Archive for category D.C. to San Diego I (Feb. 2006)

San Diego At Last

(Note: This is the final entry from my first San Diego trip. To start at the beginning of the trip, click here and follow the links at the top right of the page.)

We arrive at San Diego’s Old Town station at 9:55 a.m. and can’t find a cab anywhere. After waiting at the cab stand for 10 minutes, we finally get a ride to Enterprise Rent-A-Car. I had reserved a standard class car via the Internet several weeks back and got to pick from several makes and models. As I glance at the overcast sky, Mike from Enterprise tells me not to worry, the clouds will break in an hour. I choose a black 2006 Volkswagen Jetta, which is a sleek ride to say the least.

It only takes five minutes to get from Enterprise to our hotel, the Bahia Resort Hotel on Mission Bay. Despite arriving at 10:45, we are able to check in. Our room is on the fourth floor with a semi-decent view of Mission Bay and the hotel property. And, as Mike predicted, the sun is starting to peek through the clouds.

After three nights on the train, it’s time for a real shower. Then we’re going to have lunch and find a place to watch the Super Bowl.

Solana Beach, California

Waterfront highway on Solana Beach on Feb. 5, 2006.

Solana Beach, California

Waterfront property on Solana Beach on Feb. 5, 2006.

San Clemente, California

Surf’s up!

San Juan Capistrano, California

I’m getting the urge to swallow a glass of orange juice right about now.

Anaheim, California

The parking lot at Angel Stadium is a mess on the morning of Feb. 5, 2006 following the previous night’s AMA Supercross motorcycle race at the Major League Baseball venue.

Fullerton, California

Primary engine on Pacific Surfliner 564 on Feb. 5, 2006.

Fullerton, California

Passenger bridge over tracks on early morning of Feb. 5, 2006.

Albuquerque, New Mexico

Southwest Chief 3 primary engine during service stop on Feb. 4, 2006.

Albuquerque, New Mexico

Construction of new station in Albuquerque on Feb. 4, 2006.

Lamy, New Mexico

Candidate for Architectural Digest on Feb. 4, 2006.

Raton, New Mexico

Shopping area on 1st Street on Feb. 4, 2006.

Raton, New Mexico

I wonder if Ed will be showing the Super Bowl at his establishment?

Raton, New Mexico

New Mexico countryside on Feb. 4, 2006.

Trinidad, Colorado

The Spanish Peaks of the Colorado Rockies on Feb. 4, 2006.

La Junta, Colorado

An old Sante Fe caboose outside the station in La Junta (Spanish for The Junction) on Feb. 4, 2006.

Lamar, Colorado

A wind turbine and a locomotive at the station in Lamar during the early morning hours of Feb. 4, 2006.

Slight Change in Plans

Saturday night, after talking to our car attendant, Rene, we decide to slightly change our itinerary. Instead of taking the train all the way to Los Angeles, we will get off at Fullerton, California, which is one station prior to the final stop at L.A.’s Union Station. The reason for this change is that the Pacific Surfliner stops at Fullerton on the way to San Diego and we can catch an earlier train.

We leave Winslow, Arizona four minutes late at 8:54 p.m. and are in bed when we reach Flagstaff, Arizona an hour later.

On Sunday, we get up around 5:45 a.m. PT, as we are pulling into Riverside, California. We pack our things and get off at Fullerton, California around 6:40 a.m., which is about six minutes later. (According to Amtrak’s Web site, the Southwest Chief arrived at Los Angeles on time at 8:15 a.m.)

In Fullerton, California, I immediately head to the ticket window to exchange our Los Angeles to San Diego tickets at 11:10 a.m. for Fullerton to San Diego at 7:52 a.m. I receive the tickets – and $10.45 in change – and since we have an hour to kill, we walk around outside the station, wait in the station and then wait on the platform. To reach the platform for trains heading south, one must cross the rails via a bridge over the tracks.

Pacific Surfliner 564 departs on time at 7:52 a.m. and I set up my laptop and GPS and update my travelogue. After a limited and/or non-existent wireless Internet connection the past two days, I am finally able to get a good signal. In the future, maybe Verizon should change the name of its NationalAccess product to Sporadic Service in 10% of the Nation.

Mystery Solved

Not much happens Friday night. Still full from burgers at the Billy Goat Tavern, we skip dinner. Tonight we’ll find out if the dining cutbacks have taken effect on the Southwest Chief. I stay up until Kansas City, where we depart 8 minutes late at 11:03 p.m.

On Saturday morning, I wake up at 7:30 a.m. CT during sunrise near the Kansas-Colorado border. I take a shower and then get to experience that wonderful task of shaving on the train. As return to my room, we are pulling into Lamar, Colorado. It is now 7:26 Mountain Time and we are 20 minutes behind schedule. Our car attendant, Rene, says there is some padding in the schedule between here and La Junta, Colorado and we should have time for a 15-minute smoke break and pull out on schedule.

Rene is right as we stop at La Junta, Colorado 2 minutes early at 8:13 a.m. We have 15 minutes to stretch our legs – and for some, fill their lungs – and I go into the station and check out the vending machines. Forget Wheaties, the breakfast of champions today is a cherry and cheese bear claw, Andy Capp’s hot fries and pack of Twizzlers, washed down with a Dr. Pepper.

During the stop in La Junta, Colorado there is a crew change and I ask one of the Amtrak employees about the GTB delay last night. He says he wasn’t on the train, but he heard we blew a hose. Mystery solved, I guess.

We leave the station on time at Trinidad, Colorado, cross the Raton Pass (which I learn is the highest point on the Sante Fe line) and actually 12 minutes arrive early at 10:44 a.m. at Raton, New Mexico, which gives us another stretch and smoke break.

We leave Raton, New Mexico at 10:56 a.m., right on time, but then immediately stop for an all red signal in the West Raton Yard. After a short delay of a couple of minutes, we start moving again.

Outside of Lamy, New Mexico we are going very slow, and then we stop for several minutes awaiting an approaching train. It turns out the train we are waiting for is the Eastbound Southwest Chief. With this delay are 21 minutes late in Lamy.

We make the time back during the one-hour station stop in Albuquerque, New Mexico, which begins at 3:42 p.m. My stomach is still on Eastern time so I decide to get some food from the vendors on the platform. I choose two burritos – one beef, potato & beans, the other spicy steak – and an order of enchiladas, which comes with two of the pork variety.

We walk outside the station and see a Thai restaurant down the street. My girlfriend orders some Thai food to go and I have a beer while we are waiting. We return to the station, I take several pictures of the engines and we return to our room for a New Mexico/Thai feast. The train departs at 4:45 p.m. and we eat and watch the sunset over the desert.

Trouble in Fort Madison?

We are on time at station stops at Mendota, Princeton and Galesburg, Illinois. At Fort Madison, Iowa, we stop for a five-minute smoke. The station, located 100 yards from the Mississippi River, is notoriously cold due to winds from the river. Tonight is no exception as the temperature is 32 degrees.

At 7 p.m., we are expecting the train to leave, but chatter on the radio indicates some kind of problem. The conductor says he’s heading over, a light is requested and someone announces there will be delay of 15 minutes. I’ll play detective and attempt to decipher that tidbit of information.

Chicago, Illinois

The Wanderers perform at the Navy Pier.

Chicago, Illinois

The Navy Pier.

Chicago, Illinois

Normally on a February morning, this is snow.

Chicago, Illinois

I always thought the Sears Tower was a lot taller.

Leaving Chicago

We leave Chicago’s Union Station exactly on time, pulling out at 3:15 p.m. CT

Here is the consist for Soutwest Chief 3:

1). Engine 200
2). Engine 52
3). Engine 44
4). Baggage car 1264
5). Transition sleeper 39019 (Car 3009)
6). Sleeper 32053 (Car 0331) – We are in Room 10
7). Sleeper 32044 (Car 0330)
8). Dining car 38047
9). Lounge car 33034
10). Coach 34008
11). Coach 34024
12). Baggage (Freight?) car 74080
13). Baggage (Freight?) car 74052

Originally, we were assigned to Room 2, which is right next to the bathroom. Our car attendant, Rene, and the conductor graciously allowed us to move to the opposite end of the car and avoid hearing the bathroom door open and close all night.

At our first stop in Naperville, Illinois, we again leave right on time at 3:50 p.m.

Cheezborger, Cheezborger, Cheezborger

We arrive at Chicago’s Union Station at 9:27 a.m. CT, which puts us 57 minutes late for the trip. Yesterday, leaving Washington, my guess was one hour late so I’ll give myself props on that prediction.

The train backs into Union Station and we immediately head to the Metropolitan Lounge to check in for our train to Los Angeles. We are told to return at 2:30 for the 3:15 departure of the Southwest Chief.

With several hours to kill, we decide to have an early lunch at the famous Billy Goat Tavern, which was immortalized by John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd in a Saturday Night Live sketch where the duo worked in a burger joint and constantly yelled, “Cheezborger, Cheezborger, Cheezborger.”

Not sure if the restaurant was open for lunch that early, I called the Billy Goat Tavern. Here is a transcript of the call:


“What time do you start serving cheeseburgers?”

“What time you want to come?”

“I can come right now.”

“OK. We serve cheezborgers at 6 a.m.”

“I’m on my way.”

It turns out the gentleman I talked to was legendary owner Sam Sianis, who answered the phone several times while we were there.

We both ordered double cheezeborgers because as they say, “When in Rome……” I was still a bit hungry after the double so I ordered a second. I made it about halfway through before hitting the wall. The burgers were incredible and I definitely won’t need dinner tonight on the train.

After leaving Billy Goat Tavern, we took a cab to the Navy Pier to walk around and kill some time.

The Navy Pier has several restaurants (including a newer version of Billy Goat Tavern) and numerous stores. They also have a stained glass museum and a convention hall, which today was hosting a boat show. The Pier was surprisingly packed, including a horde of kids on a school field trip.

We took a cab from the Navy Pier back to Union Station, arriving at 1:15 p.m. With no wireless Internet signal in the Metropolitan Lounge, I headed upstairs to Snuggery to buy WiFi access, update the blog and have a beer.

As of 1:15 p.m. CT, Southwest Chief 3 is listed as on time, with a departure time of 3:15 p.m. I’ll provide a consist and let you know the actual departure time later tonight.

Elkhart, Indiana

An old locomotive lights up the rail yard on Feb. 3, 2006.

Elkhart, Indiana

South Main Street rush hour traffic on Feb. 3, 2006.

Cold and Rainy in Indiana

On Friday, I wake up at 7:18 a.m., just as we arrive in Waterloo, Indiana. We have lost more time during the night and now stand 1:07 behind schedule. I head down to the shower, but it is occupied. I go to the bathroom directly next to the shower to put on my contacts. When I open the door, I am greeted by a Chloe, a friendly guide dog for a woman and man staying in the handicap room. We talk about my destination and I learn that he is going to Chicago and she is going to DeKalb, Illinois. I then head into the show which is no longer occupied.

As I finish my shower, I hear the announcement for our stop in Elkhart, Indiana. I return to my room as we stop at 8:13 a.m. I take some pictures of the dark and rainy morning and the locomotives at the station.

While talking to Larry, our car attendant, Chloe comes up the stairs and into his room. He takes her back downstairs. Later, I hear Larry tell the conductor that Chloe had escaped and they share a laugh.

We stop at South Bend, Indiana 23 minutes after Elkhart. We are now 1:13 behind as we head to Chicago.

(For a route that has only 14 stops between Washington and Chicago, it seems peculiar that there are two stops in Indiana within 20 miles of each other. Same goes for the Rockville, Maryland stop which in my opinion is needless since the trip from Rockville to Union Station can be made via the Metro in 20 minutes.)

Blogrolling Before Bed

Before I call it a night, I’d like to mention a couple of quality live rail travelogues that have raised the bar and set the standard for this type of thing.

Steve Grande, one of the gurus at, recently filed a live blog during his trip to the Sundance Film Festival. His top-notch trip report can be found at:

Sean Stevens, known as Hotshot, is currently in the midst of a 30-day North American rail adventure. WhistleStop, which reads like a story from a publication such as Esquire, can be found at:

After following the Youghiogheny for a couple of hours, we are now riding the banks of the Monongahela, approaching Pittsburgh. We will probably make up a little time when we leave the Steel City, home of the Super Bowl-bound Steelers. I’ll find out where we stand when I wake up tomorrow.

Washington, D.C.

Engine 52, the primary on Capitol Limited 29 on Feb. 2, 2006.

Washington, D.C.

The view down Track 16 at Washington’s Union Station on Feb. 2, 2006.

Late Night in Pennsylvania

We have reservations for dinner at 7:30, but we are called at 7 and only three of the 10 tables on our side of the dinning car are occupied. I heard talk about dining cutbacks on the Capitol Limited; that talk is reality as the New York strip is not available tonight nor will it be in the future, according to our server, as they change the menu. I have the country fried steak instead and it is mediocre, at best. My girlfriend gets the chicken, which has always been good in my experience. While my food is average, the service ia very good, something that doesn’t always happen.

While we are eating, the power goes out briefly in the dining car. I see the dining car cashier walking towards us, so I say loud enough for him to hear: “This is the other dining car cutback.” He smiles as he walks past our table.

As we finish eating, we stop in Cumberland, Maryland to change engineers and take a five-minute smoke break. When we leave Cumberland at 8:05 p.m., we are 56 minutes behind schedule.

Throughout West Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania, my Verizon wireless card does not receive service. Ironically, these three states are part of Verizon’s alleged home territory and for some reason, the wireless works 10 times better in the middle of New Mexico, as I found out in a previous trip.

We stop in Connellsville, Pennsylvania at 10:28 p.m. and remain 56 minutes late. Connellsville also features a wireless signal for the first time in hours and I quickly update the blog before I lose the signal. I’m not quick enough. As the blog is attempting to publish, I lose the signal. I have to wait until the outskirts of Pittsburgh to get another signal.

Entering the Suburbs

At 4:13 p.m. an announcement is made that baggage from the delayed train is still being transferred and it will be another 10 minutes until we depart. We finally leave at 4:30 p.m., which is the official departure time on the scanner. We are already 35 minutes behind schedule.

As we leave Washington, D.C., we maintain a speed of only 24 mph. According to the scanner, we are stuck behind a MARC train. Finally, after crossing the Washington Beltway, we pick up a cruising speed of 71 mph. As we pull into the station in Rockville, Md. At 5:01 p.m., we lose another seven minutes and are now 42 minutes behind schedule.

Capitol Limited No. 29 consist

Here is the consist for Capitol Limited 29:

1). Engine 52
2). Engine 44
3). Baggage car 1264
4). Transition sleeper 39019
5). Sleeper 32053 (Car 2901)
6). Sleeper 32044 (Car 2900) – We are in Room 5
7). Dining car 38047
8). Lounge car 33034
9). Coach 34008 (Car 0411)
10). Coach 34024

The train is scheduled to leave at 3:55 p.m. However, an announcement is made that a connecting train was late and we will depart 15 or 20 minutes late.

The Journey Begins

On Wednesday afternoon, I booked a ride online with the Super Shuttle from my house in Ashburn, Virginia to Washington Dulles International Airport. The cost for a party of two (my girlfriend and I) is $25 plus a $5 tip. The Super Shuttle arrives Thursday morning at 11:24 a.m. and takes us to the airport.

On past Amtrak trips, I have parked at either Union Station or Dulles Airport, but this time I decide to make the commute to D.C. using public (and private) transportation.

We arrive at Dulles at 11:46 a.m. and immediately board a Washington Flyer bus for the West Falls Church metro. Washington Flyer, which also operates all the cabs at the airport, charges $8 per person for the 20 minute ride to the metro station.

(If things go as planned, in the next 7 to 10 years, Washington’s Metro system will go all the way to Dulles Airport. There is talk that the route will go all the way to Ashburn, Virginia — in fast-growing Loudoun County — and the planned Metro station is actually less than a mile from my house.)

We arrive at the West Falls Church Metro station at 12:04 p.m. After purchasing our tickets for $2.35, we make our way to the platform. According to the neon sign, the next train is five minutes away.

At 12:16 p.m., the orange line train arrives, but we sit in the station for five minutes. According to an announcement on the public address system, the delay is due to the fact that only one track is open between West and East Falls Church.

At 12:27 p.m., the Metro goes underground and at 12:44 p.m., we reach Metro Center, where we transfer trains from the Orange line to the Red line. We arrive at Union Station at 12:53 and head to Club Acela to check in.

We are told Capitol Limited Train No. 3 is on time and boarding will begin around 3:25 p.m. for the 3:55 p.m. departure. My Verizon Wireless/Sierra Wireless AirCard 580 has poor reception – as is usually the case in the Washington, D.C. metro area – and I try my Netgear wireless card. This proves successful and I log on to the Internet, update my Blog and go to Amtrak’s Web site to check on the train status of the Capitol Limited for previous days.

Yesterday’s train arrived in Chicago 1:30 behind schedule. The day before it was 38 minutes late and the day before that it was 1:18 late. I check the status of today’s train and it is listed as being on schedule, which matches the information on the monitors in Club Acela. However, Amtrak’s Web site warns of delays on the Capitol Limited route and using the past three days as a barometer, we will probably be an hour late entering Chicago tomorrow.

That’s all for now. I’ll update the consist and the start of the Capitol Limited leg of the trip later.

San Diego Trip Itinerary

I will start my week-long trip on Thursday, Feb. 2, taking Capitol Limited 25 from Washington, D.C. to Chicago. After a short layover on Friday, Feb. 3, I will take Southwest Chief 3 from Chicago to Los Angeles. Depending upon my arrival time in Los Angeles on Sunday, Feb. 5, I will take Pacfic Surfliner (train number TBA) from L.A. to San Diego. After four days in San Diego, I will fly from San Diego to Washington Dulles International Airport on Thursday, Feb. 9 aboard JetBlue Flight 314.

During this trip, I will attempt to update this blog (both words and pictures) remotely using my Verizon wireless internet connection. In addition to my Sony Vaio laptop computer, which has Microsoft Streets & Trips and a GPS receiver to plot the train route, I will use a Sony Cyber-shot digital camera and a Radio Shack handheld programmable scanner to help document the trip.