conference, Nov. 6, 2004
(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. TrainWeb.com, 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.
It was a beautiful L.A. November morning as we prepared to leave in our
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.
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.
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
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 TrainWeb.com 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
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!
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
you make an Amtrak trip to San Francisco, your bus stops downtown,
after leaving your train in Oakland, are (look for Amtrak Bus Stop
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).
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
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
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.
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.
had lunch soon after it was announced at 11:30, with a nice couple
from Brisbane, Australia, Ashley Fail and Leisa Vagg (right).
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
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
TrainWeb.com 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
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: