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Spring Training from Fullerton to Los Angeles to Essex, Montana

Spring Training from Fullerton, CA, to Los Angeles to Essex, Montana

Amtrak:  Pacific Surfliner, Coast Starlight, and Empire Builder.

May 12 - 13, 2010 - Story and Photos by Carl Morrison,

Another "View from a Superliner" in Washington state on the Empire Builder.

Pacific Surfliner from Fullerton, California, to Los Angeles Union Station

If you purchase a ticket on the Coast Starlight from Los Angeles, its point of origin, you also receive a Pacific Surfliner ticket from any point from San Diego north to Los Angeles.  This gets you to Los Angeles for the departure of the Coast Starlight.  

We boarded in Fullerton, the last stop on the San Diego to Los Angeles Pacific Surfliner route, and rode about a half hour to LAUS.  There is a comfortable layover in Los Angeles giving you time to go into the station and check luggage, if you like, and go to the waiting area in the TRAXX Lounge for Sleeping Car Passengers.  Coffee and juices are provided as you wait in the TRAXX Lounge.  From the Lounge, a Red Cap will take you and your carry on luggage on his electric cart to your Coast Starlight Sleeping Car.

In the TRAXX Liounge, I saw an attractively dressed Amtrak employee, black skirt and sweater and beautiful shell beaded necklace.  I said I was going to nominate her for 'Best Dressed Amtrak Employee' and she said, "My name is Lynn Sullivan."  So, I guess she didn't think I was kidding.  All personnel in the Lounge were congenial and answered all the passengers' questions, making sure those with limited mobility were cared for.

We were in the "Maryland," 1430 Car, Room 4, next to the Parlour Car.  Our Car Attendant was Lilliana.  Dominic was the Parlour Car Attendant.  

While in the Parlour Car, Lilliana gave us a choice of Champagne or Sparkling Cider splits.  Several folks chose to get some orange juice or  Cranberry juice from their car and mix it with the Champagne.  I enjoyed sparkling cider.  Lilliana said they had been providing this service for about a month and a half.  We had experienced this on the Empire Builder in June, 2008.

LSA, Jeff, came through the cars and took our 11:30 reservation for lunch.  Our waiter was Leonard.  Noticing that he was the youngest waiter I'd seen in months on Amtrak, I asked how long he had been working and he said that his one-year anniversary was this month.  He has worked this train and the Southwest Chief, as a sleeper attendant, coach attendant, and waiter.  He likes the waiter job because, "I get to see all the passengers, and, like a Grandparent, give them back to the Car Attendants after each meal."  He was a contrast in his good attitude compared to some of the other Amtrak employees, such as Dominic.  For lunch I had the Angus Burger, chips, Sierra Mist and carrot cake and coffee.

Coast Starlight from Los Angeles Union Station to Portland, Oregon

The Parlour Car, a lounge/dining car for Sleeping Car Passengers only, is always a highlight of any trip on the Coast Starlight.  This would be the first trip for me in which the Parlour Car has free Wi-Fi and a large-screen TV in the Movie Room downstairs.  I was looking forward to the Wi-Fi for e-mail and uploading photos and sections of this report as they were finished.  Hopefully, also checking weather at our destination, the Izaak Walton Inn, and sports scores on the TV.

I immediately tried to log on in the LA Station, without any luck.  After trying again several times, and asking Dominic, who threw a book at me saying that's all he knew, and getting no help from the Conductor nor the Car Attendant, I considered it a lost cause.  I noticed that there were "Free Wi-Fi" signs in all Amtrak Stations I've been in as well in the Parlour Cars.  Another Amtrak disappointment. However, at this moment, writing this report at Paso Robles, if I had had Wi-Fi, I would have been on the Internet rather than doing my work!  I'll have Wi-Fi at the Izaak Walton Inn and back home, when I get there.

[ During this trip, I had e-mail dialog with Sandra Nevarez, Marketing Coordinator, Internet Connectivity Group, Lake Forest, CA, about "Free Wi-Fi on the Parlour Car."  Here is a summary of our conversations:

"a troubleshooting guide and Standard Operating Procedures ... will be distributed by Amtrak, to Amtrak Personnel over the course of the next 30 days."   (May 17, 2010)

“I.C.G. anticipated the system being available to coincide with the release of Amtrak Marketing materials. This did not happen and I.C.G. expects to have the system fully operational on or about Memorial Day”.

"... the WiFi service on the trains uses the broadband cellular network for internet connection there will always be some locations where no cellular service is available and therefore no WiFi service.  This will be outlined in the info provided to the Amtrak employees.  In addition, I wanted to make sure that you understood that the TV is actually not a satellite feed, rather content that is downloaded wirelessly over the 3G cellular networks and cached on our MobileMedia System™ on the train car."

Thanks, Sandra, for this honest and straightforward information ]

Incidentally, the Internet worked fine on the way home on the Coast Starlight.  The TV was intermittent and did not have the menu choices that I saw in Los Angeles at the RailPAC Conference in April.  Again, Sandra addressed the TV issue by saying, "This feature is being deployed now and over the next week. The initial focus has been on establishing WiFi service."

I noticed on the Coast Starlight, while riding from Portland to Los Angeles, that each station we pulled into, the power went out momentarily in the Parlour Car.  I know at home, if this were the case, this would reset any movie or Internet connectivity.   ICG says they are aware of this and are taking steps to compensate for the repeated power losses.

I agree that the WiFi should be the first priority, then the TV feature.  It has been my experience, based on the fact that people see me using my laptop in the Parlour Car and often ask if I am online, and I don't see that many people inquiring about TV reception, or movies.

As I hear more about ICG's progress in this area from Sandra, I will post updates at

One unexpected use of the Internet on the way home was during Wine Tasting of all things.  Carmella, the Parlour Car Attendant, asked Wine Trivia questions during tasting the first day.  During the second day, she admitted that she had run out of Wine Trivia questions, so, during Wine Tasting,  I went online and found some for her to use during the second day's Wine Tasting.  (Just Google "Wine Trivia" and you might win a glass of wine with your dinner on your next trip.)

View from the Parlour Car

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Parlour Car in LA

Set up for Lunch.  2-persons per table at all meals.

Sightseer Lounge Car/Cafe downstairs

This Cafe had VERY little space for stock.

Seating in the Cafe

Metrolink barn north of LA Station

Where Roy, Gene, and Hoppy used to make movies.

Camouflaged Oil Wells, and Islands off Santa Barbara

Oil Platforms  and Islands in the Santa Barbara Channel

Carpenteria State Beach

Lots of beach per person on a Wednesday in May.

Lagoon by the Zoo in Santa Barbara

Main St. South, and Stearns Wharf

Restored Southern Pacific car at Santa Barbara Sta.

Lone sun worshipers (right) with plenty of real estate to choose from.

The conductor related that this yellow tower on the pier marked Gaviota where Hwy. 101 turns inland, and the RR continues along the beach until south of San Luis Obispo.

Beach scenes on the coast of Vandenberg Air Base.

"Table Rock"

Pasture land with a view for these Angus Bulls.

"Pelican Patrol"  Riding the updrafts off the breakers.

Not a failed invasion, but sailboat washed ashore

The conductor suggested that the two sailboats might already have been mined for brass.

Point Conception

Along the coast, in Vandenberg Air Base, we had a 25-minute stop while the crew solved an electrical problem.  Therefore, by the time we got to San Luis Obispo, we were 1 hr. 15 min. late.  Our worry is that we'll be taken off the train at Klammath Falls and bussed past the Columbia Gorge to meet the Empire Builder if we are too late to meet it in Portland.

There are many old telegraph wires and poles along the route, so instead of trying to avoid them in my photograph, I decided to use them as a border.

Oxnard Surf Beach.

Wind surfers at Surf

Fresh water heading for the ocean at Surf.

A Life Saving Station.

The only vehicle we saw inside the base was this "U.S. Law Enforcement Conservation Department" vehicle pacing the train (right).

Don looks bewildered by the choice of snacks in the SLO Depot.

The type of signs in all Parlour Cars and all Amtrak Stations served by the Coast Starlight... but no WiFi worked on this train from Los Angeles to Portland, OR.

I decided not to partake of Wine Tasting at 3:30.  Domonic set up 6 tables, with 4 glasses each for wine tasting and I didn't actually hear any announcements offering it, so only those that knew about it evidently participated.  I spent some time in the Parlour Car during Wine Tasting, and could see that they were enjoying themselves.  In the past, with the cheese and crackers, I had found that I was full at supper time, so I was glad I didn't participate.   Supper came at 6:00, and I had salmon with a couple from Ventura who were taking the train to Seattle, then a cruise to Alaska.  Don let his dinner time slide to 7:30, then went in to be seated.

Because school is not out yet, there are no children in the sleepers that I have seen.  Mostly grey beards like me.  The car attendant says the train is full, but I see a few empty roomettes.  Of course they might be sold for arrivals later down the line.

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San Luis Obispo's renovated station interior.

Our Parlour Car was the Columbia Valley.

The Lead Service Attendant on this train was Jeff.  Our server for lunch was Leonard.  He seemed young and enthusiastic, so I asked if he was a 30-year veteran of Amtrak like many I've seen.  He responded that he would have his 1-year anniversary with Amtrak this month.  I asked if he liked his work, because he seemed to be enjoying himself.   He said he has been a coach attendant and sleeper attendant, but he likes serving in the diner because he sees all the the passengers and then they leave until the next meal, which he compared to being a grand parent.  Leonard was very friendly and young.

Our lunch started at 11:30, about Oxnard.  I had an Angus Burger, chips, Sierra Mist, and for desert, carrot cake and coffee.  I told Leonard that I'd take the carrot cake because my Dr. told me to 'eat more vegetables.'  

We were staying in Sleeping Car Maryland, 1430, Room 4.  I believe the unrefurbished Superliner Sleepers  were named for states, and when refurbished, they lose their state name.  When I might be late for a meal in the diner, I usually say, "It took me a while, I had to come all the way from Maryland!"

Fresh Air Stop during crew change in SLO

Our car attendant (right), Lilliana

Horse shoe curve, above SLO, where you can see the front and back of the train.

I like this trestle that we passed over before the horse shoe curve.

Heading on up Questa Grade, the last engineering obstacle for the building of the RR between S.F. and L.A.

I like this barn in the valley, but there would not be much daylight in the day with mountains on both the east and west.

This 1930ish semi tank trailer has always been out in this field, perhaps used to hold water.

Hwy 101 had a disabled bus causing a traffic jam.

Sunset over the Pacific.

The only covered bridge you can see from the train is in Oregon, in the Willamette National Forest.

Lone Fly Fisherman.  I wonder if he's read books by Izaak Walton?

Lift bridge in Portland

View from the Surfliner on that bridge (right).

Portland Station Clock Tower

Lightrail near the Station.

Gardens outside the "City of Roses" Station


Amtrak Cascades w/Talgo cars

Station Platform covers

The Empire Builder from Portland, OR, to Essex, MT.

Our main concern before this trip was whether we would arrive in Portland in time for our connection to the Empire Builder, or, as I have seen in the past, we would be taken off the train in Klamath Falls, OR, and AmBussed to Spokane to meet the Seattle Section of the Empire Builder.  If we were bussed, we would miss one of the highlights of the trip, the Columbia River Gorge east of Portland, and I didn't want this to happen.  As we headed for bed the first night, we asked our Car Attendant if she felt we would continue being over an hour late, and we would miss our Portland connection.  She said, "We'll make up the time during the night."  Sure enough, she was right and we actually were having breakfast in Klammath Falls, and left on time at 8:25.

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Leaving Portland on the Empire Builder

Same bridge from north of Portland

We saw many views of Mt. Hood

Vancouver, Washington, Amtrak Station.  About 20 minutes north of Portland.

Half empty or half full?

Half the renovated Lounge Cars how have tables on one end,

and traditional seating in the other half.

The Empire Builder's Portland section has the lounge car first, then 2 coaches, and finally one sleeper.  With no Diner, we went to the Sightseeing Lounge car with our 'cold dinner selection (beef) and found a table.  Half the car is tables and half side-view seats, above.  The cold dinner choices were beef, chicken, or fish.

The beef dinner was quite good and more than I could finish.  It came with splits of champagne.

Don and the Columbia River before the Gorge.

The Empire Builder magazine had a nice ad for the Silver Online Community.

The tracks cling to the north bank of the Columbia River through the Gorge.

Multnomah Falls, OR

One of the many hydroelectric dams and lock systems on the Columbia River.

Bridge of the Gods

Trees at a mill

Final product ready to ship out by train.

Sometimes there is water on both sides of the train.

Another side of Mt. Hood

One of the few tow boats I saw.

I like this RR bridge that crosses the river, it splits on the north side so east or westbound it can make the curve to get on the mainline.

Saw a lot of this company's cars on this route.

Indian net-fishing platforms

A replica of Stonehenge, not as I remember it.

A freight on the south side of the river.

Another tow boat with different type of barges.

Since we were in the very last car of the consist, I enjoyed watching out the back window at sunset.  The window, both ways, was clean.  Evidently something that the crew feels responsible for.  I call this set of photos of various river and railroad photos:

Silver Rails

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There were many, many of these trash hauling cars. Six times a week, a train, one mile long, with about 100 cars loaded with garbage, leaves Seattle and chugs to the sprawling Oregon landfill near Arlington, OR.

The trip from Seattle to Arlington, Ore., is about 260 miles with a stop of up to eight hours in Portland to change crews. Then the train continues on early the next morning to finish the trip at the Columbia Ridge Landfill and Recycling Center, owned by Waste Management, and located in the hills, 11 miles outside of Arlington.   8,500 tons a day

The setting sun illuminates the fallen rock sensor wires

Concrete cross ties for miles.

Electricity generating windmills line the ridge above the river.

We enjoyed a good night's sleep on the Empire Builder before arising and having breakfast in the Diner that was added during the night with the Seattle portion of the consist in Spokane.  

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