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Taking the Coast Starlight to the 2015 Summit in Sacramento, California

2015 California Passenger Rail Summit

By Carl Morrison,

Taking the Coast Starlight from Fullerton to the Summit in Sacramento, California

We made our Amtrak Coast Starlight reservations four months before this trip for our Fullerton to Sacramento, California round trip.  This is a good plan even for airlines reservations since the earlier you make transportation reservations, the better the price, unless you are using Amtrak Guest Rewards points.

Our departure station, the Fullerton Amtrak Station, now has a four-level parking structure with long-term parking on the top/fourth level.  Parking is free, but all the gates and machines are in place to start charging.  No special permit is needed to park on the fourth floor for up to 72 hours.  If you plan to leave your vehicle there for four to 14 days, you need to get a permit to put in your back window from the ticket agent in the station.  Plan some time to accomplish this since there will be a line at the ticket window of people buying train tickets as well.

Coast Starlight tickets include an Amtrak Pacific Surfliner Business-Class ticket from as far south as San Diego to Los Angeles, the point of origin of the Coast Starlight.  We boarded in Fullerton, the last stop before Los Angles, about a 35 minute ride.  The Business-Class car is Car 1, the car next to the locomotive.  However, the train from San Diego to Los Angeles is in push move, so the locomotive is in the rear, so plan to board Business Class at the Pedestrian Bridge.  Business Class on the Surfliner includes a USA Today newspaper, coffee or juice in a box, and a pastry.  There is a car attendant assigned to Business Class who will help you on and off the car with your luggage.

Once in Los Angeles Station, our car attendant hailed a Red Cap and he lifted our luggage onto the cart and took us to the new Metropolitan Lounge located on track level west of the tracks.  This location is much better for the Red Caps since they no longer have to drive through all the passengers in the tunnel.  Now they drive to the south end of the platforms, then directly to the outside door of the Metropolitan Lounge.

The lounge was very busy, but we found seats.  Coffee, orange juice, soft drinks, and pastries were available.  Wi-fi is available with the password 1234567890 and several passengers were using the Internet on their laptops.  Eleven Business Class passengers left when the southbound Pacific Surfliner departed.  Soon thereafter our Red Cap returned, loaded up our luggage and took us and 3 other passengers to our train, No. 14.  The Red Cap deposited us and our luggage where he thought Car 1431 would stop.  In just a few minutes we could see the Coast Starlight backing in from the yard.  We boarded and went to Room 2 on the upper level.

Sue went to the Parlour Car and I stayed in the room so the Conductor could scan our ticket and the Parlour Car attendant could take our lunch reservation.  This trip, the Parlour Car Attendant gave us the lunch menu and we made our meal selection as well as our time.  We selected a turkey sandwich and salmon on a bagel.  I then joined Sue in the Parlour Car for the ride. 

The Parlour Car Attendant announced that she had tickets for the wine tasting at 3:30 (after San Luis Obispo).  Ticket prices for 3 tastings were $7.50 which originally started as complimentary, then $5, and now $7.50.  At the wine tasting a cheese and cracker tray was offered for $5.50. 

Two movies were shown in the 20-seat lower level theater in the Parlour Car - one in the afternoon and one in the evening about 8 pm.

Winter of 2014, all the Parlour Cars came off line for refurbishing, but this car is still a little threadbare.  One thing new is the "Pacific Parlour Car" decal outside the car.  The interior of the Parlour Car looks the same with eight swivel easy chairs at one end, an unused steam table and stairs down to the theater in the middle, two sofas facing each other in the middle, six tables where only 2 passengers are seated for meals.  At the far end is a bar and behind is a food preparation area.  As is still pointed out, the Coast Starlight is the only train that has a Parlour Car.  The Coast Starlight still has a diner and Sightseeing/Lounge with cafe downstairs like other Amtrak long-distance trains.

Your meals, when you have sleeping accommodations, are included in the price and can be taken either in the Parlour Car or Diner.  We took lunch at 12:20 and were finished by 1 pm.  At the end of the lunch, which included cheesecake or chocolate mousse for dessert, our attendant gave us a receipt for $18.50 each, but it is included in the fare.  It said $10 for food, $6.25 for dessert, and $2.25 Bar (one Pepsi and one bottled water).  This is the first time the food portion has been itemized, perhaps for people to better calculate the tip?

Sue returned to the roomette after lunch and I took the last easy chair in the Parlour Car.  I enjoyed talking with a retired Navy pilot who is also a member of the Nyles Canyon railroad group.  He is also an airship pilot and had photos of his work.

Wine tasting was 2 whites and a red from wineries along the route of the Coast Starlight.  I sat with a nice trio including Nate on his 30th birthday, his wife, and mother-in-law.  Nate and his wife were from Cleveland and the mother was from Michigan.

The Parlour Car was so close (1 1/2 cars away) and pleasant that we took dinner there as well.  Two people per table was excellent for us, yet you could chat with the other couples in that end of the car if you liked.  We had short ribs, rice and green beans and spinach lasagna plus salad, rolls, and dessert.  We shared our dinners making a nice mixed plate for dinner.

We enjoyed the ride  through sunset and night expecting to be on time at 11:59 p.m.  However, we sat for a while and our car attendant advised us that a commuter train had hit a car and there were two stopped trains between the accident and us.  Since we were in Room 2, across from the attendant's Room 1, he pointed out the car that had been hit when we crossed the intersection.  We arrived in Sacramento about 1:30.  The red cap picked us and our luggage up and took us through an tunnel to the station.  No cabs were waiting in their area, but an Amtrak ticket agent called us a cab to the Embassy Suites - Riverfront Promenade.


I always enjoy the flyover south of the Los Angeles Union Station as we ride the Pacific Surfliner from Fullerton to connect to the Coast Starlight.


April 27 was a nice clear day in Los Angeles as we were carted from our Pacific Surfliner from Fullerton to the Metropolitan Lounge for a short wait with refreshments before being taken back to the platform to board the Coast Starlight.  Metrolink cab cars were stubbed into the Los Angeles Union Station and would soon be leaving around the Metro building on the right.


Metro Rail light rail/subway track crosses Hwy. 101 and the cart road between the platforms and the Metropolitan Lounge.



Los Angeles Metropolitan Lounge for ticketed Amtrak long distance and Surfliner Business Class passengers.


The Coast Starlight backs from the yard to Los Angeles Union Station with the required conductor at the end as sleeping car passengers await.  The conductor's spot, with the door closed, is author Henry Kisor's "Railfan Window" on Amtrak long distance trains.


"The best seat in the house (or on the Coast Starlight) is in the Pacific Parlour Car.  This car is exclusively for sleeping car passengers.  Many travelers book a room, as we did, for a one-day trip just to have access to the Parlour Car for sightseeing, meals, and afternoon wine tasting.  additionally, the Parlour Car has a bar and a 22-seat theater downstairs where 2 movies are shown a day.


Amtrak Coast Starlight car attendant Joy, posts this important information for sleeping car passengers.  These are probably the most-asked questions he experienced in his years as an attendant.


Some of the sights I photographed from our upper-level Room 2 of car 31 include this former Southern Pacific heavy weight railcar in Santa Barbara.


Riding between the Pacific Ocean and Hollister Ranch and Vandenburg Air Force Base we pass
Jalama Creek at the edge of Jalama Beach County Park, Lompoc, California.


We passed a former life saving station as we curved northwest along the California coast.


Within Vandenburg Air Force Base is this SpaceX facility which resupplies our space stations as one of its jobs.


California's Caltrain at San Jose


While traveling north through central California, we had ample opportunities to catch photos of the sunset.


The Embassy Suites - Sacramento Riverfront Promenade, at 100 Capitol Mall on the Riverfront Promenade is next to Old Town Sacramento, and an excellent location for many attendees of the Summit.


Embassy Suites atrium.  Rooms have this interior view as well as an external view.



From our 8th floor room we could observe the excursion train from the California Railroad Museum leaving Old Town Sacramento.



The excursion train runs next to the Embassy Suites Sacramento Riverfront

hotel with a convenient river walk path between the tracks and the river.




This golden bridge is directly adjacent to the Embassy Suites.

The Tower Bridge is a vertical lift bridge across the Sacramento River, linking West Sacramento in Yolo County to the west, with the capital of California, Sacramento, in Sacramento County to the east. It was previously a part of U.S. Route 40 until that highway was truncated east of Salt Lake City. The bridge is yet maintained by the California Department of Transportation as part of State Route 275, and connects West Capitol Avenue and Tower Bridge Gateway in West Sacramento with the Capitol Mall in Sacramento.

Train riding in California might surprise some with the variety of scenery.  The following photo would not be what most non-Californians might expect.  Photos from the Amtrak Coast Starlight south of Sacramento on our way to Los Angeles.



Even some WWII structures can be seen from the Coast Starlight route.


"The town that is sinking," was the Parlour Car's announcement in past years as we passed these buildings south of the bay.


Levis Stadium, Home of the San Francisco 49ers in Santa Clara, is very close to the tracks,


Light rail in many cities can be seen from Amtrak Long Distance trains.


Altamont Commuter Express (ACE)


This photo is a good example of the higher perspective of a a second floor room on an Amtrak bi-level train.


A field of straw, destined to be baled and used as bedding in livestock barns,  is the valuable byproduct of harvesting wheat, rye, or barley.

It is actually cheaper to send field crop output like rice to Asia than the rest of the USA.  More rice is exported from California to Japan than what they raise themselves.


"The Nation's Salad Bowl" is one nickname for this region.  Quite labor intensive when you completely cover large fields.


A very large strawberry field.  Strawberry farming is the most labor intensive of all food crops, but has the highest profit per acre.


An excellent set of classic California farm buildings with an original water tower.


I understand that many young people are hoboing in this country now.  This fellow does not look like he is prepared for long trips, but he did come out from between  flatcars on a siding as we passed.  Some good, but unsettling photos of Modern Hoboing can be seen at  If you want to do further research try these terms:  train hopping, train surfing, train hitching or, in parts of the United States, catching out.


Different wine vines along the route.



Trestle between Cuesta Grade and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.

History of Cuesta Grade at


Men's Prison at San Luis Obispo from the horseshoe curve.  John DeLorean was the most famous resident.


The "horseshoe" curve is a good opportunity to photograph most of the train.  This photo is from the Parlour Car, southbound, north of San Luis Obispo.  I made the image HDR with edits in Touchretouch by Bob Williams, and Lightroom 5.


Heading for the coast north of Vandenberg Air Force Base



West of Goleta, an original Hwy. 101 bridge, now unused but accessible as an observation point for passing trains on the high bridge and ocean beyond.

Select another section of this report

Table of Contents of this Report

  1. Amtrak Cities Sprinter (ACS-64) electric locomotive by Siemens Mobility, brought by Southwest Rail to the Summit, at the California State Railroad Museum Roundhouse
  2. Amtrak California Car, coach No. 8204 Drake's Bay brought by Southwest Rail to the California State Railroad Museum' s Roundhouse for the Summit.
  3. Registration and Networking Reception Photos (Speakers' names below) Tuesday, April 28, 2015, California State Railroad Museum Roundhouse.
  4. Center for Railroad Photography & Art ( photography contest winners at the California State Railroad Museum.
  5. Summit Presenter and Panel Participant Photos  (
  6. Summit PowerPoint Presentations by all Speakers ( thanks to David Kutrosky's Office.
  7. Taking the Amtrak Coast Starlight round trip from Los Angeles to Sacramento for the Summit.

2016 California Passenger Rail Summit information | Other Reports by Carl Morrison | | American Passenger Rail Heritage Foundation (APRHF)