DC To Oceanside & Back
December 31, 2008 - January 23, 2009
I should have known when I decided to leave on 12/31 that even the Cardinal would arrive ahead of time into Chicago. After all, the RR's were basically closed for the holiday by the time I got anywhere near where I would see any trains. Indeed, the only train the westbound Cardinal passed on the trip was the eastbound Cardinal somewhere around Staunton, VA. One westbound CSX freight in Clifton Forge did have a crew aboard it, but I assume it had just arrived from Richmond. Otherwise, everything was quiet until reaching Chicago Union Station where METRA some commuter trains were running on its holiday schedule.
The 31st was sunny, and it was a pleasant ride as usual through the VA countryside. At Staunton I noticed some KCS GP40's in various states of disrepair/repair at the Buckingham Branch (BB) engine facility. I assume the BB is rebuilding these for its own use. Does anyone know?
I had plenty of time in Chicago's Union Station to appreciate the Christmas decorations still up in the Great Hall. I also had plenty of time to poke around the food court on the second floor before actually having lunch. Some of the restaurants were closed due to the holiday.
We left Chicago on time and headed down the old CB&Q triple track to Aurora without passing but one ATK eastbound and a commuter train. By New Year's night on #3 when back on the xATSF we started to meet freights. The westbound ride on the SW Chief is in darkness by the time before you reach Galesburg, IL, which makes watching going from the old "Q" passenger line to the xATSF mainline west of town difficult. There is little to see on this ride west except for the lights that accompany the crossing of the Mississippi River and the Ft. Madison stop. Otherwise, outside of the brief stop at La Plata, MO, it's virtually pitch black outside until you see the lights of the power plant at Sibley, MO after crossing the Missouri River. Then you know you are nearing the Kansas City metro area. From the time you reach Rock Creek Jct., on the NE side of the metro area until you get west of Argentine Yard (where #3 takes on fuel) you have lots of light to see things.
Food on the train was slightly more expensive than last year, but I noticed no increase in the price of any food served in the lounge or cafe cars as being more than 25 cents more than last year at this time. A 12 ounce can of soda is still $2.00, a price that causes me to bring my own soda on board and then supplement it at vending machines located in the stations with longer stops. Typically a vending machine soda in an ATK station will save you at least 25 cents over the per ounce cost on train and perhaps as much as a dollar.
The first significant stop the next morning is at La Junta, CO, about an hour after sunrise. Again, due to lack of train traffic we arrived ahead of schedule. For the first time that I recall there was a woman selling Indian jewelry on the station platform. It was a good place to get some exercise after being on the train all night.
From there west it doesn't matter which day of the week, month, or year it is - the only trains that regularly traverse the line between La Junta, CO and Lamy, NM are the ATK SW Chiefs. Currently, BNSF runs a local out to Lamy to interchange with the Santa Fe Southern RR, but now that the new direct commuter line between Albuquerque and Santa Fe is in, who knows how much longer interchange will occur at Lamy. What did surprise me was seeing two semaphore signals still in use within the New Mexico Railrunner commuter district. Both are near MP 591 where there is a parallel road, making them easy to access. With fairly frequent Railrunner commuter trains these two semaphores are the only ones on the line to see much use.
We had about an hour's stay in Albuquerque. Usually I buy some burritos from one of the stands on the station platform. The fellow who sold them was there, but he told me he stopped selling burritos about a month earlier. Now I had to look elsewhere for supper unless I wanted to eat more train food. I finally settled for a sandwich and fries at the deli in the station. However, there are a number of restaurants within easy walking distance of the station as well as a couple brew pubs. Also, if #3 is on time there are a couple Railrunner commuter trains to photo. The MP36 type locomotives and bi-level cars similar to GO's, but in southwestern inspired colors make for good photos.
#3 stayed on or ahead of schedule all the way into LA. This meant the descent of Cajon Pass occurred before sunrise, or cloud rise on this day. It was raining in the LA area, so I rode the train all the way into LA rather than getting off at Fullerton to catch a Surfliner south to Oceanside. Besides, it being a Saturday, no Surfliner would arrive before I boarded the first southbound of the day at LA due out at 8:30 AM. As it was I didn't bother taking it, but instead got a bite to eat and caught the next train south.
I got to Oceanside with enough time available before my wife was due to pick me up to ride the Sprinter rail service with DMU's between Oceanside and Escondido over a former BNSF branch. While coming by the San Diego Northern/Metrolink mx facility on Camp Pendleton north of Oceanside I saw some WAMX black & yellow GP38's. That Saturday night I saw a pair of these units pulling 8 cars south through Oceanside from our motel balcony. I assume the train was going to Escondido which is why I believe BNSF no room longer serves that branch.
Sprinter service is every 30 minutes on weekends. A Sprinter employee helped me buy my roundtrip senior discount ticket. It was $2.50 (if I recall) for the roundtrip. There are frequent station stops with at least 4 in Oceanside itself. The only part of the original branch not being used is near Escondido where the Sprinter's tracks leave the branch on a new alignment to serve San Marcos University/College. There is a jump over CA highway #78 that is on quite a grade. The round trip took me about two hours to complete.
There are many stations along the line that have nice overlooks available for photography. With frequent service and all DMU's looking alike it doesn't take long to get some representative photos of the operation. Parking is free at the stations I stopped at (the day before I left for Sacramento). One security cop did ask my wife what she was doing when she was emptying out our cooler while I was on a hill overlooking the station (on a sidewalk so I was on public property). After he found out, he left her alone.
Otherwise, once my wife picked me up, railfanning became very secondary as we were there to visit wineries. The one RR I did finally catch this time was the Ventura County RR. This is a shortline that connects with the UP just east of the Oxnard Metrolink station. A bit south of this interchange two spurs split off, making the RR look something like a wishbone. One of the RR's two rebuilt EMD switchers in Rail America paint was sitting outside the Port Hueneme Naval Base waiting for base personnel to come open the gate. This is the west spur which can be followed easily by parallel roads down to the naval base. The east spur is not as easy to follow except at its southern end. The engineer told me that the engines are kept inside a warehouse area just south of the UP connection before the lines split.
I'll end this report and continue with my RR adventures in section #2.
One thing I forgot to mention in the first section is that I photoed an Amtrak (ATK) F59PHI done up in a scheme similar to SP's "Daylight" colors that warns surfers to beware of trains. The engine stands out like a sore thumb, which is what it's supposed to do, I guess. Caught that the day before I left San Diego for Sacramento while walking along the Ocean beach at Delmar, CA with my wife. We then went to Solano Beach for lunch and caught the engine a second time in the trench at the ATK station there when it came back north.
My wife dropped me off at the ATK station in San Diego the next morning. I had 30 minutes before my train departed so I decided to get my tickets for my trip home. I had cashed in some of my "Guest Rewards" points for a free ride. I gave the ATK agent my reservation number. A few seconds later she responded, "I'm sorry, but that reservation has been cancelled."
HUH? She said that from what she could determine by what was on her screen, I had failed to pick up my tickets by December 11. Well, that's the day I made the reservation. So what gives? I wouldn't be able to find out until Monday (it was Saturday 1/17) as ATK's Guest Rewards office is closed on weekends. It shouldn't be. Undeterred I waited for my train to board and continued on as planned.
At 7:05 AM I departed San Diego aboard the northbound Surfliner that would connect with both the Coast Starlight and the ATK bus for Bakersfield. Headed to Sacramento, I could go either way. However, taking the Coast Starlight would put me into Sacramento at midnight, IF the train were on time (reportedly it has been running better lately). Taking the bus/train/bus combination from LA would get me into Sacarmento around 6:30 PM. For me it was a no-brainer. I much preferred arriving at 6:30 PM.
On the northbound Surfliner ride you last see the Pacific Ocean north of the San Clemente stop (if made by the train you're riding). Then you swing inland to the San Juan Capistrano stop. From there into Fullerton the trip is truly ho-hum. West of Fullerton into LA you often see many BNSF freights and even some UP action, especially UP gensets at work or rest.
Even after waiting for a BNSF freight to clear up near Hobart Yard, we arrived at LA Union Station within 10 minutes of the advertised. That gave me awhile before the 10:45 AM bus for Bakersfield departed. Sitting in a big leather chair in the LA station waiting room is always a treat. Eventually I went to the bus loading area. There were two buses going to Bakersfield - one direct, and one making a stop at Glendale. I was on the "local" bus. We departed a few minutes before the "through" bus due to our Glendale stop. The buses require a reservation so ATK knows just how many buses it needs for the number of passengers expected.
The Coast Starlight was on the track next to the Surfliner from San Diego. Its northbound trip out of LA is one of the most scenic rides on ATK, You go through the San Gabriel Mountains (I think that's the name) and a bit later reach the Pacific Ocean at Ventura, CA. You stay along the ocean until after you leave Vandenburg AFB and then head inland via Guadalupe (UP's interchange with the Santa Maria Valley RR), Grover Beach (just north of this station is a monarch butterfly hangout in a grove of eucalyptus trees that the train runs by), through Price Canyon into the Edna Valley (with wineries galore) and then into San Luis Obispo. North of there you head around the horseshoe curves up into the Cuesta Mountains, then through Santa Margarita into Paso Robles. The scenery north of Paso Robles is still pleasant until you reach the Salinas Valley. Then, it's pretty ho-hum from there into San Jose and Oakland. However, in January this part of the northbound trip is in the dark.
The bus/train/bus route via the San Joaquin Valley cannot even begin to compete with the scenery of the former SP Coast Line. The only scenery is going up over the Grapevine on I5 during the bus ride to Bakersfield. After that it's flat, flat, flat. The bus arrived in plenty of time at Bakersfield to get a decent seat on the northbound CA Amtrak San Joaquin Valley train. I chose a seat in the rear car, but alas, the crew had covered the door to the control cabin so I couldn't look out the back of the train. After getting a few pictures of the train in the station, I reboarded and we departed. Fortunately, it was not foggy. There was some power for the San Joaquin Valley RR we passed, including an FEC GP40.
For a railfan, however, the San Joaquin Valley route may be more interesting. First, you meet some freights on the BNSF route ATK uses. Second, for those rr-fans interested in industrial RR-ing there are many industrial locomotives that can be seen, and possibly photographed, from the train. The first is a geep at the Savage Coal Transfer Co. at Wasco, the first stop north of Bakersfield. The most unique one is the xATSF rebuilt geep that's painted up like a dairy cow at the Cargill plant south of Hanford. Just south of that facility is another grain facility with its own unique looking rebuilt geep. Alas, a cut of grain cars prevented my getting a photo of it, but the "cow" was out in the open. I photoed an EMD switcher in Fresno. Just south of Stockton BNSF has a TOFC/COFC facility that is switched by Pioneer RR Corp. Two xATSF "PREX" GP20's were there.
The one time of the year that the Valley can perhaps compete with the scenery of the Coast route is when the orchards are in bloom. I did ride the line once during that spring period, and it was quite pretty. However, not in January. As we reached Stockton, the sun was setting. We had been on or ahead of schedule the entire train trip. The bus ride up I5 to Sacramento was in the dark. We arrived at the ATK station in Sacramento at 6:35 PM.
In the main I prefer the coaches on the Surfliner and CA ATK trains to those found on other ATK trains (don't know about the Talgo trains). There are tables located within each coach, and the downstairs has facilities for lots of luggage, bikes, and handicap accessible restrooms. Passengers are expected to sit upstairs unless unable to negotiate the steps. The cafe section in one coach has a better food selection than found in an ATK lounge. Also, the food is somewhat less expensive. I had a cheese and bean burrito for $2.25, not all that much more than one would pay for something similar in a convenience store. Cans of soda pop are a quarter cheaper, too, although at $1.75 that's still expensive.
I noticed that an LRV line was right next to the ATK station. Had I known then that my Motel 6 was located only 4 blocks away from this line I could have saved myself quite a bit of $$$$ on the cab fare. However, I would not learn that fact until the next day when the clerk at the motel told me where the nearest LRV station was. Until then it was time to eat and relax until I began riding the LRV lines the next day. This narration will continue with the recounting of how I spent my time in Sacramento.
I went to Sacramento mainly to ride and photo its LRV lines. While I am not a BIG fan of LRV or trolley lines, I do enjoy them. Also, they are often the best way to learn your way around a new city, if that city has such a system. Sacramento's consists of two lines - the Gold Line, which my motel was near, and the Blue Line. The Gold Line runs between what it calls its "Sacramento Valley station," next to the ATK station, and historic Folsom, east of Sacramento. This is mainly an east-west line. The Blue Line is a more north-south line that runs from a place called Watts/I80 (next to I80) on the north end to a place called Meadowview on the south end. The lines intersect and share trackage at various station stops in downtown Sacramento, the eastern most being the 16th St. station.
As my motel room was 4 blocks from the Gold Line's 29th St. station (at R St.), I boarded an eastbound LRV train for Folsom. Before doing that I had to find out the definition of "senior." Turned out that in this case that means "62 or older." Not being quite 62 I had to pay the full fare instead of half that amount. However, this system does have a day pass for $6 compared to the basic one-way fare of $2.25. Needless to say the pass saved me some $$$$.
The line to Folsom generally follows a major highway east from town. At one point around 65th St. we jumped over a UP line, but which one I'm not sure. The scenery is best on the Gold Line between the stop at Sunrise and the end of the line at Folsom. However, east of Sunrise only every other train goes to Folsom. At the Sunrise stop itself, the line comes down off another "jump" over a major road. There is also some sort of secondary track (likely UP) next to the LRV. Due to not knowing how long it was going to take me to ride all the LRV lines, I didn't bother stopping at any of the places between Sunrise and Folsom once I returned to Sunrise from Folsom.
After photographing some LRV trains on the jump at Sunrise I rode back west to the 16th St. station, the eastern most station also served by the Blue Line. The Gold Line jumps over the UP's Sacramento - Stockton mainline between its 16th St. and the 23rd St. stations (the UP is at about 20th St.). The Blue Line is on the west side of the UP line from its junction with the Gold Line south to its terminus at Meadowview. As I rode a Blue Line train to Meadowview, a northbound UP TOFC/COFC train rolled by with mostly empty cars. That was the only UP freight train I saw that Sunday.
I then rode the Blue Line to the north end of the line at Watts/I80. At the Swanston station the UP's Roseville - Sacramento mainline parallels the LRV. After stopping at a couple stops to get a few photos, I rode the the Blue Line back into town and then finally rode the rest of the Gold Line to its station next to the ATK station.
There is a walkway from the ATK station to Old Sacramento as well as to the Sacramento RR Museum. As it was a Sunday in January, there was no steam train running so I didn't bother going into the museum [I'm not a big museum person]. I photoed a few ATK passenger trains at rest in the station and then got above the tracks on a highway bridge. From there I photoed what appeared to be an MRS-1 in yellow paint (without lettering) and an F7B unit in primer. Don't know if these units are museum bound or what. They were sitting a bit west of the former SP diesel shops. The only rail action was a pair of UP units running light eastbound through the station as two ATK Capital Corridor trains had arrived and departed just as I detrained off the LRV.
Back out the Gold Line to the Blue Line which I then took south to the College Park stop. At this stop I went to the top level of a public parking garage to take some pictures. As it was Sunday there were no cars there, but the lot was open. I then went north one stop and took some more photos of LRV trains. About an hour before sunset shadows started playing havoc with the tracks, so I rode back to 16th St., caught a Gold Line train and went back to my motel room.
I got up at 5:30 AM Monday morning to call ATK's "Guest Rewards" office to see why my reservation for that day on #6 had been cancelled. It took me about 15 minutes before "my call was answered in the order received." That person had to pass me on to a "travel specialist" which took another 10 minutes. Finally, I got to talk with someone who knew something. But what he didn't know was why my reservation had been cancelled. "No problem," he said, "I'll just rebook it."
So, I said to him, "Can it be rebooked for tomorrow rather than today?" Again the answer was no problem. So, I booked my reservation for the 20th, which would give me another day to avoid the Inaugural festivities in the DC area. By this time I knew the weather forecast for Sacramento was "sunny and warm" on Monday with Tuesday also being good through the morning, but at some point in the afternoon the clouds would begin rolling in. Rain was expected some time on Wednesday.
Not wishing to trust what the voice on the phone told me, before doing anything else I took the LRV down to the ATK station. Sure enough, my tickets were there. I put them into my grubby mits and headed back to the motel room. Once they were in my camera bag, I grabbed my cameras and headed back to the Gold Line [I seldom take my camera bag with me when I am on foot].
My first photo location was the grade x-ing just south of where the Gold Line jumped over the UP's Sacramento - Stockton main. The Blue Line runs next to the UP track. I wanted to catch a UP freight, but all I caught were LRV trains. Dejected, I gave up and headed north on the Blue Line to Swanston.
While the Swanston LRV station is right next to the UP mainline, there is a fence that blocks you from easily accessing the UP tracks. Not surprising. However, I later found out the local kids have knocked a hole in this fence to make it easier for them to access the LRV station from points east. Before making that discovery, I walked some distance southwest to reach the road that goes over the tracks a bit south of the Swanston station. Later I would use the knocked down fence to get back to the LRV station in a more direct route in a fraction of the time it took me to first get to the UP tracks. There was a security guard at the Swanston LRV station. I told her about the fence, but she said they were always fixing it, and the kids were always tearing it down.
The morning shot from the east side of the road bridge is decent once you get below some wires. This means you can't stand on the sidewalk, but rather have to get part way down the embankment. Alas, the grass was in the shade, and thus was quite wet. There was no way to comfortably stand or sit there as the embankment is fairly steep. In addition, there was some homeless guy sleeping in a cardboard box under the bridge. While I didn't think he was dangerous, I wasn't really interested in taking any chances.
This road bridge goes right over a UP interlocking plant. It is approach lit. Later I would find that the junction of the UP line to Stockton is a wye a mile or two from this spot. I assume this interlocking is used to get trains lined onto the proper track for the route to be used. Awhile after I arrived, a westbound UP freight approached and stopped east of the interlocking plant. The sun was on the left side of the train at this time so I photoed it as LRV trains passed as well as another westbound UP freight that went through without stopping.
The first freight still didn't move, but the sun did. It was now on the right side of the train, so I photoed it from the Swanston station as a prop for more LRV trains. About 3 PM I got hungry and took an LRV to the next station south where I found some fast food places. I figured that by the time I returned the UP freight would be gone. Not so. Not too long after my return another westbound freight went by this stopped train. FINALLY, after being passed by this train, the first freight moved on. However, not too long after that another westbound UP freight showed up, and it stopped. Another train to use as a prop. Not for long, however, as shortly before sunset this freight moved on. I stayed until sunset, but no UP freights appeared from the west. Likewise, the westbound CA Zephyr didn't appear from the east. UP was done for now. After sunset I took LRV's back to the 29th St. station and called it a day.
I left my motel room after newly inaugurated President Obama gave his speech. I could have watched the event longer as it took less than 15 minutes to get to the ATK station on the Gold Line. Still, it was best I arrived early as the eastbound CA Zephyr, (CZ) train #6, arrived in the station at 10:30 AM. It was due out at 10:54 AM.
I was worried about getting a good seat, not having boarded at Emeryville. I need not have worried for I found my coach virtually empty. The rest of the train was almost empty, too. Perhaps the inaugural caused people to delay their travel by at least a day? Some of us aboard the train did say to each other we had considered delaying travel for a day ourselves, but for different reasons hadn't.
No matter, the observation/lounge car (one that was still configured the original way) was almost empty throughout the trip over the Sierra Nevada mountain range. This made it easy to try following how the two tracks on the west slope of the mountain climb interacted. The last time I rode this line I had apparently ridden over the other track. That time I didn't see the track I was riding over this time. The reason became apparent as we climbed ever higher into the mountains. The track I was on this time was generally above the other line, and thus I could sometimes look down on it. It also went through more tunnels than this track I was on. There are some places where the two tracks appear to be far apart; that is, I couldn't see the other track anywhere near us. There are other places where the two tracks look like a double track mainline. Accessing these tracks by car didn't appear all that easy in many places.
What really bemused me was that a couple times we had to manually switch tracks due to mx work. One time we backed through two hand throw switches; another time we went forward through two hand throw switches. Each time an ATK employee got off the train to work the switches and get the train safely onto the other track. It was like being on a 19th century RR in the early 21st century.
Once atop the grade the track seems to be virtually inaccessible east of Norden. You look down upon I80 way below you. I didn't notice any other roads around. Finally you take a 180 turn in a tunnel and start downhill around a miles long horseshoe curve; that is, each side of the horseshoe is very lengthy. The curve itself appears to be wider than Norfolk Southern's former Pennsylvania RR horseshoe curve west of Altoona, PA, but I couldn't really tell you by how much.Aboard the train for the trip between Sacramento and Reno was a volunteer from the Sacramento RR Museum. He provided commentary about the history of the line such as recounting how the Federal Congress defined the beginning of the mountain range as being 8 miles east of Sacramento. At times there were long gaps between his comments so it was rather easy to forget he was even aboard the train. All in all, his presence made the trip more enjoyable.
Needless to say going through the manual track switching manuevers put us into Reno somewhat late. I hadn't ridden the line since the new trench was opened in Reno. This makes the stop much less interesting, so the DEA provided us with entertainment instead. A drug sniffing dog was brought aboard and soon found a "suspicious" bag that was unmarked (ATK doesn't appear to enforce its tag policy all that well) which no one was willing to claim. Later, stories were making the rounds aboard the train as to how much dope was found in that bag. I don't know what the truth was. Anyhow, the dog took long enough going through bags that the DEA sent a car to the Sparks station stop (not far east of Reno and the old SP division point) to retrieve its people and dog. The dog came through my coach, but didn't sniff my camera bag. Sort of glad for that as I had all my PRESCRIPTION drugs for asthma and other conditions (got my dope, got my hope) mostly in film cannisters to save room. Not sure how well that would have gone over with DEA given that most drug abuse in the USA is of prescription drugs.
We were still almost an hour late east of Salt Lake City, but it still wasn't light when we reached Soldiers Summit. A UP manifest freight was passing westbound just before we reached the summit. Looked for Utah RR's former MK engines (rebuilt to SD50 specs), but saw only some SD40's across town in the RR's Helper shop area. We would see another UP westbound manifest that day along with a couple BNSF westbound freights. We passed a couple UP coal trains and another UP manifest in Colorado.
Going through Utah we first encountered what some called an "ice fog." When the fog lifted, everything was covered with ice or ice crystals or snow crystals or some such stuff. It looked wonderful, a real winter wonderland. Glad I was inside the train and not out in it. Riding a train is the only way I can deal with winter.
Upon reaching Grand Jct., we had time to get out as it's one of the train's scheduled smoke stops. No matter how late a train is running, a scheduled smoke stop will still mean staying there at least a few minutes. There is a small shop on the east side of the station where I bought another can of soda and a couple snack items to help tide me over to Chicago. Then we got under way again.
We arrived in Denver a bit late. As usual the daylight trip through the mountains and canyons was delightful. At night the lights of Denver make it appear you are in an airplane making a descent into the city as you come down the Front Range and around Big 10 Loop. On the track next to us sat the Ski Train with its ATK F40's (painted in a classic version of the DRGW passenger paint scheme to match the cars). Alas, it was pitch black. I had no way of lighting the train so I just looked at it.
Maybe I should have tried. One of the two P42's on the CZ had apparently been causing problems. At Denver a third engine would be added. However, there was some problem getting it properly hooked up to the other two. This resulted in almost an hour delay leaving town. By the next morning we were still behind time by about an hour. Despite this I slept through the Omaha stop and awoke only as we passed Pacific Jct., on the former BN (xCB&Q) in western Iowa.
Western Iowa is sort of hilly, not the flat countryside found farther east on this journey. A couple of the passing sidings are fairly well separated from the mainline. If not too far away this makes watching or photographing trains being met easier. Most meets were with coal trains. Before reaching Chicago we had met or passed about 18 loaded or empty coal trains.
The first division point we reached in Iowa was Creston. This might be a place to spend some time. When we arrived there was a westbound coal empty with 2 units on the point and a DPU, A grain train was loading at an elevator. That train had a KCS SD70ACe "Retro-Belle" leading 3 BNSF GE's, There were an SD9u in I&M Rail Link lettering and paint along with an Indiana RR painted and lettered SD18 (xC&O I think) sitting on a spur. Also at the granery was an EJ&E EMD SW, probably now the elevator's engine.
The Mississippi River was frozen and covered with snow when we crossed it at Burlington aftrer coming down Burlington hill where Westinghouse tested his original airbrake for RR use. The ride through Illinois was uneventful until we reached Earlville where coal cars were piled up all over the place next to the mainline. Fortunately, the Earlville station was not touched. Good thing, too, for when I called my friend Mike Schafer - who lives fairly close by in Lee, IL - he told me that a friend of his who is the signal maintainer for that part of the line had been in the building at the time of the derailment, which had happened about a week earlier.
We arrived into Chicago a bit late, which I considered good as it gave me less time to have to wait for the departure of the Capital Ltd. I had time to get a meal of Cajun chicken and a couple beers before the train was ready for boarding.
I had only one criticism regarding the ride on the CZ. The lounge attendant completely closed the lower portion of the car when he went off duty for the night. He claimed he did it because people used the downstairs part of the car for all sorts of "nasty" purposes. Well, isn't that why the crew is supposed to check things every once and awhile? So, no one could engage in a late night card game or read a book in good lighting rather than in the coach or upstairs in the onbservation car where lighting is not as good. [I still consider ATK's policy of keeping so many lights on in the observation section at night to be a travesty of the intended use of that car.]
After my ticket was collected on board the Capital Ltd., I headed to the observation/lounge car (a redesigned one that had tables in the upper level as well as down below) and soon realized this was not going to be a sedate trip. There was a fellow from the Phillipines and another fellow going to Toledo. The fellow going to Toledo wanted to get loaded and came prepared to do so. He had a bottle of Asti Spumante with him along with pills of an unknown nature (at least unknown to me). He was also drinking beers from the lounge car. The Filipino lad was buying him more beers on top of that, and another fellow (a vet of Iraq still in the US Army) had a bottle of whiskey. The result of this was by the time we neared the stop at Waterloo, IN, the fellow going to Toledo was out of his mind on some sort trip (not rail related) and actually tried to jimp out the door window in the lounge car. He was restrained by two US Army vets (both had been in Iraq - the one previously mentioned and another about to re-enlist after some time out of the army). Not wanting to dissappoint this fellow, the ATK crew cheerfully ushered him off the train at Waterloo sans his bags. Whether he ever got them is a mystery to me. I suspect he did. How he got to Toledo is another question. I assume he spent the night as a "guest" of the local police.
The rest of us who witnessed or were involved in this matter in any way stayed up til about 2 AM discussing the problem and telling our Filipino friend that he had better be careful about for whom he buys beer or other alcoholic drinks. Not that any of the rest of us were all that sober ourselves. At least I got a good night's sleep in the coach seat.
We were ahead of schedule after we left Pittsburgh so daylight found us east of Connellsville. We passed only one autorack train between the time I woke up and the time we reached Cumberland. The next train we passed was near Cherry Run, WV. It was only when were were east of Brunswick that we passed a series of westbound freights including the Q751 ("Rock Runnner") and Q2621. Not sure which manifest trains I saw, but I suspect one was Q373 running via the Met and that another was Q400.
We arrived in DC Union Station at 1 PM, 30 minutes ahead of schedule. I called my wife telling her I was early and took the Metrorail Green Line back to Greenbelt. It was in the 50's that day. The next couple weeks were nowhere near as warm as that day. I should have stayed in California longer.
One final note about the trip home. On both trains I had breakfast in the dining car.-once on each train. Both times I ordered the Railroad French Toast with strawberry topping. On both trains this topping was not available. Not liking maple syrup all that much, I ordered the scrambled eggs instead. I think this breakfast selection is the one priced closest to what you might actually pay for something similar in a restaurant. Well, at least in California. ATK's dining car prices seem to be most closely related to prices one may pay for a similar meal in a California restaurant. However, the California restaurants I've visited have usually served food better prepared and more delicious than than what I've found in an ATK diner. This is one reason I seldom use the dining car when traveling by ATK.