rumors of how long we would be waiting.

At 10:30 the bus which would have carried Phoenix-bound passengers from Tucson arrived and picked up those going not just to Phoenix, but to Tucson and some points east. I knew we were in for it then. A van appeared later, taking people going to San Antonio. Because this was not a combined SUNSET/EAGLE there was no one going beyond there. Rumors were then circulating through the crew that we would be under way by about 6 PM, but we would not lose any time as we would be detoured between El Paso and Ft. Worth.

Around 7 PM a crew change took place, and I was pleasantly surprised to find A-A list contributor Peter J. Glass was the incoming Conductor. We had time for a long talk. Pete was on his last assignment before coming to California to work Metrolink out of Moorpark. He would have liked to see us back up to Wellton and detour via the Phoenix branch earlier in the day; it is being used, although sparingly.

At 8: 40 PM a UP westbound freight roared by us. Pete said they used it to test the switch which had to be repaired ahead. At 8:50 we were under way, passed through the wreck site at 25 mph, saw about 8 grain cars on their sides, and went to full speed. There were people waiting to board at Tucson! Sleep came easy, and then we were in El Paso and there were people waiting to board there, too! Part 2 of this report will cover what happened next.

A picture I took at the 14 hour rest site will appear in the January "Western Rail Passenger REVIEW." For a free sample copy, post a note to RailPAC:

Russ Jackson

Report continues. At 6 AM MST on Wednesday, December 22, train 21 the TEXAS EAGLE departed El Paso, Texas, on its reroute schedule instead of being in San Antonio as it was scheduled to be. I was excited, as I knew that when we reaced Sierra Blanca junction we would follow the ex-T&P UP "Baird" sub to reach Fort Worth, and we were told it would take about 12 hours to get there. Well, it didn't work out quite that way.

Only a few days earlier, on December 15 at 3:36 in the afternoon a SUNSET/EAGLE had been rerouted the same way. On board that train was Trainweb's Steve Grande enroute to his vacation in Orlando. For a full report of his trip, see I got to see the Baird sub in the daytime, while Steve saw it mostly at night. His train arrived in Fort Worth at 9:20 AM.

Our reroute was of course limited by the UP's 60 mph maximum on this route. They have been doing extensive track work out there in anticipation of increased freight loads. Despite our interfering with their work windows we were only side tracked twice. Friendly MofW workers waved to the second Amtrak train they'd seen in a week. On other sidings along the way freight trains dutifuly waited our passage. The work appears to be routine maintenance, with tie replacement and passing track upgrading being the primary work observed. There is CTC on part of the route, and there is some welded rail. More is coming.

As the day progressed it was obvious that we would not be into Ft. Worth at 6 PM as first envisioned by the crew. Nor would it be 7 PM, 8 PM, or 9 PM. At long last we pulled into Ft. Worth's ancient station at 11 PM after doing the following movements: From the T&P we took the Southwest quadrant connecting track onto the BNSF. When cleared, we backed up through several switches, across the junction past Tower 55, more switches, and into the station. Not a difficult move at that time of night, as there was little traffic. After refueling, picking up passengers, etc., the next movement was back south on the BNSF, backing up on the same Southwest quadrant connector onto the T&P, and forward.

Then began the most frustrating part of the journey, as it took until 2 AM to get to Dallas. It seemed every mile or so there was a red signal ahead. I saw only two freights out there. At that time of night!?! We were 9 hours later than the scheduled arrival time had we gone through San Antonio. The cutoff had saved us some time, but not what it should have.

Comments: I still support a permanent reroute of the TEXAS EAGLE via the Baird sub. Those towns along that route are growing, and are more prosperous than they were in the early 90's; the stations would be located near the downtown areas (while I-20 was built as a true bypass, and is miles away from the center of town, particularly at Abilene and Midland). There are no stations or platforms, but those can be built quickly. What has to happen before this reroute is viable is for the UP to do much more track and CTC work, and raise the speed possibility to 79 mph for more of the route. The track situation at Ft. Worth must be improved, the station situation there resolved, and dispatching between FTW and DAL improved.

Part 3 will cover the return trip.

Russ Jackson

Report concludes. That morning the Amtrak 800 number operator said the December 16 train #21, the TEXAS EAGLE would be arriving in Dallas ON TIME, and sure enough, as we approached the station at 2:05 we saw Superliners already at the platform (EARLY). While this was a surprise, it was like a day-after Christmas present. We had time to explore the Dallas Union Terminal before boarding. It is nicely restored, but there is one very bad weakness for Amtrak passengers, in that to reach the platform passengers must cross both the DART light rail tracks and the Trinity Express tracks to get to it. With frequent service by both of these carriers there is a dangerous situation in crossing there. There is a tunnel from the building to the platforms, but to enter it requires going through the Amtrak ticket area to the baggage check-in counter which many passengers do not go to so, like us, would not know about the tunnel until arriving on the platform. On this day no one had a problem, and the train departed on time. Our daughter and son-in-law had had time to board and look at our "standard" bedroom. She remembered traveling with us, but in those days we used the "delux" bedroom. They were both surprised at how small the space was we were going to occupy for the next two days and nights.

The trip to Fort Worth was much faster than our arrival had been, thanks largely to it being Sunday, and we were in FTW on time after negotiating the many crossovers necessary to get from the westbound UP to the station. The northbound HEARTLAND FLYER was waiting for its push departure for Oklahoma City later that afternoon. I ventured into the station and walked past the rebuilt Hi-level cars used by the Oklahoma train. It appears these cars have been restored very nicely, with vending machines on the lower level of one car, and with a Superliner Coach also in the consist with a staffed snack bar on the lower level.

We were out and running south on time and at maximum allowable speed. Unfortunately, maximum speed and smooth running do not equate on this line, and we took some good bounces. This track needs work. I decided to brave a walk through the train to see how business was, and was impressed with two Coaches being full with almost all destinations either Temple, Austin, or San Antonio. Our attendant said there were several sleeping car passengers with similar destinations. After dinner we adjourned to the sleeping car; my wife to read and I listened to the my radio (commercial radio, not a scanner.)

We were told the next morning that arrival in San Antonio had been on time, and when the westbound #1, the SUNSET LIMITED arrived running just about on time the bumping of cars as we were added to its consist woke us to begin the day. I only regret I didn't have the opportunity to see the new San Antonio station setup. I had been there 15 years ago, when they were in the old mission style building. We were off and running back to California on time.

And that on time performance stayed with us most of the rest of the way. Siding after siding contained UP freight trains dutifully waiting for #1 to pass, and we were not delayed at all. When Amtrak is in its assigned "window," the UP does what it is supposed to do.

Shortly after 10:00 I headed up to the front sleeping cars to find Trainweb's Steve Grande. Steve and I had compared itineraries earlier and confirmed we would be on this train at the same time, so I was eager to swap rail talk with him. I found him in room 2, with all his equipment spread out on the table: laptop, scanner, camera, etc. We had a good visit about our trips, comparing notes on the "Baird sub, which his eastbound train had been forced to detour on a week before ours, and the general status of Amtrak and passenger trains. We passed the Del Rio and Alpine stations, neither of which I had seen before as my previous trip had been eastbound in the dark.

After lunch we sat back to doze in anticipation of arriving in El Paso, which we did EARLY. This gave us a long chance to walk around the platform and into the cavernous restored station. Steve was walking and shooting pictures, too. I showed Steve how the exterior of our Superliner II sleeping car (32070 Alabama) had not been washed, while the Superliner I coach from Chicago had been. The window from our car into that coach was almost opaque. It made me wonder whether the interior of the car was as clean as it should have been.

Out of El Paso, past the US-Mexico border with INS cars on duty but no activity visible, and up the grade heading to Deming, the line shows how the UP has been maintaining its track in superior condition. The UP line we had been on from San Antonio to El Paso had been relatively smooth, much smoother than the BNSF from Ft. Worth. As we passed under the I-10 crossover at Akella (no, not ACELA), New Mexico, I looked out the back door window to see if Adrian Herzog was on the bridge, as he said he might be since he was visiting in Las Cruces at the time. No Adrian. If he'd been there I'd have seen his unmistakable rotund figure. He later said he wasn't there, as it was "too cold that night."

Into Tucson was largely on time, although I awoke only momentarily to look out the window at my old home town. I'm told departure was delayed some, but we did not fall back too far. After Yuma we began running into some freight slowdowns during the night, but nothing significant. In the morning there would be no dining car service, but our attendant had fruit and muffins for us, as well as the juice and coffee. Arrival in Los Angeles was only 50 minutes late according to the well padded timetable, at 8:00, as we had had almost no Metrolink conflicts either. We were used to the very eratic schedules of the SUNSET LIMITED we had encountered in 1998 and early 1999, when we had waited at the Tucson station for up to 6 hours for #1 several times, and had ridden a charter bus over night to Los Angeles once when the train was running 12 hours late.

On the platform we secured a baggage cart, and with our sleeping car being the last car on the train (no freight behind us on this holiday weekend consist, two cars having been removed in San Antonio) we trudged toward the LAUS tunnel. Just before going down the tunnel we found Steve Grande, who was being met by the always enthusiastic Matt Melzer, and stopped to visit with them for a minute before journeying on to the parking lot and paying $72 for the parking while we were gone. Steve and Matt would ride the next SAN DIEGAN to Fullerton; Steve's report of his trip is on Trainweb, and is excellent reading as usual. We got in the Ford and headed north on I-5, stopping at our favorite restaurant, Harris Ranch, before getting home.

The whole trip had been a success, Amtrak on board service had been quite acceptable, on time performance had been a surprise (negative eastbound but not Amtrak's fault, very positive westbound), and we look forward to the next time: April on the CALIFORNIA ZEPHYR.

Russ Jackson

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