03/06/01 Update: I have corrected the link to the travelogue of the Amtrak Texas Eagle California Service Inaugural Run. Click here if you would like to read that travelogue now. Additional information about the Amtrak Texas Eagle can be found at www.trainweb.com/routes/route_21/. Click here to go there now. An interesting bit of poetry was written by an unknown author when it was thought that the Amtrak Texas Eagle was going to be completely terminated on May 10, 1997. Click here to read "Farewell to the Texas Eagle".
Today, Wednesday, February 28, 2001, the eastbound and westbound Amtrak Texas Eagle California Service trains begin their final run. The westbound departs from Chicago at 5:05 PM and the eastbound departs from Los Angeles at 10:30 PM. The westbound is scheduled to arrive into Los Angeles on Saturday morning, March 3, 2001, at 6:15 AM and the eastbound is scheduled to arrive into Chicago on that same day at 3:47 PM. That means that the eastbound train will be the final and only Amtrak Texas Eagle California Service in operation between 6:15 AM and 3:47 PM. That is why I chose to take the eastbound train. Since I was on the inaugural run for this service, I also wanted to be on the final Amtrak Texas Eagle California Service to be in actual operation. Some people have said they would rather be on the westbound run since that will be the last Amtrak Texas Eagle California Service train actually in operation in California, but my preference was to be on the very last one to be in operation anywhere.
Just a little more than three years ago today, on February 6, 1998, the Amtrak Texas Eagle California Service made its Inaugural Run. Click here to read the travelogue and view the photos from my trip on that inaugural run. Gene Poon also wrote of his experiences on that inaugural run and his story was published in the February 20, 1998, Issue No. 581, of Rail Travel News.
Back in 1997, Amtrak marked three routes for elimination in an effort to reduce costs. Those three routes were as follows: The Amtrak Pioneer (Chicago to Seattle via Denver and Portland), The Amtrak Desert Wind (Chicago to Los Angeles via Denver and Las Vegas), and The Amtrak Texas Eagle (Chicago to Los Angeles via Texas). The Amtrak Pioneer and The Amtrak Desert Wind did cease service in 1997. The Amtak Texas Eagle, alone, was saved by the persistent efforts of rail travel advocates and local volunteers from along its route. Eventually, the portion of the Amtrak Texas Eagle that runs between Chicago and San Antonio was expanded from 3 days per week to daily service.
On February 6, 1998, Amtrak Texas Eagle service extending from San Antonio to Los Angeles was expanded from 3 days to 4 days per week with the Amtrak Texas Eagle California Service. This new frequency was different than the other 3 days of service. Unlike the other 3 days, service was not provided on this new frequency by taking a Coach and Sleeping Car off the Texas Eagle and adding them to the tail of the westbound Amtrak Southwest Chief. This new frequency would be a separate trainset that would travel all the way between Chicago and Los Angeles via Texas.
Many rail travel advocates felt this was the time to draw the line in the sand and do everything in our power to avoid the termination of routes as was done in 1997 to the Pioneer and the Desert Wind. Saving the Texas Eagle and witnessing the expansion of service gave us hope. Seeing a number of new Amtrak routes come into existence over the last couple of years provided further encouragement that Amtrak had turned the tide and was finally going to start expanding and serving new areas.
While none of us are happy to see the end of the Amtrak Texas Eagle that is dedicated to California Service, this is not the termination of the Amtrak Texas Eagle. The Amtrak Texas Eagle is live and well. With daily service between Chicago and San Antonio, it is doing even better than when the California Service was inaugurated. This is not even the termination of the Amtrak Texas Eagle serving California. Two cars will still operate between Chicago and Los Angeles 3 days per week each way with the help of the Amtrak Sunset Limited continuing to move those cars between San Antonio and Los Angeles. Thus, unlike the Pioneer and Desert Wind, we are not losing any routes served by Amtrak or any cities served by Amtrak. All that we are losing is one of the four days on which service is provided between San Antonio and Los Angeles.
From the perspective of many, this loss in service barely seems to deserve a good-bye. But, if the inauguration of this service deserved the longest Amtrak train and biggest celebration that I have ever attended, then we should be giving some second thoughts to the termination of this service. During the history of TrainWeb, this is the only service for which we have attended both the inaugural and final run. I just hope there are no repeats of that experience for us. Thinking back as to the last time that I personally traveled on the Amtrak Texas Eagle, I am pretty sure it was that Inaugura Run! So my last trip on this train was the Inaugural Run and this trip is the final run.
I think this cancelled service should be viewed as a warning. We are fortunate that the cancellation did not delete any routes or service to any cities. Future service cancellations by Amtrak might not be so mild. We need to be dilligent in letting Amtrak know that we will not stand for further reductions in service. But, we must also apply presure to our Congressmen and Senators to provide the funding necessary for Amtrak to keep these services alive. Five years ago, Congress promised to give Amtrak a certain amount of capital funding that Amtrak felt would be necessary for Amtrak to become self sufficient. Of the funds that were promised, Congress short-changed Amtrak by more than 2 billion dollars. Is Congress still going to hold Amtrak to its self-sufficiency deadline? Amtrak is feeling the shortfall of expected funding and is looking with a hungry eye to slash service wherever they can. This is the time to contact your representatives and put the pressure on them so that we don't have more cutbacks like this final run of the Amtrak Texas Eagle California Service.
Wednesday, Feb 28, 2000 10:30 P.M. - Los Angeles, California (CH 27 160.515)
After having left work a bit early today to pack up for this trip, I returned to the TrainWeb office in Fullerton with my daughter, Jodina Grande, at about 7:40 P.M. Ray Burns was still at the office and was able to see us off. Amtrak started making announcements for the northbound Amtrak Pacific Surfliner at about 7:50 P.M. Because this train often arrives into the station at the same time as the eastbound Amtrak Southwest Chief, they usually reassign it to the southbound track on the far side away from the station. That is what happened this evening.
We all walked across the pedestrian bridge to the southbound platform. Within a few minutes, the eastbound Amtrak Southwest Chief arrived on the platform closest to the station building. You can see photos of this train in the set of photos below. A few minutes later, our northbound Amtrak Pacific Surfliner arrived. It was one of the older Amfleet/Horizon trainsets. I found it unusual that the Conductor collected the tickets at the door as we boarded the train. Usually they just let people board the train, find seats, and then the Conductor collects the tickets. By collecting the tickets at the door, I guess the Conductor saved himself the trouble of having to locate all the newly boarded passengers that would then be scattered throughout the train. Since Los Angeles was the next and final stop for this train, there would be no need for the Conductor to place seat checks above the seats of the people boarding at Fullerton. There were plenty of seats on this train. We turned right at the top of the boarding stairs and sat in the first empty pair of seats that we came to, which was only about 3 rows from the door. The car that we sat in was one of the refurbished Amfleet coaches.
In Los Angeles, everyone departed except for one person. I heard another passenger ask him if he was getting off in Los Angeles. He replied: "No, I'm going to Santa Barbara." I'm afraid that person was going to be in for a surprise when he finds out that the rest of the journey to Santa Barbara would be via an Amtrak Thruway Bus! There are 4 trains that go through each day to Santa Barbara (plus the Amtrak Coast Starlight), but this is the one train each day that provides service to Santa Barbara via an Amtrak Thruway Bus.
Matt Melzer, who works part-time for TrainWeb, had come down to the station in Los Angeles to see Jodina and I off, and to witness the final departure of the Amtrak Texas Eagle California Service. At about 10 P.M., Amtrak made an announcement for all Chair Car passengers to assemble at Gate G and all Sleeping Car passengers to assemble at Gate F. Matt, Jodina and I were the only ones standing at Gate F. There were other Sleeping Car passengers, but they had requested Red Cap service to help them to the train with their luggage and they had already been brought down to the train on an electric cart. We were told to go down the tunnel and then go right at Track 11. On the way down the tunnel, Matt said that didn't sound right. He said we should be going to the left at Track 11 for the Sleeping Car. Sure enough, there was another Amtrak person at Track 11 that told us to go up the ramp on the left, just as Matt had expected!
After dropping off our luggage in our room, Room 8 of the 2230 Car, I went back outside the train and walked the length of the train. I took a few photos of the train as Matt jotted down the numbers of the cars. The photos did not come out too well because of the darkness. These particular digital cameras do not take good pictures at low light levels and the flash does not help any for large or distant objects. But, I posted them anyway. You can see them below in the set labeled "Los Angeles".
The train departed on time at 10:30 P.M. out of Los Angeles. We arrived into Pomona a bit early at 11:10 P.M. I was quite impressed with the rehabilitation that has been done to the station and platforms! There used to be nothing here but a rundown deserted station building and a platform that was practically non-existent. I drove up here one time when the station was nearly complete, but I don't remember seeing the pedestrian crossing bridge which is quite impressive. We departed Pomona right on time at 11:10 P.M. The next stop is just 7 miles down the road in Ontario. We arrived at that station early also, at 11:27 P.M. We had to wait 10 minutes there until our departure time of 11:37 P.M. Then, we stopped for quite some time just outside Ontario Airport. I don't know what the reason was for that.
(CH 96 161.550)
Luis, our Sleeping Car Attendant, was great. Though it was 10:30 at night, he had the refreshment center at the top of the stairs in the Sleeping Cars loaded up with bottles of water and soft drinks. He came around to each room to introduce himself and to explain that he would be with us to San Antonio. I was a little surprised they would be changing the on-board service staff in the middle of this run. The only other train I've ever been on where they changed on-board service staff was on the Amtrak Sunset Limited. They even stopped changing the on-board service staff on that route when they shortened it to only go as far as Orlando instead of going all the way to Miami, Florida.
The Conductor had come through the train collecting tickets while I was wandering around outside. Thus, he was not able to get our tickets. Luis said he would take our tickets and give them to the Conductor so that we could get to sleep and not be disturbed.
About 11:20 P.M., I heard the Conductor trying to find the Cafe Car Attendant. Evidently, he had closed up around 11 P.M. and gone to bed. The Cafe Snack Bar is supposed to stay open until 11:30 P.M. or midnight. There were a number of people that wanted drinks and snacks and they asked the Conductor why the Snack Bar wasn't open. The Conductor got the Cafe Attendant up and sent him back to work the Snack Bar, explaining that the Snack Bar is not supposed to close at 11 P.M. They gave one woman in the Sleeping Car a free wine to compensate for the delay and the inconvenience of having gone down to the closed Cafe Snack Bar. I guess this Car Attendant was new to this run and the operating hours on this train.
A little later, the Conductor was looking up the price for an upgrade from Coach to a Standard Sleeping Room from Los Angeles to Fort Worth, Texas. The price turned out to be $154 including tax. That is not a bad price for 42 hours in a Sleeping Car Room which would also include five meals. I think meals have to be valued to be at least $30 per day per person. That would mean the value of just the room upgrade is about $90 for almost 2 days. Unfortunately, it turned out that there were no Standard Sleeping Car Rooms available all the way from Los Angeles to Fort Worth. The best the Conductor would be able to do is to upgrade them when they got to Tucson, Arizona the following morning. It is probable that a Sleeping Car Room is available between Los Angeles and Tucson and a different Sleeping Car Room is available between Tucson and Fort Worth. But, the crew usually does not like to sell tickets onboard that will result in people having to play musical chairs in the middle of their journey.
Thursday, Mar 1, 2001 8:30 AM - Between Maricopa and Tucson, Arizona
I noticed an interesting mountain formation just after I woke up which you can see in the above photos. Jodina and I had breakfast in the Dining Car about 8 A.M. They had been serving since 7 A.M. There were very few people in the Dining Car and we were sat across from each other at a table all by ourselves. We were about to sit on the same side of the table as is the common practice in the community seating of the Dining Car when I noticed that the table was set for just two people to sit across from each other. For both of us, this was definitely a pleasant treat. Community seating often leads to enjoyable conversations with new people, but getting to sit at a table just set for two is so rare that it has to be regarded as a special treat when it does happen!
Thursday, Mar 1, 2001 9:20 AM - Tucson, Arizona
We arrived into Tucson at 9:20 AM, but did not depart until 9:33 AM, 23 minutes behind schedule.
Thursday, Mar 1, 2001 10:33 AM - Benson, Arizona
I wandered through the entire train as we traveled between Benson, Arizona and Lordsburg, New Mexico. I counted about 40 people in coach (Chair Cars as Amtrak now likes to call them) and also noticed 4 Deluxe Sleeping Rooms and 8 Standard (Economy) Sleeping Rooms occupied. Scattered through 2 Coach Cars, 1 Sleeping Car and 1 Sightseer Lounge Car, the train felt quite empty. Including the passengers in the Sleeping Car, there are probably no more than 80 people on this entire train. I don't think there were quite this many people on the train when it departed from Los Angeles.
(CH 8 160.230)
The layout downstairs in the Sightseer Lounge Car is a bit different than the layout I remember. Possibly this is because it is a Superliner II Car and I've seen more Superliner I Sightseer Lounge Cars. There are 6 tables downstairs in the Cafe area. Five of those tables can seat 4 people and one can seat 2 people. Possibly a wheelchair could pull up to the table that only has 2 seats. This layout provides seating for 22 people. When I went down there, the Cafe Snack Bar was closed and there was just one person at the tables. He was just sitting in a corner reading a newspaper. During the few minutes that I was down there, one other person came down carrying a long cane made out of natural wood. She was looking for the Smoking Car and came downstairs in this car by mistake. I told her that it was one car back downstairs in the first Coach Car that she would come to. According to the Amtrak Texas Eagle paper schedule, smoking is prohibited on this train between Los Angeles and San Antonio, but the Coach Car next to the Dining Car indicates that there is a Smoking Lounge downstairs in that car.
Thursday, Mar 1, 2001 11:30 AM - Lordsburg, New Mexico
We just blew right through Lordsburg, New Mexico! Benson, Lordsburg and Deming are all "Flag Stops". That means that the train will stop if the manifest indicates that anyone is getting off at those stops or if anyone has made a reservation to board at those stops. Or, I guess if you haven't purchased your ticket yet, you could "flag down" the train and buy your ticket onboard. That is where they get the name "Flag Stop". Though, I'm not entirely sure that you can still flag down an Amtrak train at these stops.
I was surprised to see snow on top of the mountains in the area as the terrain appears to be mostly desert. I guess the mountains are a lot higher than they seem because of the distance.
Lunch started at 12 noon in the Dining Car. Jodina had scrambled eggs for breakfast and was not interested in having lunch at all. I only had a bowl of raisin bran with coffee and orange juice. But, if Jodina was going to hold out until dinner time, then I could too! I might lose a little weight on this trip yet! Though, with skipping lunch, I don't know if I'm going to want to keep with my usual practice of only eating half my meal at dinner.
At about 1 PM, Michael in the Cafe announced that he would be taking a lunch break in about 10 minutes. Cafe Car Attendants usually give a warning before they go on breaks so that people can purchase items and not have to wait for them to return from their breaks. I didn't hear any announcements last night about the Cafe closing nor any this morning either when he went on his break nor when he returned from his break. It is possible that he did make those announcments and I was just somewhere in the train that was not reached by the P.A. system. In any case, I headed down to the Cafe to purchase a Bloody Mary and 4 extra batteries for my radio scanner. I have rechargeable batteries in it right now, but unless a recharger is hiding in my luggage somewhere, I forgot to bring one.
Michael made an excellent Bloody Mary! Somehow he still had a third of the Mr. T Bloody Mary Mix can left over, which he also gave to me. I've had good and bad Bloody Marys both on and off the train. No two people seem to make them quite the same, but I know there are a number of different combinations that end up tasting quite good. Unfortunately, there also seem to be a number of different ways to make it quite bad. But, as far as I'm concerned, Michael knows how to make them the right way!
I mentioned to Michael about my having traveled on the first Amtrak Texas Eagle California Service train. He was well aware that this was the last. However, he was under the impression that this service would resume in the summer when Amtrak's peak season resumes. Unfortunately, I don't think he is right about that, but we'll just have to wait and see. The following is the reason that I have heard for the cancellation of this service: The Amtrak Southwest Chief and the Amtrak Capitol Limited use the same set of equipment. The Amtrak Capitol Limited Train #29 is scheduled to arrive from Washington, DC into Chicago at 9:35 AM each morning. The train is serviced in Chicago and then departs Chicago at 3:20 PM as the Amtrak Southwest Chief Train #3. One day each week the trainset is swapped with another trainset so that a more extensive servicing can be done in Chicago. Quite often, the westbound Amtrak Capitol Limited arrives late into Chicago. After servicing, this causes the Amtrak Southwest Chief to depart late. I've heard that Amtrak wants to separate these two trainsets and not use the same set for both the Amtrak Capitol Limited and the Amtrak Southwest Chief. In order to do that, they need more Superliner Cars. They are able to free up more Supeliner Cars by cancelling the Amtrak Texas Eagle California Service. I don't know if this is the true reason for the cancellation, but it could be.
Michael normally works the Amtrak Southwest Chief. That is probably why he shut down the Cafe Snack Bar at 11 PM last night. The Amtrak Southwest Chief leaves Los Angeles much earlier in the evening. By 11 PM at night, the Southwest Chief has already made 4 stops and is about to arrive in Barstow. Closing at 11 PM gives passengers plenty of time to purchase snacks and drinks on that train. But, since this train doesn't depart until 10:30 PM and has made no stops enroute by 11 PM, closing that early doesn't give passengers much of a chance to purchase anything, especially the passengers that don't board until Pomona or Ontario!
Some of you may be saying that the reason for the cancellation seems obvious: this train is practically empty! That is true. However, numerous studies have shown that any route which Amtrak does not run daily will have ridership far below the route's potential if it was a daily train. I can certainly attest to that. A few years ago, Amtrak reduced the frequency of the Amtrak Coast Starlight. Although I am a frequent rider of the Amtrak Coast Starlight, I didn't ride it at all during that period. Each time I needed to make a trip up and down the coast, it was on days when the Amtrak Coast Starlight did not operate! Thus, 3-day business trips would have turned into 5-day trips. I could not afford the time to leave a day early and return a day late, just killing entire days waiting for the day the Amtrak Coast Starlight operated. If a train doesn't operate every day, then people lose flexibility in their travel plans and find alternate modes of travel. The Amtrak Texas Eagle California Service and the Amtrak Sunset Limited are not going to live up to their potential until they become daily trains. The Amtrak Texas Eagle does run as a daily train between San Antonio and Chicago and has become quite a success because of it.
A few more words about using the same trainset for the Amtrak Sunset Limited and the Amtrak Capitol Limited: A few years back, Amtrak decided to try to increase the utilization of their equipment by combining their usage on various routes. For example, Amtrak uses the same equipment on the Empire Builder and the City of New Orleans. The idea is to have less idle time for the equipment in the yard and try to keep the equipment in operation as much as possible. The airlines have recognized the good sense of this idea for years. Equipment that is not in use is not making money. The idea is to service the equipment as soon as it arrives and send it back out in service as quickly as possible. If you want to see this worked out to a science, go watch the Amtrak Autotrain operation at either the Lorton, Virginia, Northern Terminal or the Sanford, Florida, Southern Terminal. They begin servicing that train the moment it arrives while the cars are being unloaded and re-loaded. If you hang around for just a few hours, you can see the train arrive, be unloaded, re-loaded, serviced, and sent right back out the other way!
Unfortunately, taking the Amtrak Texas Eagle California Service out of service is not going to add a single new route or frequency to any route. The use of the cars will be internal to make the Amtrak Southwest Chief schedule a bit more reliable. The public will not see any increase in Amtrak service as a result of this move. All that the public will see is one less day of service in both directions between San Antonio and Los Angeles.
Let me digress for a moment and expand on a topic that I mentioned above. When Amtrak proposed to use the same equipment for the Amtrak Southwest Chief and the Amtrak Capitol Limited, they also proposed turning this into one route. In an old Amtrak National Timetable, you will find the announcement that those two routes will be combined into one route called the Amtrak National Chief and would be train number 15 going west and 16 going east. The names and numbers of the Amtrak Southwest Chief and Amtrak Capitol Limited would be retired. When the announced date came for the change, the change in name and numbers was never made. However, Amtrak did make it possible for you to go from coast to coast via Chicago without changing trains! Passengers were allowed to stay on the train as it changed its name and numbers in Chicago. Just to be able to say that I've gone coast to coast in this manner, I actually did board the Amtrak Capitol Limited in Washington, DC, did not get out of the train in Chicago at all, but continued on the same trainset as the Amtrak Southwest Chief for the rest of my journey to Los Angeles. Thus, I have traveled coast to coast on Amtrak via Chicago!
A humorous part of that story is that there was one passenger on the Amtrak Capitol Limited with me who got off in Chicago and then reboarded the same trainset after it was renamed and renumbered as the Amtrak Southwest Chief. He insisted that this was not the same trainset and that passengers had to change trains in Chicago. There was nothing that I could say to him that would convince him that I never stepped off the train at all, and thus, this had to be the same trainset! But all that has changed. Amtrak now requires you to depart from the train in Chicago with all your luggage and reboard again a few hours later. When Amtrak used to allow you to stay on the train, they added some programming to the computer to try to keep you in the same sleeping room if you are going through Chicago. That programming was not removed the last time that I took that journey. Thus, even though you are forced to get off in Chicago and then later allowed to reboard, you will often find yourself in the same room on the same trainset!
At about noon, I walked through the Dining Car. Between the people that were currently having lunch in there and the few tables that looked like people had just finished and left, I'd say that there were about 20 people that had lunch in the Dining Car.
At 1:20 P.M., Pauline in the Dining Car made the last call for lunch. Pauline has a very pleasant and friendly voice. When a train is packed with passengers, the Dining Car staff can be overworked and be a bit short in their attempt to serve everyone in a timely fashion. I'm sure this relatively empty train made for a more pleasant atmosphere for the staff, but I have a feeling that Pauline almost always has a pleasant attitude.
Thursday, Mar 1, 2001 3:00 PM - El Paso, Texas (CH 24 160.470)
At the moment, we are about 10 minutes west of El Paso stuck waiting for freight traffic to get out of the way. An announcement by the Conductor over the P.A. told us where we are and why we are stuck, but also told us that he doesn't know how soon we'll be able to start moving.
There was quite a delay because of the freight traffic! I feel sorry for the passengers getting off in El Paso. We were just 10 minutes outside the station and had to sit there until 4:30 PM before we could pull into the station, 1 hour and 23 minutes late! Since this is a service stop, the train would be here at least 15 to 20 minutes, even though it was running late. I had a chance to walk through the station. I've been in this large station before, but that was quite some time ago. Even though the station is very large, there were only a couple of rows of seats for people waiting for the train. I thought there were a lot more the last time I was here. I'll have to check some of the older photos. I then walked up and down each side of the platform and took a few photos of the train itself and the people milling about the platform.
We departed at 4:48 PM, 1 hour and 28 minutes behind schedule. That isn't a big problem as we have a 4 hours and 49 minute layover coming up in San Antonio, Texas. We'll make up all our lost time there!
I went to the Cafe Snack Bar to get a glass of wine. On my way there, there were 3 small children running around in the Sightseer Lounge Car. A small girl about 5 years old asked me: "Are you open?" Since she saw me come out from the Dining Car, I guess she assumed that I worked in there. On my first pass through the car, I just smiled and didn't say anything. On my way back through, she asked me again: "Are you open?" Realizing that I had the answer she really wanted, I did answer: "They don't open the Dining Car until 5:30 PM."
Continuing my walk back to my room, I had to stop at the middle of the Dining Car since the Dining Car staff was temporarily blocking the aisle as they were preparing the tables for dinner service. All of a sudden, I saw a box of knives heading for the floor! One of the staff people started to try to catch the box, but backed away as soon as he realized it was a box of knives that was falling! That was a smart move. Since the knives were all over the floor and there were now two people in front of me blocking the aisle, all I could do was wait until they were finished.
First call for dinner was made at about 5:20 PM. Jodina and I headed to the Dining Car and were about the first people to enter. Having skipped lunch we were a bit hungry. They sat an Amish couple across from us. I ordered the Vegetable Lasagna and a Diet Pepsi. All the meals were served with a salad and a roll. The couple that sat with us had a Half Chicken Breast and a Vegetable Lasagna. They each had decaffinated coffee with their meal. Unfortunately, there was nothing on the menu that Jodina was certain that she would like. It wasn't hard to rule out most of the items. Neither of us like chicken with bones nor fish. She wasn't sure about the Prime Rib, so she decided not to order anything. She had to make do with just a salad, a couple of rolls, and later a couple of chocolate chip cookies that our Car Attendant had set out in a big bucket in the refreshment area. If Jodina got hungry later, we figured we could get something from the Cafe Snack Bar. As far as conversation, we talked with the couple across from us about this trip and previous trips that each of us had taken on Amtrak. The couple seemed friendly enough, but nobody seemed very anxious to get a conversation going. All four of us skipped the dessert.
The quality of the food on the Amtrak Texas Eagle was adequate, but it certainly can't hold a candle to the food that was served on my last trip on the Amtrak Coast Starlight. I'm sure the chef did his best with the ingredients and selections that he was allowed to prepare. I'm not sure any chef could have done better with what I felt were mediocre offerings on the menu. Vegetable Lasagna is difficult to ruin, but it is also difficult to turn into a culinary treat. I'm not certain about what extraordinary things one can do with a Baked Half Chicken Breast or Prime Rib. Probably something interesting could be done with the fish of the day, but I'm not really into fish. I think they need someone to come up with more interesting menu items, unless the goal is to have menu items that are difficult for any chef to ruin. If that is the goal, I think they succeeded. Maybe I'm being a bit hard on the food on this train. I realize it is hard to compete with the meals on the Amtrak Coast Starlight.
A couple of movies were played in the evening in the Sightseer Lounge Car. Jodina and I went to the Cafe Snack Bar at 10:30 PM, but it was closed. There were very few announcements all day warning when it would close or open. We went back to our room and heard no further announcements about it re-opening.
(CH 14 160.320 Alpine, TX)
I confirmed with Luis, our Sleeping Car Attendant, that he, along with the rest of the on-board service crew, would be getting off the train as soon as it arrived in San Antonio in the morning. I gave him a tip of $10. This was a bit hard to calculate as to what was appropriate. Normally, for decent service, I will tip $5 per day per person in my party up to a maximum of $20. But, there isn't a switch in the onboard service crew for most other Amtrak routes. All I could think to do was to divide the maximum $20 in half and give that as the tip. Later, giving it some thought, I realized that Luis is probably going to get very few tips for this run. Most likely, very few people going beyond San Antonio are going to think about the change of crews and that they won't be able to tip Luis for his good service once he gets off in San Antonio.
Friday, March 2, 2001, 10:52 AM CT - San Antonio, Texas (CH 67 161.115)
Last night, we went to bed at about midnight Central Time, which would be my usual 10 PM bedtime in the Pacific Time Zone. I woke up this morning at about 8 AM Central Time which would be 6 AM Pacific Time, my usual wake-up time. The train was in the San Antonio station. I don't know what time it arrived at the station. There were a few announcements around 8 A.M. by the new crew explaining that they had just boarded the train and that it will take a little while before they have everything organized. They apologized for the delay in opening for service. The Cafe Snack Bar did open at around 8:30 A.M., but the Dining Car did not open for breakfast until 9 A.M. The Dining Car made the last call for breakfast at 9:50 A.M. Jodina and I were not quite ready to get going yet, so we decided to skip breakfast. An announcement from the Dining Car said that they would open at about 12 noon, so we should only have about 2 hours to wait before lunch.
The train did not depart the station until 9:36 A.M., 36 minutes behind schedule. It seems ironic that there is a 4 hour and 49 minute layover in San Antonio and the train still can't get out of the station on time! An Amtrak switching engine moved some Amtrak express cars around at about 8:30 A.M. and there was some bumping of our train. So, I assume they added those express cars to our train. I'll check when we stop at another station up the line. I'm not sure why they waited until 8:30 A.M. to add the freight cars when the train has been sitting in the station for several hours. From the radio conversation, it seemed they had some difficulty with the coupling. That could have been part of the reason for the delay. There was also a lot of Union Pacific freight traffic by the station. Between 8 A.M. and 9 A.M. I saw many U.P. freight trains pass us on other tracks in both directions.
(CH 42 160.740)
Our train moved slowly backwards out of the station for quite a way. It went quite a way past the San Antonio Stock Yards before stopping and then heading forward. It appeared that the train had to make this maneuver in order to switch to the tracks that head north. I'm not sure how far behind schedule we are after all this switching. I won't be able to come up with a figure until we get to the next station stop.
This crew seems to keep the passengers well informed about the opening and closing of the Cafe Snack Bar, the Dining Car, and when movies will be shown. They have already shown one cartoon feature this morning and are now starting a feature movie. The Cafe Car Attendant also announced that after this movie, another movie will not be shown until this evening.
Friday, March 2, 2001, 12:49 PM CT - Austin, Texas
The train left Austin a bit more than an hour behind schedule. Jodina went down to take a shower just a little before noon. She wasn't sure if there was someone already in the shower or not as she could hear water running even though the door indicated that the room was open. I knocked on the door to the room. When nobody answered, I opened the door. The shower curtain was closed and there was so much sound of water that someone could very well have been in the shower. I slowly opened the shower curtain and saw that the shower was empty, but the water was dripping at a pretty good rate. So, Jodina went in and locked the door. The lock was working fine and the little light over the outside of the door went on indicating that the door was locked. Hardly anyone notices or knows the function of the light over the outside of the shower door and each bathroom door. I still think Amtrak should put a sign on each door with an arrow pointing up to the light indicating that an "ON" light means the room is in use. The "IN USE" and "OPEN" labels on so many of the doors are so worn off that they can not be read. Many people just try to open the door in order to see if the room is occupied. Even though the door will not open when locked, a person outside attempting to open the door does tend to startle the person inside the room!
We didn't go down for lunch until about 12:20 PM. There were still a number of open tables available. We sat on the same side of the table and were shortly joined by two other people each traveling alone. I ordered the Texas Style Quesadilla. Jodina ordered the hamburger. Another person at our table ordered the quesadilla and the other ordered a Texas Style Salad. The quesadilla was quite good! I don't think a cadadia can be made much better. It can be ordered either vegetarian style or with grilled chicken. I ordered mine to be made with the grilled chicken. There was plenty of guacamole on the side along with a serving of mild hot sauce. I didn't use any of the sour cream that came in a separate package. I asked Jodina how her lunch was and she said it tasted like a hamburger. They brought a very large salad to the person at our table who ordered the Texas Style Salad. She said it was very good, but it was way too much food and she was not able to eat it all. Although the meals yesterday and this morning were served with silverware, pre-packaged plastic utensils were provided with today's lunch. Maybe since breakfast was served so late this morning, the dining car staff did not have time to get the silverware washed and dried.
Friday, March 2, 2001, 2:33 PM CT - Temple, Texas (CH 30 160.560)
There are a number of interesting historic railcars at the Temple, Texas, station including an old Amtrak Heritage Sleeper Car (Number 2986), The Clover Glade Pullman Car, and a couple of other old cars and locomotives. We made up a little time and are now running 53 minutes behind schedule.
North out of Temple, Texas, the track seemed pretty rough. Our Sleeping Car would bounce a lot. Some of the bounces were pretty hard! Occasionally there would also be a hard sudden jolt to the right or left. This is not normal for most of the rail travel I have done around the country. Most stretches of track seem pretty smooth and would give one little problem drinking from a glass or writing with a pen. Here and there are some rough spots, especially if the train picks up quite a bit of speed. This is definitely one of those rough stretches of track!
The train stopped at 4:35 PM Central Time due to an indication from the hot box detector. It indicated that the left wheel on the number 6 axle is hot. We began to move at 5:02 PM. Mechanical said they could bring the train into Fort Worth. They'll make a cut in Fort Worth. From my understanding, it seems the problem is with one of the express cars at the end of our train, though it seems that should be a lot further back than 6 axles.
(CH 36 160.650)
Friday, March 2, 2001, 5:36 PM CT Arrival - Fort Worth, Texas (CH 36 160.650)
We arrived into Fort Worth at 5:35 PM, 1 hour and 10 minutes late. I ran into the Fort Worth Amtrak Station and purchased a Diet Dr. Pepper and a bag of Nacho Cheese chips as Jodina likes those and neither was available in the Cafe Snack Bar. There is both a soda machine and a snack machine in the station. The trainset for the Amtrak Heartland Flyer was also parked at the station and I took a photo of it. There were also a number of other private cars parked in the station.
We had quite a delay in the station. They announced that the reason for the delay was that they were going to be adding some private cars to the train. The train already has quite a few express cars on the end that we picked up in San Antonio. I'm not sure if those were taken off at this station. Also, when they said they were going to add private cars to the train in this station, I don't know if they just meant they were adding more express cars or if they were actually going to be adding some private passenger cars to the train. Hopefully I'll get a chance between here and Chicago to see what they have added to the end of this train.
Evidently, there is a freight train blocking the switching engine from moving the cars that are to be added over to our train. Until that freight train gets out of the way, we are stuck in Fort Worth. Listening to the radio, I'm not sure if there wasn't some type of miscommunication. It sounded like the dispatcher was waiting for Amtrak to be ready to leave before letting the freight train move out, but Amtrak could not leave until the freight train got out of the way so the other cars could be added to our train! I'm not sure I understood everything, but it did seem that everything started to get straightened out as soon as it was realized that the freight train was blocking the cars that needed to be added to our train.
The power in the train was off for a while when they thought they were about to connect up the cars. When the crew realized there would be a significant delay before the cars could be hooked up, they turned the power back on. Now that the situation has straightened out and they should be hooking up the cars momentarily, the power is off again.
At 6:50 PM they hooked up the cars and we felt a bump. Power is still off at 6:56 PM. There was a problem in the lines. They had to check through the train until they found a plug that was out behind one of the locomotives. Power was finally restored at 7:07 PM.
Friday, March 2, 2001, 7:19 PM CT Departure - Fort Worth, Texas (CH 78 161.280)
Friday, March 2, 2001, 11:35 PM CT Mineola, Texas (CH 69 161.145)
We were due into Mineola at 7:52 PM. I didn't know at the time if we were about to arrive at Mineola or into Longview. Checking the schedule, I didn't think we were running over 3 hours behind schedule. Thus, I assumed we were about to arrive into Longview. Ray Dunbar, who I know from the Texas rail travel advocates and from the All-Aboard list, said that he would come meet the train in Longview if it didn't arrive too late. I wasn't sure what "too late" meant to Ray Dunbar. I left word at my office with Ray Burns to let Ray Dunbar know that I would come down to the door as long as the train arrived before midnight. I figured that Ray Dunbar wouldn't show up if the train arrived after midnight, since he did say that he'd be there "if the train wasn't too late".
As people were getting off the train, I poked my head outside and looked around. Ray Dunbar wasn't there. But, I really wasn't expecting to see him there to meet a train arriving this late into the station three and a half hours behind schedule. Just to make sure this was Longview, I checked with the Sleeping Car Attendant. To my surprise, he said: "No, we are just up to Mineola!" I know we made serveral long stops in the middle of nowhere, but I had no idea that we had fallen so far behind schedule.
I had the Sleeping Car Attendant make up my bed. I looked at the schedule to see about what time we would get into Longview. I couldn't calculate if there was any padding between these two stops. For the last few months, Amtrak had been using a different route for the southbound Texas Eagle which skipped Mineola and Longview, but still provided service to these stations from the Texas Eagle via a connecting bus. In order to fit the explanation for this in the schedule, Amtrak omitted the mileage numbers for these two stations. Thus, I could not calculate if Amtrak allowed more time than necessary to get from Mineola to Longview. All I could do to estimate our arrival time into Longview was to add the time normally provided in the schedule for this segment which was 1 hour and 23 minutes. Thus, I estimated we would arrive into Longview around 12:58 AM! Surely Ray would not be there to meet that train. That is very late by anybody's standards!
I figured I'd be long asleep by then. I left a card for my Sleeping Car Attendant to give to Ray just in case he did show up. I wrote on the back of the card: "Sorry the train was late. I waited up till midnight. I'll contact you later by e-mail" or something like that. I was pretty sure Ray would not be there, but if he went out of his way to come to the station, I didn't want him to think that I didn't make the effort to meet him.
Saturday, March 3, 2001, 12:40 AM CT Longview, Texas
I got ready for bed and decided to read for a while. I was so absorbed in the book that I just couldn't put it down and go to sleep. Before I knew it, we were stopping at Longview! I was thinking that I should maybe put on my socks and shoes and go down to see if Ray would be here. Since there was no indication on the schedule that there would be any layover and we were running late, I figured we would probably depart before I could get downstairs. Also, realizing how late it was, I decided it was very unlikely that Ray Dunbar would be there.
Within moments, however, there was a knocking on my door! I knew that it would either be the Car Attendant letting me know there was someone to see me at the door downstairs, or it would be Ray Dunbar himself. And ... it was Ray Dunbar himself! He handed me a whole bagfull of Texas and Longview souvenirs, including a flag of the Lone Star State! We barely had time to shake hands and exchange greetings. I'm not sure which of us was more nervous that the train might leave with Ray still onboard. A train cannot leave ahead of schedule, but this train was running so far behind, that it would leave from Longview as quickly as possible. Thus, we had to say our hello and goodbye probably within the time frame of less than two minutes. I'd like to thank Ray Dunbar again for coming to meet this train, especially at such a late hour, and for having the perseverance to come to find my room with some risk of taking an unexpected trip to the next stop!
In the bag of souvenirs, I found a card with a picture of a railroad track through a green area in the country. The card read: "3-2-01 Steve- On behalf of the Texas Eagle Marketing and Performance Group (TEMPO), Texas Eagle supporters and advocates all along the Eagle route -- Thank you for your support and patronage of the Eagle! Come visit us often!" Signed: "TEMPO, Raymond J. Dunbar, Secretary." Followed by: "Texas Eagle California Service -- Final run."
Saturday, March 3, 2001, 1:20 AM CT - Marshall, Texas (CH 90 161.460)
Saturday, March 3, 2001, 10:34 AM CT - Just south of Poplar Bluff, MO (CH 27 160.515)
I woke up about 10 AM. Jodina, my daughter, was still asleep in the upper bed. So, I folded up my bed and turned the lower area back into a set of facing seats. This can be done in the Standard (Economy) Bedroom without disturbing the upper bed. Thus, I was able to get my computer set up on the table without disturbing Jodina while she slept in the upper bed.
I went to the self-serve refreshment area at the top of the stairs in the Sleeping Car and poured myself a cup of coffee. Often, the only cups available are the small white plastic cups with a handle. Sometimes, there will be heavy insulated "take-out" paper cups. These paper cups probably hold about twice as much as the small plastic cups. They also have lids so that it makes it easier to carry back to the room without spilling. If you ever bring one of those plastic cups with a handle back to your room, be careful not to let the handle hang out when you place the cup in the cup holder. If you open up the flaps to the fold-out table while the cup handle is hanging out, the flap will hit the coffee cup handle and flip the cup and coffee into your lap! Long ago, I learned this the hard way, but fortunately the cup was empty.
The coffee was delicious! It wasn't plain coffee. It was more like a French Roast or some other flavored coffee. I usually nurse my coffee for many hours. The last drops are usually ice cold by the time I take my last sip. But, this coffee was so good that I drank the whole cup in less than 10 minutes! Since I'm trying to limit my coffee consumption, that is the end of my allocation for today.
Under my old grading system for Sleeping Car Attendants, this one would get an automatic "A" for effort. I noticed that he started a fresh pot of coffee brewing at 11:30 last night! Most Sleeping Car Attendants would have closed up the coffee service hours ago, figuring that few people would want to have coffee late at night. I usually only drink one cup of coffee each day in the morning, but I used to drink coffee throughout the day. Sleeping Car Attendants, especially those who were not big coffee drinkers themselves, would often just make one or two pots in the morning and then close up the service for the day. These would be the same Attendants that would often forget to put out the sweetener, cream, cups, or stirrers. It was easy to tell which Sleeping Car Attendants were coffee drinkers themselves. If coffee wasn't readily available for most of the day, that would be an automatic downgrade in my eyes. I think Amtrak might have come out with some new "official" policy regarding the coffee, as all the trains I have been on recently seem to have coffee available for most of the day in the Sleeping Cars.
Saturday, March 3, 2001, 10:43 AM CT - Poplar Bluff, MO (CH 91 161.475)
The train is running 5 hours and 34 minutes behind schedule. This tardiness is going to be a problem for some people on the train who are expecting to make connections in Chicago. If you read some of my older travelogues, you will find that I always recommend that you plan your trips such that you allow at least 6 hours between connections. If your connection is less than 6 hours, and it is important to you to take your entire trip by train and not have a bus substituted for part of the way, then get a hotel and stay overnight at your connecting point. Amtrak's "guaranteed connections" do not mean what you might think they mean. The "guarantee" just means they will find some other way to get you where you are going or give you your money back. It does not mean they "guarantee" that you will be on a train for your entire route.
The most common method that Amtrak uses to implement their "guarantee" is to hold the connecting trains. But, there is a limit as to how long they will hold the connecting trains. Usually they will hold the connecting trains at least 30 minutes if they know your train will arrive within 30 minutes. Sometimes they will hold the train up to an hour or more, but holding the trains longer for connecting passengers is rare. The second most common method that Amtrak uses to implement a guaranteed connection is to take the connecting passengers off the train early and send them via a shorter route to meet the train they are to connect with. This is done very often with westbound Sunset Limited, Texas Eagle and Southwest Chief passengers trying to make the morning connection to the northbound Amtrak Coast Starlight. The bus will catch up to the Amtrak Coast Starlight in such places as Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, and even as far north as Sacramento! This bus substitution means that those passengers will miss the entire coastal view, one of the most scenic segments of the Amtrak Coast Starlight route and a major reason to take the train in the first place! I always recommend that people connecting to the Amtrak Coast Starlight should spend a night in Los Angeles to insure they will not be "bus-tituted"! On rare occasions, Amtrak will put you up in a hotel for the night so that you can take the same train on the following day. They will also provide you with meal vouchers. This solution has many pitfalls, especially if you have Sleeping Car accommodations. For example, there might be no available rooms on that train. Historically, Amtrak's policy has been to downgrade you to Coach and refund the difference. Though, with Amtrak's new Unconditional Service Guarantee, I don't think you'd have a problem demanding a full refund. At times, Amtrak will even fly you to your connecting point or final destination. This happened to me once when I had tickets to travel from Washington, DC to Chicago on the Capitol Limited and then from Chicago to Los Angeles on the Southwest Chief. The Capitol Limited was not operating due to blocked tracks from a freight derailment. Amtrak flew me to Chicago, paid for a night in a hotel plus for all meals and taxi transportation. I was then able to board the Southwest Chief for the rest of my trip. For those people that refused to fly, Amtrak was providing bus fare or a full ticket refund. Thus, as you can see, a "guaranteed connection" does not mean a guaranteed ride by train! It just means that Amtrak will find another way for you to get to your destination or give you your money back. Don't rely on guaranteed connections. Make sure there is at least 6 hours between trains at your connecting point or stay overnight and give yourself peace of mind!
(There are probably a few exceptions to the above rule. For example, the first northbound Amtrak Pacific Surfliner is a feeder train to the Amtrak Coast Starlight. It is extremely rare for the Coast Starlight to leave until that train has arrived, no matter how late the Pacific Surfliner is running. That morning Pacific Surfliner seldom runs late, but when it does, the Coast Starlight is held until it arrives. The only times where I know that was not the case was when the tracks were out south of Los Angeles and would remain out for many hours. In those cases, Amtrak will usually use buses to get those passengers to Los Angeles, and the Coast Starlight will wait for those buses to arrive.)
Jodina got up late at just after noon. Neither of us felt much like socializing with the rest of the world, but having missed breakfast, we did want lunch! I pushed the Call-Button for the Sleeping Car Attendant. I did plan to give him a $10 tip when we got off in Chicago. Instead, I doubled that and gave it to him early and asked him to bring lunch to our room. Though part of the job description, many Sleeping Car Attendants don't like bringing meals to the rooms. If a number of people request meals in their rooms, it can really take a lot of time for the Car Attendant. Depending on the number of passengers in the Sleeping Car, it can sometimes be difficult to take care of everyone, especially with a lot of requests by people to have meals brought to their room. But, with a sizeable tip, I think most Sleeping Car Attendants will be happy to put up with the inconvenience. As best as I can remember, in all my years and miles of Amtrak travel, this is only the second time that I have had a meal brought to my room.
Though the Sleeping Car and Coach Cars were fairly empty between California and Texas with what I estimated to be easily under 100 passengers in the entire train, the train seems much more popular ever since heading through Texas. I think we've picked up quite a few more people. Most of the Sleeping Car Rooms seem to be occupied, including some of the downstairs rooms. They've occassionally had to go to a short waiting list for breakfast and lunch and have had to have two seatings for dinner last night to accommodate everyone.
Saturday, March 3, 2001, 1:59 PM CT Arrival - Cliff Cave Crossing between MP 12 & 13 (CH 91 161.475)
Our crew has gone dead on the road. That means that the Engineer and Conductors have reached the maximum number of continuous hours that they are allowed to work. When that happens, the train has to stop wherever it is and the crew has to be replaced by a new crew. After passing Mile Post 14, the crew knew they could only continue for another 3 minutes before they would have to stop the train. Cliff Cave Crossing between Mile Posts 12 and 13 was the next road crossing they would come to. Thus, they stopped the train at that crossing at 1:59 PM and awaited the relief crew to arrive by "limousine". If you check your dictionary, you will find that the word "limousine" just means a vehicle for hire. So, they are using the word correctly even though it is just a van or truck that delivers the fresh crew and picks up the "dead" crew. In many cases, these vans are under contract and not operated by Amtrak or the railroad that owns the tracks. Thus, they usually are vehicles that have been hired. If you ever miss a connecting train and Amtrak tells you that it will have a limousine take you to your destination, don't get excited and expect to ride in a stretch Lincoln! When they say "limousine", they usually just mean one of the vans that they hire to move their crews around. It will usually be a barebones van with a lot of seats that has seen a lot of miles!
Saturday, March 3, 2001, 2:35 PM CT Departure - Cliff Cave Crossing between MP 12 & 13 (CH 91 161.475)
The Dispatcher told the crew they would have to remain onboard the train to St. Louis. A limousine was not sent out with the relief crew. Instead, I saw a relief Conductor get out of a minivan that was driven by someone that was probably his wife. The relief crew probably lives in this area and they probably were just driven to the train by relatives or friends. Thus, there was no van to take the relieved crew from the train. The new crew was talking about how many cars there are on this train and the answer came back that there are 23 cars on this train. That is quite a few more than we had when we left Los Angeles! We've only gone around a few gradual turns where I could see the back of the train. I could see quite a few express cars on the end of the train. I haven't been able to see the private passenger cars yet, but I know they are back there.
The Chief of Onboard Services went all through the Coach Cars offering them a free Salisbury Steak for dinner this evening because of the tardiness of the train. He then went through the Sleeping Car giving people the choice of one or two things: Either (1) an early Stir-Fry with Chicken dinner, or (2) a regular dinner at the usual time. I'm not sure why, but the Chief of Onboard Services never quite made it to my room. I was going to select the early Stir-Fry Chicken just because it was an unusual offering, but so far, I haven't been given that option.
Saturday, March 3, 2001, 3:35 PM CT Arrival - St. Louis, Missouri (CH 26 160.500)
I got off the train and followed everyone else, knowing that they would be heading for the station building. The crowd was walking toward the head end of the train. As I was walking, I saw that the private passenger cars had been placed at the head of the train. At the other end, the express cars trailed off until they went around a shallow curve and I could not see the rest of them. There were 23 cars in this train coming in and remained 23 cars on this train going out.
As I walked down the platform, Bill Seymour came up to me. He was wearing a Texas Eagle pin on top of a black ribbon. We had a chance to talk for a while about the Texas Eagle. There is normally a 40-minute layover in St. Louis as this is a service stop for the Texas Eagle. Since there wasn't any fear of the train leaving at any moment, I had time to get a photo of Bill next to the last train of the Amtrak Texas Eagle California Service. I wish I could have gotten a photo of Ray Dunbar last night
Saturday, March 3, 2001, 4:07 PM CT Departure - St. Louis, Missouri (CH 26 160.500)
6 hours 5 minutes behind schedule.
Saturday, March 3, 2001, 5:07 PM CT Alton, Illinois (CH 30 160.560)
6 hours 19 minutes behind schedule.
Saturday, March 3, 2001, 6:18 PM CT Springfield, Illinois
6 hours 21 minutes behind schedule.
Saturday, March 3, 2001, 7:30 PM CT Bloomington-Normal, Illinois (CH 78 161.280)
6 hours 22 minutes behind schedule.
Saturday, March 3, 2001, 7:57 PM CT Pontiac, Illinois (CH 78 161.280)
6 hours 18 minutes behind schedule.
Saturday, March 3, 2001, 8:54 PM CT Joliet, Illinois (CH 54 160.920)
6 hours 8 minutes behind schedule.
Saturday, March 3, 2001, 10:00 PM CT Chicago, Illinois (CH 54 160.920)
6 hours 13 minutes behind schedule.
As I mentioned earlier in this travelogue, I rode on the final westbound Amtrak Texas Eagle California Service because that would be the one to be the very last in operation if the final eastbound Amtrak Texas Eagle California Service wasn't extremely late. Well, I have heard that the final eastbound Amtrak Texas Eagle California Service arrived into Los Angeles on time this morning. Thus, I am right now riding on the very last Amtrak Texas Eagle California Service to be in operation. No further Amtrak trains are currently planned to go direct from Chicago to Los Angeles via Texas. There are also no further Amtrak trains planned to go direct from Los Angeles to Chicago via Texas. Thus, once this train reaches Chicago, there will be no further direct trains between Chicago and Los Angeles via Texas in either direction.
Three days per week, you will still be able to board a Coach Car or Sleeping Car in Chicago bound for Los Angeles via Texas, or visa versa. But, your car will be taken off your train in San Antonio. If you are heading to Los Angeles, your Coach Car or Sleeping Car will await the arrival of the westbound Amtrak Sunset Limited and be added to that trainset. If you are heading to Chicago, your car will go from Los Angeles to San Antonio as part of the eastbound Sunset Limited and will be removed from the Sunset Limited in San Antonio. Your Coach Car or Sleeper Car will then be added to the northbound Amtrak Texas Eagle to go the rest of the way to Chicago. While the Amtrak Texas Eagle is now a daily train between San Antonio and Chicago, the Los Angeles-San Antonio segment still only operates 3 days per week since it is dependent upon the Amtrak Sunset Limited which only runs 3 days per week.
Having the Amtrak Texas Eagle operate to California just 4 days per week is not a good measure of its potential. Now that it has been reduced to 3 days per week as part of the Sunset Limited, that is an even worse test of its potential. Many at Amtrak are of the opinion that a train that cannot be operated daily is not worth operating at all.
The Amtrak Texas Eagle should be providing daily service to California, even if it is just switching off a coach and a sleeper from the Texas Eagle onto the Sunset Limited as is done now. Actually, I'd rather see Amtrak doing that switching 7 days a week rather than only operating 4 days a week with one dedicated through train as they had been doing until the cancellation of the Amtrak Texas Eagle California Service.
One thing that Amtrak should never consider doing again is making Texas Eagle passengers get off the train and wait in the station to board the Sunset Limited. They already tried that. That strategy has two big problems. (1) Passengers have to wait in the station for several hours in the middle of the night, and often for many more hours when the westbound Sunset Limited is running late, and (2) the Sleeping Car space on the westbound Sunset Limited is often full which makes it impossible for people to book a sleeping car from points along the Chicago-San Antonio segment to points along the San Antonio-Los Angeles segment. The last time Amtrak made passengers change between trains in San Antonio, the ridership on the San Antonio-Los Angeles segment suffered greatly.
The best solution would be to operate the Sunset Limited in both directions daily and move a coach and a sleeping car between the Texas Eagle and Sunset Limited every day in both directions. That would really give both the Amtrak Texas Eagle and the Amtrak Sunset Limited a fair test of what ridership they can build. Probably the biggest obstacle preventing this is the lack of operational Superliner Coach and Sleeper Cars. If you want to see Amtrak provide daily service on the Texas Eagle and Sunset Limited, then you need to contact your Congressman and Senators and explain to them the importance of adequate capital funding for Amtrak.
For those of you that would like to learn more about Amtrak and its history, try to attend the Amtrak Historical Society Annual Conference that will be held on the last weekend in April in Chicago this year. Click here to visit their website where you can also register online for the conference.
Click Here for the next segment of this rail journey, my return home on the Amtrak Southwest Chief!
Are you interested in rail travel along some or all of this journey yourself? Although the Amtrak Texas Eagle devoted to California Service is gone, you can still travel this route. Three days each week, the last 2 cars of the Amtrak Sunset Limited Train #2 are labeled as Train #22. Those last 2 cars are still considered the Amtrak Texas Eagle. They are taken off the Sunset Limited in San Antonio and placed on the end of the train that runs daily between San Antonio and Chicago as the Amtrak Texas Eagle. The same is true of the westbound Amtrak Texas Eagle that operates out of Chicago. Though the train dedicated to the route between Chicago and Los Angeles via Texas is gone, you can still travel this route on the Texas Eagle through-cars that operate three days each week.