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Daniel Chazin's Trip to Los Angeles: Part Four

It's 2:20 p.m. on Wednesday, February 2, 2000, and I've just arrived at the Amtrak station in Sacramento to board Capitol Train #731 to Emeryville.

My stay in Sacramento was devoted almost entirely to exploring rail-related sights. On the way into Sacramento on the train yesterday, I noticed a light-rail line running alongside the ex-SP tracks, and last evening I took a ride on this line, heading north from downtown. This morning, I took a ride in the opposite direction. The Sacramento light-rail line features a combination of shared right-of-way with automobile traffic, dedicated lanes on streets open to vehicular travel, street running on streets closed to automobile traffic, and running on dedicated non-street rights-of-way. What I found most interesting about this light-rail system was its actual use by handicapped and disabled people. Two people using wheelchairs boarded one of the four trains that I took, and the handicapped- accessible ramps were also used by an elderly woman who walks with a cane, a woman with a baby stroller, and another woman with a shopping cart. In each instance, the driver had to assist in opening the door, but the extra time consumed was minimal. The trains ran almost precisely on time, and they seemed to be well patronized by the local population.

This morning, I spent over three hours at the California State Railroad Museum. The museum's collection includes many historic locomotives and other rail equipment, all of which have been meticulously and beautifully restored. (Indeed, at least in some cases, one could argue that the restoration was too beautiful, since it's hard to believe that the equipment ever looked so shiny when in actual operation.) In each case, information was provided as to the history of the particular piece of equipment, along with pictures of the equipment in actual operation. I was particularly fascinated with the restored Canadian National heavyweight sleeping car, which clearly showed what section sleepers looked like in the heyday of rail travel. But I was a little disappointed that the collection was oriented primarily to the general public and not to railfans. The exhibits did not really tell the full historical story of railroading, but merely illustrated certain significant aspects of it, most of which I already knew. I had thought that the three hours I had allotted to the visit would barely be sufficient to see the museum, but at the end of the three hours I found that I had seen everything that there was to see. In any event, I was certainly glad that I took the time to visit this very well known museum. At 2:15 p.m., I returned to the Vagabond Inn, where I had spent the previous night.

Even though this motel is just across the street from the Amtrak station, you have to take a slightly roundabout route to get there, and I had some rather heavy luggage, so the motel offered to give me a ride to the station in their van. They had to leave for the airport at 2:30 p.m., so I arranged to come at 2:15 p.m. for the shuttle to the station. As I was boarding the van, an Amtrak conductor by the name of Robert Ward appeared, and he joined us for the ride. He would be one of the conductors on our train, and he assured me that my ticket, which was for a reserved seat on Train #5, would be honored on this train.

When we arrived at the Sacramento station, I walked into the large, majestic waiting room, built in 1926 by the Southern Pacific Railroad. The station features beautiful chandeliers, the original wooden benches and a mural on one wall commemorating the groundbreaking for the first transcontinental railroad in 1863. Although it has never been "restored," it is in very attractive condition, marred only by a row of unsightly vending machines against one wall, where the doors leading to one wing of the station have been closed off. Indeed, the station walls were in the process of being painted. After making a phone call, I sat down in the main waiting room for a few minutes, then walked out to the platform, where our train was waiting.

Today's Train #731 is made up of California Car equipment, and includes an engine, three coaches, a cafe/dinette car, and a coach/cab control car. This will be my first ride on these cars. Boarding began at 2:50 p.m., so I climbed aboard the train, stowed my luggage on the lower level, and walked up to the upper level, where I sat down at a table with facing seats. I then walked through the train to explore this equipment.

I found the California Car equipment to be the nicest short- distance rail equipment I have ever seen. Many of the coach seats face tables, and the decor is very attractive. The cafe/dinette car is exceptionally nice, with small semi-circular tables, and other tables that feature decorative lamps. The cars seem like a really wonderful way to travel by rail! All five of the cars were open for passengers, although there were very few passengers in all but one car.

We departed at 3:02 p.m., two minutes late, and proceeded through flat, agricultural terrain. Our first stop was Davis, which features a beautifully restored historic stucco station. Then we stopped at Suisun-Fairfield, with a very nicely restored frame station. I spent the time at my table (one of those equipped with an electric outlet), and worked on these memoirs. I also finished the story of yesterday's trip on the California Zephyr. I might add that I observed several other people also using laptop computers on the train. As we approached the Suisun Bay Bridge, I walked to the back of the train so that I could best observe our crossing of this landmark bridge, completed only in the 1930s (before then, trains had to be ferried across Suisun Bay). It's nice to know that there are no express cars to mar the view from the back of this train!

Right after we crossed this bridge, we stopped at Martinez. We got here at 4:02 p.m., two minutes early, so I had time to step off the train and take a few pictures. Martinez features a long, narrow yellow-painted frame station. Then I went into the cafe/dinette car. I attempted to purchase a bagel with cream cheese, but this being the last run of the day, they were all out of that selection, so instead I just got a bottle of cranberry juice and a bag of potato chips. I sat down at a small semi- circular table facing the bay, which we now paralleled, and watched the beautiful scenery. Occasionally, the view was interrupted by some oil tanks or freight cars on a siding, but for most of the way, you got a very good view of the bay. This cafe/dinette car was really something special, and I wanted to spend part of my trip in this car.

Our next stop was Richmond, where we arrived at 4:30 p.m. I had arranged to meet Laura Balderree, a member of the All-Aboard List, here. She lives in Emeryville and works in Richmond, and commutes between the two cities by either Amtrak or BART. Hardly anyone boards this train in Richmond (although a number of people do get off the train here), so I alerted the conductor that she might be boarding here. Sure enough, when we stopped, Laura boarded the train. The conductor, of course, knew her well, and figured that she would likely be the passenger boarding at Richmond. There is nothing but a platform at the Richmond station. It is, however, immediately adjacent to the BART station, which provides a convenient means of transportation to San Francisco.

Laura joined me upstairs, and we spent the remainder of the ride talking to each other. It was a delightful experience to meet another member of the All-Aboard List, albeit rather briefly.

Right after we departed Richmond, a recorded announcement was broadcast that the next station would be Emeryville. Well, that is incorrect, and the conductor had to make another announcement that the first recorded announcement was in error! Of course, the stop after Richmond is Berkeley. The Southern Pacific Railroad's historic station in Berkeley still stands here, but it has been converted to a restaurant, and the Amtrak station consists of nothing more than a platform.

At 4:45 p.m., we pulled into the Emeryville station, my destination. My ride on these beautiful California Cars was all too short! Our connecting bus was waiting for us in front of the station. After storing my luggage on the bus, I had enough time to walk back and take some pictures of the large, modern and attractive Emeryville station, which features a high ceiling with a slanted roof. The bus soon departed, and after crossing the Bay Bridge, we arrived at the corner of California and Market Streets about 5:15 p.m. Although not indicated as a stop in the Amtrak timetable, it appears that the Amtrak buses regularly stop here to discharge passengers. This stop was particularly convenient for me, since I boarded a California Street cable car, which took me within several blocks of my hotel. This was the perfect culmination of a very enjoyable ride on the Capitol from Sacramento.

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Dan Chazin / Other Writers

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