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Trip Report

Coast Starlight Trip

April 19-24, 2004


It has been a few years since I rode on a long distance train, and I am pleased to give a trip report.

My sweetie and I left Los Angeles on April 19 on Amtrak train 14, the Coast Starlight. We were headed for Eugene, Oregon, where we rented a car and drove to Ashland to see my family members (95 year old grandmother, mother, sister, two nephews) who have settled there over the past 30 years.

Sweetie had never been on an overnight train before. We got a standard sleeper, #8 which is upstairs, one room from the end of the car. We left Los Angeles on time. Although I have had the Altamont Press timetables before, and bought a new set for this trip, this was my first trip with a scanner. At Surf, we had come to a stop as the crew could not reach Omaha on the radio to get clearance to proceed. We were about an hour late by Salinas, and lost another hour and a half in Oakland.

Our northbound crew was very good. The food was excellent, and I highly recommend the rack of lamb is it is on the menu.

As we approached Chemault in the morning, we began to see patches of snow on the ground. By the time we reached the summit, the ground was covered in snow and it began to snow. This was spectacular in the Pacific Parlor Car, and made the high point of the northbound trip. We arrived in Eugene 3 hours late. I had reserved a car with Hertz, and they picked us up at the station quickly and we were on our way a half hour after getting off the train.

Hertz was also efficient on our return trip, getting us to the station well before train time. Train 11 was on time and departed at 5:10 PM on April 23. Our southbound crew was absolutely outstanding. The Pacific Parlor Car host, Richard (Tillman, Tillis ??) was not only very knowledgeable about the wines served there, but also a railfan, and a 20 year Amtrak veteran. He provided two additional features for the downstairs movie theater: the PBS special "Streamliner" and a 20 minute short subject, "Daylight" made by Southern Pacific in 1939. Our sleeper car attendant, Hermineo (sp??) was also outstanding, personable, and went out of his way to make the trip more fun. Aaron, and the rest of the diner staff worked well together and also went the extra mile to make things nice.

I must comment about the condition of the tracks. In areas where corridor trains operate, and where UP runs a lot of trains, the ride was generally smooth. In the parts of the Coast Line where few freight or local trains run, particularly the parts that the Starlight runs through at night, the ride was miserably. Sweetie had the upper birth and if not for the web straps would have been thrown out of bed several times. I can't blame Amtrak of course, but shesh!

I didn't sleep much on the way back, so I turned on the scanner in the wee hours. It appeared that we were running quite fast, and sure enough, we passed a detector that reported 78mph. A quick look at my timetable showed that this was 70mph territory. Shortly after that, we took the siding for train 14 to pass. When it had gone by, I heard on the scanner:

"Omaha dispatcher to Amtrak 11, highball that silver streak!"

I had a good laugh, and so did the crew. At almost all stops on this trip, we arrived early and had a few extra minutes to step outside for fresh air, a smoke or just to stretch our legs. We arrived in Los Angeles 35 minutes early!

Highly recommended!

Dave Wire
Fan of the late, great Southern Pacific and Santa Fe railroads

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