Archive for category D.C. to San Diego II (Aug. 2006)

Adios, Amtrak?

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

We arrive at Sacramento at 9:39, which is 7:24 late, and the delays continue between Davis and Martinez. When we finally reach Emeryville, it is around midnight. We should have been there at 4:49 p.m., checked in, had drinks and dinner. Instead, we go right from the station to the hotel. Our wake-up call is in five hours.

Early Tuesday morning, we take Caltrain No. 210 at 6:45 a.m. from San Francisco to Santa Clara. The trip takes about an hour and costs $6.75 per person. We then take a free shuttle bus from the Santa Clara station to the San Jose Airport, arriving at 8:45. Our American Airlines Express flight to San Diego does not leave until 11:45, but we are able to get on an earlier flight, which leaves at 9:52. Security takes less than five minutes and we have little time to wait for the flight.

After the excruciating experience of yesterday, the trip from San Francisco to San Jose to San Diego via public rail and air is surprisingly easy and takes a little over four hours – less than the time it took to go 186 miles from Winnemucca to Sparks, Nevada. I hate to say it, but it may be time to say Adios, Amtrak.


Despite being a whopping 6:22 behind schedule leaving Truckee, CA, I don’t feel all that bad after seeing picturesque Lake Donner.

Of course, that all changes five minutes later, when at 5:10, we have to wait 47 minutes for an eastbound UP freight train coming up the mountain.

You know, these freight delays are getting out of hand. Coast Starlate, meet your brother, the California Forever.

If today is any indication, that letter Amtrak sent to Union Pacific about the legal and contractual obligation of UP to keep Amtrak trains moving isn’t working. In fact, it appears to be making things even worse. After costing me a minimum of seven hours today, my message to Union Pacific is the same one I give their engine when it finally chugs past: A nice, big one-fingered salute.

Sparks At Last

At 3:15, just outside of Sparks, we stop to obtain a permit to use a UP track not normally used by Amtrak. We receive permit No. 973, which is good until 4 p.m.

When we finally arrive in Sparks, it is 3:24 p.m. and we are 6:29 behind schedule. We change the crew in Reno and leave at 3:38 p.m., which puts us 6:24 behind.

Since my last trip on the Zephyr, Reno’s station has changed. Instead of stopping above ground with a view of the city and casinos, we now stop below ground. You have to give Reno officials credit on two accounts: The Zephyr no longer blocks the streets near the casinos and passengers don’t get to see just how outdated and rundown the hotels are in the downtown area. How is that for a sleight of hand?

As far as the near collision, nothing new to report. When asked, the engineer said he didn’t get the license plate of the tractor trailer. During the crew change in Reno, he was seen shaking his head while leaving with the conductor, obviously discussing the incident. My hat goes off to him for being quick on the brakes.

Near Collision In Nevada

I wake up on Monday at 6:35 a.m. PT, 10 minutes before our station stop in Elko, NV. Thinking it may be a smoke/stretch-your-legs break, I quickly put on my clothes and go to the bathroom to put in my contacts. However, it is a quick one-minute stop and we depart at 6:50. We have lost more than 30 minutes during the night and are now 3:29 down for the trip.

We eat breakfast (leftover cheesecake from last night’s dinner and a cinnamon bun I bought in Grand Junction) as the Utah mountainous desert goes by.

Around 9 a.m., outside of Battle Mountain, NV, we slow to about 30 mph. On the scanner, I hear the conductor ask the engineer if we are behind a freight train. He gives a cryptic yes and no answer, saying we are behind a freight train, but not directly behind it and the freight is doing well.

At 9:20, I hear the tail end of a conversation on the scanner that worries me. I can’t tell if it is our train talking to the dispatcher, but someone is told that they are doing switch work at the border, it won’t be finished until 2:30 p.m. and to plan accordingly. I assume it is the Nevada/California border, but I’m not sure as I missed the beginning of the transmission. We are scheduled to be at Reno at the time of this conversation, but should now be there around 1 p.m. If we sit for a while, I guess I’ll know the reason.

Outside of Winnemucca, we stop at a red signal for 15 minute before we are given permission by the UP dispatcher to pass the signal.

Winnemucca features a triple stop – the first to change the crew, the second for the diner car and the third for a smoke/stretch break.

We left Winnemucca at 10:50, which put us 4:37 behind schedule

We were restricted to 30 for most of the way from Winnemucca to Sparks.

At 2:45, we made an emergency stop as a truck was backing up on the crossing, according to the engineer. I knew something was up when I heard the brakes squeal as we came to a stop. I think the 30 mph limit may have save us from hitting the truck.

The train was inspected and we resumed five minutes later.

Rocky Mountain Relaxation

At 9:26, just outside of Arvada, we make our winding way up the mountain. At the first tunnel, there is a Union Pacific freight train stopped exiting the tunnel. As the tunnel is only one track, we need to wait for him to pass us before we can proceed. Twenty minutes later, the UP begins backing up through the tunnel. Five minutes later, we make our way through the tunnel.

From 9:55 until 10:31 we go through 18 tunnels, in between wonderful views of Arvada, CO and the surrounding area.

We continue to be hampered by UP. At 10:33, we stop for a red signal a 7212 is head of us. We lose seven minutes. At 10:53, the conductor makes an announcement that one of the UP trains head of us has engine problems, forcing us to move at 9 mph. They are going 9 mph. I heard chatter earlier about someone’s engine bucking and cutting off, just like it did yesterday, but didn’t realize it was the train ahead of us.

At 12:11 p.m., we finally get to the east side of Moffat Tunnel, where we are greeted by a red signal. Twenty minutes later we start through the long tunnel.

We finally arrive Fraser/Winter Park at 12:53, which is 2:46 late.

The delays continue heading to Glenwood Springs. We have a pair of 15-minute stops, including one at Shoshone, with a nice view of a hiking and boating area. During one of the delays, the eastbound Zephyr passes us near Allen, CO.

When the train arrives at Glenwood Springs, we are 3:01 behind schedule, but we cut the deficit to 3:01 at Grand Junction.

Memo to Amtrak: Fix your #@$#@$ vending machines. While Grand Junction features a fruit stand and gift shop which sells ice cream, both of the vending machine are out of order and the change machine is out of change. Earlier in the day, the Pepsi machine in Denver was completely empty, as well. In this time of budget cuts, how is it that you don’t want my money?

After Grand Junction, we decided to again dine in our sleeper car. I had a hamburger and she had the same choice as last night – chicken. Once again, both were good choices. We watched the sunset over the Utah mountains during our meals just before we pulled into Green River, Utah 2:59 behind at 8:57.

Making Up Time In Denver

After sleeping through most of Nebraska, I awake at 6:42 a.m. MT, as we quickly stop at Fort Morgan, CO. We have only lost seven minutes during the night and are 1:27 behind heading to Denver.

I take this as my cue, hustling downstairs to the bathroom and shower. Last night, a passenger said there was no hot water. Roy reset the breaker and I was hoping that solved the problem. Sure enough, the water was hot – very hot to be exact – and perfect for the shave I had neglected yesterday.

As I get dressed and update the blog, we go through Denver and then back into the station. We arrive at 8:10 and with the help of some schedule padding, gain back more than 30 minutes of lost time.

Dinner Over An Iowa Sunset

Not much to report Saturday afternoon/evening. We continue to lose time through, leaving Naperville 50 minutes behind schedule. After crossing the Mississippi, we leave Burlington at 6:10, which puts us 55 minutes back.

We have brought food on this trip – a collection of sandwiches, beef jerky and other snacks, along with wine and champagne – so we did not eat dinner or breakfast on the Capitol Limited. We decide to have dinner tonight, but instead of going to the dining car, we have Roy bring our meal to our room.

I’ve heard mixed things about the new Simplified Dining Service, but when we both get the chicken – our favorite on the old menu – we are pleasantly surprised. The chicken is as good or better than before. My mashed potatoes and her rice are also above average and the cheesecake is very good. I’ll have to give Amtrak a thumbs up on my first SDS experience. Of course, seeing all the cornfields out the windows, a couple of ears of corn would be nice!

We watch the sunset over the Iowa countryside before calling it a night shortly after we leave Creston at 9:51 p.m., 1:20 behind schedule.

Delays At Both Ends in Chicago

The delays continue entering Chicago. After dropping the baggage cars, we sit on the track for 45 minutes before finally backing into the station. We finally arrive at the station at 1 p.m., which puts us 4 ½ hours late for the trip.

We check into the Metropolitan Lounge at 1:15 p.m. and are told to stay close by as boarding for California Zephyr 5 will be momentarily. This is just enough time to run upstairs to the food court and buy some brats and dogs for a late lunch.

Of course, after we make the mad dash for some food and get back to the lounge an announcement is made that the train is not yet ready to be boarded.

Around 2 p.m. we board the train and are greeted by our car attendant, Roy. While stowing my gear, I turn on the scanner and hear that the train is being delayed because there are no dinner plates, which need to be delivered from the commissary. While we wait for the dinner plates to make the train, we decide to eat.

California Zephyr 5 consist

1). Primary Engine 207
2). Secondary Engine 72
3). Baggage Car 1717
4). Transition Sleeper 32047 (Car 520)
5). Sleeper 32085 (Car 532) – We are in Car 2
6). Sleeper 32043
7). Dining Car 38007
8). Lounge Car 33032
9). Coach 34097 (Car 510)
10). Coach 34031 (Car 511)
11). Coach 31041 (Car 512)

We leave the station at 2:30 p.m., already 40 minutes behind schedule.

Be Careful What You Wish For

During my Amtrak trips, I hope and plan on delays that will make my experience last that much longer. This is especially the case on the Capitol Limited, which is scheduled to arrive in Chicago at 8:30 a.m., since I am not a morning person. However, my wish for a delay has been granted, but it may cost me a chance to get lunch at the Famous Billy Goat Tavern, which I documented in a previous trip post: (

After leaving South Bend at 10:47 a.m. (which puts us 3:24 behind schedule), we go about five miles before coming to a halt next to a large factory. An announcement is made that there are freight trains ahead of us and one may have mechanical difficulties. Two go past and we then move about 100 yards before stopping again. Finally, 40 minutes after leaving South Bend, we begin moving again, following Lakeshore Limited 49 (25) to Chicago.

Freight Accident Brings Delay

I wake up at 7:45 a.m. thinking we are well into Indiana. However, when I turn on the computer and GPS, that is not the case. We are only approaching Toledo, which means we are three hours late – and counting. We approach the Toledo station, but Train No. 49 I in the station. We sit for about five minutes before pulling into the station at 8:03 a.m.

While in Toledo, I ask Lou the reason for the delay, assuming we were stuck behind a freight train. Lou says there was an accident last night east of Sandusky, Ohio with a fatality as a Norfolk Southern train hit a vehicle. We were delayed as they cleared the scene. We will file this under breaking railroad news. Our delay is now 3:15 as we leave Toledo.

Finally, Some Wireless Coverage

Capitol Limited Consist

1). Primary Engine 156
2). Secondary Engine
3). Baggage Car 1857
4). Transition Sleeper 39033 (Car 2909)
5). Sleeper Car 32059 (Car 2901) – We are in Room 2
6). Sleeper Car 32095 (Car 2900)
7). Dining Car 38065
8). Lounge Car 33046
9). Coach Car 31010 (Car 3030)
10). Coach Car 34137 (Car 3332)
11). Coach Car 31020 (Car 3031)
12). Freight Car 74030
13). Freight Car 74062

At 7:25, we pass through Green Spring, WV. According to Lou, who is directly across from us in Room 1, all of the railroad ties used on the East Coast are made in Green Spring’s massive facility. And, for you railroad trivia buffs, those ties are soaked in creosote, which is also used to protect telephone poles.

I also hear Lou tell a passenger that he is approaching his 20-year anniversary working for Amtrak. In addition to the Capitol Limited, he has worked on former sleeper routes to Montreal and Boston, as well as routes to Charleston and New York.

At 7:41, we stop in Cumberland for a crew change. Cumberland is also a smoke stop, but since the platform is not long enough, we must wait 10 minutes until the new engineer pulls the train forward. We decide to stretch our legs and walk six cars back and detrain in the last coach car, which has passengers from Pittsburgh and stops prior. After a 10-minute break, the train leaves Cumberland at 8:01, 52 minutes behind schedule.

At 9:30, we stop near Meyersdale, PA. On the scanner, I hear someone – likely a freight train – say that they are getting out of Amtrak’s way. Two minutes later, a freight engine with no cars passes us, but we continue to stand still. I see only one track outside so it appears that we are on one of the main tracks and not a siding. Four minutes later, Engine 156 says he is clear, our horn sounds and we begin moving again, but under 10 mph, possibly under a restriction? Several minutes later, after going through what appears to be a small rail yard, we resume our normal speed.

Late Leaving D.C.

We board Capitol Limited 29 and are greeted by our car attendant, Lou. We are in Sleeper 32059 (Car 2901), Room 2. As I unpack my computer, I turn on the scanner. According to the trackside chatter, we will be slightly delayed as they are still loading baggage from a train that was delayed.

We leave the station at 4:08 p.m., 13 minutes behind schedule. The train moves slowly leaving D.C., being passed by the Metro several times, and we lose more time at Rockville, departing 30 minutes behind schedule.

During the past week or so, the Capitol Limited has arrived in Chicago anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 ½ hours late. My guess is that we will arrive in Chicago tomorrow morning 1 ½ hours late at 10 a.m. CT.

San Diego Trip II

Using a Verizon wireless internet card, Microsoft Streets & Trips with GPS and a Sony Cyber-shot digital camera, I will document our trip from Washington, D.C. to San Diego via public transportation, rail and air.

At 12:35 p.m., we arrive at the satellite parking lot at Washington Dulles International Airport. We take the parking shuttle to the main terminal where we board the 1:15 Washington Flyer bus to the West Falls Church Metro. The cost for a one-way trip from the airport to the closest Metro station is $9 per person per ticket.

We board an Orange line Metro train at 1:40 and, 10 stops later, change trains at Metro Center at 2:05. We take the Red line to Union Station, arriving at 2:10.

We check in to Club Acela and an hour later boarding begins around 3:25 p.m.