Coast Starlight, Sunset Limited, Texas Eagle, and Lake Shore Limited 4,107 miles
June 13-25, 2005
I have always been a planner, so may I start by saying that the most important part of any trip, especially travel on Amtrak, should be prior proper planning! I began planning our recently completed trip last October by checking schedules and how I could fit in stops to visit relatives along the way. Taking in to account the on time problems Amtrak has had recently due to UP's control of the tracks, I penciled out my proposed trip and called Amtrak to make my reservations. I booked sleeper accommodations whenever necessary, learning long ago, that the extra tariff is well worth it.
We left Sacramento, California on Monday morning, June 13th, to begin the first leg of our journey down the coast to Los Angeles. Having earned the nickname, "Coast Starlate", I checked the on time record for the train several weeks and found a very erratic on time performance. On the day of our departure, we were pleasantly surprised to find out that our train was only running 15 minutes late!! (I later found out that because of problems between Seattle and Portland, passengers were bused that leg of the journey to reduce lost time). As it turned out, we left 45 minutes late.still not that bad!
Since the first leg of our trip was during the day, I had booked coach accommodations, but the week before we left, I got a call from Amtrak offering to upgrade us to 1st class for $75. Even though we wouldn't being using the economy bedroom, we would have access to the California Parlor Car and all our meals would be free. We gladly paid the extra fee and enjoyed the picturesque journey down the California coast from the comfort of the Parlor car. We arrived in Santa Barbara, our destination, only 2-1/2 hours late, not bad by recent Amtrak standards!
Since we could not make a timely connection to the Sunset Limited in Los Angeles, I planned a two night layover in Santa Barbara, a charming coastal town with lots to see and do. We spent our free day walking downtown and along the marina and pier and enjoying some good meals.
We boarded #774, the Pacific Surfliner, after a relaxing two night, one day stay in Santa Barbara. Our train was 45 minutes late, but I booked Business Class which gave us upgraded seats and complimentary snacks and beverages, for a nominal charge. We arrived in Los Angeles one hour late, due to heavy freight traffic, a situation which was to plague us our entire journey.
It is always exciting to walk into Los Angeles Union Station, one of the few remaining gems from the great days of train travel. We boarded the Sunset Limited and left L.A. only two minutes late. This train has one of the worst on time performances so I was not expecting any miracles during our trip. So I was not surprised when only 25 minutes out of L.A. we had our first delay of one hour! Throughout the afternoon, we were sidetracked MANY more times by freight traffic and arrived in Maricopa (station for Phoenix) almost 3 hours late. We traveled coach during this portion of our trip, since it didn't involve any overnight discomfort. The Maricopa station is 45 minutes south of Phoenix and was, so I was told, a move to get Amtrak out of the Phoenix yards. The best part of the Maricopa station is the vintage California Zephyr observation car sitting next to the station. It reminded of the trip I took as a child on the classic California Zephyr from Oakland to Chicago back in the mid 1950s.
After a four day layover in Arizona to visit one of my brothers and my father, we returned to the Maricopa station and a train that was almost four hours late. Not too bad, considering two days earlier, the same train was 12 hours late!! We settled into our deluxe sleeper for our first overnight stay of our journey. While the sleeping accommodations on Amtrak are a bit cramped, we felt fortunate to have our bedroom as we walked through four crowded and noisy coaches to get to the dining car.
We arrived in San Antonio only five hours late, thanks to a padded schedule. We were in the Texas Eagle portion of the Sunset Limited and were disconnected from the Florida bound train to await an 8 a.m. departure. We arrived in Fort Worth TX only 45 minutes late and were met by my other brother and his wife whom we stayed with for a two day visit.
We reboarded the Texas Eagle and left Fort Worth only 10 minutes late. We again had a deluxe sleeper, but had an older piece of equipment which was noisier, due to aging suspension I'm guessing. After arriving in St. Louis 50 minutes early, we arrived in Chicago ON TIME. It is always a thrill to arrive in Chicago by train and enter the station through the noisy, dark train shed. Chicago's Union Station is another well maintained relic of bygone days, the highlight being the walk through the magnificent columned waiting room. We checked our bags in the Metro Lounge and left the station for a quick trip downtown during our 5 hour layover. Downtown Chicago is beautiful during summer and we enjoyed the free shuttle which took us down Michigan Ave and later, back to the train station for an evening departure on the Lakeshore Limited.
Our departure was delayed due to a water leak in one of the sleeper compartments. Train #6 was late, but it was decided not to wait for it, so our train would not run late. Good thing. Guess whose compartment had the water leak? OURS!! But since the people from train #6 missed their connection, we were switched to another Viewliner sleeper. Once the train left Chicago heading east and picked up speed, we had a rough ride through dinner and through the night. In fact, the ride was so rough, during dinner, the train lurched so violently that many beverages on the tables were turned over. Big mess. The crew seemed to take it in stride however. The train developed engine problems just outside Albany, our destination, and we crawled into Albany three hours late.
All and all, it was a wonderful trip. Thanks to the On Track On Line website, I was prepared for the many delays along our journey. Thank goodness, none of them necessitated the loss of sleeping accommodations. We encountered very friendly sleeping car stewards and dining car personnel, the best of which was our sleeping car steward, Maria, on the Lakeshore Limited. I must say that I was shocked to see how many people did not tip their sleeping car stewards upon the completion of their trips. I think Amtrak needs to make more of an effort to inform the public about this. We met many wonderful people on board during our meals and exchanged many wonderful travel experiences.
I sincerely hope that Amtrak survives the most recent assault by our shortsighted government officials. Everyone we talked to during our journey were frequent train riders and many other people we have talked to during and after our trip still have not ridden a train, but would like to experience this wonderful form of travel. It was relaxing and we got to see some of our country that few people experience. As a comparison, we flew home on JetBlue out of JFK. The terminal was noisy and crowded and we left New York four hours late after sitting on the plane waiting for an engine to be repaired. We then sat on the plane in cramped seats for 5-1/2 hours...not a pleasant experience.
I would love to answer any questions anyone has about our journey.