Riding the Rerouted Coast Starlight
Sunday, October 23, 2005
This trip actually began on Thursday evening, October 20,
when I went to www.trainorders.com 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
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,
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
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
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:
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
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
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
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
The "Beech Grove", the car assigned to the Amtrak
President, #10001, was on the rear of the train.
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
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
Trainorders.com, 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
(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
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":
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
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
We slowed to 60 mph as we crossed Bear Creek just north of
Merced (MP 1056.1), which we passed at 9:41 am,
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
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
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)
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)
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
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
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,
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.
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 Trainorders.com 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
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
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
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-
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
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:
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:
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
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
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
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!
MONDAY, OCTOBER 24, 2005
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
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 trainweb.com. 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
Left to right: unknown, Mary (William's mother), Steve
Grande (who founded Trainweb.com), Ray Burns (also a
founder of trainweb.com), 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
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.
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