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Riding the Rerouted Coast Starlight
("Starlight Joaquin")
("Tehachapi Starlight")
Sunday, October 23, 2005

This trip actually began on Thursday evening, October 20, when I went to and saw the amazing news posted by "silagi" that the southbound "Coast Starlight", Amtrak's Train #11 was actually going to detour over Tehachapi Loop on Sunday, October 23!

Wow.....could this actually happen? Or would Murphy strike and spoil things?

I had my son buy the tickets on line, while I was at work, so that we could be sure we would get to ride, as I was certain the train would sell out.

Because the southbound Coast Starlight is scheduled to leaves Sacramento very early, at 6:35 am, and it is 110 miles from our home on the Mid-peninsula to the former Southern Pacific depot in Sacramento (that is now the Amtrak depot), and because it would take at least two hours to drive to that depot, we decided that Sacramento was simply much too far from our home to permit us to drive there in time to easily catch that very special train and still get a decent night's sleep the night before the trip. So we decided to drive to Emeryville on Saturday afternoon and take a Capitol to Sacramento and stay overnight at the Vagabond Inn, which is an easy walk from the Amtrak depot in Sacramento. We chose to board the "Capitol" at Emeryville because it seemed to be the safest place to leave our car for several days, and because parking is free for ticketed Amtrak passengers there. (Parking is not free for Amtrak passengers at the Oakland Jack London Square depot.) It also seemed that it should be a lot faster to just drive to Emeryville than to take Caltrain from Menlo Park to SF then get the bus to Emeryville. Methinks we were wrong . . . but more about that later.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

We set off to Emeryville, and then found, to our chagrin, that we had forgotten our print-outs about our Amtrak and motel reservations, so we turned back, got the print-outs, and left. We decided to go all the way up the Peninsula to San Francisco and drive to Oakland on my favorite bridge, the San Francisco - Oakland Bay Bridge. (Yes, I foam about bridges, too - especially that one! : ) But that is another story.)

Methinks keeping on going on Bayshore (US 101) and not turning off onto the San Mateo - Hayward Bridge (CA 92) was a bad choice, because we got into a giant traffic jam (= barely moving parking lot!) on US 101 a few miles south of the Bay Bridge. Gad!! We stopped dead a few times, and crept at less than 10 mph for several miles, until we actually got onto the bridge itself, where we were finally able to go at the speed limit - 50 mph. Whew! I love the Bay Bridge and love driving on it so I can admire its fascinating structure, but . . .the traffic was ridiculous! I wish we had chosen to go over the San Mateo Bridge because I am pretty sure even Nimitz (I 880) would not have been THAT clogged! And the new causeway of the San Mateo Bridge is a joy to drive on: nice wide lanes, with nice shoulders on both sides of each direction.

Well, our return home cost us the ability to make the 4:05 pm Capitol, but that was OK, as we had to buy our tickets on the Capitol and the northbound Starlight there, and pick up our tickets for the re-route on Sunday - all of which would take too much time to allow us to catch the 4:05. But that was perfectly OK, even though I thought the 4:05 would have probably had some other railfans on board, when the 5:30 wouldn't have. Taking the 5:30 allowed us plenty of time to get out tickets and our parking permit. THANK you, Amtrak!

We saw 5 freight trains go past "EMY" (Amtrak's 3-letter code for "Emeryville") in the hour or so we were there before our train arrived. Nice! The first - a BNSF trackage-rights train - had a super lash-up: 5 locomotives, each in a different paint scheme. I did not get a photo, as I had not gotten around to putting film in my camera. : ( Yes, I am a "dinosaur" and still use film. One of these days, I am going to get a DSLR (Digital Single-Lens Reflex) so that I no longer have to spend money having my pictures processed, and so that what I see in the viewfinder is exactly what the camera sees. But those babies cost around $1,000, so it will be quite some time before I get one. . .gotta save up for that!

The train arrived right on time and we got on, and decided to sit downstairs because we had two heavy bags to lug around. (Yes, I usually pack too much, but that is me! ) We discovered that the coach we boarded was the one where the crew sits downstairs. Neat! The conductor and the Assistant Conductor were both very nice guys, and this made the trip even more enjoyable. Those "California cars" ride very smoothly, and the view along this route is splendid. The San Pablo Bay area and the Carquinez Strait is a very pretty area:

The conductors chatted with us now and then, and that made this trip even more enjoyable than it would have been already. Without people, trains are just steel and suchlike (rubber, glass, etc.).

The tracks cross the Carquinez Strait just east of Martinez on the former Southern Pacific railroad-only bridge that was completed back in 1930. This bridge is the longest railroad bridge west of the Mississippi River.

We did not have to stop to wait for any ships, but it WAS close; the conductor got on the PA system and told everyone that a ship was close enough to the railroad bridge that the bridge might have to be lifted to allow it to pass, because - believe it or not, ships have the right of way when there is a bridge that would have to be moved to allow them to pass. Fortunately, everyone was able to get off quickly, and the passengers boarding did not take much time, so we got to the bridge quickly enough that it did not have to be raised for the ship. Whew!

This is what a "Capitol" looks like crossing that nice bridge:

This is what this bridge looks like from a train:

Here is an old photo of the bridge a long time before the auto bridge was built in 1962:

We got to Sacramento and saw again the beautiful old Southern Pacific depot:,, and

Long ago, this nice depot looked like this:

We reluctantly left the train, and tore ourselves away from that grand old building. We walked to the hotel and spent the night, eagerly anticipating the incredible journey the next day.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

We set the alarms - two! - for 5 am, so we would NOT miss this extremely rare trip, and woke up at 4 am. Guess the excitement was simply too much to allow either of us to sleep more than a few hours! We checked out and walked to the station . . .it was very quiet out . . .no trains on the former Southern Pacific main. When we arrived at the depot, we were the only people on the platform. Not surprising, as it was an hour before the train was due to arrive., but we wanted to make sure that we would not miss the train's arrival.

We chose to get to the station quite early because we wanted to see our train arrive, and Amtrak has, for some time, had a lot of padding in its schedules. This is because - except for the Northeast Corridor - it is a guest on someone else's tracks, and does not always get priority over freight trains. Hence the extra time added to schedules - an hour or more, in some cases. Because David Gunn's private car, the "Beech Grove" (#10001) was on the rear of this train, with Mr. Gunn on board, we were pretty sure the train would not only be on time in arriving, but might be early. The train was scheduled to depart at 6:35 am, and actually arrived around 6:45 am. Not bad, considering all the track work the Union Pacific Railroad is doing in far northern California.

We saw some other folks we knew, and ran into Bill and his mother, Mary Pearl. We had last seen them a year ago, at the Richard Steinheimer book-signing at the California State Railroad Museum.

I did not see a large crowd of people waiting to board #11 for that very special ride - which surprised me. After all, this reroute was on a Sunday, and the railfan network is alive and well. We figured out that most people simply did not hear about it at all, or else did not hear about this extremely rare trip soon enough to be able to ride, and of those who wanted to ride, some (many?) were doubtless discouraged by the difficulty in getting tickets. It was not until Friday afternoon, October 22, that the Amtrak computer actually allowed anyone to buy tickets. Before that time, Amtrak reservations agents were telling callers - us, too! - that the detour would definitely NOT happen. Even talking to a supervisor did not give us any better or different information. The supervisor we talked to told us that she had a lot of experience working for Amtrak, and that this supposed detour was NOT going to happen - even after we told her that we were sure it would happen.

We knew that the Amtrak reservations people were wrong because Richard Silagi never posts wild unfounded rumors - ever, and also - apparently - knows some people in Amtrak who are high enough in the organization to know about unusual movements well before station agents or telephone reservations staff do. Those people must have been very surprised to learn that callers knew more about what was going to happen than they did.

My son bought tickets on line using my credit card, to make sure we could get seats, because we were sure that the trip from Sacramento to Los Angeles would sell out. Boy, were we surprised that it didn't! Not all that many people actually knew about it ahead of time. Railfans are a very, very small part of the general population, and trip planners know they have to appeal to other people in addition to rail buffs if they want their excursions and trips to sell out.

The Amtrak car attendant told us shortly before we left Sacramento that the crew had been told to expect around 150 people to board - but only around 20 or 30 people got on. I, too, was very surprised that more people did not get on and ride this wonderful and very rare detour. The one good thing about so few people choosing to ride was that we had our pick of seats, and could spread out as much as we wanted.

The "Beech Grove", the car assigned to the Amtrak President, #10001, was on the rear of the train. and

The real reason this train detoured over Tehachapi Loop was because David Gunn had planned - some months ago - a series of special events during which he would present Safety Awards and multi-year awards to employees in various cities. But just two weeks before the date of the Los Angeles ceremonies - Oct 24, 2005 - the Union Pacific decided they absolutely had to do some important track work just north of San Jose, CA, and that put that track out of service. This forced the southbound "Coast Starlight" (Train #11) to terminate in Oakland; passengers were bused to San Jose, where they boarded a "stub train" which was a complete "Coast Starlight" train set, and continued their trips south. The trainset that terminated in Oakland at the Jack London Square depot was then deadheaded to the new Amtrak facility in Oakland, where it stayed until the track was put back in service, at which time it deadheaded to San Jose, where it became the "stub train" equipment for the next day's train. Had the train that had Gunn's car on the rear done that, Gunn would have missed the ceremonies in Los Angeles, so someone (I do not know who - was it Gunn himself?) decided to detour the train over Tehachapi Loop - a great idea.

Getting to ride over Tehachapi Loop on a regular Amtrak train made us feel as though we had won "the railfan lottery" - in my son's words - and the prize was not just for 1 or 2 people, but for as many as had the time and money to ride.

We boarded the train, stowed our luggage, and went upstairs to find seats, and wait for the conductor to collect our tickets. We then found seats in the lounge car, which is where we spent most of the trip. We met some fellow railfans, including "pecosvalleychief" (Allan Greer) of, whom we had never had the pleasure of meeting in person and others whom we had not seen in a year or more.

We left Sacramento at 7:25 am and backed onto the impressive old through-truss railroad bridge across the American River, where we paused for a few minutes, admiring the lovely view of the river at dawn. Beautiful . . .After a short time we backed around the wye, past the old Elvas Tower

(which was - perhaps - named for the old city in Portugal), and was last used in 1999, and we were off to Stockton on the old Southern Pacific tracks. We had to back up and go around the wye because the train was facing west when it pulled into Sacramento and it had to face east in order to go down the San Joaquin Valley in the "pull" mode. (The "Coast Starlight" never runs in the push mode, thank heavens!) Getting to ride a passenger train when it makes a reverse movement is unusual, and it is even more rare to be able to ride an Amtrak train around a wye. This just almost never happens, as schedules are planned to avoid time-consuming movements like backing or wyeing a train.

After that, we were off to the races - almost literally! We flew down the tracks at 79 mph, which is Maximum Authorized Speed from Elvas Wye to the Lodi area (Milepost 72), where the speed is restricted to 45 mph maximum for passenger trains for around 3 miles. The hoghead "widened on it" and we sped up to 79 again, for a while.

The weather could not have been better for this extremely rare trip: sunny, with high wispy clouds, and warm. The track was in excellent shape and the cars rode very well. Love those Superliners! The first of them went into service in 1981, and were the last passenger cars built by Pullman Standard. They look and ride great! I remember a ride in a Superliner coach back in 1983 when we went 95 mph in Wyoming on the UP - and she rode smooth as glass! wow . .

We crossed the lovely Cosumnes River a few miles south of Elk Grove. The Cosumnes River is only 80 miles long, and is the only undammed river on the west slope of the Sierra Nevada. The Cosumnes River Preserve is about 10 miles SW of the old Santa Fe tracks

and is worth a visit. "Cosumnes" is derived from a Northern Sierra Miwok word, "kooso", meaning "holly berries" or "toyon". It flows into the Mokelumne River, which we crossed just north of Lodi. "Mokelumne" has several possible meanings: Plains Miwok "moke": "fish net" + "umne": "people"; or Central Sierra Miwok "moke": "red paint"; or "mokolkine": "manzanita berry".

We passed the Lodi (MP 71.7 - 72.9) SP depot:

Lodi was named for the town in Italy where Napoleon, in 1796, won his first big victory; other cities in various parts of this country also adopted this name. Interestingly, Lodi was first named "Mokelumne" by the Central Pacific in 1869, but was renamed in 1874 to avoid confusion with other sites named "Mokelumne". There was even a famous race-horse named "Lodi" back in the 18th century, and some think the city's name was chosen partly because of that horse.

Just north of Stockton, we crossed the Calaveras River. "Calaveras" means "skulls", and was used for places where a number of human skeletons were found. Stockton was named for Commodore Robert Stockton, who took possession of California for the United States.

We rolled past the old SP depot in Stockton (MP 84.0) at 8:45 am.

This depot is now used by Altamont Commuter Express (ACE") trains, Monday - Friday.

We crossed onto the new connector track between the old SP (NB) and the old Santa Fe (WB), never stopping once. Amtrak has always used the former Santa Fe Railroad tracks between Stockton and Bakersfield because the Santa Fe was willing to maintain their tracks to the 79-mph standard that Amtrak required, while the Southern Pacific was willing to maintain their tracks to only a 60-mph quality, figuring, sensibly, that they could race down their main lines at a high speed, but if the freights had to sit in yards for more than a very short time (which happens a lot) then any time they saved by highballing on the main line would quickly be lost in a yard - and it is more expensive to maintain track to a 79-mph maximum than to a 60-mph maximum. The Southern Pacific was there first, and long ago laid the tracks that allowed communities to be created and to prosper. That is why the tracks of the former SP go right through the middle of all the cities and towns in the San Joaquin Valley, and why Amtrak passengers must detrain some distance from city centers.

"San Joaquin" is Spanish for "Saint Joaquim", the saint revered by Roman Catholics as the father of the Virgin Mary.

We flew down the Valley at Maximum Authorized Speed for most of the trip - what a thrill! And we highballed all the San Joaquin station stops - because we were not a "San Joaquin". That was a very big thrill, too.

After we slowed for the Stockton area, the hoghead really poured it on. We raced over the Little Johns River (about 5 miles south of Stockton), flew past Escalon (MP 1101.4) at 9:06 am; "escalon" means "stairstep" in Spanish. The town was named that in the late 1890s by James Jones, who had land here. We raced over the lovely Stanislaus River (named for a Polish saint in 1844)

just north of Riverbank (MP 1095.6) at 9:10 am, where there used to be a nice old depot and railroad "beanery.

A friend of mine, who used to work for Amtrak as a conductor on the "San Joaquin" trains, remembers "going to beans" there some years ago. Riverbank was also a crew- change point some years ago. Sad to say, the depot burned down a few years ago. Twenty-plus years ago, I used to drive out to the Stockton area to railfan, and sometimes went to Riverbank to watch trains, both main-line freights and locals witch jobs. It was a nice place. Riverbank was founded in 1911 by the Santa Fe as a division point, and was named because it is on the Stanislaus River.

We passed a lot of freight trains, going in both directions. The BNSF is a very busy railroad these days! We saw a number of double-stack trains. Holding the main the way we did WAS "presidential privilege" and boy, did it feel good! A young railfan told me that on a recent Amtrak trip he had made from Los Angeles to San Antonio on the "Sunset Limited", his train was put "in the hole" (in a siding) 30 times! Boy, times have sure changed from the days when the "varnish" always got the "high iron".

The talking detectors we passed never indicated any defects, and said "56 axles" when giving an axle count, which meant 14 units of 4 axles each: 2 locomotives and 12 cars, in our case.

We cruised past the Empire station stop at 9:16 am (MP 1089.2; founded in 1850 and originally named "Empire City", probably after New York, NY), and crossed the lovely Tuolumne River right after that. "Tuolumne" is probably from the Central Sierra Miwok "taawalimne", from "taawali": "squirrel".

The looks we got from people waiting at various Amtrak stations were priceless: a passenger train that did NOT stop at their station?? !! What those people were seeing was a detouring "Coast Starlight", not a "San Joaquin", but how were they supposed to know the difference? We were a passenger train, after all, weren't we? Yeah, our train was a lot longer than any normal "San Joaquin", and had different equipment (including a baggage car and sleepers) but who, other than railroaders or railfans, really notices that sort of thing?

We highballed at 79 mph past the Denair station stop

at 9:24 am (MP 1079.6; named in 1906 by John Denair, who had been a Santa Fe superintendent in Needles, CA, when he bought land here), which is around 5 miles northeast of Turlock (named in 1871 for Turlough, Ireland), crossed the beautiful Merced River at a small town named Cressey (named for an early land-owned), 5 miles south of Ballico (origin of this name is unknown), which is MP 1071.7, and ran past Castle Air Museum at 9:37 am,, which has a very nice collection of 46 preserved military aircraft. "Merced" is Spanish for "mercy"; the river was named in 1806 for "Nuestra Senora de Merced": "Our Lady of Mercy".

We slowed to 60 mph as we crossed Bear Creek just north of Merced (MP 1056.1), which we passed at 9:41 am, and, then sped up to 79 right after that, crossing the Owens River and Duck Slough a few miles south of Merced. The city of Merced was founded in 1872 when the Southern Pacific Railroad arrived. We flew across the Chowchilla River ("Chauciles" is an early spelling, from a local word for the river) and Ash Slough and Berenda Reservoir. "Berenda" is from the Spanish word "berrendo", meaning "antelope". These rivers and sloughs are lovely, and I took a number of pictures of them. I really must take another trip down the San Joaquin Valley and enjoy the many beautiful rivers. I think most people do not realize how pretty most of the San Joaquin Valley is. Those of you who think the San Joaquin Valley is boring, flat and unpleasant to ride through really should take a trip on the "San Joaquin". There are beautiful rivers and streams, and you roll past fields of cows and sometimes horses - all of which add to the peaceful bucolic scene.

A number of us were enjoying the fast trip and were hoping mightily that we would keep on racing down the old Santa Fe main and would NOT stop ANYWHERE before we got to Bakersfield. I got really worried when, at 9:55 am, we went into the 8,798-foot siding at Le Grand (Milepost 1041.5), which is 43.4 miles north of Fresno (MP 998.1), for a meet with a northbound "San Joaquin", #701. I thought we were going to stop for sure, as the train seemed as though it was going much too fast for us to avoid stopping before we got to the end of the siding - but I had forgotten how long those Valley Subdivision sidings are, and we did NOT stop, only slowed to 5 mph. The wheels were still turning! 5 mph may be slow, agonizingly slow for those of us who wanted this special run to keep on running at Maximum Authorized Speed, but we did NOT stop! Whew! After the northbound train cleared the south switch, we proceeded back on to the main at 10:01 am, and highballed south again toward Fresno.

We raced across the beautiful Fresno River and immediately passed the small city of Madera, MP 1019.6. "Madera" means "wood" in Spanish, and was picked as the name for the new town in 1876 because it sounded pretty.

We crossed the broad and lovely San Joaquin River and not too long after we left Madera (around 20 miles), we began to slow for the 35-mph and 40-mph speed restrictions in the Fresno area. . "Fresno" is Spanish for "ash tree", and was chosen as the name of the new station when the Central Pacific reached the site in 1872.

We ran past the attractive Fresno Santa Fe depot (MP 998.1), and, at 10:38 am, at a comparatively slow speed, not more than 40 mph - without stopping. THAT was the FIRST time that I know of that a regular passenger train has EVER highballed Fresno! What a treat! I know the people waiting for their Amtrak trains there must have been very puzzled when we did not stop.

Some railfans on board had opened the windows in the vestibule doors downstairs (strictly forbidden! Signs are posted near all those windows) so the conductor got on the PA and informed everyone in no uncertain terms, "Do NOT open the windows! If you want to go over Tehachapi Pass, do NOT open the windows, or else, go ahead, and we will drop you off in Bakersfield!" Anyone caught opening those vestibule-door windows would not be allowed to ride any farther. wow . . . He really meant business!

We ran across the Kings River, another beautiful sight, just north of Laton (MP 976.0), named in the late 1890s for a San Francisco man who owned land there. We slowed to 45 for the short 3-mile stretch around Hanford (MP 967.9),, another regular stop on the route of the "San Joaquin", at 11:07 am, again not stopping to pick up passengers - and getting more confused looks from the waiting passengers. Hanford was named in 1877 for James Hanford, the Treasurer of the Central Pacific Railroad.

We passed the nice-looking depot at Corcoran (MP 950.9) and, at 11:22 am, and had a meet here with "San Joaquin" Train #713 at around 45 mph. Corcoran was named for a Santa Fe RR civil engineer. At 11:40 am we passed Allensworth (MP 932.3),

a town founded by Lt. Col. Allan Allensworth in 1909 as a community for African-Americans. The next two names in the railroad timetable we passed were Sandrini (MP 924.6) and Elmo (MP 919.2); in reverse order, "Elmo Sandrini" sounds like a man's name! I was unable to learn where those two names came from.

After that, the scenery began to be less green and more desert-like, and even barren-looking.

Wasco (MP .913.0) was passed at 11:55 am.

It was named in the late 1890s for the county in Oregon that was the home of William Bonham, one of the oldest settlers in this area. Wasco County, Oregon, took its name from the name of a local Chinook tribe. This town was going to be named "Dewey", after Admiral Dewey's victory in Manila Bay in 1898, but as that name had already been adopted by another place in California, a different name had to be chosen.

We went past Shafter (MP 905.4) right after that, at 11:59 am. Shafter was named in 1914 in memory of General William Shafter, who was commander of American troops in Cuba during the Spanish-American War. General Shafter had a large ranch near Bakersfield, to which he retired in 1901, and where he lived until he died in 1906.

Lunch began to be served when we neared Bakersfield, and we all were in a quandary (Hey - I thought we were in a TRAIN! LOL!): should we go to the diner and enjoy a nice lunch, and possibly risk missing seeing the Loop from the lounge car, or should we forego lunch and stay in the lounge? We decided to have lunch in the diner - and I am glad we did, as the food was good, and so, very much, was the company, and we managed to finish our meal without too much rushing, and made it back to the lounge in plenty of time to enjoy the approach to the world-famous Tehachapi Loop.

We slowed to 60 mph for Jastro (MP 891.1), a town just north of Bakersfield named for a Southern Pacific employee, and the last fast running until south of Mojave. Jastro is a junction with the San Joaquin Valley Railroad, a short-line headquartered in Exeter, CA, which was spun off in 1992 from various Southern Pacific and Santa Fe branch lines in the San Joaquin Valley. This particular connection was weedy and looked as though it did not get used frequently. The SJVRR interchanges with the Union Pacific Railroad in Fresno and with both the UP and the Santa Fe in Bakersfield, and is now owned and operated by RailAmerica, Inc., which is based in Boca Raton, Florida, and operates 47 short lines and regional railroads, totaling approximately 8,900 miles in 27 states and six Canadian provinces.

Bakersfield (MP 888.0) was named in 1868 for Col. Thomas Baker, a civil and hydraulics engineer, who had tried, but failed, to build a waterway that ships could use to go from Kern Lake to San Francisco Bay. Some land he owned began to be called "Baker's field", and the name began to be used for the city. Kern Lake, was named for Edward Kern, who was the photographer and artist who accompanied the famous French explorer John Fremont. Bakersfield is also the end of the line for Amtrak's "San Joaquin" passengers who wish to travel only by rail. Since 1971, passengers wishing to connect to Los Angeles and other points south of Bakersfield must board the proper connecting bus to continue their journey.

Ours was only the third Amtrak train in its entire 34-year history to get to run between Bakersfield and Mojave. The other two went over this line back in 1974 because of a derailment on the Coast line: one Amtrak train ran "westbound" (towards San Francisco; north) and the other ran "eastbound" (away from San Francisco: south). If you want to ride a train and see the view from the tracks between Bakersfield and Mojave, you have to "run away and join the circus" - the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, that is! This circus still travels by train, and gets to run an occupied passenger train over the famous Loop three times a year.

There were two other occasions on which passenger trains the public could ride went over The Loop: 1984, when the SP 4449 pulled the "World's Fair Daylight" train from Oakland to Los Angeles via the San Joaquin Valley over the loop, and 1991, when the Santa Fe 3751 pulled a special excursion train from Los Angeles to Barstow and back. Other passenger trains have been operated over The Loop, but those have all been railroad officers' specials. (Must be nice to be able to experience all that rare mileage!)

We kept to the 20-mph Speed Zone for Kern Junction, which is Mile Post 885.2. Kern Junction is one of the places that has a railroad "mileage equation"; this is done to go from one Mile Zero to a different Mile Zero. The Kern Junction "equation" states that Mile Post 885.2 is the same Mile Post as Mile Post 313.6. Kern Junction is also the location of another talking detector, which said something like, "UP detector Mile Post Three One Eight Point Eight. No defects. Axle Count Five Six. Train Speed Five Eight M P H. No defects. Detector out!"

After Kern Junction the hogger "widened on it" (steam locomotive talk - from the engineer pulling back on the throttle) and we sped up to 60 mph, which we kept to until Edison (MP 320.1, which was named in 1905 for the power company: Southern California Edison Company), where we slowed a bit to 50 mph.

We went past an obscure site on the old Southern Pacific Railroad named Bena (MP 328.1), which may have gotten its name from Bena, Minnesota, which got its name from the Ojibwa word for "partridge". I think it is absolutely fascinating how names from one place sometimes get used in another place a long way away.

We slowed even more at Ilmon (MP 330.6), where the winding, curvy right of way on the former Southern Pacific main line permit a top speed of only 30 mph. This allowed the passengers plenty of time to enjoy the scenery, which was quite nice here. Getting there is far more than half the fun - in this case, getting there was all the fun for many of us. The speed dropped a bit to an odd maximum of 23 mph just after Ilmon. I think this unusual Maximum Speed is the result of a compromise between those who wanted a maximum speed of 20 mph and those who favored a maximum of 25 mph.

Speed limits on railroads are taken very seriously, and no locomotive engineer ever gets remotely close to enjoying the 5-mph "cushion" that motorists often get before being cited for speeding. On the contrary, a locomotive engineer has a speed-recorder tape in a sealed box in the cab, which records speed in miles per hour, throttle settings, and other information. In addition, railroad managers sometimes hide along the right of way and use radar guns to check whether or not the hoghead is obeying the various speed limits - and going even one mile an hour over the speed limit can get an engineer in trouble. Railroads take safety and obeying their rules very seriously.

This 23-mph maximum extends for 28 miles, to, through and after the famous Loop, and

until the crossover at Cable, MP 358.5. This sedate and very safe maximum allowed plenty of time for everyone to enjoy the scenery - which was quite pretty. Most people do not realize how scenic the Tehachapi Mountains really are.

I was taking photographs all along, but did not know until after we had gone well past the Loop that the conductor who had gotten on in Bakersfield was allowing people to open the windows in the vestibule doors, so I missed a once-in-a- lifetime chance to take photographs from a moving Amtrak train of Tehachapi Loop. This conductor is a young man named Vic Yoder, and he was dressed in the proper conductor's uniform: pillbox-type hat, coat, vest - the whole nine yards! Now THAT is how ALL conductors on passenger trains should dress! Vic goes by the moniker of "Axy_Dent" on Trainorders. He gave a running commentary, pointing out places of interest. Vic explained to the passengers the names of many of the places on the railroad, and pointed out the former Cesar Chavez headquarters, which were right next to the tracks. We saw Maintenance of Way equipment and workers, and waved to the guys. The line between Bakersfield and Mojave is said to be the busiest single-track main line in the world, and it does see a lot of trains. There was a train in many of the sidings we passed.

The air was rather hazy and smoggy from somewhat north of Bakersfield to the top of Tehachapi Pass. "Tehachapi" came from a Kawaiisu word, "tihachipia", from "tihaa": "difficult" + "chipii", and meant something like "hard climbing". An 1853 map gives the word as "Tah-ee-chay-pah"

We saw a quite different view of the Tehachapi Mountains than do people who drive on California Highway 58. I have driven on California Highway 58 several times, and have always found the landscape visible from the road to be barren and dreary - depressing, even. But I was quite surprised how pretty the view was from the train, which gets to travel down in the folds of the hills where there are a number of trees and shrubs - all of which were green, even in the high desert after very little rain. I knew from previous visits to the famous Loop that the Loop area was pretty, but I had thought that the entire area between Bakersfield and Caliente was barren, and that there would be nothing pretty to look at except the shapes of the hills themselves, but because of hot springs in the canyon. Happily, I was wrong, and I saw a view that no Amtrak passengers ever get to see, sad to say.

Here are some photos some excellent photographers took of our train (Pages 1 and 2 have photos of our train.):

The original URL was 163 characters long, so I went to and got a reasonable-length URL for you to click on.

We arrived at Caliente (MP 335.4) at 1:05 pm.

"Caliente" is Spanish for "hot", but the area was not named that because of the hot weather that is typical of this area in the summer. Caliente has a very large "horseshoe turn", made to enable the railroad to gain or lose elevation, and it is quite a sight to see a long freight train draped around this huge turn. But when you get to ride a train through this area, you get to experience quite a dramatic change in elevation between one end of the open loop and the other. Very impressive!

Caliente also is the beginning of a 23.1-mile section of track that has a very odd speed limit: 23 mph! (I think this was a compromise between 20 mph and 25 mph.) We passed Bealville (MP 339.5) with ponderous dignity at 1:14 pm.

There is a long siding here: 13, 270 feet, about 2-1/2 miles. Bealville was named in the 1870s for General Edward Beale, who fought in the Mexican War and the Civil War, and was Superintendent of Indian Affairs for California and later Surveyor General for California. He owned around 200,000 acres in this area. Abraham Lincoln himself supposedly complained that Beale made himself "monarch of all he surveyed", quoting a line from a poem by Cowper that was well known at the time.

We rolled into the siding at Cliff (MP 341.8 - 343.3) at 1:21 pm. Vic, our conductor, noted a UP maintenance truck that had gone over the edge of a small cliff and had landed on its roof! He did say that the men who had been in that truck were OK - what a relief! This accident had happened just the day before; the truck was still leaking oil and other vehicle fluids. We pulled out onto the main at 1:33 pm.

We passed the UP detector at Mile Post 347.0 at 1:49 pm. Again "No Defects". We cruised through the pretty area at Woodford (MP 347.9 - 349.7), which still has a large water tank that supplies water for the area, and is just around a few turns from the famous loop.

I wanted this wonderful day to last a very long time. I was savoring the experience as much as I could.

Before we knew it we were approaching the famous loop. There was even a freight going around the loop as we neared it. If a train is long enough, it will loop itself, when the engines pass over the cars. No passenger train is ever long enough to loop itself.

We saw a number of railfans taking pictures of us, as this was an occasion not to be missed, and a number of people wanted to take pictures for their own collections. There is no substitute for your own photos, even though they might not be as artistic and impressive as photos by Richard Steinheimer or Ted Benson Bob Morris or Elrond Lawrence or Alex Ramos - to name a few, young as well as old.

Thank heavens we were on the main line, which is the inside track, because that freight we crossed under as we entered the loop proper would have completely blocked the view of our train from anyone inside the loop - which is where most people were. All too soon we ended our trip around The Loop. We exited "Walong" at 2:01 pm; three minutes is all it took to go around the loop. "Walong" (MP 351.1 - 352.2) is the railroad name for the station at the loop, and was named in 1876 for Mr. W. A. Long, a Southern Pacific trainmaster. This loop was a stunning engineering achievement and made possible a practical connection by rail between the San Joaquin Valley and Los Angeles.

Shortly after we went around the loop, we passed through Tunnel 10, and right after that we saw the very first railroad webcam, established in 1997 by and the late Dave Burton, who allowed it to be placed on his property. Dave died suddenly on November 5, 2004. Some of his family was there at his home to wave at us as we passed. A curve in the tracks next to his home was named in his honor shortly after his death, and a sign was erected, with saying "Burton's Curve".

Marcel (MP 353.0 - 354.2), which has a 6,189-foot siding, and was the next named station; we passed it at 2:05 pm.

After we passed the top of the pass, the air became clear and the sky showed a beautiful blue, with wispy white clouds. Nice! The windmills were clearly visible, although they didn't show up too well in my photographs.

When we reached Cable, and completed our beautiful and very rare trip through the Tehachapi Mountains, and left the mountains, and arrived at land that was flat enough to allow higher speeds, we were then authorized to run at 60 mph - which I believe we did, more than doubling our previous speed. We passed through the town of Tehachapi (MP 360.6) at 2:23 pm.

In 1870, the post office here was listed as "Tehichipa". Here is a link to a photo that shows part of the old Southern Pacific depot in Tehachapi:

I have always enjoyed my time in the small city of Tehachapi, and the weather there.

At 2:27 pm we flew past another detector, at MP 363.8. It said we had "Five Six axles" and were going "Seven Zero M P H". I really like those talking detectors! This was right before the big cement plant at Monolith (MP 365.0):

Monolith was given this name in 1908 by William Mulholland, who built the Los Angles Aqueduct. It was named for the Monolith Portland Cement Company.

The detector at MP 377.0, just 3 miles north of Mojave, said we were going "Three Four M P H" - just under the speed limit. Mojave (MP 380.7) has an interesting history:

(Click on the word "GO" in the upper left corner of that page. Then click on the word MENU" on the tab to the right of the photo, and you will see the word "History". Click on that. I do not want to risk violating copyright by posting the text here.)

Mojave was named after a Yuman tribe's name for itself: "hamakhaav"; part of this word made come from "haa" meaning "water". These early peoples lived in the area where the present states of California, Nevada and Arizona meet. Some early Europeans spelled the tribe's name as "Mak-ha-ves" or "A-mac-ha-ves"; this city's name has more different spellings than any other Native American name in California. The town originated when the first train arrived here on August 8, 1876, operated by the Southern Pacific, which named this place for the desert area. Mojave has a "virtual" museum, which means it is on line, and there is - as of yet - no building(s) that you can visit.

We had to proceed slowly through Mojave; the RR speed limit here is 25 mph. There used to be a nice old depot and freight shed here,, which we visited back in 1985, but, sad to say, it was torn down - like all too many wonderful and attractive (if not downright beautiful) and very important old buildings.

After we left Mojave, at 2:53 pm, we really highballed, for the speed limit from here to Palmdale Junction (MP 414.4) is 70 mph - and that is for freights. It's fun to go fast in well- maintained railroad equipment on well-maintained track.

One guy chased us after the loop:

We flew past Rosamond (MP 394.3), named around 1888 for the daughter of a Southern Pacific official. We zipped past Oban (MP 399.3 - 401.0), named in 1904 for the town of that name in Kansas or a place by the sea on Scotland, and reduced our speed for a temporary slow order at Lancaster (MP 404.3 - 406.1) at 3:16 pm.

(Slow orders are imposed when work of some sort is being done on the track or when problems are discovered with the track that would make normal speeds impractical.) Lancaster was given this name in 1877 by European settlers for their previous home in Pennsylvania. The detector at Mile Post 412.6 said we were moving at "Two Three M P H". Lancaster is 7 miles south of Edwards Air Force Base,, which is the home of quite a varied and fascinating places and is the place where many major milestones in aviation have happened - more here than anywhere else in the world.

The dispatcher had told our crew that we would meet a freight at Denis (MP 409.2 - 410.9), which we did at 3:24 pm.

We crossed over to Metrolink tracks at Palmdale Junction (MP 414.4, which Metrolink calls "CP Harold" and lists as being MP 67.7) at 3:36 pm.

We rolled past Vincent (MP 61.6), named for Charles Vincent, who was an early miner and a hunter in this area, at 3:43 pm. Vincent is also where the SP 4449, back in 1984, had been allowed to climb the steep 2.4% ruling grade unassisted. I was a Car Host then, and I will never forget, for as long as I live, how incredible she sounded climbing that steep grade all by herself. She was "down on her knees", clawing her way up that steep grade, and her chugs got farther and farther apart - rather like "The Little Engine That Could": "I think I can, I think I can, I think I can. . . . . . . then: "I knew I could, I knew I could, I knew I could!"

The track for here on into the Los Angeles Union Passenger Terminal (as I prefer to call it) was posted for 70-79 mph Maximum Authorized Speed in many places. We cruised sedately at 35 mph past "CP Ravenna" (MP 52.4), named in 1876 for the city in Italy, at 3:55 pm. We went through a short (266-foot) tunnel 4 miles after Ravenna, Tunnel #18 (MP 46.5), and a mile and a half later passed through another short (328-foot) tunnel, Tunnel #19, at MP 45.0.

We passed through Lang (MP 43.1), named for John Lang, a New Yorker who farmed the Soledad area in the 1870s, and then a little later raced past "CP Saugus" (MP 32.4), which was named for the Massachusetts birthplace of Henry Newhall, a famous early pioneer and San Franciscan who owned quite a bit of land in Southern California. "Saugus" is Algonquin for "outlet". We went through a very long tunnel, Tunnel #25 (MP 26.5), 6,976 feet long, 6 miles after Saugus. This tunnel passes through the Santa Susana Mountains, and goes right underneath Interstate 5.

We rolled past "CP Balboa" (MP 25.3), named in 1905 for Vasco Nunez de Balboa, the first European to see the Pacific Ocean, then Sylmar (MP 21.9), named from "silva" meaning "forest" and "mar" meaning "ocean", which together mean "ocean of trees". Then we raced past Sun Valley (MP15.4), renamed by a vote of city residents in 1949 from "Roscoe", the name given in 1924 to the Post Office when the town was established.

We passed through "CP Burbank Junction" (MP 11.3), where we rejoined the Coast Line, the normal route for this train. This is where we finally got to run on a two-track main line, not far from our final destination. Burbank was named in 1887 for David Burbank, a Los Angeles dentist who helped to subdivide the land. Burbank is the location of the NBC-TV studios where the "Tonight" show was filmed, and the late Johnny Carson made it the butt of many of his jokes (Ha- Ha!!!).

The detector at Mile Post 7.8 said, "Metrolink Detector, Mile Post Seven Point Eight . . . Train Speed One Eight M P H . . . ".

We passed the beautiful old depot in Glendale (MP 5.8) at 4:54 pm. This lovely building was built in 1923 and is a real jewel:

It replaced the original depot that was constructed back in 1883. The Southern Pacific depot here is also where movie stars often boarded name trains, such as the "Coast Daylight" and the "Lark" because this depot was much less crowded than the downtown depot.

The city of Glendale was established back in the 1870s, after tracks were laid from Los Angeles to San Fernando, and was originally named Riverdale, but had to change its name because the U. S. Post Office refused to allow this town to adopt this nice-sounding name because there was already another Riverdale - this one is in Fresno County. The name "Mason" was chosen, but was soon changed to "Glendale". The city was incorporated in 1906.

My parents grew up here, so this city has a special meaning to me. My mother told me that when she was a young woman, there were 7 big movie theatres on Brand Blvd., the main street - and these were very bit as elegant as the Stanford Theatre in Palo Alto:

The last significant site we passed through, at 4:57 pm, was "CP Ormiston" (MP 3.3), which was renamed on March 1, 2005, from "CP Metro" in honor of the late Tom Ormiston, a Metrolink conductor, who died in the tragic Metrolink crash on January 26, 2005.

We were only a few minutes from the end of our wonderful and very rare journey .We stayed on the east side of the Los Angeles River, so the passengers could enjoy the view of the train when it makes that final sweeping right-hand turn to go into the terminal. We rolled slowly past the historic Mission Tower (shown in an old photo from the early days of Amtrak, with a Santa Fe passenger train passing the tower):

At 5:05 pm we rolled to a stop on Track 12 at the Los Angeles Union Passenger Terminal:,, and

This beautiful and imposing and amazing Los Angeles Union Passenger Terminal was built in 1939 in the grand tradition of the old "temples of commerce", as someone has called these magnificent monuments to travel by rail in the past. It is still serving many, many people as their origin or destination, and is as beautiful as it ever was. This great depot celebrated its 50th birthday back in 1989, and I was there. The celebration lasted 3 days, and began with the arrival of two of my favorite steam locomotives, the SP 4449 and the UP 844(4), who steamed in side by side: (

I thought I had died and gone to Heaven! That was Nirvana to a railfan!

There were also three historic diesels on display, one for each major railroad that served LAUPT:, and

Back to October of 2005: we gathered our things together and reluctantly left the train, our home for this wonderful once-in-a-lifetime trip. We walked down the ramp to the wide underground passageway to the depot proper. This building is much more magnificent "in person" than it looks in photographs.

We walked to the end of the train to take a look at the Amtrak President's car, the "Beech Grove", which I had not gotten a good look at for several years.

David Gunn, Amtrak's President, got off the car, and we saw that he is not someone who likes being formal and distant, because he was wearing jeans and a windbreaker. Not a haughty or arrogant person at all! I was surprised at what he chose to wear, thinking that a corporate president would always dress in a suit and a tie when out in public, but he didn't. I guess Mr. Gunn likes to kick back and relax when he can. He also does not act as though he thinks he is above talking to ordinary people. A few of us spoke briefly to him. I told David Gunn I thanked him from the bottom of my amazed and grateful heart for this reroute. H replied that it was not his doing. Really! (See above for the reason.)

We had held the main for the entire trip from Sacramento to Los Angeles, except for two times: Le Grande (south of Fresno), as stated before, and Cliff (north of the loop). Now THAT is "presidential privilege", as my son said. : ) I later learned that some of the trains in the sidings had been waiting for us for an hour or more! More presidential privilege! It is quite rare for ordinary people to get treated like royalty, and we all enjoyed the very fast trip down the San Joaquin Valley. That had to have been a record-setting run: we departed Sacramento at 7:25 am and arrived at Los Angeles Union Passenger Terminal at 5:05 pm, a grand total of 452.3 in a total elapsed time of 9 hours and 40 minutes, and thus averaged 46.8 mph Amazing . . . simply amazing! I do not think this time will ever be bested by any passenger train. Ever.

We had dinner at the famous "Philippe's" near the depot,

and while we were having dinner we got to watch the World Series game during which the White Sox' Paul Konerko hit a very rare Grand Slam. Wow! . . . That was only the 18th Grand Slam in World Series history - and I got to see it! (I usually do not watch TV much - I am on the computer, instead, and I am not a White Sox or Astros fan.) What a great end to an absolutely superb day!


We stayed overnight at the Days Inn hotel, which was easy walking distance from the depot. This is where railroad crews stay. I liked it for the convenience factor because we did not have to depend on a taxi or a bus to get us to or from our lodgings. I later learned from a friend who also rode the reroute that the Best Western Inn that is around a mile from the depot has a van that takes guests to the depot, and that if, perchance, that van is not available, a guest can take a taxi and the hotel will reimburse the guest for the taxi fare.

We planned to spend the next day, Monday, October 24, 2005, at Fullerton, watching trains.

Fullerton is a place where there are a lot of trains, both passenger trains and freights, and there is a nice depot, built by the Santa Fe Railroad in 1930, that is the Amtrak depot now, with a café, where you can sit and watch trains all day long.

The Union Pacific depot was built in 1923, and is no longer a depot, but is a "Spaghetti Factory" restaurant.

Our young friend William, an avid railfan, wanted to see the westbound "Southwest Chief", Train #3, arrive in Fullerton at 6:34 am (when it is on time, which it often is not) , and we agreed that this would be a lot of fun to do, so we set our alarms for 5 am. Set an alarm on a vacation? Well. . . if you are a railfan and really want to see a train you never get to see because you live 400 miles away from where it runs, you set alarms and do what you need to in order to see it.

The first southbound "Pacific Surfliner", Train #562, is scheduled to arrive in Fullerton at 6:37 am, so we thought we would have no problem at all in getting to Fullerton ahead the Chief. Well, Murphy (as in Murphy's Law) got us, because the Chief was ON TIME, and flew past us at Basta (MP 163.0) which is 2 miles west of Fullerton. Darn! Oh, well . . . . ."these things happen", as a friend says. William's mother, Mary, joined us around 9 am, and we spent a very pleasant day there watching trains and talking to other railfans. We met a lady railfan we knew. We saw a lot of trains, and even saw a short local freight that had a caboose on the end. These days that is quite rare!

We stayed there, me photographing trains and yakking with folks, until around 2:30 pm, when, at the behest of my son, we walked over to the TrainParty store.

This is the business that now supports The TrainWeb folks are very nice, and showed us around the store. This business sells train theme birthday & non- birthday party items, for children. The TrainWeb guys told us about the monthly meeting of the "Train Travel Meetup" group, which was occurring at 5 pm that very evening at a restaurant near the depot.

What an amazing coincidence - that we happened to be there on the one day a month that this nice group meets! We went to dinner and had a great time, and saw some folks we had not seen for a while. The dinner meeting is planned to end at 7:30 pm, so the folks can see the eastbound "Southwest Chief" at the depot. We had a nice dinner with the folks:

Left to right: unknown, Mary (William's mother), Steve Grande (who founded, Ray Burns (also a founder of, me ("Margaret Monroe(SP fan)"), my son, Daniel Monroe. William is out of sight at the far end of the table. Ken Rubin ("Ken15") is to the right of the unidentified gentleman to Mary's left.

David Gunn's car, the "Beech Grove", which had been behind our train just the day before, was on the end of the Chief. We eagerly awaited the arrival of the Chief, and it soon came into view. We walked down the platform to the end of the train, and one person spoke to a man who was riding the car with Mr. Gunn, asking him politely if Mr. Gunn would mind coming out to talk to us. He disappeared inside the car, and soon David Gunn appeared. The train was at the depot for just a few minutes, but Mr. Gunn still took time to chat briefly with us.

Mr. Gunn is the person on the end of the car with his hands on the railing. I am the lady with the baseball cap with pins on it and a bow in her hair, and a maroon jacket (my GGRM Staff jacket). Mr. Gunn spoke with several of us for a few minutes, until the train left, and we all agreed that it was very kind of him to interrupt his dinner to come out onto the platform to chat with us. He seems to be genuinely a nice person.

We had planned to take the Surfliner that left Fullerton at 8:39 pm, Train #589. We (my son Dan, William, Mary, and I) said good-bye to the rest of the Fullerton Train Travel Meetup Group, and boarded the train for the short ride back to LAUPT, where we arrived on time at 8:50 pm. A very nice end to a very enjoyable day!

We were told that it is not generally too safe to walk at night even the short distance to the Day's Inn, but that if we stayed together, we should be OK. We were lucky, and nothing bad happened.

The next day we took the "Coast Starlight" back to the Bay Area. It left on time, and we had a great ride. It is very pretty for most of the trip, and between Ventura and Surf, if it got any closer to the water it would have to learn to swim!

This entire trip was a wonderful, wonderful event for me, and I will never forget it as long as I live.

Margaret Monroe (SP fan)

For the history and place names I mentioned, I used

"California Place Names: The Origin and Etymology of Current Geographical Names" by Erwin Gudde, 4th Edition, revised and enlarged by William Bright, 1998, University of California Press, 467 pages.

For the Mile Posts, I used:

California Region Timetable, Issue 14, March 8, 2003, published by Altamont Press, Modesto, CA.

For the rest, I used the Internet, and information from my son, Daniel, who wrote down the times we passed various places and other interesting details.

Click below for pages in the directory of TrainWeb sites:
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