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First Run of the San Diego Metroliner 4/29/1984

by Chris Guenzler

It was another Amtrak timetable change but on the Santa Fe's Coast Line, Amtrak was going to experiment with a new concept in corridor service on the West Coast. A limited express type of train with only two stops between Los Angeles and San Diego. Those stops would be at Anaheim and Del Mar. It would be on the fastest schedule in years on the San Diegan Line and would be patterned after the highly successful Metroliner service between New York City and Washington, DC. I was eager to be on the first run to try it out so a few days before the train's first run, I purchased a one way ticket to Los Angeles, a San Diego Metroliner ticket to San Diego and a one way ticket back to Santa Ana. The day came and I drove to the Amtrak Station on 4th Street in Santa Ana and took train 583 to Los Angeles on my usual type trip. We arrived in Los Angeles on track10 and sitting on track # 9 was a three car train waiting for me to board.

San Diego Metroliner First Ever Southbound Run 580 4/29/1984

I walked across the platform to a cheerful car attendant who welcomed me aboard. On the side of the car it read Metroliner Service. Inside a couple of Amtrak officials greeted me before I took a seat of the right hand side of the car with a large window to enjoy the ocean views later on in the trip. Another car attendant then greeted me and told me the features of the service. I was offered roast beef finger sandwiches and a choice of a drink so I had a CC and seven. I was on my third finger sandwich when the train pulled out of Los Angeles Union Station on time as the conductor pulled my ticket. We passed Terminal Tower as I was offered another drink and by the time we had curved onto the Santa Fe rails at Mission Tower, the drink was in my hand.

We ran along the west bank of the Los Angeles River and ducked under the 101 Freeway. The old Santa Fe freight yard and the freight house were off on the right side of the train before we passed by the 8th Street Coach Yards. The Los Angeles River bed is concrete lined with various types of graffiti all over the east bank and as I looked down there are people bathing in the river's water. We slowed down as we came to the Redondo Jct. Roundhouse where the Amtrak power is serviced. We slowed down to twenty for the crossing of the Union Pacific guarded by the Redondo Jct Tower before rounding the very sharp curve to reach the bridge over the Los Angeles River. The train crawled through the industries including the UPS facility before reaching Hobart Tower which protects the crossing of the UP's Harbor Line. The train began to pick up speed as it ran along the southside of Hobart Yard, Santa Fe's main LA yard. The train passed the fertilizer plant seen in that Bandini Hill Skiing commercial. We sped under the Long Beach Freeway before we passed the Levar Brothers Warehouse right before crossing over the I 5 Freeway. The train now running at track speed passed between all the track side industries before crossing over the Rio Hondo. The Pico Rivera yard was next along the route before we passed the houses prior to crossing the San Gabriel River. We passed DT Junction located right under the 605 Freeway before we crossed the Southern Pacific (ex PE) line and made a big turn to the south to reach Santa Fe Springs with it's oil wells and refineries. The tracks made another curve to the southeast at Norwalk before passing the large oil tanks on the way to La Mirada where the tracks head below ground with a small freight yard. The train crossed Coyote Creek to enter Orange County then crossed Beach Blvd. The train made a beeline to Basta passing the Fullerton Airport along the way. At Basta, the train crossed the UP's Anaheim Branch before heading directly east to the Fullerton Station which we for the first time in my train riding career don't stop at. We didn't even slowed down. I was now on my sixth sandwich and third CC as the train left the 3rd District for the rails of Santa Fe's 4th District. We ran beneath the Riverside Freeway before reaching Anaheim siding and flying by it. We sped through Anaheim before slowing for the SP crossing before we crossed both State College and over Katella Ave. to arrive at our first stop of Anaheim located at the north end of the parking lot Anaheim Stadium, which we paused briefly at.

Leaving Anaheim, the train passed under the 57 Freeway before crossing the Santa Ana River which is the worst flood threat west of the Mississippi River. The train passed through the light industries before making the turn south at the junction with the Olive District, passing the old orange packing houses and then the old Orange Santa Fe station. The train crossed Chapman Ave. with the Orange Circle four blocks east prior to passing through the residential neighborhood of Orange. The train next passed under the 22 Freeway before crossing Santiago Creek. The train next ran along Lincoln Ave. passing through my neighborhood and where I watch the trains go by. The train crossed 17th Street before bridging the I 5 Freeway then curving crossing 4th Street and flying past the Santa Ana train station. It was really weird not stopping in Santa Ana for the first time in my life as every other trip either started or ended there.

The train took the 40 mph curve right after Chestnut Street, before the engineer opened the throttle up and in minutes we were racing along at 90 mph. The train ducked under the 55 Freeway before crossing Red Hill Ave. The train is on a slight downgrade to Peters Canyon Wash and off to the right are two blimp hangers, one of which is the world's largest wooden structure. The train was now on what was the Irvine Ranch which is now the planned city of Irvine. The train keeps up it's high rate of speed as it crossed both Jamboree and Culver Ave. The train then entered the orange groves which Orange County was once so famous for. We flew by Valencia siding before crossing Sand Canyon Road and another packing house. We passed beneath the I 5 Freeway and off to the left is the El Toro Marine Base. We start up a short hill still doing 90 mph and passed between subdivisions of EL Toro. We dipped for a moment to cross Alisio Creek before finishing the grade and heading over the other side. We ducked under both La Paz Road and the I 5 Freeway heading straight down the valley. We sped by Galivan siding before crossing Trabuco Creek with Orange Groves on both sides of the creek and heading straight through San Juan Capistrano with its fabled mission and old town. This is the place the Swallows return to every year. At the south end of town we crossed San Juan Creek and slid through the "S" curve as more finger sandwiches and another drink arrived. At Serra siding I looked up and saw a northbound Amtrak 585 train waiting for us to clear the mainline. We crossed over the Pacific Coast Highway after the south end of Serra and took the 40 mph curve and off to the right is the Pacific Ocean.

Starting south along the beach we first passed Doheny State Beach as we ran along the bottom of the bluffs. We went pass a private community before a beach side mobile home neighborhood prior to reaching North Beach San Clemente.

We started our shoreline running rounding a point where the tracks are right against the bluffs and only the rocks protect the tracks from the crashing waves of the Pacific Ocean. The elevation of the tracks here is only fourteen feet above Sea Level.

We rounded the bend into San Clemente, where we slide through doing only 40 mph due to a local law, with the pier jetting out into the blue Pacific. We continued our beach running with the houses either high on the bluffs or in a valley right next to the tracks with the beach to the west. South of here, the train passed through San Clemente State Beach before rounding another point to County Line so we entered San Diego County. The train crossed San Mateo Creek on a trestle made famous in the Beach Boy song Surfin USA. We train through the wetlands before rounding a point and crossing San Onofre Creek. We passed the USMC Del Mar Beach campground before climbing up onto the bluff to San Onofre with it's siding before passing the twin dome reactors of San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station. The twin domes are nicknamed Dolly Parton by the train crews. With the train back up to 90 mph, the I 5 is running to our east with San Onofre State Beach Campground located on the old highway. We passed the Border Checkpoint on I 5 before entering Camp Pendleton Marine Base crossing beneath I 5 again. The old highway runs alongside to the west and we ducked under a tank bridge before descending to Los Pulgas Creek. We sped away from it under another tank bridge before flying across the Stuart Mesa with agricultural pursuits taking place on the base. We crossed the Santa Margarita River on a truss bridge before passing through Fallbrook Junction where the original Santa Fe mainline used to connect before it was washed out forever and the Surf Line was built in 1888. We leave Camp Pendleton, pass Oceanside Harbor before crossing the San Luis Rey River and entered Oceanside. We flew by downtown, the pier and passed the Santa Fe Station and siding again not stopping, before we reached Escondido Junction with a twenty one mile branch to it's namesake city. We passed the small Loma Lagoon and creek before the neighborhoods of homes and crossing the Buena Vista Lagoon before flying through Carlsbad at 90 mph past it's Santa Fe station. We sped onward crossing the Agua Herronda Lagoon before running along the bluff to Ponto where in the siding was another northbound Santa Fe freight train waiting on us. We next crossed the Batiquitos Lagoon before speeding through Lecaudia, Encinitas and Cardiff by the Sea. We crossed the San Elijo Lagoon and then pass Solana Beach to the crossing of the San Dieguritos River, past the world's famous Del Mar Race Track before arriving in Del Mar, our next station stop.

Leaving Del Mar, it was another drink along with a few more finger sandwiches as we crossed Coast Highway and ran along the edge of the bluffs with the homes to the east and a cliff to the west. We curved under the Coast Highway and started running up the Sorrento Valley crossing the wetlands first. We flew by Sorrento siding where the 90 mph running ended. We slowed down for the twisting and turning grade of Miramar Hill. We ducked under I 5, started our way up the grade and looking out the window you could see the front of the train on the numerous curves. It's a short but steep 2.2 percent grade as the tracks climb steadily away from the creek below. We rounded the last curve then went under Miramar Road to a section of double track down Rose Canyon. The canyon was still wild with only a few home projects closing in on it. We picked up speed down the straight tracks of the canyon until the curves and the end of the double track at Elvira. We twisted our way down the rest of the canyon until it opened up and San Diego was down the hill before us. We sped along the straight tracks with Mission Bay off to the west before we crossed the San Diego River. We gained double track again at Old Town ducked underneath I 5 one last time, passed the old Consolidated Aircraft plant and then to the east of San Diego International Airport before we arrived on the house track eight minutes early at the Santa Fe Depot built in 1915 in a Mission Revival Style. I stepped off the first ever San Diego Metroliner and my fastest trip ever down the Santa Fe Coast line. I wasn't hungry after seventeen finger sandwiches and five CC's and Seven.

I waited patiently on the platform for my San Diegan 587 back to Santa Ana.