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By Jack M. Turner

Following an overnight in Albuquerque I enjoyed a morning walk around the convention center, where my son John competed in the International Science and Engineering Fair in 2007, and the surrounding area.  The Southwest Chief rolled in on schedule and I settled into roomette 4 in sleeping car 32019 which was located right in front of the dining car.  With 45 minutes until departure, I was able to browse at some of the handicrafts sold by Navajo Indians on the platform and watch the washing of some of the train’s windows by a ground crew.


Inside the Albuquerque train station


The westbound Southwest Chief storms into Albuquerque on Setember 16, 2015


A worker washes coach windows during the stop in Albuquerque


A Rail Runner Express train loads in Albuquerque


Rail Runner engines in the yard at Albuquerque as seen from Amtrak # 3


The curved roof windows of the Sightseer lounge car easily can be seen in this photo

Engines 78 and 114 led the 9 car train westbound toward the colorful but mostly barren desert following our 4:48pm departure.  After passing through the Isleta Pueblo, we passed the point where the Rail Runner Express line to Belen branched off.  About 12 minutes later the BNSF mainline from Chicago via Amarillo and Belen joined at Dalies, clearly visible from my window on the train’s left side.  About this time I was summoned to the dining car, 30 minutes before my 5:30 dinner reservation and I enjoyed a delicious steak while observing several passing BNSF freight trains against a backdrop of interesting desert scenery.


Scenery between Albuquerque and Dalies


Western New Mexico offers many interesting formations


East of Gallup, NM the Southwest Chief passes desolate but scenic terrain


The Gallup station


Looking toward the head end of the Southwest Chief at Gallup


The brick platform at Gallup is a throwback to years past


A brilliant sunset west of Gallup


Interesting landforms near the New Mexico-Arizona border

Nocturnal views of Flagstaff evoked memories of family visits to the area with side trips to the spectacular Grand Canyon and Painted Desert National Parks, Sunset Crater Volcano and Wupatki National Monuments, and the scenic town of Sedona.  All are excellent destinations and Flagstaff is a great jumping off point with ample rental car and hotel options close to the railway station.  Fond memories of a March 2011 Southwest Chief trip when we encountered snow at the Grand Canyon reminded me of a special visit with my son as chronicled in my story “Spring break on Amtrak (Part 2): 5 Days on the Southwest Chief” (see link below).  Forty minutes later we paused at Williams Jct. where passengers bound for the Grand Canyon Railway and its convenient hotel would be picked up by a hotel shuttle van.  Again there were reminders of past trips in which we rode the Grand Canyon Railway and a pleasant stay in Williams in 2004.

Sleep was a valuable commodity this night but once obtained, it was deep and satisfying.  Knowing that we would likely arrive in Los Angeles early, my body seemed to go on autopilot as I awoke at 5:15am and promptly retreated to the dining car for an early breakfast,  We had just traversed Cajon Pass in the dark but a day of watching trains there many years ago plus daylight crossings on the erstwhile Desert Wind long ago, had satisfied my curiosity.  Train # 3 was only 7 minutes late at San Bernardino and Riverside both of which I would visit the next day.  The stop in Fullerton delayed us due to a snafu by the on board crew.  As we pulled away from a seemingly smooth station stop, a car attendant frantically advised the conductor via the PA system to stop the train.  When the train continued to move, he raised his voice and demanded: “Conductor, stop the train.  I have a wheelchair passenger to put off.  The ramp is still on the platform.”  At this point the train stopped but the result was a delay of several minutes.  Obviously someone was at fault and since the train originally stopped at Fullerton for 5 minutes, the car attendant would seem culpable for not having his passenger ready to detrain.  Nonetheless we arrived in Los Angeles Union Station early and my plans for the day were intact.

The primary objective of my three days in Los Angeles was to ride some commuter rail lines around southern California (So Cal) that I had never traversed and also attend three football games.  Thus about 45 minutes after arriving in LA, I was aboard Pacific Surfliner # 566 bound for Oceanside.  Having ridden to San Diego a few times in the past, I was excited to again enjoy the beachfront journey but the day’s main prize was a chance to ride the Sprinter line between Oceanside and Escondido. 

A window seat was secured in the business class coach “Franklin Park” located right behind Amtrak California engine # 462.  Shortly after our 8:30am departure we passed Amtrak’s Redondo yard and climbed the Redondo Flyover en route to our first stop in Fullerton at 9:03am.  My friend, TrainWeb author/photographer Carl Morrison, joined me at Fullerton which would have been hard to arrange without the modern convenience of texting since I originally had planned to be on the next train 85 minutes later.  At Anaheim, the Angels major league baseball stadium stood adjacent to the station then we barreled onward to our next stop in Santa Ana.  The modern transportation center amazed me as I recalled a much smaller depot where my wife and I detrained back in the mid-1980s.


Amtrak Pacific Surfliner # 566 at Los Angeles


Passing a Metrolink F59PI and other equipment departing LA Union Station


Unusual Metrolink equipment consist with an F59PI and a Hyundai Rotem cab control car


A Metrolink train branches north near Mission Tower


An Amtrak Surfliner car at the Amtrak yard at Redondo


Amtrak power at the Redondo engine shop


A variety of engines near the turntable at Redondo


Anaheim Stadium, home of the Angels, is adjacent to an Amtrak/Metrolink station

Near San Juan Capistrano we joined the Pacific coast at Dana Point and the views of the beaches were beautiful.  Despite a fairly benign surf, there was the usual cadre of surfers near the San Clemente Pier, Doheny, San Onofre, and various other popular spots.  A tsunami warning had been issued the night before due to an earthquake in Chile but luckily nothing had resulted.  Beyond Camp Pendleton my GPS noted we were at 155 feet elevation and traveling 82 mph.  Arrival in Oceanside at 10:28am allowed just enough time to catch an eastbound North Coast Transportation District Sprinter to Escondido just 5 minutes later.  The Sprinter platform is only a few steps from the Amtrak platform though unfamiliar Sprinter ticket vending machines can make close connections somewhat dicey.


Beachgoers camp at Dana Point where the Pacific Surfliner route joins the ocean


Surfers look for swells at Doheny


The tracks are only a few feet from the surf near Doheny


Approaching the San Clemente Pier on the Pacific Surfliner


The beach south of San Clemente Pier offers a scenic setting


A beachgoer watches surfers at San Clemente


Surfing is popular all along the California coast


A typical Pacific beach scene


San Onofre is another favorite surfing location
The two car articulated train displayed good ridership as it traveled over the 22 mile former San Diego Northern line.  Along the way the Sprinter made 13 intermediate stops between Oceanside and Escondido with stops approximately 2 to 5 minutes apart.  Train sets have a 226 passenger capacity and the trains are capable of traveling up to 55 mph.  A steep grade east of Rancho Del Oro led the train to an elevation of 358 feet after being just above sea level at Oceanside.  After cresting this hill the line descended beyond Melrose.  The Vista Transit Center displayed an attractive Spanish motif and we noted ample new development around the Palomar College stop, no doubt spurred on by this convenient transit option.  Beyond the San Marcos Civic Center stop we met the third westbound Sprinter of our 52 minute journey as trains depart end points on weekdays every 30 minutes on an excellent memory schedule. 


Looking from one articulated car to another on Sprinter between Oceanside and Escondido


Sprinter crosses a freeway en route to Escondido


Peering through a Sprinter window at another train set in the yard at Escondido


TrainWeb correspondent/photographer Carl Morrison beside the Sprinter at Escondido

The 8 minute layover in Escondido between our 11:25am arrival and 11:33 departure (using the same equipment) gave just enough time to sprint across the adjoining plaza to a restroom as there are no facilities on board Sprinter trains.  The return trip retraced the same route back to Oceanside and once again the train was quite crowded with several passengers off and on at each station.  Riding with Carl allowed time to catch up on our various travel experiences as regular TrainWeb correspondents and his knowledge of southern California rail lines was interesting to this visitor.


Sprinter after arrival back at Oceanside

Our layover in Oceanside was just over 20 minutes and northbound Pacific Surfliner # 777 en route to San Luis Obispo rolled in right on the money at 12:53pm.  This had allowed enough time for a quick visit to the Burger King restaurant located in the Oceanside station.  That station is fully staffed by Amtrak and also is served by Metrolink commuter trains from the north and Coaster commuter trains from the south.


Oceanside Transit Center


An historical railway display at Oceanside


Pacific Surfliner # 777 arrives in Oceanside
One of the drawbacks of boarding a busy train like the Surfliner beyond its origin station is the possibility of having a limited seat selection upon boarding.  Such was the case as we stepped aboard the same business class car that we had ridden southbound.  The train was filled with business travelers but soon I found myself engaged in interesting conversation about rail travel with a banker from San Diego.  Carl also found his seatmate to be interested in the same subject and we both had a chance to share our views of the enjoyment that long distance train travel offers.  The return trip seemed to fly by and soon Carl detrained in Fullerton at 2:10pm while I continued on another 32 minutes to Los Angeles.

Before long I was headed toward suburban Arcadia in a car rented at Union Station.  Though it was only 3:00pm, traffic on the freeways was relatively heavy and I wished I could have taken the Gold Line light rail, however, I needed the car to reach some of my planned activities the next two days.  Once I reached Arcadia, I found the Embassy Suites to be the perfect lodging choice as it is conveniently located in a nice shopping and dining area in downtown Arcadia with easy access to area freeways.  My suite was quiet, clean, and very comfortable and the staff was attentive and pleasant.  Another plus soon will be the extension of the Gold Line linking the area to Union Station; in fact, the line passes right across the street from the hotel though the nearest station will be a few blocks away.


Embassy Suites, Arcadia-Pasadena is a terrific hotel with courtesy transportation to the Gold Line light rail

After a couple of hours at the hotel I set out for Burbank to attend that night’s Canyon High School Cowboys vs. Burbank High Bulldogs football game.  As a fan of high school football, the prospect of attending games in California on Thursday and Friday nights was a major factor in the precise scheduling of my trip.  The drive to Burbank reminded me that freeways in LA are to be avoided whenever possible and I was surprised to make it to the stadium just in time for opening kickoff.  The setting was classic southern California with mountains peaking out beyond the visitor’s side of the stadium and a cool evening after sunset.  The home team fired on all cylinders as Burbank won by a convincing 35-6 margin in my introduction to California football.


Canyon High School takes on Burbank High in a scenic setting


The Burbank Bulldogs defeat the Canyon Cowboys

Friday, September 18, 2015 promised a very busy day starting off with an hour long venture over the LA freeways to Riverside for rides on two Metrolink lines.  I originally planned to ride the Gold Line to Union Station and head to Riverside via a circuitous routing via Santa Ana but decided to make the drive as I could leave the hotel an hour later and return an hour earlier by avoiding backtracking over a couple of the rail lines.

The spacious parking lot at the Riverside Downtown stop still had a few spaces left when I drove up and I was pleased to find there to be no parking charge.  A friendly security guard directed me to the far platform which was accessed by a catwalk above the multi-track BNSF mainline shared by freight trains, Metrolink commuter trains, and Amtrak’s Southwest Chief.  With almost an hour until my Metrolink train’s scheduled departure, I settled in for some excellent train watching.  First up was a westbound Union Pacific auto rack train at 9:35am on a center track.  An eastbound Metrolink train arrived at 9:48 terminating on a track on the station’s north side.  Eleven minutes later a 2 car westbound BNSF track inspection train snuck by on the south platform track with a BNSF freight engine leading a passenger car and a BNSF theater/inspection car.  A westbound BNSF stack train glided in and stopped at the south platform at 10:12 which indicated that my Metrolink train would be somewhat tardy.


An eastbound Metrolink train seen from the catwalk at the Riverside station


The same Metrolink train viewed from platform level


A westbound BNSF inspection train sneaks by the Riverside platform


A westbound BNSF freight breezes through Riverside


Double stack cars stretch as far as the eye can see

Eastbound Metrolink train # 802 pulled in at 10:30 and I climbed aboard coach # 209 for the short ride to San Bernardino along the route traversed the prior day on the Southwest Chief.  Train # 802 was coming up from Oceanside via a cutoff through Anaheim Canyon.  It was interesting to view the line in the daylight as most passages aboard Amtrak had been at night.  The 28 minute trip to San Bernardino ended at 10:50am but the journey was just beginning as
# 802 is scheduled to reverse directions then travel to Los Angeles via Upland as train # 321.  I had caught this anomaly when examining Metrolink schedules and was surprised to see that a number of my fellow passengers who had boarded at Riverside were doing the same thing.  This is the only train on this line that operates in this fashion.


Metrolink train # 802 arrives in Riverside en route to San Bernardino


Train # 321 boards at San Bernardino en route to LA via Upland

As soon as a westbound BNSF stack train passed, we departed San Bernardino at 11:00am and shortly we passed over a flyover above a busy BNSF rail yard where trains traveling to and from the Riverside line could be seen.  After the first couple of stops, we called upon Rancho Cucamonga, one of my favorite place names, at 11:24.  This evoked childhood memories of watching a skit on The Jack Benny Show about a station agent announcing a train traveling to Anaheim, Azusa, and Cucamonga while Benny waits to board Santa Fe’s Super Chief.  The next stop, the ex-ATSF Upland station, was situated adjacent to an upscale area along downtown streets.  We stopped at a nice old station in Claremont at 11:39 then branched to the left beyond Pomona North onto a former SP/Pacific Electric line.  Beyond El Monte the rails entered the median of I-10 for a few minutes before stopping at Cal State LA and then arriving at Union Station at 12:29pm.


Freight yard seen from a flyover just west of San Bernardino


The station at Rialto


The Upland station dates to Santa Fe days

With 45 minutes until my next train, there was time to stroll around the beautiful station which has been my favorite railway station since I first set foot inside it in 1976.  The terminal’s high waiting room ceiling and high backed chairs and the elegant designs of its interior and exterior architecture were magnificently captured by Valerie Bertinelli in the 1982 movie “I Was A Mail Order Bride” when she pondered how many soldiers passed through the magnificent station on the way to World War II and how many lives were about to be changed after they went off to war.  Anyone traveling through LA should take time to examine these features as well as the peaceful garden area beyond the doors from the waiting room’s south side.


The garden plaza on LA Union Station’s south side is a peaceful spot to visit


The Union Station clock tower is visible from the garden area


The former ticket window area once served Santa Fe, Southern Pacific, and Union Pacific trains.  Today this area is generally reserved for group rentals and movie productions.
After picking up lunch at a fast food restaurant in the station, it was time to board Metrolink train # 402, a 5 car train pulled by F59PH # 864.  I secured a seat in rear cab control car # 674 and viewed our 1:15pm departure from Track 6.  A small private car yard housed Pennsylvania RR sleeper “Colonial Crafts”,  sleeper “Tioga Pass”, and a vista dome car whose glass topped section was under a tarp.  Passing Mission Tower, we crossed the LA River and turned southward passing Amtrak’s Redondo yards on the opposite side of the concrete river.  A minute later we turned eastward and immediately met a westbound UP stack train then overtook an eastbound UP intermodal before the stop for Montebello/Commerce.  A Union Pacific container yard passed on our right then we paused for our second stop, City of Industry.  The May 1966 Official Guide of the Railways shows that we were following the route used by UP’s City of Los Angeles/City of St. Louis/Challenger streamliner all the way to Riverside. 


The concrete Los Angeles River with the coach yards beyond the bridge

Another double track rail line appeared from the west-northwest and paralleled the Metrolink line on to Pomona.  As we stopped at Metrolink’s downtown Pomona stop I spotted Amtrak’s Pomona station on the left beside the parallel double track line.  This revealed the identity of that line as the former Southern Pacific route of the Sunset Limited which still plies those rails.  Stops in East Ontario and Pedley followed before arrival back at Riverside Downtown at 2:43pm.  Train # 402 pulled into the north platform track to wait for its next assignment while I drove back to Arcadia having fulfilled my objective of riding two Metrolink lines I had missed on previous visits.  That evening I drove east to Upland to attend yet another high school football game, this one between nationally ranked Mater Dei from Santa Ana and Upland High School.  The host Upland Highlanders kept it close for a half but succumbed to the powerful Mater Dei Monarchs 43-14.  Once again, the setting was beautiful with a mountain backdrop visible behind the visitor’s side prior to sunset.


Amtrak’s Pomona station on tracks parallel to the Metrolink line


Head end of Metrolink train # 402 at Riverside


The Upland Highlanders tackle the Mater Dei Monarchs in high school football


Friday Night Lights: The scenic locale of Upland High School’s stadium is a great place to watch a football game
Saturday was a day to wash laundry and enjoy the Embassy Suites as well as drive around Arcadia and nearby Pasadena.  I was joined in the evening by Carl Morrison for the BYU vs. UCLA football game in the legendary Rose Bowl.  Attending a game at the Rose Bowl was a bucket list experience for me especially since I missed following my favorite team, the Florida State Seminoles, there for the national championship game in January 2014 and the college football playoffs the following January.  This game matched a pair of nationally ranked teams and we were rewarded with a classic as UCLA pulled out a 24-23 win.  Traveling to the game was simple as we drove to a Gold Line station then rode the train into Pasadena where shuttle busses connected to the stadium.  The Gold Line ticket vending machines were far from user friendly and signage to the free shuttle busses was nonexistent but we managed to make it to the stadium along with several other fans.


The author is excited to visit the Rose Bowl


The UCLA Bruins take the field


UCLA defeats BYU 24-23


Halftime is colorful with LA area high school bands taking to the Rose Bowl turf


A Gold Line train arrives at a Pasadena area stop following the BYU vs UCLA game


The Gold Line is a great way to travel to the Rose Bowl

There are enough rail and sightseeing activities in the Los Angeles area to occupy a visitor for several days.  The Metrolink line to Palmdale is especially scenic and a day trip to San Diego on the line via Oceanside described above is one of Amtrak’s best.  Light rail connects many LA points with the Gold Line and the line to Long Beach probably is the most interesting.  The Los Angeles Dodgers and Anaheim Angels as well as several universities offer baseball games in spring and summer while those with an automobile will find the drives to Ventura, Hollywood, and multiple other points most interesting.  Finally, rail fans should experience a day of watching trains at nearby Cajon Pass, one of the nation’s great railroading hot spots.


Embassy Suites Aracdia/Pasadena



“Spring break on Amtrak (Part 2): 5 Days on the Southwest Chief” 

Amtrak Pacific Surfliner roundtrip Fullerton to Oceanside
and NCTD Sprinter ride to Escondido, California
.  September 17, 2015

First Leg of this Rail Journey:  FLORIDA TO NEW MEXICO BY RAIL By Jack M. Turner


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