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Trip on the Millennium Coast Starlight

By Tommy Batts

Consist for train 14 departing LA on DEC 31 was 2 P42DCs, Bag Car, Ten Car, 3 Sleepers, Parlour, Diner, Lounge, and 5 Coaches. There was no private varnish or express.

Brian Rosenwald was walking up and down the platform at LA. I asked our train attendant if he was going to be riding with us and the TA said that in fact he would be. The five coaches are nearly empty and would remain that way for the entire trip. On the other hand, the sleepers were packed. Brian made the welcome aboad announcement and among the other things that he mentioned, he said that us lucky passengers who chose to ring in the new millennium aboard the Coast Starlight would be in for a surprise. Most passengers I talked to were getting off in the Bay Area and would not be aboard for the festivities.

We left LA 7 minutes late account tardy passengers. Only a few additional minutes was lost between LA and Santa Barbara account passenger boarding and double-spotting at stations. There were no stops for freight trains or Metrol inks at all. After a smoke stop and crew change, we departed San Luis O. on the advertised with a meet of train 11 at or near a station called Chorro. We were a few minutes late at Paso Robles account a few slow orders, but again, absolutely zero freight traffic. We departed ontime at each stop north of Paso Robles and the we OS'ed out of Davis 5 minutes ahead of schedule which put us into Sacramento a little early. Arrival time at Sac. was 11:32P.M. Passengers were invited to the Parlour Car (for sleeper pax) and Lounge (for coach) around 10:30. Rosenwald challenged passengers to guess the 1999 ridership of the Coast Starlight and to the winner went a bottle of Champagne or Martinellis Apple Cider. The highest guess was in the billions and the lowest was 1300. Rosenwald jokingly said that that person must have "gotten the Coast Starlight confused with the Sunset Limited." Meanwhile, the OBS Chief distributed an assortment of top hats, crowns, noisemakers and horns, each with "Year 2000" printed on them. The top hats said "Coast Starlight 2000." Souvenir wooden Amtrak whistles were passed out to children earlier in the day and the remaining whistles were handed out to adults during dinner. They were redwood train whistles with "Amtrak 2000" branded on the side. Rosenwald announced that due to our early arrival at Sacramento we would be able to ring in the new year either on or off the train, but warned that you could not drink alcohol off the train. I reboarded about 11:45PM and shortly after, an announcement was made aboard the train that a situation was developing outside the station and the P.D. was asking Amtrak to have their passengers reboard and stay on the train. (I never did find out what the situation was.)

The OBS chief began pouring champagne and then Rosenwald proposed a toast and initiated the countdown over the PA at ten seconds before midnight. The Onboard Entertainer entertained passengers for the remainder of the night (or morning) and I turned in about 1:00a.m., late enough to record the 12:55AM departure from Sacramento. Brian Rosenwald said earlier on the PA that there was no other freight train on the line in Northern California and that we "had this whole railroad to ourselves." Because of that, we ran as the "validation train" from Sacramento into Oregon. This meant that to insure the integrity of the switches, signals, and grade crossing equipment, we had to run at 40 MPH since train 14 was the first train over this section of railroad after the cutover. We resumed normal track speed at KFalls because a freight train had already operated as the "validation train" from this point northward, but that changed after crossing Willamette Pass when we passed that freight train at a siding called Heather (I think) which is between Chemult and Eugene. From that point on all the way up until Coalca (a siding between Salem and Portland) where we met southbound No. 11, we ran at 40MPH restricted speed because we were again the first movement over that section of the railroad. Because of the restricted speed north of Sacramento, we were 1 hour and 40 minutes late at Eugene, but we OS'ed out of Portland one hour late and by Olympia we were only 45 minutes late.

I should have included somewhere in here that on Jan 1, wine glasses reading "Amtrak into the Millenium! 1/1/00" were for sale in the lounge.

Web page by Matthew J. Melzer

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