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Rich's 1998 Amtrak Trip



Portland, Oregon to Martinez, California

July 27-28, 1998

(Railroad Log #36a- Seattle to Oakland)

After detraining in Portland, I had a couple hours to wait before boarding the next train, the Coast Starlight. It was 99 in Portland, which I believe was a record for that day. I had lunch at Wilf's, a restaurant which is attached to the train station; however, you can't get to it from the station. You have to go out into the street, then go into the entrance to the restaurant next door. Good food, but just a bit expensive. While I was walking around the station, I saw one of the new Talgo trains which operate between Portland, Seattle, and Vancouver. One of these years I will find a way to ride on one of those -- maybe next year, when I plan to ride VIA Rail's Canadian across Canada as part of my trip, from Toronto to Vancouver. I'll try and ride the Talgo between Vancouver and Seattle, if the Talgos will be used on that route, which I believe is planned.

I sat in the well-stocked Metropolitan Lounge waiting for the Coast Starlight. We had a message that it was running a little late, maybe as much as 45 minutes. I was looking forward to riding what many have dubbed AMTRAK's "premier train." I had ridden the Starlight before, but not since the new marketing strategies were implemented by AMTRAK a couple years ago, and I was looking forward to riding in the "Pacific Parlour Car" -- a first class hi-level lounge with comfortable seating, reserved for sleeping car passengers only, which would be much less congested than the Sightseer Lounge. According to the recent on-time performance of the Starlight documented at, the train had been running pretty close to schedule the last few weeks. I still had a contingency plan, however. If for some reason the Starlight became late, I could get off at either Sacramento, Davis, or Martinez in the morning and still catch the California Zephyr, which follows the same route as the Starlight between Emeryville and Sacramento. I had planned on riding the Starlight all the way to Emeryville on this trip.

The Coast Starlight soon pulled into the station, not quite as late as I had expected. The Metropolitan Lounge attendant had asked everyone to wait until the conductor came in to get the passengers to board, but, being anxious to get back on the train, I grabbed my 2 suitcases and walked out to the platform a few minutes early. I was in Room 9 of the sleeper (I forgot which sleeper I was in) on this trip, and, even though the car attendant was waiting for his passengers at the entrance to the car, I told him I could find the room myself, so I went upstairs and found room 9. But there seems to be a problem here -- the door on Room 9 would not open! Not a good omen for AMTRAK's "premier train...." I know some of the sliding doors on Superliner sleepers get a little stuck sometime, but this is ridiculous! After struggling for a few minutes, I got the car attendant, who came upstairs to help, but he too could not get the door open! He told me he would go and look for something which may work, and I think the conductor also came through and tried to help. Finally, the car attendant or the conductor came back with a crowbar and began pounding it into the sliding groove at the top of the door to try and free it up, but that didn't work either. Finally, they had to actually pry the door away from the grooved rail to get it to move past whatever it was that held the door closed. I think there was a bolt or something sticking into the groove which would not allow the door to slide past it. We finally got the door open, but compromised that I would not be able to close the door all the way during this trip. I could of course pull the curtain closed overnight for privacy, but I would not be able to close the door, and there were no other rooms available on this train. So this is the kind of sleeping car AMTRAK uses on their "premier train," eh? Hmmmmm.......

We soon departed Portland, only 20 minutes late (there is a half hour scheduled layover in Portland, but since the train came in late, it didn't stay in the station the full half hour). The car attendant soon came by again and introduced himself, apologized for the door problem, asked if I had ever been in this kind of room before (which of course I had, so I didn't need instructions on how things work), then told me about the wine-tasting party which is now provided for sleeping car passengers on this train. It sounded like a fun party, but the attendant (I forgot his name) told me he wasn't sure exactly when it would begin, or where it would be. The wine-tasting party is usually held in the Pacific Parlour Car; however, today, there was a problem with the air conditioning in the Parlour Car and it was too hot to sit in, but he would let me know when and where the party would be. Well, as you may have discerned from reading previous segments of this trip report, I am not one to sit in the sleeping car room for any length of time during the day -- I wanted to get to the Parlour Car or the Sightseer Lounge immediately and continue my video of this trip, so I soon headed out, remembering of course that I could not close the door to my room all the way. I closed it as far as I could and pulled the curtain closed -- the car attendant would certainly keep an eye on the room.

I then headed back to the Pacific Parlour Car, which is a beautiful car, with lots of wooden finish, tables, a full bar, and soft plushy chairs, but it was definitely HOT!!!!!! Very very hot!!!! I don't believe I have ever been in a hotter AMTRAK car. I don't know why it was so hot -- maybe the old Hi-Level Full Length Dome car (former SP car?) from which this car was converted wasn't quite compatible with Head-End power or the new Genesis engines...??? I don't know. There were obviously no passengers in the Pacific Parlour Car. This is AMTRAK's "premier train," huh? I am sure they just had bad equipment the day I rode this train, because I have read in other TrainWeb submittals from Steve Grande and others that normally the equipment on the Starlight is in good shape. I got a beer from Mario, the Parlour Car attendant, who was in the hot car now and then, and took it back through the diner and into the fairly crowded Sightseer Lounge. I figured the wine tasting party would be later in the afternoon, maybe 5 PM or so, and that someone would tell me when it was.

I sat in the Sightseer Lounge and continued my video as we traversed the Willamette Valley south of Portland and soon passed the northbound Starlight. I got a video of a small waterfall in the river in Oregon City, which I have somehow managed to miss on all my former trips on this train, but, with my map books, I knew when it was coming up, so was able to get my camcorder turned on and aimed by the time we passed it. Again, throughout much of this part of the route, there is dense vegetation along the Willamette River, so it is rare to be able to get a photo of the river. As I was sitting there, my sleeping car attendant walked through the Sightseer Lounge and past me several times, and once he even took my empty beer glass back to the Parlour Car for me.

We left the Albany, Oregon station approximately 45 minutes late. I was starting to wonder whether maybe I should plan on getting off at Martinez or Davis in the morning, since we had not made up any time yet. Oh well, I'll make that decision in the morning, after I see how we did overnight with the schedule. One reason we were not able to make up time this afternoon was that there were "speed restrictions" on the welded rail through this area since it was so hot outside, and apparently the welded rail can expand. Back when I lived up north, I have experienced speed restrictions due to extreme cold in the winter because of ice and frozen switches, but I have never heard of speed restrictions due to hot conditions. Maybe we were really following a freight train?.... The speed restriction story sounded somewhat logical to me, though.

Between Albany and Salem, I decided to walk back to the Parlour Car to get another beer. I had kind of forgotten about the wine tasting party, but as I walked up through the diner, every seat in the diner was occupied. What is going on? It's certainly not dinner time yet. Then I figured it out -- this was the wine tasting party! I was upset that no one had told me about it, like they said they would, even after seeing my car attendant walk right past me several times in the Sightseer Lounge -- why didn't he tell me it was wine-tasting time? I asked and was told that an announcement had been made throughout the train. Apparently the P.A. system in the Sightseer Lounge was not working (which I have found is quite common on AMTRAK), so I never heard the announcement. I asked Mario if I could sit down somewhere and enjoy the rest of the wine tasting party, and he said no! No -- I had missed most of it, and everyone should be able to sit through the entire tasting and sample all three wines. I had missed most of it, but Mario would have a "private wine tasting party" for me later. I explained that I had been in the Sightseer Lounge, my attendant had never said anything to me about the party, and that I had not heard the announcement, but his answer was still no. He'll find me and do a private tasting later. That was nice of him. So I went back to the Sightseer Lounge, still a bit upset.

We had made the Salem stop, and still Mario had not found me for my private wine tasting, so I walked back up through the diner into the hot Parlour Car. The main tasting was over, but there were still a few passengers sitting in the diner. I found a table in the hot Parlour Car and sat for the rest of the evening. Yes, the car was hot, but was maybe 1 or 2 degrees cooler now, and, since I do live in Florida where it is often hot and muggy, I figured I could acclimate to the heat. The Pacific Parlour Car was a beautiful car, and the Sightseer Lounge was getting crowded. Maybe the Parlour Car would cool off as we began climbing up in elevation through the Cascades -- NOT!!

I soon asked Mario where he wanted me to go for my private wine tasting, and he said I could either stay in the hot Parlour Car or go to my room. Well, guess what option I chose! Again, I do not like sitting in my sleeper room during the day when all I can see if half the scenery, and the Parlour Car was a nice car (although still quite toasty!), so I opted to stay in it. I think Mario would have preferred me to go back to my room where it was nice and cool. I had my private wine tasting -- 3 wines, all of which were quite good. There was another passenger who had also missed the tasting and was having a private tasting in the Parlour Car. Between Salem and Eugene I had sampled the wines, and then bought a few glasses of the one I liked. I think I probably had too much wine in that hot car! I did not remember several portions of this trip until I looked at my video the following week! I am sure the temperature in the car did not help my body acclimate to all the wine! I did manage to get out of the Parlour Car in Eugene and walk around some. It was still hot outside, but much cooler than inside the Parlour Car. We departed Eugene 1 hour 2 minutes late. I think I had better consider getting off this train before Emeryville in the morning.

Back in the Parlour Car, Mario was talking to a passenger who was on his first AMTRAK trip, and I heard him apologize to the passenger for the car being so hot. Then a young girl walked through the car and asked me how the few of us who were in the Parlour Car could stand the heat. I told her I was used to heat and humidity, having lived in Florida for a few years. I continued my video as we began the climb up into the Cascade Mountains. As we passed through Oakridge and rounded the Horseshoe Curve across Salmon Creek, Mario took me downstairs in the Parlour Car, and opened up the outside windows in the Dutch doors for me to take some video. I got an excellent sequence of the Starlight rounding the curves and going through the forests, without reflections in the windows! I took some video from each side of the train. Meanwhile, an announcement was made that the movie "As Good As It Gets" would be showing in the Sightseer Lounge in a few minutes. As you know from the previous segments of this trip, I do not watch movies on trains, and when they are shown, usually the movie drowns out all the narration I do for my videos. I was happy in the hot Parlour Car for now, and would not have to compete with the movie.

I chose the 8 PM dinner seating again on this train, and it had gotten fairly dark by then. It had been raining around McCredie Springs right before dinner, at the base of the climb up through the Cascade Mountains, so I was not able to get much video. I think I fell asleep through dinner -- too much wine in the hot Parlour Car, I guess. So it was an early evening for me.

On Tuesday morning I was up shortly after sunrise, as usual, and fully recovered from the private wine tasting! We had departed the Marysville station 1 hr 42 minutes late -- I will definitely get off this train at Martinez! Announcements were made to connecting passengers that they should get off at Sacramento to assure making their connections with the California Zephyr. Knowing what I do about AMTRAK schedules and knowing a little about operations, I figured the Sacramento connection was not really necessary, and I wanted to stay on this train as long as possible. I was very confident that I would still make my connection by getting off at Martinez. At one point I was even thinking that maybe I could get all the way to Emeryville if we made up a little time, but the Chief, I believe (a very nice woman whose name I forgot), told me that the Starlight cannot get into the Emeryville station if the Zephyr is already there -- apparently there is only one track, and the Starlight often has to wait for the Zephyr to depart before it can pull into the station. Normally the Starlight gets to Emeryville before the Zephyr is pulled into the station, but since we were late today, the Zephyr would certainly be there by time we arrived. So I decided to get off at Martinez, and the Chief assured me that I could probably make the connection there easily.

As we departed the Marysville station, I was hoping to get a video of the Yuba River as we crossed, but, just before I got the shot, my camcorder battery pack ran out again! Time to replace batteries yet again! I went back into the Pacific Parlour Car in the morning, and -- miracle of miracles -- it was very cool and pleasant in the car! Several people were in the car having continental breakfast. Apparently one of the conductors was able to fix the air conditioning problem, which turned out to be a very simple adjustment or repair, yet the crew the day before had assured everyone that there was "no way" they could fix the air conditioning. The morning in the Parlour Car was very enjoyable.

Passing through Roseville, Mario pointed out the Roseville Auction and Farmer's Market to me, which is on the west side of the railroad. I guess that auction is quite big and popular in these parts. We soon arrived in Sacramento, and departed 1 hour 5 minutes late, so we had made up some time, but I still decided to get off the train in Martinez. As we crossed the Sacramento River just past the AMTRAK station, the paddlewheeler Delta King was moored in the river a little downstream from the railroad bridge. We departed the Davis station 1 hr 20 minutes late. I believe we were delayed by freight trains ahead of the Starlight. While we were stopped at Davis, the Chief announced that, behind the station, there were some interesting "hologram poles" which could be seen from the train. I either was not looking at them right, or looking at the wrong feature, but I videotaped what I thought to be the hologram poles, and was not overly impressed. What I had photographed looked like three or four tall shiny poles -- period. We soon left Davis, and as we pulled out of the station, I saw what appeared to be a homeless man camping in a sleeping bag on the south side of the tracks, in an area full of discarded cans and other trash.

We soon approached Martinez, and I got some good video of the Carquinez Strait. The bridge over the Strait is shared by the railroad and the highway (Interstate 680). The highway and the railroad each have separate approaches to the bridge on the north side of the Strait, but eventually the two bridges merge, and the railroad uses the lower level of the bridge, while the highway occupies the upper level. I had looked forward to riding the Starlight all the way to Emeryville, and getting some good video of San Pablo Bay, which the railroad hugs for several miles between Martinez and the San Francisco Bay area. But such was not to be today -- maybe next year. As we had nearly completed our crossing of the bridge, the train stopped for reasons unknown. In a few minutes I found out the reason -- a freight train was coming the other direction, and the tracks apparently become single track at the end of the bridge, so we let the freight train pass. While we were stopped, I was able to go into the room across from mine (which was now unoccupied) and video the U.S. Navy "mothball fleet" of old warships, which sits quietly in the calm waters of Suisun Bay now. We soon began pulling into the Martinez station, and my main concern now was that, since I had a reservation for a sleeper room on the California Zephyr out of Emeryville, would I still have the room by the time the Zephyr got to Martinez, or would I be considered a no-show and have my room sold? I asked the Chief and she told me that I need not worry, since rooms in sleeper cars cannot be resold for the first hour after departure.

The Starlight arrived at Martinez 1 hr 30 minutes late. After I had gotten off, the first thing I wanted to do was to again confirm my sleeper status on the Zephyr with the Martinez station agent. I walked into the small Martinez station and asked, and was told basically the same thing the Chief had told me, that I need not worry. The attendants on the Zephyr had a list of connecting passengers, and would know that some passengers had gotten off early due to the tardiness of the Starlight . With that now confirmed, I stood around outside the Martinez station, walked around and enjoyed the nice morning, and had a chance to see the new "California cars" on a Capitol which had passed through the station, and later on one of the San Joaquins. My impressions of the Starlight were generally favorable, except for the door problem on my sleeper room, the hot Pacific Parlour Car, and not being properly informed about the wine party the previous afternoon. Maybe I'll ride this train next year and it will have better equipment.

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