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Overnight Trip to San Diego

For my 30th birthday, my sister gave me a fantastic birthday present. A round-trip to San Diego on Amtrak’s San Diegan. I’ve ridden to San Diego many times, returning on the same day. Amtrak runs two trains per day from Santa Barbara to San Diego that have bi-level Amtrak California equipment. Being tired of riding in 20-year old Amfleet and Horizon cars with windows too dirty to see out of, I elected to ride to San Diego in Superliner Comfort this time. Due to scheduling, I had to spend the night in San Diego and leave early the following morning.

2:00 PM Tuesday, November 18, 1997 Santa Barbara

Amtrak #782 departed Santa Barbara on time at 1:54PM. My stepfather drove me to the depot because I didn’t want my vehicle sitting at the depot overnight. The neighborhood is not the safest in the city. Vandalism and car theft are common. Today the weather was perfect with very few clouds. Before departure, I dictated my train consist into my micro cassette recorder and took several photos of the train along with #773 that had arrived moments earlier.

I am quite surprised how absent-minded people can be! As I was boarding the train, the passenger behind me gave his ticket to the conductor. It’s a good thing that he showed his ticket NOW for he was reserved on the Coast Starlight, departing at 6:17PM! It’s as simple as looking at your ticket. The train number and time of departure are clearly printed on the front of the ticket. Next, look at your watch, if you have one. Interestingly, the sun is quite high in the sky so it’s obviously not 6:15PM!

4:05PM Burbank Junction (East of Burbank Airport)

This must have been a very long freight train sitting over on the Valley Subdivision. The train was waiting for us to merge in front before following us into Los Angeles. The freight had SIX locomotives, five Union Pacific and one Southern Pacific in the middle of them.

You don’t get the same Custom Class service when riding in a Superliner than when in an Amfleet or Horizon car. Since there is no room for the coffee pot, an on-board steward provides “at seat” service. Some people might enjoy this pampering. I prefer to serve myself. For this trip, I brought along my Amtrak Coast Starlight coffee mug. It’s larger than the plastic cups provided and it’s my cup!

4:22PM Los Angeles Union Station

Train #782 arrived nearly half an hour early so this was a good opportunity for exploring and photographs outside the train. This train had two Amtrak Superliner coaches. The one behind the locomotive was Custom Class and the other was an identical looking car. Looking at the car/train number plate (not the Amtrak stock # but the changeable number that tells the Amtrak train and particular car number), this extra Superliner Coach was numbered #1114., also known as the “14-car” on Train 11, the Coast Starlight. I wonder why this San Diegan had this car?

A problem with our cab car forced us to back up out of Los Angeles Union Station and use the wye get us turned in the right direction. That was fine for me since I was right behind the locomotive. Some of the passengers were bothered by the loud whistle though. I sat close to the front of the car to get an earful of locomotive horn!

Consist of Train #782, Santa Barbara to San Diego

8:10PM Days Inn Hotel, San Diego

Train #782 ran on schedule most of the way except we lost five minutes when backing up out of Union Station instead of “shoving” out cab forward. The crews didn’t elaborate on what the problem with the cab was. They just said we’d have to back out and use the locomotive. I was looking forward to riding backwards. I actually prefer riding backwards! After arriving in San Diego on time at 7:35PM, I got out my map to the Days Inn that I’d printed on my computer. The streets looked pretty deserted which made me nervous about the 5-block hike.

9:45PM Days Inn Hotel, San Diego

My hotel reservation was made over the Internet two weeks before my trip and I had a confirmation to prove it. I worried about my name not being in their computer and I’d be out on the street! My name was indeed there and my room was all made up for me. I didn’t know where to eat so I looked in the phone book for restaurants close to the hotel. I didn’t feel like walking all the way back downtown near the depot where I knew of a few places to eat. In the phone book I found a Denny’s only two blocks away so I went there for dinner. While there, I browsed the breakfast menus and decided then and there I’d come back first thing in the morning!

8:00AM Wednesday November 19, 1997 San Diego Santa Fe Depot

Whew, I barely made the train! I didn’t have to run, a brisk walk did the trick. I set my alarm for 6AM so I could eat a leisurely breakfast at Denny’s before checking out and heading back to the depot. I wanted to take photos of the depot in the morning light. The alarm worked and I woke up, but dozed off to sleep again, only to wake up at 6:45AM! I raced down to Denny’s, ate breakfast (one of their “Signature Meat Skillet Breakfasts”) and when I got back to my room, I found out I had left my key card in the room! I went down to the front desk and they made me a new keycard without any difficulty. With little time, I briskly walked to the depot to catch train #773 to Santa Barbara. What a shame for it was a nice morning for photos of the depot and surrounding areas.

About ten minutes out of San Diego, the engineer reported some flat spots in the front trucks of the locomotive. It wasn’t serious enough for us to head back to San Diego or slow us down. Flat spots in the wheels are usually caused by excessive hard braking and could become hazardous if unattended to. Flat spots on the wheels also cause excessive wear and tear on the rails. The engineer reported it to the conductor and instructed him to relay it to Amtrak operations immediately “So I don’t get the blame!” Stated the engineer.

10:55AM Los Angeles Union Station

The ride from San Diego to Los Angeles was beautiful as always. After departing Irvine, I was surprised by my friend, Mike, whom I correspond with via Email on a daily basis. I had mentioned my trip to him but he informed me he had to work and couldn’t join me. It was a big surprise!

Before arriving at Union Station, I made it a point to sit on the side of the train facing the ocean. I love the scenery but I also like to see the action at the Amtrak shops located on the south River Subdivision. I saw the following locomotives and cars of interest:

  • AMTK F40PH: #223, #389, #369, #340, #365
  • Amtrak P40: #826
  • Amtrak P42: #16 and #? (too far away to read).
  • Amtrak switcher #795
  • Amtrak “Mist” boxcars (at least 10) and several MHC or Express mail cars painted in Phase IV scheme
  • Amtrak Forest Green boxcars (5)
  • Amtrak California Car trainset with CTDX 2003 - the same train I rode last night parked in the yard! It should have left San Diego this very morning and continued on to Santa Barbara. I wonder what happened? An access panel to the prime mover of #2003 was open so it must have developed problems. I heard these F59PHI units are nothing but trouble.

    11:08AM Los Angeles Union Station

    A problem I thought would delay us considerably has just been solved, and we are underway to Santa Barbara! Something about a door problem circuit not being complete which prevented the doors on one side of the train from opening. The staff on the train had to call Amtrak Mechanical to come take a look at and fix the problem. Fortunately, a mechanic was already at Union Station two tracks away and he came over and solved the problem in a few minutes! When Amtrak Mechanical is called, the mechanics are usually working at the Amtrak shops and must drive over, taking 20 minutes or so to arrive at Union Station. We were lucky one was already here and could take the time to fix the problem to get us out only three minutes late. Since we left the terminal late, we had to wait for rail traffic to clear ahead before we got “the signal.”

    Train #3, the westbound Southwest Chief arrived 1.5 hours late and was still in the depot. The power on this train was #16, #60 and #30. Following the locomotives was a Metrolink passenger car (strange!), 9 MHC cars, baggage car and seven passenger-related cars. Lately the Southwest Chief is more freight train than passenger train.

    At Van Nuys, I spotted SP switchers #2470 and #2681.

    1:45PM Santa Barbara

    Clear skies this morning in San Diego clouded up around Oxnard and turned to rain in Santa Barbara! So much for photos of the train. Thanks to padding built into the schedule, we departed Glendale and the rest of the stops to Santa Barbara on time. I monitor rail traffic quite a bit on my days off and westbound trains rarely obtain all necessary block authority to Santa Barbara from Moorpark (where CTC ends and DTC begins). The tracks are very old west of Moorpark and haven’t been upgraded since the 1950s. Automatic Block Signals and Direct Traffic Control are used to control traffic flow on the Coast Line. We were very lucky and received ALL our blocks to Santa Barbara! As a result, we arrived in Santa Barbara 15 minutes early!

    Train #773 Consist San Diego to Santa Barbara

  • AMTK F40PH #372
  • 31046 Amtrak Coach/Baggage
  • 8801 Amtrak California “San Joaquin Valley”
  • 8018 Amtrak California “Trinity River”
  • 8007 Amtrak California “Russian River”
  • 8308 Amtrak California Coach/Cab Control Car “ Mt.San Jacinto”

    Despite a short trip, I’ve enjoyed riding in Superliner comfort on a San Diegan! It has inspired me to take another long-distance trip. I’ve put together a trip to New York City this Winter sometime but haven’t ironed out the details. I have to get the time off work first!

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