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Summer 1997 Trip to San Diego

At least once a year, I enjoy riding the San Diegan train from Santa Barbara to San Diego. I don’t go down to visit anybody. It’s strictly to ride the train. The fare is inexpensive and I get many hours of beautiful scenery to boot. This is the third time I’ve taken the San Diegan all the way to San Diego but my first report I have written about it.

Wednesday, July 23, 1997 7:20AM Santa Barbara

Amtrak #774 departed right on the advertised (on time). As I boarded the train, the first thing that I noticed were the ABSOLUTELY FILTHY WINDOWS!!!!! I’ve never seen such a disgrace in my life and it seems like a company with any sense of pride (especially a company that is involved in transportation) would at least give its customers a fairly clean window to look through! When I traveled in Europe and Great Britain, windows would be washed at each end of the line. I can put up with a few bug or seagull splatters but these windows were so filthy that you could barely see out of them! I should have written my name on the window outside!

I got up extra early so I could make a pot of coffee to put in a thermos. Also I had bought a package of Hostess Gem Donuts. Custom Class from Santa Barbara to San Diego was sold out so I had to travel in Coach. With that, I had to provide my own Custom Class food. Custom Class probably sold out because of the horse racing at Del Mar today. For the return trip, I will be traveling in Custom Class on Amtrak #781.

7:37AM Carpinteria

This is a new stop on the San Diegan route for two of the San Diegan trains per day including this one. There is no station, just a brand new graffiti-less platform! One of these days I’ll drive down to Carpinteria to railfan now that I have seen how clean it is.

We ran about 5 minutes late all the way into Los Angeles due to a few slow orders from track construction. I was on the lookout for #14, the northbound Coast Starlight which we would meet just east of Glendale. It had a Genesis locomotive and an F40PH trailing with 13 cars (total axles: 60). Skies are overcast and the temperature is relatively cool, about 63 degrees. Being bright with no shadows, it makes taking pictures easy from any angle. Before departing Santa Barbara, I ran the length of the train noting car numbers into my micro cassette recorder and taking photographs from both ends. With two locomotives and 10 cars, it was a bit of a walk.

10:00AM Los Angeles Union Station

Los Angeles Union Station was nearly deserted, for all the early Metrolink commuter trains had left. The only other trains in the station was Amtrak #773 (which was pulling out of the station as we pulled in) and seven mail cars that came in on the Southwest Chief from Chicago a couple of hours ago. The train nearly filled to capacity here, with most of the people going down to the horse races at Del Mar. Custom class was sold out the entire way and that’s the reason that I couldn’t get a Custom Class seat between Santa Barbara and San Diego. I could have gotten one from Santa Barbara to Los Angeles though but I had my own food and plenty of coffee. I think I’ll take that thermos on my Redding trip so I can fill it up with coffee to take to my room. Those coffee cups are so small that I make many trips back and forth to the coffee machine. The only thing that will prevent me from using it would be that the coffee dispenser will be too low to the counter which would prevent me from getting the thermos opening under it. Sometimes I notice that the dispenser is suspended at least 10-12 inches and that will do just fine.

After an on-time departure from Los Angeles, we headed south on the River Subdivision towards the Amtrak shops. I love going by this area to see partial Amtrak consists and take note of locomotive numbers.

Locomotives parked at or around the Amtrak shops on 7/23/97. WOW! There were a lot of locomotives and I’m glad I was able to dictate into my micro cassette recorder as we passed them!

That’s all of the locomotives, but I did spot those new Amtrak green boxcars I’ve heard about on the Internet. They were just before the Amtrak roundhouses. They look like regular freight cars but a nice deep forest green! There were six of them hitched together on a siding. There were lots of Superliner cars getting a wash and I even saw a Pacific Parlor Car sitting alone near the northeast corner of the shops. I wonder what it was doing there? Probably being serviced for a trip on the Coast Starlight.

At Fullerton, a huge crowd of 300 got on in which it took quite awhile to board everyone! I really like the Fullerton Depot. It has plenty of benches to sit on, café to get food and drinks and a clean well- landscaped environment in which to railfan. There is even a pedestrian footbridge that crosses the tracks and you can really get some good photos from there. I have taken the train down to Fullerton from Santa Barbara just to watch trains for the day! If I am in the area for business or pleasure, I will stop by the Fullerton Depot every chance I get. The last time I was there was June 18 and I have photos of that visit.

Another station I like is San Juan Capistrano. We were running about 10 minutes late when we arrived due to some slow orders near Santa Ana. Four months ago I went down to San Juan Capistrano to see the return of the swallows so I was able to explore this beautiful town and train station.

At Solana Beach, the train seemed to empty out! I had two seats to myself once again. An elderly man sat next to me and wasn’t happy being separated from his wife who was about six rows ahead! Heck, I probably should have given up my seat so they could have sat together but I had claimed this seat since Santa Barbara and wanted to see the beautiful ocean scenery between San Juan Capistrano and Oceanside. In these San Diegan Horizon and Amfleet cars, half of the seats are facing backwards and the others forward. To get an ocean view seat facing forward between Los Angeles and San Diego (which I desired), I had to get a seat in Santa Barbara which was on the mountain side facing backwards in relation to the direction of travel. Since the train has push-pull capabilities, it simply used the locomotive at the rear end (now the head end from LA to San Diego) to pull us to San Diego. Some people have a problem of riding backwards but I actually prefer it. When I ride in an economy bedroom, I choose the seat facing backwards!

7/23/97 1:30pm San Diego

Amtrak #774 arrived in San Diego about half an hour late. I thought we’d make up the time but the crowds boarding and de-training foiled any attempt to make it up. About ten minutes out of San Diego, we pulled into a siding to let a very long freight train pass. It had five War Bonnet style Santa Fe locomotives pulling it! This wasn’t good as I had to be back on this same train in just over an hour for the return trip to Santa Barbara which departed at 3pm. I was hungry for real food, other than Donut Gems and #774’s tardiness would cut into my time spent in San Diego.

With little time, I spent about 20 minutes exploring the San Diego Santa Fe Depot, taking several photos of the exterior and interior. I also took some photos of the San Diego Red Trolley. I would love to ride one to the Mexican border at San Ysidro but with just one hour, it wasn’t possible. The shores of Mission Bay were a few blocks away but it had since become overcast, so photos of Mission Bay wouldn’t work too well. I opted to look for a restaurant to get some lunch before my journey home.

I walked four blocks to the northeast, passing a Wendy’s and a Burger king but I wanted something better. Then I spotted the 501 Café and heard that place was really good. ACK, the place was jammed with tourists and there was a 30-minute waiting list, so I had to decline that option! I decided to walk only a block or two more as I’d have to walk that much further back to the station after eating. It was already 2:10 and my train left at 3:00. I was about to turn back and stop at Burger King when I spotted the Golden Arches out of the corner of my eye. I prefer McDonald’s over Wendy’s and Burger King and since I was running out of time, I just ate there.

I really had to use the restroom but you have to PAY to use it in that McDonald’s restaurant. A tiny sign on the door says “Vandalism is costly….your support is needed….” And you had to pay something like $.75 to get a token from the cashier to get in to use the toilet! I guess it takes a few vandals to ruin it for everyone else. I didn’t have change so I just waited until I got back to the depot where there are plenty of FREE restrooms. I remember when I was a kid when we would ride the bus down to my grandmothers in Santa Ana, and while in the Greyhound bus station in Los Angeles I’d simply crawl under the locked stall door to gain access!

2:45PM San Diego Santa Fe Depot

The announcement was made to board Amtrak #781 to Los Angeles and Santa Barbara. On the return trip, I was holding a Custom Class ticket and I wanted some of that delicious Amtrak coffee. After boarding, there were only about ten other people in the car spread out such that the car appeared empty. The coffee was still brewing so I had to wait. I wasn’t aware of a schedule time change for #781 for the printed time of departure on my timetable read 3:05PM. On my ticket, the time said 3:00PM. I wasn’t sure which one to believe but I made darn sure I was there in plenty of time. The “Hi-Ball San Diego” was given at exactly 3:00! I would have missed it if I’d believed the printed timetable. The windows in this car were equally dirty to the ones in the coach car I rode down in earlier. It must be a lot of time and trouble to run the cars through the wash. I can see why they wouldn’t have time because this train is usually parked in Santa Barbara overnight, makes a round-trip to San Diego and then sits in Santa Barbara overnight. There is no time at Los Angeles for the train to be taken through the car wash unless they swap consists to wash the other. In Santa Barbara I think there is a power washer to hose the train off, but am not sure.

At Solana Beach, the train nearly filled to capacity once again. An Armenian businessman who wrote software for the baking industry sat next to me. I guess he programmed software that worked ovens, etc. A group of four women sat across the aisle and I will say they were in a “good mood.” The seats across the aisle had two facing forward and two facing backward so they all could face one another. They were on their way up to Los Angeles to see a play, spend the night with a friend of one of the women and take the train back home to San Diego the next day. They brought what appeared to be a four-course meal along with them! They had salads, rice, tri-tip steaks and lots of fruit. Along with all the food, they brought champagne! Too bad they didn’t share with the rest of the car! They became a little noisy at one point but they were just having a good time.

Just north of Oceanside, we came to a stop and we didn’t stop at a depot. There had been some signaling trouble ahead and we were to expect a delay of 20 minutes or more.

6:05PM Los Angeles Union Station

We pulled into Los Angeles at 6:05, only 10 minutes late! I was surprised how much time was made up between Oceanside and Los Angeles. If we were to immediately depart as we pulled in, we would be on time! Los Angeles is a crew change point for all San Diegans heading north of Los Angeles. The engineer got to the platform at the same the train did but he had to walk the entire length of the train to the lead locomotive, 12 cars, so we didn’t depart until 6:20PM.

8:00PM Moorpark siding

We have been in the siding at Moorpark for almost half an hour now waiting for #11, the southbound Coast Starlight to go by. I spotted the engineer, Mr. Wiegel, outside the train walking towards the back. I should mention that I was sitting in Custom Class which happened to be the very next car following the lead locomotive. This locomotive was not providing HEP (Head End Power), so I could hear the moan of the locomotive being throttled up and down as we went along, not to mention the LOUD whistle! My seat was facing backwards and it was at the VERY end of the car closest to the locomotive. As I watched the engineer walk along the track, he took off his engineer’s cap and starting doing some silly dance moves as he walked! I then noticed that the conductor and assistant conductor were outside too and he was just being silly. They were talking for at least 15 minutes before Mr. Wiegel climbed back onboard the locomotive. #11 passed us at a high rate of speed so I couldn’t get any car or locomotive numbers.

8:55PM Ventura

Running exactly an hour late now! That meet with #11 at Moorpark has set us behind even further now. The train seems virtually empty with only two other people in the Custom Class car with me and they are spread out. The two other men were lying across their seats so I couldn’t see any heads sticking up so it appeared I was the only one in the car. I imagined me buying up the entire car and I was the only one there. While briefly stopped at Ventura, I went for my last cup of coffee. An excellent brew of course. I had two or three more donuts left over from the morning so I had them with the coffee.

9:32PM Santa Barbara

Amtrak #781 arrived into Santa Barbara at 9:32PM, just 42 minutes late. It was a good day all around except for the short stay in San Diego. Next time I’ll take #11 down to Los Angeles and utilize the “Through Cars” to San Diego if they are still running. The following morning, I will take the same train back up to Los Angeles to connect with the Coast Starlight. It would be interesting to ride the San Diego Subdivision in a Superliner! I can’t imagine it as I’ve always rode in the Amfleet or Horizon cars while traveling to San Diego. Next week I will have plenty of Superliner riding as I travel to Redding in an Ecomony bedroom on a Superliner II car!

Amtrak trains #774 and #781 Santa Barbara-San Diego-Santa Barbara Consist

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