OTOL Southern California RailFest 2009
July 13-25, 2009
Photos by Piotr Dzwonek, Patrick Galligan, Lynn Hammond, Eric Minton,
Jishnu Mukerji, Chris Stephens, and Jack Suslak.
Chapter 10: Tuesday, July 21, 2009
The ninth day of our event was a combined travel day and the start of our exploration of the rails in San Diego County. We had our first of two Pacific Surfliner rides, and rode North County District's diesel light rail and commuter rail lines, as well as most of the MTS San Diego Trolley system. For a short while, we would have as many as 16 people involved at one time.
Some of us chose not to haul all of our luggage to San Diego, knowing we would be passing through Los Angeles again one day later. We found out we would be allowed to check bags at Union Station for storage, and pick them up the next day. Jishnu, the Hammonds, and I all partook of this service.
Chapter 10.1: Amtrak PACIFIC SURFLINER, Train #768, Los Angeles, CA to Oceanside, CA
Our group started to convene at our usual spot in the station's waiting room around 9:15. Our train was called around 9:30, and we were on our way up to the platform to board. All of us were in Business Class. On this train twelve started out from Union Station: Rick, Piotr, Steve, Patrick, Mike, Lynn, Dave, Grace, Alan, Jishnu, Michael, and me. Our departure at 9:40 AM was on time. We were invited to help ourselves to pastries and refreshments located at the rear of our car.
We lost some time on this trip as we travelled from Los Angeles into Orange County. By the time we got to Fullerton, our first scheduled stop, it was 10:21 AM. We were eleven minutes late as we picked up Evan and Eric to make our group 14 people. We gained a few minutes back at the Irvine and San Juan Capistrano stops.
For those of us whose first time it was to ride this line, we were pleasantly surprised how close the tracks run to the Pacific Ocean. We were right next to throngs of people as we passed the San Clemente Pier and its adjacent public beach. Soon our Pacific Surfliner approached Oceanside, and we prepared to detrain. We had somehow lost some more time crossing Camp Pendleton, so our arrival at 11:45 AM was twelve minutes late.
Chapter 10.2: Lunch at Burger King, Oceanside Transit Center
At the Oceanside Transit Center, we were joined by a 15th person, Bob Hunt. Bob, who lives in Oceanside, is a friend of Eric's. He joined us for the Sprinter round trip only. It must have made their day when 15 people descended upon the transit center's only restaurant, Burger King. We were handled quickly and we were all able to eat our lunch with plenty of time before our next scheduled train ride.
After we ate, some of us went to purchase our tickets. Most of us opted to get a Regional Day Pass, which would be good all day not only on the Sprinter but also our later travels on the San Diego Trolley and towards a discounted fare on the Coaster. We were glad we had started the process of getting these tickets early, as we ran into problems with the machines accepting cash or our credit cards.
Chapter 10.3: North County Transit District Sprinter, Oceanside to EscondidoNorth County Transit District (NCTD) started the Sprinter in March of 2008 as the nation's second diesel light rail line. It is second only to NJ TRANSIT's RiverLINE. The first diesel light rail line to open in North America was the O-Train in Ottawa. The vehicles and the service reminded me more of Sprinter's Canadian cousin than the operation in New Jersey.
The train carrying the 15 of us left Oceanside at 12:33 PM. The ride appeared to be a little shaky, but for the most part functional. There is mostly single track, but there are many passing sidings allowing the half hourly trains to meet. We learned that the train horn we heard was relatively new; when the system opened the horns sounded more like they belonged on a bus. The tracks follow the right-of-way of the San Diego Northern Railroad for most of the 22 mile trip. The only deviation happens in San Marcos, where the line makes a 1.7 mile loop off the mainline to serve the campus of Cal State University San Marcos, and then rejoins the freight line again later.
During our westbound trip I got a message from Bill Magee. He was to join us somewhere during our travels, having just flown in from Philadelphia to San Diego. Bill had landed in San Diego on time, stashed his luggage at his hotel, and boarded Pacific Surfliner 775, so he would get to Oceanside in time to be aboard the next Sprinter run half an hour behind us. He planned to short turn at Palomar College to join us on the eastbound trip.
We arrived at Escondido Transit Center on time at 1:26 PM. There were only seven minutes to detrain and stretch our legs before our return trip. Some opted to remain on board for the short layover and stay out of the summer heat.
Chapter 10.4: North County Transit District Sprinter, Escondido to Oceanside
Our return trip to Oceanside started on time at 1:33 PM. Other than Bill joining us at the Palomar College stop and boosting our group's count to 16, our trip was otherwise uneventful. We got back to Oceanside Transit Center at exactly 2:26 PM, just as the schedule called for. Now we had 24 minutes in which to purchase our next tickets, for Coaster. Since one way tickets on most California transit operations are time sensitive, we had been unable to purchase them before our Sprinter trip.
Bob left the group here to return home. Patrick also split here from the group to take Pacific Surfliner 785 home to Ventura. Bill took a walk briefly to the nearby Oceanside beach, but soon returned to join us for the trip south to San Diego.
Chapter 10.5: North County Transit District Coaster, Train #654, Oceanside to San Diego Santa Fe Depot
Our NCTD Coaster train was sitting on the near track awaiting passengers, so we simply hopped on, glad we didn't have to take the pedestrian underpass. We learned that for some reason, while trains on the northern portion of the Los Angeles-San Diego corridor run right handed, on this southern segment they run left handed instead.
Our multi-level train was identical to those we had encountered on Metrolink except for the livery and some internal colors. Evan noticed the similarity right away and found the drinking water supply, and went back into business padding her bank account. Most of us took the right side of the train's upper level in order to appreciate the scenery. Our train departed from Oceanside on time at 2:50 PM for a trip that would last just over an hour.
The tracks do deviate a bit from the coastline for a while; in fact they run on a cliffside that blocks the view of the ocean but overlooks Carroll Canyon to the east. We arrived at San Diego's Santa Fe Depot, the end of the line, at 3:51 PM, right on time. Here we split up to check-in at our respective hotels and planned to reconvene in a little over an hour to go to dinner.
Chapter 10.6: Downtime in San Diego
As had been the case in the Los Angeles area, our hotels were in many different parts of the San Diego area. Rick was staying south of the city at the Super 8 National City, and Piotr was even further south at the Days Inn Chula Vista. Michael and I meanwhile were north of downtown at the Doubletree Mission Valley. The rest were downtown, with Jishnu, Eric, Evan, and the Burdens at the Hampton Inn, the Hammonds and Steve at the Marriott Hotel & Marina, Dave Snowden at Holiday Inn San Diego, and Bill at the Westin.
Michael and I travelled to our hotel in Mission Valley by taking a Blue Line trolley to Old Town, and then a Green Line trolley to Hazard Center. We were basically going ahead of the official travels of our group; we would board the Green Line later when the official Fest trolley trip stopped at Hazard Center.
Chapter 10.7: MTS San Diego Trolley Blue Line, Santa Fe Depot to Old Town
Our host in San Diego, the San Diego Metropolitan Transit System (MTS), would have to wait an extra 15 minutes as the Hammonds and Steve just missed a trolley that was to take them from their hotel to connect with the intended Blue Line trip at the Santa Fe Depot. By virtue of text messaging, we tried to communicate this to everyone at their respective origin points. Dave was aware of the change, but he took our scheduled 5:00 Blue Line trip anyhow figuring he would meet everyone later.
Piotr, Rick, HaRRy, Jishnu, Steve, Lynn, and Mike boarded the Blue Line trolley at 5:15 PM, and then Eric, Evan, Grace, and Alan boarded the same trolley one stop later at Convention Center/Little Italy. They all arrived at Old Town. Five minutes later all eleven had crossed the platform to the Green Line, and were ready to depart on the next leg of their trip. Meanwhile, Dave surprised Michael and me and got off at Hazard Center to wait the last 15 minutes with us for the bulk of the group to get there.
Chapter 10.8: MTS San Diego Trolley Green Line, Old Town to Santee
It was 5:30 PM when the larger group left Old Town on the Green Line. This trolley got to Hazard Center at 5:40 PM, where Dave, Michael and I boarded to make our group 14 people once again. Unfortunately, we were on a multiple unit train, and we were split among the two cars with no means to go between them while in travel. I had intentionally boarded the same car as Steve so we could discuss making a dinner reservation for our large group. (Steve has always graciously handled that aspect of our Fests over the past few years.)
We arrived at the final stop on the train, the Santee Town Center, at 6:18 PM. For the first time in about 2-1/2 hours, our group was now reunited on the ground. The Santee Town Center features a large shopping center called Santee Trolley Square. One of the many businesses there was a steakhouse chain, the Original Roadhouse Grill. After some confusion about which way to walk, we found the restaurant and filed in.
Chapter 10.9: Dinner at Original Roadhouse Grill in Santee, CA
Besides being conveniently at the end of the trolley line, I chose this establishment to fulfill our desire to have a good sit-down meal on our last night in the state. The meal would serve as our California farewell and at the same time honor Eric's birthday. (Whether it's by coincidence or not, Eric has for the past three years seemed to have his birthday during our Fest!)
Dinner was enjoyable, although with our camaraderie and with the number of people who had to be served, we were there well over two hours. That was one mistake in my plan, as I had us spending one hour 35 minutes at this stop. Coupled with the 15 minute delay at the outset, we did not leave the restaurant until about 8:30 PM.
By then we knew from the schedule that the trolleys would be running less often. Compounding this problem was poor coordination at our connection point in order to ride the Orange Line. It would be a late night! A decision was made that some would return to San Diego over the route we had arrived on via Old Town, as it was faster. Michael decided he was tired and opted to return directly to our Doubletree.
Chapter 10.10: MTS San Diego Trolley Green Line, Santee to Gillespie Field
All 14 of us waited for the next trolley, which departed Santee Town Center at 8:53 PM. During this time we said goodbye to Grace, Alan, Eric, Evan, and Michael, who would remain on this trolley. The other nine of us got off only three minutes later at Gillespie Field, the eastern terminus of the Orange Line. We found that this station is in a desolate area. The only thing for us to do was to watch some private planes takeoff and land at the station's namesake airport.
Chapter 10.11: MTS San Diego Trolley Orange Line, Gillespie Field to America Plaza
After almost half an hour, we were on our way towards downtown San Diego on the Orange Line at 9:24 PM. It was now completely dark, so we unfortunately did not get to appreciate the views from this line, including one place where the tracks make what amounts to a horseshoe curve. When we finally arrived at America Plaza at 10:19 PM, we split up for the night.
Chapter 10.12: End of Tuesday's activities
Steve, Mike, and Lynn remained on this trolley to the Convention Center station. HaRRy drove Rick and Piotr to their hotels and then went home. Jishnu and Dave went to their hotels. I hung around the area until the next Blue Line trip to Old Town, and then had a rather long wait there for the next Green Line departure. I got back into my hotel at 11:15 PM, reunited with Michael who had been there for some time. It was the Fest's final night in California, but we still faced another busy day ahead of us.
Chapter 11: Wednesday, July 22, 2009
Wednesday the 22nd was our tenth day together. We completed the MTS San Diego Trolley, and rode the Pacific Surfliner back to Los Angeles. Having already reached the peak of the event, our numbers began to drop as people left the Fest along the way. Only eight of us were left as we boarded the eastbound Southwest Chief to leave Los Angeles.
Chapter 11.1: MTS San Diego Trolley Orange Line, America Plaza to Imperial & 12th Transit Center
Our group met at the America Plaza trolley station, so that we could first ride the downtown Orange Line loop. We started out our day's activities one hour earlier than the itinerary called for. Some participants had expressed concern that our schedule would not give them enough time to go back to their hotels after our trolley rides and get their luggage before our afternoon Amtrak trip to Los Angeles. This was a fair request and certainly one that could be accommodated easily. Therefore, instead of starting our day at 10:47 AM, we met before 9:47. The ten of us who started the day at America Plaza were HaRRy, Jishnu, Piotr, Dave, Alan, Grace, Evan, Eric, Michael, and me. We were joined on this train at the Convention Center station by Lynn, Mike, and Steve rounding out this travel group at 13. Bill and Rick opted not to join us; they did other sightseeing in the area.
The whole ride on this trolley took eight minutes, and much less for those who joined us later. At 9:55 we were detraining at the 12th & Imperial Transit Center. We walked a short distance to the mainline station at the center to await the next Blue Line train headed for San Ysidro.
Chapter 11.2: MTS San Diego Trolley Blue Line, Imperial & 12th Transit Center to San Ysidro
After about a ten minute wait, we were rolling once again on our last segment of the trolley system to conquer on this trip. We left 12th & Imperial at 10:06 AM. This ride was arguably the most scenic, and it runs at times within sight of the Pacific Ocean, offers views of the Amtrak/Coaster yards, passes through National City and Chula Vista, and gives some glimpses into Mexico before we actually got to San Ysidro. It was 10:41 AM when we arrived at end of the line in San Ysidro. We had about 18 minutes to layover here. Some of us walked up the ramp and on the walkway that leads to the foot crossing of the international border, but did not actually step into Mexico. Everyone was back on the platform before our inbound trip was scheduled to leave.
Chapter 11.3: MTS San Diego Trolley Blue Line, San Ysidro to Santa Fe Depot
The thirteen of us returned to downtown San Diego on this trip. Once we got downtown, we began to split up as some needed to check-out and get their baggage from their hotels. The rest of us just went to the Santa Fe Depot to relax and await our Amtrak train. HaRRy left us and went home. Those who had remained on the trolley to the Santa Fe Depot got there at 11:45 AM.
Chapter 11.4: Downtime in San Diego
Temporarily disbanded once more, the OTOL Fest participants did their own things for the next hour or so. We saw Rick briefly, and said goodbye to him as he would be remaining in San Diego. (His plan was to take the Southwest Chief back east two days after we did.) Piotr and I took a walk down Broadway from the Santa Fe Depot to the MTS Transit Store in order to pick up some current timetables. The walk ended up being six blocks, so we walked up to C Street took a Blue Line trolley back to the Depot.
When we got back to the Depot, our group was starting to file in from the various hotels, and Bill had also joined us. The station was crowded, as we happened to be there on Opening Day of the Del Mar Race Track, so there were lots of horse racing fans including many women with fancy wide hats waiting for the same train. Some people began to file outside as our train's departure time neared.
The station personnel at the San Diego Depot have a tough job in keeping everyone safe. Pedestrians going to the various platforms for Amtrak, Coaster, and the San Diego Trolley have to cross all of tracks at grade. Many non-passengers use the station as a shortcut as well. Near a major train departure or arrival time, they have to control throngs of people who might not hear a train coming. Passengers waiting for Amtrak Train 579, our Pacific Surfliner trip to Los Angeles were kept behind a gate. Because we were a large group and all destined for Business Class, we were allowed to stand near at the front of this line. That was the only perk we would get before we boarded.
We never learned the reason why, but boarding was delayed for a while, with the departure time of 1:25 PM coming and going. Finally around 1:30 we were allowed to walk over to the train, whose consist had been sitting all along in the station.
Chapter 11.5: Amtrak PACIFIC SURFLINER, Train #579, San Diego, CA to Los Angeles, CA
Passengers who book a through trip from San Diego to points on the Southwest Chief are usually put on the following Pacific Surfliner, 583, which leaves San Diego at 3:00 PM. It is scheduled to get to Los Angeles at 5:45 PM, allowing only one hour before Train 4's departure. There is an option to change trains in Fullerton, but that would not have worked for those who wanted to leave luggage in Los Angeles while we were in San Diego. Given the delays that we did encounter on 579 in leaving San Diego, I was glad we were all able to be on this train so we would not be sweating over our connection later on. This trip would yield us no new trackage, as we had already traversed the portion between San Diego and Oceanside on the Coaster and the segment from Oceanside to Los Angeles on Pacific Surfliner 768 the day before.
We were served snacks and sodas at our seats. However the plan was to eat lunch on this train as well, so individually we got up and walked to the cafe car (one car ahead of ours), got our lunch, and brought it back to our seats to consume. We made a quick run up the coast, but lost a little more time en route. Our first stop, Solana Beach, was the closest to Del Mar Race Track, so we had a lot of people detraining headed for shuttles that would take them to the races. We left Solana Beach at 2:22 PM, 23 minutes down. We remained that late at Oceanside, which we left at 2:37.
We then passed the beaches around San Clemente Pier, which at midday were packed with sun worshipers. We made our stops at San Juan Capistrano, Irvine, and Santa Ana between 22 and 24 minutes late. We left Anaheim 23 minutes down at 3:46 PM. After that, Eric and Evan prepared to detrain at the next stop. It was the last time we would be seeing them so we said our final goodbyes. They were off the train in Fullerton at 3:55 PM, so they were officially 21 minutes late.
The last jog from Fullerton to Los Angeles went quickly, but we did not gain back any lost time through schedule padding on this trip. When we stopped at the bumping post at Los Angeles Union Station at 4:27 PM, we were 22 minutes late. That still gave us a little over two hours to wait for the next train.
Chapter 11.6: Downtime in Los Angeles
Of the eleven people who had arrived in Los Angeles on Train 579, three would not be continuing on. Dave left us to go home. Grace and Alan returned to the Hilton Checkers briefly to change; they would return to Union Station later to have dinner with some of Grace's friends. Jishnu and I, and later the Hammonds, went to the baggage claim area to pick up the luggage that we had left with them the day before. Those who remained in the station to wait for the Southwest Chief then all went to sit at a different location than our usual meeting place, mostly to take advantage of some open doors to get a comfortable breeze. During the time we waited, we were visited once more by Ken Ruben, who came to say goodbye on his way to a meeting.
Grace and Alan also returned and said their farewells before heading off to dinner. They were leaving the Fest here, and had planned to go up to Seattle on the Coast Starlight, then to Vancouver, BC on a Cascades, and then take Via Rail's Canadian across the country to Toronto. Finally they would return to New York on the joint VIA/Amtrak Maple Leaf. Those plans did not work out, as VIA had a strike. While still in California they found out their VIA train was cancelled, so they would not be able to make that trip. They had to spend valuable vacation time working to make alternate plans to get home. They ended up taking the Empire Builder from Seattle to Chicago, and then the only sleeper they could get east of Chicago was in the Boston section of the Lake Shore Limited, so they took that as far as Albany and then rode in the coach part of the New York section of the train to complete their trip.
The eight of us who would be taking the Southwest Chief moved into the station's tunnel soon before our train was called. Even though we knew we had a 43 hour trip ahead of us, we were still eager to get on board.
Chapter 11.7: Amtrak SOUTHWEST CHIEF, Train #4, Los Angeles, CA to Chicago, IL
As our group of eight boarded, we met our attendants. In the car where Steve, Bill, Piotr, Michael, and I were travelling, our attendant was Fred. He directed us to our rooms, and then came by later to give his speech about where everything was and how to get to the dining and lounge cars. There was an apparent burning smell in our car, which Fred attributed to our car recently coming out of rehab. We left Los Angeles Union Station for one last time at 6:51 PM, six minutes late. The route follows Metrolink's 91 Line via Fullerton, so our trip was familiar through Riverside. The only trackage in this area we had not already covered together were the connection in Fullerton, and the segment of the Inland Empire-Orange County Line between Riverside and San Bernardino.
Fullerton came at 7:28 PM, eight minutes down. At this time we were already in the dining car having dinner. We met the dining car crew, the LSA Moses, and two waitresses: Sandra and Doris. They worked well together and got us our food in good time. During dinner our train encountered a delay. We stopped several times around Corona due to signal problems. When we got to Riverside, we were 32 minutes late at 8:35 PM, it was getting dark fast, and we were back from dinner.
Still in Metrolink territory, the Chief now headed north towards San Bernardino. We got there at 8:59 PM, half an hour late. Like Riverside, we had visited this station earlier in the week. Upon departing, the trackage was now "new" to the group. We started to head north and east over Cajon Pass, making our official exit from the Los Angeles basin. Some of us watched what we could from our darkened rooms, but the Pass would have been appreciated more in daylight. After we gone through the Pass, it was time to have our beds put down and say goodnight.
Our stop in Victorville came at 10:06 PM, followed by Barstow at 10:45. We turned in knowing that on the earlier long distance trips on this Fest we had gained a lot of time through padding, so the 19 minute deficit meant nothing. By now, the apparent burning smell we had detected upon boarding was gone; it was however replaced by another unpleasant smell, our car's toilets. That odor unfortunately remained for the rest of our trip.Continued in next section