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Coast Starlight, L.A. to Seattle, by Carl Morrison,

Coast Starlight, L.A. to Seattle,

Two Different Worlds with a Third World in Between

September 6 - 12, 2007     Story and Photos By Carl Morrison -


Setting out on another "Back Porch Tour of California, Oregon, and Washington states," in Fullerton, CA, we boarded the connecting Surfliner #763 at 8:45 a.m. for Los Angeles to connect with the Coast Starlight #14 to Seattle. 

The Fullerton, CA, Amtrak Station is set up nicely.  Many Metrolink Commuter Trains pass through this station each morning and afternoon as well as long BNSF freights carrying ocean-going containers from the Los Angeles-Long Beach Port to points east such as Memphis and Chicago.  Additonally many Surfliner commuter trains pass this way on their way south to San Diego and intermediate stations.  It was our intension this day to board Surfliner #763 and connect, 34 minutes later, to the Coast Starlight at Los Angeles Union Station for our vacation-journey to Seattle, WA.

At 7:50 I drove to the curb at the Fullerton Station and unloaded our luggage and left Sue with Security Duty as I went inside with out tickets and obtained a pass for our car allowing us up to 14 days free parking in the parking structure across the street from the Amtrak Station.    Back at the station, we watched a BNSF semi-trailer freight pass through headed east with many UPS trailers onboard.  I presumed correctly that once this freight had passed through, our Surfliner would arrive, as it did.  We stepped on the first car, the cab car, and put our luggage just to the right of the door, next to the restroom, then found seats on the lower level.  Even though this train is always the connecting train from San Diego to Los Angeles for the Coast Starlight, there is no space for Coast Starlight passengers' luggage.  I've learned to just drop the luggage next to the restroom.  During summer season, the train usually has many CS passengers that it has picked up on its trip from San Diego, and there is already luggage stacked all over.  It was no problem on this September morning.

Upon our arrival in Los Angeles Union Station, we stayed on the platform with our luggage knowing from previous experience that the Coast Starlight would soon arrive on the adjacent track.  This allowed time to walk to the end of the platform and look down on Hwy. 101 and west to downtown L.A. (below, left).  Another Amtrak named train was resting on Track 12, and as I walked around the end of the track, I saw the privately-owned Scottish Thistle.

(You can click any photo in this report for a double-sized copy; click BACK in your browser to return to this page.)

Union Station Exit off Hwy. 101, Downtown Los Angeles
Scottish Thistle

Soon the Coast Starlight backed in from the yard.  The Red Cap had told us we were in the right place on the platform to board the sleeper 1432, but we learned that we had to walk the length of the train to find our sleeper next to the baggage car, the farthest possible place on the train from where we had been told to wait.  There were 3 sleepers:  1430 with Roman as the Attendant, 1431 with Abel as the attendant, and 1432 with Santi as the attendant.  I mentioned to Santi that we were interested in upgrading to a Bedroom from our Roomette.  She took our ticket and said she would get the rate for an upgrade from the Conductor and let us know.

At 10:22 we pulled out after an eleven minute delay 'waiting for late luggage to be loaded.

Seeing that we had a refurbished Sightseeing Lounge Car as a Parlour Car on this trip, I went there after boarding to see what was in store.  The substitute Parlour Car was brighter with more seating and as our car attendant mentioned, "The Air Conditioning works."

In the refurbishing process, the Sightseeing Lounge Car now has half the upper deck devoted to tables, allowing for more seating for activities like wine tasting.
There is one plug in for the whole upper level!  It is just left of the stairs in the middle of the car at floor level.  You would have thought when they installed the tables they would have put a plug at each table for computer users, phone chargers, GPS connections, etc.

Coffee, juice, and muffins are placed at the upstairs attendant stand, without an attendant.
Downstairs is still a Cafe, without an attendant and seemingly used for storage.

The same booths remain downstairs.
This table made up for morning coffee.
Also on the lower level is a bathroom the full width of the car.

Upper level tables are great for viewing the Pacific Ocean approaching Santa Barbara.

In San Luis Obispo, a fresh air and crew change stop, I stepped off to photograph the head-end power.  It seemed we had a unique locomotive set conpared to the usual two Genesis locos (below).

The refurbished sightseeing lounge car used as a Parlour Car on this trip.

Car Attendant, Abel, awaits the reboarding call, then will help with wine tasting.

The coaches trail the sleepers through the horseshoes up Cuesta Grade.


Ascending Cuesta Grade, I always look for the red-roofed barn.

I also look for the vintage semi-truck tanker that might be used to water cattle in the dry terrain.
Wine tasting takes place in the Parlour Car about 3:30, or immediately after any station stop that takes place about this time.  On this day, we tasted wines as we ascended Cuesta Grade at a nice slow pace for wine pouring.

We had dinner at 6 of salmon and pork shank and dined with a couple from Westminster, CA, who were also going to Seattle.  When we returned to our room, Santi had already made up our bed!  Since it was only 7:30, I had to unmake the bed so we could use the roomette.

As mentioned above, we moved to Bedroom "A" for the rest of the trip and we had a restful, rock-a-by sleep.  The breakfast announcement awakened us as we approached Klamath Falls.  We were early so we spent over an hour in the station.  This gave us time to shower, dress, and have breakfast all in a stable train!  We had breakfast with a couple from Echo Park going to Seattle.  We each had the Tuscan Omlette with sausage (the only fresh eggs currently served on the Coast Starlight).

After breakfast, in our room, we used our computers to listen to Books on DVD, play solitaire, and I edited photos for a future One-Man-Show of my photographs in Indiana in May, 2008.

North of Klamath Falls is Upper Klamath Lake.  It is 8 miles wide and 40 miles long and we traveled on the east side.  The morning sun was perfect for watching the many bird species take flight from the shallow water next to the track, including Canada Geese, Blue Heron, Egrets, ducks and two bald eagles and many white large birds w/black wing tips, and the Klamath Falls High School mascot, white pelicans.

During the night, the train was so smooth, I thought we were traveling very slowly in Northern California.  However, it must have been because of improved track and roadbed because we were on time when I awoke in the morning.

Lunch at 12:15 and I had another "chicken sandwich, hold the bun."  We had lunch with a Mother and son from Palm Springs.

I was in the room editing pictures until 3 pm when the Eugene stop took place followed by wine tasting after we left the station.  This, the second day of wine tasting on the Los Angeles to Seattle Coast Starlight trip featured a Kendall Jackson Chardonnay and my favorite,  Ironstone's Symphony Obsession, a semi-sweet white wine.   The Symphony grape, a cross between Grenache Gris and Muscat of Alexandria, was developed by the late UC Davis viticulture professor Harold Olmo; the university patented Symphony in 1983.  Its aroma is strongly floral, with some star anise. It’s very slightly sparkling (”frizzante” is the technical term), and its flavors are reminiscent of a good Gewurztraminer: strongly floral, with notes of Meyer lemon and prickles of pepper on the finish.

Southern Oregon on the Coast Starlight.

Upgrading accommodations on Amtrak

As mentioned earlier, we had a Roomette on this trip to Seattle on the Coast Starlight, and wanted to upgrade to a Bedroom.  Steve Grande, creator of, has written, and told me personally, that you get the best upgrade rate after you are onboard and underway.  This remains true.  Let me add a few notes about upgrading from our experience on this trip.

Upon boarding the Coast Starlight in Los Angeles, I mentioned to the Car Attendant that we'd like to upgrade to a bedroom or handicapped room.  Some time after leaving LA, the Conductor came to our room to talk about an upgrade, and asked to see our ticket.  He mentioned that they usually subtract what you paid for your ticket from the best rate on the accommodations you want to upgrade to and that becomes the cost of the upgrade.  Upon looking at our ticket, which was 'purchased' with Alaska Airlines mileage, he said, "You didn't pay anything for this room (seeing that the rate was $0)"  I replied, "I sure did, it cost about 20,000 air miles."  He looked into a book and said it would be, $486 since my ticket said $0 paid.  I said what would it be from Oakland to Klamath Falls (thinking it would be much less if we just used the room for sleeping) and he replied $300.  I said, how much on to Seattle, and he said, "$360."  I replied that this was much too high and asked if he could check further.  He said he'd "Call it in" to get the rate. 

Later he came back and said the upgrade rate for the bedroom, from our roomette, from Los Angeles to Seattle was what he had quoted earlier, nearly $500.  I said this was not a fair price and that I'd check with the next conductor (knowing there would be a new conductor board in SLO.)

It wasn't until San Jose that I further persued upgrading.  At that stop I found the new conductor, Mark, outside the Transition Crew Car and asked him if there was a possibility of upgrading to a bedroom and how much it would be.  He asked what room we were in and I told him.  He said that after they left San Jose he would come down to our room.  He also said, "My office is right here (pointing to the first floor table in the transition crew car), come down any time."

He eventually came to our room and said he needed to see our ticket, I feared that we were going to get the same rediculous price.  He copied down a number on the bottom right corner of the ticket stub and said, "I'll call it in."  He didn't return for a while so I went to his office in the transitiion car, right next to our car 1432, and asked what he had found out about the upgrade.  He said, "I'm just calling it in."  I stayed in earshot and heard him call it in on his cell phone.  There seemed to be no hesitation on the other end about what I'd paid already, they responded and he wrote down $147 on a piece of paper and showed it to me.  I said, "We'll take it!"  (I'd just saved $339 by being patient!)  I wondered if the LA conductor had actually called it in or not.  I gave him my credit card and the deal was done.

Since our new bedroom upgrade, Bedroom A in 1431, was vacant in San Jose, he said, "Why don't you go ahead and move up there, I usually tell the attendant, but you can go on up since it is vacant."  We moved in to our new accommodations in a flash!  At the next station stop I used the platform and moved the luggage we had stored downstairs to the next car.  This a better procedure than taking them upstairs, into the next car, then downstairs again to the luggage area of the new car where we had the bedroom.

We certainly enjoyed the Bedroom, with a bathroom/shower, the rest of the way to Seattle rather than the Roomette.  Room "A" is the smallest of the Bedrooms because a corner of the room is cut off to make the hallway wider as you enter the car, but it was still larger than the roomette.  In fact, the lower bed in the Bedroom is one foot wider than the lower bed in a roomette!

I can't tell you how many times I've heard passengers, upon arriving in their Roomette, saying, "It's soooo small, not like the pictures."  Therefore, I'd suggest anyone traveling as a couple never reserve a roomette (unless you want to upgrade on the ride).  I've found a roomette is adequate for me alone because I leave the upper bunk down to store my 'stuff' (computers, GPS, radio, cameras, and the accompanying cords and chargers).

Better yet, if you don't know which accommodation best suits your needs, look in the National Timetable, available at your local Amtrak Station or they will mail you one from 800-USARAIL.  Look at the actual measurements in the timetable for each type of accommodation, mark this off on the floor of your house and see if you'd like to spend days and nights in that space!  I've found that a roomette is amaller than my closet, and that is where I'll sleep as well!

Final word about upgrading

Because I had to do the upgrade on the train on our return trip to Los Angeles from Seattle, this time I talked with the car attendant first, telling him what I wanted to do.  Sometimes they have the option to help you upgrade since they know the occupancy of the rooms in their car.  From Seattle to Los Angeles, we had Bedroom "B" and it was quite comfortable.

Now, let's move on to Part 2, our exciting visit to Seattle.

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