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Trip Report

California Zephyr Reno to Omaha

March 20-22, 2007

Kansas City MO

My driveaway work left me in Reno NV this past Tuesday, 3-20-07 in need of a way home. Air was going to be over $300, the bus I didn't check beyond learning it was a 35 hour ride and Amtrak came through with a $102 fare using my Veteran's Advantage card - Senior rate would be the same.

So Amtrak got the nod and the booking - nominally a 4 pm departure from downtown Reno and 5:15 arrival in Omaha on the 2nd morning.

Reno has been trenched - the tracks till about two years ago were at grade level right through downtown Reno - making for frequent interruptions to traffic. But the city and Surface Transportation Board and Union Pacific Railroad devise a plan to lower the tracks into what they call "The Trench" - a concrete canyon through downtown Reno with bridges carrying the streets across the trench. Thus the trains stay downtown but no longer impede traffic. They were able to modify (greatly) the Amtrak station - the entrance and ticketing are still at street level then pax go down the elevator to track level where the new waiting room is located - pretty good solution that leaves the station convenient to Reno's downtown casinos and hotels.

The trestle fire out in Sacramento was about a week old for my trip so I expected a long delay for the eastbound but it was only a modest delay - about an hour. One hundred twenty-nine pax got off who'd gotten on in Emeryville, Amtrak's portal for the Bay area. Most were part of groups - I'm not sure if there were gambling junkets just arriving or Bay area tourists who were coming home but the train essentially emptied at Reno and about a dozen of us boarded - meaning they didn't bother assigning seats. The attendant did group by car somewhat.

Standard long haul consist: 44 axles per the defect detectors made up of 2 motors, baggage/express car, transition sleeper for crew quarters, 2 sleepers, diner, sightseer lounge, three coaches. Locos 195 and something I've forgotten. Sorry.

Lost two hours overnight getting to Salt Lake - not sure why - thus 3 down at SLC - no problem for me as I would arrive OMA at 5 30 am and have a 7 hour wait for the southbound Jefferson Lines bus. Amtrak no longer has a shuttle to KC - but the bus station at 16th and Jackson offers KC service for $26 at Senior rate - I think it was over $30 if you booked the Amtrak shuttle. Of course the shuttle used to meet the train at the station and left as soon as the train got in. Still you can do the JL bus with a 20 minute walk or about a $6 cab ride.

New Conductor out of SLC for Grand Junction. He was a live wire - much narration on the PA, mainly extolling the beautiful scenery of Utah. And the National Parks of Utah and everything Utah. A real shill for the beautiful state of Utah. He also set up an California Zephyr emporium in the lounge car with tee and polo shirts, coffee mugs, lapel pins and caps - all with the CZ logo. Very engaging Conductor and his enthusiasm for the train and scenery added to the trip. Might get old if you made the same trip with him three days a week but for the occasional encounter it was fun.

I granted myself one diner meal - and the cheapest is breakfast which I enjoy anyway. Bob Evans Scramble for $8.00 is a decent deal, Wednesday morning out of SLC. You get a complete meal for the price - fresh fruit cup, coffee, a scrambled mix of eggs, sausage and potatoes and a croissant. No toast anymore - somebody said the circuits can't handle a toaster. Seems a little odd with two diesel-electric locomotives up there at the head of the parade that a toaster might bring it all down but that's what I was told. Anyway, the Scramble is a decent meal at an OK price. Only eight of us showed up for breakfast - two tables in a car that could handle 60 (people) I suppose.

Grand Junction and a service stop - meaning time to get off. The GJT station has a small gift and snack shop and it's funny to see the entire train crew in there stocking up on the same stuff sold onboard but at half the price - soda pop, chips, candy bars. I think the lounge car attendant was there - even he doesn't like his own prices. $1.75 per can of Coke or a cup of coffee.

We were running late but the days are longer and with the early onset of daylight savings time we'd make most of our passage up Glenwood Canyon and across the Rockies in daylight. However at Glenwood Springs we got word that a boulder had dropped onto the tracks and they estimated we'd have a one hour delay for track inspection, cleanup and repair.

We were in station and since we knew in advance we'd be there for an hour the Conductor - new crew out of GJT but still of the friendly/accommodating variety - gave us a hall pass and told us to get off, get something to eat and be back no later than 4:45 pm. With that quite a few skedaddled into town - I got a Reuben sandwich at a pizza shop and others just stretched and walked the streets. The smokers smoked. Very pleasant, unexpected stop - no help to the onboard meal service but they weren't going to make much this trip anyway with a very light pax load.

Out of GJT around 5 pm - still a good two and a half hours of light so that was cool - it wouldn't be a total wipeout for scenery. The lower sun angles made for some dramatic views - lots and lots of deer along the right of way and in the fields - big herds grazing - 40 or 50 per group and several of those sighted. I didn't see anything more exotic in the way of wildlife but the last snows of spring were still on the hillsides and along the Colorado River banks so it was a handsome trip. Darkness caught up as we got to Winter Park - so the final run up to the Moffatt Tunnel was in darkness and guess what - the 6.2 mile run through the tunnel was also in darkness.

They now urge and pretty much order everyone to stay in the car they're in for the ten minutes in the tunnel - to lessen the amount of coal dust and diesel fumes that get into the cars. I guess it helps. On a prior trip the coal dust was pretty bad - this time it seemed less a factor - judging from the grime that accumulates on the inside of the windows between Colorado and Omaha.

Denver - I believe almost five hours down by now. I'm still happy as a clam about being down but can't voice the thought since most weren't in my situation of wishing to avoid a long layover in Omaha. Moderate boarding at Denver but not enough to threaten my two seats to myself for the overnight crossing of Nebraska - even got a second pillow from the attendant since he didn't notice the one I had from Night One.

Second night I slept some - actually slept so wasn't tracking our station times but by morning at Hastings we were still down about five hours - and fine by me. Into OMA at 10:15 vs scheduled 5:15 am - this is not unusual if you check train status via the Amtrak website for train 6. More reasons it can get behind than stay on schedule so never count on anything happening on time with the CZ east of Sacramento. The Chief has a much better record - the CZ not so.

I got my gear off and made the move over to the Greyhound station - weather was good so I just walked over with my roll around luggage in tow. Newly cleaned up Greyhound station - with equally new flat screen TV showing CNN to keep the riders occupied and updated on world news. I had time so headed for the library about four blocks away - a short internet session but mainly there for the food. Libraries have added food in most cities and Omaha has a neat little sandwich operation - try it sometime if you find yourself with a couple of hours to spare. It's an easy 10 minute walk from Greyhound to the Library. Any street person can point the way. Just ask us. The 12:30 pm southbound Jefferson Lines bus arrives in downtown KC at 4:50 pm and that we did - precisely as if to show Amtrak it can be done. Driver Richard Davis competently at the wheel. And always a break stop at the McDonalds in Maryville.

That's it - another successful Amtrak trip in the line of duty. Safe, comfortable and cheap - no complaints from me. Those who got to Chicago at 8 pm instead of 3 pm might have an issue or two but most should know by now the CZ operates on CZ time not standard time of any zone. Take the train, remove the watch, turn off the cell phone, enjoy the view.

One reminder/tip - I again made use of the Sweet Seat on a bilevel coach - seat 55 or seat 51. The only seat with a 120 volt outlet. I did learn a subtlety to the earlier advice to head for seat 55. That's the one you want if seat 55 is toward the rear of the car you're in. The outlet's always in the same place but access changes depending which way the seats are facing.

The seat pairs all pivot or swivel and are turned to keep them facing forward on the long haul trains. If Seat 55 is toward the rear of your car then you want it for access the car's one accessible outlet - you'll be the envy of everyone else with a laptop, DVD player, cell phone or whatever other gadget they have that's running out of juice. If seat 55 is toward the forward part of the car then you want Seat 51 - one row "behind" seat 55. In that case the outlet is at the rightmost armrest and nearly hidden by the armrest - also making it hard to insert a plug. But I did and used my laptop to good advantage during the day Wednesday so work on my new website.

I got a WiFi connect during that long station stop in Glenwood Springs so was able to download the accumulated email. Yes, I am in internet junkie and don't heed my own advice to turn the gadgets off and enjoy the scenery. Actually I do both and that works ok - gadgets to critters to whitewater streams and back to the gadgets.

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