Steve's Summer 1997 Rail Journey
Fifth Segment - Amtrak Southwest Chief
Tuesday through Thursday, June 24 - 26, 1997
Steve's Summer 1997 Rail Journey - Fourth Segment: Travel on the
Amtrak Southwest Chief from Chicago to Fullerton, California.
Click here if this is the first time you
have ever read one of my travelogues.
Tuesday, 3:10 P.M. (Central Time), 06/24/97, Chicago, IL
I arrived on the Capitol Limited Train #29 a bit before 9 A.M.
this morning. Vince McGraw, webmaster of the Amtrak Intercity web site
and instructor at the Intercity Technical Training facility, had planned
to meet with me at my room on the train. This train was scheduled to leave
from Chicago at 5:10 P.M later today as the Southwest Chief Train #3 after
laying over for about 8 hours. Everyone that was ticketed through to
Los Angeles was allowed to remain on the train if they wished, or they
could get off and get on whenever they wished. The train would remain
right were it stopped until it was ready to leave for Los Angeles.
Since the train came in a little early, I decided to step out onto the
platform and wait for Vince outside. This was both a good and a bad idea.
It was a good idea because I found my suitcase out on the platform!
Whoever removed the luggage for the train evidently didn't know that some
people were continuing on this same train. I picked up my suitcase and
stored it back on the train. Stepping out was a bad idea because it
delayed Vince and I from getting together by 15 or 20 minutes. Little did
I know that he boarded the train further up the line and walked through
the cars to reach my room. Little did he know that I had stepped out of
the train to look up and down the platform to see if I could see him
Since I didn't know before today if they would let us remain on board
while the train was being serviced in the station for 8 hours, I told
Vince to check the Metropolitan Lounge if he didn't find me on the
train. When he saw my stuff in my room but I was missing, he went to
search the Metropolitan Lounge. After I stood outside the door to my
car on the train for about 10 minutes, I decided to return to my air
conditioned bedroom on the train and wait for Vince there. After Vince
checked the Metropolitan Lounge, he did return and we finally did get
All in all, that was my fault. I did say that we would meet at my room
on the train and told Vince to look in the Metropolitan Lounge if I
wasn't in my room. I forgot that Vince had full access to the train and it
would only be logical that he board at the end closest to the direction
from which he came and then look for me as he walked through the train.
We walked to the Food Court upstairs in Union Station, grabbed some coffee,
and sat at one of the tables. We talked about some of the plans that he
had for the Amtrak Intercity web site as well as some of the new software
that we were installing on the TrainWeb server to support these new features.
Vince and I also talked about web technology in general. Without effort, the
conversation topic easily took serveral detours into Amtrak both in
relation to the internet and in general.
At about 11:15 A.M., Vince had to return to some other work and I wanted
to make a Metra train leaving at 11:35 A.M. so I could tour another part
of the Metra system and a new section of Chicago suburbs. Thus, we split
at that time and I headed over to the Metra ticket window. I have combined
the travelogue of my experiences on the Metra today with the Metra
experiences that I had when I was in Chicago just last Saturday. At the
bottom of this page you will find a link to my Metra travelogues.
The return Metra train arrived into the north side of Union Station at
about 2:07 P.M. The Southwest Chief was over on the south side. I walked
over to the boarding area, but could not find a way out to the platform
without passing a restricted area sign and going around a ribbon barracade.
Actually, now that I think about it, the sign might only have said:
"No Visitors Allowed Beyond This Point." I watched others approach the
sign and barracade and turn back in confusion.
The Chief of Onboard Services did say that we did not have to wait for
general boarding in order to return to our rooms. Since the only way
I could see to return to my train was to go past the barracade, I decided
to give it a shot. I walked about 100 feet directly toward the doors that
would lead to the correct platform. At that point, I had no ideas if the
doors would even open! But, as I got right in front of the doors, the
automatically slid open. I headed straight for my Sleeping Car which was
the clossest one to the boarding platform.
The next hurdle was getting onto the train. The door to my Sleeping Car
was closed. I tried turning the handle to no avail. Then I noticed a
lever at the top of the door that I had seen Amtrak personnel turn
when locking or unlocking a door from the outside. I tried pulling on
that, but that didn't help either. I'm going to have to learn how to
open these doors from the outside, unless it was locked from the inside.
Then I felt stupid. This is a long train. One of these doors must be
open! I started walking down the platform and found the door to the very
next Sleeping Car open. I walked up the stairs and was about to turn
right to head back to my car from the inside. However, the corridor
was momentarily blocked by two service staff memebers communicating
instructions about getting the cars ready. I could see that they were
about to split and head in different directions momentarily, so I just
waited patiently. Then, the one that had been talking like a supervisor
turned to me and ask if I was the Train Attendant he was waiting for.
I said: "No, I'm just a passenger trying to get back to my bedroom in
the next car." He appologized for making that assumption and let me by.
I just said it was no problem. I thought it was kind of interesting
being mistaken for the Attendant. First time for that for me!
The car had full power so I set my room back up the way I like it.
Once I had my computer powered up, I wrote the above. There was a bit
of activity going on in the train. Train Mechanical staff were doing
various things including one person that was ratcheting something
between my sleeping car and the next and seemed to be upset about it.
After he left, I went to take a look, but everything looked the same
as it was before. I'm not sure what he was doing as these two cars
are just going to stay together as they have been.
An announcement was made for all passengers and crew to sit down while
they attach the mail cars to the train. From that announcement I was
expecting a big jolt, but it never came. My Sleeping Car Attendant
boarded the train sometime after I was already on. He brought around
another complimentary set of shower stuff, but it wasn't as nice as the
set from the Capitol Limited. It was just generic Amtrak toiletries and
didn't have anything of the Southwest Chief on it. The Car Attendant
also came by again and gave me another schedule and an Amtrak Route Guide
for the Southwest Chief that I hadn't seen before. Once again, it was a
shorter version with much less detail than the old version.
I walked to the end of my sleeping car right by Deluxe Bedroom "A".
Since that is also the end of the train, I could see the track stop
out the rear window. I took a couple of photos of that unique perspective.
Tuesday, 4:30 P.M. (CDT), 06/24/97, Chicago, IL
They just loaded up the rest of the passengers onto the train, both
the First Class Sleeping Car Passengers from the Metropolitan Lounge
and the Coach Passengers from the regular waiting rooms. They seem to
have loaded some people into the wrong cars and are shuffling them
around to get everyone into the right place. An announcement was just
made that this train is sold out. There are 207 passengers and there
are 207 seats for them. They asked if each person would please only
take one seat.
I heard the Conductor say that everyone was loaded into the wrong
Sleeping Car. Everyone that had just boarded belonged in the 0330
Sleeping Car. Someone other than the Car Attendant had directed them to
this car. He told everyone to move to the same room number in the next
car. The Conductor said everyone in this car was suppose to move to the
next car except the party in Room 11. That had me wondering why he didn't
mention that I didn't have to move either. As the Conductor walked past
my room, he did a double-take. I guess he didn't know I was in there.
The Car Attendant immediately stepped up and told the Conductor that I
was in the right place.
Tuesday, 5:15 P.M. (CDT), 06/24/97, Chicago, IL
Already off to a 5 minute late start! The Car Attendant introduced
himself to everyone, the Conductor collected the tickets, and then
the Train Chief made his rounds. The Train Chief gave each of us a
Dinner Voucher and a Drink Voucher which could be used in either the
Diner or the Cafe. He usually asks each party what time they would like
dinner and writes it on the voucher, but that wasn't done this time.
Instead, he announced they are having technical difficulties in the
kitchen and dinner will be late. He said he would make an announcement
when dinner would be served and as always, Sleeping Car passengers would
be seated first. I wonder if this is still related to the problem of
the water not working in the dishwasher. If so, they might be left without
enough clean dishes. The last crew used plastic plates, but it is possible
that nobody warned this new crew they would need a supply of plastic plates.
That would leave them without enough dishes to serve dinner!
The Cafe Car Attendant announced that he had some souveniers such as
Southwest Chief baseball caps and T-Shirts. As soon as I received my
dinner voucher, I went right down to purchase whatever they had before
they ran out. Good thing that I did! I got the very last Southwest Chief
baseball cap and the two last T-shirts, one large and one extra large.
I usually wear extra large and my wife and kids where large. I also
purchased a ceramic with the Southwest Chief logo that looked like it is
to protect tables from hot bowls or plates. The T-shirts I purchased were
black, but they had a sample hanging up that was brown. The hat was also
black, but a friend of mine has one that is denim blue.
I also purchased a White Zinfandel with the drink voucher and purchased
an additional one for cash. Maybe they should give out two vouchers to
each Sleeping Car Standard Bedroom even if there is only one person. I
pay the same for my Bedroom as someone would with two people in the room.
The cost goes for the room and not for how many people are in the room.
Tuesday, 5:51 P.M. (CDT), 06/24/97, Naperville, IL
Channel 85 - 161.385 - 06:08 P.M. (CDT), Naperville, IL
Channel 85 - 161.385 - 06:19 P.M. (CDT), Detector: Sandwich
Problems tonight! The Chief is being called to go everywhere! In a period
of about 15 minutes, he was called to go downstairs in the kitchen of
the Dining Car, to go to one of the Coach Cars, and to go to the Cafe Car!
Here is a trivia item that I found interesting. The Southwest Chief takes
the same route out of Chicago as the Metra Chicago to Aurora commuter train.
I thought it would be interesting to compare how long it takes the Southwest
Chief to pass each of those commuter stops compared to the local train which
must stop at each of them. The only one that the Southwest Chief stops at is
Naperville. The Southwest Chief is scheduled to leave Chicago at 5:10 P.M.
I compared it to the closest Metra train which is one that leaves at 5:34 P.M.
Here are the transit times from Chicago listed in the format hh:mm:ss where
hh is the hours, mm the minutes, and ss the seconds out of Chicago:
So there it is! Stopping at almost every stop takes 1 hour and 1 minute
from Chicago to Naperville. Taking the same route with no stops between
Chicago and Naperville takes less than 16 minutes.
- --Metra- - SW Chief - Station Name
- 00:27:00 - 00:00:25 - Hollywood (Zoo Stop)
- 00:31:00 - 00:01:11 - Congress Park
- 00:33:00 - 00:01:52 - LaGrange Rd.
- 00:36:00 - 00:03:17 - Western Springs
- 00:40:00 - 00:04:37 - Hinsdale
- 00:43:00 - 00:05:43 - Clarendon Hills
- 00:46:00 - 00:06:47 - Westmont
- 00:48:00 - 00:07:38 - Fairview Ave.
- 00:50:00 - 00:08:16 - Downers Grove
- 00:53:00 - 00:09:40 - Belmont
- 00:56:00 - 00:11:10 - Lisle
- 01:01:00 - 00:15:48 - Naperville
Channel 85 - 161.385 - 06:44 P.M. (CDT), Detector: Mendota
Tuesday, 7:00 P.M. (CDT), 06/24/97, Princeton, IL
Tuesday, 8:30 P.M. (CDT), 06/24/97, After Galesburg, IL
I just got back from dinner and there seems to have been an interesting
development. I went to use the restroom and then decided to check on my
luggage on the way back. I don't know why I decided to do that since I
don't need anything from it right now. I looked where I had last put my
luggage on the luggage rack, and it isn't there! As I believe I mentioned
above, they did put my luggage out on the platform in Chicago, but I
brought it right back in. When I returned to the train at around 2:30 P.M.
I moved my luggage to the center shelf on the luggage rack. The previous
Car Attendant liked to keep the yellow foot step on this shelf so that I
wasn't able to place my luggage on that shelf during that segment of the
journey. This Car Attendant keeps the yellow foot step elsewhere so that
I was able to place it on that middle shelf. That was the last time that
I saw my luggage. I have looked through all of the shelves and cannot find
it. I went to the next Sleeping Car and briefly looked through those
shelves with no luck. I am hoping they just accidently moved it to somewhere
else on this train. I have pushed the buttom to call the Car Attendant and
am just waiting for him to show up to help me find my suitcase.
(I was going to write about what became of my suitcase later in this
travelogue, but I guess I forgot to write it in! It is now more than a
month since I posted this travelogue and I have gotten many e-mail messages
from readers wondering whatever became of my luggage. As I had guessed, my
luggage was mistakenly moved to the next Sleeping Car along with a lot of
other luggage that belonged to passengers that had mistakenly boarded the
Sleeping Car that I was in. The Car Attendant and I discovered my luggage
in the next Sleeping Car and he carried it back to the proper Sleeping Car
We just crossed a bridge over the Mississippi River. There are a few
riverboats docked on the western side of the river.
Tuesday, 8:48 P.M. (CDT), 06/24/97, Fort Madison, IA
Tuesday, 10:27 P.M. (CDT), 06/24/97, MP 300
Channel 02 - 160.560 - 10:27 P.M. (CDT), MP 300 (no detector)
The train seems to be having problems with one of the locomotives. The
train has now stopped and all electricity has been turned off. I'm now
sitting in the dark and my notebook computer is operating off its
Looks like they are going to take the problem locomotive off and
"set it out". We are at "Hertland". There is a "derail" here where
they can put the faulty locomotive aside. Ooops! There goes my low
power warning already! I'll have to shut down for now.
Tuesday, 10:39 P.M. (CDT), 06/24/97, MP 300
Power and air conditioning are back on again. They have to shut down
power whenever they connect or disconnect cars. It sounds like they
have removed the bad locomotive. This train has 17 cars. We will be
on pretty level land for a while, but they are concerned that they
will have to add another engine back on before we get to any area
where the train will have to climb.
Times like these are about the only time that I find listening to
the scanner interesting. The Engineer is using the cellular phone
to talk to the mechanical department to see what they want to do.
I think the Assistant Engineer is over on the locomotive that they
disconnected getting the breaks set and the unit locked down.
The crew was asking mechanical if they wanted the unit to be shut
down. They said that it is right at Mile Post 300 right beside a
road with easy access. They said the faulty locomotive is
unit #20. Engine #37 is now in the lead.
Tuesday, 11:02 P.M. (CDT), 06/24/97, MP 300
Here we go! We are on the move again, minus one locomotive.
Channel 02 - 160.560 - 11:15 P.M. (CDT), Detector: MP 395.4
Tuesday, 11:29 P.M. (CDT), 06/24/97, La Plata, MO
That engine problem put us just a bit over 1 and 1/2 hours behind.
They said there will be another engine waiting to be put on our
train in La Junta, Colorado, but we won't be there until at least
11:00 AM tomorrow. The crew just called the dispatcher to warn them
that there is an ATS bar on the faulty unit and that it might not
clear in some yards.
Channel 02 - 160.560 - 11:38 P.M. (CDT), Detector: MP 326.4
Channel 02 - 160.560 - 11:57 P.M. (CDT), Detector: MP 344.5
Wednesday, 06:06 A.M. (CDT), 06/24/97, Newton, KS
Channel 55 - 160.560 - 06:14 A.M. (CDT), Detector: MP 192.1
Wednesday, 06:40 A.M. (CDT), 06/24/97, Hutchinson, KS
I was going to try to wake up at about 2:15 A.M. when we stop at
Kansas City, Missouri for about 25 minutes, but I must have been really
tired as I slept through until Newton, Kansas near Wichita! I got dressed
and had the Car Attendant make up my room. I decided to just get some
orange juice and coffee from the refreshment center in the Sleeping Car
and skip breakfast. I only like to have 2 meals each day while on the
train so that I don't eat far more than my non-traveling days. I've
skipped enough lunches on this rail journey and decided that I should
go for lunch instead of breakfast today. I'm getting a little tired of
breakfast selections anyway.
Looks like we are only running about 1 hour and 10 minutes late. That
isn't too bad for such a major breakdown last night. We'll just have
to see how much of a delay there will be when we switch locomotives in
La Junta, Colorado.
Channel 55 - 160.560 - 07:01 A.M. (CDT), Detector: SantaFe MP 247.9
Channel 55 - 160.560 - 07:23 A.M. (CDT), Detector
Channel 55 - 160.560 - 08:01 A.M. (CDT), Detector: MP 341.0
Wednesday, 08:33 A.M. (CDT), 06/24/97, Dodge City, KS
The train stayed here for quite some time. When the train finally did move,
one of the Conductors called out over the radio that we had to stop because
there was still a passenger that had to get off. After staying at the station
so long it seems amazing to me that someone didn't have enough time to get
off! That person is lucky they didn't have to get off at most any other
station where the stop is fairly brief.
Wednesday, 09:22 A.M. (CDT), 06/24/97, Garden City, KS
Channel 55 - 160.560 - 09:22 A.M. (CDT), Garden City, KS
An announcement was just made that there is no smoking allowed anywhere
on the train of marajuana and that smoking of regular cigarettes only
is permitted in the special Smoking Lounge downstairs in one of the
coaches. Further announced was that the smoke in the restrooms does not
vent outside the train but just circulates throughout the car. Evidently
someone was smoking marajuana in the restroom and the odor was coming
up into the coach car. It must have been in a restroom downstairs in the
0311 car as the Conductor was immediately called to that location after
Although I like the idea of smoking not being allowed in the restrooms,
it seems odd to not vent them to the outside. Smoke isn't the only odor
from the restroom that isn't desired in the rest of the coach car. I
have rarely noticed offensive odors coming from the ventilating system
anywhere on the train.
This train has 17 cars and we are able to keep up 79 miles per hour,
even with the missing locomotive. Near the front of the train we are
also deadheading a Los Angeles Metroliner Car plus we have the usual
long compliment of mail cars on the Southwest Chief.
The Dispatcher needs some information from the Conductor, but the
Conductor said it would take him a few minutes to get that information
as he was busy with another problem at the moment. He's probably still
working on the situation with the marajuana smoker in the restroom.
He told the Dispatcher it hasn't been a good morning.
Channel 55 - 160.560 - 09:35 A.M. (CDT), Detector: SantaFe MP 418.1
Channel 55 - 160.560 - 09:42 A.M. (MDT), Detector: SantaFe MP 499.0
Channel 55 - 160.560 - 09:48 A.M. (CDT), Detector: SantaFe MP 435.2
Channel 55 - 160.560 - 10:12 A.M. (CDT), Detector: SantaFe MP 46?.1
Wednesday, 09:50 A.M. (MDT), 06/24/97, Lamar, CO
Channel 36 - 160.650 - 10:20 A.M. (MDT)
Channel 32 - 160.590 - 10:43 A.M. (MDT), La Junta, CO
Wednesday, 12:04 P.M. (MDT), 06/24/97, La Junta, CO
We just left La Junta after having arrived at 10:43 A.M., one hour and
two minutes ago! The train was without power for the entire time so I
wasn't able to use my computer to get work done while we were waiting.
I have 3 batteries but only brought 1 along to reduce weight. Unfortunately,
I think I brought the wrong one. This one is definitely on its last leg
and can only power my computer for about 10 minutes.
The put Burlington Northern engine number 8116 on the lead. It was a big
green unit with white lettering. They were able to bring up all three
locomotives, but could not get a load when they put it in "dynamic".
The Engineers remained in contact with BNSF for most of the time we were
in the station. BNSF Mechanical suggested they swap the MU cable. After
about 10 minutes of checking around, they found that a spare MU cable was
not available. I guess they were about to make a call to try and borrow
another from BNSF, but then Mechanical reminded them that there was one
on the lead unit. The Engineer remarked they had been so busy considering
their options that they overlooked the obvious. They did try that cable,
but with no success.
Best as I can tell from the conversation, the only thing they were
missing without this cable was the ability to use the trailing two
units to help with dynamic braking. My understanding is that dynamic
braking gives the train better stopping ability, but isn't absolutely
necessary. They decided to proceed without enabling the dynamic braking
in the two trailing units, but would still have it in the lead unit.
The Engineer said there was only one place in their journey through
Raton pass where it was used and that they would proceed through that
While we were in La Junta, I got a chance to walk all the way to the
front of the train, note the car numbers and take a few photos. Since
this train has 17 cars and I'm in the very last car, that was quite a
The Chief of this train has kept everyone well informed, much more so
than most trains that I have been on. He has given us the name of every
staff member of the train including even the Conductors and Engineers
from time to time! He has also announced over the P.A. system the exact
nature of each problem as they have occurred. He has also pointed out
major sights from time to time.
Wednesday, 01:25 P.M. (MDT), 06/24/97, Trinidad, CO
I just returned from lunch. The diner didn't open until about 12:30 P.M.
since they couldn't cook while the electricity was out in La Junta. Seems
like everyone ran down to the diner at the same time and they had to start
a list shortly after I sat down. That often happens when they anounce that
lunch will be delayed. Everyone starts thinking about how long they will
have to wait until they will be able to get lunch. Thus, they all rush
down as soon as the announcment is made. I wanted an early lunch because
I had skipped breakfast and I didn't want to be in the diner when we
started up into the Raton Pass.
I sat with a lady traveling alone and a couple on vacation. The conversation
was pleasant, but with a lot of long silent gaps. We mostly talked about
the scenery. The most animated part of the conversation was trying to
decide if Pike's Peak should be off to the left or the right.
I had the Garden Burger for lunch. Since I hadn't eaten since last night,
I thought it would be O.K. to splurge a little and got the apple pie
a la mode for dessert. I left a $1 tip, but nobody else at the table left
Channel 32 - 160.590 - 02:04 P.M. (MDT), MP 649.8
Channel 32 - 160.590 - 02:27 P.M. (MDT), MP 657.0
Wednesday, 02:37 P.M. (MDT), 06/24/97, Raton, NM
Channel 32 - 160.590 - 02:55 P.M. (MDT), MP 675.8
Channel 32 - 160.590 - 03:43 P.M. (MDT), MP 728.0
The land feature known as "Wagon Mound" actually looks a lot more like
a wagon pulled by horses when you look at it while traveling west than
while traveling east. The old Amtrak Route Guide is written west to east,
but you might have a problem picking out this landform. The pioneers
were going west when they noticed and named this formation. Thus,
heading west is the way that it looks like a wagon, and not heading east.
We've pulled into a siding for a while around Shoemaker Canyon
waiting for the eastbound Southwest Chief to pass us along a single track
stretch of this route. Counting the cars as it went by, it seems to have
about the same number of each type of car in its consist.
Channel 32 - 160.590 - 04:41 P.M. (MDT), MP 750.6
Someone just reported on the radio that they saw our train go by with both
baggage car doors open. The Conductor reported back that we have a cigar
smoking addict on board. I guess they allowed him to go into the baggage
car and open the doors to smoke since I don't think they only allow cigarette
smoking in the Smoking Lounge. I don't see why they can't allow all types
of smoking in the Smoking Lounge. I think cigarette smoke smells much worse
than cigar smoke.
Wednesday, 05:00 P.M. (MDT), 06/24/97, Las Vegas, NM
Most little out of the way towns seem like they'd be pretty nice
places to live. I can't say that is my impression from Las Vegas, New Mexico.
There was graffiti all over everything! I might expect that in
Las Vegas, Nevada, but not in Las Vegas, New Mexico.
The Dispatcher wanted an estimated time that this train would get into
Albuquerque. There may be some service or baggage staff that needs to
be called in before the train arrives. Normally, they'd already be at
the station, but with the train running so late, they might need to be
called back in from home. Or, maybe it is the Indians that set up the
stands where they sell jewelry and food that want to know so that they
know when to set up.
I guessed the train would be into Albuquerque about 8:00 P.M. if there
are no further delays. The Conductor said they expected to be into
Albuquerque by 6:45 P.M. I immediately shouted out: "That's not right!",
but there was nobody to hear me. I quickly looked at the schedule. I didn't
think there was a time zone change coming up. The Dispatcher replied:
"It's an hour and three quarters just to Lamy and then another hour from
there to Albuquerque." The Conductor then came up with a corrected time
and said that he estimated that the train would be into Albuquerque by
8:00 P.M. Maybe someone did hear me afterall!
Channel 32 - 160.590 - 05:07 P.M. (MDT), MP 774.9
Channel 32 - 160.590 - 06:07 P.M. (MDT), MP 809.2
Wednesday, 07:03 P.M. (MDT), 06/24/97, Lamy, NM
Channel 32 - 160.590 - 07:11 P.M. (MDT), MP 843.4
Channel 32 - 160.590 - 07:40 P.M. (MDT), MP 874.5
For a while it was getting really really dark outside. That seemed a bit
odd for the middle of summer, especially when it has been very light out
for the past few days until well after 8:00 P.M. A storm had been building
up all afternoon, but no rain had started, just lots of dark clouds.
Then, lightning started flashing and rain started coming down. That lasted
all of about 15 minutes and then the sun finally came out at 7:30 P.M.!
There was even a big double rainbow and I took a photo of it. After being
dark all afternoon, it is now bright and sunny again!
I decided to skip dinner in the Diner and just go for a light lunch in
the Cafe. The Amtrak Capitol Limited allows Sleeping Car passengers to
get free meals in either the Diner or the Cafe Car, but I have seen no
such policy posted for the Southwest Chief.
Sometimes I like music in my room and sometimes I don't. I have the
audio system in my room set to Channel 1 which only allows the P.A.
announcements to come through. Music is only playing on Channel 2.
However, they are playing "That Darn Cat" in the Cafe Lounge Car and
the audio channel for that is coming through very slightly on Channel 1!
It is so faint that I don't mind it, but I find it interesting.
Wednesday, 08:53 P.M. (MDT), 06/24/97, Albuquerque, NM
The Engineers got the "highball" signal, but decided to delay another
minute to clean the windshield of all the bugs it had picked up. They
also had the freight unit removed since we don't have any further
serious mountain climbing to do. Thus, they announced that we should be
able to get our speed up to 79 miles per hour for several stretches.
Whoops! We are just 3 minutes since we started to roll and are bearly
out of the station and the Engineer said to the Conductor that we are
going to stop the Engines for a minute. We only stopped for about 30
seconds and we are rolling again. At first they were having a problem
loading (electrical?) but now everything seems O.K.
Wednesday, 11:32 P.M. (MDT), 06/24/97, Gallup, NM
Thursday, 04:39 A.M. (MST), 06/26/97, Kingman, AZ
Channel 36 - 160.650 - 04:58 A.M. (MST), MP 536.0
Channel 36 - 160.650 - 05:30 A.M. (MST), MP 561.5
Thursday, 05:33 A.M. (PDT), 06/26/97, Needles, CA
Channel 55 - 160.935 - 07:14 A.M. (PDT), MP 665.0
Even though I had changed my clock before I fell asleep, that didn't stop
me from still waking up one hour earlier than what I had set the alarm.
I got up, got dressed, packed up everything except for my notebook
computer, then went down for first call for breakfast at 6:30 A.M. I
pushed the "PUSH TO CALL" button to have the Car Attendant convert my
bed back into seats. I was back to my room just a few minutes after
Thursday, 07:38 A.M. (PDT), 06/26/97, Between Needles & Barstow
I just heard over the radio that passengers connecting on to the San Joaquin
are to be taken off at Barstow and taken by bus to Bakersfield. Passengers
connecting to the Coast Starlight are to be taken to Los Angeles where they
will be accommodated.
We just passed a sign marked "KLONDIKE". This train isn't going to get to
Los Angeles until almost noon. The Coast Starlight will have already left
Los Angeles at 9:30 this morning. That means they will probably give the
passengers that were suppose to connect to the Coast Starlight a number of
options. Those passengers going no further north than San Luis Obispo can
transfer to a San Diegan train in Los Angeles and still get to their
destination today. Those going further north might be given the option to
complete their journey by plane, bus, or to stay overnight in Los Angeles
and board the Coast Starlight tomorrow.
I'm not sure why they couldn't have taken the Coast Starlight passengers
off at Barstow and sent them up by bus to meet the train in San Luis
Obispo. I think there would have been enough time to make that connection.
However, if someone had planned to enjoy the beautiful ocean view portion
of the trip on the Coast Starlight, that option could be upsetting since
the most dramatic ocean views are from Santa Barbara to San Luis Obispo.
We are heading through the desert toward Cajon Pass. For almost the last
hour we have been going along an area that I think only has a single track.
Directly one signal ahead of us is a freight train very slowly climbing
the ascending desert plain. We have been following that freight train at a
snail's pace for the last hour! Finally I can see two sets of tracks.
Hopefully, they will be able to put that freight train off to the side so
that we can pass it.
Shortly before we caught up to that freight train, I heard the engineer
say: "This is going to get ugly." I think he knew that we would be stuck
one signal behind that train and have to be moving very slow falling even
more behind schedule. That was probably what he was refering to.
Thursday, 08:00 A.M. (PDT), 06/26/97, Between Needles & Barstow
We just passed one slow freight train around Mile Post 688, but there is
still another one further up ahead of us that is stopped. We are still
moving slowly along. I think one of the staff members has a small child
along with them, either one of the Engineers or Conductors. They were
asking if there would be any food available in the Dining Car, even for
the kid. Because the train is running late, peole that would have gotten
off the train are still on and having breakfast. I'm an example of that.
Breakfast starts at 6:30 A.M. If the train was on time, I wouldn't have
time for breakfast since this train is scheduled into Fullerton before
7:00 A.M. Thus, the Dining Car is running pretty low on breakfast food
and can't give out anything to the operating crew, even to that person's
son. At least, not until every passenger that wants breakfast has been
The connection announcement was just made over the P.A. system. I guess
they figured out that they can make that bus connection to the Coast
Starlight after all! They are going to have passengers connecting to the
Coast Starlight get off at Barstow and take the bus somewhere. They didn't
say where. Probably either Santa Barbara or San Luis Obispo, depending on
how late this train gets into Barstow.
Passengers with connections to the San Joaquin Valley via the San Joaquin
trains will get off in Barstow also. This is not big deal as they were
going to be put on a bus from Los Angeles to Bakersfield anyway. They will
just be taking a bus from Barstow to Bakersfield instead of from Los Angeles
to Bakersfield. For a moment, I was wondering why they didn't normally have
those passengers change in Barstow even if the train was on time instead of
sending them all the way to Los Angeles. Checking the San Joaquin schedule,
I can see that there isn't a bus out of Barstow until 12:15 P.M. which would
make those passengers wait out in the middle of nowhere for 8 hours and put
them on a much later San Joaquin train. By going all the way into Los Angeles,
they get on the 9:55 A.M. bus which puts them on the 12:55 P.M. train out of
Bakersfield. So, when the train is on schedule, those passengers can sleep
all the way to Los Angels and then only have to wait a little over one hour
for their connection to the bus.
Passengers going south on north on the San Diegans between San Diego and
Santa Barbara were told to just get off in Fullerton as normal to just
take the next San Diegan going in their direction of which there are 9
each day. Those passengers going to Las Vegas were told to get off in
San Bernardino and see the Ticket Agent. He would arrange transportation
to Las Vegas from there. That isn't much of a problem either. They said
the passengers would probably be transferred to a Greyhound bus. Even
if this train was on time, these passengers would just have been transferred
to an Amtrak thruway bus. There are no Amtrak trains that go to Las Vegas
Personally, I would NEVER schedule a transfer from the westbound Southwest
Chief or from the Sunset Limited to the northbound Coast Starlight. Both
the Southwest Chief and the Sunset Limited are late frequently and
passengers often have to be transferred by bus at least as far as Santa
Barbara. That isn't too bad. But, if things are running so late that you
have to be taken by bus to San Luis Obispo, then you miss two ours of
travel along the ocean, arguably the best part of the entire Coast Starlight
route! I usually travel in a Sleeping Car and have thus paid for a Sleeping
Car. Rooms in the Sleeping Car are very expensive, but they do include
certain comforts and amenities. Travel by bus is no substitute for that
expense. It isn't even a decent substitute for what people have paid to
travel in the Coach Car!
For those reasons, I never schedule a connection that has less than a
four hours layover at the transfer station. Even that big a safety margin
wouldn't have worked on this train today! Well, in a way, it would have.
By requiring a four hour difference between connecting trains, I wouldn't
have been able to connect to anything. Thus, I would have scheduled an
overnight in Los Angeles. If you are planning to connect through Los Angeles,
that is what I would recommend that you do. Come into Los Angeles one day
and go back out on a train the next day. There is plenty to see and do in
Los Angeles to keep you busy for one day anyway!
Thursday, 08:35 A.M. (PDT), 06/26/97, Between Needles & Barstow
The freight train ahead of us set off the hot-box detector at Mile Post
690.7 on axle 68. I guess the brakes weren't releasing on that axle.
They stopped their train at 7:15 A.M. in Ludlow, California and didn't
get started again until 8:35 A.M., a delay of 45 minutes. It turns out that
the brake system hose was dragging underneath the car. I think they had
to reconnect it and then recharge the air in the brake system. Thus, all
we could do was slowly crawl up to one signal behind their position and
then stop and wait.
At 8:43 A.M., Mile Post 694, the grade has started to become very steep.
We are climbing very very slowly. We are passing a big while "L" on the
hillside which I assume stands for "Ludlow". Even though this is a steep
grade, I'm sure this train can climb it much faster. I have to assume that
slower freight train is still directly ahead of us.
Thursday, 09:20 A.M. (PDT), 06/26/97, Between Needles & Barstow
Channel 55 - 160.935 - 09:26 A.M. (PDT), MP 711.1
Channel 55 - 160.935 - 09:43 A.M. (PDT), MP 733.3
We are finally back up to full speed! A major problem for all Amtrak trains
is that a late train is only likely to get even later. Across the nation,
specific time slots are allocated for Amtrak trains to go through according
to their schedules. Once a train becomes late, other freights that were
suppose to be held back until the Amtrak train has gone through, have to be
allowed to proceed. Thus, the timeslot reserved for the Amtrak train gets
destroyed and all that dispatchers across the nation can do is to try to
fit the Amtrak train in as best as possible. Sometimes Amtrak will catch up
to a freight train going in either the same direction, or going the other
way on a single track segment. When that happens, a dispatcher has to try
to get the freight into a siding so the Amtrak can pass, but a siding can
be a long way off once the Amtrak train is operating outside its normal
schedule. Thus, the late train just gets later!
An Amtrak baggage person just knocked on my door by mistake. Immediatley,
he realized his mistake and went off to the next room. I had never seen
a baggage handler on board a moving train. Is there always one on every
Amtrak train? If so, they must stay in the crew quarters except when we
are at stations. I've never seen one actually walking around the train
before. The person was wearing overalls with the Amtrak logo, a cap, and
had on heavy work gloves. Since many people would be transferring their
luggage at the next stop, I knew someone was coming through the train to
help with baggage, but I had just assumed that would be the Car Attendant.
Many people had their bags checked to Los Angeles in the Baggage Car.
Some of those people will now be transfering to a bus in Barstow. Thus,
their baggage has to be removed from the Baggage Car. The Baggage Handler
is going through the train to find out which people need to have their
baggage removed from the Baggage Car in Barstow. That is the reason for
his unusual presence in the passenger area of the train. People who have
checked their baggage all the way through to their destination in the
Baggage Car don't have to worry about retrieving their baggage early. All
those pieces will automatically be transferred to the appropriate bus in
The Amtrak Route Guide for the Southwest Chief doesn't describe much of
the scenery in this area since the train usually goes through this area
at night. So far, I've seen two large strange dark mounds of earth. They
look like a small mountain, but aren't that big. All around each of them
were lumpy fields of dark earth and dark boulders. My guess would be that
they are small extinct volcanoes. I never even thought about volcanoes
coming in sizes that small until I saw the movie "Volcano". I thought that
might just be an inacurate rendition of reality in the movie, but I don't
know enough about them to know if small ones like tht exist. There are
more large rises in this desert like that, some which are not surrounded
by the lumpy black fields and rocks. Unlike the tall mountains in the
background, these just stand as one big cone shaped mound all by themselves
not connected to any surrounding mountains. I'm going to have to look at
my other Amtrak books at home that describe the scenery along the routes
in detail and see if they mention these mounds.
Thursday, 10:15 A.M. (PDT), 06/26/97, Barstow, CA
There has been a change in the game plan. Anyone going to Las Vegas
has now been asked to get off here instead of San Bernardino.
That makes total sense. The Amtrak Thruway bus that left Los Angeles at
9:05 A.M. for Las Vegas goes right through Barstow right at this time.
The bus is at this station right now! The schedule in my "National Timetable"
doesn't show a stop for that bus in Barstow, but there may exist a more
detailed Thruway Bus Schedule that does show a scheduled stop for that
Los Angeles - Las Vegas bus in Barstow.
There have been a tremendous number of freight trains going the other
way. I'm sure there are just as many freight trains going in the same
direction as our train, but obviously I can't see those except when
they are put into a siding and we are allowed to pass them, or when
they are traveling on a parallel track along a multi-track segment.
This route always has a lot of freight traffic. The Cajon Pass is
almost the only route for freight to move in and out of Los Angeles and
the rest of Southern California, and there is a lot of that freight! A
large portion of everything that the 12,000,000 people living in Southern
California purchase comes in by rail. Also, almost everything that comes
into the ports of Los Angeles and San Diego gets shipped out of the area
Channel 72 - 161.190 - 10:28 A.M. (PDT), MP 0.8
Channel 72 - 161.190 - 10:44 A.M. (PDT), MP 28.5
Thursday, 10:55 A.M. (PDT), 06/26/97, Victorville, CA
Just before Victorville we passed some flat cars that were carrying an old
steam locomotive and I think a tender car. I don't think I've ever seen
one train being carried by another train before!
Thursday, 12:30 P.M. (PDT), 06/26/97, San Bernardino, CA
A light lunch was served in the Dining Car since the train was so late.
I expected to leave the train in about one hour and was planning to
have lunch at the Spaghetti Factory right at the Fullerton Station, so
I skipped this offer of a light lunch on the train.
A relief crew was expected at San Bernardino but they didn't show up.
This Engineer and Conductor could not work beyond 2:10 P.M according
to law. The Dispatcher was trying to figure out what became of the
relief crew. The train left San Bernardino and it was decided that the
relief crew would be sent to replace this crew in Fullerton, once they
were located. This crew could probably get the train into Los Angeles
before they "went dead," but the Dispatcher didn't want to take a chance.
If there was any rail traffic to delay this train between Fullerton and
Los Angeles, then this train would go dead out on the tracks somewhere.
Channel 36 - 160.650 - 12:54 P.M. (PDT), MP 32.0
Thursday, 01:15 P.M. (PDT), 06/26/97, Fullerton, CA
We made two stops in Fullerton which tended to confuse the people waiting
to get off in Fullerton. The train stopped with the locomotive at the
platform so the new crew could board easily. Once they had done that,
the train moved up to let passengers and baggage unload. With a total of
17 cars on this train, it had to move up quite a bit!
A Final Note
This train was totally sold out. They had a body for every seat when this
train left Chicago. The only room there was for additional people to get on
down the line was from seats vacated by people leaving the train. The
Sleeping Cars were also almost totally full when we left Chicago and there
were several points along our route where every bedroom was occupied. I
spoke to a number of people on the train who had made reservations 3 months
in advance and been told that this train was sold out! They had to keep
calling until a spot opened up from a cancellation to get on the train.
We'll never know how many others had to arrange alternate transportation
because a spot did not open up for them or they couldn't wait until one
did open to make their travel plans. If this train was booked solid 3 months
in advance, then I think another Coach Car and another Sleeping Car could
have been filled before the departure date of this train. This isn't even
a weekend or holiday train and it is full! Only two Sleeping Cars and three
Coach Cars were on this train. I hope Amtrak is planning to do
something to re-capture those sales that it loses every day due to lack
of seating capacity on the train.
Click here for the first segment of this
Summer 1997 journey.
- Train Route: Southwest Chief
- Train Number: 03
- Direction: Southwest
- My Route: Chicago,IL to Fullerton,CA
- Accommodation: Superliner II Standard Bedroom
- 8116 Locomotive: Burlington Northern freight (put on in La Junta,CO)
- 20 Locomotive: Genesis (removed near Garden City,KS)
- 32 Locomotive: Genesis
- 37 Locomotive: Genesis
- 632 Metrolink deadheaded to Los Angeles
- 1526 Mail
- 1434 Mail
- 1509 Mail
- 1448 Mail
- 1556 Mail
- 1512 Mail
- 1423 Mail
- 1256 Baggage Car
- 39026 Superliner Transition Sleeper
- 34099 Coach Car (3032 -- I think this was suppose to be 0310)
- 34134 Coach Car (311)
- 31533 Coach Smoking Car (312)
- 33025 Sightseer Lounge Car
- 38016 Dining Car
- 32118 Superliner 2 Wyoming (0330)
- 32080 Superliner 2 Idaho (0331)
Onboard Crew #10 Train #3:
- Sleeping Car Attendant (31 Car): Warren Owens
- Sleeping Car Attendant (30 Car): Benita Quinn
- Chief of Onboard Services: Bob Stone
- Dining Car Steward: Sam Sulivan
- Chef: Max Atiquet (spelling?)
- Cafe Lounge Car Attendant: Mike Alu
- Conductor (Out of Chicago): Mr. Zin and Mr. G. Reese
- Conductor (Dodge City to La Junta): Mr. Colliers
- Conductor (Albuquerque to Kingman): Mr. Lang
- Assistant Conductor (Albuquerque to Kingman): Mr. Springer
- Conductor (Barstow): Les
Souveniers unique to Southwest Chief available:
- Black T-Shirts with Southwest Chief Logo
- Black Baseball Caps with Southwest Chief Logo
- Ceramic to protect table from hot bowls or plates with Southwest Chief logo.
Photos taken but not yet posted to the web:
- 01:14-21 Out rear window, Deluxe Room A, Upstairs Bathroom
- 01:22-22 Car Yard Steam Heat Generator
- 01:23-24 Viewliner (prototype?)
- 01:25-25 Road Railer (blurr?)
- 02:01-01 Antique Shop
- 02:02-02 Caboose: Burlington Route
- 02:03-03 Mississippi River at dusk
- 02:04-17 La Junta & Train
- 02:18-19 Economy Room
- 02:20-20 Steam Locomotive in Trinidad
- 02:21-23 10,000 foot Fisher's Peak
- 02:24-25 2 river bridges in Trinidad
- 03:01-01 10,000 foot Fisher's Peak
- 03:02-02 Raton Pass
- 03:03-03 Green Valley, Raton Pass, Train on right
- 03:04-04 Superliner in Raton Pass
- 03:05-05 Front of train in Raton Pass
- 03:06-07 Wootton Ranch
- 03:08-08 Wagon Mound
- 03:09-09 Trees in way of Wagon Mound
- 03:10-10 Wagon Mound
- 03:11-13 Front of Train on prarie
- 03:14-14 Mora River
- 03:15-15 Front of Train
- 03:16-17 Ruins of Ft. Union
- 03:18-20 Cows
- 03:21-21 Circle T Ranch
- 03:22-22 Front of Train
- 03:23-25 Starvation Peak
- 04:01-01 Starvation Peak
- 04:02-02 Front of Train
- 04:03-06 Front of Train in S-curve
- 04:07-07 Pecos River and maybe San Miguel Mission
- 04:08-08 Double Rainbow
- 04:09-09 Albuquerque Vendors
- 04:10-10 Albuquerque Phones
- 04:11-11 Pointy mountains near Colorado River
- 04:12-13 Bridge over Colorado River
- 04:14-14 Desert rail place
- 04:15-15 Dark lump hill surrounded by many small dark lump hills
- 04:16-16 An entire freight train in one photo
- 04:17-18 Front of our train on curve
- 04:19-19 Extinct volcano with surrounding lava fields?
- 04:20-20 Building ruin near Barstow
- 04:21-21 Bridge & Train In Barstow
Please select one of the following:
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