This is the travelogue of my journey on the Amtrak Coast Starlight from Los Angeles to San Jose, California on Sunday, August 16, 1998 and the return journey on Friday, August 21, 1998 (not yet posted). On my northbound journey, I traveled in Superliner II Sleeping Car #1430, Car Number: 32072, Car Name: Arkansas, Room Number 3.
After experimenting with using Sam Pottinger's (of Sam's Steel Rails West) digital camera last weekend, I went out and purchased the newer model of the same camera. This model has two major features that help reduce two of the problems that I found with the earlier model. First, the diskette drive on this camera is twice as fast as the one on the previous model which reduces the minimum time between taking pictures in half. The second additional feature is that you can now view a photo before storing it. That means that you can decide to keep or eliminate a shot before having the camera take the time to store it to disk. If you didn't like the most recent picture that you took, you had to first play the picture back before you could delete it. Now, if you don't like the shot that you just took, you can delete it before saving it. I haven't figured out how to activate this feature yet, but the box does says that you can do this!
Here is the model of this particular digital camera:
Sony Digital Mavica Digital Still Camera MVC-FD71
with 10x optical zoom and quick access FD drive 2x.
Below you will find links to the photographs taken during this journey on the Amtrak Coast Starlight. The photographs are posted in the same sequence as the order in which they were taken. The first set was taken on or before the short journey on the northbound Amtrak San Diegan that connects Fullerton with the Coast Starlight in Los Angeles. The first several frames shows the inside of the TrainWeb office upstairs from the Amtrak Ticket Office in the Fullerton Santa Fe Depot plus some shots taken around the Fullerton Station. The next set of photographs was taken on the northbound Amtrak Coast Starlight. Keep in mind that the order of each set of photos reflects the sequence in which these scenes were observed out the window of the Amtrak Coast Starlight.
If you have an internet connection of 56K or faster, use the quarter page photo index. If you have an internet connection of less than 56K, which is what most of us still have from home as of 1998, I would suggest starting with the "thumbnail index" rather than the "quarter page index." Once the index page is displayed on your screen, you will be able to click on any of the photos in the index to bring up a much larger image.
Select one of the following sets of photographs:
Well, here I am again, right where I left off last week! I'm back in the "Arkansas" Superliner Sleeping Car that had severe electrical problems on my last trip and plunged the entire train into darkness for the remainder of our trip from Santa Barbara to Los Angeles.
This is a bit odd. I'm in the same Sleeping Car that I was in on my southbound Amtrak Coast Starlight trip on Monday, August 10, 1998, but the rest of the train is the same consist that I had on my northbound Amtrak Coast Starlight trip on Saturday, August 8, 1998! They just replaced the "Texas" Sleeping Car with the "Arkansas" Sleeping Car! I guess it is a good sign they were able to fix this car and have it back into service so quickly.
Evidently they are a bit short on crew today. Donald, the Car Attendant from the next Sleeping Car, #1131, just came through collecting the tickets for the Conductor.
Mary Coleman, the Car Attendant, came around to every room and handed each person a schedule for the Coast Starlight. Each room already had a number of materials such as stationery, safety instructions, and a route guide, but she did go to each room to make sure that everyone had both a schedule and a route guide!
Mary, the Car Attendant, came by again and asked if there was anything she could get for me. I asked if she could get a Bloody Mary for me from the Pacific Parlour Car. Mary then offered to also get some fruit for me and a roll and to fix me up a plate of food. I told her that I appreciated that. Within a few minutes, she was back with a plate of fruit, a sweet roll, my drink and lots of Amtrak napkins!
The onboard entertainer made an announcement that he would be wandering about the train providing live entertainment. He also announced that there would be a special show in the "Kiddy Car" at 1:30 this afternoon.
The Dining Car opened at 11:30 AM and made the usual announcement that service would be on a first come, first served, basis and that as soon as the Dining Car was filled, a waiting list would be started. I waited for the Dining Car to fill up and then put my name on the waiting list at about 11:45 AM.
I heard one of the Car Attendants mention that further up the line the Sleeping Cars are totally booked. He was telling some passengers who were not on the ocean view side of the train that they could move to the ocean side until we got to San Luis Obispo. But, after that, they would have to move back to their own rooms as every room would be full with passengers. An announcement was also made just south of Santa Barbara that Coach Seating would "Max Out" by the time we finished boarding passengers from San Luis Obispo!
Looks like it might be 3 stops in Santa Barbara: One for the baggage, one for Coach and one for the Sleeping Cars. There was already a San Diegan in the station when we approached the station. Our train had to wait until that one was ready to pull out.
The crew was trying to pull forward far enough to clear State Street so they could let the traffic start moving again. However, our train is pulling a private car on the end and there are passengers that will be boarding that private car in Santa Barbara.
When I arrived at the Fullerton Depot this morning, I heard the announcement that the Amtrak Southwest Chief had been delayed and would not be arriving until about 10:30 AM instead of 7:15 AM. I didn't think much about it at the time, but I should have, as that meant there would be a problem connecting Southwest Chief passengers with the Coast Starlight!
In any case, the passengers from the Amtrak Coast Starlight were bused to Santa Barbara and there were many passengers that were supposed to board the Sleeping Cars in Los Angeles from the Southwest Chief that were now boarding in Santa Barbara!
Mary had to deal with all the additional people boarding at this station instead of Los Angeles, but she still had time to "knock" on my door and check on me!
To expedite boarding of the passengers transferring from the Southwest Chief in Santa Barbara, much of the luggage was put into the 1411 Coach Car, the closest car to where the bus dropped off those passengers. The Conductor is coordinating with those passengers and the Car Attendants to transfer the luggage from the 1411 cars down to the correct cars in San Luis Obispo.
The passengers across from my room came down on the Coast Starlight and went to Albuquerque and were now returning. I knew the southbound Coast Starlight no longer connects with the eastbound Southwest Chief, but they described the route in details. They took the Coast Starlight south to Sacramento, the Amtrak bus over to Stockton, the San Joaquin to Bakersfield, the bus from Bakersfield to Los Angeles, and then the Southwest Chief out of Los Angeles. That is the new way these trains connect now that the Southwest Chief has been scheduled to depart before the Coast Starlight arrives each evening? I'd rather just hang out in Los Angeles for 24 hours. The return trip is the normal Southwest Chief into Los Angeles and then the Coast Starlight north out of Los Angeles about an hour later. These trains usually connect without a problem, and when there is a problem, a bus connects passengers from Ontario over to meet the Coast Starlight in Santa Barbara.
The Engineer just did "Shave and a haircut, two bits" three times on the locomotive horn. Dave Scale, the onboard entertainer, just did a reminder that a show for the kids will begin at 1:30 PM, in about ten minutes, in the "Kiddy Car." He also let everyone know that the "Kiddy Car" was downstairs in a Coach Car two cars after the Sightseer Lounge Car. "Calling all kids! Calling all kids! The Magic Show is about to begin! We already have a big crowd in the Kiddy Car, but there is room for more! Are you ready kids?" A roar of kids' voices could then be heard over the P.A. system that sounded like it was from an audience full of kids in a children's studio TV show! There MUST BE a lot of kids down in the Kiddy Car!
Just before coming into San Luis Obispo, the train started to lose air in the brake system. The engineer stopped the train just before the bridge and the crew walked the train to find the problem. They found it between the baggage car and the Transition Sleeping Car. The crew shut down the HEP (Head End Power), laced up the connector, and then walked the rest of the train just to check if there might be any other loose connections. The Conductor announced over the P.A. system that the problem was vandalism. Evidently some kids had placed one or more rubber tires onto the tracks and that is what knocked out the brake hose.
The wine tasting in the Pacific Parlour Car usually starts shortly after the train departs San Luis Obispo. If your train is crowded and you want to make sure you get a good seat, I'd recommend that you head down to the Pacific Parlour Car before or else immediately after departure from San Luis Obispo.
Three wines were served during the wine tasting. Just about every seat in the Pacific Parlour Car was occupied. This train has the one Pacific Parlour Car that has not yet been refurbished. There seems to be more food served on the refurbished Parlour Car. I didn't see them serve the hot chicken wings in this car. The cheese is also served as big chunks rather than the smaller chunks in the refurbished Parlour Car. Also, sliced cheese and a variety of fruit was served in the refurbished Parlour Car which was not served during the wine tasting in this car. The wine was very good, and as usual, they had each type of wine available for purchase along with a Coast Starlight canvass carrying bag.
During the wine tasting, Conductor Walt Moore came by and sat down with me for a few minutes to talk about the new Sony Digital Camera that he saw on my table. I've noticed that this camera does seem to attract a bit of attention.
I'm planning on having dinner with a friend in San Jose this evening, but with the train running late and getting later, I wasn't sure that was going to work out. Considering that all I have eaten today was the sweet roll and some melon in the morning along with a little crackers and cheese at the wine tasting, I didn't know if I would be able to last until so late at night. Besides, it might get so late that I might not be able to meet with my friend at all. Thus, rather than risk not eating for the rest of the day, I had dinner in the Dining Car at 5pm. I wasn't very hungry, so I ordered the light vegetarian dish. I forgot the name of it, but it was basically a lot of rice with vegetables, tomato sauce and artichoke bottoms. Even at that, since I wasn't very hungry at the early 5 PM dinner hour, I didn't eat much of that.
I did have a very interesting conversation with someone else seated at my table. He brought an instrument along with him that he didn't want to leave at his coach seat. It was an unusual type of viola that hasn't been popular since the Renaissance. He was just returning from a seminar in southern California of other people that play this instrument. They had come from most the west coast, but the presenters had come from all over the United States and even overseas. We discussed his special instrument, the resurgence of interest in such instruments that had gone out of favor, and the state of music education in public schools. I don't have a big interest in music, but I think the fact that the instrument was one that hasn't been popular since the middle ages fascinated me. I'm a big Mannheim Steamroller fan, and though their music isn't exactly the same, I think the source of the interest and enjoyment is the same.
There has been a call for medical assistance in the #1411 Coach Car. An announcement went over the P.A. system for anyone with medical expertise, a doctor or RN, to please come to the Coach Car. That reminds me, I forgot to mention the medical emergency on my last trip on the Coast Starlight last week. An Assistant Conductor was injured pretty bad. The people who attended him guessed that he may have broken one or more of his ribs. I guess he fell down on the train. I don't know if he just fell in the aisle or fell down a stairway. He was having trouble breathing because of the excessive pain. Some people who had previously had a broken rib said that the pain can make it difficult to breath. Just like now, there was a call for medical assistance and the Conductor was taken from the train by ambulance at the next stop.
Click here forinformation and photographs related to my stay in San Jose. I've included suggestions on where to stay in San Jose and how to get around the area using public transit.
While I was in the San Jose area, my curiosity got the better of me and I had to figure out how the Amtrak Capitols connected witht the VTA Light Rail at the Great America Station. I had been to the Great America Station on both the Light Rail and on the Amtrak Capitols and had seen no sign of either from the other!
I figured out why. They are about 3 to 4 tenths of a mile apart! If you get off the Amtrak Capitol, you will see a stairway on the platform that leads to an overpass directly above the station. Take this stairway up to the overpass. I have no idea where people in wheelchairs go to get to the Light Rail Station from here. There are only stairs and no ramps or elevators going up to the overpass.
Now here is the funny part. We measured this by car. The closest Light Rail Station is south of the overpass. The Light Rail Vehicles actually go over this bridge, but they don't stop on it. You can walk down the northside of the bridge (take a left) to the Great America Light Rail Station or walk down the southside of the bridge (take a right) to the Lick Mill Station. The Lick Mill Station is actually closer by about a tenth of a mile or so. However, both the Light Rail Schedules and the Amtrak Capitols Schedules promote the connection as being the Great America Station. I suppose this is because both the Light Rail and the Amtrak Capitols have the same "Great America Station" name and it is easier to explain that they connect at this station. But in reality, the Lick Mill VTA Light Rail Station is closer to the Amtrak Great America Amtrak Capitols Station, though not by much!
I made a little mistake in calculating the time that I needed to leave the hotel to arrive at the station at the time that I wanted: 11 AM. Thus, I decided to look into taking Bus #11. That is the bus that runs from Gish & First Streets to the San Jose Diridon Amtrak / Caltrain Station.
I walked down the block to the corner of Gish and First Streets and crossed the street where I usually crossed to get to the southbound VTA Light Rail Station. The Light Rail Station is in the middle of the street. This time I went all the way across the street to the sidewalk on the side of the street with the southbound automobile traffic. Right at the corner was the bus stop. There was a sign at the bus stop which indicated that Bus #11 was the ONLY bus that serves this stop.
I spotted the bus as it came north on First Street and made a left turn at the prior intersection to circle the block. I got read to board the bus as it rounded the corner at First and Gish Streets. The bus driver almost went right past me! I guess he doesn't often pick up passengers at the end of this line! He pulled to the side about 40 feet down from the bus stop and I had to run down to the bus. As he had rounded the corner, I could see that he was looking for oncoming traffic and had only caught me standing at the bus stop out of the corner of his eye at the last moment. When I boarded the bus, he apologized for having almost missed me and for having me run down the block with my suitcase. In compensation, he let me ride free!
The bus went through the downtown and Japantown area of San Jose, crossing the VTA Light Rail tracks a couple of times before finally ending up at the San Jose Diridon Amtrak / Caltrain Station. The total trip is only about 25 minutes. Thus, I arrived at the station about 11:30 AM, well ahead of the late running Amtrak Coast Starlight! This is a very convenient and fast way to get between this set of hotels in San Jose and the Amtrak Station. However, keep in mind that Bus Route #11 only operates between about 9 AM and 2:30 PM with the bus running about once per hour! You can see a full map, schedules and fare information for all of the VTA buses and Light Rail System at: www.vta.org
I found out that the reason the train was so late was that a freight train had broken down in front of the Amtrak Coast Starlight and they had to wait until that problem could be fixed. They lost almost three hours. I had called the 800-USA-RAIL number before I went to sleep at around midnight. At that point they were reporting the train as on-time. I figured that
Wow! 3:14 PM in the afternoon already! I had planned to go down to the Pacific Parlour Car for the afternoon Champagne Party, but I thought the time was still early in the afternoon. I just came back from lunch. I'm not used to just finishing lunch and it already being time for the Champagne Party. Since the train arrived late into San Jose, I ended up at the bottom of the wait list for lunch and had a late lunch. Also, I'm used to expecting the Champagne Party to be held around the time the train is in San Luis Obispo. These two factors threw off my timing and the announcement of the Champagne Party took me by surprise!
No problem! Roger our Car Attendant came to each and every room and brought Champagne to everyone! So, now I can keep on working on my computer, enjoying the view, and sipping Champagne right in my own room!
Roger came by about 20 minutes later and I obtained a refill on my Champagne. This is quite a challenge! The track from Oakland to Santa Barbara is pretty rough to begin with, but add to that a speeding train trying to make us some time, and you've got a really rocky ride. Try to pour Champagne from a bottle into a stemmed wine glass under those conditions!
I have not posted the hot box detectors, radio frequencies and times that we passed each hot box detector on this trip. However, I am following along listening to my radio scanner and keeping track of exactly where we are on this route as we pass each one. For more information about the radio frequencies used on this route and the location of hot box detectors, see: http://www.trainweb.com/radio/route_11.htm.
Roger came by again with his inquisitive announcement: "Champagne?" As I accepted my third glass of Champagne, I replied: "Are you back again? I'll have to make this my last if I plan to get any more work done on this trip!"
Looks like we lost another 8 minutes. I grabbed a copy of the new Coast Starlight Tourist Magazine. This one was for the months of August-September 1998. As usual, this issue looks pretty good. If you would like to subscribe to it, it costs $12 per year. Just call 800-882-7560 and tell them you would like to subscribe to the Coast Starlight Tourist. If you call, PLEASE tell them you were sent by TrainWeb! I'd greatly appreciate that. The Coast Starlight Tourist also has their own web site at www.cstourist.com. Unless they have changed their main web page since the time of this writing, they were using a photo provided by TrainWeb on their main page.
An announcement was just made that passengers connecting to the Texas Eagle will be taken off the train at Oxnard, probably about 9 P.M. and bused, probably to Ontario, where they will catch up to the Texas Eagle. This ride isn't too bad and it is after all of the oceanview parts of the Coast Starlight journey. However, it might already be a bit late at night to see much of the shore at that time. Once again why I recommend that you take the Amtrak Coast Starlight north out of Los Angeles in the morning if your rail journey only includes riding on the Coast Starlight in one direction.
FACTOID: I'm going to start including these FACTOIDS in my travelogues in a way that it will be easy for me to summarize them in a separate section one day when I get a chance.
FACTOID: Do you ever have trouble deciding if a restroom is occupied? Sometimes it is hard to read the "IN USE" sign in the doorhandle as that has often worn off. You also don't want to "try the lock" as that may startle the person occupying the restroom and maybe give them a heart attack! Instead, look at the ceiling in the aisle above the restroom. This works in Superliner IIs. I haven't checked to see if it is also true for Superliner Is. You will see a small amber light in the ceiling above the door. If it is lit, then the restroom is occupied and the door is locked. No need to try the handle! If the light is out, then the door is not locked. We still can never be sure if there is someone in the restroom who just hasn't locked the door (or the door has become unlocked by the motion of the train). Just open the door very slowly and give anyone that might be inside enought time to grab the door and pull it shut, saving both the person in the restroom and yourself from embarassment!
FACTOID: Did your traveling companion(s) lock you out of your room? Do you want to get their attention without banging on the door and disturbing everyone around you? Directly above the door you will find a doorbell for the room. Just push the button and it will make a buzzing noise inside the room. This is usually just used by the Car Attendant to get your attention when your door is locked, but it is OK for you to use it to signal someone in the room too!
We passed the northbound Amtrak Coast Starlight Train #14 at Santa Margarita. They announced over the P.A. system that there was a station (no longer a passenger station) and a siding here where we would wait a short while for our sister train. I saw the siding, but I didn't see any station.
Because of our late arrival, they did not hold the Amtrak San Diegan train for us. Instead, they sent everyone by bus down the San Diegan line. This wasn't too bad for me as I get off at Fullerton, the very first stop down the line.
Whenever they substitute a bus for the train, they collect the tickets either before you board the bus or once the bus is all loaded. This is the second time that I've had tickets with the Pacific Class (Custom Class) upgrade when a bus has been substituted. Last time when I explained to the bus driver that I wanted a refund on my upgrade (about $11 per rider!), he had me talk to the Amtrak Agent that was coordinating the loading of the buses. The agent told the bus driver to not collect my ticket. I went to the Amtrak Ticket Office the next day (downstairs from the TrainWeb office) and got a full refund on my Los Angeles to Fullerton tickets.
This time, the Amtrak Agent coordinating the loading of the buses told me that I could go into the station now to get a refund on the upgrade part of my ticket. At this time of night, I just wanted to get on board without without going through the hassles at the ticket window. I was just going to let them collect my ticket and forgo the $11 refund, but the Agent said that I could just hang onto my ticket. Thus, I'll get to stop by the station and get a full refund on my Los Angeles to Fullerton ticket again!
If you do have a Pacific Class (Custom Class) upgrade, be sure to mention it to the bus driver before he tears apart your ticket. Once it is torn apart, it can be a bit difficult trying to obtain a credit.
An exchange student from Russia sat next to me on the bus from Los Angeles to Fullerton. She was on a whirlwind tour of the United States. She was heading to Anaheim and didn't even have a hotel reservation yet! She was planing to visit Disneyland Saturday morning, head up to Los Angeles in the afternoon and tour that area Saturday evening and during the day on Sunday. Then she was going to take the Sunset Limited to Orlando and spend one day in Disneyworld, then up to New York City to spend one day there, then onto Niagara Falls for a day there. My head was spinning at that point and I lost track of the rest of her travel plans!
I mentioned to her that each of her destinations required a few days to appreciate even a small amount of what each had to offer and that she wasn't going to see much of any of those locations by spending just a part of one day at each. She realized that, but I guess just wanted to tell her friends back in Russia that she had visited all of these locations.
Also, she mentioned that she doesn't have a lot of money to spend for her travel. Her Amtrak ticket gives her a place to stay during the day and a place to sleep at night. But, when she is not on the train, then she does have the expense of a place to stay ... which is another reason she has to limit her stay at each location.
I was scanning all of the radio railroad channels in my office at home as I was putting some finishing touches on this travelogue. All of a sudden, I hear someone on Channel 63 (160.055) say that they are heading down to the Parlour Car! The only train that I know that has a car called the Parlour Car in this area is the Coast Starlight. So, I immediately set the scanner to Channel 63 to see if I can pick up any further transmissions. In just a few minutes I heard that same voice say that everything checks out and that he was now going to meet Train #14. This confirmed that he was talking about the Coast Starlight as Train #14 is the number of the northbound Coast Starlight.
All I can figure is that these transmissions are coming out of the Amtrak yard. The southbound Amtrak Coast Starlight should have arrived into Los Angeles about four hours ago and the northbound Coast Starlight, Train #14, isn't scheduled to depart until 9:35 AM. Thus, both trains should be in the yard or the station right now.
I've never received Amtrak transmissions from that far away before. On a clear day, I can see the skyline of Los Angeles from my house, but that is about 25 to 30 miles from here. My house is on a hill at an elevation of 700 feet. Thus, I have a clear view over all the communities between my house and downtown Los Angeles which are close to sea level. From my house, I can even see the Amtrak Southwest Chief and freight trains on those same tracks as they go through Anaheim, though binoculars do help!
Even so, I don't often hear railroad broadcasts from Amtrak in Los Angeles.But, then again, I seldom ever listen to Channel 63 (161.055) and don't know exactly what group at Amtrak uses this Channel nor for what purpose.
More from Train #11 on Channel 63 at 1:56 AM: "I'll be checking boxcars."