Transcontinental Rail Trip-Spring Break
March 10-20, 2005
After my 2004 Dallas trip I figured it was time to take a super large Amtrak national network trip. I settled on the San Francisco/San Jose Area for its large amount of rail based transit.
The plan was to use the Lake Shore Limited to Chicago, The California Zephyr to Sacramento and the Capitol Corridor to San Jose and ride all of the transit lines. A few months before the trip my dad informed a friend of his about my trip. John works as a civil engineer (which is my major in college) in the San Francisco area and he was happy to spend some time with me and discuss possible employment in the area with various companies and agencies as well as show some of the projects occurring in San Francisco.
At the time I was planning the trip I decided to use sleeper only between Chicago and California and coach on the other legs. However because of a job during my senior year at Syracuse University I was able to upgrade to a sleeper between Syracuse and Chicago in both directions. As a result the trip cost on Amtrak alone was about 700 dollars (but it would be well spent). Now onto the trip.
Lake Shore Limited Ride
I was leaving Syracuse on March 10 right after my structural steel design class but the excitement was already growing as I had participated in an anti-war mini-rally due to Bush trying to kill AMTRAK. Once the protesting and class were over I went to the bus stop outside the Bird Library and waited for the bus to downtown where I transferred to the bus to the Syracuse Transportation center. Upon arrival I was greeted with what may have been a bad sign:
Train 49-Lake Shore Limited To Rochester-Cleveland-Toledo-Chicago Delayed ETA 925PM
During the delay I helped another passenger repack her baggage as her original suitcase was about 79 pounds and needed to be lightened. This delay eventually became an hour long as the Lake Shore arrived around 10pm.
It was arranged like this
2-P42 Baggage car (former coach) Crew Dorm Viewliner Viewliner (my car-Mountain view) Temoinsa Diner Lounge Coach Coach Coach No express
After off-loading a modest group of passengers the large contingent of about 120 people boarded (about 20 for sleeper including myself) and the rest in coach. I boarded the 4910 car which was a refurbished viewliner with the white roll down shades replace by almost transparent blue ones. Having a few hours of sleep mostly between Rochester and Buffalo and Cleveland and Toledo I went to the diner but my breakfast was delayed due to a minor grill problem which was solved.
I had breakfast as we were in Toledo and just after we left to start of the second day of travel for me. It was freshly prepared scrambled eggs which were delicious with hash browns and pork sausage with an iced tea to drink. During most of breakfast we stood next to a field to let two freights pass (during which time the train moved all of about 100 feet). After this we encountered few delays and lost only some time due to large groups getting on and off in South Bend. As we neared Chicago our speed dropped as we went through yards, switches, past commuter trains. The arrival in Chicago was 1:15 late but it did not interfere with my connection so rode the CTA for a few hours. I returned to await the boarding of train # 5 The California Zephyr.
California Zephyr - Day 1
At 1:50 the announcement was made in the Metropolitan Lounge that train 5 was boarding. We were led out the back to the train which was laid out in this fashion:
2 P-42 Baggage (former coach) Phase IV crew Car (Superliner I) Phase IV sleeper (Superliner I) Phase VI Sleeper (Superliner I-rebuild my car) Phase VI Diner Phase IV Lounge (Superliner II) Phase VI Coach (Superliner II-rebuild) Phase VI Baggage Coach (former smoker) Phase IV Coach (Superliner I) No Express
I was shown where all the temperature and reading light controls were by my attendant Charles. Departure was delayed for about 20 minutes so the diner could have some work done to the dumbwaiter and to get the departure signal. At that time the dining car steward went and gave out dinner reservations. Once we departed we were on the three track Metra-BN line and I headed for the sightseer lounge. Just past Naperville a gentleman walked in and handed out NARP action alert flyers. It was Ross Capon NARP Executive Director. I told him I did not need one as I had already contacted my congressman and senator regarding Amtrak and all said they support it and have the record to prove it. We stopped in Naperville briefly and had train 6 pass us heading to Chicago. Entering the dining car around Galesburg the patrons were told that due to the grill being out of order there would be no steak. I however decided to have the oriental style chicken thighs (Amtrakese for one of my favorite oriental entrees chicken teriyaki) with mashed potatoes and grilled (though how they were grilled without the grill I don't know) vegetables and a chocolate bombe cake for dessert. Once dinner was done I entered the lounge to watch the movie (The Village) but I found it way too scary and went to my room where I went to sleep expecting the next day to have dramatic scenery.
California Zephyr - Day 2
I woke up around 5:00 showered and on my way back upstairs I noticed a rattlesnake trying to fight the train but clearly losing as it keep on hissing and striking at the train (What it was mad about I don't know but it probably figured out it would lose if it actually attacked the train) as well as the line was now a single track but we encountered no freight resistance. I entered the diner but was told breakfast would be delayed due to the grill problem, but they were unable to fix it and thus had no pancakes or eggs besides scrambled. I order the French toast with the pork sausage which was most likely microwaved but was still delicious. After which I went to the lounge and waited for what should have been the canyons of Colorado. I had also been told several passengers were thrown off in Omaha for smoking marijuana and being rowdy in the lounge car.
Just before Denver the conductor made an announcement that made everyone in the lounge observation section cringe. It was the following:
"Ladies and Gentlemen due to a four car freight derailment we will be detouring through Wyoming. All Passengers destined for stations between Denver and Salt Lake City must get off in Denver to take busses to your destination. We apologize for the inconvenience."
We arrived in Denver on time where we sat for an hour and a half as a Union Pacific pilot locomotive was added (one of the 8000 hp General Electric ones which was extremely clean though).
Once we departed Denver we passed the St. Patrick's Day parade staging area and were photographed by a few rail fans that apparently got wind of the detour (a few also photographed us near Cheyenne. We entered the UP main line after letting a rather long freight pass us. At the time I went to the diner for lunch and had the Angus Burger which was also very tasty and a dessert of cheesecake with ice cream. Even though there were a lot of freights we rarely slowed down as there were two tracks to run on. While there were some scenic areas, for the most part Wyoming scenery was comparatively bland to what I had expected.
The one time we had a long stop was so that passengers could stretch their legs and smoke in what I believe was Green River Wyoming. I did not get off as I had planned as it was during dinner when I had the salmon which was even better then I make at home (maybe its time to buy a chef from Amtrak instead of cooking myself). After diner I went to the lounge to relax and watch Shall We Dance which I found quite amusing. After a few hours I went back to the room to await arrival in Salt Lake where I hoped to photograph the train. However due to a large amount of freights we arrived after I had fallen asleep though I later found out we arrived about 1 hour late.
California Zephyr-Day 3 and Capitol Corridor
I woke up again around five and had my usual morning shower and went to the diner. This time I had the scrambled eggs with sausage and Hash Browns. I also discovered we were about 90 minutes late. Passing some rather scenic hills and desert areas we arrived in Reno where I stepped off for some air into a small mob waiting for the train which was so full people going to Truckee (all of one stop) had to buy sleeper to ride. I was in the lounge when the tour guide was giving his narrative as we went through the Sierra Mountains which were absolutely beautiful covered with a small coating of snow. The ride however was slow due to the numerous curves and somewhat steep grades. I decided to pass on lunch and instead had a pizza in the lounge while observing the fantastic scenery. Just before Roseville the train began speeding up as we were on flat lands. We arrived just outside Sacramento where we waited for the Reno Fun Train to unload until we pulled in. I got off and waited for the San Jose train to board.
The Capitol Corridor train pulled from one platform to another by way of a back and forth move. Once it was positioned the passengers were boarded and it departed 8 minutes late. The train was laid out in this fashion:
F59PHI Coach Coach Cafe Coach Cab-Coach
We departed about 8 minutes late after the conductor announced people should stop kissing in the doorway. The train made its usual stops but there was nothing to see as it was dark
On Monday I rode the VTA lines starting with the Santa Theresa line which was just a few blocks from my motel. I saw how scenic it was being that for the most part the line was between two medium height mountain ranges. After a brief snack stop I then headed to Mountain View to catch the Caltrain to Palo Alto. The train arrived a few minutes late it was one of the older gallery car sets and had some very large flat wheels that made the cars shake nearly making me motion sick.
At Palo Alto I got off and walked a few miles to a McDonalds and saw a few people protesting the Governor's appearance at Stanford U (which I did not go to as I had no interest in California politics). After lunch I went to pick up my car that I had rented and drove back to San Jose so I could relax and get sleep for the next day.
Being that I had time before I met with John I drove to the Millbrae Bart/Caltrain station. I took the Bart to the Embarcadero station where I had lunch and photographed some of the MUNI F line heritage PCC cars in their various color schemes and to Berkeley before I turned around and returned to Millbrae where I drove to meet John.
After meeting John he showed me a new parking garage that was being built in UCSF and took me out to dinner at Spanger's (a well known seafood restaurant) before going back to watch Russian news.
The next day we drove to his work and then I said good bye and returned the car to the rental agency. After returning the car I went to the Palo Alto station and took Caltrain to Millbrae. This was one of the baby bullet sets which are much nicer then the older gallery car sets and the ride was much smoother. Arriving at Millbrae I then rode Bart until about 3:00pm where I then took the California Cable Car line and the MUNI F line before heading back to the embarcadero station. I had one ride on the normal MUNI to the Caltrain 4th and King station. I took one of the locals which used the gallery car set (albeit one with round wheels) to San Jose. I then walked to the motel and packed as I was leaving the next day.
Return Day 1 Capitol Corridor-California Zephyr Day 1
I woke up around 4:30 so I could take care of some last minute packing and then walked to the San Jose station. I waited for about an hour for the Capitol Corridor to be called which I boarded in the second car which had reclining seats but I was asked to move since a large group would be boarding. After I had changed my seat I then went to the cafe and ordered a hotdog and soda for breakfast as was still not very hungry because I was half asleep. Arriving in Emeryville on time I went inside to check my bags and rested a little as was not fully awake yet.
Around 9:00 they announced that the train was arriving and to wait until it came to a stop to head for it. It arrived and the sleeper passengers were directed toward the front. The consists was laid out as such.2 P42 Baggage Former coach Phase IV Transition sleeper Phase IV Sleeper Phase IV Sleeper (my car) Phase VI Diner Phase IV Lounge Phase IV Coach Phase VI Coach (former cafe coach now a baggage coach) Phase IV Coach Three expresstrak PV Virginia City
Most cars needed repainting and some refurbishment
We departed and the sleeper attendant introduced himself and explained that he was a little annoyed at the condition of the car as one room was bad-ordered because its bunk was falling down. We passed through Fairfield where many photographed the "Mothball Fleet" wondering what this group of boats was. At Sacramento a large group boarded including many passengers who were on the train I had taken a week earlier at the beginning of the trip (many of them were even in the same sleeper I was in). At Sacramento we also gained the usual volunteer tour guide who gave a narrative on our route to Reno. After a few delays including one where we waited for 45 minutes as a ballast tamper went back and forth about 5 times and the usual slow pace through the Sierra Mountains we arrived in Reno about 30 minutes behind schedule. At Sparks the Private car was removed and the removal was very jerky as the train lurched back and forth rather violently. After this I had dinner and went to the lounge where they again showed The Village so I went back to my room and went to sleep.
California Zephyr - Day 2
I awoke around the usual 5:00am and we had made up time as we approached a stop. I saw that it was Provo which mean we were on the normal route and would be going through Colorado. After a breakfast of pancakes I went to the lounge to await the scenery that was coming. The nest large stop was Grand Junction where I bought travel guides of the Zephyr's route even though they did not serve a purpose other then souvenirs of the trip. After this I photographed what is probably the best scenery that anyone on a train could see of canyons and wildlife including numerous Bald Eagles. I also had the usual lunch of a cheese burger and continued to admire the scenery in the lounge.
Around 3:00 pm I went back to my room for dinner reservations where I chose the 6:00 pm sitting. I then returned to the lounge and continued admiring the scenery. About 10 minutes early they announced the sitting since we would be in Moffat Tunnel and also the announcement was made not to move about the train to keep the fumes out. Once I was done with dinner it had gotten dark but the lights of Denver could be seen. We arrived and I went to the gift shop only to find that it was closed for the night. After departing Denver I went to sleep for my last night on the train
California Zephyr - Day 3
I woke up and had the usual scrambled eggs for breakfast before heading into the lounge to relax on the last leg into Chicago. We lost a few minutes due to slow orders just after breakfast as we approached Osceola, Iowa. I noticed also that many stations have an old CB&Q caboose as a nod to the former owner of the line. At noon they made the first and only call for lunch. I had the same cheeseburger but this time it was served on paper plates and with plastic silverware due to the fact that arrival was in about 3 hours and there would not be time to wash the dishes.
Although the arrival into Naperville was about 30 minutes late due to the schedule padding we were able to arrive in Chicago pretty much on time. I then checked into the Metropolitan Lounge and took another ride on the Chicago L around the Loop. I then had a brief snack since dinner would be rather late on the train heading back. Upon arrival at the lounge things began to get interesting.
A passenger had problems with his hotel reservation and got indignant after he had been told that he could not stay overnight in the lounge like he had been told by a redcap. While all this was happening the departure board showed that the Lake Shore Limited was delayed for 30 minutes (though it turned into an hour delay). At about 8:00 pm the announcement was made to meet at the front and we would be taken to the train through the station.
The Lake Shore had this consist
2 P-42 Baggage Dorm Viewliner Viewliner Temoinsa Diner Lounge Coach Coach Coach 2 Expresstrak
We departed and just after South Bend the diner opened. I sat with several NARP members who were really mad about the Bush kill-Amtrak plan. I had the Salmon which was very delicious and a cheesecake for dessert. Arriving in Buffalo the next morning I saw that it was time for breakfast. I went to the diner and had the usual scrambled eggs with hash browns. About two hours after breakfast we arrived in Syracuse having lost no additional time. I took the taxi home and laid down to get some more rest.