On Monday we continued our westbound trip, culminating in our arrival in the Bay Area that evening.
Chapter 5.0: Amtrak CALIFORNIA ZEPHYR, Train #5, Chicago, IL to Emeryville, CA (continued)
We woke up still in the Nevada dessert, now in the Pacific time zone. This was most likely the most boring part of the trip in terms of scenery. There was literally nothing to see for miles, except for the parallel I-80 freeway.
We ate breakfast and then returned to our accommodations. Most of us had missed the Elko, NV stop, but we did get to see Winnemucca. Our station stop at the latter was just 18 minutes late. Since we were now in the area where the UP construction had caused three hours to be added to the train's schedule, we felt we were doing pretty well.
Then, we ran into a little delay. We stopped in the middle of nowhere, a small town called Thisbe, about 40 minutes outside of Sparks. Due to the recent lengthening of the timetable, had we continued into Sparks we would have been an hour early. Apparently we didn't need the padding at all. We would have been blocking crossings and a freight yard if we sat in the station for that long, so UP stopped us well before we came into town. Unfortunately, we were in Thisbe too long, and we ended up leaving Sparks at 12:09 PM, 40 minutes late.
Around Sparks and Reno, we were in the dining car having lunch. The girl who was in Room 9 in our rear sleeper ended up joining us to round out one of the tables at four people, as she practically knew us all by that time. Bill, meanwhile, prepared to detrain. He came to say goodbye to us as we were having lunch. Also while we were in Sparks area, Alan and I both received phone calls from Lou, who had already arrived in California after flying there from the east coast. We told him we were running close to schedule and would see him Tuesday morning.
Sparks and Reno are really part of the same metropolitan area, so the distance between the stations is not all that great. We got into Reno, a crew change point, at 12:18 PM, which is 15 minutes after we should have been on our way west. Bill left us and headed for Harrah's Reno, where he would spend the night before flying home.
We departed from Reno at 12:33 PM, half an hour late. For the rest of our trip to California, our group was down to nine people. We were still in the diner when we heard a guide come on and begin to describe our trip. This person was a docent from the Sacramento Railroad Museum who would be giving us commentary from Reno all the way into Sacramento. Unfortunately we could not hear him well on the dining car's public address system, so we retired to the lounge car for a while and then eventually back to our sleepers.
Although the day had started out boring for us in the Nevada dessert, this part of the entire journey was truly the best (since we didn't go over the regular Rockies route). Soon after Reno we began our climb up the Sierra Nevada range. Before we knew it we had crossed into California. About an hour after Reno we came into Truckee, CA, still in the midst of our climb.
The highlight of the trip over the Sierras was Donner Pass. We went through many tunnels and snow sheds, and often looked down upon I-80.
At Colfax, which came during our descent from the peak of the Sierras, we made a short stop and departed at 3:46 PM, 31 minutes late.
Roseville came at 4:58 PM, 34 minutes late. By now we were beyond the Sierra Nevadas and on relatively flat land. Roseville is only 17 miles from Sacramento, but the padded timetable allows almost two hours for this trip.
Our docent wrapped up his presentation as we got closer to Sacramento. Knowing the area's history and topography truly made the trip much more exciting.
When we rolled into Sacramento's station it was 5:20 PM, and we were 42 minutes early! We had a layover there, so most of us got off to stretch our legs. While there, a Capitol Corridor train departed in the opposite direction. This was Amtrak 536, the one trip per day that runs out to Auburn, through which we had recently passed.
We were able to leave Sacramento as soon as the crew change had been completed. The CALIFORNIA ZEPHYR from here runs in discharge-only mode, so being that we were early we could remain that way. When we made our stop in Davis at 5:50 PM, we were 33 minutes ahead of schedule.
We were impressed by the rail corridor. It looked to be in excellent shape, handling more passenger trains than freight trains. We maintained a pretty high track speed here.
Martinez came next at 6:39 PM, exactly half an hour early. From there, we had only another 27 miles to go on our journey. Speeds were a little slower the rest of the way as we came into more populated portions of the eastern Bay Area.
The 32 car attendant, Paulette, had done a wonderful job taking care of us and making us feel at home. Besides that, we kept her busy on the last day of our trip. We had an elderly man who had become disoriented and was in our sleeper trying everyone's doors. Paulette escorted him back to the coach section of the train. Then later, we had somebody aboard the train smoking. Not only was the practice of smoking aboard the train against the rules, but what we smelled him smoking was illegal. The offender couldn't do this in the coach section so he came into the sleepers instead, not realizing that the ventilation system would violate his perceived privacy.
Paulette got her due gratuities from us all, and she was tearful as we all prepared to detrain. Donald, meanwhile certainly earned his due in doing what he could to make the passengers comfortable without any air conditioning for the first two thirds of the trip. Just like the day before, as the sun hit the car and the outside temps climbed, the 31 car once again heated up well above a comfortable temperature. In fact much of the day those in the 31 car spent time elsewhere, be it in the Sightseer Lounge, the diner, or even the 32 car. Paulette had graciously invited Alan and Grace back to the 32 car after Sacramento, giving them one of the now empty bedrooms for the duration of the trip. Unfortunately the damage had already been done as all the chocolate that Grace had brought with her melted in its wrappers.
We came to our final stop in Emeryville at 7:15 PM, 35 minutes early. All those fears of severe delays and a very late night hotel arrival were quickly squashed.
Chapter 5.1: In Emeryville, CA
We had a fairly long walk up the platform to the station building. I went ahead to claim the luggage that I had checked in Washington, which had come off the train quickly and was waiting for me near the bus loading area. When everyone got to the bus area, the two women in our group Grace and Lynn were presented with a Lei greeting as if they had just arrived in Honolulu. This was our first meeting with Eric Minton, who had flown from Hawaii and would be joining us for the California portion of our Fest. Eric had come up from his hotel on Jack London Square in Oakland, the Jack London Inn, on Capitol Corridor Train 544. When our train was just outside the Sacramento area, Alan had spoken by phone with Eric (who had already arrived in Oakland) to coordinate this meeting.
Chapter 5.2: Amtrak Thruway Bus #5005, Emeryville, CA to San Francisco, CA
There were several buses loading in the lot. We were to take one that was only there to meet arriving CALIFORNIA ZEPHYR passengers. Lynn, Mike, Alan, Grace, Jishnu, Steve, Michael, and I boarded. The other passengers already aboard had witnessed the women getting the Leis, so I asked out loud if this was the bus to Honolulu!
There were other buses in the lot too, but they were meeting Capitol Corridor Train 547, which had come in around the same time. Our driver made what we guessed was a routine announcement. First he apologized for the train being late, even though it was early. He said that the bus company is not operated by Amtrak, so he would not take any complaints about the rail service. He then went through the stops the bus would make in San Francisco. It would stop first at the Ferry Building, then Pier 39 (Fisherman's Wharf), then Powell & Market, then the Financial District, and finally the CalTrain station. However, if anyone had a tight connection with CalTrain, he could make an exception and alter his route.
Another victim of our early arrival was congestion in the lot with the Thruway buses. We had to back up and go over a median to be able to leave the property, because the buses meeting Train 547 were still loading.
The bus took a few turns but very soon ended up on the I-80 freeway leading to the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge. While going over the bridge we saw construction of the new Eastern Span directly north of the existing bi-level bridge.
Once in San Francisco, it wasn't long before we arrived at the Ferry Building Amtrak station. Steve, Jishnu, Lynn, Mike, Michael, and I alighted here. We got our luggage off the bus (nobody was there to help us), and walked several blocks west to the Embarcadero Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) station.
Being out-of-towners, our initial contact with BART's fare machines caused us some heartache. We were trying to purchase tickets for our entire stay in the Bay Area, and found out that there were maximum purchase amounts allowed at one time, and one could not make multiple transactions with the same credit card. Once we did get squared away, we split up. Lynn, Mike, and Steve would head east on BART to Walnut Creek to stay in the Marriott. Jishnu, Michael, and I, meanwhile, headed west and south on BART to the San Francisco International Airport station, where we then caught a hotel shuttle to our Hampton Inn.
Grace and Alan, meanwhile, had remained aboard the Thruway bus, getting off at Powell & Market close to their Hilton.
Chapter 5.3: End of Monday's travels
Skip had disappeared on us in Emeryville, but that was because he found that due to our early arrival, he could make Capitol Corridor train 547 to Oakland and not have to worry about a Thruway bus. Might as well enjoy the last six miles of his trip aboard a train! It was a very tight connection, hence his quick departure. He was staying at what was then the Best Western Inn At The Square, at Jack London Square. That hotel has since lost its franchise and is now simply the Inn At Jack London Square.
HaRRy Sutton earlier in the day had flown up from San Diego to Oakland, and he then made his way to Jack London Square, where he was staying at the same hotel as Skip.
John had flown into town from New York, and he was staying at another Hampton Inn in South San Francisco. Lou was already in his hotel, the Red Roof Inn in Burlingame.
Eric returned to Oakland and his hotel on an Amtrak Thruway bus.
A long day of travel was finally over, and the Fest participants could look forward now to three days of exploring the rails of the Bay Area.
Chapter 6: Tuesday, July 17, 2007
Tuesday was designated as our BART Day. We primarily rode the entire BART system, but we also took an Amtrak Capitol Corridor train, did a trip on Caltrain, and rode the AirTrain within San Francisco International Airport.
Chapter 6.1: Meeting aboard BART
Our day began as Jishnu, Lou, Michael, and I boarded a BART train at the airport. This would be the first train of our official fest activities for the day. We had what I call a "rolling meet" (perfected in Philadelphia's commuter tunnel), where people board the official train at points most convenient to them. We sat in the front car and I texted at least one fest participant at each boarding stop the number of our car so they would know we were aboard that train.
Here is where the color coded team itineraries began to come into play. Although Embarcadero was the arbitrary boarding point on the main itinerary, only 4 of the 13 people would actually board there. Each team's itinerary indicated where they were boarding and the time this same BART train would get to their station.
Chapter 6.1.1: BART Dublin/Pleasanton-Millbrae Line, Various points to Dublin/Pleasanton
The four of us were joined by Grace and Alan at the Powell station. Then at Embarcadero, we picked up John, Skip, Eric, and HaRRy. That made us ten people traveling under the bay.
At Oakland West, we were joined by our Walnut Creek contingent, who had transferred from an inbound Pittsburg/Bay Point-Daly City Line train. With the addition of Steve, Lynn, and Mike, we had reached our peak for the day at 13 participants.
Our train had picked everyone up on time according to their respective team itineraries. For this morning we would be following the revised one-page itinerary that I had handed out in person for the BART excursion due to the late changes in the Dublin/Pleasanton area.
We remained on schedule out to Dublin/Pleasanton, including new dwell time that had been built into the timetable for single tracking. Our train actually arrived at the Dublin/Pleasanton endpoint one minute early at 9:13 AM.
For me, the branch line between Bay Fair and Dublin/Pleasanton was new trackage, as it was the newest BART line on the east side of the bay.
Chapter 6.2: BART Dublin/Pleasanton-Millbrae Line, Dublin/Pleasanton to Bay Fair
After our layover at Dublin/Pleasanton, we departed on time at 9:27 AM. On this segment we were returning to Bay Fair in order to catch another train to Fremont. We got to Bay Fair on time at 9:45 AM.
Here, some of us who had been in the system longer intentionally exited the paid area and then re-entered so that we would not be within the system too long. That worked out well for me because I was able to purchase some snacks from a street vendor.
Chapter 6.3: BART Fremont-Daly City Line, Bay Fair to Fremont
Our next train was two minutes late. We departed from Bay Fair at 10:00 AM. When we arrived in Fremont at 10:17 AM, we were just one minute down.
However, we were able to run across the platform to catch a Fremont-Richmond Line train that was preparing to leave. We ended up being in Fremont just one minute!
Chapter 6.4: BART Fremont-Richmond Line, Fremont to 12th Street/Oakland City Center
Our departure from Fremont at 10:18 AM put us 14 minutes ahead of our schedule. Our next destination was downtown Oakland, at the main 12th Street station.
We got there at 10:54 AM, still 14 minutes ahead. So we had plenty of time for our next exit-and-enter exercise, which this time was done by everybody. While out of the system some people bought some snacks from a convenience store. We also had some time to take group pictures.
Chapter 6.5: BART Pittsburg/Bay Point-Daly City Line, 12th Street/Oakland City Center-Pittsburg/Bay Point
Back on the 12th Street platform we awaited a Pittsburg/Bay Point-Daly City Line train. One came at 11:11 AM, which meant that despite our killing some time off the train, we were still 12 minutes ahead of our schedule.
This line was familiar to Steve, Lynn, and Mike, as they had used it twice already going to and from Walnut Creek. New trackage for me would be everything beyond Concord, the extension to North Concord/Martinez and then Pittsburg/Bay Point being added after my last visit to the Bay Area.
We arrived at the Pittsburg/Bay Point station at 11:49 AM, still 12 minutes hot.
Chapter 6.6: BART Pittsburg/Bay Point-Daly City Line, Pittsburg/Bay Point-MacArthur
The next segment of our trip was to backtrack to Oakland in order to then go up to Richmond. Our train left Pittsburg/Bay Point at 12:01 PM, which was 16 minutes earlier than we had intended. On this trip we did run into some delays as we were entering our destination station, MacArthur. We held a few minutes due to congestion. With our arrival at the MacArthur platform at 12:40 PM, we were still 13 minutes ahead of our intended calling time.
At the MacArthur station we had to change platforms, which meant going down one set of stairs and up another. Still, our total time at this station was just four minutes as we soon boarded our final BART train for this portion of the day.
It was 12:44 PM when we left MacArthur. We had a quick trip up to Richmond, arriving there at 1:00 PM. We ended up 17 minutes ahead of our itinerary as we completed the East Bay portion of our BART excursion.
Chapter 6.8: In Richmond, CA
The Richmond station was under construction, as it was being renovated as an intermodal transit center. The station was reminiscent of the New Carrollton or Rockville stations in Maryland, with both heavy rail transit and Amtrak. With not much to do at street level, we soon headed up to the Amtrak platform.
While we stood on the island platform in Richmond, we had a couple of surprises. First, a freight train marked Richmond Pacific Railroad came by the station on a third track. We were seeing a very local short line operator.
Then an Amtrak train appeared on the northbound track. This turned out to be Amtrak's SAN JOAQUIN, Train #716(17) Oakland to Bakersfield:
6962 California cab/baggage/coach "Point Bonita"
8814 California dining car "Mission Valley"
6462 California coach "Moss Beach"
8204 California coach/baggage "Drakes Bay"
173 P-42 locomotive (push mode)
After all that excitement, it wasn't long before our train came, albeit a few minutes late.
Chapter 6.9: Amtrak CAPITOL CORRIDOR, Train #537, Richmond, CA to San Jose, CA
We left Richmond at 1:38 PM, three minutes late. For many of us, riding any of the California corridor trains was a new experience. However, the very first segment between Richmond and Emeryville we had just covered one day earlier on the CALIFORNIA ZEPHYR.
The consist of Amtrak's CAPITOL, Train #537(17) Sacramento to San Jose:
2008 F-59PHI locomotive
8017 California coach "Tuolumne River" **
8001 California coach "Sacramento River" *
8807 California dining car "Imperial Valley"
8007 California coach "Russian River"
8303 California cab/coach "Mount Diablo"
* Most were here.
** Skip was here.
Being a midday train, we had plenty of available seats to choose from. We found ourselves spreading out throughout one car, and Skip actually sat one car ahead of us.
Being a little late for lunchtime, we were very hungry. So not long after we had boarded, we made our way back to the cafe car. We were very pleased with the diverse menu, and found the food to be good. It was better than one might expect on the Regionals in the east.
With our bellies now full, we returned to our coach seats to enjoy the scenery. The Oakland suburbs eventually gave way to salt flats as we approached the San Jose area.
Our train arrived at San Jose's Diridon Station at 3:17 PM, just two minutes off the advertised. So ended our Amtrak travels for the day!
Chapter 6.10: In San Jose, CA
Our train had pulled onto the track closest to the station, so we just walked into the building. (Other trains use island platforms that have ramps down to an underground passageway.)
We had another unexpected bonus while in San Jose. There had been some confusion as to how we could purchase tickets for our Thursday ACE train trip, since there is no ticket machine and no human vendor for the last train of the day. Well we found the vendor there in advance of Tuesday's first ACE trip, so we purchased our tickets two days early.
During the rest of our 27-minute layover in San Jose, we used the rest room facilities and then purchased refreshments at the station's small store. Soon the boarding call came for our CalTrain trip, so we went down the ramp into the corridor and then up the appropriate ramp to our train's departure track.
Chapter 6.11: CalTrain "Limited", Train #261, San Jose, CA to Millbrae, CA
CalTrain considers this to be one of their Limited trains, meaning it makes fewer stops than the locals, but more stops than the Baby Bullets. We were headed for Millbrae, where we would rejoin the BART system.
Our trip took about an hour, but was smooth and on time. We left San Jose at 3:44 PM and arrived in Millbrae at 4:43 PM.
Chapter 6.12: BART Dublin/Pleasanton-Millbrae Line, Millbrae to San Francisco International Airport
At Millbrae there is a faregate entrance to BART right on the northbound platform. Soon we were seated on a BART train awaiting departure. We left Millbrae at 4:49 PM, two minutes late according to the timetable and our itinerary. The trip took just six minutes. At 4:55 PM we stepped off the BART train at the San Francisco International Airport station.
Chapter 6.13: At San Francisco International Airport
Our original intentions at the airport were to ride AirTrain SFO, which has an inner and outer loop. The inner loop, or Red Line, runs clockwise and serves the airport terminals only. The outer loop, the Blue Line, runs counter-clockwise and serves all of the airport terminals as well as the rental car center. We also had agreed to purchase our MUNI Day Passes for Wednesday here, so we would be able to utilize them from our official start point in San Francisco before the downtown vendors open for the day.
The MUNI ticket purchase did not go as planned. Because there were so many of us, the person making the sales ran out of them. Some in our group were directed to another vendor at the other end of the International Terminal, which proved to be quite a hike for some of them. Because this process took so long, we decided to just ride the AirTrain Blue Line, since it is the longer of the two, and it serves all of the stations that the Red Line serves as well.
Chapter 6.14: AirTrain SFO Blue Line, International Terminal G to Rental Car Center
Because we were starting our from the International Terminal rather than Garage G where the BART station is, we would actually be riding one extra stop.
When we had gotten to the Garage G stop the first time, it was 5:20 PM. We were 20 minutes later than our intended departure on AirTrain's Blue Line. We arrived at the Rental Car Center at 5:27, and remained on board.