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My stepfather drove me to the depot so I could catch the Coast Starlight which was due to depart at 12 Noon. When we arrived, train #776 from San Luis Obispo was just arriving. It was being pulled by a Southern Pacific freight locomotive with the original F40PH and seven cars in tow! The Amtrak F40PH that was pulling had “died” and the train was rescued by an SP locomotive out of San Luis Obispo. While #776 performed its station work, train #14 was waiting to enter the depot. After a 10-minute delay, train #14 was permitted to pull forward into the depot where I boarded my coach car. Had #776 not been there, we would have departed on time.
I was pleased to get a window seat, but it was on the land side of the train so I would have to go to the sightseer lounge car to get any views of the ocean. We pulled out of Santa Barbara at 12:13 PM…and came to a screeching halt ten seconds later because there were visitors onboard the train who had helped their elderly mother to her seat. They were unable to detrain because of a congested aisle and stairs leading to the lower level. The conductor was very angry.
After my ticket was collected, I headed for the dining car for lunch. The dining car was already full so they put me on a rather long waiting list! In the meantime, I sat in the lounge listening to announcements by our Chief of Onboard Services, Mr. Macintosh (didn’t understand his first name due to a heavy foreign accent) while viewing Capitan and Gaviota state beaches. Our train was delayed 10 minutes at MP 349 because we had to “line behind” a switch for freight train that we had met. It will be nice when CTC comes to the Coastline. Most of these hand throw switches are 40+ years old. A rather noisy man sat a few seats away with his scanner turned up very loud. He also boasted to other passengers how he was able to hear everything and get the real dirt on what every delay was. That’s just the kind of behavior that will make scanners illegal on trains someday. My scanner (well, Ham Radio tuned to railroad frequencies) was in my jacket pocket while I wore those “inner ear” headphones.
After about 45 minutes, my name was called and I enjoyed a very nice meal while absorbing a spectacular view of the Vandenberg coastline. It was clear with 40 miles visibility and the temperature was around 70 degrees. Never had the weather been so clear up here! This section of coast is usually plagued by dense fog. Perhaps that was one of the chief reasons the Shuttle program was scrubbed on the West Coast. My lunch consisted of a hot roast turkey sandwich, potato chips and a diet Pepsi to drink. Sitting with me was a couple from Oxnard on their way to Seattle to visit relatives. The other person was an elderly woman traveling to Oakland from a trip to Santa Barbara for Christmas.
Thanks to all the slow orders and delay in meeting the freight train, we didn’t arrive in San Luis Obispo until 3:09 PM and departed at 3:16 PM. While there, I ran up to the front of the train to say hello to Mr. Gosney, our engineer, but the locomotive door was closed and I couldn’t see anybody inside from where I was standing. Also I ran the length of the train to get a consist and time was just about up for this stop! I noticed that I was in car #1411, AKA, the “eleven car.” How ironic, this is train #14 and our sister train, the southbound Coast Starlight is train #11. I thought it was pretty neat being in that car. Upon returning to my seat, a young lady, probably college age, was sitting beside me. She had gotten on at Santa Barbara too but I had already gone to the lounge. She was not much for conversation and knew nothing about trains or travel for that matter. She kept asking how long it was to Oakland, her destination. She was definitely not a train person! I had forgotten what it was like to ride in Coach for long periods of time! It wasn’t a big deal for I spent most of my time in the lounge.
The dining car chief came through taking dinner reservations and the only time he had left was 9:15 PM! I wouldn’t get my dinner until after Oakland. Darkness fell quickly after our 4:45 PM departure from Paso Robles, 50 minutes late.
I really need to eat fish more often! My dinner tonight was grilled halibut, steamed carrots, baked potato and apple tart a la mode. I haven’t seen apple pie for some time now. My table companions were a mother and daughter traveling to Seattle from San Jose to see friends. They were in coach for the trip up, but would be in a sleeper on the way back. I know they will be happy with that! I was more than happy to educate her on sleeping accommodations and the Pacific Parlour Car. I was just about to leave the dining car when young man burst in and said he had a 9:15 reservation (current time was 9:50). He said that the bathroom door got jammed from the inside somehow and he was locked inside the bathroom for over a half hour! While at the Coach Yard, our lead locomotive was removed—obviously a deadhead to Oakland from Los Angeles. Finally this train would be pulled solely by P42 Genesis power!
The train filled to capacity in Sacramento! I don’t remember very much from that point because I actually SLEPT! I was able to get comfortable enough, even with someone next to me, to get some serious sleep. I have very long legs and they start aching if not elevated all the way. I just can’t do that in coach, resulting in a sleepless night. This time, I used the leg support cushion that folds out from under the seat to support the backs of my legs. While keeping both legs bent slightly, I then crossed one under the other and it took the tension off my lower legs, resulting in sleep! I was actually excited as I finally found a way to survive overnight in coach. That would be short lived though. Read on. The train arrived in Redding at 4:01 AM and my grandmother was waiting for me on the platform.
My grandmother lives only four blocks from the tracks and last night I heard an Amtrak locomotive whistle. I know the “chime” used and I’m positive it was an Amtrak engine. Perhaps it was one leased by Union Pacific from Amtrak? I was unaware that UP was leasing any OR perhaps the American Orient Express came through Redding around 11:30 PM on December 28, 1997.
This was the shortest visit in Redding to date, but my schedule didn’t permit me any more time off from work. #11 arrived at 3:09 AM, 50 minutes late. While waiting for the train, two long freights roared through the depot at high speed which created quite a strong gust of wind! When train #11 arrived, quite a crowd had gathered on the platform. About fifteen people got off #11 and the conductor asked the crowd which folks were taking the northbound train. The majority of the large crowd acknowledged. The northbound Coast Starlight due in at 2:52 AM. The conductor on #11 told the group that #14 was running in excess of six to seven hours late because it had hit a truck at Morgan Hill, south of San Jose. People booed at that news. One girl said: “I didn’t know you could call Amtrak to get train arrival information.” Too bad for everyone for #14 didn’t arrive into Redding until 1:38 that afternoon, nearly 11 hours late!
On the train I was placed next to a middle aged woman on her way to Chico. There were plenty of open pairs of seats but the conductor made her move her bags so I could sit next to her. I assumed I was placed next to her because couples would be boarding at the next stop or beyond. The lady was not happy I was sitting there. After a couple of minutes, she said: “People usually spread out when there are open seats, you know.” I simply replied that I was placed next to her by the conductor and I had no choice or say in the matter. Fortunately she would be getting off in an hour or so. During that time, she fidgeted in her seat and sighed to no end while giving me the evil eye! Gee, I didn’t know I smelled that bad.
After Fidget Lady got off in Chico, I tried to duplicate the “comfortable” position that I acquired coming up so I could get some shut-eye, but it was a futile attempt. I slept for about an hour after Marysville to just before our arrival into Sacramento. Boy did my lower legs and neck hurt! That tiny pillow I was given didn’t help at all. I moved one row back to get a better window seat. In four locations in each coach, there are seats that are “between windows” and only by straining forward or backward can one get a clear view out the window. I was placed at one of those seats on the way up too! This time, I moved the hat check above my seat back one row.
What a long train this is – 76 axles! Usually 60 is the average. Most hotbox defect detectors don’t have axle counters, but up here in the Bay area, most do count axles. Looking at the train in Sacramento (arrived at 6:56 AM), I saw what looked like an Amtrak boxcar in phase IV paint, along with three Amfleet cars. For breakfast this morning I had the Coast Starlight omelet, biscuits, fried potatoes and coffee.
I sat with a woman and two other men. One of the men would be our engineer from Oakland to Santa Barbara! He was called into service because the incident at San Jose involving #14’s crew prevented them from making the transition back on today’s #11. From what I had heard, #14’s engineer and assistant engineer were still in the hospital. I had heard this engineer, Mr. Vern Ward, on the scanner before but it had been awhile since he had piloted this route. It was nice talking with him and getting his take on the new Genesis locomotives. He expressed extreme discontent about units #112 and #113. He wouldn’t go into the specifics, but he did say he wished that one of them had been involved in the wreck at San Jose! Unfortunately, it was a newer Genesis locomotive #118. #112-#114 have distinctively different whistle, or chime tones. When I mentioned that to Mr. Ward, he just said: “I didn’t know there was any difference, I just push the button.” A photo of Mr. Ward can be seen (I’m pretty sure it was him in this photo) in an earlier trip to Redding last summer.
Just before arriving in Martinez, we passed a 10 hr. 35 min. late train #14! It had AMTK #378 on the point and a typical consist. I felt sorry for those passengers making connections in Portland and Seattle. We were held outside of Emeryville for another 20 minutes awaiting the departure of train #6, the California Zephyr bound for Chicago.It was a long train #6 and it had the following consist:
In Emeryville I had to get the car numbers to those Amfleet cars we were pulling because they would be cut off in the Oakland coach yard between Emeryville and Oakland—Jack London Square. I jumped off and got only those Amfleet car numbers and waited until Oakland station to get the rest of the consist since there would be more time there.
Here we are cutting off the three Amfleet cars, keeping the boxcar. We are also adding an engine, #297. Yuck, an F40PH! At least we still have Genesis power to boot. Nearly 40 minutes passed before we were on our way again. I was having fun watching the freight trains on the adjacent tracks being unloaded by a HUGE moving crane that straddles the tracks. This machine picks up the crates off of the flatcars and delivers the crate onto an awaiting flatbed truck. A line of trucks was waiting for each crate to be plopped down on the back before the next one moved into position.. Very efficient and impressive! UP light switch engine #1128 was on the track next to us switching out some cars. Three tracks to the west, a filthy SP switch engine #2635 was doing similar work. It’s so nice to view switch engines painted in their brand new Union Pacific paint over their neglected FILTHY Southern Pacific paint! Lots of freight engines in the coach yard, nearly all UP paint but a few SP ones still around in filthy condition. Just before the merger between SP & UP, I saw a new AC4400CW roll through Santa Barbara and I had never seen a clean SP locomotive before!
Other locomotives seen in the coach yard included: CTDX 2052, CTDX 2009, CTDX 2005 and an Amtrak F40PH (number plates obstructed by another engine).
Train 11 Arrived in Oakland at 10:55 AM and departed at 11:15 AM which gave me more than enough time to get a train consist. I tried to call home but there was a line at the three phones inside the depot. When a phone opened up, they were making the last boarding call so I got back onboard. Just before departing, a Capitol train departed northbound with CTDX 2051 on the point.
I had fun playing cruise director to a couple sitting across the lunch table who had never taken Amtrak before. They had lots of questions that I was only too happy to answer for them, ranging from sleeper room types to train schedules on the Internet. I gave them my email and web page address so they can write when they return home to Martinez. They are traveling to Santa Barbara for two days and then riding home. I gave them some activity ideas for Santa Barbara as well. The woman sitting next to me was Oriental and spoke very broken English, so she didn’t participate in the conversation. She was listening very carefully as she would nod her head from time to time. For lunch I had a beef burger with chips and diet Pepsi followed by a big piece of chocolate cake! The frosting was ice cold too. This was the second choice of desert as they were out of Apple tart. Our server, Murray, was very cordial.
While enjoying the meal, I spotted a very badly banged up Amtrak Genesis #118 parked on a siding at San Jose depot! It had lots of debris smashed into the front and piled on top of the cab. I would assume the debris was from the truck’s cargo. Very sad and it will cost around $75,000 to repair the carbody (Internet report on damage to the engine).
On the way back to my seat, I stopped in the lower level of the lounge and bought a Coast Starlight cap, playing cards and coffee mug. At my seat there was a girl who had spread her stuff over both seats (my backpack was under the mess). She was asleep so I just put away my souvenirs and got my scanner, headphones and headed back to the lounge. The weather was mostly hazy gray until now so I wanted to enjoy the beautiful agriculture scenery of the Salinas Valley.
My dinner reservation was set for 6 PM. The dining car chief came through when we were at Paso Robles and I was surprised that there was plenty of space for ALL dinner times. The second dinner on this train must not be as popular as the first. I had to wait until after 9 PM on the way up to eat dinner. I got off in San Luis Obispo to try to make a phone call. With only two phones at the depot, there were long lines at each phone and I knew I wouldn’t have a chance. After the final boarding call, I walked back to my car and the attendant closed the door in my face! He opened the window and said “Hi.” I then jokingly asked if he was going to leave me behind or let me back onboard. He said he was going to leave me! I saw another car attendant run from the depot, pass me and I followed her onto her coach car! When I ran into my coach car attendant again, he apologized for not remembering me as a passenger. He thought I was a railfan watching trains. That was too close a call!
Another delicious meal down the hatch. I had the baked chicken in wine sauce, baked potato, diet Pepsi and chocolate cake for desert. Murray was my server again. He was very pleasant and humorous just as he was when he served us lunch. I sat with the same woman who was at our table during breakfast. This time, I didn’t have an Amtrak engineer distracting me. She is a grade school teacher in Port Hueneme and was detraining at Oxnard.
We arrived in Santa Barbara at about 8:10 PM, 1:53 late and I took a taxi home. My next train trip will be on January 2, 1998 when I will be riding Southern California’s Metrolink rail system. On February 24th, I will be traveling to New York City on Amtrak.
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