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San Antonio, TX To Los Angeles, CA On Amtrak's Sunset Limited
Thursday, September 29th, 2011:
  As the morning progressed, the Sunset Limited kept getting later and later. It was scheduled to arrive in San Antonio at 3:00am but by now was running well over an hour late. At 4:40am, running 1 hour and 40 minutes late, Train #1 - The Sunset Limited arrived in San Antonio. The first order of business was to back the train into the station and couple it up with the 2 cars from the Texas Eagle. Once this was complete, the mechanical department went to work inspecting the train. Now that the train was positioned properly, the coach seats in the coach from the Texas Eagle were now facing the wrong way! Amtrak would later take care of this once people woke up as it was now some crazy hour of the night and most people were asleep (except for the crew and crazy railfans like me!) The consist for today's train is shown below:
Heritage Baggage
Baggage Car
Superliner II Transition Sleeper
0131 - Sleeping Car/Crew Sleeper
Superliner I Sleeping Car
Mount Rainier*
0130 - Sleeping Car
Superliner II Dining Car
Dining Car
Superliner II Sightseer Lounge
Cafe/Lounge Car
Superliner I Coach/Baggage
Superliner I Coach
Superliner I Coach
Coach (From Texas Eagle)
Superliner I Sleeping Car
Capitol Reef*
2130 - Sleeping Car (My Car/Eagle)
  I walked up to the head end to get a night photo of the train before we were set to depart. After I set up the camera, and got it set up properly, a member of Amtrak's mechanical department put a broom up against the nose of the lead unit and a ladder in front of it. The unit had its blue flag light on which would be an indicator that it was being worked on and the track the train was parked on was also blue-flagged as well. As per federal law, a blue flag needs to be in front and behind the train if its being worked on. The mechanic walked away and I took my photo. I never found out why the broom was put there but I would come to find out the ladder was put there so the mechanic could change a light bulb! So this now begs the question: "How many Amtrak mechanics does it take to change a light bulb???" Correct answer was one! And it was a GE light bulb they used which only stands to reason considering it's a GE locomotive and I have reason to believe GE makes pretty good light bulbs as well! I didn't wait for mechanical to finish putting in the bulb as it was getting close to our scheduled departure time of 5:40am. Now you're probably wondering…GENO, WHEN ARE YOU GONNA GO TO BED??? OK, my mother back in New York might wonder! Actually, we departed San Antonio, TX on Train #1 at 5:57am for unknown reasons, 17 minutes late. It was around when we departed San Antonio that I actually went to bed! I put on a sleep mask to block out the impending daylight and "tried" to get some sleep. This sleep was very short lived as it was now 8:00am and time for breakfast! So yes, I got a bit over 2 hours sleep and was back in the game again! No rest for the weary!
  I had breakfast now in a normal Superliner Dining car. Breakfast today would be more Railroad French Toast (something I really like on the train though if they offered pancakes on this train, I would definitely get those but the French toast is quite tasty). I also had pork sausage patties with a an Orange Juice and a Diet Pepsi. All the food was once again very good. We had the same dining car steward that was on the Sunset 2 years ago. He told me then that he had the best chef on Amtrak and so I asked him if he still had the best chef and he said yes!!! The French Toast was absolutely delicious. The one other waitress in the dining car told me the chef prepares it differently and thus it does taste better! After breakfast, I went back to my sleeping car and set up the room for day use. Our next stop was Del Rio, TX which would also be a brief smoking break. We arrived there, and were granted the aforementioned smoking break and departed at 8:58am running 23 minutes late. An announcement was made when we passed Lake Amistad as well as to let us know we will eventually cross the Pecos River bridge which at 351 feet tall, is the tallest railroad bridge in the country. As soon as the train was within view of the Mexican border, I received 2 text messages on my phone that said something about "Welcome to Mexico, call for 99 cents a minute!" or something to that effect. I turned data services off on my phone (also known as "Airplane Mode" on some phones) at that point as I really didn't want to be getting such "spam" texts like that. I also deleted the messages after opening them.
  It wasn't long after leaving Del Rio that a problem with our toilet system developed that would end up resulting in us having no properly functioning toilets in the sleeping car I was in. Our sleeping car attendant worked hard to contact someone from Mechanical to try to meet the train to see what could be done about this. This would initially be very difficult as we were now in a very remote area of Texas near the Mexican border with little to no cell phone service. Our attendant did however manage to get in touch with someone to help us by the time we reach El Paso, TX. In the meantime, all bathrooms in the car were closed off. The toilet problem did not affect the shower so that was still running. I'll get into a little more on this situation and on how Amtrak responded to it a little later in the travelogue.
  Our next station stop would be Sanderson, TX which is a flag stop on this route meaning the train only stops there if there is someone waiting to board or if someone is scheduled to board or detrain there. According to the Conductor, Sanderson is known as the Cactus Capital Of Texas!!! We were told the station in Sanderson survived a huge 1964 flash flood because its made out of Louisiana Cypress wood! We arrived in Sanderson and departed at 11:30am running 20 minutes late. I was scheduled for lunch at 12:15pm. The Sunset Limited takes reservations for lunch and dinner though there are no reservations required for breakfast. I had the Angus Steak Burger for lunch with bacon an potato chips with a Diet Pepsi. The burger was once again very good. I ate lunch with a passenger who was on a cross-country trip of his own and had this panda bear made of clay with him that he was photographing like this bear was on vacation! He took photos of it reading the dining car menu, holding a train ticket, things like that. I thought this was really cool! Our next station stop would be Alpine, TX where a smoking break would be permitted. I figured, OK, time for another picture, however the platform there was being rebuilt so a picture wasn't possible. The train had to make a triple spot there because of the platform construction. Oh well, we departed there at 1:34pm running only 10 minutes late. The entire platform is being rebuilt to make it Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) compliant. We would pass our eastbound counterpart – Train #2 just west of the Alpine Station. I got a bunch of photos of it from the back window of the train! If I ever needed a reason to state why the back window of the train has some of the best views of the railroad, then that was it! Our next stop would be El Paso, TX which is a service stop/crew change point for the train and is also an extended stop. I was now sitting in my sleeping car dozing off, paying the price for getting 2 hours of sleep earlier! We were rolling across southwestern Texas when the train came to a stop and the crew announced we were waiting for 2 freights to pass us (starting to sound like a broken record with that). Thankfully, after the 2 freights passed, we were back on our way again. We would incur no more delays to El Paso after that.
  At 4:28pm, we arrived at El Paso, TX running 13 minutes late and right away, Amtrak's mechanical forces tried to figure out what was wrong with the toilets. The "honey truck" as its called (also known as the refuse pump truck, or the "poop" truck) was there and pumped out the car. The car was pumped once yesterday in Fort Worth but the tank wasn't full so that wasn't the issue. There was some kind of an issue with something clogging the system causing the toilets to back up. Unfortunately mechanical was unable to fix the toilets in El Paso so here is where Amtrak sprang into action to make things as good as possible: They figured out how many empty rooms were available in the other sleeping car and in the Transition Sleeper since 4 rooms were being sold there. They then moved several elderly passengers from the effected car. I was not moved as there wasn't any more room in the rest of the train. This didn't bother me for 2 reasons: First, our sleeper attendant make sure the car was clean and I was on the end of the car on the upper level anyways so the smell never got near my room (it didn't appear to get anywhere else in the car either since the toilets were closed off before they overflowed thanks to the quick thinking by our very smart sleeping car attendant)! I just would have to use the bathroom in another car but the shower still worked and everything else in the car worked as normal (at least everything I used). Considering the circumstances, Amtrak handled this situation very well. They accommodated as many people as possible in the other sleepers and were given excellent service by the onboard service personnel. This included the sleeping car attendant and the 2 managers who had been riding the train since Chicago on the Texas Eagle. On a side note, the managers both stayed in the car with no functioning bathrooms along with a few other passengers myself included for whom there was no additional room to move. I believe they made the best of the situation and did whatever was in their power to take care of as many people as possible. Good job!!! In all complete honesty, I really didn't want to move knowing my room was next to the back window of the last car anyway!
  We departed El Paso at 5:05pm running 25 minutes late. I had a 5:30pm dinner reservation and decided to have the Flat Iron Steak for dinner. I had the steak with rice and mashed potatoes with a dinner salad and roll with a Diet Pepsi, all were very good and the Southern Bourbon Pecan Pie I had for dessert was excellent! While at dinner, we made our next station stop at Deming, NM and were out at 6:35pm running 24 minutes late. I ate dinner with a couple from Lynchburg, VA who were on their way to Los Angeles and points beyond. All great conversation as always! We made our next brief station stop at Lordsburg, NM and were out by 7:23pm running 17 minutes late. Deming, Lordsburg as well as Benson, AZ, our next stop are all flag stops on the Sunset Limited. As soon as the train crossed into the state of Arizona, we now had to set our watches back another hour as we were technically in "Mountain Standard Time" but because Arizona does not observe daylight savings time, we were for the lack of a better word, on Pacific time. We made our next stop at Benson, AZ and left at 8:17pm running only 6 minutes late so we were making up time very well at this point. I went back to my sleeping car and listened to some Diana Krall music on my iPod while heading towards our next stop of Tucson, AZ which is a service stop/fueling stop for the train. Due to some very generous schedule padding, we arrived in Tucson at 9:09pm, 31 minutes EARLY!!!
  We would have to stay here until 10:30pm so once we arrived, I grabbed the camera and tripod and had a nice conversation with one of the Amtrak managers who was onboard the train about Amtrak in general and once the train was refueled, I walked down to the head end and set up the night photo. I also got photos of the steam engine on display at the station along with a couple cars in the train and chatted briefly with a few passengers as well. At 10:30pm, we departed Tucson on time! I decided to go take a shower and try to force myself outta bed for the early 5:00am breakfast! The train was making its stop at Maricopa, AZ which required 3-5 spots because of the very short platform. I however, was deliriously tired (had been running on 2 hours of sleep all day along with "micro naps" and that's about it!) by now and went to bed while they were finishing up station work at Maricopa! And so ends a productive day!
Friday, September 30th, 2011:
  I woke up shortly after 5:00am and headed to the dining car for one last meal of Railroad French Toast, this time with turkey sausage patties and an orange juice. All were good! I then headed back to my room and switched it back to day use as we were keeping good time and arrived into our next stop of Ontario,CA. By now, the train was in "Drop-Off Only" mode and could leave early from the last couple stations. As such, we departed at 6:20am running 26 minutes early! We arrived at the next stop of Pomona, CA and left at 6:29am running 27 minutes early! I repacked everything and took more pictures out the back window of the train since there now was enough daylight to do so. I had a conversation with one of the Amtrak managers as well and told her I would be writing favorably about how well Amtrak handled the broken toilet situation in our sleeping car. Overall this has been a great trip despite the freight delays incurred on the Eagle and the toilet situation in the sleeper on this train. Neither of these issues effected me personally in any serious way. After we crossed the Los Angeles River and passed the Mission Tower, we turned and pulled into Los Angeles Union Passenger Terminal arriving at 7:20am, running 1 hour and 10 minutes EARLY!!!!!! Not bad! This however would mean that I would have to wait longer in the station for my bus to Bakersfield! After getting off the train and saying goodbye to the 2 Amtrak managers, I walked to the head end to get one more picture of the train before heading inside the station to begin the waiting game for my bus to Bakersfield. And now, here's some photos taken on this excellent journey!!!