Archive for category L.A. to Orlando (May 2005)

Jacksonville, Florida

(Note: This is the final entry for my trip from Los Angeles to Orlando via Amtrak. This blog, originally called The Great American Travelogue Experiment, was published in May of 2005. In addition, it was published live from the train using a wireless card, one of the first rail travelogues to ever do so. To view this trip from the beginning, click here and follow the links at the top right of each post.)

Sunset during service stop on May 23, 2005.

Tallahassee, Florida

Approaching Tallahassee on May 23, 2005.

DeFuniak Springs, Florida

Leaving downtown area on May 23, 2005.

Pensacola, Florida

Crossing Pensacola Bay on May 23, 2005.

Pensacola, Florida

Sunset Limited 2 primary engine on May 23, 2005.

Pensacola, Florida

View of Pensacola Bay from train platform on May 23, 2005.

Lake Charles, Louisiana

Crossing Lake Charles on May 22, 2005.

Magnolia Gardens, Texas

Crossing Lake Houston on May 22, 2005.

Lobo, Texas

Southwest Texas Landscape on May 21, 2005.

El Paso, Texas

View of the Rio Grande on May 21, 2005.

Sunland Park, New Mexico

Mexican border on May 21, 2005.

Sunland Park, New Mexico

Mexican border on May 21, 2005.

Lordsburg, New Mexico

Rail construction and intestinal destruction on May 21, 2005.

Arizona-New Mexico Border

Rock outcropping in desert on May 21, 2005.

Tucson, Arizona

Sunset during station stop on morning of May 21, 2005.

Pomona, California

Mount San Antonio seen through the smog shortly after leaving Los Angeles on May 20, 2005.

Pictures from Sunset Limited Trip I

The pictures above were taken on Sunset Limited Trip I in May 2005 aboard the Sunset Limited from Los Angeles to Orlando.

Sunset Limited Trip I Conclusion (Finally)

It’s been nearly eight months, but now is as good a time as any to officially wrap-up my Sunset Limited trip from last May.

Looking back over my schedule, which was kept via an Excel spreadsheet, we arrived in Orlando at 12:27 a.m., which put us 3:42 behind schedule.

Instead of taking the Silver Star from Orlando to Washington, D.C. the next day as originally planned, I elected to stay in Orlando for a couple of days and fly back.

Meanwhile, Mike, the rider who e-mailed me from Houston while I was on the Sunset Limited last May, has a blog of his own and he has posted commentary and pictures from his trip, which started in Kansas City. Amtrak Journeys can be found at

And finally, since this trip took place in May of 2005, the damage from Hurricane Katrina has forced the shutdown of Amtrak service from New Orleans to Orlando. (Click here for pictures of the trip, including those of areas hit by Katrina less than three months later. To continue, click on the links at the top right of each post.)

Approaching Orlando

As we approach Orlando, it’s time to wrap up some loose ends from the trip. First of all, in case you are wondering, the streak continues for my second cross country trip – I had a hot dog and beer for lunch.

And now a couple of taboo and/or controversial subjects:

1). Bathrooms. The bathrooms on Amtrak are similar to the bathrooms on an RV – after a long trip, you can only do one thing: Deal with it. As for a sleeper car bathroom tip, here’s one from Jason, a Canadian on a North American rail pass who was in the sleeper across from me. Always use the downstairs bathroom next to the shower. Most people use the one upstairs first. As for the downstairs bathrooms, people seem to use the ones across from the shower not knowing that there is also one between the shower and the handicap room. Here’s one thing I’ll add to Jason’s tip: the toilets in the bathrooms across from the shower (and upstairs) are perpendicular to (and facing) the door. In the bathroom next to the shower, the toilet faces a wall 90 degrees from the door. Granted, I didn’t use a tape measure, but I believe there is slightly more leg room in this bathroom configuration.

2). Smoking. During this trip, several announcements were made about the fact that smoking on Amtrak will result in banishment from the train. Despite this warning, several individuals chose to light up in obvious and not so obvious places. Being in a sleeper car, I never smelled any smoke, but a couple of passengers said that they had. I never saw anyone light up, but on a couple of occasions, I saw lighters change hands in the lounge car during long stretches without a smoke break. What’s the solution? Good question. Amtrak can’t afford cameras or undercover employees posing as passengers. I guess all they can really do is to continue to banish those who are actually caught smoking.

(On a side note, to my knowledge, only one person was removed from the train. On Friday night, a passenger was forced to leave the train in Palm Springs, California. Earlier that night, I saw the passenger making a scene in the dinning car; the next day, a couple of passengers said they heard he had used a bad credit card, in addition to being a problem in the dining car.)

We just left the station in Sanford – where we discharged the dining car crew, for some reason – and we are now 3:38 behind schedule. With Orlando – and midnight – approaching, that’s all for tonight. I’ll update things tomorrow.

Me and My Big Mouth

Note to self: The next time you are on a train and you don’t understand what the engineer is doing, keep it to yourself. While backing out of the Jacksonville station, we make a stop and from my GPS, it appears we start going northwest. In my sleeper car with the door and curtain open, I say to nobody in particular: “What the f— are we doing?” At that exact moment, the conductor walks by and shoots me a glance over his shoulder. Whoops. Naturally, after going west for a matter of seconds, we hit a switch and start going south – making a classic U-turn. Talk about putting your foot in your mouth.

Props for Jacksonville

Having been to Jacksonville, Florida several times for college football bowl games, I usually consider it my least favorite city in the Seminole state. However, I may have to reconsider due to their Amtrak station. I’m not talking about its size or the way it is constructed. Rather, small but important things that come in handy while you’re waiting on a train or running into the station while your train is making a stop: An ATM machine, a hot dog vendor and a couple of vending machines. Nice touch, Jacksonville. As we leave my favorite station so far in Florida, we are 3:08 behind schedule.

Future of Sunset Limited

While eating dinner – a pretty good New York Strip coated with peppercorns – we stop briefly in Lake City, Florida. The conversation during the meal turns to the future of Amtrak. It turns out a gentleman at the table and I both chose the Sunset Limited due in part to the fact that we had never ridden the route before and wanted to do so in case it is dropped during the impending budget cut. On that note, here is the perfect segue: We again lose time and are now running 3:27 behind.

E-mail from Houston

I received an e-mail from Mike, a rider who got off the train in Houston. Mike sent a clarification about my post “Service in San Antonio” concerning repairs of the refrigeration unit in the Lounge Car. Mike also sent some accompanying photos. Later, I may either post the pictures – if I get his permission – or link to his travelogue, if he decides to do one. Here is part of Mike’s e-mail:

Two repair men did all the work on the refrigeration unit of the Lounge Car while George sat in his shorts and T-shirt inside the car. George would try to turn it on when they yelled to him. So when I heard George’s announcement, he made it sound like he crawled into the belly of the car behind the refrigerated cases and fixed it himself – like a true salesman.

Free Shoes University

We stop at the station in Tallahassee, Florida for a 10-minute smoke break. The station is actually a couple of blocks from Florida State University. Approaching the station, the lights of Doak Campbell Stadium – where the Seminoles play football – are visible. When we leave Tallahassee, we are now 3:31 behind schedule.

Passing through the Panhandle

Through most of the Florida Panhandle, I have limited Internet access and a spotty data connection on my cell phone. The GPS receiver also cannot pick up a signal at times. There’s nothing much to report, however. Outside Douglas City, Florida, the engineer asks for permission to handle a switch. We stop for a minute before the switch is cleared.

Sunset Limited consist, Part III

Updated consist of Sunset Limited 2 from New Orleans to Orlando (minus the two cars dropped in San Antonio, a second engine was obviously not need. Engine 2 was dropped in New Orleans):
1). Engine 840
2). Transition Sleeper 39017 (Car 0210) – half passengers, half crew
3). Sleeper 0230, Mississippi, (Car 0230) – I am in Room 5
4). Dining Car 38062
5). Sightseer Lounge Car 33038
6). Coach 34107 (Car 0213)
7). Baggage Coach 31005 (Car 0212)

Delays Continue

Last night, before going to bed, the train made several stops in the train yard north of New Orleans and was going very slow the rest of the time. The radio chatter indicated we were stuck behind a freight train.

This morning, I woke up just as we were stopping at the station in Pensacola, Florida. The stop in Pensacola took more than hour due to a crew change and some kind of miscommunication that extended the crew change. Also, while attempting to leave the station, the new crew had to wait on the radio dispatcher for more than 10 minutes to verify the orders and release the train. Luckily, the station in Pensacola is next to the Gulf of Mexico and the stop is at least picturesque. When the train finally leaves Pensacola, we are 3:30 behind schedule.


The New Orleans Jambalaya Run is a success! Our train pulls into New Orleans, Louisiana around 8:50 p.m. CT. According to the announcement, the recommended time to return to the train is around 10 p.m. and the train will leave at 10:30 exactly. I immediately high-tail it to the cab stand and have the driver take me to Mother’s, a classic cafeteria-style restaurant with the best Cajun food money can buy. I can’t decide between a large Jambalaya and a full Shrimp Po’ Boy, so I order both. The price for the cab driver – a large man who knows the exact location of Mother’s – to wait for me while I go through the line is $20 and an order of bread pudding. It is money well spent. Despite a 20-minute wait for my food, the driver is still outside. And I doubt it is because of the money. After a quick stop at the local mini mart for some beer, I make it back to the station at 9:45 p.m., well within the time limit. That’s it until tomorrow. It’s time to eat, drink and sleep.

Jambalaya for Dinner?

Right now, if the train was on schedule, we would be pulling into New Orleans, Louisiana. And one hour from now, I would be eating Jambalaya on Bourbon Street drinking an ice cold beer. It looks like our six-and-a-half hour stop in New Orleans may be reduced to thirty minutes. In an effort to satisfy my Cajun cravings, I still may attempt a Jambalaya run. I’m sure the scenario involving a last-minute plane ticket from New Orleans to Orlando to meet the train has happened more than once.

Rebel Yell

You gotta love the good, ole South. Yesterday afternoon in Texas, we went through Jeff Davis county. This afternoon in Louisiana, we are going through Jefferson Davis parish.

On Tuesday, just outside of Washington, D.C., the Silver Star will run parallel to U.S. Route 1 – also known as Jefferson Davis Highway – for a short stretch in Alexandria and Arlington, Virginia. Nearby, the train will also go past Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport. Guess which of the two had its name contested by the locals?

Sunset Limited consist, Part II

The consist of Sunset Limited 2 from San Antonio to Orlando is pretty simple – they dropped the last two sleeper cars leaving:

1). Engine 2
2). Engine 840
3). Transition Sleeper 39017 (Car 0210) – half passengers, half crew
4). Sleeper 0230, Mississippi, (Car 0230) – I am in Room 5
5). Dining Car 38062
6). Sightseer Lounge Car 33038
7). Coach 34107 (Car 0213) – Passengers for Tucson, San Antonio, New Orleans, Atmore and Pensacola
8). Baggage Coach 31005 (Car 0212) – Passengers for Ontario, Palm Springs, Yuma, El Paso, Del Rio, Houston, Beaumont, Jacksonville and Orlando

Leaving Lake Charles

On the way out of Beaumont, Texas we stop for 22 minutes to let two westbound Union Pacific trains cross the Neches before our train. This delay puts us 5:50 behind schedule as we leave Lake Charles, Louisiana.

Where's the station?

While the station in Houston is unimpressive, the station in Beaumont, Texas is non-existent. After crossing under Interstate 10, that familiar stretch of highway, we come to a siding behind some baseball fields and a soccer field. The small concrete walkway next to the tracks turns out to be the station. After an eight-minute stop, we leave the “station” 5:29 behind schedule.

Short stop in Houston

Houston’s Amtrak station may qualify as one of the most unimpressive train stations in the United States, especially considering the size of the city. During our 10-minute stop, I get some ice cream from the vending machines in the station. I talk to George and he says he received a 4:30 a.m. wakeup call in San Antonio for the refrigeration unit. It turns out the problem was pretty simple; the circuit breaker had tripped. He definitely gets my MVP vote. As for my complaint of the day, the state of Texas gets the early nod. When I get my dog from George for lunch at 11:15 a.m. CT, George is unable to sell me a beer as Texas doesn’t allow such behavior before noon. When we pull out of Houston, we are now 4:55 behind schedule.

Mexican Border

View of Mexico while heading into El Paso, Texas on Saturday, May 21, 2005.

Service in San Antonio

On Saturday afternoon/evening, we go through southwest Texas. There is no wireless Internet access, nor do I even have cell phone access. I have Verizon for both; I can’t rip on them since the service has been great throughout the trip and we are in the middle of nowhere. There is not much to report during this time. About 50 miles Southeast of El Paso, Texas, we pass the Westbound Sunset Limited Train No. 1. They seem to be making a lot better time than our train. At Sanderson, Texas – the last stop before I go to bed – we are 5:38 behind.

I wake up this morning while we are in San Antonio and the Texas Eagle cars are being removed. We pull out of the station before I have a chance to walk outside, get some fresh air and update the consist. We are now 6:07 behind.

Our lounge car attendant, George, gets my early vote as MVP. He just made an announcement that he was up early today in San Antonio, helping the maintenance crew fix our refrigeration unit. They were successful and we now have cold food all the time in the lounge, as well as beer, I’m sure.

Scorcher in El Paso

Entering El Paso, the train runs parallel to the Mexican border for a small stretch, about 100 feet away from the fences. Wow. It’s a different world on the other side of the border. I’ve heard the term shanty town before. Now I’ve seen one.

Stepping off the train for a brief stop in El Paso, we are hit by a sweltering wave of heat. Football practice at the University of Texas-El Paso, which we passed on the way to the station, must be brutal in late August.

Adios I-10

After our extended stop outside of Deming, New Mexico, we didn’t stop at the Deming station for some reason. Must not have been any passengers getting on or off at that location. Anyway, I’ll count our siding stop outside of Deming as our station stop, which now puts us 6:22 behind schedule.

We’ve been following Interstate 10 all day. No longer. About 10 miles east of Deming, we begin heading southeast toward El Paso.

Upon Further Review

Time for a couple of semi-apologies. First, my Verizon card has been working like a charm, even in semi-remote parts of Arizona and New Mexico. So much for my comment about the service being a scam. If only it would work this well in Washington, D.C. Also, during our extended stop outside of Deming, George – our quality lounge car attendant – made an announcement that he had stockpiled some hot dogs, pizza and burgers in the dining car and they were available for purchase for a limited time. The streak continues. I had a dog and beer for lunch. You’re back in my good graces, Amtrak.

Delay near Deming

Outside of Lordsburg, New Mexico, we stop for an approaching signal. The UP dispatcher says on the radio that it will be about 10 minutes before the train passes. The dispatcher also tells our train of a Level 1 heat restriction from 12:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. The stop actually takes about 15 minutes.

At 11:20 a.m. MT, Outside of Deming, New Mexico, we stop on a siding for one hour, 17 minutes. The explanation on the intercom is that we are waiting for several freight trains to pass. (In fact, three do during this time). However, I later overhear one of the crew members saying that they reached their time limit at 11:30 and the new crew came from El Paso in a van to meet the train. Anyway, a crew change is the reason for this extended stop on the siding.

Time Zone Troubles

I think I need to go to a class called Time Zone 101. We are still in Mountain Standard Time, which is the same as Pacific Daylight Time, which means we actually left Tucson at 5:42 a.m. MST, which puts us 4:22 behind schedule.

The lack of cold food in the lounge car is becoming a problem. After a piss-poor breakfast – cold eggs and bacon, as well as grits in place of the potatoes I ordered – there is no pizza, burger or hot dog alternative. During the 40-minute stop in Tucson, I should have run to 7-11.

In between Bowie and San Simon, Arizona – where there is only one track – we stop for five minutes for CSX 7726 to pass.

Sunset Limited consist

During the stop in Tucson, I finally was able to record the complete consist of Sunset Limited 2:

1). Engine 2
2). Engine 840
3). Transition Sleeper 39017 (Car 0210) – half passengers, half crew
4). Sleeper 0230, Mississippi (Car 0230) – I am in Room 5
5). Dining Car 38062
6). Sightseer Lounge Car 33038
7). Coach 34107 (Car 0213) – Passengers for Tucson, San Antonio, New Orleans, Atmore and Pensacola
8). Baggage Coach 31005 (Car 0212) – Passengers for Ontario, Palm Springs, Yuma, El Paso, Del Rio, Houston, Beaumont, Jacksonville and Orlando
9). Sleeper 34098 (Car 2215) – Passengers for Maricopa, Fort Worth, Dallas, Longview, Little Rock and Chicago
10). Sleeper 32104, Oklahoma (Car 2230) – Texas Eagle passengers

Sunrise in Tucson

We stop at Tucson at 6:03 a.m. MT, just as the sun begins to make its way above Mount Lemmon and the mountains of the Coronado National Forest. During the stop, we take on water in the dining car and fuel for Engine 2 (the primary) and Engine 840. There was talk they would fix the refrigeration system and restock the food in the lounge car here in Tucson, but according to our car attendant, Rick, there were no mechanics. And thus, still no food requiring refrigeration. We leave the station at 6:42 a.m. and are now 5:22 behind schedule.

Early morning in Arizona

I wake up at 4:45 a.m. MT and quickly take a shower. When I get back to my sleeper car, we are on the outskirts of Tucson, Arizona. Instead of making up time during the night, it appears that we lost some. I’ll know for sure shortly when we stop at the station.

Approaching Palm Springs

After prime rib and some beers for dinner, it is time to call it a (long) day. Palm Springs, California is still about 20 miles away and it looks like we will be four hours behind schedule when we reach the station. Also, the maintenance crew in Tucson, Arizona is supposed to fix the refrigeration in the lounge car overnight. More delays could be ahead. I’ll let you know tomorrow.

Another delay

At the east end of Colton Yard, we stop again because of a red light. After a 42-minute delay we are moving again. During this stretch of track we are parallel to Interstate 10.

No more beer????

After a half-hour stop in Ontario, we stop again 500 yards east of the station. The engineer reports an all red at the east switch. We begin again after seven minutes with no explanation on the radio. False alarm on the beer. An announcement is made that the beer also will have to be disposed of. Ouch. Delays are bearable. No beer on a Friday night is criminal. We move through Union Pacific’s Colton Yard and on the radio, our train is instructed to not exceed 10 MPH.

Problems in Ontario

The Ontario, California stop is now 25 minutes and counting. There is a red light east of the station, causing the delay. According to the chatter on the radio, the refrigeration went out in the lounge car. According to our car attendant Rick, all frozen items not sold in the next hour to be disposed of. Luckily, the beer will survive. Unfortunately, for lunch the next couple of days, I’ll have to trade my customary two hot dogs and beer in my sleeper car for a sit down lunch in the dining car.

Pomona to Ontario

We stop in Pomona, California at 4:43 p.m. PT, and we are now running 1:32 late. A freight train passes us as we are stopped in the station. Heading into Ontario, California, the Union Pacific dispatcher advises our train not to exceed 30 MPH.

Pomona, California

View of Mount San Antonio while entering the station in Pomona, California on May 20, 2005.

Los Angeles, California

Crossing bridge after leaving Union Station on Friday, May 20, 2005. (Note: This picture was uploaded to my blog and published to the Web within minutes of being taken on the train.)

Leaving L.A.

The boarding process began around 3 p.m. and after standing in line for about 10 minutes I made my way to my car. I am in Car 230, Room 05. A consist will follow later. We left the station at 3:39 p.m. PT, which is the official departure time according to radio chatter on the scanner.

Delay in L.A.

At 1:55 p.m. PT, the big board at Union Station shows that the Sunset Limited is delayed. At 2:05 p.m. PT, an announcement is made that boarding has been delayed and further information is upcoming. As of 2:10 p.m. PT, Amtrak’s Web site says the train is on time as scheduled. The good news is that there are electrical outlets in the waiting area; the bad news is that it is hazy, hot and humid outside and there is no air conditioning.

Washington, D.C. to Los Angeles

I arrive at Washington Dulles International Airport at 7:55 a.m. ET and immediately check in using the JetBlue self service kiosk. I am not checking my baggage (a laptop case and a backpack) due to the short turn-around time between my flight arrival and train departure.

(I am scheduled to arrive at Long Beach at 12:20 p.m. PT; Amtrak’s Sunset Limited Train No. 2 is scheduled to leave from Union Station in Los Angeles at 2:30 p.m. PT. Originally, the Sunset Limited was scheduled to leave L.A. at 10:30 p.m. PT. However, several months ago – after I had already scheduled my trip – the departure time was moved eight hours earlier, due I’m sure to the fact that the train was chronically late in arriving to its destinations.)

The line through security is fairly long; however, it moves quickly and I make it to my gate at 8:34 a.m. ET. My plane is already at the gate and boarding is scheduled to being at 10 a.m. ET – 30 minutes before the departure time.

While waiting at the gate, I attempt to log on to the Web using my Verizon CDMA 1xEVDO Wireless Internet card, but there is no signal. (I believe this service to be a scam; in numerous locations in Washington, D.C., I am unable to either a). get a signal or b). stay connected for more than a minute.) When I perform a scan of available access points in the airport, “B45” is the only one that comes up and it has WEP security protection.

The plane leaves the gate on time, but the pilot says due to weather (it is overcast and rainy), only two runways are open instead of the customary three and we will be have to wait in line for about 20 minutes before being cleared to take off. We eventually take off at 10:15 a.m. ET. I have a window seat but immediately upon takeoff, the rain and clouds obscure the view.

At 10:48 a.m. CT, we cross the Mississippi River. Using the JetBlue flight tracker, I can see that we cross the river in the Southwest part of Kentucky heading into Arkansas, which ranks as my least favorite state in the U.S. (My dislike for Arkansas is due to a cross-country trip by car two years ago during which Interstate 40 was in poor condition and under construction throughout the entire state, yet mysteriously, it was in fine condition through both Tennessee and Oklahoma on either side.)

Despite the delay during takeoff, the plane arrived on time, around 12:30 p.m. PT. The cab ride from Long Beach to Union Station in Los Angeles took 45 minutes, due to heavy traffic on the freeways, and cost $50. (My plane ticket from Dulles to Long Beach cost $105.)

Surprisingly, my Verizon card works at Union Station and as of 1:30 p.m. PT, my train is on time.

Trip No. 1

On Friday, May 20, I will fly from Washington, D.C. to Los Angeles. In L.A., I will board an Amtrak train bound for Orlando. From Orlando, I will take an Amtrak train back to D.C. , arriving on Wednesday, May 25. I will attempt to document my six-day trip using a laptop computer with a wireless Internet connection, a GPS tracking program, a hand-held radio scanner and a digital camera.