Chapter 8.15: VTA Mountain View-Winchester Line, Mountain View to Diridon Station
After 15 minutes "offline", we were on the same vehicle for our final VTA ride of the day. Our car, marked "Winchester", left right on time at 3:49 PM. This was also our longest light rail stint of the day, as it would take us one hour 4 minutes to reach Diridon Station.
We retraced our travels through the Silicon Valley, and then down the spine of the system, the Guadalupe Line down First Street. The only difference was that through downtown San Jose, the southbound track runs on Second Street, one block to the east. Thus through this stretch, the system actually runs left-handed.
We were right on time at 4:53 PM as we alighted at Diridon Station, where it all began seven hours earlier. We now had a welcome break at the station as we got refreshments, snacks, souvenirs, and stocked up on spare batteries. Our scheduled layover here was 42 minutes.
Chapter 8.16: Altamont Commuter Express, Train #08, San Jose, CA to Stockton, CA
At about 5:15 PM, our Altamont Commuter Express (ACE) train was ready for boarding. Since it was sitting on the track closest to the station, we did not have to negotiate the pedestrian tunnel or the ramps leading to the other tracks. We all boarded and took our seats. Then somebody remembered that we were supposed to have validated our tickets. I collected everyone's tickets and ran back into the station to the validator. After stamping everyone's tickets, I returned to the train and distributed them to the group.
Our train departed right on time at 5:35 PM, and then at Great America we picked up a lot more passengers, presumably Silicon Valley workers. The ACE route runs on the same tracks as the Amtrak Capitols as far as Fremont, and then just after the Fremont-Centreville station the routes split. ACE begins to gain altitude as it runs right towards the mountains. The highlight of the trip is, of course, passing through Altamont Pass. The most prominent feature to us seemed to be the windmill farms.
The land became a lot flatter as we approached Stockton. We came to a stop at Stockton's Robert J. Cabral Station at 7:46, just one minute late and two hours 11 minutes after leaving San Jose.
Chapter 8.17: In Stockton, CA
On the platform we were reunited with Grace and Lynn, and they had also picked up Tom Preston in Sacramento. Tom helped out Lynn with the luggage transfer, taking some of the bags in his vehicle to later deliver to one of the downtown hotels that was closest to his home.
That brought us to 13 people. Our long day was far from over as we deliberated what to do about dinner. Originally I though we would just walk through town and find some fast food places. However others had done their homework, and since we had a set of wheels, it was decided to take advantage of our 2-1/2 hour layover and go a few miles out of town to a better restaurant and have a more decent meal. This meant making two trips since the van had limited capacity. So hats off to Lynn, who along with the vehicle's GPS shuttled everybody to and from the restaurant, making a total of four round trips!
We ate at a Marie Callender's. The staff (including our waitress Vanessa) was pretty good with our group, considering we had two tables of six or seven eating on two different schedules. The first six to make the trip ordered and had their food delivered first, and then Lynn and the second group did the same. Unfortunately, Vanessa forgot to bring Mike Hammond his portion, so he therefore could not complain about the food!
Poor Lynn, among the second group eating on a slightly later schedule, had to rush through her meal so she could shuttle the first group back to the station while the others in the second group finished their meal at a more leisurely pace. Then during the first group's rush to leave, John lost his camera so we had to look for it before we could leave. He had left it somewhere in the parking lot, but luckily somebody had turned it in at the restaurant's front desk. By the time the first six got back to the station, and Lynn returned to the restaurant, the second group was more than ready to return.
All twelve of us got back to the station with enough time to make our scheduled 10:15 PM departure, although obviously Lynn would be driving (along with everyone's luggage still in the van) to Sacramento.
We had heard earlier in the day about one of the San Joaquins trains hitting a truck at a grade crossing around Fresno. Luckily it was not our train; however this did cause lingering delays all day. Although the station is not attended, there are message signs that state the train's estimated arrival time. At various times, the train was shown to be anywhere from 40 minutes to an hour late.
It was a long wait on the platform. Besides the 13 of us, we also had a security guard and a couple of other passengers (most of whom arrived closer to the scheduled departure time). The guard showed us where we would be boarding. Unlike the ACE trains that pull right up to the platform, the Sacramento San Joaquins have to stop on another track and do their station work at a grade crossing since the platform track does not go through to the north. (There are plans to rectify that situation.)
Chapter 8.18: Amtrak SAN JOAQUIN, Train #703, Stockton, CA to Sacramento, CA
Our train finally showed up shortly after 11:00 PM. It took a while to do the station work considering that only one door was able to open at the grade crossing. Steve decided to go with Lynn in the van to keep her company. As we boarded, they left and headed for I-5 to make their way to Sacramento. The other eleven of us were finally on our way at 11:05, 50 minutes down.
The consist of Amtrak's SAN JOAQUIN, Train #703(19) Bakersfield to Sacramento:
2001 F-59PHI locomotive
2004 F-59PHI locomotive
8203 California coach/baggage "Bodega Bay" *
6464 California coach "Stinson Beach"
8811 California dining car "Antelope Valley"
8306 California cab/coach "Mount Soledad"
* We were here.
Unfortunately, given the hour, we did not see much scenery on this trip. The crew did apologize for the delays, mentioning the earlier grade crossing accident. Although we had a food service car, much to Mike Hammond's chagrin it was not serving anything due to the hour.
Our trip was quicker than expected, due to some padding built into the Sacramento arrival time. We arrived at the Sacramento station at exactly 12:00 Midnight, 35 minutes late.
Chapter 8.19: End of Thursday's travels
When we arrived, Lynn and Steve were waiting for us in the station, with the van out front. Lynn then took Skip, John, and Eric to their Travelodge. Tom, who lives across the street from that hotel, went with them as well to get his vehicle. Both of them then returned to the station.
Since we had six of the remaining people staying at the Embassy Suites, they had to split up into both vehicles. Mike and Steve were in Lynn's van since they were all staying at the Marriott in Rancho Cordova. Lynn took Mike to an In-n-Out Burger in Rancho Cordova to finally get some nourishment in him so he would not go to sleep hungry.
After HaRRy, Jishnu, Grace, Alan, Michael, and I were dropped off at the Embassy Suites, we had the first of a few bad experiences with the hotel. Some of us walked right past the hotel's nondescript front desk, since it appeared to be only a bell captain stand and it was unmanned. Once we figured out that this was where we had to check in, it took a while for anyone to show up. The staff member who finally took care of us seemed disturbed that so many of us needed to be processed at this post-midnight hour.
It had been a very long day, with most of us putting in a lot of rail miles as we went from our hotels in the Bay Area, made our various trips to San Jose, rode around that area most of the day, then rode ACE to Stockton, spent over three hours there, rode the San Joaquin to Sacramento, and finally were driven to our respective hotels. Everyone appreciated and deserved the rest they were about to get!
Chapter 9: Friday, July 20, 2007
Friday saw us experiencing our final full day in California. We would ride the entire light rail system in Sacramento and culminate the day and week with a nice steak dinner.
Chapter 9.1: The morning off
Since I knew that it would not take all day to ride Sacramento's light rail system, I gave everyone the morning off. We could sleep as late as we chose, and handle any personal chores we needed to do. Participants had the option to visit the California State Railroad Museum, but I don't think anyone chose to do so.
Steve, Lynn, and Mike left their hotel in Rancho Cordova and returned the rental vehicle at the Sacramento International Airport. They then took a YoloBus back to downtown Sacramento.
Jishnu, HaRRy, Grace, Alan, Michael, and I had breakfast in the Embassy Suites lobby in the morning, and then went about our business. I used the time to do some laundry. Then we met again around 11:30 AM and walked together to the Westfield Shoppingtown Downtown Plaza to meet the rest of the group for lunch.
Chapter 9.2: Lunch at Westfield Shoppingtown Downtown Plaza
As the 13 of us assembled at the mall's food court, we had the fare of our own choosing. The place eventually got very crowded with area workers taking their lunch hours, so we were glad we had gotten our meals early.
At about 1 PM, we began to walk to the St. Rose of Lima light rail station in order to begin our day on Regional Transit (RT). With the exception of Tom, we all had to purchase Day Passes.
Chapter 9.3: RT Blue Line, St. Rose of Lima Park to Watt/I-80
We were all prepared to board as our first light rail vehicle arrived, headed for Watt/I-80. We left St. Rose of Lima Park right on time at 1:14 PM, but we had a slight delay at the Marconi/Arcade station.
This segment was part of the original system that opened in 1987. The outermost portion was built in the middle of the right-of-way of a freeway that was only partially constructed. The light rail trains use the overpasses that had originally been intended to carry cars and trucks. Parking lots sit on areas paved as a freeway but never used for that purpose.
Due to our delay at Marconi/Arcade, we arrived at Watt/I-80 at 1:43 PM, five minutes late. Our turnaround, however, was quick, lasting only two minutes.