Capital Corridor Oakland to Sacramento
The rear of the train held a surprise. Four private cars were tagged on the end of the Zephyr. I put two and two together, and realized that the first three was the Trainorders Sierra Coast Limited excursion heading to Sparks, NV. The Trainorders excursion, sponsored by Todd Clark of Trainorders.com, consisted of the "Pony Express" party car (a former horse car which, quite frankly, looks silly to me), the Silver Lariat dome car (great looking former CZ dome coach), and the Los Angeles open-end observation. Behind the three Trainorders cars, Amtrak tacked still a forth private car (thus blocking the view from the rear of the Los Angeles). The TO trip was crowded and the single dome was already filled in anticipation of the Sierra Nevada crossing. Even though the cars looked nice, the crowd would not enhance the travel experience and I had no regrets about not being onboard.
Soon the station work was finished and the Zephyr slowly headed east. The activity quieted. That would not be the last time I would see that train. The next day we were flying to Denver and would have the opportunity to see this same train again at Denver Union Station.
A short walk from the station brought us to Old Sacramento and the California State Railroad Museum. The museum is well done with a highlight being the volunteer guides who are former railroad workers and have fascinating stories of the old days of train travel. After an hour or so at the museum, we walked around Old Sacramento, which while picturesque, has way too many cheap souvenir shops for our taste. We grabbed a quick snack to tide us over to dinner and decided to catch the 2:10 train (#541) back to San Francisco.
The train pulled in about 10 minutes prior to schedule. It was the same trainset used for #526 coming east this time with P42 #114 leading in pull mode. We boarded and soon after the same high school group from the eastbound trip also got on and, once again, shared our car. We left right on time and headed west. At Davis we picked up a large group of college students heading home or elsewhere for the weekend. The ride back was uneventful. A highlight was the glimpse of the Golden Gate Bridge and downtown San Francisco as the train approached Richmond and headed toward Emeryville.
For the return across the bay to San Francisco, we used the Amtrak Thruway bus from Emeryville. The bus was arriving at Emeryville just as we reached the boarding area. Despite the Friday rush hour traffic, we made our way across the Bay Bridge without delay (with a great upper deck view of the cofferdams for the new East Bay Span and then downtown San Francisco). After a stop up Market Street near the Civic Center, the bus went east on Market and dropped us at the door of the Hyatt Hotel at Drumm Street.
We had a nice ride both ways and a pleasant one day excursion. Maybe most amazing for an east coast visitor is the cost of the train ride. The 180 mile round trip, the same distance as Philadelphia to New York, cost just $28 (AAA discount). The NEC equal would cost nearly $100. Amtrak California is a great operation.
Two quick related items: along with the cable cars, a relatively recent addition to the list of popular San Francisco tourist attractions is the F street car line. This line uses beautifully restored, vintage trolley cars repainted into the livery of transit lines from around the world. The line runs along Market Street to the Ferry Building and then north along the Embarcadero to Fisherman's Wharf. Besides the obvious attraction for rail enthusiasts, it also provides a great way to get from the Financial District to the Wharf for tourists and locals alike.
Second, on Saturday, May 15, we flew from San Francisco to Denver on a United 777, my first "triple-7" ride. In Denver, we stayed at the Oxford Hotel across the street from Union Station. I ventured out at about the arrival time of the CZ, and low and behold, there it was backing into the station: the very same train that I saw one day earlier in Sacramento. I later learned that the train that day had detoured via the UP Overland Route through Wyoming due to a landslide and derailment near Granby, Colorado that closed the Moffat route. The use of that shorter, quicker, but less scenic route might have accounted for the nearly on-time arrival in Denver.
It was a nice trip, and an interesting rail excursion. And the Phillies? Won in San Francisco; lost in Denver. Oh well. That was pretty much the story of the 2004 season. So so.