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Coast Starlight Fullerton to San Francisco

Amtrak's Coast Starlight from Fullerton to San Francisco, California.

Coast Starlight, Friday, November 5, 2004, for the California Rail 2020 conference, Nov. 6, 2004

As the Conductor in Polar Express (The voice of Tom Hanks, 2004) said:  "The wonderful thing about trains is, it's good to know where they are going, but what really matters is deciding to get on!"


Excited about riding the Coast Starlight northbound along the California Coast, the longest ocean view train ride in America, AND having a first class ticket, AND being able to travel again with Ray Burns, Mr., we met at the Fullerton, CA, Amtrak Santa Fe Station to board a Surfliner and to connect in Los Angeles, CA to the Coast Starlight.

Alica Kuhar

Ray befriends fellow Canadian, Alica Kuhar,
a political analyst from British Columbia, in Fullerton,
and helps her get aboard and into her coach on
the Coast Starlight in Los Angeles.
Ray and Alicia

"How were you going to put these
two large bags and yourself on the
Coast Starlight coach?" asks Ray.
Los Angeles

Platform sign at Los Angeles Union Station (LAUS).
Canadian Private Car

When the Coast Starlight arrived, it
had THREE private coaches on the

Canadian label on car

whole car

There seemed to be a Conductor and
a Waiter assigned to the private consist.
Silver Lariat

The Silver Lariat, a second private car
of three total, was a dome car.  A few
happy rail travels boarded the private
cars as a group.

"For that unbelievable North American nostalgic
 overland rail cruise,"  contact
Roger J. Verbeeren Jr.
American  Rail Excursions, Inc.
1701 Sauk Trail
Sauk Village, IL  60411-4955
Phone 708/758-6680       Fax 708/758-2781

It was a beautiful L.A. November morning as we prepared to leave in our Economy Sleeper.



One of the highlights of riding 1st Class on the Coast Starlight is the Pacific Parlour car.  You meet the nicest folks as you have morning pastries and coffee, or afternoon wine tasting with cheese and crackers, or just spend time in this classic rail car.


Dixie Wineski, Muncie, IN, is a new retiree
enjoying retirement and train travel.


Downstairs is a very nice theatre for videos.

DSC02287.JPG DSC02288.JPG

The view is always good from the
Pacific Parlour Car.

The Coast Starlight in San Luis Obispo.
Sleeper car on right.

Santa Barbara is a 'Stretch Your Legs' stop.


During the S.B. stop, I snapped a few more
pictures of the 3 private cars.

Next stop for fresh air was San Luis Obispo Station:


Fall color AND Palm trees!

Memorial to Chinese rail workers, with
classic Silver Lariat in background.

Final shots of the private cars.


The private cars as we turn the horse shoe curve
north of San Louis Obispo.

Front of the train on the same curve.


During the day we couldn't miss this delightful daughter on a train adventure with her Daddy.  We had dinner together in the diner.  Many of us adults can remember such an adventure with a parent which started our enjoyment of train travel.

Returning Home:

Coast Starlight, Monday, November 8, 2004, San Francisco to Fullerton.

After attending the “California Rail 2020” 2004 Conference at the Canterbury Hotel, Nov. 6 – 7, in San Francisco (see separate report link below), it was time to take the Coast Starlight back home to Fullerton, California.

Since the Coast Starlight does not have a train stop in San Francisco proper, train travelers actually take an Amtrak Bus from one of four stops in San Francisco in time to meet the Southbound Coast Starlight

We chose to meet the Amtrak Bus at the San Francisco Shopping Center Bldg. at 835 Market Street.  It was a 20-minute (more if you are not with Ray Burns of who doesn’t waste time while walking!) downhill-all-the-way walk.

We checked out of the Canterbury Hotel about 6:10, handed over our keys, and took the advice of the night clerk to walk down Mason or Powell from our Sutter St. location for a safer walk in the dawn.  We arrived safely with out luggage still in hand about 6:30, well early enough for our 7:10 pickup.  At 6:50 an Amtrak bus arrived!  It was good that the bus driver asked to see our tickets because this was NOT the Coast Starlight Bus.  He said there would be another Amtrak Bus stop here at 7 as well and that would not be our bus either.  Instead we should wait for the 7:10 bus.  This proved to be correct and each driver made sure all got on the correct bus.
The wait at the bus stop on Market St. was a nice place to wait.  There was a glass enclosed MUNI stop where we dropped our luggage and had a seat.  Many MUNI electric busses, and trolley cars passed in both directions and there were very few private cars and trucks compared to Los Angeles.  It was reassuring to see public transportation at it’s best!

DSC02517.JPGPromptly at 7:10, Andre Donaldson (right) pulled up in his Amtrak Bus and pleasantly loaded our luggage and reassured us we were on the right bus and that we’d make the connection with time to spare.  We took the 2 front seats and conversed with Andre through his other stops toward Oakland Jack London Sq. Station.  With 15 to 20 minutes time to be spent at the Ferry Bldg., we took a walk out onto the pier to get pictures of the S.F. Bay Bridge and the Port of San Francisco terminal building and tower.

We were across the bay in no time, with Andre pointing out the progress being made on the construction of a new Oakland Bay Bridge.  I spied the Yerba Buena Lighthouse from my elevated seat and no driving responsibilities compared to previous car trips across the bridges.

We arrived at the beautiful new Oakland Depot, and after a quick restroom stop, the southbound Coast Starlight pulled in!  Scheduled for 8:35 a.m.  We boarded the first car behind the Pacific Parlour Car, 1430, Room 3.  We were delighted to see the same crew onboard that we had come north with.  I presume that if you come north on the Coast Starlight, stay in S.F. 3 nights, and return south the 4th day, this is a high possibility.



San Francisco Bay Bridge

Port of  San Francisco



DSC02518.JPGIf you make an Amtrak trip to San Francisco, your bus stops downtown, after leaving your train in Oakland, are (look for Amtrak Bus Stop signs):

Ferry Bldg., Amtrak Station
Fisherman’s Wharf, Pier 39
S. F. Shopping Center, 835 Market St.
Caltrain Depot, 4th and Townsend

Our room turned over in Oakland so our attendant said to go ahead and have breakfast and she’d have the room ready thereafter.  Breakfast for me was scrambled eggs, pork sausage, croissant, fruit, cranberry juice and coffee (included in the price of the economy bedroom, of course).

DSC02526.JPGTo get to the diner from the bedroom cars, we again pass through the Pacific Parlour car (Coast Starlight only).  We were please to see Daniel Lopez again (left).

At breakfast, I asked our waiter why the Coast Starlight was on schedule the last 2 to 4 weeks.  He said, “The lawyers got together and Amtrak quit hauling express and mail (not that much went on this route, but I’ve counted up to 14 cars on the Southwest chief between L.A. and Chicago) and in return Union Pacific and Burlington Northern Santa Fe would try and keep Amtrak on time.  It must be working.

Back in the room I began writing this report and Assistant Conductor, Rick Carter, confirmed this story saying this seems to be the official story from Amtrak as well, but no official word has come down.  I guess you’ll have to take it from me the reason why ‘all of a sudden’ the Coast Starlight needs not be called 'Starlate.'  The only downside he sees is less overtime for Conductors and perhaps others, but that’s an upside for Amtrak in general.

Going through Gilroy, in the Santa Clara Valley, we heard from the onboard National Park Service “Trails and Rails” volunteers, Nancy Johnke and Carla Cabanatuan (below), saying that Gilroy is the Garlic Capital of the World.  I had seen Nancy and Carla before on the Coast Starlight.  They usually work San Luis Obispo to Santa Barbara; they are doing this portion of additional miles to familiarize themselves with the route in hopes to have at least monthly volunteer speakers onboard next summer.  Thanks Ladies, you make the trip much more enjoyable and informative for tourists.


Assistant Conductor, Rick Carter


We passed Elkhorn Bay and the Café Car Attendant gave a narration about the area as well.  Artichoke Queen, Norma Jean (Marilyn Monroe), came from around here, he said.  Harbor seals lay on the banks of the refuge.  The slough flows into Monterey Bay and their Aquarium lies on the other side of the Bay.  We’re following El Camino Real, the route of the California Missions.

Castroville is the Artichoke Capital of the World.  All commercial artichokes are grown here for the world. 

DSC02547.JPGI had lunch soon after it was announced at 11:30, with a nice couple from Brisbane, Australia, Ashley Fail and Leisa Vagg (right).  They had pizza and green salad.  I had a dinner salad with halibut.  I was going to forego dessert, but when I saw fruit as a choice, I selected that.  When dessert arrived the waiter said, “They’ve run out of fruit.”  The waiter and I both had gotten a share for breakfast, so I was not as disappointed as on the northbound trip when there seemed to be no fruit at all, at least from Los Angeles, the origin of the train.

Ashley and Leisa had been traveling many miles in the US and I asked how our overnight trains compared with those in Australia.  Even though he had not taken an overnight train in Australia, he said there was “no comparison.”  He works for the railroad there and has stepped on some overnight trains and has noticed the great furnishings.  He mentioned that in taking the AutoTrain here in the US that it had been 5 hours late. (This is not bad in my experience, and I wonder if things have gotten better in the last month with the new agreement.)

Another remark about Amtrak made by the visiting Australian youngsters, was that when they came up from San Diego, ‘all the brochures said to get off in Anaheim, even to go to Knott’s Berry Farm.’  This meant, on the Surfliner from San Diego, there is no luggage check to Anaheim!  I know from experience that there is insufficient luggage space on Surfliners for connecting passengers or even those who are spending time in a hotel.  A much better connection, one allowing baggage check, would have been San Diego to Fullerton (the next stop north of Anaheim,) then baggage taken off to a cab or to the Southwest Chief, or the Los Angeles Station where it would have been transferred to the Coast Starlight.  Their agent should have mentioned all these things to these travelers.  This is why is the best place to make travel plans, using rail-experienced travel agents who advertise with them. 

An excellent agent to contact, with extensive knowledge of Amtrak, is Carole Walker, Owner, Bella Vista Travel, 4012 Katella, Los Alamitos, CA  90720, (562) 594-6771, or (714) 952-2719.

I turned on my GPS (Garmin iQue 3600)  after San Jose and we’ve gone 125 miles in 2 hrs. 21 min. with 26:36 minutes stopped making a total of 2:47 minutes.  That pencils out at 53.3 mph avg.   Overall avg. 44.9 mph.  Max Speed 80.6 mph.



Salinas, CA, Baldwin Steam Engine display.

We continued South through the mountains and tunnels toward San Luis Obispo:






Appropriately, as we left San Luis Obispo and
passed through vineyards, we had wine tasting
in the Pacific Parlour car.

Continuing south, I wrote most of this report and, at sunset, snapped way too many pictures of the sunset as we who were in the Pacific Parlour  Car quietly watched:

DSC02580.JPG DSC02573.JPG


Glendale Amtrak Station

Since the Coast Starlight was on time, we had
a long wait in the L.A. Union Station for our
Surfliner connection to Fullerton.

I decided to take some night photos of the station while we waited.



Fountain in the north courtyard.

Links for this story:

| Getting there is half the fun!  |  The TRAC California 2020 Conference | San Francisco Charter MUNI Trolley Tour |