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Returning to Fullerton after the TRAC2006 Conference

Train Riders' Association of California (TRAC)

(and publishers of California Rail News)

California Rail 2020 Conference, November 4, 2006 

Returning from the Conference by Rail to Fullerton (Orange County), on the Coast Starlight.

(Click any photo below to see a double-sized copy, click BACK in your browser to return to this page.)


Looking forward to more time in my "Office Without a ZIP Code" (a roomette on the Coast Starlight) I checked out of the Oakland Marriott and took a taxi, complete with "Chants from the Minaret" on the Muslim taxi driver's radio, to the Amtrak Station (OKJ).  I'd checked online and found that the train would be about 25 minutes late, but I still continued on the schedule I'd decided upon the previous evening.  I left my 2 pieces of luggage with the Head Bellman and went to the Marriott's restaurant for buffet breakfast, concluding that the train would not be serving breakfast when it arrived in OKJ.  (This was a good move since by the time I finally did get on the train, it was only 45 minutes until lunch service would begin in the diner.)

Upon arrival at OKJ, I learned that the train would arrive at 10:15, more time had been lost.  I continued writing this report on my laptop, and it really didn't matter whether I was on the train or not.  I moved outside in the 70ish degree sunshine and sat on a bench for what I thought would be the last half hour of my wait.  UP freights with auto carriers and others with mixed freight moved past the station as well as many California Amtrak commuter trains.  The last couple of minutes on the bench, Gary Hess, Amtrak Customer Service Manager, sat down and we discussed the new President (which he was optimistic about), the future of the Parlour Car on the Coast Starlight, and he mentioned that he and nine others would be riding the Coast Starlight for the next 2 or 3 months trying to evaluate and improve service.  As to the Parlour Car, he said that even East Coast passengers are mentioning it even though it has no advertising there.  He said all the sleeping car passengers he had talked with had either been non-commital or positive about the car and Amtrak knows that removing them would be detrimental.  However, the cost of refurbishing the 50+ year old cars' air conditioning is a factor. 

The Coast Starlight did arrive on time and the car attendant of 1431, Paul, said I'd been moved from room 5 to 3, "Still on the ocean side," which I accepted without comment.  He took my suitcase and stored it on the upper shelf of the lower level luggage compartment as I requested.  As I took my computer bag up to my room, the Conductor announced that they would be "turning off the power and adding a private car."  I asked Paul if it would be a problem if I walked to the end of the train to photograph this addon, then step on the coach car to return to my room and he said, "No Problem."  I did this and found that the addon car was the Silver Lariat, unoccupied, headed for Los Angeles.  It was put in place by an Amtrak switch engine.  I got sufficient photos, after Train 11 moved up a bit to clear the switch at the north end of the station,  reboarded, and was back in my room before we left the station at 10:55 (2 hrs. 5 min. late). 


This lateness could translate into being bussed from Santa Barbara (if the tunnel work between there and LA is still being done and the tunnel is being closed at night) to Fullerton making me at least 2 hrs. late for my scheduled 10:45 p.m. arrival.  My wife and daughter have placed a car at the station for me, so the arrival time is insignificant.

At lunch, which started at the San Jose stop, where I saw many of the commuter trains I'd heard of at the TRAC Conference:  Altamont Commuter Express (ACE), CalTrain, and Amtrak California, I was seated with a young newlywed from Los Felix, and a couple from Brea, California.


The same train and crew that brought me to Oakland, are taking me back to LALA Land, so Gus and Kirk in the diner, Hakto in car 1430 were all familiar faces.

About 1:30, as we approached Salinas, we stopped in the middle of an artichoke patch and I went for a cup of coffee (available at the top of the stairs of each sleeper car).  As I was returning to room 3, Gary Hess, Amtrak passed me and I asked how it was going.  He said, "I just want to see why we're not going."  Soon thereafter the Conductor announced over the P.A. that he had to walk ahead of the train to check that a switch was correctly aligned.

Salinas at 1:55 [11:48] allowed 5 minutes to step off.  I remembered there was a steam engine here and I quickly found, and photographed it.  On the platform, the Conductor asked if he'd collected my ticket yet, and I said no.  He said he'd be by to get it, which he did when we were under way.  Wondering how late we'd  have to be, to be bussed from Santa Barbara because of the aforementioned tunnel work,  I asked Attendant Paul.  He said if we got to Oxnard by 8 we'd be ok.  I saw that meant only 1 hr. late and we were then 2 hrs. late, we'll see, but the handwriting is on the wall.  I'd better keep on this report because that cuts 2 1/2 hrs. off my computer work time since nothing can be done of the bus.


3 p.m. Wine Tasting in the Parlour Car.

At wine tasting, I spoke with Gary Hess, Customer Service Manager for Amtrak (who was NOT partaking of the wine, by the way).  He appreciated what and TRAC have done and are doing, giving critical evaluations of our travel experiences to our readers through our website and being advocates for passenger rail service throughout the state (TRAC).  He spoke extensively with those seated in the center couches in the Parlour Car and as he moved on through the car, I invited him to sit with me at a table .  He related that this is his first time to be on this train because his job had not yet taken him out here.  He's only been with Amtrak 7+ years.  He  thought the 'problem with the Coast Starlight,' before he arrived was the crews.  However, after having been on the route a month, and with 2 or 3 months to go, he says he has found all the crews he's ridden with to be very good.  (I agreed that this crew is excellent, and working in an efficient and friendly mode even though duties have been added to their original job descriptions.)  He agreed.  He thought that training may be an area which could be improved, allowing the new employees to become true customer service oriented.  He thought perhaps letting them shadow the veterans on this crew would be good, but on the other hand is concerned that the LSA's might leave because of the work load, as many others have done.  He invited me to send him information related to Amtrak, and he would pass it on.  One positive change that has taken place is the placement of Passenger Service above Transportation in the federal scheme of things.  His e-mail is

This crew seems to take dinner reservations at wine tasting.  I asked to see the reservations sheet and counted a possible 48 slots for dinner broken down into 15 minute intervals from 5:15 to 6:45 p.m., with 2 or 3 tables used per 15 minute interval.

Kirk, again served the wine.  He is asked quite a few questions during this time, and seems to be knowledgeable about times of arrival, reasons for delays, and even gave information as to why private rail cars were attached to Amtrak trains.

One wine he served was by TIN ROOF Winery.  "Tin Roof" referring to the metal closure on top of the bottle!

We were still enjoying the end of the wine tasting in the Parlour Car as we descended Cuesta Grade into San Luis Obispo, with the former California Zephyr, Silver Lariat (right) tagging along.

The Men's Colony (prison) at SLO in the foreground, and one of the trail of ancient volcano cones between SLO and Morro Bay block the setting sun.

In case you want to keep track of the time and date at the San Luis Obispo Station, while you stretch on the platform during the crew change, take a picture of the time/date sign.  All that is missing is the temperature.

DSC00589%20copy.jpgI returned to my 'office' and continued work on this report.  I had taken a 6:45 pm dinner reservation, but the last call I heard was for 6 pm.  I finally, at 7:10 went through the parlour car to the diner and asked if they'd stopped calling reservations.  They seated me immediately.  Perhaps the P.A. system had quit working, but then the car attendant should have been notified to remind people to go at their appointed time, but no such communication came.  I had an excellent dinner of roasted 1/2 chicken, steamed broccoli (or carrots), baked potato and a soft drink.  My table partners from Simi Valley, enjoyed their meal as well.

During the day I had heard that the aforementioned tunnel work did not take place on Sunday and Monday nights.  Since this was Monday, we continued all the way to Los Angeles.  We were about 2 hours late all the way through Van Nuys, but arrived at LAUS only about an hour late.  This gave us about 20 minutes to step off the Coast Starlight and onto the 10:10 Surfliner that continues all the way to San Diego. 

Reminder:  If you want to use the Coast Starlight to enjoy the "longest ocean view train ride in America," you have to leave L.A. northbound.  Southbound you get to San Luis Obispo about sunset during winter months and you reach the coastline 1 1/2 hours after that, meaning all you see of the coast are the lights on the oil platforms out at sea after dark.  So, plan your trip on the Coast Starlight to be from L.A. in the morning and you'll reach Oxnard, where the ocean view starts, about lunch time, and have ocean view all the way to the Pismo Beach area south of San Luis Obispo, over 100 miles of ocean view.  If you see an Amtrak advertisement showing the train traveling along an ocean cliff, it was probably taken on this route.

Getting there cost $345.20 for the Coast Starlight round trip Los Angeles to Oakland Jack London Station.  That includes a 10% Senior discount (62+) and 95.20 for the rail portion, plus $250 for the roomette.  Additionally, it costs $18 to ride the Surfliner from Fullerton to Los Angeles where the Coast Starlight originates.

Next year's California Rail 2020 Conference will be in San Diego!  Join TRAC now and receive the California Rail News during the year and learn about the 2007 conference details.  Click TRAC above to join and learn about the organization, or write to 1008 Tenth Street, #276, Sacramento, CA  95814, or call 916-557-1667 or email:

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