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Chicago, IL To Emeryville, CA On Amtrak's California Zephyr

Fall Amtrak Vacation Trip 2007

Chicago, IL To Emeryville, CA
On Amtrak's California Zephyr
Monday-Wednesday, October 1st-3rd, 2007
Amtrak's Train #5 - The California, with P42DC #47 on the lead takes a break in
Denver, Colorado on Tuesday, October 2nd, 2007.
Monday, October 1st, 2007 - Departing Chicago:
   I headed back over to my locker to pick up my luggage and continue writing this travelogue. At just after 1pm, they started to get passengers together for boarding of my train, #5 - The California Zephyr. Senior citizens, families with children and disabled passengers boarded first, then us "nobodies" boarded. The train was situated on Track #12 and we boarded at Gate F. It was only 1:35pm when I boarded Superliner I Coach #34020. I managed to pick the seat that had one of the only AC outlets in it! YES!!!!!!!!!!!!! Not having to search for an AC outlet to charge my computer, cell phone, etc. will be awesome!!!! When you really think about it, your modern day train traveler is nothing like the same person who rode the original California Zephyr back in the day! Who would have thought you could watch a movie on a laptop computer, or call someone on a cell phone from somewhere in Colorado where there are no roads and no civilization? Train travel today usually involves lots of gadgets so as to keep one entertained, or to maybe get work done, thus many people today (myself included) use a laptop computer while traveling. I stepped off the train and with crew permission, walked down the platform and took down all the car numbers for this travelogue. Today’s consist for Train #5 is shown below:
Amtrak's California Zephyr - Monday, October 1st, 2007- 48 Axles
Car/Engine Type:
Heritage Baggage
Baggage Car
Superliner II Transition Sleeper
Crew Sleeper
Superliner I Sleeping Car
Sleeping Car
Superliner II Sleeping Car
Sleeping Car
Superliner II Dining Car
Dining Car
Superliner I Sightseer Lounge
Cafe/Lounge Car
Superliner I Coach
Coach (My Car)
Superliner I Coach/Baggage
Superliner I Coach
   After taking a few pictures of the train, I ventured back to my coach seat and we left on time at 2:00pm. Shortly after leaving the station, we got stopped in the coach yard waiting for BNSF to give us our signal which we got in a matter of minutes. We would be on BNSF track all the way to Denver, CO where Union Pacific takes over as our host railroad. The train crew made the necessary safety announcements shortly after departing Chicago and also announced that the next smoking break would be at Ottumwa, IA tonight. The lounge car attendant made her announcement as well as the dining car attendant who told us the menu items and when she’d be coming through the train for reservations.
    We continued on the BNSF Aurora Sub out to Naperville, IL which was our next stop. Just beyond the La Grange Road Metra Commuter Rail Station, the train came to a complete stop and the HEP went out! I pulled out the scanner right away to see what was happening but an announcement was made saying there was a problem with a brake hose and that it was being repaired by the Conductor at that time. Minutes later, we were on our way with our next stop at Naperville, IL. We arrived in Naperville at 2:42pm to a huge crowd boarding the train! We left there at 2:45pm running 11 minutes late. I headed to the lounge car and picked up a Hebrew National hot dog and a Diet Pepsi along with a big cookie. I had an interesting conversation with a few passengers for a bit before going back to my coach. I took a few pictures of the open country we passed through with lots of cornfields and such! We departed our next stop of Princeton, IL at 3:51pm now only 6 minutes late. I continued writing this travelogue as well as show the Assistant Conductor this web site for a bit. The Dining car attendant came into the coach and I selected the 5:30pm dinner time. We stopped at Galesburg, IL, our next stop at 4:40pm running only 2 minutes late and left at 4:45pm running 7 minutes late, so far so good! Our dinner time was announced and I headed for the dining car. Tonight’s special was the Country Fried Steak. I had it with Mashed Potatoes and Rice Pilaf with 2 Diet Pepsi’s, total cost was around $14.75. After dinner, I headed back to my coach seat.
    At 6:50pm, we arrived in Ottumwa only to find out that our engineer for the next leg of this trip wasn’t rested when we arrived meaning we would be there for at least another half hour before we could leave. I took the time to take a walk up the platform as well as run inside the station to use the vending machine to pick up some Diet Pepsi. I figured, 65 cents in the machine verses $1.75 in the cafe car for the same thing, you do the math! After picking up 6 cans of pop and 2 bottles of water (yes, I drink a lot of pop and a lot of water though water is available on the train!) We finally left Ottumwa at 7:39pm having lost a considerable amount of time now running 41 minutes late. I headed for the Cafe Car to have a beer only to end up chatting with 3 other drunk passengers while waiting for the Cafe Car attendant to come back from lunch. Eventually, I enjoyed an ice cold Heineken beer (Oh how I wish Amtrak would serve Labatt's or Molson!). After enjoying the beer and "lively" conversation, I headed back to my coach seat, listened to the iPod for a bit, set my watch back an hour as we would be entering the Mountain Time Zone soon, and eventually fell asleep. We had arrived in Omaha, NE which was a service stop for the train and though my mind wanted to get off the train and get some air, my body said no way, you're too tired to move! Thus I eventually fell back asleep, and so ends today…
Tuesday, October 2nd, 2007:
   I woke up shortly after sunrise around the time of our next stop in Fort Morgan, CO. I headed to the Dining Car for breakfast and decided on the Railroad French Toast with Pork Sausage patties and a Diet Pepsi. I was seated with a couple from California and we had some nice conversations over breakfast. Breakfast was served quickly and this crew had itself better organized than the aforementioned crew I had the experience of on the Capitol Limited. After breakfast, the announcement was made for the Denver stop. This would involve us making a backup move into the station. Coming off the BNSF, the train backs up onto the station tracks owned by the Denver Union Terminal Railway Company. Upon departure from Denver, we would be using the Union Pacific Moffat Subdivision as we’ve been traveling so far on BNSF Tracks. At 8:10am, we arrived in Denver, CO running 35 minutes late. This was a service stop and crew change point for the train so I took the time to go photograph the train along with roster photos of our train's power as well as an additional P42 sitting on the property. At 8:56am, we departed Denver now 51 minutes late. This is where the ride would start to get really interesting in terms of scenery along the route. The ground was starting to get hilly, and before you know it, we’re running at slower speeds around sharp turns up very steep grades with the flat plains drifting into the distance! I started listening to the sounds of Alabama's "Mountain Music" as well as music from Jo Dee Messina as we were traveling over increasingly steep hills and lots of tunnels. We had gone through several tunnels only to eventually hear an announcement about us going through the 6+ mile long Moffat Tunnel. The train crew asked that we refrain from walking between cars so as to keep the diesel fumes out of the train. Only one yahoo would break the rules and walk through our coach but no diesel fumes followed luckily. Interestingly enough, the Moffat Tunnel is vented out after every train so as to remove such fumes from it. We entered the tunnel with bright abundant sunshine and no snow. We went underneath the continental divide in this tunnel at 40 mph which took approximately 10 minutes to complete. The tunnel is located over 9000 feet above sea level. On the West end of the tunnel, we emerged to find very cloudy skies with snow on the ground (Or as I would describe it, a January day in Buffalo!). Thankfully, the snow didn’t last long as our elevation dropped and the snow disappeared and eventually, the sun reappeared! I took a 1:45pm lunch reservation and after taking several slides of the absolute breathtaking scenery along the way, I headed to the dining car for lunch.
   I would have the Angus Beef Burger with chips and a Diet Pepsi for $10.00. The burger was actually very juicy and warm. I was seated with a couple from Evansville, IN who were with a large tour group who had sleeping car accommodations. The attendant asked each of us when we wanted dinner. I took the 6pm seating. After lunch, it was back to the coach to take in some more scenery. We rode through Glenwood Canyon where I-70 actually rides on top of itself so as to fit through the canyon! We stopped at Glenwood Springs, where we could get off the train to smoke. I got off and snapped a bunch of slides before returning to the train and we continued on.
   Our next stop was Grand Junction, CO. Before we would arrive there, I engaged in some lively conversation with fellow passengers including a group of Amish people who were headed from Missouri (they boarded the previous night in Mount Pleasant, IA) to Salt Lake City, UT. As we moved further west through the mountains, they became less steep and the land slowly turned from mountains to high desert. At Grand Junction, there was a small convenience store located inside the station. We must have bought that place out because it was packed with passengers! The store had the usual pop/snacks/candy that everyone wanted at decent prices. I bought some more pop and stuff while there. We departed Grand Junction with the next stop at Green River, UT. I had dinner with another nice older couple from Indiana who were traveling with the aforementioned tour group. After that was Helper, UT. We now started making up some time due to schedule padding and were out of Helper, UT at 10:00pm, now only 29 minutes late. I stopped by the lounge car and had a screwdriver made with Absolut vodka, not bad! Later on, I called Julie and she stated the train would arrive on time in Salt Lake City. This almost actually happened however as we were just maybe 2 miles from the station, we had to sit and wait, wait, and wait some more! Sitting over a half hour, we eventually arrived in Salt Lake City at 11:43pm, running 38 minutes late. I ran in the station and bought 3 bottles of Diet Pepsi and a Bottle of water. I hung out on the platform for a bit and chatted with a few other passengers. We sat at the station until 12:13am running still 38 minutes late. After departing Salt Lake City, the train did a backup move out of the station so as to leave the area. We then continued on our way to the next stop in Elko, NV however by now I had fallen asleep. And so ends today…
Wednesday, October 3rd, 2007:
   I woke up briefly to put on my iPod only for the battery to die sometime while I was asleep and thus wake up again later on with headphones on and no music! I eventually fell asleep again and woke up around 6:30am Pacific time. I decided that after 2 days of the same Dining Car food, I was gonna eat mostly out of the lounge car. I headed over to the lounge and picked up a Sausage, Egg & Cheese Bagel with a bowl of Frosted Flakes cereal and an Orange Juice. The sandwich wasn't bad but let’s face it, a bagel never cooked well in a Microwave! We had gone through Elko, NV sometime overnight and our next stop at Winnemucca would be coming. Just before arriving in Winnemucca, all of the bathrooms were closed in one of the coaches because the holding tank was full. A crew with a raw sewage truck was called to meet the train at Winnemucca which was also a crew change point for this train. We had also been following a freight train for a great distance as we had been traveling slower speeds. At approximately 8:35am, we arrived in Winnemucca where the raw sewage truck hooked up to the coach in question to take care of its matters while everyone else could get out and smoke. I took a few pictures and at 8:45am, we were on our way out of Winnemucca. We then were going close to track speed again. I decided at 9:30am to grab a pizza and a Diet Pepsi from the cafe car since well, my brain is stuck now on Eastern Daylight time so it's really 12:30pm in my crazy brain! The pizza wasn’t bad and afterwards, I had a Snickers bar and had a nice chat with the Conductor who got on at Winnemucca. He told me and another passenger that he had 43 years on the railroad! Our next stop is Sparks, NV and the Conductor said it would be quick. The next smoking break should be Reno. The train arrived at Reno at about 11:30am having made up all of the time we lost throughout the entire trip thanks to generous schedule padding due to Union Pacific trackwork. At Reno, I took a few pictures and hung out on the platform though I wanted to venture over to one of the many casinos nearby but I figured, I'll get my chance to lose money in Las Vegas tomorrow night so I'll just wait for now! At 12:03pm, we left Reno on time now heading for the Sierra Nevada mountains. A couple tour guides boarded the train and ran a narrated tour for us showing where the interesting and historical things were located. The scenery in this area is nothing short of amazing as I took several photos. We went through a tunnel over Donner Pass and Donner Lake on the other end was incredible. This entire train ride is truly a treasure. If you love scenery that never ends, this is your train!
   Not long after leaving Reno (exact location escapes me), an unruly passenger was making trouble in the lounge car and the Conductor was called in to settle the matter. Being one who wants to see what’s happening, I ventured to the lounge car to get a Diet Pepsi only to see Ms. Personality yelling at the Conductor over supposed bad service provided by the lounge car attendant. I don’t believe this person's story since I'd been riding with this attendant since Chicago and she only gave excellent service the entire trip. Our next stops in Colfax and Roseville, CA came and went and more people departed the train with the coach I was in starting to empty out. At Sacramento, the train now followed the same route as the Coast Starlight for the rest of the ride to Emeryville. The weather was bright and sunny and we were now out of the Sierra Nevada mountains. Several of us in the coach I was in had been riding the train since Chicago, thus we almost became an extended family and it was almost like the "family" was breaking up as people left the train. This is one of the great things about train travel, the people you meet who are from all over the country, who travel with you and are likely having as much fun as you are! All stops now from Sacramento on are going to be drop-off only as there is frequent local service provided by Amtrak California Capital Corridor Service. Due to aforementioned UP trackwork, this end of the schedule was very heavily padded. Our next 2 stops were Davis and Martinez, CA, both of which we left early. At 6:47pm, running 1 hour and 3 minutes EARLY, we arrived in Emeryville, CA, our final destination for this train. The crew on this train was excellent, from the Coach Attendant to the Dining Car Staff to all of the Conductors/Assistant Conductors I met along the way. Shortly after getting off the train, I walked down to the Emeryville Station building and crossed in front of the parked train to get one final picture. The train would shortly thereafter depart Emeryville for Oakland where it would be serviced and go back East the following day. I took my luggage, walked over to the elevator to the pedestrian bridge over the tracks to get out to Shellmound Street and walk down to Powell Street to get to the 4 Points by Sheraton hotel, my "home" for tonight. Below you'll see a link to lots of photos taken along this incredible ride, Enjoy...