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Seattle to Los Angeles (Fullerton) on the Amtrak Coast Starlight, Sept. 2007

Coast Starlight: Seattle to Los Angeles (Fullerton)

September 11 - 12, 2007

(Click any photo for a double-sized copy; Click BACK to return to this page.)

With a taxi from the Best Western Pioneer Square Hotel, after complimentary Continental breakfast, we arrived at the Seattle Amtrak Station about an hour before departure time [9:45].  A couple of nice things happened at the Seattle Station upon our arrival:

King Street Train Station Entrance/Taxi Stop

Inside King Street Station, awaiting the Coast Starlight's boarding call.

Help from the Taxi to the Train with luggage.

First, a gentleman with a cart asked, as the taxi driver unloaded our bags, if we'd like help with our bags.  He didn't look homeless, so we responded, Yes."  He asked if we were in a sleeper, then said he'd give us a baggage check for each piece, then put our 2 large bags in the lower luggage area of our car (1132), and the other small bags in our room (5).  We saw the room where he took the bags, and we felt confident that that our bags would be where he said.  When he gave us our claim checks, we tipped  him accordingly because we probably would not see him when we boarded.  As it turned out, he did get our bags loaded into 1132, but the small bags were in Rm. 2, which I spotted as we went by to our Room 5.  No problem moving them down the hall a few doors, I just appreciated his lugging them up the narrow staircase in the car.

On-Board Movies, TV Shows, Music and Games.

DSC02351.jpgSecondly, as we were sitting in the waiting room, Sue overheard Bernadette Dancel, Location Manager for Railway Media, explain that all sleeping car passengers could get a "complimentary" digEplayer (right) for the trip south to L.A.   I spoke with her, mentioning that I had not heard about this complimentary plan and she mentioned that they were doing it now and that the regular rate for coach passengers is $20 to $25.  We did take one before she moved from her booth to the Sleeping Car check in line with a rolling cart where she checked out more untis.  As Sue mentioned, Bernadette was very pleasant and informative and gave me complete directions pointing out the A/C adapter for use in our room, the controls of the unit, and since there were 2 of us, she put in a second set of head phones and gave us a printed list of the movies on the unit.  She had a male helper who made an announcement in the lobby about the complimentary units for sleeping car passengers.  Pre-loaded on the unit are 12 movies, music, music videos and popular TV shows.  I recall talking with the Location Manager in Los Angeles some weeks before and one selling point was that Amtrak no longer shows movies in the Parlour Car nor the Sightseeing Lounge Car, but at that time there was a cost for sleeping car passengers to use the units.  I had mentioned that one could take a laptop and play movies, but as one user of the unit explained, there were not individual volume controls on a computer, and you would have to rent the  movies before the trip with a computer.  There are units available for children ages 2-13.  They have a nice advertisement on the back cover of the Amtrak System Timetable.  Check them out at or call 866 digEplayer (866.344.3752). 

I had talked before this trip about the DigEPlayer with Carole Walker of Bella Vista Travel, 4012 Katella Ave., Los Alamitos, CA, (714) 952-2719 or (562) 594-6771.  She had liked the unit and said it had been good entertainment for her nephew on a earlier trip, but the batteries were weighty, and the return of the unit was cumbersome if you weren't arriving at a major station.  It seems those issues have been addressed  because we had an A/C adapter without batteries, and they now have a system where you return the unit to the car attendant, not to any station, with no need to mail them back as was the older situation.  In fact, I saw the young man at the Seattle Station load some sturdy, empty containers onto the train, evidently for car attendants to input the returned units for return to the proper station.  It seems to me that this is an excellent value considering all the personnel and station kiosks needed for the operation to work.

Further thoughts about the DigEPlayer.

Back in our room after wine tasting, I discovered that Sue's DigEPlayer had frozen in the middle of her second movie.  I mentoned this to Faziel, our car attendant, and he exchanged our unit for another one.  I guess they have extras onboard for the trip.  However, we mentoned we were not through watching the movie and asked if we should just fast-forward to get to where we left off.  He said that earlier customers had said you cannot stop the fast forward, which we found to be true.  Strike One.

After starting another movie, I returned to the room before dinner and plugged my computer into the same power bar and the DigEPlayer's screen went black!  Another movie partially watched with no ability to get to the spot where the screen went black.  Strike Two.

I listened to part of a song and the pause and start button worked on it, so I started the second movie again and we decided to let the unit run the movie where we could glance now and then to see when it got to the spot it had died earlier.  We planned to pause it there, go to dinner, if that time came, and restart it later.  Rather than leaving it plugged into my power bar, I plugged it directly into the socket above the sink in our outlet which is not available in the Roomette.  What a hastle.  We felt that anyone that actually paid money to rent a unit would surely be disappointed at this point.  We're still willing to give it a third chance before turning it in as a lost cause. 

Later I check back in the room with Sue and she had succeeded in having the movie play through to the spot where it had frozen, and finished the movie.  Good thing this was a two-day train ride because she had to do the same for the second movie.

My recommendation to you is, if you want to try this player, before you sign it out, have the Location Manager demonstrate to you that the fast forward does actually stop within a movie and let you resume playing the movie.  If they can't get your unit to work properly, ask for one that works or, don't check one out, or check it out only for the music, which does pause and resume playing.

I saw another passenger  checking in her unit in at the end of her trip and asked how it worked for her.  She said, "Fine," which is contrary to our experience and evidently other's experience if our car attendant already knew of the fast-forward problem on some, or all units.

Our Southbound Coast Starlight journey.

Always curious, when riding on the Coast Starlight, we wondered if we'd have a Vintage Parlour Car or a refurbished Sightseer/Lounge Car as a Parlour Car.  Seeing this nameplate, or lack of one, I knew it was the Vintage  Parlour Car  #39972.  It is my hope that this car is due for a trip to Beech Grove!
Looking like a recently waxed 1957 Chevy, the local commuter train in Seattle, sits after morning arrival.

Leaving the Seattle Station on the Coast Starlight, you literally pass under the edge of both the Mariners and Seahawks stadiums.  In fact, if you watch Mariners home games on TV, you often hear train horns ... music to railfans' ears.

Loco #465 was paired with an older Amtrak trainset at the Seattle Station, but you can see how it would match the design of the trainset at right.

After boarding, and getting our electornic toys plugged in using my power bar for the one plugin by the window above the couch, I ventured to the Parlour Car from our Ohio [1432] Car accommodations.  This meant going through Pennsylvania [1431] and New Hampshire [1430] to get there.  Sue dislikes walking the train while it is jostling side to side to get to the diner, but I told her that after a meal she, "Only has to walk to Ohio to get to our room."  As we walked past most of the cars to get to 1432 when we boarded, I noticed that this train had a Vintage Parlour Car in the consist.  The only way I would have known it was a Parlour car is that I recognized the curved upper windows, and the spot where the Parlour Car Logo used to be!  New passengers have no idea what the car is from the outside.  Hopefully, this Parlour Car [39972] is one of them yet to be refurbished, and a new decal will be applied.   Romy was the attendant for the first shift in the Parlour Car, and he served me orange juice and coffee and pointed me in the direction of the poppy seed muffins.  The 6 swivel chairs were occupied, and one couple was at the center couches.

The comfortable chair end of the Parlour Car
The booth end of the Parlour Car

Couches in the center of the Parlour Car.
Romy on duty in the Parlour Car in the morning.

Tacoma, Washington

We left Seattle at the scheduled time:  9:45 a.m. and were soon in the Tacoma, WA, area with the stop there at the scheduled time of 10:30 a.m.  According to the Route Guide:

Tacoma is the "City of Destiny" because of the sawmills and lumber all along McCarver St., today Tacoma remains a major seaport city and its port is the sixth largest container port in North America, covering over 2,400 acres.  It ranks in the top 25 for international container trade.  Beyond the city, the train follows Commencement Bay - in the southeast arm of Pugest Sound - through the Tacoma Narrows.  The Olympic Mountains rise from the far side of Puget Sound.

Pierce County Ferry


It was enjoyable riding along the water in the morning with good light for photography.  I observed a high level Interstate Highway bridge, Pierce County ferry and ocean-going vessels (above). 

In the Parlour Car, the table closest to the bar can be used as a computer table if you bring an extension cord.  You can plug in at the eye-level outlet on the wall behind the bar and run your cord over the first glass partition to keep your computer going.  I visited with a couple from Australia who spoke of the railroad system there.  They have two cross-country trains:  the North-South Ghan which is new within the last 10 years, and the East-West India-Pacific (because it runs from the Indian Ocean to the Pacific Ocean.)  He says train tracks in the middle of the country are straight and level because they run through desert.  They liked the Amtrak System here in the US.

On-time Performance.

We were no more than 13 minutes late for any of the stops; Tacoma, Olympia, Centralia, Kelso-Longview, and Vancouver.  At Vancouver, the power went off for 20  minutes as we sat next to the yard and no announcement was made.  I looked out our window, on the inside of the curve, and could see a BNSF switch engine and 2 crewmen attaching 4 single-level cars.  I learned later that they were "part of the BNSF fleet," not Amtrak cars.  This meant that we were now a train of 2 Genesis engines and 15 cars; 9 of which were for Amtrak passengers and the others being the 4 cars just added, the baggage car and the transition sleeper for the crew.  After twenty minutes to add the four BNSF coaches, we were on our way and were able to meet Portland's in and out schedule as advertised.  We were still within 10 minutes at the stations of Salem, OR, Albany, and early into Eugene.

Considering we were only one hour late coming into Seattle on our northbound journey, this was an excellent start southbound.  One Australian gentleman that I talked with in the Parlour Car mentioned that he didn't understand all the fuss about on-time performance.  I guess if you call 800-Amtrak and ask Julie about the arrival time, you won't be disappointed if the train is late.  For those travelling long distances to meet the train, being off on the arrival time could make for long waits.

Our lunch time was called and we made our way to the diner. (The Dining Car Attendant will come through the sleepers giving out lunch times before he heads to the coaches.  They start lunch about 11:30.)  We dined with a couple from Emeryville, CA. They were somewhat world travelers, and we enjoyed the dinner conversation.

Lookout Point Reservoir above Eugene- Springfield has a very low water level.
Long shadows reached beyond our train and into the Reservoir as the sun set.
The following day, in California, we passed a salt farm.

Wine tasting takes place about 3:00 pm each day, or just after a station stop where car attendants must man the doors.  Today it was just after San Luis Obispo.  Sleeping car attendants conducted the wine tasting.  Fazel pours white wine (right).

Towana Dossett, Car Attenant in 1431, enjoyed conversation with 4 separate pcople heading for class reunions, some to their 20th and some to their 50th.

Cuesta Pass where you can see Hwy. 101 across the gulch, as we progress very slowly because of tunnels, curves and grade percentage limitations.
A biker reaches the top of the trail from San Luis Obispo.

A water tank, cattle, and a barbed wire fence make a pastoral view from the Coast Starlight heading down the Cuesta Grade into San Luis Obispo.

Above San Luis Obispo, the Coast Starlight comes through some Horseshoe curves.  This photo from the curved high window in the Parlour Car shows the 4 BNSF cars added in Vancouver, OR.

The high trestle heading into San Luis Obispo can be seen clearly from the train as we come downgrade.
On the horseshoe curve, since we were in the first sleeper, behind the baggage and transition sleeper, we couldn't see much of the front of the train.
On the horseshoe, we could see much of the back of the Coast Starlight made longer this day by the 4 BNSF cars.

Wine Tasting

Soon after lunch, wine tasting was announced, so I made my way back to the Parlour Car to taste 2 whites and a red wine, with sliced cheeses and crackers, complimentary for Sleeping Car passengers.  Tasting with me was David who was on his way to Palm Springs.  He's a salmon fisherman out of Tacoma, WA, who fishes in Alaska off Ketchican, Juneau, and Sitka.  He says last year was not a good year for fishermen, but this summer has been great.  He had upgraded from coach to a roomette, through his car attendant, to L.A.   He was pleasantly surprised to know his roomette included wine tasting, use of the Parlour Car, and all meals in the diner.  We tasted Tin Roof Savignon Blanc, Petite Sirah by Parducci, and Mirassoil's Riesling.

The Parlour Car became too warm to be an enjoyable place to work or sightsee, so I returned to the room where the temperature was comfortable.

The San Luis Obispo stop is a Crew change/fresh aire stop and I stepped off specifically to take photos of the 4 BNSF cars on the back of our Coast Starlight.






FRED, (right), consistently and without complaining, works as the Flashing Rear End Device.

Above left, the sun was low in the west, coming into the Parlour Car through the side windows, illuminating the rich leather and wood interior of the car, as we passed Vandenberg AFB on the left and the Pacific Ocean on the right.  As I sat alone in the Parlour car, I thought that if I didn't know better, I'd think it was 1950.  Nothing inside nor outside the Parlour Car could be used to prove otherwise. 

Eventually it got so dark in the Parlour car (above, right), that I couldn't see my computer keyboard.  I did notice, before I left for the room, the nice light fixtures as they lighted the car's framework between the curved upper windows.

As we turned due east near Gaviota Pass, where the California Coast runs east-west, each turn turn we made allowed those of us on the ocean-side of the train to see more of the setting sun over the Pacific.

It was difficult for me and other passengers not to keep photographing the Pacific sunset since sunsets change every second and each turn of the train presented a new coastal scene.

5:48 p.m.
5:48 p.m. I wanted a telephone pole in the picture to prove I was on the Coast Starlight.
5:49 p.m.
5:49 p.m.  The palm trees authenticates that it is Southern California.

With nightfall, I returned to the room to continue working on this report.  Our stop before Oxnard for a freight to be repaired to get it off the main line had made us too late to meet Surfliner #596 which leaves L.A. at 10:10.  This meant all those on the Coast Starlight would take the Amtrak Bus to their final destination if it was beyond Los Angeles.  This included us, headed for Fullerton, and others beyond that to San Diego.

The bus can be met beyond baggage claim, and we boarded quickly after help from a Red Cap with a cart to handle our luggage.  When checked luggage was put on the bus, we headed south.  Seemed uneventful until Buena Park where I-5 was closed!  There was a detour down Knott Avenue to 91 where we continued east to Fullerton.  We got home about midnight, a little more than an hour late, but those going to  San Diego would get there some time tomorrow.

We felt it was our best Coast Starlight trip to Seattle ever, on the "Longest Oceanview Train Ride in America."