Amtrak Travelogue & Photos
Round-Trip Los Angeles, California to San Jose, California
via the Amtrak Coast Starlight
February 17 through 20, 2006, Friday through Monday
This Amtrak Coast Starlight travelogue and photographs are from my round trip rail travel from Los Angeles, California to San Jose, California, Friday, February 17, 2006 through Monday, February 20, 2006.
A quick note: The photos of scenery are a bit different from the usual photos that I take from the train. I've taken this trip so many times that the photos from every trip start to all look the same. So, if you want to view photos of what I normally shoot from the train, click here for many of my other Amtrak Coast Starlight travelogues.
Friday, February 17, 2006, 10:30 AM PT
Here I am, onboard the Amtrak Coast Starlight for the third round trip this year already, and it is only February! Because the future of the Amtrak long distance trains is more uncertain now than it has been in my ten years of riding trains, I plan to take advantage of whatever opportunities come along to take an Amtrak train trip.
About a week ago, my wife suggest that we visit her parents that live in San Jose this weekend. I offered to drive us up which is the way we usually get to San Jose. She didn't want to spend that much time in the car this weekend and said that she would rather fly. I said that was fine with me, but I'd really prefer to drive rather than fly. My wife then suggested that I take the train. Who am I to ignore such a wonderful suggestion? I immediately made reservations to take the Amtrak Coast Starlight round-trip to San Jose.
From Friday through Monday are Blackout Days for redeeming Amtrak Guest Rewards and would require Peak Travel points if I wanted to use my Alaska Airline Miles. But, either way, the travel dates are too soon to be able to redeem points from either program. Thus, I paid out of pocket for this trip. I might yet make it to Amtrak Preferred Status for the first time this year! With all the money that I have spent on Amtrak travel, it is a shame they started their rewards programs after I had already been traveling for so many years. Also, I use Alaska Airline Mileage Rewards and Amtrak Guest Rewards points for so much of my travel that it is difficult for me to spend $5000 in a single year on Amtrak, no matter how much I travel, even in Deluxe Sleepers!
I actually was planning to not write a travelogue about this trip. Since I've already posted two lengthy travelogues with photos from the Amtrak Coast Starlight within the last 60 days, and might post another one when I travel to the Annual Region 12 NARP Meeting in Sacramento (click here for info and PDF registration form) next week, I figured I might just sit back and relax or do some other work on this trip. But, the erratic performance of Amtrak trains, espcially the Amtrak Coast Starlight, would allow for none of that!
Last night about 8 PM PT, I checked the status of the southbound Amtrak Coast Starlight Train #11. To my horror, it was running more than 11 hours behind schedule and was still in Oakland / Jack London Square ! Deja Vu of my last northbound trip on the Amtrak Coast Starlight! (Click here for photos and travelogue of my trip where Amtrak substituted a single level Amfleet set for the northbound Amtrak Coast Starlight to Oakland). Amtrak has yet to credit my Amtrak Guest Rewards account for providing me with Coach Accommodations instead of a Deluxe Sleeping Car from Los Angeles to Oakland. I'm going to have to get on them about that.
Anyway, I continued to follow the status of this train at www.amtrak.com and was very relieved when I saw that the train departed Oakland and was on its way to San Jose. Because Amtrak has a service yard in Oakland, they will sometimes terminate a Coast Starlight early at that location if there is a serious schedule delay and send people the rest of the way by bus. This is a rare event, but it can happen, especially if a train starts getting 12 or more hours behind schedule. Once the train moves south of Oakland, Amtrak will most likely have it run all the way to Los Angeles as there is no other place to service the train. So, I was very relieved to see last night's Amtrak Coast Starlight back on the road again on its way to Los Angeles. Though a late arrival in the morning might cause a very late departure for the morning train, at least Amtrak would be providing a Superliner train set for my journey and not another Amfleet set, or heaven forbid, a bus substitution!
Continuing to study the train status information provided by Amtrak, I saw that they estimated that the Amtrak Coast Starlight would arrive into Los Angels about 7:15 AM PT. It takes a lot more than 3 hours to service the Amtrak Coast Starlight, so I knew the departure of my train in the morning would be significantly delayed if they planned to use this same train set. At 6 AM PT, I again checked the train status. That is the time that I would normally start getting ready to leave my house to catch the 8:16 AM PT Amtrak Pacific Surfliner, the official northbound connecting train to the Amtrak Coast Starlight. The Amtrak web site said the last reported location of the train was in Santa Barbara and that it wasn't expected into Los Angeles until 7:15 AM PT. Then I checked the expected departure time of my train, the northbound Amtrak Coast Starlight Train #14. The Amtrak web site said the train was not expected to leave Los Angeles until 12:15 PM PT. That gave me lots of time to get to Los Angeles!
I decided to take the Amtrak Pacific Surfliner that departed Fullerton 10:14 AM PT and would get me into Los Angeles at 10:50 AM PT in plenty of time for the 12:15 PM departure of the delayed Amtrak Coast Starlight, even if it left early. Before leaving from my home, I checked the train status a number of times. Initially, the only change was that the southbound Amtrak Coast Starlight Train #11 estimated arrival was changed to 7:30 AM PT and the estimated departure of my northbound Amtrak Coast Starlight Train #14 was changed to 12:30 PM PT. Amtrak seemed to realize they wouldn't be able to get the train out as early as estimated and were planning on an even later departure. At that point, I wouldn't have been surprised if I would still be in for a long wait even arriving into Los Angeles at 10:50 AM PT.
One last check of the train departure status before I left my home came as a shock: Amtrak updated the departure estimate to an on-time 10:15 AM PT ! I called 1-800-USA-RAIL and listened to the train status from Julie just to have the info from two sources. Julie listed an on-time departure also! Amtrak must have decided that servicing the southbound Train #11 would take so long that they would have to put together a substitute train set from cars in the yard. But now, however, I'd have to figure out how to get from my home to Los Angeles in time for the 10:15 AM PT departure!
It was already almost 8:30 AM. I realized that I would not have time to catch the 9:02 AM Metrolink. There is a northbound Amtrak Pacific Surfliner that leaves Fullerton at 9:11 AM that is scheduled to arrive into Los Angeles at 9:50 AM. I could probably make that train, but any delays could put that train into Los Angeles after the departure of the Amtrak Coast Starlight. I couldn't risk that. So, I decided to drive directly to Los Angeles.
Driving to Los Angeles is not the most fun thing to do at 8:30 AM. The traffic is bumper to bumper for the entire 33 mile drive from my house to Los Angeles. With speeds that vary between 40 MPH and 0 MPH, it generally takes about 90 minutes to make that drive, assuming no accidents or break downs causing further delays. But, driving had the highest probability of getting me to Los Angeles on time. I did arrive into Los Angeles at just about 10:00 AM. That gave me just a little spare time prior to the 10:15 AM departure.
I don't like driving to Los Angeles in the rush hour traffic, but I do really appreciate having my car in Los Angeles for the return segment. The southbound Amtrak Coast Starlight almost always arrives too late into Los Angeles to connect with the very last southbound Amtrak Pacific Surfliner for the day. Thus, all passengers going further south than Los Angeles are transferred to buses. This process of transferring passengers and baggage to the buses and collecting all the tickets before the bus departs can take quite a while. I can usually get from the southbound Amtrak Coast Starlight to where I park my car at the station and drive home before the Amtrak buses even leave Los Angeles! Even in those rare cases where the Amtrak Coast Starlight does arrive on time (or early due to schedule padding), there is an hour and ten minute gap from the scheduled arrival of the Coast Starlight and the departure of that last Pacific Surfliner (or more on an earlier than scheduled arrival ... which has happened more than once to me). Thus, it is nice to have my car in Los Angeles for the last segment of the return journey.
I waited in the line of boarding Sleeping Car Passengers at the gate where Conductors usually collect tickets in the Los Angeles Amtrak Station. I guess they wanted to expedite the boarding process as they did not have the Conductors collect tickets in the station this time. Instead, they just let everyone board and collected the tickets at the door of the train or from passengers once they were onboard.
The first thing that I noticed as I walked up the ramp to the platform was that the Sleeping Cars were directly in front of the Dining Car. Thus, I could see right away there was no Pacific Parlour Car on this train. I was sort of expecting that since they had to quickly assemble this train from spare Superliner Cars in the yard.
Hayward Harvey is the Sleeping Car Attendant for my car. Hayward was also the Sleeping Car Attendant when I traveled on the Amtrak Coast Starlight on January 18, 2006. During that last trip, Hayward told me that he has been working the Amtrak Coast Starlight for the last 28 years just like Richard Talmy, the Pacific Parlour Car Attendant. I reminded Hayward how I had remarked on that last trip that it was amazing that we had not run across each other before in all the Amtrak Coast Starlight trips that I have made over the last ten years. Now here it is barely a month since the last time that he was my Sleeping Car Attendant!
When I first boarded the train and handed Hayward my ticket and my Alaska Airlines redemption coupon, he said that it was a strange way they had issued me the ticket. I wasn't quite sure what Hayward meant, but maybe it was strange. Actually, I had removed the staples and pulled the individual northbound Amtrak Coast Starlight ticket out of the ticket folder and just handed him that single ticket. I did that because the ticket folder still contained my unused northbound Amtrak Pacific Surfliner ticket. I was just trying to avoid any confusion since the Surfliner ticket was still the top ticket in my stack of 4 tickets. But, I wasn't sure why it was strange as this is the way tickets usually look if they are picket up at an Amtrak ticket machine rather than from an Amtrak Ticket Agent.
In my room, I noticed that Hayward had set out a number of the usual ammenities. In addition to several pillows, a blanket, and all the usual towels and toiletries, there was an Amtrak souvenir postcar, safety card, and an Amtrak Coast Starlight schedule. The schedule was green rather than brown. I was suddenly wondering if Amtrak had issued revised schedules. However, taking a closer look at the schedule, I noticed that it was an outdated schedule from April of 2005. I guess he ran out of the new schedules but stil had left over old schedules. It didn't really matter much to me as the times on this old schedule were identical with the ones on the new schedule, and I had brought a couple of new ones along with me from home.
As I was sitting in my Deluxe Sleeping Car Room, I noticed the northbound Amtrak Pacific Surfliner arrive late at 10:11 AM PT. I am glad I didn't take that Pacific Surfliner from Fullerton to Los Angeles! I would have been a nervous reck watching the time get closer and closer to the 10:15 AM PT departure of the Amtrak Coast Starlight. I'm not even sure I would have been able to make the connection from that train as the northbound Amtrak Coast Starlight Train #14 did leave right on time at 10:15 AM.
Friday, February 17, 2006, 10:45 AM PT
At 10:45 AM PT, just 3 minutes after departing from the Van Nuys Amtrak Station, the Lounge/Cafe Car Attendant announced that the Cafe is now open and serving. It seems like a lot of people in my Sleeping Car immediately decided to head down to the Cafe Car. I think I will wait a bit and give that crowd a chance to dissipate before I head down. At 10:50 AM PT, we stopped for the first time on this trip to wait for a southbound train to pass us. A southbound Metrolink train passed us at 10:55 AM PT and our train was able to resume its northward journey.
Alan, the Dining Car Steward, made a number of announcments over the train's P.A. system. He mentioned and apologized for there not being any Pacific Parlour Car in this train set. He did say that Sleeping Car Passengers are welcome to use the Sightseer Lounge / Cafe Car , though he didn't clarify that this is always true regardless of whether or not a Pacific Parlour Car is included in the train set. Alan also mentioned that the Wine Tasting that is normally held in the Pacific Parlour Car will instead be held in the Dining Car. Though it is common sense, he did mention that cell phones should not be used in the Dining Car and that passengers should go to the Sightseer Lounge Car if they need to make a call during dinner. He also explained about community seating in the Dining Car, especially since this is expected to be a relatively full train. Alan then said that things were off to a bit of a late start in the Dining Car because of the substitute equipment and lunch would not start until noon. Lunch often starts around 11:30 AM in the Dining Car. Alan explained that it would be first come first served and then names would be added to a waiting list once the Dining Car was filled to capacity. He also explained that he would walk through the train later in the afternoon so that passengers could make dinner reservations as dinner is by reservation only.
Even this was a train set made up of substitute cars, they do have a "Kiddie Car" on this train. No food or beverages are allowed in the Kiddie Car and children have to be accompanied by an adult. They announced that a movie would be played in the Kiddie Car, something about Peter Rabbit.
Friday, February 17, 2006, 11:18 AM PT
The train has stopped again for some unexplained reason. Even my radio scanner hasn't provided a hint why we have stopped. Ah! Some southbound passenger train just passed us on the other side. I couldn't tell if it was a Metrolink or Amtrak. Over the radio scanner came: "Have a good trip there, bro..." We are on the roll again at 11:20 AM PT.
Friday, February 17, 2006, 11:26 AM PT
The departure from Simi Valley was only about 2 or 3 minutes behind schedule. As we were approaching the station, I decided to go down to the Cafe Car and get a Bloody Mary. The train stopped at the Simi Valley Amtrak Station just as I arrived into the Cafe. There was only one person ahead of me. I thought I'd have a real good change of being able to walk back to my seat while the train was still in the station and not moving. Unfortunately, the person ahead of me requested the Cafe Car Attendants opinion of just about every lunch item available as well as an explanation of why ketchup, mustard, mayo and relish were the only available toppings. The Cafe Car Attendant explained that he could get lettuce and tomatos if he sat down to eat in the Dining Car, but the passenger didn't seem much interested in that option. The passenger returned to studying the lunch offerings in the Cafe and the Cafe Car Attendant then asked what I would like. As I ordered my Bloody Mary it looked like the person ahead of me had finally made up his mind and was surprised that the Cafe Car Attendant took my order before ringing up his order. But neither of us had any idea how much longer that passenger had planned to continue studying the lunch offerings before finally being ready. He had already been studying and asking about them for at least 3 minutes. Fortunately, there wasn't anyone waiting behind me!
Leonard, the Cafe Car Attendant, made a great Bloody Mary even including a fresh slice of lime that I saw him cut ans squeeze right at the counter. He asked me if I wanted it spicey or mild and added the extra ingreadients to spice it to my taste. Unfortunately, the train started to move again at a good pace as I started walking back to my room with a full glass in my hand. One sudden lurch while I was walking trough the Dining Car and I lost a sip or two on the floor of the Dining Car. I made it the rest of the way back to my room without loosing any more of my adult beverage.
As I walked through the Sleeping Car (1430) that was between my Sleeping Car (1431) and the Dining Car, I noticed that it was a Superliner I that has not yet through any of the various Amtrak redecorated phases. It was still had the original Orange and Green earthtone motif of the 1970s (the cars were designed in the late 1970s and delivered in the early 1980s, by which time the earthtone decorating scheme was already out of date). That car was also oriented like mine with the Deluxe Bedrooms facing east away from the oceanview, as well as the even number roomettes facing inland. I suspect this entire train set is either backwards to the normal Amtrak Coast Starlight orientation or was rapidly thrown together at random to be ready to leave on time.
Friday, February 17, 2006, 01:00 PM PT
I just got back from having lunch in the Dining Car. I had the Buffalo Chicken Pizza, a Diner Salad and a Diet Pepsi. At my table was a retired man that was enjoying himself traveling all over the country on a 30-day North America Railpass. He has done quite a bit of rail travel in the US and Canada before and was really enjoying this 30 day adventure. Also at my table was a couple that started out in Texas, came here on the Amtrak Sunset Limited, and were only going as far as San Jose like myself. They were having a great time too! I don't think any of these people had traveled previously in a Sleeping Car on the Amtrak Coast Starlight so they weren't even aware that it was missing the Pacific Parlour Car. Richard Talmy, who normally works as the Pacific Parlour Car Attendant, came over and said hello to me and we talked about the missing Parlour Car on this train set. He reminded me to be sure to come by the Wine Tasting that would be held in the Dining Car in the afternoon. Since Richard didn't have a Pacific Parlour Car to work on this trip, he was helping out in the Dining Car.
I often skip lunch in the Dining Car, but I though I should enjoy the full service Dining Car during its final few months of operation. On May 3, 2006, full Dining Car service on the Amtrak Coast Starlight is planned to be replaced by "Diner Lite," officially called "Simplified Dining Service." As I understand it, both the Superliner Sightseer Lounge / Cafe Car and the Dining Car will be phased out from almost all Amtrak long distance trains. Both the Superliner Dining Cars and the Superliner Lounge / Cafe Cars will be reconfigured for the new "Simplified Dining Service". Meals will no longer be prepared from scratch and cooked onboard. Instead, meals will be prepared and packaged before being loaded on the train. Once onboard the meals will be reheated in a convection oven before being served. Plates will be fancy disposable china and quality disposable silverware will be used onboard. The idea is to eliminate any need for washing dishes onboard. The total onboard food service crew (from both the Dining Car and Cafe Car) will be reduced to three people. On a more positive note, dining service will be available all day from early morning until late evening. This is in contrast to the current dining schedule where food is only served during set meal periods on the train.
Most long distance Amtrak trains will no longer have a Dining Car and a Sightseer Lounge / Cafe Car. Instead, they will have just one of these newly reconfigured Simplified Dining Service Cars. These new cars will serve as both the lounge area and dining area on the train. There has been some indication that some trains might have two of these new cars when warranted by the passenger load. Personally, I don't understand why the Sightseer Lounge Car had to be eliminated from the trains to implement the Simplified Dining Service. Since every long distance train already has a Dining Car, I don't see why Amtrak couldn't have just converted the Dining Cars and left the Sightseer Lounge Cars as they were. If they wanted to reduce the food service staff, Amtrak could have just closed the Cafe sales area of the car without eliminating the rest of the car. As the service is phased into the Amtrak long distance trains it might become clearer as why the Sightseer Lounge Cars had to also be reconfigured to the new Simplified Dining Service.
Congress has mandated that the food service on Amtrak trains has to be changed to stop losing money or Amtrak would risk loss of government funding. The new Simplified Dining Service is an attempt to put food service on a more profitable footing.
Here is the current schedule of when Simplified Dining Service is expected to be introduced on each Amtrak long distance train:
15FEB: #21-22, #58-59 ("reintroduced")
Trains #7-8 and #52-53 will not be affected.
Here is some tentative information about the "Light Menu" that was obtained by Chris Guenzler from Amtrak:
Please note that our [Amtrak] Texas Eagle Trains and also the City of New Orleans Trains are both using the Light Menu selections in their Dining Cars. We are enclosing what is being currently offered under this program and may change without advance notice:
Breakfast - Trains 21, 59, 421
Western Omelet, Pork Sausage, Breakfast Potatoes .... 10.00
Southwestern Quiche With Corned Beef Hash ........... 10.00
French Toast, Syrup, Ham Steak ...................... 10.00
Rice Krispies, Raisin Bran Crunch Or Corn Flakes;
Cut Fruit, Croissant, Yogurt (Strawberry Or Blueberry) .. 6.75
Included: Coffee, Tea Or Milk, And Juice (Orange, Apple Or Cranberry).
Lunch - Trains 21, 59, 421
Angus Cheeseburger, Chips, Pickle Spear ............. 7.00
Sandwich (Server Will Describe), Chips, Pickle ...... 7.25
Barbecue Chicken, Potato Wedges, Corn, Salad ........ 12.00
Add Hot Soup (Minestrone Or Chicken Noodle) ......... 4.00
Included: Coffee, Tea Or Milk.
Dinner - Trains 21, 59, 421
Braised Beef, Mashed Redskin Potatoes, Carrots ...... 18.00
Chicken Parmesan, Roast Potatoes, Green Beans ....... 17.50
Basil/Thyme Cod Fillets, Rice Pilaf, Bean Medley .... 16.50
Cheese Tortellini, Alfredo Sauce, Broccoli .......... 11.00
Evening Special - Server Will Describe .............. 12.50
Included: Coffee, Tea Or Milk; Green Salad; Roll, Butter.
These trains serve preplated meals in the dining car. Although the meals are prepared off the train, they are Served on china. Beverages are in china cups or in Glasses, and regular stainless steel flatware is used. Cloth napkins are provided, and there are tablecloths.
Everyone was having such a great time talking at our table during lunch I could tell we were going over our alotted time in the Dining Car. I was expecting the Dining Car crew to start making suggestions that it was time to leave. Sure enough, in a very friendly and joking way they did hint that it may be time to make room for other passengers waiting to eat. That was just a bit after 1:00 PM, shortly after we departed from Santa Barbara. The train stopped in Santa Barbara just long enough for a short smoking break, from about 12:54 PM to 1:00 PM PT. At the moment, the train is running about 12 minutes behind schedule.
The wine tasting ran from about 3:30 PM to 4:30 PM in the Dining Car. I hope to be able to add more details about the wine tasting to this travelogue a little later. I purchased two bottles of wine after the wine tasting, one Pinot Noir and one Chardonney and mentioned to Richard Talmy, the Parlour Car Attendant, that I would be onboard for another wine tasting with him on my southbound journey on Monday. Since this train arrives into Seattle on Saturday evening and just turns around to head south on Sunday morning, it will be the same train set that I board on Monday morning. This onboard service crew just rides the train up to Seattle for two days, spends the night in Seattle, and then rides this same train equipment back down to Los Angeles for the next two days. Thus, there will be the same onboard service crew on this train when I ride it south on Monday.
Friday, February 17, 2006, 05:04 PM PT
The northbound Amtrak Coast Starlight Train #14 departed from Paso Robles, California, at 5:04 PM PT, 19 minutes behind schedule. That isn't too bad. There is a little bit of padding in the schedule between Salinas and San Jose, so it is possible for the train to make up some or all of those 19 minutes. My friend, Ron, is going to be picking me up from the train station and my wife from the airport. The plan is for him to pick up whichever one of us arrives first and then go pick up the other one. If we both arrive on schedule, then Ron will be picking me up at 8:30 PM and my wife at 10:15 PM. If that all goes according to plan, Ron and I will go see if we can grab a bite to eat at a vegetarian, Indian, or some other healthy restaurant not too far from the airport in San Jose. The schedule looks tight, so I'm not sure this will work out, especially if my train starts running any later than it is already running.
Friday, February 17, 2006, 06:00 PM PT
Although I can still somewhat see the scenery outside my window, it is getting quite dark outside. Thus, I probably won't be adding anymore photos of scenery to this segment of this travelogue.
Saturday, February 18, 2006, 11:00 AM PT
I'm at my in-laws house up in the hills of southeastern San Jose and uploading this travelogue using the Wi-Fi that I set up at their house using their DSL. Everything happened so fast last night that I didn't have a chance to finish the travelogue before I got off the train.
Earlier in the afternoon I had made a Dining Car reservation for 7:00 PM. Even though I planned to go out to dinner with my friend in the Bay Area, there is always a strong possibility that the train will run so late that there won't be time for dinner once I get off the train. I figured that I would know by 7:00 PM if the train was running too late to go to dinner in San Jose. By making my Dining Car reservation for 7:00 PM, the last seating, I could wait until the last opportunity to decide if I was going to eat on the train or eat off the train. Since the scheduled arrival time in San Jose was 8:27 PM, and the train doesn't depart from San Jose until at least 8:39 PM, that would give me plenty of time to have dinner at 7:00 PM in the Dining Car and be done before San Jose. If the train started to run well behind schedule, I'd have all the time in the world to have a leasurely dinner in the Dining Car. If the train continued to run pretty close to schedule, then I would skip eating in the Dining Car and have dinner with my friend in San Jose.
The train had departed from Salinas at 7:07 PM PT. At that point, I called my friend in San Jose to let him know the train was running 31 minutes behind schedule. However, I did mention that it looked like there was at least 10 minutes of padding in the schedule. I also told him that I suspected there might be more padding than I could calculate, maybe another 10 minutes. You can usually calculate padding in the schedule by looking at how much time Amtrak has allowed for travel between two stations in each direction. If you see more time calculated for one direction than the other direction, it is usually due to schedule padding to allow a late train some leeway to get back on schedule. However, when there are several major stations all in a row, such as Salinas, San Jose, Oakland, and Emeryville, it gets a little more difficult to calculate schedule padding. Amtrak knows there are a lot of on/off passengers at all of these stations and provides some extra time in the schedule to help keep the train from falling behind when there are a lot of on/off passengers and checked baggage work. Thus, it wasn't really clear to me if there was just 10 minutes, 20 minutes, or more schedule padding between Salinas and San Jose.
My wife called me on my cell phone to let me know that her flight was departing a bit late. Thus, it was starting to look like there would be enough time for my friend to pick me up at the San Jose Amtrak Station, for us to get some dinner, and still arrive at the San Jose Airport in time to pick up my wife without being late. My friend gave me the address of a couple of Indian restaurants not far from the airport that featured late night buffets until 10PM. He wasn't sure how to get from the San Jose Amtrak station to these restaurants, so I programmed the addresses into my GPS.
As long as I had the GPS out, I decided to program in the address of the San Jose Amtrak station and see how much further we had to go before we got to the station. At that point, it was 8:00 PM and I was expecting the train to arrive at least 10 minutes, maybe 20 minutes, late into San Jose. To my surprise, the GPS said we were less than 20 miles from the San Jose Amtrak Station! The train was moving along at a really good clip, as much as 60 MPH or more. Thus, I realized we were likely to arrive into the San Jose Amtrak station on time, if not early! I called my friend to let him know and then quickly started shutting down my computer and packing everything up to get off the train. I was caught by surprise with the train catching up to schedule so quickly!
The northbound Amtrak Coast Starlight Train #14 arrived into the San Jose Amtrak station at 8:23 PM PT, 4 minutes ahead of schedule! I was already down in the vestibule ready to get off the train moments before the train stopped at the station. As I departed, I was thinking of telling Hayward, my Sleeping Car Attendant, that I would see him on the return trip on Monday. But then I realized that I will be in the other Sleeping Car on this train, the unrefurbished Superliner I Sleeping Car, with the other Sleeping Car Attendant. Though I'm sure I'll see Hayward onboard the train on that return segment, I didn't think it deserved special mention since I won't be in his Sleeping Car on the return trip.
At first, I was wondering why my friend wasn't already on the San Jose Amtrak Station platform to great me as he often is when I pass through San Jose. Then I realized that there was no reason for him to have to find a place to park since we will be immediately leaving the station in his car. Thus, I realized he is probably in his car right outside the front of the station waiting for me and I was right!
We drove for about 15 minutes using the guidance of my GPS to check out a couple of late night Indian buffets in Sunnyvale. Both had evening buffets 7 days a week from 5:30pm till 10:00pm. The first one was Masala Oven at 544 Lawrence Expressway (408-245-6800). Their buffet was pretty big, but there seemed to be a lot more meat items than vegetarian items. What vegetarian items they had seemed to be in a lot of cream, butter or cheese sauces. You can't hold that too much against them as that seems to be the way most Indian restaurants prepare their dishes, and I guess the way most patrons want their food prepared. I was hoping to find a buffet with a bit of a larger selection of vegetarian items, especially one with a wider selection of items not in cream, butter and cheese sauces. The next restaurant was almost around the corner: Grand Indian Buffet at 1214 Apollow Way, Ste 404 (408-736-2720). Their buffet and selection was quite a bit bigger. They still had a number of both meat and vegetarian items in the cream, butter and cheese sauces, but they also had a wider selection of vegetarian items that were not in those rich sauces. We decided to stay there and eat. I was quite surprised at the large number of patrons in the restaurant. A great number of the patrons were Indian, which I always feel is a good sign for an Ethnic restaurant. When people from a particular culture heavily patronize a restaurant featuring food from their culture, then it is probably pretty authentic. We did find the food quite good and will probably patronize this restaurant in the future.
At about 10:00 PM PT, we headed out to pick up my wife at the San Jose Airpot. It took less than 15 minutes to get to the airport and my wife's flight hadn't come in yet. The traffic at that airport that evening was a disaster! The airport was filled with slow moving bumper to bumper traffic. The worst part was, you knew that you'd have to start all over again in that bumper to bumper traffic if the person you were picking up wasn't at the curb by the time you finally got your turn at the pick-up location. After our first loop through the airport, we noticed a "Cell Phone Waiting Area" way on the outskirts of the airport. We decided to pull in and wait there.
After waiting just a few minutes, my wife called my cell phone to let me know her plane had landed, but she was still waiting to get off the plane. We immediately pulled out of the Cell Phone Waiting Area and headed back to the bumper to bumper mess trying to get to the pick up area. After about 15 or 20 minutes, my wife called again to tell us she was freezing and asking us where in the world we were. All we could do is tell her about the bumper to bumper mess of cars waiting to get to the pick-up area and that we were in line waiting for our turn. The San Jose Airport is a total disaster compared to other smaller airports around California that have recently been modernized such as Orange County, Burbank and Ontario. Long Beach is still my favorite airport as having the least traffic and hassles even though it has yet to be modernized, but it doesn't have anywhere the number of flights as those other airports.
After picking up my wife, we drove to her parents house. I think we arrived around 11:00 PM PT. We made plans to meet up with my friend again on Sunday afternoon. Our friend wants to take us to a vegetarian restaurant for a late lunch before he drives my wife back to the airport. I'll be staying in San Jose until the departure of my train on Monday morning, the southbound Amtrak Coast Starlight Train #11.
As of 12:45 PM PT, it looks like the northbound Amtrak Coast Starlight Train #14 has run into some delays. It is now running 3 hours and 21 minutes late with an expected arrival into Seattle at 11:35 PM, 3 hours and 5 minutes late. That should not impact the departure of this train set on Sunday morning. It would have to be running quite a bit more behind schedule than that to impact the morning departure. I am more concerned about delays the train might run into between Seattle and San Jose once it starts its southbound run. That is where the train often runs into very significant delays. I'll post further information about the status of the train if anything unusual comes up.
Sunday, February 19, 2006, 10:39 AM PT
I have started to follow the status of the southbound Amtrak Coast Strarlight Train #11 that I will be boarding tomorrow. It departed Seattle 18 minutes late this morning at 10:18 AM PT. That isn't much of a delay, but it isn't a good omen. This train set arrived into Seattle as northbound Amtrak Coast Starlight Train #14 at 1:12 AM PT, 4 hours and 42 minutes late. Arriving that far behind schedule is hard on the Seattle based service crew that has to get the train all cleaned up and mechanically serviced, ready to leave from Seattle by 10 AM. It is also very hard on the onboard service crew that probably didn't get off the train, to their hotel and to sleep until at least 2:30 or 3:00 AM, and then have to get up early in the morning to return to the train and get it ready for the southbound departure. That doesn't make for a well rested onboard service crew for the southbound trip. With the long work days onboard the train, the onboard service crew will not have much of a chance to catch up on their rest until they get home after the train arrives into Los Angeles on Monday evening. Fortunately, they do get 5 or 6 days off the train to spend at home before their next scheduled run.
Monday, February 20, 2006, 09:49 AM PT
I just got off talking with Chris Guenzler and Carl Morrison on my cell phone who are on a short rail outing to Santa Barbara with some of the members of the Orange County Train Travel Meetup Group. Both Chris and Carl have written quite a few travelogues for TrainWeb. To read their travelogues or for more information about the Train Travel Meetup Group, you can click on their names above to go to each of the respective web sites.
I'm staying at the Holiday Inn Express at the San Jose International Airport at 1350 N. Fourth Street, San Jose, CA 95112, 408-467-1789. The Gish Station of the VTA Mountain View to Winchester (902) Light Rail Line is just a couple of blocks from the hotel. I can walk it easily with my roller luggage, but don't attempt this unless you are OK with walking about 400 yards with luggage. There are other hotels such as the Wyndam that are right at the rail line station. When it is time to go to the Amtrak San Jose Diridon Station, I plan to take the southbound Winchester Light Rail (902) to the VTA San Jose Diridon Station. From there, I will just cross the light rail tracks and then walk through the tunnel under the tracks and platforms of the Amtrak/Caltrain station to the Amtrak waiting room.
Last night, after leaving the home of my wife's parents, we dropped my wife at the San Jose Airport and then went to eat at Masala Oven at 544 Lawrence Expressway (408-245-6800). This was the buffet that we visited but didn't stay to eat when I first arrived into San Jose on Friday. The food was quite good, but it seemed more oriented towards Chinese food prepared Indian style. With so many other wonderful Indian and vegetarian restaurants in the area, I don't think I'd pick this one again. The food is not bad and they have very convenient late night buffet hours 7 days a week, but I'd rather eat just around the corner at the Grand Indian Buffet at 1214 Apollow Way, Ste 404, San Jose, (408-736-2720) as they have the same hours with a much better selection of the items that I prefer.
Afterwards, we explored the Winchester VTA Light Rail line and tried to figure out how it wound its way from my hotel to the Amtrak station. A few years ago before the VTA Light Rail line went to the Amtrak station, I posted an explanation at TrainWeb that one can take the Light Rail to the Tamien Station and then transfer to a Caltrain to the San Jose Amtrak Station. I've been getting some feedback lately to update that page because of the new line that goes directly to the Amtrak station. Until last night, I didn't know which line went there nor where the Light Rail Station was in relation to the Amtrak station. Now, I was able to see with my own eyes that the VTA Light Rail Station is right there beyond the last platform at the Amtrak Station. This will certainly make it convenient for me to arrive into San Jose and get to anywhere the VTA Light Rail goes on future trips!
When I woke up at about 7:30 AM this morning, the first thing I did was to check on the status of my southbound Amtrak Coast Starlight Train #11. When I went to bed last night, it was already running about 2 hours behind schedule. The status report from www.amtrak.com showed that the train was now running more than 5 hours behind schedule. Investigating further, this is the departure information that I was able to obtain from the Amtrak web site:
10:18A 00:18 hr behind schedule - SEA - Seattle, WA
11:11A 00:18 hr behind schedule - TAC - Tacoma, WA
??:??A ??:?? hr behind schedule - OLW - Olympia-Lacey, WA
12:29P 00:27 hr behind schedule - CTL - Centralia, WA
??:??P ??:?? hr behind schedule - KEL - Kelso-Longview, WA
03:46P 02:17 hr behind schedule - VAN - Vancouver, WA
04:25P 02:00 hr behind schedule - PDX - Portland, OR
05:29P 01:52 hr behind schedule - SLM - Salem, OR
07:11P 02:01 hr behind schedule - EUG - Eugene, OR
??:??P ??:?? hr behind schedule - CMO - Chemult, OR
12:08A 02:08 hr behind schedule - KFS - Klamath Falls, OR
??:??A ??:?? hr behind schedule - DUN - Dunsmuir, CA
??:??A ??:?? hr behind schedule - RDD - Redding, CA
10:04A 06:14 hr behind schedule - CIC - Chico, CA
As of 11:00 AM, the southbound Amtrak Coast Starlight is running 6 hours and 14 minutes behind schedule. Amtrak is estimating that the train will depart from Sacramento at about 11:57 AM and is expecting it to arrive into San Jose at about 3:02 PM. My friend Ron is on his way to my hotel with Carol, one of his women friends. We plan to leave the hotel at about noon, the official check-out time, and head to an Indian Restaurant that is right around the corner on the way to the Gish Light Rail Station. We'll probably kill almost an hour at the restaurant. After that, I'll take the Light Rail train that is scheduled to depart GISH a bit after 1:00 PM, or the one that departs a bit after 1:30 PM. That will put me into the Amtrak San Jose Station at about 1:25 PM or 1:55 PM. In worst case, I could even take the 2:00 PM Light Rail to arrive at the Amtrak San Jose Station by 2:25 PM. That would still be in plenty of time to make my southbound Amtrak Coast Starlight Train #11 that isn't expected until at least 3:02 PM and won't leave for at least another 10 minutes after that. That is assuming that it doesn't fall even further behind schedule.
My friend has offered to drive me to the Amtrak station, but I declined as I want the experience of riding the Light Rail from my hotel area to the station so that I will know how to do this for future stays. I'll check the status of my Amtrak train again before I leave the Indian restaurant after lunch. If the Amtrak train has surprisingly made up a significant amount of time, I can have my friend drive me to the station to make sure I don't miss the train.
I also just got off the phone with Ray Burns, one of my partners at TrainWeb. We were coordinating his travel to Canada where he will be meeting with VIA Rail officials this week. Ray and other TrainWeb writers have done a lot of travelogues from the various rail routes in Canada that you can read by clicking here. TrainWeb reporters have not done much travel in Canada ever since our main contact at VIA Rail was promoted to another position. Hopefully Ray's meeting with VIA Rail this week will prove fruitfull and TrainWeb will be able to bring you new travelogues from Canada once again.
Monday, February 20, 2006, 08:30 PM PT
What a day it has been!
My friend Ron and Carol arrived about 11:30 AM. I checked out and we left the hotel at noon. I put my luggage in the trunk of Ron's car and we headed out on foot to walk to the Indian Restaurant. It was a good thing that I wasn't headint to the restaurant alone with my luggage as I had originally planned to do. The Indian Restaurant wasn't located where either Ron or I remembered it to be! We both saw it as we drove back to the hotel last night and made a mental note that it wasn't far from the hotel. However, what isn't far by car and what isn't far by walking are two different things! We asked a local shopkeeper about the location of the nearest Indian Restaurant. He gave us an address that was on the route of our drive to the hotel last night, but it was a bit further than we recalled. It still wasn't too far, but it might have been as much as a mile from the hotel. Since we were already half way there, we decided to walk the rest of the way. It turned out to be "Shagun Indian Cuisine" at 50 Skyport Drive, Suite 50, (at N. First St.), San Jose, CA 95110, 408-436-7959. There were quite a few people at their buffet lunch. The food was good. I'd say there are probably a lot of better Indian Restaurants in San Jose, but this may be the most convenient one to the hotels in this airport area that is close to the VTA Light Rail.
After we finished, we walked back to Ron's car at the hotel. Then Ron drove me to the Gish VTA Light Rail Station. I called Amtrak at 800-USA-RAIL and found that the time the southbound Amtrak Coast Starlight Train #11 was expected to arrive into San Jose had slipped even more to 3:50 PM ! It was only about 1:15 PM. I had plenty of time and Ron suggested that I explore a bit of the VTA Light Rail line by taking the light rail all the way to the end of the Downtown Mountain View line. From there he suggested that I take the Caltrain which would only take about 20 minutes to get back to the Amtrak San Jose Diridon Station. Since I had some time to kill, that sounded good to me. The Light Rail to Downtown Mountain View came along at about 1:39 PM. I arrived into Downtown Mountain View aroud 2:25 PM. I had just missed the southbound Caltrain that had departed from Mountain View at 2:14 PM. These trains normally run about every 30 minutes. However, I forgot that it was President's Day and they were operating on a modified holiday schedule with only one train running each hour. That meant I'd have to wait almost an hour for the next train departing at 3:14 PM. That was starting to look a little too close for comfort with the southbound Amtrak Coast Starlight Train #11 expected to arrive into San Jose at about 3:50 PM!
I took a walk into Downtown Mountain View and stopped at the first tavern that had a sign advertising free wi-fi. Being President's Day and right in the middle between meal times, the place was pretty empty. I didn't see anyone else around and might have been the only one there. I ordered a beer and checked a few things online. Before I knew it, it was almost 3 PM and time for me to hurry to catch my southound Caltrain. I had already purchased my ticket when I was checking the schedule at the station, so all I needed to do now was hurry down to the station before the train arrived. I got to the station with plenty of time to spare. The southbound Caltrain came at 3:14 PM, right on time to the very minute. There were very few people onboard, I guess because of the holiday and also being to early for rush hour. The car I was in was a newer model of the Caltrains. I had been expecting an older interior, but the interior of my car was quite updated. There were drink holders between many of the seats.
There were just a few stops on the Caltrain route and it arrived into San Jose at about 3:35 PM. There was an ACE - Altamont Commuter Express train just departing as well as an Amtrak Capitols train that had just arrived. I walked through the tunner under the tracks and platforms heading to the waiting area of the station. As I am walking up the ramp, who do I see but Margaret and Daniel Monroe! They had been reading my live travelogue and had decided to stop by and say hello. I guess it surprised them that I arrived on the Caltrain. The last thing that I posted was that I would be taking the Light Rail to the Amtrak Station, but instead I arrived on a Caltrain! We got a chance to talk for a while in the waiting area as the southbound Amtrak Coast Starlight didn't arrive until 4:15 PM. At that point we said our good-byes and I boarded the 1130 Sleeping Car and headed up to Deluxe Room C.
Hugo, the Car Attendant, has been very attentive ever since I got onboard! The moment I boarded the train in San Jose, he told me that if I hurry, I still have time to attend the Wine Tasting in the Dining Car. I was surprised they were having the Wine Tasting so late as I knew the Dining Car Service Crew would need time to get the Diner cleanup up for dinner service that often starts at 5 or 5:30 PM. When I was at the Wine Tasting, he checked with me again to make sure everything was OK. Since the Dining Car Steward usually goes through the train about 3:30 PM to set up dinner reservations, which was before I boarded in San Jose, Hugo had obtained a 6 PM Dinner Reservation for me. At about 8:30 PM, Hugo knocked on my door to see if everything was OK and if I needed any more water. After I told him that I was probably going to take a nap in about an hour and sleep though to Los Angeles, he asked if I wanted him to come back in about an hour and put down the bed for me. I hesitated for a moment, but then said that would be fine. I wasn't planning on putting the bed down but just resting on the closed up couch. "In about an hour" was just an estimate and I figured I'd have the freedom to nap earlier or later. Even though I still have that flexibility, I'll now have to make sure I put away all my power cords (notebook computer, cell phone, GPS), at least temporarily so he can open up the bed.
Well, it is now 9:02 PM and the train is sitting up on the hill above San Luis Obispo waiting for the northbound Amtrak Pacific Surfliner to unload its passengers and move to the storage track. I'm going to take care of a few things and then take a nap so that I will be well rested to drive home from Los Angeles to Fullerton in the wee hours of the morning! I'll probably make some final additions to this travelogue sometime tomorrow to finish it up. I'll be sure to post more to this travelogue from onboard if there are any further unusual developments.
Tuesday, February 21, 2006, 03:15 PM PT
Just before we arrived into San Luis Obispo, the Sleeping Car Attendant came by and made up my bed. Hugo asked me which end of the bed would I like to be the head of the bed. That alone deserved a larger tip! Hugo is on the extra board, so he only gets called in as he is needed. Hugo is one of the best Car Attendants that Amtrak has working for them. It is a shame he is on the extra board and doesn't get to serve passengers onboard as often as other more tenured Amtrak employees. I'm sure Hugo has helped make many passengers happy with their Amtrak travel.
I fell asleep pretty shortly after San Luis Obispo. I might have stayed up a lot later, but my internet connection was lost as we were heading into the remote areas along the Pacific shore south of San Luis Obispo. I figured my computer was reminding me that it was time to get some rest. I slept pretty soundly all the way from just south of San Luis Obispo to Van Nuys (about 30 minutes before Los Angeles) with one minor exception. Somewhere along the way there was a tremendous noise, very similar to thunder but lasted much longer. The train stopped pretty fast. I thought we may have hit something. I turned on my railroad radio scanner. After a brief wait, I started hearing track warrants and the train began to move. I guess I'll never know what that loud noise was. I haven't heard anything that loud on a train before in the ten years that I've been riding.
My southbound Amtrak Coast Starlight Train #11 finally made it into Los Angeles Union Station just a bit after 2 A.M. After detraining, I headed down the stairs to the tunnel below the tracks and platforms. Access to the parking garage is just a few steps through the tunnel at the Metrorail end of the station.
If you've read some of my recent travelogues, you know that there was a total blackout in the train station garage the last time that I drove into Los Angeles. Well, the garage was again treating me like I was in the Twilight Zone! I stepped into the elevator. It seemed to descend. But, when the door opened, I was on level P1 instead of level P4 where I had parked my car. I tried punching the P4 button a few more times. That made the door close, but the elevator didn't go anywhere. I had enough of that elevator, pushed the door open button, and headed over to the next elevator. That one behaved the same way. I decided to try another level, P3. The elevator went to P3 just fine. Before decided to try to find the stairs, I tried the P4 button again. That just made the door close, but the elevator didn't go anywhere. I had enough of that. I exited the elevator at P3. Rather than hunt for stairs, since I know my car is parked right by the elevator, I just walked down the ramp to the next level down. As I walked in that direction, I noticed they had put up cones to block anyone from parking at the P4 level. The elevator behavior was starting to make sense, somewhat. They didn't want anyone on P4, so they blocked the elevator from going to P4. But what about people who had already parked on P4 before they blocked it off? Actually, preventing the elevator from going to P4 made no sense to me at all. All they had achieved was to prevent people who had already parked on P4 from easily getting to their cars. The cones would discourage any new cars from being parked on P4, but disabling the elevator from going to P4 didn't do anything useful.
My car was right where I left it. I didn't see any signs saying that P4 wasn't for public parking when I had arrived on Friday and I still didn't see any signs indicating I had parked in the wrong place when I picked my car up on Monday. However, I don't think I saw any other cars on that level at all. The only reason that I immediately drove to P4 when I arrived on Friday was that I knew I'd probably find parking conveniently located near the elevator on that level since it is the longest drive from the entrance of the garage. Anyway, I think I woke up the Parking Garage Attendant as I headed out around 2:30 AM and paid the $26 for parking for 4 days. I drove the 36 miles to my home, arrived by 3:00 AM and was in bed by 3:15 AM.
I've posted a tentative menu for Amtrak's new Diner Light service above. If you've been reading along while I've been adding to this travelogue live from the train, you might have missed that item and may want to scroll back up to that part of this travelogue.
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