Rich Kimmel's 2002 Train Trip
Part 4 - Los Angeles, CA to San Diego, CA (Round Trip)
July 3, 2002; July 4, 2002
Trains #582 and 765 Pacific Surfliners
After I had recovered my camera case from the Sunset Ltd, I stood in line with Scott and Mitch for just a few minutes before it was time to board the Pacific Surfliner to San Diego. All the Surfliners which operate between Los Angeles and San Diego are unreserved seating; therefore, it did not matter which train I bought my ticket for back in January when I booked this trip, since the tickets do not specify a specific train. Some of the Surfliners which operate north of Los Angeles require reservations, however.
After the 3:30 PM arrival of the Sunset, the appropriate Surfliner train was Train #582, which departed Los Angeles at 4:10 PM. We retraced our steps through the long tunnel at Los Angeles Union Station to the appropriate ramp up to Train #582 and boarded. The Pacific Surfliners operate in push-pull mode, with the power unit always on the “Los Angeles end” of the train. The coach seats are not oriented the same way in each car, and in some cars, the seats are facing backwards. I have not ridden the “Surfliner cars” since they were debuted a few years ago, and it has been several years since I rode the old San Diegans, which, if I recall, were Amfleet cars. The “Surfliner cars” are new AMTRAK “California cars.” They are double-level coaches, with a snack bar in the lower level of one of the coaches. The cars are painted dark blue over silver, and have the words painted in blue “Amtrak California” on the silver part. They are fairly attractive cars, in my opinion. I followed Scott and Mitch into one car and up the stairs to the upper level, lugging both my heavy suitcases. Both Scott and Mitch have ridden the Surfliners before. I found it most convenient to place my suitcases in the rack above the coach seats, rather than in the luggage rack which is provided in the end of each coach. Most passengers are encouraged to sit in the upper level, and to leave the lower level available for handicapped and elderly passengers. Scott and I sat on the left side of the coach, and Mitch sat across the aisle. I was a bit confused, since I wanted to be on the “ocean side” of the train, but didn’t think I was, even though Scott and another passenger told me I was indeed on the “ocean side” -- maybe the train backs out of Union Station again, like it used to in the past, then reverses direction and runs “forward” beyond Mission Tower. But that was not the case -- I was indeed on the ocean side of the train, but the car we were in had its seats facing backwards. So I was actually on the right side of the train, not the left side.
After an on-time departure from Los Angeles, it was not very long until even the Pacific Surfliner began losing time due to Metrolink commuter traffic. We therefore were 8 minutes late departing both Fullerton and Anaheim. At the Fullerton station, there are several outside umbrella tables around the platform, making for a very attractive setting in which to wait for the various AMTRAK and Metrolink trains which serve the station. On the umbrella tables are the words http://www.trainweb.com, so I told my fellow passengers about Train Web, and told them to look for this travelogue there! Between Fullerton and Anaheim, we looked for the Matterhorn at Disneyland, but it is harder to find nowadays, due to the recent development in the area. From one or two spots only, however, we were able to get fleeting glances at Mickey’s famous mountain. The Anaheim station was our next stop. The Anaheim station is located at the Anaheim Stadium, thus making for a very convenient way for southern Californians to get to an Angels baseball game, or to watch the “Mighty Ducks.” On this day, there was apparently a game at the stadium, but not very many cars parked at the stadium.
The Pacific Surfliners use a 3-tone “semi-automated” attention signal to announce stops. After the 3 tones, sometimes you hear a pre-recorded voice which says “We are now arriving in _________. Please watch your step when leaving the train, and we thank you for riding AMTRAK,” and sometimes, you actually get a live person making the announcement, or both. The next stop was Santa Ana, where we departed 10 minutes behind schedule, followed by Irvine, where we were only 5 minutes late. At some point between Irvine and San Juan Capistrano, an announcement was made that passengers should not put their shoes on the seats. I soon went up one car and down the stairs to the snack car to get a beer. There are a few tables in the snack car part of the Surfliners, but I took my beverage back upstairs to my seat with me. Scott got off at San Juan Capistrano, and I watched out the window as his wife soon found him. He had tried to call her much earlier, from the Sunset, but hadn’t got her since she had apparently left their home in Lake Elsinore much earlier in the day to meet him at San Juan Capistrano, so no telling how long she had been waiting. I did not record our departure time from San Juan Capistrano, as I was preparing to take some video of our trip along the beach at San Clemente. It was late in the day, but there were still quite a few people on the beach, including several groups of surfers.
South of Oceanside, we passed some San Diego “Coaster” commuter trains. Apparently the Metrolink system operates commuter trains from Los Angeles as far south of Oceanside, and the San Diego-based “Coasters” cover the territory from Oceanside to San Diego. We departed Oceanside 20 minutes late, then were delayed again in Solana Beach to allow another Surfliner to pass, therefore departed Solana Beach 22 minutes late. I took a little more video as we climbed up Miramar Hill, then descended through Rose Canyon into San Diego. Our arrival into San Diego was only 10 minutes late. The San Diego AMTRAK station is located downtown near the Bay, and has changed considerably since my last visit many years ago. There are three tracks and boarding platforms at the old Santa Fe station now -- one track for the Surfliners, one for Coaster trains, and one for the red San Diego Trolley which operates as far as the Mexican border, and also serves several downtown areas. In the past, the Santa Fe station was a prominent feature of downtown San Diego, but today it is dwarfed by a number of newer modern buildings and high-rises.
I disembarked from the Surfliner and went directly through an outdoor passageway between the station and another building to the taxi stand in front of the station on Kettner Street, and found a taxi to my hotel, the downtown Hampton Inn, http://www.hamptoninnsandiego.com. The taxi driver did not speak English very well, and claimed that he didn’t know where the Hampton Inn was. He asked me “Was that the Hilton Inn?” I said “no -- Hampton Inn.” The driver took off heading south from the station, went around the block, and claimed he still didn’t know where it was, so asked me if I had the address, and stopped his cab so I could get into my suitcase in the trunk, where I thought I had the address. I did not have the address, but told him I thought it was on Pacific Highway, so he headed north one block away from the station, and I saw the Inn one block past the downtown Holiday Inn, so he took me there, and probably got an extra $1 fare for taking me the wrong direction at first!! No tip for this fellow….. sorry. The downtown Hampton Inn is approximately 3 blocks from the AMTRAK station, at the corner of Pacific Highway and Ash Street. The taxi driver unloaded my suitcases, then a bellhop took them inside and set them next to the check-in desk while I checked in. Because of the tardiness of the Sunset earlier, I was not able to do any sightseeing or beaching in San Diego, but I did want dinner, so asked the desk clerk if there was a restaurant in the hotel. There was not, but they suggested I go to the Holiday Inn, a block away, at Harbor and Ash Streets. I got my room key, then went to grab my suitcases, but they were gone!! I then saw another bellman carrying them across the lobby, so chased after the bellman. Apparently he thought my bags belonged to someone he was getting into a taxicab across the lobby, but I got my suitcases back! I checked in to my room, got organized, then walked downstairs again and went to the Holiday Inn across the street for dinner.
Since I hate wake-up calls and refuse to use them, I set the radio alarm in my room to 4:45 AM for the next morning. I got up and got ready to resume the train trip, and walked downstairs to check out. I asked the desk clerk to get me a taxicab to go the short ride to the station. I could have walked to the station--it was only a couple blocks, but with the two heavy suitcases, especially the one with my maps books in it, I decided to pay a couple dollars and go by taxi. The clerk then asked me if I “wanted to put it on my credit card,” and I said yes, thinking she meant did I want to put my room on the credit card. She then made a telephone call, and I thought she was calling the credit card company to verify my credit card, but she was actually calling the taxicab company to find a driver who would take my credit card for the taxi ride. When she started giving the address of the hotel, I was confused, so asked her what she was doing -- apparently she thought I wanted to put the taxi fare on my credit card, but I said no I would just pay cash. A little confusion, but I soon got my taxi and took the short ride to the AMTRAK station.
There were a few people in line getting tickets in the early morning at the San Diego AMTRAK station, but I of course already had my ticket, so I stood outside at the head of the Surfliner line. The last Surfliner which arrives in the evening lays over at the station overnight and becomes the first train out in the morning, so the train was there, but not ready for boarding yet. This would be Pacific Surfliner Train #765, which went all the way to Goleta, the northern terminus of most “700-series” Surfliners. Goleta is a small town 8 miles north of Santa Barbara. I have never understood why the 700-series Surfliners stop at Goleta rather than Santa Barbara -- maybe there are more storage tracks at Goleta than in downtown Santa Barbara. Only one pair of the 700-series trains each day operates between San Luis Obispo and San Diego.
It was cold and cloudy in San Diego on this morning, which was July 4th -- not typical July weather in southern California. I walked around the station some and looked at the large replica of an aircraft carrier which is on display in a glass cabinet in the station-- obviously a tribute to the long-time U.S. Navy presence in San Diego. I remembered my own father, who spent some time in San Diego during WW2, and during the time he married my mother. I found a seat in a coach car which was facing forward, on the left side, the “ocean side.” There are wall plugs at every seat in the Surfliner coaches, so I was able to plug the camcorder into a wall plug on this trip. On the trip south the afternoon before, I did not use the wall plug, even though it was available. We departed San Diego on time at 6:12 AM, with not very many people on board yet. We departed Solana Beach and Oceanside on time also, and, as we passed long the beach, I saw several areas where there were tents set up for numerous 4th of July festivities. I only hoped that the day would get warmer and sunny before the festivities began at these beachside communities. We picked up a large number of passengers at Oceanside, and when we left that station, the train was fairly full. There is a long stretch of undeveloped beachside between Oceanside and the San Onofre nuclear plant, but there is a road parallel to the tracks, whose beach parking places are typically occupied by motor homes and recreational vehicles -- people camping. This stretch was completely full of campers and camp vehicles today, as people were camping at the beach for the long holiday weekend. As we sped along the beach, the snack car attendant “Rick” announced that he was now open, and has been since the train departed San Diego. Apparently he was looking for business this morning.
As we continued north along San Clemente Beach, the beach was already full of people waiting for the sun to come out, plus the perennial surfers, all donned in wet suits out in the water. It was still cold and cloudy, and one group had built a campfire on the beach to keep warm. Past Doheny Beach, more campers and early morning beachgoers, then we turned inland. We departed all stations on time this morning, and arrived at most of them early. Across from the San Juan Capistrano station, there are some interesting little “garden houses,” which I videotaped. After departing the Fullerton station, an announcement was made that passengers connecting to Train #11, the northbound Coast Starlight, would be detraining in Los Angeles and connecting. We were told that there would be a platform-to-platform connection to the Starlight from track 9, where we were coming in, to track 10, where the Starlight almost always departs from -- no need to go inside the station. After detraining, the sleeper cars would be on the left at the end of the platform, and the coaches would be boarding down the platform on the right. After that announcement was made, the same conductor announced that, in about 20 minutes, we would be passing the scenic highlight of this run, the “beautiful, wild, and scenic” Los Angeles River -- hah!! It’s good to know that AMTRAK conductors also have good senses of humor, especially this early in the morning!! It was also announced that the crews would change on Train #765, for the northward continuation of the train to Santa Barbara and Goleta. We soon slowed down as we crossed the “wild and scenic” Los Angeles River into Union Station. As we were told, Train #765 pulled into Track 9, and we disembarked. It was still cloudy and somewhat cool, even though it was now 9 AM. I got out and took my suitcases to the left to the boarding area for the sleepers for the Coast Starlight at Track 10, and took some outside video. Several people were making the same connection I was. The Starlight had not pulled in yet when we arrived at the station, but would be in soon. Meanwhile, there were three “vintage passenger cars” 2 tracks over from our arrival platform -- I do not know enough about old passenger cars to identify them, but one was a cream colored over maroon coach, which looked interesting, and the other was a dirty gray colored coach. Two AMTRAK express cars were consisted behind the vintage cars.
I soon watched the Pacific Surfliner depart from Los Angeles heading north, on time. The Surfliners which continue north from Los Angeles (the 700-series) back out of Union Station to Mission Junction, then reverse and head forward on the same route that the Coast Starlight takes. In another 15 minutes, the Starlight was pulled into Track #10 and was ready for boarding.