Travel in Holland America
April 07, 2003, 8:48 A.M.
On Thursday, April 03, 2003, the TrainWeb staff was invited to travel onboard the Holland America "McKinley Explorer - Alaska" Dome Cars when they are moved from Los Angeles to Santa Barbara on Monday, April 7, 2003. Since the cars would be brought up to Los Angeles from Fullerton on Sunday evening, it was decided that the best place to board would be at the Glendale station around 10:30 A.M. or so. Holland America was considering inviting a number of people to travel on the cars during this move. Their representative was not certain that arrangements would be made for a group to travel on this segment, but they said they would stop the cars at Glendale anyway to pick up the TrainWeb staff. We decided to jump at this opportunity as it may be a while before we get a chance to ride on these cars in Alaska.
Usually I set my alarm clock for 5:45 A.M. to take my younger daughter to her high school. She starts class at 7 A.M. But, this week is Spring Break for her. I normally wake up about 5:30 A.M., about 15 minutes before the alarm sounds. Last night the clocks advanced an hour as Daylight Savings Time came to an end. As a result, I didn't wake up until 6:30 A.M., the new time that I had set on the alarm for just this week.
I hurried down to the Fullerton Amtrak Station, about 10 miles and 20 minutes from my house. The Amtrak reservations to get up to Glendale were made on Saturday, but I hadn't picked up the tickets yet. Unfortunately, I forgot about Amtrak's 1-2-Free deal with advance purchase. If I had purchased our tickets on Friday, the first ticket would have been at full price, the second at half price, and the third free.
The TrainWeb office is directly upstairs from the Amtrak Ticket Office. Ray Burns was already in when I got there. He usually gets in quite early in the morning. Shivam Surve usually comes in a little later and stays a lot later. Ray gave him a call to make sure he knew to be at the station before 8:00 A.M. He was already on his way in. I busied myself filling out our Alaska Airline mileage claim forms for this Amtrak travel. We would each earn 150 miles for travel in each direction today in order to get to and from the endpoints of our travel on the Holland America dome cars.
We went down to the tracks at 8:05 A.M. Our northbound Amtrak Pacific Surfliner departed about on time at 8:16 A.M. The train was very crowded and we only found seats together in a Superliner Coach Car that is often part of the Surfliner trainsets. The Superliner Coach Cars are very comfortable, but they don't have electric power at the seats which the Surfliner cars do. So, I had to use the battery on my notebook computer.
Chris Guenzler was already on the train riding up in the Business Class section. He would also be riding with us on the Holland America dome cars.
While passing the Amtrak Redondo Yard in Los Angeles, we saw the Holland America McKinley Explorer dome cars. It looked like Amtrak was just getting ready to hook up a locomotive to the dome cars.
For the first time since I purchased my GPS, I hooked it up to the computer and ran the mapping software. Since I haven't read all of the directions yet, I wasn't sure how I was going to make it work. Once I had it all connected up, I clicked on the "GPS" button on my computer screen. A red triangle popped up on my screen showing the location of our train and it was moving along the railroad tracks as the train moved! My screen also showed the speed and direction of the train as well as our heading. The GPS remained active for most of our travel to Glendale, but would occassionally go in and out.
Our train arrived into Glendale on time. We took a few photographs of the Glendale station. We've taken photos of this station before, even a 360x360 virtual tour (Click here for a virtual tour of the Glendale Station!) , but it seemed there may have been a few changes since then. I don't think the Southern Pacific emblems were posted above the doors the last time that we were here.
There are a lot of Railfans at the Glendale station and many of them have radio scanners. The Glendale Station has been a popular station for railfanning for a long time. With the number of freights, Metrolink and Amtrak trains through here, I'm sure it is worth their while. A number of stations around the nation now chase away anyone that doesn't have a ticket for a train. Railfans aren't too happy with the stations that have implemented that new policy since 9-11. Because the Santa Fe Express Cafe is right on the platform of the Fullerton Santa Fe Depot, they can't have a policy like that in Fullerton. As a result, I think Fullerton will always be very popular with railfans. The Glendale station doesn't have any shops on the platform, but security staff doesn't seem to bother the railfans here. The railfans have been frequenting this station since long before Metrolink moved in and are probably viewed as a station fixture by the security guards!
Passengers awaiting trains at the Glendale station often have questions about which train to take and when it will be arriving, especially if it is delayed. With their knowledge of the trains and the constant information they receive from their radio scanners, the railfans are able to answer the questions of the waiting passengers.
Richard Elgenson joined us in Glendale. So, that made 5 of us wearing our TrainWeb shirts that would be boarding the Holland America dome cars: Ray Burns, Shivam Surve, Chris Guenzler, Richard Elgenson and myself! I don't know how many of us are going to write about this trip, but there sure are going to be enough of us onboard to cover it!
The Amtrak Coast Starlight arrived at 10:31 A.M. I closed up my notebook and got ready to board our train which should have been arriving shortly. After quite a delay, our 3 car train arrived into Glendale at 11:44 A.M. The two Holland America dome cars were being pulled by Amtrak locomotive number 511. There were a total of 15 people on the train including Jack Shaw and his wife (the Holland America reps) and the Conductor. The engineer would make 16!
Bill Hatrick, owner of the Overland Trail, along with his wife and two daughters, were already on board when the train arrived into Glendale. With his mechanical knowledge of railcars, bill has been helping out with minor technical glitches along the way. One such glitch that Bill helped to resolve was getting the electrical and air conditioning in the second dome car working when there was a problem hooking up to the power box in Fullerton. There wasn't any problems with the railcars themselves; just a problem getting one of them correctly connected up to the electric box at the Fullerton sidings.
Everyone climbed upstairs into the rear dome car. We walked down the aisle until we found some seats with a table so that I could set up my computer and my GPS unit. To my surprise, the GPS could not receive any satellite signals at all! I walked all around the car upstairs and downstairs with my GPS unit and could not get a signal anywhere! I stepped outside onto the open platform in the rear and I immediately got clear GPS satellite signals! Inside Amtrak Superliner and Surfliner Cars I've not had a great problem getting my GPS unit to work, but I could not get it to work at all inside the Holland America dome cars. The glass windows in the Holland America cars conform to the current FRA requirements and are bullet proof. My guess is that there is some metal used in the process of making this strong glass. I can't think of any other reason that it would screen out the GPS signals so well. The roof and side of the dome cars are almost totally glass and I would have guessed that the GPS reception would be excellent. Instead, there was absolutely no reception in the dome cars at all. I packed up my computer and GPS unit and put them away.
After taking a few photos of the interior of the train and the view from inside the train, I went out onto the open platform to enjoy the open air view from there. Since this train didn't have any stops to make between Glendale and Santa Barbara, it was able to travel at a tremendous speed for most of the route. It probably hit 79mph, the maximum allowed speed, for most of the route! The train was rocking and rolling. The wind was fierce when standing near the sides of the open platform. I had to take off my hat and tighten the headband to keep it from blowing off! When these cars are in service in Alaska, the maximum speed along the Alaskan route is about 40mph, so you won't have to worry about any rocking and rolling then!
A few of us spent quite some time out on the open platform. Being able to stand on an open platform at the rear of a train is a very unique experience that doesn't come along that often. Ray and I have been able to do that just a few times in our travels, but only once before on this coastal route. The other time we got quite a bit of time on an open platform was when we traveled from Los Angeles to Sacramento on the tail end of the Amtrak Coast Starlight in the Scottish Thistle private railcar. That was quite an experience that I would not mind repeating!
Everyone was excited during this unique experience on the open platform. People waved to us as we went by and we waved back. Just the idea of traveling on a 3 car private train express from Glendale to Santa Barbara is pretty unique! When I wasn't out on the open platform taking pictures, I wandered about the car taking pictures of both the interior of the car and of the view from the car. Although it is nice taking this trip in the Amtrak Coast Starlight or even in the Surfliner cars, nothing can match the view from these Holland America dome cars! It doesn't matter whether you are out on the open platform or sitting in the upper level of the dome car. Either way, there is nothing that can match the extensive view. The glass windows in the dome car extend from about the level of your elbow to way up over your head to almost the very center of the car! I only wish that the Amtrak Coast Starlight or Pacific Surfliner routes had cars like these! I know these cars are going to provide a fantastic touring experience for those that travel in Alaska on them.
Jack Shaw and his wife had prepared some party trays for us for lunch. There were meats, cheeses, fruits, chips, dips, donuts and drinks! Richard also brought some humus and pita bread. Needless to say, there was plenty to eat for everybody!
We made great time and arrived into Santa Barbara at 1:26 P.M. (Click here for a virtual tour of the Santa Barbara Station!) There was plenty of time to catch the southbound Amtrak Pacific Surfliner that would be departing from Santa Barbara at 1:48 P.M. As we got off the train, we said our "thank you's" and "good-byes" to Jack and his wife. They gave each of us a "McKinley Explorer - Alaska" keychain and pin. I took several photos of everyone departing from the train and photos of the train departing the station.
These cars will be open for touring in Santa Barbara on Tuesday and Wednesday this week, April 8 and 9, 2003, from 10am-2pm, 3pm-5pm, and just for travel agents from 7pm to 9pm. Click here for other display dates and more information about the "Holland America McKinley Explorer Alaska Dome Cars."
The southbound Amtrak Surfliner departed from Santa Barbara at 2:00 P.M. The four of us, Ray, Shivam, Chris and I, sat at a set of 4 facing seats at the top of the stairs. I set up my computer and GPS again. I clipped the GPS unit onto the "Emergeny Exit" handle on the window so that it would be as close to the window as possible. The GPS satellite reception was just fine. We tracked the movement of our train on the map as we traveled, including the speed and altitute. With the GPS map on the computer, we know when we are about to have an ocean view, and when we are about to cross rivers and roads. I marked a waypoint when we stopped at each station.
The biggest advantage of having a GPS unit on the train, I think, is that you can tell when rivers, lakes and ocean views are about to come up. That way, you can get your camera ready before you get to the scenic spot! Without a GPS unit, the scenery often comes and goes before you get time to even point your camera out the window!
Speaking of scenery, the view of scenery from this train is fine, but it is nothing compared to the huge window view from the Holland America McKinley Explorer dome cars!
Click on the below links to view each set of photos:
Click here for the travelogue and photos from Carl Morrison on these cars on Friday, April 11, 2003, from Santa Barbara to San Jose, California!
Click here for the travelogue and photos from Steve, Ray and Shivam on these cars on Friday, April 11, 2003, from Santa Barbara to San Jose, California!
Click here to read more about the McKinley Explorer® Colorado Railcars!
Holland America's press release about these cars is available at: www.hollandamerica.com/aboutus/news/press/3alas012.htm
Holland America's main web site is located at: www.hollandamerica.com
Where you can tour the interior of these cars:
Are you interested in rail travel along some or all of this journey yourself? There are very few travel agents that have the necessary knowledge and experience of rail travel to answer your questions and to book a journey that you will remember for a lifetime. TrainWeb has sought out those travel agencies and rail tourism companies that not only have the knowledge to book your travel, but have gained the required experience through extensive rail travel themselves! Click here or visit RAILagencies.com or RAILexcursions.com for a list of these rail travel providers!