Coast Starlight from Los Angeles to Seattle, WA and back.
A long distance overnight train trip staying several nights in
a nice hotel in a leading city's downtown.
Our First Steps
Wednesday November 13, 2019
This Ending might be a little stinky.
Text and Photos by Robin Bowers
author retains all rights. No reproductions are allowed
without the author's consent
Comments are appreciated at...firstname.lastname@example.org
Our day started not long after
sunrise (the crack of dawn) and that found us packing the last
of the luggage and making sure we were on schedule to be at the
Santa Ana train station. At Santa Ana, we would board MetroLink
# 685 bound for Los Angeles Union Station. Once there, we
would depart at 10:10 AM on Amtrak's Starlight train #14 headed
for Seattle. Tomorrow night would find us in Seattle with
tonight being spent in a Roomette 14.
For the past several years,
I've wanted to celebrate my birthdays in a special way. One
thing I like to do among these is to stay a night in a special
hotel in a unique location. In 2007 I went to Seattle to attend
the Tutankhamun road show, spent several days there and stayed
at the Warwick Hotel, then on to the Izaak Walton Inn at Essex,
Montana. I made my first trip on the Starlight to get to
Seattle. Long acknowledged as one of Amtrak's most scenic
routes, I needed to find out for myself. It didn't disappoint. I
heard many good things from friends who had stayed at Izaak
Walton and would give me the opportunity to ride Amtrak's Empire
Builder. I thought this would cap off a great birthday
celebration for that year.
It was this past Autumn that
Amtrak was having a sleeping car sale with companion riding
free. I thought where could I travel to and who would be my
companion. After making a pro and con list, the location of
Seattle was chosen and for my traveling companion my long time
friend and buddy Russell Powers of Tulare in the central valley
of California. One of the few who could be away from home for an
extended time, Russell was interested but was having mobility
issues of late. A bum knee slows his walking. After deciding he
was able to make the trip, I made the reservations with Amtrak
and Warwick and bought the train tickets.
This past Sunday Russell
boarded San Joaquin's train 712 in Hanford ( HNF) at noon and I
picked him up at the Santa Ana station six hours later. It is
now several days later and here we are arriving at the Santa Ana
train station for a great birthday travel adventure.
Morning traffic was heavy but
we arrived at Santa Ana as scheduled. After finding an empty
space near the front exit of the parking structure, we
proceeded inside the station. Our first stop was at the
security office where I gave the guard my car information,
how long we would be gone and my phone number. There was no
charge. Next it was to the Metrolink ticket vending machine to
buy two one-way tickets to Los Angeles. Then it was across the
tracks to the platform on the other side. Time was running out
so we increased our step and arrived five minutes before our
train arrived. #685 arrived on time at 8:25 am with arrival in
Los Angeles one hour later. Our train made all the stops picking
up many commuters but we arrived as scheduled, which meant we
would be good for the Starlight. Arriving at Union Station has
the unknown fact that you never know what track or platform they
will put you on. Hopefully today the distance between our two
platforms will not be great. Now when we arrived I didn't see
the Coast Starlight so did not have a clue as to where to
proceed. We left the train and stood on the platform and waited
about ten minutes before it was announced that #14 would be
arriving at our platform on the other side. What good luck.
Never had a transfer so close, be it trains or planes. Our
sleeping car stopped about one-and-a-half cars in front of us so
it was a short walk to our car and our greeting car attendant.
Loco for #685 Metrolink train from Santa Ana.
Our Metrolink on right and # 14 Starlight on left.
Train # 14.
Our sleeping car with our room the middle window lower
After Roger greeted us, he
then showed us where to put the bags and pointed out where our
Roomette was located. After we stowed the big bags, we took our
backpacks to the room and settled in. All there is space for is
your bedclothes, toothbrush and a change for tomorrow clothes.
There is only one electric outlet, so if you need to charge a
few items bring an extension cord or a power strip. I had my
computer plus camera battery to charge plus my phone and
Russell's phone. I then grabbed my camera and stepped out on the
platform to take few pics. Looking at the consist I then
realized the beach and ocean view were on the other side of the
train as we were on the engineer's side. After returning to the
room, soon we were slowly and quietly pulling away from the
platform. Once underway, Roger came by to answer questions and
acquaint us with the ins and outs of sleeper travel. He also
presented us with packet several important and useful
information papers. Included was a copy of the Coast Starlight
timetable that Amtrak, in its wisdom, has now stopped printing.
That was most helpful in tracking our route. Also included was a
history of Union Station, points of interest along the Cascade
Line, a map of the Coast Starlight's route from Los
Angeles to Seattle, the dining car menu and an information
sheet listing meal times and the fresh air-smoke stops, of which
were of great interest to Russell.
Special note: The Average Train Speed
between Seattle and LA is 38 mph. First time a
sleeping car attended has given me this helpful information.
When I was planning this trip I said that
when we crossed the LA River I could relax and I did just that.
Shortly later after leaving, we crossed the Los Angeles River.
Everything had worked as planned and now nothing was scheduled
but to be at the Seattle train station next Monday morning. So
far its been mostly green lights with the rest yellow. After
about ten minutes we were passing the Glendale station. It was
from here about forty years back that Russell and I along with
his then seven year old son boarded train #14 for San Luis
Obispo and a tour of Hearst Castle.
On our lower level only one roomette and the
family room were unoccupied so we were able to go in the family
room (which was next door) to see the beach and ocean and take a
couple of pics.
North of Venture.
When the dining room host
came around taking lunch reservations, Russell asked if we could
eat in our room. He was unsure if he could do the stairs to get
to the diner. She said no problem and told Roger to get our
delivery time. About a hour later Roger delivered our lunch.
What great service!
Russell preparing his Romaine & Goat Cheese Salad with grilled
chicken breast. Served on white table cloth.
After lunch we had a smoke
stop at Santa Barbara. It was good to get in the fresh air and
sunshine. Our next stop would be San Luis Obispo as we continue
northbound along the California coast.
Refugio State Beach
Private beach and ranch owned by millionaires where trespassers
and public very much not welcome.
Vandenberg Air Force Base launch tower.
Vandenberg has an especially built long runway for the space
shuttle but was never used.
When I knew our travel dates
I texted my sister to let here know when I would be in her
neighborhood. She lives 30 minutes away and said she would meet
us in SLO. As we neared SLO we held and waited. This was a
meeting point of the north and south bound trains. When the
second train arrives then it waits till the first one leaves as
there is only one platform. As we waited Debs texted that the
south bound train was at the station now. When it left we
proceeded to the station and meet my sister.
My sis, Dr. Debs.
We has a nice but short visit and it had been ages since Russell
and Debs have seen each other. Leaving SLO we quickly approached
the Cuesta curve.
Men's penal colony at San Luis Opispo in background from the
On the Cuesta a little after 5pm.
After the Cuesta, we went by
Templeton and then a stop in Paso Robles with the next stop
after being in about two hours in Salinas.
We had just boarded after a
smoke stop in Salinas and were relaxing in our room discussing
what to order for dinner. Earlier in the afternoon when the
dining host was taking diner reservations, Russell decided he
could do the stairs to the upper level and the dinning car so
we made a reservation for the 7 pm seating. It was about ten
minutes until we would be called for dinner when a loud sound
came from the floor of our room followed next by another. We
looked at each other and said "What the???" The room floor is
only a foot or so above the roadbed. Soon the train began to
slow down, the smell of burnt brake shoe was overpowering and
then everyone was looking out of their room to find out what
was going on. Everyone looked okay and the car was still
upright and no damage found. I told Russell we should think
about what we would need if we should have to evacuate quickly
as we didn't know the condition on the other cars on the
Then it was announced that an incident
occurred and the conductor was outside walking the consist to
check for damage. Then the dining car announced the call for our
7 pm seating. Although having lost our appetite, we decided go
ahead with dinner. Russell was successful in tackling the stairs
and soon we were seated at a table and were joined by another
couple, all us were a bit shook up and a stiff drink was the
order of the day. Everyone in the diner was talking about the
incident, with stories, rumors and such. Some were listing to
the crew talk on the radio and something about hitting a
tanker truck was the chatter. The wait staff wanted everyone to
order now because there was chance the power would be cut
of, they would not be able to cook any food and we might
have to eat in the dark even if the food was cooked. Well
the power stayed on and we ate our dinner. Then the conductor
came into diner and made the announcement that we did hit a
tanker truck that went around the crossing arm and was hit. He
said this was the tragic outcome of trying to beat the train at
a crossing. The coroner was being called so we would be here for
awhile. This would cause a minimum three hour wait. Later we
learned that it was a tanker truck that services porta- potties,
many located here in middle of the Salinas lettuce fields.
Needless to say there were many jokes made about "honey buckets.
After we all finished eating, we then hung
around talking when the first responders arrived to check on the
medical condition of passengers. Several ladies' hearts went
a-flutter when they walked through the car. One smelled like a
walking campfire. The older lady in the accessible bedroom
complained of several aches and pains. She was told they could
take her to the hospital in Monterey. but declined and would
wait till she arrived in Sacramento. I guess she didn't want to
be stuck in Monterey. We returned to our room to relax as we had
a bed and food available, so we could stay here for awhile with
no problems. Later Moses, the cafe attendant, made an
announcement about many questions he had been asked. Among them
was could they get off the train. NO. There was no platform and
we were located in the middle of lettuce fields with no nearby
services. Looking out the window, you saw darkness with a very
few lights in the distance.
Approximate location of wreck. Click for Map
As the evening wore on,
we decided to call it a day and had the beds made up. We
hadn't moved and Roger had no new info, so we went to sleep
not knowing where we would be located upon waking in the
Thanks for reading.
Text and Photos by Author
author retains all rights. No reproductions are
allowed without the author's consent.