Back     Home     Forums     Chat     Search     Site map     Print this page  
On Track On Line - Trip Report Menu
This Report:   Section 1   Section 2    

Trip Report

Pacific Parlour Car Soft Relaunch

May 25-27, 2008
Section 1 of 2


Photos by Chris Luth.

Click small photos to see larger

Part 1--Northbound

On Sunday, May 25, I took the Coast Starlight northbound from Los Angeles Union Station to Paso Robles for a short Memorial Day trip to visit my family.

Having heard that at least one of the refurbished Pacific Parlour Cars had been sent back to California from the Beech Grove heavy maintenance facility, I went ahead and booked my trip in a roomette--even though I would be boarding at 10:15 am and de-training at 4:45 pm (hardly fully taking advantage of the flat beds sleeping cars offer!).

I arrived at Union Station on the Flyaway bus from LAX (the airport)--honestly, it's the most convenient way to transit between the two (although, as a railfan, it's always tempting to do the shuttle bus-Green Line-Blue Line-Red Line shuffle--too bad Los Angeles makes using their transit system so difficult). I arrived at Union Station at approximately 8 am. I'd read (both here and elsewhere) that Phillippe The Original--the place where the French Dip sandwich was supposedly invented--was worth the short walk, so I walked out the front of the station and down Alameda Street (rollaboard bag, backpack, and me--fortunately, Union Station isn't in too bad of an area!).

After entering and attempting to determine if they were making their famous sandwiches at that hour of the morning or were only serving breakfast, I ordered a double-dipped beef sandwich and a glass of their homemade lemonade. Within a minute, my "carver" returned with my sandwich. I paid and sat down on a stool at one of the communal tables. I took a bite, and--pure heaven! Most definitely the best French Dip I've ever had. It was so good (and a bit on the small side) that I went back and ordered a second one with double meat and blue cheese (and with a second glass of the delicious lemonade, too)--that was almost too much flavor for a single mouth! After finishing that one, I left the restaurant absolutely stuffed.

I waited in the sleeper line until shortly before 10 am, when an Amtrak employee came over and told us the Starlight would be on track 8, and sleepers would be to the left. I walked up to car 1431, the second of three sleepers, and was directed to room 2 by the cheerful attendant, Cruz.

Shortly after settling in my room, Cruz came by to ensure I was all set. As the conductor (Cheryl, if I remember correctly) was in the middle of her announcement, he reached over and turned the speaker off--a feature I would never have guessed was available! (After he left, I turned it back on, as I do enjoy hearing the announcements--it's part of the excitement of train travel!) I told him that I'd been on the train much but never in sleeper, and he proceeded to give me an overview of the benefits of traveling in sleeper, including an overview of the meal services available (more in a minute) and availability of the Parlour Car. I mentioned that the Parlour Car was the main reason I had booked a sleeper for my short journey, and he said that this was his first run on the new "soft relaunch" and with the Parlour Car in the consist. I thanked him for his time and proceeded to settle in.

After this, he made another round to all of the rooms offering them apples or oranges. I took an orange, although I was still stuffed from my delicious breakfast!

After I heard him make his way around to all of the other rooms (we had a mostly full load out of Union Station in our sleeper, and by the time we left Van Nuys, we were completely full), he made another round, this time offering sparkling cider or champagne--complimentary! It's hard to pass up free champagne, so I opted for that. I'm not much of a champagne drinker, but the California champagne they featured (I forget the brand) was sweet and very enjoyable.

A few minutes later, Chris, the dining car attendant, proceeded to announce on the P.A. that he would be making his rounds to take lunch reservations. He said that his philosophy was that everyone deserved to eat and that he would keep the dining car open as late as required to ensure everyone had a meal. I'd never heard this one before!

A few more announcements were made, such as the ones from (if I recall correctly) Trisha, the cafe attendant, and Greg, the Parlour Car attendant. Finally, at 10:15 am on the dot (!), we were off.

Chris then made his rounds, and due to my late and too-filling breakfast, I picked Chris's latest offer of 1:30 pm. He offered me the choice of dining in the diner or, surprisingly, lunching in the Parlour Car. The Parlour Car had a separate, smaller menu, but the atmosphere was designed to be less rushed and more personal than service in the diner. Since this was a new experience (and one I could not later duplicate if I decide not to book a room next time), I opted for the Parlour Car--the option Chris recommended.

I pulled out my laptop and my wireless data card and proceeded to update myself on emails and forum postings. In a few minutes, we stopped at Van Nuys and took on the last few passengers in our sleeper, filling it up. We then proceeded through Chatsworth and the tunnels under the Santa Susana Pass and passed the historic Santa Susana depot, with a lone railfan waving to the train. The conductor announced that because we were early (despite having stopped for a southbound Metrolink at the Chatsworth station siding), she was going to make Simi Valley a short smoking stop (about four minutes). After departing Simi--where my grandparents live and my destination upon my return Tuesday evening--on time (to the second!) I decided to pack up my laptop and migrate to the Parlour Car.

The seating area of the Parlour Car.I entered the Parlour Car and gave myself a quick overview of the comfortable chairs in the foreward area and eight dining tables in the rearward area (near the counter). Having never been in the car before, I could not compare its new furnishings with the old ones, but I found it a very comfortable, inviting lounge, although not quite as luxurious as I had hoped. The Starlight‘s logo etched into the glass separators of the Parlour Car.The glass dividers with the Coast Starlight logo were a nice touch, and the tables were done up with real white tablecloths and fresh, real flowers. The windows were noticeably smaller than the Sightseer Lounge's, but as it was much less crowded and there was (surprisingly) no competition for seats, I opted to spend my time in the Parlour Car. (I was a little disappointed that there weren't more sleeper passengers enjoying the lounge and that the ambiance made it slightly less easy to launch into conversation with complete strangers than in the Sightseer Lounge.)

The theater on the lower level.I checked out the lower level, too--the new theater looked quite inviting, with real theater-style seats and a large flat-screen television with a Yamaha 3.1-channel sound system with subwoofer located at the front. A close-up of the screen. (There may have been two more speakers at the rear to make it a 5.1 system, but I didn't see them.) There was a note at the bottom of the TV that said, "DVDs provided compliments of Fox Home Entertainment"; I looked in some of the cabinets, but the only DVD I found was Ice Age 2. I haven't seen that and have wanted to, but I had more important things to see on the train that day! I went back upstairs to enjoy the scenery from the comfortable chairs of the Parlour Car.

The front of the theater.Of course, being a railfan of Amtrak trains, I couldn't stay in the Parlour Car for too long--I found myself wandering back through the diner and Sightseer Lounge to the coaches and back up to my roomette: having paid for it, I wanted to enjoy the nice, large seat as much as possible and really compare it to the coach seats! I found the room's seats quite comfortable in their normal position, but when I reclined it slightly, the fact that the headboard didn't move made for a slightly uncomfortable position. I enjoyed the view out of my window, but I usually stayed in it for only a few minutes at a time, since Cruz's room was next to mine and he kept the curtain shut when he was out of the room (which was more often than he was in the room). Of course, every time I was in my room for even a few minutes, Cruz always poked his head in and made sure I was doing well. He was an excellent, attentive attendant!

About 15 minutes before the Santa Barbara station stop, I gathered my items and went down to the shower on the lower level. I had come straight off of a five-hour flight and had gotten off of a ten-hour shift immediately before that, so I was feeling a bit grimy and wanted to freshen up before lunch. We weren't quite doing 79mph (as we were coming in the Santa Barbara city limits--in fact, the conductor announced the Santa Barbara Zoo off the left side of the train while I was in the shower), but I found taking a shower in a moving train actually much easier than I had expected. I got out and finished getting dressed just after I felt the train jolt to a stop at the Santa Barbara station. The conductor came on and said that although we were early (shockingly!), the city of Santa Barbara limited our dwell time because we would be blocking a major street.

The Moreton Bay Fig Tree in Santa Barbara, the largest fig tree in the U.S.Since it was a nice day (a few clouds, but warm to this Alaskan), I got off at Santa Barbara and wandered around the platform (staying close to my car because of the short dwell time, of course). The famous Moreton Bay fig tree was directly opposite my car, so I took a picture with my camera phone. As I stood on the station, I heard a car honking at the blocked crossing at the west (railroad north) end of the station. Cruz laughed and said, "Sure, like that's going to make us move!" The car proceeded to honk long and loud every 30 seconds, and we laughed at the driver (finally waving excitedly to him at one point!). A few minutes later, the car honked again, and the engineer blew the whistle in two long blasts (the signal for "forward"). Cruz remarked, "Well, our horn is louder than his is!"

My sleeping car and its attendant, Cruz, at SBA station.We sped along the coast through Goleta and environs, and shortly before entering Vandenberg Air Force Base, Greg, the Parlour Car attendant, called me and one other party on the P.A. by name to the Parlour Car for our lunch reservation.

The dining, and wine tasting, table area of the Parlour Car.Greg seated me on the right side of the train across from the only other party called for lunch at that time, a couple of guys going up to Oakland for a day trip. He took our drink orders (all of us had complimentary sodas, although alcoholic beverages were available at a cost) and directed us to the menu.


Amtrak's newly-refurbished Pacific Parlour Car offers an exciting and unique alternative to the Dining Car. Amtrak is pleased to present this dining experience to select sleeping car passengers by reservation only. We hope that this casual and friendly venue with its small but carefully chosen menu will complement your journey aboard the Coast Starlight . If you have any questions, please see your Parlour Car attendant. Bon appetit!



Entrees, served with a warm rosemary olive oil ciabatta roll

Classic Chef's Salad
with turkey breast, baked ham, jack cheese, and cherry tomatoes on crispy iceberg letttuce, accompanied by ranch dressing.

Farfalle pasta
with sweet peppers, mushrooms, shredded parmesan and herbs, served with a small garden salad.

Butter toasted pecan tart
Granny Smith caramel apple tart
Haaged Dazs ice cream (vanilla or chocolate)

I opted for the pasta, while my two dining companions ordered the chef's salad. Greg proceeded to assemble our orders from a small buffet-like cart located between the tables and the chairs (across from the stairway down to the lower level). The chef's salads arrived first with my small side salad, and a few minutes later, Greg brough my pasta over. I took a bite and was pleasantly surprised! It was a nice mix of flavors and textures--sweet and cheesy and very tender. I would say it was comparable to what you'd get at a high-end buffet or at a catered party.

As I spent time in the Parlour Car, I noticed a youngish man (mid-20s) with an Amtrak employee badge on a lanyard around his neck but who wasn't dressed like a member of the train crew or OBS staff--he had a button-up dress shirt and a pair of khaki slacks. During lunch, since we were seated in the table closest to the PPC's counter and the man appeared to be helping out there, I caught his eye and asked him what he was doing and his position, since he obviously wasn't dressed like a member of the normal crew. He said he was a customer service manager from D.C., out to make sure everything was going well for the relaunch. I took the opportunity to let him know how impressed I was with the service and wished him luck. I would have liked to engage him in a longer conversation about more aspects of Amtrak's service (such as the utter stupidity of SDS, certain detractors from service like the forced busing between Klamath Falls and Pasco, and the need for--for lack of a better term--happiness training for many of Amtrak's customer-facing staff), since I figured he might be someone who might be in a position to effect change (or have the ear of those who can). However, due to a lack of time and my getting lost in other things, I never did strike up that conversation.

We finished our meal as we passed the various towers and launch facilities for rockets such as the Titan II and Delta IV. Greg asked us if we wanted to participate in the wine tasting later in the afternoon, and all three of us agreed and paid the $5 to get our tickets.

As we approached Santa Maria, I felt a wave of exhaustion pass over me, since I had only gotten about an hour and a half of sleep the previous night on the airplane and had only had a five-hour sleep the night before that, so I retreated to my sleeper to try out the best feature of all: the flat bed. I figured out the mechanism and turned my seat into a bed, although since Cruz didn't do it, I didn't have a blanket, which, due to the comfortable temperature, wasn't a problem. It felt good to lie down on a real bed, and the rocking motion of the train put me in a calm state. Of course, I kept popping my head up every time something interesting flashed by the window (including pausing for the southbound Surfliner, with the cabbage F49, Horizon and Amfleet cars, and Dash-8, to pass), so I only got a total of perhaps 15 minutes of sleep, if even that much.

After the San Luis Obispo stop, we were paged for our wine tasting, so I headed up to the Parlour Car and joined my two lunch companions and about 12 other people for the tasting. Greg's assistant came around and gave us each two glasses--one for the whites and one for the reds--and placed plates of cheese cubes (I believe cheddar, Colby-Jack, and pepper jack) and sealed tri-packages of Carrs water crackers at our table.

Greg led the tasting while his assistant poured the wines. Greg handled it quite well--he didn't come off as a wine expert, but he did appear to have a decent knowledge of wine and read the notecards without stuttering or sounding like he didn't know what he was doing, and he ad-libbed a few times and made some funny cracks. We sampled four wines--a pinot gris, an Estancia pinot noir, a petite sirah, and a riesling, all from the Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, and Monterey/Salinas river valley regions. As a red wine fan, I liked the petit sirah best (I forget the winemaker, but it was very good, which surprised me as I usually really enjoy Estancia's reds). The riesling was very good and was really enjoyed by one of my lunch companions. Greg mentioned that he knew that you were supposed to start with whites and then go to reds, but he though the riesling was so sweet--almost sweet enough to be considered a desert wine--that it should finish the tasting off. We all agreed. Greg tantalized us with an invite to the following day's tasting, which would feature Oregon and Washington wines. His assistant also told us that the southbound wines would be different--there were a total of sixteen wines featured in the Parlour Car (four for each day's tasting and different wines for northbound and southbound).

I remained in the Parlour Car long enough to see the back of my old childhood home in Templeton and then made my way to my roomette to pack up my belongings for my station stop in Paso Robles. Cruz reminded me about the stop (although having grown up in the area, I knew it like the back of my hand) and then proceeded to see me off.

All in all, I was impressed by the service on this Amtrak train. I don't know if it's a result of the relaunch or if I just happened to get an awesome crew, but Cruz, Greg and Chris were excellent attendants, and conductor Cheryl (or maybe it was Carol) did a good job making announcements of sights we were passing and what was going on at each stop. We also ran not only on-time but early, too--though this may have been a function of reduced freight traffic due to the Memorial Day holiday. I don't recall meeting a single freight train--the two meets for which we stopped were for other passenger trains. It'd be nice for ridership if this could be the case every day, year-round!

I was also impressed by the roomette (and the bedrooms--I looked in one as I was boarding, since I was the second person to board the train and had the car to myself for a few minutes). I think I'm sold--I'm still cheap, so I'm not sure I'll upgrade every time, but on overnight runs where sleeping class offers substantial perks over coach (Parlour Cars, lounge access, wine tastings, etc.) or in the event that coach is at high bucket and sleepers are at low bucket (making the price difference not too bad), I will be very tempted to spend the few extra bucks for the sleeper.

On my return home tomorrow evening (on which I will meet fellow AU and FT member chuljin)--I'm not sure whether I'm going to eat in the Parlour Car for lunch or dinner (or both) or if I'm going to check out the full-service dining car--I'll likely eat in the diner at least once, since I want to see how good the flat iron steak that everyone here raves about! I stole the copy of the Parlour Car's dining menu and the beverage list from my roomette, so here it is (copied exactly, including the missing hyphens and capitals):


FIRST DAY (continued)


Crispy green garden salad.

Entrees, served with a warmed rosemary olive oil ciabatta roll

Beef braised in a port and goji berry sauce
Served with rice & a vegetable medley

Farm style zinfandel braised chicken
with artichokes, tomatoes and olives with rice & a vegetable medley

Your server can describe today's sweet selections that include cheesecake, chocolate and more!




Parlour car continental
with cinnamon streusel bread, croissant, fresh cut fruit and yogurt

Crimini mushroom and spinach frittata
with sheep's milk feta cheese, accompanied by pork sausages, roasted potatoes and croissant

Entrees, served with a warmed rosemary olive oil ciabatta roll

Chicken & cranberry walnut bistro salad
with market lettuces, feta & raspberry vinaigrette.

Wine Country gemelli pasta
with tomatoes, olives, capers garlic & parmesan, served with a green garden salad.

Carrot cake with raisins, walnuts and pineapple
Granny Smith caramel apple tart
Haaged Dazs ice cream (vanilla or chocolate)


Crispy green garden salad.

Entrees, served with a warmed rosemary olive oil ciabatta roll

Santa Maria ancho chile braised beef short-rib
with rice and avegetable medley.

Pacific bay scallops in creamy Chardonnay sauce
with rice and a vegetable medley.

Your server can describe today's sweet selections that include cheesecake, chocolate and more!

Your choice may not be available due to an unexpected high demand. Thank you for understanding.

Environmental information from Amtrak

The paper used on the Coast Starlight menu pieces is 100% postconsumer reccled product, and is ECF (elemental chlorine free). The ink, which is soy based, has been custom manufactured to match the color of the paint used on the Golden Gate Bridge.


from the bar
Wines - Your server will describe our current selections, available by the glass or by the bottle...$5.00 glass, $25.00 bottle
Cocktails & Cordials...$6.00
Champagne splits...$6.00

cold beers
Sierra Nevada...$5.00
Samuel Adams...$5.00
Bud Light...$4.00

coffee specialties
Espresso - A short coffee with maximum flavor, enhanced by subtle notes and a smooth, balanced flavor...$3.00 single, $5.00 double
Café Latte -Espresso with steamed milk topped with milk froth...$3.75
Cappuccino - Espresso with milk froth and steamed milk...$3.75
Mocha - Rich, luscious chocolate with espresso and a touch of milk froth, with or without whipped cream...$3.75
Hot Chocolate - Rich, luscious chocolate with steamed molk, with or without whipped cream...$2.75
Americano - Espresso with the smooth flavor of coffee...$3.75

soft beverages
Spring Water...$1.50
Sparkling Water...$2.50

Spring Rolls - Thin wonton wrappers filled with a vegetable blend including carrots, cabbage and mushrooms, baked crisp and served with sweet & sour sauce...$5.00
Quesadillas - Crispy tortillas stuffed with a blend of cheeses, shredded steak and spices, served with sour cream and a salsa...$5.00
Wings - A basket of medium spiced wings, in a perfect size for sharing, served with blue cheese dressing and celery sticks...$7.00
Salty Snacks...$1.50

***   Editor's note: Some formatting by the way of color and font sizes was used in the above menus to make it easier to read. That formatting is not reflective of the actual menu.   ***

Continued in next section

On Track On Line - Copyright © 2003-2017 David Warner, Harry Sutton, & Alan Burden Back     Home     Top