Amtrak Travelogue & Photos
Fullerton, California to Salt Lake City, Utah
Round Trip with an Overnight Hotel Stay in Emeryville, California
on the Amtrak Pacific Surfliner,
the Amtrak Coast Starlight and the Amtrak California Zephyr
January 18 through 25, 2006, Wednesday through Wednesday
PART 1 - Northbound Amtrak Coast Starlight
Wednesday, January 18, 2006
Please Note: This is a work in progress. Very little has been done in the way of editing and spell checking yet. I'm going to try to update this travelogue while I am on this trip from time to time now that I am able to get online right from the train. Please do check back from time to time to see if I have added any new material since you last checked.
Wednesday, January 18, 2006, 08:17 AM
I parked my car in one of the many covered garages in Downtown Fullerton and walked to the Amtrak Station at the Fullerton Santa Fe Depot. Generally, you can park in almost any of the Downtown Fullerton public parking garages for up to 72 hours without the need of a special permit, including the garage diagonally across the street from the depot. If your trip will take longer than 72 hours, you can obtain an extended parking pass at the Amtrak Ticket Window by showing your Amtrak ticket. Parking is free in almost all of the public parking garages in Fullerton. DO NOT park in any of the open lots as overnight parking is not allowed in any of the Fullerton public parking lots.
On my way to the depot, I passed by The Rail Restaurant. Sandy, the owner of the restaurant, was driving up in her car. She rolled down the window and asked if I was going on vacation. I explained to her about the trip I was taking to the Sundance File Festival and she wished me a good trip.
For California, it was pretty cold outside this morning. I was really glad that I had brought along my heavy jacket and gloves in preparation of going to the Sundance Film Festival which is held each year in the Ski Town of Park City, Utah. I haven't worn gloves once this year yet in California, but I was happy to be able to put them on this morning!
Wednesday, January 18, 2006, 08:17 AM
I am sitting in the Amtrak waiting room at the Fullerton Santa Fe Depot, connected online via Verizon Wireless WAN. The Train Status section of the Amtrak website indicated that the northbound Amtrak Pacific Surfliner 763 is running 4 minutes late out of Santa Ana. So, the train should be arriving into Fullerton in about another 3 minutes. Time to close up and wait outside!
Wednesday, January 18, 2006, 08:19 AM
As I wait for my train out on the platform, a lady is training a seeing eye dog. The dog and the trainer has captured the attention of many of the people waiting on the platform. Fred Dunn and I have spotted each other at the platform and he approached inquiring where I was heading. When I told him I was heading up to Salt Lake City, he asked if I would be changing trains to the Amtrak California Zephyr in Sacramento. I explained that I would be changing to the Amtrak California Zephyr in Emeryville as I like to take the train starting from the beginning of the route. It didn't strike me until later that he might have thought that I was going to make the more common connection to the Zephyr via the Amtrak San Joaquin. It used to be possible to take the midnight Amtrak bus out of Santa Ana to Bakersfield, the Amtrak San Joaquin from Bakersfield to Martinez, and then catch the Amtrak California Zephyr in Martinez, all in the same day. Because of the way Amtrak has rearranged schedules, that connection is no longer possible. I believe it is still possible to take the midnight bus out of Santa Ana to connect with the first Amtrak San Joaquin out of Bakersfield, but then it is necessary to change to an Amtrak bus in Stockton and travel the rest of the way to Sacramento by bus. The connection to the Amtrak California Zephyr can then all be done in the same day. But, who wants all that bus travel when you are out for a train trip?
A much shorter trip by Amtrak used to be possible between Fullerton and Salt Lake City back when there used to bhe the Amtrak Desert Wind. That was a train that went directly from Fullerton to Salt Lake City, stopping in Las Vegas, Nevada, along the way. After Salt Lake City, the train would continue on to Denver, Colorado, and then to Chicago, Illinois. The Amtrak Desert Wind, like the Amtrak California Zephyr and Amtrak Pioneer, did not operate every day at that time. The Amtrak Desert Wind and Amtrak Pioneer were discontinued in order to provide enough equipment to operate the Amtrak California Zephyr ever day. Amtrak learned through the school of hard knocks that ridership suffers tremendously if a route is not operated daily. As a result, Amtrak now operates every route daily except for the Amtrak Sunset Limited. The Amtrak Sunset Limited definitely suffers from not being able to be operated daily, but Amtrak does not have enough equipment to assemble enough train sets to operate that train daily.
Now, the only Amtrak route from Fullerton to Salt Lake City that I would consider enjoyable at all and worth my time away from the office, is taking the Amtrak Coast Starlight from Los Angeles to Emeryville and then the Amtrak California Zephyr from Emeryville to Salt Lake City. Unfortunately, this requires an overnight stay in a hotel in Emeryville. Although I have plenty of Amtrak Guest Rewards points that I could have used for this trip, I ended up paying out of pocket for it. This should be a One Zone trip as both Los Angeles and Salt Lake City are in the same Western Zone. However, Amtrak Guest Rewards has a new policy that requires you to travel the shortest route that their computer booking system picks for you. That route was the bus, train, bus, train route that I mentioned previously. When I stated that I had particularly saved up my Amtrak Guest Rewards so that I could take a very enjoyable trip up the coast on the Amtrak Coast Starlight and then take the eastbound Amtrak California Zephyr, the Amtrak Guest Rewards agent said that they had to book according to whatever the computer came up with. However, the agent also said that he could do it if I booked it as two separate One Zone trips: one from Los Angeles to Emeryville, and another from Emeryville to Salt Lake City. That would turn my round-trip from requiring a total of Two Zones into requiring a total of Four Zones worth of Amtrak Guest Rewards credits! I don't like to waste my Amtrak Guest Rewards on short trips. Rather than use up Four Zones worth of credits on an Amtrak trip that doesn't even go beyond the Amtrak Western Region, I'd rather use Three Zones of credits to cross from coast to coast on Amtrak. So, I opted to just pay out of pocket for this trip.
I think that the Amtrak Guest Rewards program needs a tune up. They should allow passengers to travel to their destination on whatever route they wish, so long as they don't backtrack. I can understand not allowing passengers to go from New York City to Washington, DC, via Chicago. That makes sense. But does it make sense to force a passenger to use up their credits on a bus, train, bus, train route when their is a direct train/train route from the passenger's starting point to destination? Maybe the rule should just be that Amtrak Guest Rewards should not force passengers onto a bus when an all train route is available.
The northbound Amtrak Pacific Surfliner arrived about 8:20 AM. As soon as I had found a seat onboard, I got online and went to view the TrainWeb Fullerton Webcam. The train had already left the station by the time I was able to bring up the live webcam image, so all I saw was a pretty empty platform! I was hoping to catch a live image of the train in the station while I was on the train.
Wednesday, January 18, 2006, 09:10 AM
At my northbound Amtrak Pacific Surfliner arrived on Track 9 at the Los Angeles Union Station (LAUS), an announcement was made that the Amtrak Coast Starlight would be departing from Track 10. The announcement also said that passengers conecting to the Amtrak Coast Starlight could just step off the train and wait on the platform as Track 10 is directly across from Track 9. The announcement said that passengers could just wait at the platform unless instructed otherwise, or they could go down to the tunnel to the passenger waiting area to be more comfortable until the departure of the train was announced. I decided to wait on the platform, but it appears I may be the only one to do so. Everyone else headed like a herd of cattle down the ramp and stairways to the waiting room. Hopefully I didn't miss an announcement instructing all passengers to go to the waiting area.
The weather is a bit nippy out on the platform. Usually I like to wait at one of the benches that is in the shade of the Metrorail Office Tower, but I decided to sit on a sunnier bench for now. The sunshine is warming up my face and much of my body, but my fingers are still quite chilled typing on the notebook keyboard. Amtrak and Metrolink trains arrive and depart from time to time on the tracks behind me. Across from me on Track 12 is the Amtrak Southwest Chief that arrived earlier this morning. As I was walking to the Amtrak Fullerton Station this morning, I watched the westbound Amtrak Southwest Chief depart the Fullerton station. It had already departed from the platform by the time that I got to the platform.
Wednesday, January 18, 2006, 09:45 AM
The northbound Amtrak Coast Starlight trainset quietly backed into Track 9, almost unnoticed by me while I was typing away on this travelogue. Within moments, the Sleeping Car Attendant opened the door and allowed passengers to begin boarding. There were only three of us at the door so far. The Car Attendant instructed the other two people waiting to board to first sign their tickets before he collected them. While they were signing their tickets, he collected my ticket and my Alaska Airlines Reward Miles Earning Form and allowed me to board. Those forms are worth 2000 points for every Sleeping Car trip on the Amtrak Coast Starlight, so I'll be earning 4000 points before this round trip is over. I haven't been able to turn one of those forms in on the Amtrak Coast Starlight for a long time since all my recent trips on the Coast Starlight have been free by using either previously earned Alaska Airlines Mileage Points or Amtrak Guest Rewards points.
As I got to the top of the stairs in my Amtrak Sleeping Car, I had to wait as a large group was touring through the car. I had seen this group on the platform just before I boarded. At first, I thought they were new Amtrak employees in training as they were all wearing some type of identification badges. However, I now noticed that they were all Asian. They must be some sort of group touring the Amtrak equipment. Maybe they are from a Southeast Asia travel agency.
Wednesday, January 18, 2006, 10:15 AM
Departure was right on time! My Sleeping Car Attendant is Hayward Harvey. Before we were even out of the station he started into an excellent run down of all the features of the train. Hayward also announced that the wine tasting will be held in the Pacific Parlour Car around 3 PM and that the Parlour Car Attendant is Richard who he says really explains a lot at the wine tasting. I'm just taking my guess that this Richard is Richard Talmy who has been given excellent praise by just about every travel writer for TrainWeb. I've had Richard Talmy as my Sleeping Car Attendant on many trips. Because of his extensive wine knowledge, he usually runs the wine tasting.
When my Sleeping Car Attendant, Hayward Harvey, came around to greet each passenger, I asked him if the Richard he spoke of was Richard Talmy and he said it was. Hayward said that both he and Richard have been working for Amtrak for around 30 years and that they both transferred to the Amtrak Coast Starlight around 28 years ago. I was surprised with all my trips on the Amtrak Coast Starlight over the last 10 years that I hadn't run into Hayward earlier.
By 10:30 AM, Richard Talmy announced that he is going to explain in the Pacific Palour Car all about the ammenities available to Sleeping Car Passengers and invited all Sleeping Car Passengers to join him in the Parlour Car in about 5 minutes. During the orientation, Richard explained all about the history of the Pacific Parlour Car. Richard also went into detail about what will be done during the wine tasting later in the day. He also clarified that the wine tasting will be done around 3:45 PM today and 3 PM tomorrow. Knowing the time planned for the wine tasting is something that I really appreciate. The best seating in the Pacific Parlour Car vanishes fast, so I like to arrive early. When the exact time isn't announced, I usually go down and get a seat in the Pacific Parlour Car hours too early,
Richard announced that he has brought along his own unique video, with the permission of Amtrak, that he acquired from the Southern Pacific that shows the history of this route prior to be taken over by Amtrak. He will be showing that video at 6 PM. Richard also explained that he will be giving detailed information about the sights along the way. He said he has been with Amtrak for 32 years and knows the sights along this route better than his own home, especially since he is on this train more than he is home!
Two of the people next to me in the Pacific Parlour Car commented they have never seen a notebook computer so small. I replied that I don't think that notebook computers can get any smaller than this Sony Vaio without the keyboards getting too small to use without a stylus. This is exactly the subnotebook computer that I've wanted for years. It small enough and light enough that I can just carry it everywhere on my travels and just compose my travelogue wherever I am. The battery lasts for more than 4 hours and I keep a spare with me so I can go an entire work day without AC power. The biggest benefit is using the WAN to get online from just about everywhere. This Sony VAIO actually already has T-mobile WAN built in, but beyond the free 30 day trial, it would require a $79.95 per month 2 year contract to keep active. Since I already have a $79.95 per month 2 year WAN contract with Verizon, I had to add my Verizon card to the notebook.
Wednesday, January 18, 2006, 11:26 AM
Right now we are in a siding waiting for a southbound Amtrak Pacific Surfliner to pass us. As soon as it does, we'll be pulling into the Simi Valley station. Both my cell phone and WAN have good connectivity at this location so this time in the siding has given me a chance to upload some files and to talk to Ray Burns at the TrainWeb office and to Chris Guenzler.
I spoke with Richard Talmy. He remembered my first name and said that just about everyone that has heard good things about him before they boarded the Amtrak Coast Starlight has heard of him through my travelogues. Doing a Google Search on trainweb.com, I could only find four times that I've mentioned Richard in my travelogues, the last being in 2002. I guess my satisfaction on those trips must be making a lasting impression on those that read my travelogues! Richard said that he has been a Pacific Parlour Car Attendant for more than 8 years. I guess I must be remembering back to my early days of Amtrak travel when he was a Sleeping Car Attendant. Richard Talmy must have been the Pacific Parlour Car Attendant on at least 3 of my Coast Starlight trips over those 8 years.
Wednesday, January 18, 2006, 01:37 PM
The train departed from Santa Barbara about 50 minutes behind schedule, and then had to stop again just outside the station for another 5 minutes. They had a new item on the Dining Car Menu that I hadn't seen before. I don't remember the exact name of it, but the name was something like Buffalo Chicken Pizza. I had to try it just because it was something new to me on the menu and it looked like something that I might like. It did turn out to be pretty good. I sat with 3 other people, all who were riding the Amtrak Coast Starlight for the very first time. One was riding in coach and just going up to Salinas. The others were traveling together in a roomette all the way up to Tacoma. Everyone was enjoying their first ride on the Coast Starlight.
Wednesday, January 18, 2006, 02:33 PM
The train is now running along the cliffs above the shore. I'm going to head down to the Pacific Parlour Car to scout out a good seat for the wine tasting and do some other work from there. My next addition will probably be sometime after the wine tasting, maybe around 5:30 PM Pacific Time.
The wine tasting was excellent! Richard Talmy not only explained in detail about each of the three wines that we sampled, but also gave a lot of information about the ideal age of various wines, how wines should be stored, and how to keep wines that have been opened but not yet finished. Richard also gave extensive instruction on what to look for when smelling and tasting wines, and the differences in tasting wines with and without food and how the flavor of many red wines in enhanced when they are given a chance to breath for a while before consumed and why this is the case. He also went into detail about where the unique wines served on the Coast Starlight are obtained and why some of them can only be purchased on this train. The wine tasting today was definitely an improvement over several of my previous wine tasting experiences on the Amtrak Coast Starlight. But, Parlour Car Attendants are not required to be wine experts, so having Richard along on this trip is an extra bonus!
Wednesday, January 18, 2006, 06:05 PM
Things are moving a bit slow here. Right now our train is just outside Templeton, California, a bit south of Atascadero and Paso Robles. We are in a siding waiting for the southbound Amtrak Coast Starlight to pass us. Once it does, we'll be pulling into the Amtrak Paso Robles station shortly. That will be at least 90 minutes behind schedule.
Wednesday, January 18, 2006, 06:48 PM
OK! Here we are at Paso Robles, 2 hours and 3 minutes behind schedule! Not a big problem for me as I have about an 11 hour layover in Emeryville for my connection. All that running late on this train means to me is that I'll get a little less sleep in the hotel in Emeryville.
Wednesday, January 18, 2006, 10:07 PM
Now to make things challenging! I have a friend, Ron Carpenter, who lives in the San Jose area. I asked him if he would like to travel with me on the Amtrak Coast Starlight from San Jose to Emeryville this evening and then return on the Amtrak Capitol in the morning. Ron and I have been friends since the time we met in college more than 35 years ago, but we don't get to see that much of each other since I live in the southern part of California and he lives in the bay area. For those of you that are not familiar with just how big California is, that is about a 7 hour drive. So, we often try to get together when I'm passing through the bay area.
I checked with Hayward, my Sleeping Car Attendant, to make sure it would be OK if Ron rode with me in by room on the train from San Jose to Emeryville with a coach ticket. In the old days before 9/11, there wouldn't even be a question. Almost everyone that has traveled for TrainWeb has added an unplanned passenger onto their Sleeping Room Accommodation by just purchasing a Coach Ticket for them. As long as there was only one person traveling in a room for two, the Conductors and Car Attendants never seemed to mind if another passenger was added to the room using a Coach Ticket. Every since 9/11, it seems the rules are all changed and a lot of Conductors get all bent out of shape if a Coach passenger appears in a Sleeping Car Room, even if that person is invited by the passenger traveling in the room and their is plenty of space in the room for another passenger. So anyway, I first cleared it with my Car Attendant to make sure there wouldn't be a problem. I've done that a couple of times since the 9/11 changes and that seems to have worked out OK. I think the Amtrak staff gets more upset when the additional person is going to be using some of the ammenities provided to the passenger in the Sleeping Car such as the included meals, access to the Pacific Parlour Car, the wine tasting, etc.
Ron showed up at the San Jose Station on time and also had an assortment of take-out items from Spice Hut, one of my favorite Indian Restaurants in the Bay Area! He gave his ticket to Hayward at the door and we both headed up the stairs to my room to enjoy the feast of Indian Food that he had brought along! Ron enjoyed the relatively short ride from San Jose to Emeryville.
Thursday, January 19, 2006, 12:09 AM
My train arrived into Emeryville 2 hours and 7 minutes behind schedule. It was so late at night that we decided to take a taxi from the Emeryville Amtrak Station to the Holiday Inn Hotel rather than walk. The ride took less than 10 minutes and cost under $5 before tip. We were in the hotel room before 12:30 AM. I have to turn in for now as I need to wake up in time to get back down to the station to catch my train that departs at 9:15 AM in the morning.
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