Travelogue of Steve Grande of round trip travel on the Amtrak Coast Starlight between Los Angeles and Seattle to get to Bellingham, Washington where Steve and Ray took 360 x 360 IPIX immersion photographs of the Amtrak Cascades Talgo in a picturesque setting.
A few months ago, Ray and I took 360 x 360 immersion photographs of both the Amtrak Cascades Talgo and the Amtrak Las Vegas Talgo. Since we needed to take the photos while the train was stationary, the photos of the Amtrak Cascades were taken while the train was at the end of the line in the station in Vancouver, British Columbia. The people in charge of the Amtrak Cascades web site liked the photos enough to want to use them, but they naturally would rather have the beautiful Washington scenery rather than the chain link fence of Canadian Customs as background scenery out the window of the photographs that we already had posted!
Thus, Laura Merritt from the Washington Department of Transportation asked us to come back up to Washington to retake the photos. This time, the plan was to deadhead the train to a scenic spot along the line not far from Bellingham, Washington where we would have the train to ourselves for an hour or two to retake the photos.
Amtrak is providing us with round-trip transportation from Fullerton to Seattle. From Seattle, Doug Busler of Amtrak will drive us the remaining 98 miles to Bellingham, Washington which is less than 30 miles from the Canadian border. We'll spend the night in Bellingham. In the morning, we'll board the Talgo train in the yard and the train will then deadhead down to a picturesque spot nearby. Since the train will be tying up the mainline, there will be a limited time that we will have to get the pictures done, plus the train needs to be back into Bellingham before 10:15 AM to be used as the southbound Amtrak Cascades Train #761.
Plans were purposely made to take the photos on the Amtrak Cascades on Sunday as that is the day with the least amount of freight traffic. The low volume of freight traffic would give Amtrak an opportunity to park the train on the line and allow us more time to take our photos. To get to the desired location by Sunday, we needed to travel on the Amtrak Coast Starlight on Friday and Saturday. Unfortunately, Friday and Saturday are the busiest travel days on this train!
Travelogue of the first segment of the rail travel of Ray Burns and I from Fullerton, California to Bellingham, Washington. The first segment of our rail travel was on the Amtrak San Diegan and the Amtrak Coast Starlight.
As a result of needing to make these reservations almost at the last moment, there were no Sleeping Car Rooms available between Los Angeles and Oakland. Thus, Amtrak booked us in Coach from Los Angeles to Oakland and then in a Standard Sleeping Car Room the rest of the way up and for the entire return trip. We understood the predicament that Amtrak was in because of the fully booked Sleeping Cars, but we worked it out with them that we would still be able to use the Pacific Parlour Car from Los Angeles to Oakland and still be provided meals in the Dining Car at no cost. Once we got to Oakland, we'd be able to move into our Sleeping Car Room.
Sara Swain, the Marketing Administrator who was making the travel arrangements for us, issued a Special Service Request (SSR) to notify the onboard Amtrak staff of the arrangements. Just to avoid any problems when we boarded the train, we asked Sara to send us a copy of the SSR that we could present to the onboard staff. In addition to indicating our travel date, time, and accommodations, the SSR read: "ATTN ON BOARD SERVICE THESE ARE VIPS PLEASE ALLOW ACCESS TO ALL AMENITIES ON BOARDING LAX NO BEDROOMS WERE AVAILABLE AT BOOKING TIME THANKS". I think Ray and I would rather have just had our room, but we did get a bit of a kick out of being classified as "VIPs"!
Friday, January 28, 2000
As sometimes happens, I woke up a bit early in anticipation of starting my rail travel. Knowing I probably would not be able to get back to sleep, I got up and took care of a few things that I wasn't planning to do until I returned from this trip. While listening to the radio, I heard that a semi-truck got in the way of a Metrolink train which resulted in a pretty bad collision around Burbank. Immediately, I assumed the line would be closed for a while and the Coast Starlight would probably be delayed in departing from Los Angeles. As you will find out below, I was right about that!
We traveled in Unreserved Coach northbound on the Amtrak San Diegans from Fullerton to Los Angeles. The trainset was the double level Amtrak California Cars. There are usually only two sets of those in use on the Amtrak San Diegans. Within a year, all of the Amtrak San Diegans will be double level trainsets using the new Pacific Surfliner cars which have an exterior shell pretty much identical to the Amtrak California Cars.
Ray and I boarded the train and placed our luggage downstairs in the carry-on bicycle rack area with a great deal of luggage that was already in that area. When we went up the stairs, there was an empty table available right at the top of the stairs. Ray and I took that table.
On the single level Amfleet/Horizon trainsets, I prefer to travel in Pacific Business Class. However, in the Amtrak California Cars, I actually prefer Unreserved Coach over Business Class seating! Amtrak West uses a regular Superliner Coach Car for Business Class on the California Car trainsets. I like the large tables in the California Cars more than the seating arrangements in the Superliner Coach Cars. If they had a train with all Superliner Coach Cars and just one Amtrak California Car and called that "Pacific Business Class", both Ray and I would pay extra to upgrade to the seating arrangements in the California Car (as long as it would include a large table)!
Ray and I decided our best bet would be to go directly to the Sleeping Car where our room would be in Oakland and leave our luggage in that car. Then we would go to the Pacific Palour Car and then just hang around there all day except when we went to the Dining Car for meals.
When we got off the Amtrak San Diegan, the Sleeping Car that we would be boarding was directly across the platform from us. However, there were so many trying to board that car that I thought they might be coach passengers that were mistakenly trying to enter through the Sleeping Car. As it turned out, all of the passengers waiting to board were boarding the correct car. I never saw so many people trying to board a Sleeping Car all at once! Later I found out that they were all part of one large tour group who had just come off the Amtrak San Diegan at the same time that we got off from it.
We decided to wait until everyone else had boarded the Sleeping Car before explaining our situation. Just then, we saw Joanie Matsumoto from Amtrak head down the platform, who we have known for a while. Ray talked with Joanie and explained our situation. She thought it would be better if we brought our luggage down to the 1431 car instead of the 1430 car since it wasn't loading such a large crowd.
We were heading toward the 1431 car when I noticed the Car Attendant for that car was Donald Gilliard. I've been on the Coast Starlight a number of times where Donald was a Sleeping Car Attendant, but I think I've only had him as my Sleeping Car Attendant one previous time. If you are ever on the Coast Starlight with Donald, you'll know him by his professional radio announcer voice. The first time I was on a train with Donald, I heard what I thought was a radio playing in the next room. I thought someone was listening to sports on the radio, but then it sounded like the radio was moving down the corridor. I looked around, but didn't see any radio. Then, I noticed it was coming from Donald!
Donald had us put our luggage in the rack in his 1431 car. He then told us to take Deluxe Room C upstairs as there would be nobody using that room until San Jose. He asked us to remind him before the train got to San Jose so that he would have a chance to make up the room before the next people boarded.
We hung up our coats in Deluxe Room C and went to the Pacific Parlour Car. Ray and I sat at the end table on the ocean side of the train next to the bar. Brian Rosenwald, who used to be the Product Line Manager for the Coast Starlight but seems to now have an expanded role within Amtrak West, went through the car heading toward the Dining Car. We knew that Brian often rides this train and we figured we'd catch him later during the journey. But, we never saw him again on the train! I have to assume that he just got on in Los Angeles to take care of a few items and then got off the train. I believe Los Angeles is his home base. Thus, I'm sure he often checks the train without riding it anywhere.
Richard Talmy is the Pacific Parlour Car Attendant on this trip. Richard really seems to have his act together! He has a sign over the bar indicating the time of events in the car throughout the day such as: Continental Buffet - 9:30 AM; Scenic Commentary - 10 minutes after leaving Santa Barbara; Wine Tasting - 3:15 PM; Evening Snack & Movies - 5:00, 5:30, 7:30, 8:30; Beverages, Table Games, Reading Material - all day.
Richard started his commentary at 9:45 A.M. He began by giving a very detailed history of the Amtrak Coast Starlight Pacific Parlor Car. He explained that these cars were built in 1955 as Hi-Level El Capitan cars for the Santa Fe. When Amtrak West decided to try out offering a special lounge car to Sleeping Car Passengers, they looked through the salvage yards of equipment and decided these cars would fit the bill. They put the cars online in 1995. They were so popular with passengers that ridership and revenue increased drastically. Amtrak West decided to keep them as a permanent feature of the Coast Starlight and upgrade them to provide more of a lounge atmosphere. Richard further explained that there is almost nothing the same between these cars and the original Hi-Level cars beyond the outer shell. About one million dollars of renovation has been put into the car to create the interior that we see today.
Click herefor photos and more information about the Pacific Parlour Car.
The Conductor just announced that he doesn't expect the train to leave Los Angeles unitl about 11 A.M. He mentioned that passengers might want to get off the train to stretch their legs but to make sure they are back before 11 A.M. Another Car Attendant just walked through asking if there are any smokers in the car. She explained that this is a no smoking train. (The Coast Starlight does not have a Smoking Car, but it does make a number of smoking stops all along the way). She mentioned that this might be a good time to get off the train and smoke. The Conductor got back on the P.A. and announced that the Car Attendants would be going through the Coach Section passing out free beverages (Sleeping Car passengers always have free beverages available to them).
Richard Talmy explained in detail about the features of the Pacific Parlour Car, including the theatre downstairs. He said that he would put on the movie "History of the American Streamliner" as soon as he was done with his initial orientation talk. Richard said that he would post a schedule of movies and times by the bar. He then explained that he would be giving a commentary of the scenery and history along our route starting about 10 minutes north of San Bernardino.
I sort of recognized Richard Talmy when I first saw him, but his beard threw me off a bit. I recognized his voice immediately, but not his face. After checking my database of past travelogues, I realized that Richard was my Car Attendant back in January of 1997. He was the one that was extremely knowledgeable about the scenery and history of the route and lent me his copy of Rail Travel News. With his knowledge of the route and the ability to provide a running commentary, I think he has found his home in the Pacific Parlour Car! It gives him more opportunity to share his knowledge with the passengers. If I remember correctly, Richard also does an excellent job of explaining about the wines during the afternoon wine tasting. Even though I had him as a Sleeping Car Attendant rather than a Pacific Parlour Car Attendant the last time he was on the same train with me, he still did his commentary and helped out with the wine tasting in the parlour car.
Click here to read the travelogueof the last time I was on the same train with Richard Talmy as an attendant.
Other than the time that Richard spent on the P.A. system orienting the passengers, the rest of his time was spent scurrying back and forth between the bar and the tables making sure that every passenger had beverages. Most of the Pacific Parlour Car Attendants provide excellent service, but Richard Talmy has to be one of the best!
They have just updated the departure time to noon. A Car Attendant came through telling everyone this would be a good time to tour Alvera (sp?) Street!
12:00 Noon - Los Angeles
We finally departed from Los Angeles! Ray and I thought it would be a good idea to put our stuff back in the room, get the computer battery charged up, and head to lunch. That way, we would be done with lunch early and the computer would be all charged up by the time we got to Santa Barbara. We want to be in the Pacific Parlour Car for Richard Talmy's commentary and for the wine tasting (or, at least, I want to be here for the wine tasting at 3:15 PM. Ray doesn't drink alcohol at all.)
12:15 PM - Glendale
We brought our things back to Deluxe Room C and plugged the computer into the wall outlet. Ray put our name in for lunch, but there was already about an hour's wait. As soon as we got all set up and were ready to settle in for a comfortable time in the Deluxe Room until we got to San Jose, a couple walked into our room that had just boarded at Glendale saying that this was supposed to be their room!
Ray and I figured that Donald had probably just read the manifest wrong, or this couple had been added in after the manifest was printed. We double-checked and they did have Room C in the 1431 car. Ray and I apologized, but they didn't seem to mind the minor inconvenience. We packed our things back up again and headed back to the Pacific Parlour Car.
Fortunate, the swivel seats that we left a few minutes ago in the corner of the ocean side of the Pacific Parlour Car were still available. I plugged my notebook computer and cell phone back into the power outlet by my swivel chair and was back in business. However, having a Sleeping Car Room only from Los Angeles to Glendale has to be the shortest time and distance that I have ever had a room!
We passed the remains of the truck that got in the way of the Metrolink train earlier today which cause the delay of the departure of this train. It was hard to recognize the truck from what was left! Ray and I forgot we would be passing the accident scene and did not have our cameras ready.
We found out why this train was so full from Los Angeles to Oakland: Farr Discovery Rail Tours (see: www.FarrRailtours.com), one of TrainWeb's clients, had a tour group going from Los Angeles to Oakland! Dana Farr, the owner of the company, was on the train with the group. It had been a very long time since the last time that we met and we didn't recognize each other at first.
They got to our name on the waiting list for lunch around 1:15 PM. We put our things on the floor in the corner of the Pacific Parlour Car, but we were pretty sure that our seats would be gone by the time that we got back from lunch.
We had lunch with Mumtaz Ali, a physician from Hawthorne, and his wife Yasmine. They were avid overseas rail travelers, especially, Yasmine, but this was their first time on an Amtrak train in the United States. They have previously traveled through the Canadian Rockies on the Rocky Mountaineer (www.RockyMountaineer.com), another of TrainWeb's Sponsors. Mumtaz said it was one of the most scenic rail trips he has ever been on! Both Ray and I had to agree that the Rocky Mountaineer is probably one of the most scenic rail routes in North America.
At 2:30 PM, Richard Talmy announced over the train's P.A. system that his commentary would start at 2:45 PM instead of 3:15 PM. I knew that his announcement would encourage people from the Sleeping Cars to come to the parlour car and that it would be probably be SRO (standing room only) by the time we got there.
Sure enough, as I had guessed, by the time we finished lunch and got to the Pacific Parlour Car, there wasn't anywhere to sit! For about the next 30 minutes we stood at the front of the car just before the doorway to the Sleeping Cars. Although I thought that Richard's commentary was excellent, I really wanted to be sitting down somewhere working on this travelogue while listening to Richard. From time to time, someone would want to go from the Dining or Parlour Car back into the Sleeping Cars. They found it a bit difficult to make it by the 3 of us that were now standing, even though we tried our best to get out of the way.
The Dining Car Steward came through the train asking each party what time they would like for their dinner reservation. Ray and I took 7:50 PM.
We arrived into Santa Barbara. Ray and I took the opportunity to get off the train, stretch our legs, and take a number of photos out on the platform. They had just restored the Santa Barbara Station. Since Amtrak was running so late, we could not go into the station to view the interior.
After leaving Santa Barbara, Ray and I hung around the downstairs vestibule in Car 1430. Then, I came up with an idea of where we might find some seating which would not be crowded. We went downstairs to the theatre in the Pacific Parlour Car! As I suspected, it was empty! Everyone was either upstairs listening to the commentary or in their rooms watching the California coast. With nobody downstairs, Ray and I opened up the shades and we could also see the California coast!
I was surprised to see how many electric outlets are in the theatre! There is a duplex outlet next to each of the rear two single seats and then there are duplex outlets on the wall between each window! Ray and I figured out how to work the video and sound system and fired up the tape "History of the American Streamliner". It was a video made for the History Channel and was quite interesting. It started with the first American Streamliners and then went all the way up to the Talgos for the Amtrak Cascades, the train that we are heading up to photograph!
I'm glad I discovered this cozy hiding place in the back of the theatre! If I want to work somewhere outside my room in the Sleeping Car and can't find an available outlet upstairs in the Pacific Parlour Car, there is always one available down here! I don't mind working here even if a videotape is playing. If the tape interested me, I'd listen to it and glance up once in a while. If it didn't interest me, I'd just ignore it.
The tape is over and I can hear Richard's route commentary still continuing! He's now talking about the launch complexes at the Vandenberg Air Force Base which we are now going through. Richard is also starting to explain about the wine tasting that is about to start in the Pacific Parlour Car and about all the wineries along this route that these wines come from.
It still seems really odd to be sort of "homeless" on the train with no Sleeping Car Room to retreat to!
We just passed the new Amtrak Surf Beach station that is still under construction and not yet open.
From 5:30 PM to 6:50 PM Ray and I watched "Bowfinger" in the downstairs theater in the Pacific Parlour Car. I worked on this travelogue while watching the movie. We had to leave at 6:50 PM for our Dinner Reservation just before the end of the movie. I had seen the movie before with my kids, so I explained the conclusion of the movie to Ray.
I was just thinking back to 1995 when I first rode the Amtrak Coast Starlight. In 1995 and 1996, it was very rare to see anyone in the Sleeping Cars of the Amtrak Coast Starlight that was not going to be traveling overnight. Ray and I would travel in the Sleeping Car no matter how short our journey on the Coast Starlight. The shortest journey Ray and I have taken in the Sleepers, which I did on my own and Ray did with his family, was to take the Coast Starlight Sleeping Car from Los Angeles to San Luis Obispo. That was just one time each, but I have often traveled in the Sleeping Car from Los Angeles to Salinas, San Jose, Oakland and Sacramento, none of which are overnight trips. However, these trips do range from 5 hours 45 minutes to San Luis Obispo to 14 hours and 29 minutes to Sacramento. I feel the upgrade to the Sleeping Car is worth it on the Coast Starlight just for the ammenities, even if I'm not traveling overnight. Upgrading to the Sleeping Car is the only way to get access to the Pacific Parlour Car and to experience all the activities and atmosphere that it features.
People used to tell me I was crazy and wasting my money by booking a Sleeping Car Room when I wasn't going to sleep on the train. However, as time went on, I started to notice more and more people booking Sleeping Car Rooms for travel that is not overnight. That brings us to today where I just realized that almost all of the Sleeping Car Rooms have been booked for just a day trip! Most of the sleepers are filled by people in a large tour group that is just going from Los Angeles to Oakland! I guess more people, or at least the tour operator, understands all of the advantages having a Sleeping Car Room, even if the passengers won't be on the train overnight.
Finally arrived into San Jose, California! We are currently running about 3 hours behind schedule. I can't remember ever seeing so many people in the Pacific Parlour Car at almost 11 at night! But then, since almost everyone in the sleeping cars are only going as far as Oakland, there isn't any time for them to go to sleep. Hence, many of them have chosen to spend their time in the Pacific Parlour Car until the train gets to Oakland.
Donald told us that as soon as we got to Oakland, we could go downstairs in his car and rest in any two of the Standard Bedrooms. Everyone would be leaving those rooms in Oakland. So, that is what we did. The Standard Bedroom for which we were ticketed would also become available in Oakland, but Donald said that he would put us into Deluxe Bedroom D as soon as the people left that room in Emeryville and he had a chance to make it up. Emeryville is just 5 miles north of Oakland and takes the Coast Starlight less than 10 minutes to travel from Oakland and Emeryville as long as it does not have to pull into the Oakland Yard for special servicing. The current schedule allows for 40 minutes from Oakland to Emeryville, but that is to put some slack into the schedule just in case the train has to go into the Oakland Yard for special servicing. I think Ray and I may have dozed off and on while we were waiting for Deluxe Bedroom D to become available.
About 1 AM we were finally able to move into Bedroom D and settle in for the night. However, Donald let us know that he had already promised to move the party from Bedroom B into D sometime in the morning because there was a problem with the shower in D. That was fine with us. We were just finally happy to have a room to call home for the next several hours!
This was the first time I had ever slept in a Deluxe Bedroom. I've traveled from Los Angeles to Oakland and back in the Deluxe Bedroom a couple of times before, but have never slept in the room. I slept in the lower bed which Donald said was the same size as the lower bed in the Family Room. For some reason, it seemed wider. Ray slept in the upper bed. That also seemed wider, but probably uses the same size matress as the Standard Bedroom. Ray and I were so tired from having each been up from before 5 in the morning that we fell asleep pretty quickly.
Saturday, January 29, 2000
Ray and I woke up about the same time. We heard Donald's voice outside the room talking with other passengers. We were thinking how little sleep he must have gotten. He probably did not get to bed much before 2 AM after getting rooms for everyone and then had to get up about 5 AM to start taking care of his passengers.
We had French Toast in the Dining Car while watching the snow covered volcanic mountains roll by the window. As we finished breakfast, Donald came by and sat at our table to let us know that he had moved all our things to Deluxe Bedroom B and that we could go to that room when we were ready.
After putting things away in our room and setting up our notebook computers, we heard Richard Talmy announce that he would be starting another commentary in the Pacific Parlour Car in 5 minutes. We headed down to the Parlour Car and I brought my notebook PC with me. I was surprised to see that there were already two other people in the Parlour Car working on notebook computers! Richard did a great running commentary starting from about Klamath Lake. After the continuous commentary, he would pop back onto the P.A. System from time to time to announce anything noteworthy that we would pass.
The P.A. System in the Parlour Car was actually a Karioki Machine that Richard purchased and brought into the train himself. It works as a great P.A. System and is a lot less expensive than a regular professional P.A. System. Also, Richard was able to play soft music on the Karioki Machine when he wasn't doing his commentary.
We are now arriving into Salem, Oregon. After having made up an hour, we are now running only two hours late. The staff is predicting that we will actually arrive into Seattle only about 25 minutes late if we don't lose any further time. Thus, you can see how much padding is in the Amtrak Coast Starlight schedule.
Richard started the Champagne party at 3:30 PM. He gave a full history of Champagne and an explanation of the two Champagnes being served in the Pacific Parlour Car. Cheese and crackers were served with the Champagne.
Richard also pointed out Mt. Hood out the window. He said that this has been a very unusual trip in that we have seen almost every volcanic mountain along the way! Because the train was running late, we saw a number of volcanos that we normally pass during the night plus the sky has been clear so that the volcanoes have not been hidden in fog.
We left Tacoma, Washington at about 8:15 PM and are on the final stretch of the northbound segment of this rail journey. For those of you that noticed that the Coast Starlight no longer gives departing gifts to sleeping car passengers anymore, they did give each passenger a basket of goodies on this trip! It included a bottle of wine, chocolates, and mints! There was something else new on this trip: a sign for your bedroom door like you find in most hotels. On one site, the sign says "Do Not Disturb" and the other side says "Please Make Up Room". You attach this sign to a hook on a suction cup that sticks to the inside of the bedroom door window which the Car Attendant can read from the other side through the glass. I think this is a better idea than the usual custom of pulling the "Call Attendant" button. Using the old method, the Car Attendant doesn't know if your ready to have your bed made or if you need him to come to your room for a more urgent matter.
We arrived into Seattle, Washington, only about 30 minutes behind schedule. After saying our goodbye's to our Car Attendant, Donald, we headed through the Seattle Station and out to the pick up area. I stayed outside with our luggage while Ray headed back inside to look for Doug Busler, the person from Amtrak that would be picking us up.
While out at the curb, I saw a man talking to the Conductor inquiring as to whether certain people were on the train. The Conductor directed him to the Chief of Onboard Services and the man then walked into the station. It wasn't until then that I realized that man was probably Doug and that he was looking for us! When Ray popped back out of the station, I told him that I think Doug just went into the station. Ray went back in and it only took them a few moments to find each other.
We put our luggage and camera equipment into Doug's Dodge Durango and headed out on our 90+ mile drive up to Bellingham, Washington!
Ray and I woke up at 6 AM and headed down to the hotel lobby before 7 AM. Dave Manaras (Conductor), Russel Bates (Engineer) and Arne Blasche (Talgo Technician) were also in the lobby. Within a few minutes, Doug Busler arrived. Ray and I rode with Doug in his Amtrak Dodge Durango. The other crew members took a taxi to the train.
The Amtrak Cascades Talgo is parked overnight at the old BN Cleaning Tracks in the Pine Street Yard in Bellingham. When we pulled into the yard, we saw that the taxi with the other crew members had already arrived.
We took a few regular still photos of the train as we walked to the open door. Once we were in the train, we took a few more still photos, especially of the wheelchair lift in operation. That is something that we hadn't had a chance to photograph during our previous Talgo trips. Arne Blasche, the Talgo Technician, demonstrated the operation of the lift while we took pictures of the wheelchair lift in various positions. We then set up the 360 x 360 immersion photo equipment to be ready when the train arrived in the special area where we would take those photos.
The train deadheaded south with just the crew mentioned above plus Ray and I. A few minutes down the line, we stopped at a beautiful location that was at the south end of a sweeping curve right off the water. Doug, Ray and I got off the train and climbed down an embankment to a small beach area. Doug then radioed to the train to proceed north back to the curve in order to give us a sweeping view of the train in the curve. He had the train stop in that position so that we could take the first 360 x 360 photo.
I had a difficult time trying to find level ground for the tripod on the beach and a suggestion was made to climb up to a level grassy outcropping that was next to the beach. After an inital attempt showed that it was going to be a bit awkward and time-consuming to reach the grassy rise, I suggested that it would not be worth the effort. I knew that the 360 x 360 immersion camera only works well with close objects unless your target subject is something that is huge itself, like the Grand Canyon. A shot with the train this far away would pick up all the scenery, but the train itself would look about the size of a pin in the resulting photograph at that distance! I did manage to get the tripod level on the beach and take a couple of shots, but the resulting 360 x 360 immersion photograph resulted in what I expected: a virtual photograph of the surrounding scenery and a train that you would not know was in the scene unless someone pointed it out to you!
Doug then radioed the train to come back to our position to pick us up. We then rode to a spot just outside a tunnel by the water. Doug, Ray and I once again went on the ground. Doug then radioed to the engineer to back away from us about a hundred feet. After getting the camera set up and examining the digital monitor, I could see that the train would have to be a lot closer to the camera. Doug radioed the engineer to bring the train to almost right next to my camera position. I took a few sets of photos in that position which would show the train, the tunnel, and the water in the resulting 360 x 360 view.
While we were right by the locomotive, we decided that would be a good time to get the 360 x 360 view of the inside of the cab of the F59PHI. A few sets of photos were taken in the cab. The best shots were probably those that were taken fairly close to the engineer's controls since they show a good close-up view of the controls from the engineer's point of view as well as the rest of the inside of the cab.
I then climbed back down out of the cab and headed back into the train to take the rest of the inside photos. As it was starting to get a bit later in the early morning, I knew that the amount of light would improve each minute. There seemed to be plenty of light for the photos, but it is much more difficult to get the light exactly right for a camera that takes 360 x 360 photos than a camera that takes regular photos for reasons that will be explained below.
I went to each car taking multiple 360 x 360 photos at different locations, at different angles and with different settings. Until each image is processed by the computer, it is difficult to tell which sets of images will work best. When building a 360 x 360 immersion image, photographs have to be taken in opposite directions from each other. Both photographs have to be taken with the exact same settings to make the seam as invisible as possible. However, the exposure level needed in one direction is seldom ever the same as the exposure level needed in the other direction. There are tricks and techniques that help to obtain a pair of photographs that have almost the same light level, but this is more of an art than a science. Any differences in light level between each pair of photographs make it difficult, and sometimes impossible, to sew two opposite images into a single 360 x 360 immersion photograph. If you look closely at a 360 x 360 photo, you can almost always find the seam. However, sometimes the seam will almost blend into the lines in the photograph. Other times it will stick out like a sore thumb. Taking a number of photographs at different angles increases the chance that one of the pairs of photographs will have a seam that blends fairly well into the rest of the picture. Last, but not least, is the problem of windows. Usually, as in this case, the main object of the photograph is inside and near the camera. The camera will need to be adjusted to properly photograph the nearby inside objects. That includes adjusting the camera to the light level of the nearby objects. But, at the same time, there is a different light level outside the window. Trying to get both the interior objects and the background outside the window to both show up well in a 360 x 360 photograph can sometimes be quite challenging! Another problem with windows is that they tend to reflect the interior of the train and the light from the windows on the opposite side of the train. Once again, various levels of lighting and different angles of taking the photographs can help to reduce the amount of reflection in the photographs.
While on the topic of "reflections", any surface that can reflect is a serious problem for taking 360 x 360 immersion photographs. Rooms with lots of mirrors are almost impossible for the 360 x 360 camera! The goal is to take a picture of the room that gives the viewer the impression that he is right in the room himself. The camera and the photographer are not supposed to show up in the picture itself. When taking a 360 x 360 photograph, images will be captured in all directions. It can be very difficult and sometimes impossible to avoid including the camera and/or the photographer in a 360 x 360 immersion photo when there are multiple mirrors or strong reflections in the subject room!
After taking many sets of photographs 360 x 360 immersion photographs of the inside of every car on the train, Doug had the train start to deadhead north again back to the yard. The train stopped at the Bellingham Amtrak Station for a few moments and then continued back to the Pine Street Yard. Ray and I got off in the yard. Before leaving, Ray took a few more photographs of the crew members including both the engineer, Russ Bates, and Doug Busler at the controls in the F59PHI cab.
Doug gave us a ride back to our hotel where we spent much of the rest of the day checking, selecting and processing the sets of images into 360 x 360 immersion photographs.
The one thing that we were not able to photograph yesterday was a 360 x 360 immersion photo of the Dining Car all set up for service. The first southbound train out of Bellingham in the morning only provides Bistro service. Without a Dining Car Attendant, linen or silverware on that train, we didn't have any way to have the tables set to be photographed.
We explained to Doug Busler our desire to photograph an Amtrak Cascades Talgo Dining Car all set up. Doug said that he would arrange something in the morning so that we would be able to photograph the Dining Car. Later that evening, Rich Mason, who identified himself as Doug's boss, called us at our hotel room. Rich suggested that Amtrak send us by taxi down to the Mt. Vernon station at 8:30 in the morning where we could catch the morning northbound Amtrak Cascade train which does provide Dining Car service. He further explained that we could ride it for the 30 minutes from Mt. Vernon to Bellingham, which would give us enough time to photograph the Dining Car, and then we would arrive into Bellingham in time to switch over to the 10:15 AM southbound train which we planned to take to Seattle.
Ray and I woke up and got ready to leave. We went donstairs to the hotel lobby at 8:25 AM. A taxi pulled up right at 8:30 AM. The taxi driver asked if we were the Amtrak crew. Since Amtrak was sending a taxi to pick us up, we thought it was likely that the taxi driver would think he was picking up an Amtrak crew. But, I also noticed an Amtrak crew in the lobby of our hotel. Thus, it was difficult to tell if this was the cab for us or them! Another taxi pulled right in. The driver of this taxi said that she was looking for the photographers for Amtrak. So, that second taxi was for us!
Nobody had told her that we were to be taken down to the Mt. Vernon Amtrak Station. I guess the taxi company dispatcher just assumed she was to take us to the local Bellingham Amtrak Station. She got directions to the Mt. Vernon Amtrak Station and got us down there a few minutes after 9:00 AM. The northbound Amtrak Cascades was due through at 9:22 AM, so we had a few minutes to spare. Ray and I set up the special 360 x 360 camera so that we would be ready to take the photos as soon as the train arrived. While we waited for the train, we took a few pictures around the Mt. Vernon Station.
The Mt. Vernon Station was just a small glass shelter. There was a building that looked like a train station, but it was marked "BNSF" and seemed to be in use for the BNSF freight train operations. There were two BNSF locomotives parked on a siding right next to the glass shelter. Two crew members were working on the coupler in front of one of the locomotives.
This was the coldest morning that we had encountered yet on this trip, especially with a bit of a cold wind blowing. Ray and I were glad that there was some type of shelter provided so that we could get out of the cold breeze.
When the train did pull up, we were pleased to see that the Conductor was Dave Manaras, the same Conductor that was on the train yesterday during our photo session! Dave helped us onboard with the luggage and stored it in a space near the door in the coach section. Ray and I were the only two people to board the train in Mt. Vernon that morning. We headed directly to the Dining Car and got ready to take the photos.
There were two people in the Dining Car who were just finishing breakfast. As soon as they left, the Dining Car Attendant put new settings on that table. I wanted to take the photos as we went through the same area yesterday just south of Bellingham where there is water on both sides of the train. I took a few photos in areas where there was water on just the western side of the train as something I could fall back on if there was a problem taking the photos in the spot that I desired. When we did get to the selected spot, I was able to take a couple sets of the 360 x 360 immersion photos. It was only a few minutes after that when we arrived into Bellingham. Dave helped us off the train with our luggage and equipment. We then exchanged good-byes and thank-yous.
We wandered around the Bellingham Amtrak Station while we waited for our train. This station was an enclosed building which Amtrak shared with the Greyhound bus station. I picked up and looked at a few of the many brochures in the station. I was surprised and pleased when I noticed the www.trainweb.com/washarp web address on a brochure on the Amtrak counter from the Washington Association of Rail Passengers (WashARP)!
Our train departed on time at 10:15 AM. While we were on the train, we took a couple more 360 x 360 immersion photos of the Coach Section. Being a little later in the morning, the additional light can result in a better quality photograph.
When we arrived into Seattle, Doug Busler was waiting at the station platform with a set of Amtrak Cascade gifts for both Ray and I which had been arranged by Laura Merritt. Each set consisted of a black zipper bag with the Amtrak Cascades name and logo on the exterior. Inside the bag we found an Amtrak Cascades Baseball Cap, T-Shirt, 2 different candy bars, keychain, paper Talgo model, postcards plus an Amtrak bear!
Ray and I took a taxi to the Pioneer Square Hotel.The hotel is not a long walk from the station, but walking it with roller luggage is a good way to ruin that luggage. I found that out the hard way. Roller luggage is fine on carpet and clean sidewalks, but wears pretty fast on long walks down city sidewalks with all the sand and loose gravel that can get into the wheels.
Back in 1995 and 1996, I was always able to get my favorite room with a balcony facing the street. The hotel didn't seem to be doing a lot of business. I'd often see Amtrak crew members checking into the Pioneer Square Hotel when I arrived. Seattle seems to be quite a bit more active than it was back then and the hotel sees a lot more guests now. For the last couple of years I have not been able to get my favorite room. There weren't any rooms facing the front of the hotel available this time at all! It rained the night we stayed at the hotel, so I really missed being able to look out the balcony, or at least out a window, to the wet street below.
Ray had never been on the Seattle Underground Tour, so we went on that tour. We then took the bus tunnel down to Westlake Center which is the location of one end of the Seattle Monorail. The other end of the Seattle Monorail is at the Science Center by the Space Needle. We didn't take the Monorail as both of us had been on it before and we knew we had still a lot of computer work to do back at the hotel. We were back to the hotel before 5:00 PM.
Tuesday, February 1, 2000
I had set the alarm for 7:00 AM, but both Ray and I were up well before that. After getting ready to go, I had a chance to get on-line to collect my e-mail and post a few new sites to the TrainWeb Ring (RAILring.com).
We went down to the lobby at 8:30 AM to check-out and were picked up by an Orange Taxi at about 8:45 AM. The Seattle Amtrak Station, as mentioned above, is only a few blocks from the hotel. The cab fare usually runs just a bit over $3.00. If you get charged $5.00 or $6.00 for the ride, then you know you've been given the run-around. I usually pay the taxi driver a total of $6.00 for the ride including tip. I tip fairly high for this short trip as I know a lot of taxi drivers are very disappointed to find that their customer is going such a short distance. The drivers always seem quite pleased with the tip. That is, except for the ones that charge me $5 or $6 dollars for the short ride. I also give them just $6 for the ride. It costs me the same either way. I think they just end up cheating themselves and turning over more of the fare to the taxi company when they deliberately make it a longer ride than necessary.
As is customary for Seattle, it was a rainy morning. It had started raining last night on our way back from the Westlake Center Mall and had continued to rain throughout the night. This is my type of weather. I like looking out the window at the rain or watching the rain while outdoors in a sheltered area. I don't really care for walking or driving in the rain, but I love rainy weather as long as I'm under cover. Weatherwide, that probably makes Southern California about as wrong for me as it can get. In most years, there are only a few days of rain in my area. Many months can sometimes go by without any rain at all! I think I'd love the weather in the Pacific Northwest. Maybe I'll move up that way someday after my kids are off to college.
We arrived at the station about 9:00 AM. The station was the quietest I had ever seen it. Usually when I depart from Seattle it has probably been during the busier weekend travel or during the vacation season. I've seen the station a lot busier during my previous travels. People would often line up at the pre-boarding check-in booths long before the Conductors were at the booth to provide boarding passes. There was no line at all this time. A bit after the Conductor arrived, one person at a time would wander up to the booth to exchange their ticket for a boarding pass. A line never did form at all. Little by little, passengers would mosey out the doors to board the train. In the past, I've seen a great throng of people at the doors waiting for their chance to get out to the platform and board. Being a weekday, I'm sure there are a lot less passengers boarding the Coast Starlight from Seattle than there would be during weekends, holidays or the peak vacation season. That is all that I can think of that would account for why the station seems so much more calm that my past boardings at this station.
We boarded the train around 9:30 AM and headed straight to our room, Room 7 in Car 1131. On our way past Car 1130, we heard "Hi Ray and Steve!". Herminio, the Sleeping Car Attendant of Car 1130, recognized us as we walked down the platform. Herminio had been our Sleeping Car Attendant when we traveled on the Coast Starlight up to Seattle on September 13, 1999 when we were on our way to take the Rocky Mountaineer Railtour and had been the Sleeping Car Attendant when I went to the California State Railroad Museum back on August 8, 1998 for a behind the scenes tour. We also recently saw Herminio when we were at the platform at Los Angeles Union Station (LAUS) for some reason not related to travel on the Coast Starlight.
One good thing that I noticed was that we had Room 7. On the normal orientation of cars on the Coast Starlight, the even number rooms are on the ocean side on the northbound trip and the odd number rooms are on the ocean side on the southbound trip. Just remember: "even up, odd down". This is not a rock solid guarantee, but out of all the trips that I have personally taken on the Coast Starlight, only once did I see a car with the reverse orientation. Even at that, it was at a time that the Coast Starlight was being turned back at Sacramento each day due to washed out tracks further north. Thus, the misoriented car was probably due to the early turnback and the difficulty of getting the car in the correct orientation at the unusual place where the train had to be turned.
As soon as we got our things into our room, we headed down to the Pacific Parlour Car for a bit of a Continental Breakfast. They had Danish, cereal, milk, crackers and cheese out. Coffee and juice were being served at the bar. Ray and I took two of the swivel chairs on the east side of the south end of the train. Later, Ray headed back to the room and I switched to the west side of the train to get a better view of the water. I was not able to take many photographs due to the rain on the window.
We just hit something! Something rattled down the entire side of the train. My first guess was a tree limb. I was in the Pacific Parlour Car, but went right back to my room and got my scanner. Herminio said a tree come down on the window of his car. I quickly found that the road channel here is 87 (161.415). It turns out that it was a minor landslide. I guess that is one of the bad aspects of rainy days! Some dirt, rocks and at least one tree from a steep enbankment next to the track came down on the rails just as the train was beside that part of the enbankment.
Examining the aftermath, the Conductor said that it was on the rail. I guess he may be talking about part of the tree. I think he cleared that off. Then, the Conductor called the Dispatcher asking for a maintenance crew with a cutting torch. Part of the superstructure of the Pacific Parlour Car is hanging down. The part that is hanging has to be either cut off or wired up. If we move backward, the part hanging down will dig right into the ballast and the ties. We went forward about a mile and into a siding. Also, I haven't heard any report on it yet, but from moving forward the mile, it sounded like we might have gotten a flat spot on a wheel. That can happen when a train goes into emergency stop and the wheels slide along the rails while locked. It sounds like it could either be this Pacific Parlour Car or the 1130 Sleeping Car that has a flat spot on the wheel.
The first call for lunch was made about 11:45 AM while we were still stopped waiting for the maintenance crew to remove what was hanging from the Pacific Parlour Car.
We are underway again! A maintenance crew did come out and cut off what was hanging from the bottom of the train. It turned out to be just a cosmetic part of the exterior. They placed those items onto the train so that they can be added back to the car when it goes in for repair. However, the sound of the flat spot of the wheel is still very pronounced!
Any Pacific Parlour Car Attendant would have to go a long way to match the service and commentary provided by Richard Talmy, so it would really not be fair to judge an Attendant's performance against his. So, while not passing any judgement on the performance of the Attendant on this southbound segment, I still have to comment on the stark contrast in service between the northbound and southbound service in the Pacific Parlour Car.
Richard provided non-stop service from morning to night with the exception of the times that he was providing his very entertaining and interesting commentary of the scenery and the history of the route, the railroad and the railcars. Even when doing his commentary, Richard had an Attendant from one of the Sleeping Cars help out to continue serving the passengers in the car. This was no easy task as Richard had a very full car with large tour group on that segment! I'm sure Richard must have taken his meals and other breaks during the day, but I can't recall ever not seeing him in the Pacific Parlour Car. I know that he retired to his quarters sometime after 10 PM. As mentioned above, Richard was rushing back and forth to every table during the first couple of hours in the morning making sure everyone had coffee and juice and getting anything else that they might need.
On each morning on this southbound journey, the center serving area had danish, muffins, cereal, cheese and crackers. The fruit was kept up at the bar. You also had to go up to the bar yourself where the Car Attendant would pour coffee and/or juice for you. Cream and sweetner were available on the tables. This is in contrast to coffee and juice being served at your seat, and cream and sweetner being available at every seat including the swivel chairs at the front of the car, on the northbound journey.
I don't mind cleaning up after myself, but this was seldom possible on the northbound journey since Richard made so many passes through the car taking away all empty dishes, cups, glasses and napkins. You'd hardly ever see a dirty dish laying out anywhere! On the southbound journey, I had to clean up after myself by placing my dirty dishes in a bin under the center serving table and throwing away my used napkins. Unexpectedly, the container of dirty dishes was still full when I entered the parlour car about 6:00 AM the next morning! Whenever someone did not clean up after themselves, their dirty dishes could be still found where they left them many hours later, especially in the area of the swivel seats.
My biggest disappointment was at the wine tasting or Champagne party time. Actually, I could not figure out which this was. The Pacific Parlour Car Attendant said it was a wine tasting, but two sparkling wines were served. Sparkling wine is usually what is served for the Champagne party. Thus, I had to conclude that this is probably the Champagne party and the wine tasting will be tomorrow. (Actually, one of the things that I learned from Richard's commentary is that only sparkling wine from France can be called Champagne because of an international agreement. However, this agreement was signed during prohibition in the United States. Since alcohol was not legal in the U.S. at that time, we were not invited to sign the treaty. Since the U.S. did not sign it, there are some makers of sparkling wine in the U.S. that do call their product "Champagne". However, now that U.S. wineries are trying to export more of their products, many of these same wineries have started to change their product name to "Sparkling Wine" in order to be in conformance to the international agreement.)
Richard's commentaries about the wines on the first day and the Champagnes on the second day were quite lengthy, educating and entertaining! By contrast, the commentary on this southbound segment lasted less than a minute. We were given the names of the wines, told a little of what they would taste like, and told that they are called sparkling wines rather than Champagne as only France can call sparkling wine Champagne. The Wine and Champagne events on the northbound segment seemed to last quite a while. I didn't time it, but it seemed well over an hour, maybe closer to two hours. On the southbound segment, it seemed like the wine (or Champagne?) event was over before hardly getting started!
Also, this Attendant only held the event at the tables. He did not bring glasses to the people seating in the comfortable swivel chairs at the front of the car. Instead, he seemed to imply that anyone that wanted to participate should move to one of the tables. With all my travels on the Coast Starlight, I've been to many of these wine or Champagne events and they have always brought glasses to the people in the swivel chairs as well as the people at the tables. With the tour group on the first day of the northbound journey, I think there would have been a mutany if they did not serve the people at the end of the car! There were so many people at the event that some people were even standing! With the light load on this weekday passenger train, there was plenty of empty seats both at the tables and at the swivel chairs. Thus, it certainly did not take as much work to serve the people on the southbound segment as Richard had to contend with on the northbound segment!
I have Herminio to thank for coming to my rescue and to the rescue of the other passengers relaxing comfortably in the swivel chairs at the end of the parlour car. Herminio came down with one of the bottles of sparkling wine and asked if anyone needed glasses. He got glasses and served the wine to those passengers at that end of the car. However, after Herminio left the car to take care of his own duties in his sleeping car, we never did get to sample the other type of sparkling wine which was served to the people sitting at the tables. There weren't that many people in the Pacific Parlour Car. I think the Attendant could have served everyone himself without difficulty even without help from the Sleeping Car Attendants.
I don't know what the job description is of the the Pacific Parlour Car Attendant. I'm sure that it does not include providing a detailed commentary on the sights and history of the route. That feature has to be something that Richard Talmy provides above and beyond the call of duty. However, there is quite a contrast in seeming to never have Richard out of sight in the parlour car on the northbound trip, where on this southbound segment, I often look around and can not see the Attendant! Richard would be continually making his rounds asking if he could get anything for anyone and he was always there to be signalled if you needed anything. On this southbound segment, there often doesn't seem to be anyone around to ask for service. Though, it is possible the Attendant is sitting down behind the bar where he can't be seen but is ready to serve anyone that steps up to the bar. I've just been assuming that he is not in the car since I can not see him, even when looking at the bar.
We just departed San Jose and are running right on time! We had arrived into Sacramento about 30 minutes late, but with the padding built into the Sacramento arrival and the padding between Emeryville and Oakland (as long as the train does not have to make a stop in the Oakland Yard), we easily made up the time that we had lost caused by the mud slide yesterday.
The northbound Amtrak Coast Starlight passed us in the station and we departed San Luis Obispo right on time! The current expectation is that we will arrive into Los Angeles
As soon as we left San Luis Obispo, the wine tasting began. Once again, everyone that wanted to participate in the wine tasting was asked to come up to the table area. The Pacific Parlour Car Attendant announced this over the P.A. System for the parlour car. He also said that we would have a surprise guest today: an expert on wine to conduct the wine tasting! This time, since the car wasn't too crowded, everyone scrunched up and all managed to squeeze into the table area of the car.
The person started by saying something about the P.A. system and that everyone should move up to the tables. I don't know what he said, but I don't think he said the P.A. is not working as the Car Attendant just used it a moment ago. He then went on to say that he is a friend of the director of the Coast Starlight. I assume he was talking about Brian Rosenwald who I've heard is an expert in wine himself and plays a hand in selecting the wines served on the train.
After asking everyone to move to the table area, he noticed that I was the only one who remained back at the comfortable swivel chairs. He singled me out and asked if I was going to participate. That left me with an awful choice! To stay put in my nice comfortable seat where I was all set up with my notebook plugged into the outlet (Electric outlets are only by the swivel chairs in this parlour car. They are only by the tables in some of the other parlour cars.) or go up to the tables to squeeze in with other people and stop writing on my notebook computer. I selected the comfort over the wine and nodded my head "No". I guess he didn't like my answer as he waved me off in disgust (I guess assuming that I really did not want to participate), but maybe that was just my imagination. I did want to participate, but I also wanted to stay in my comfortable chair writing my travelogue! I have to honestly say that I was a little upset as this trip was the first time I've ever been at a tasting in the Pacific Parlour Car where it was not provided to all the passengers no matter where they were sitting. And, those of you who follow my travelogues know that I've been to quite a few tastings in the Pacific Parlour Car!
This time, the gal that was my own Car Attendant came partially to my rescue. She headed back to my seat with a set of guide sheets to the wine tasting and asked if she could at least get me a glass of wine. I said that I definitely would appreciate that! She dropped off one of the wine sheets with me and then brought me a glass of the first wine being tasted. That one little gesture redeemed the wine tasting experience for me just as Herminio's actions had done yesterday! My suggestion to anyone associated with this event on the Coast Starlight? Let people sit where they want to sit in the Pacific Parlour Car, even if the car isn't crowded.
Herminio to the rescue again! Near the end of the wine tasting, he headed my way with a bottle of the Cabernet Sauvignon in hand (Clos du Bois - Geyserville, California Alexander Valley Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon)! He asked if he could get me anything and I naturally replied that a glass of that wine would be nice!
I heard the Pacific Parlour Car Attendant ask a child on the train if he wanted to see a movie downstairs. It sounded like there was only one movie available. On the northbound journey, I knew there were at least 3 movies onboard which were played several times throughout the day as well as when anyone requested them.
As with most of my travelogues, criticism of the experience is provided for two main reasons:
First, to prepare other rail travelers for what can happen during travel so they are not let down by hightened expectations. As someone once described it, travel on Amtrak is like camping. You have to rough it a bit, but you keep coming back for more because you enjoy it! That put my view of Amtrak in a nutshell. The experience is far from perfect, but there is enough to enjoy to make it worth doing over and over again! The commercials and advertising by Amtrak often put a glossy face on what train travel is really like. But don't blame the advertising agency, that's their job! I'm here to tell you what it is really like, but in my opinion, it is still worth traveling by Amtrak despite the imperfections!
The second reason that I provide these constructive criticisms is in hope that someone in Amtrak will read them and consider taking whatever action is needed to make the journey a more enjoyable and pleasant experience for the passengers. Amtrak already does a wonderful job at attracting new people to try rail travel. I once heard that 50% of all riders on Amtrak's long-distance trains are first time riders. From the people that I talk to on the train, it certainly does support that statistic. A major problem that Amtrak has is in turning those first time riders into second and third time riders. I hope that some of the problems that I find and suggestions that I make will result in action that will make those first time riders want to repeat their travel on Amtrak over and over again!
With a few minor obvious exceptions, all of the photos below were taken through the train windows while riding on the train. These are pictures of the scenery that you will see out the window as you ride on Amtrak all the way from Fullerton, California to Bellingham, Washington and back on the Amtrak San Diegans (Amtrak Pacific Surfliner), Amtrak Coast Starlight and Amtrak Cascades.
And last, but not least, here is the result of the purpose of this entire trip: the 360 x 360 immersion photos of the Amtrak Cascades Talgo while in the State of Washington! Once you click on any one of the links below to enter the train, you can take a virtual tour of the train by clicking on a doorway link at either end of the car in each image.