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A Short Trip on the Sunset Limited by Robert Manning

A Short Trip on the Sunset Limited

by Robert Manning, February 9, 2007

    Driving into Los Angeles from Palm Springs with the miserable traffic is now a horrible experience and driving into Los Angeles on a Friday is even worse. So when I can, I take the train which is the Sunset Limited. This train originates in New Orleans and on its west bound journey arrives in Palm Springs at 6:37 AM and is scheduled to arrive at its final destination Los Angeles Union Station at 10:10 AM. However this train rarely runs on time and is often many hours late. Now the eastbound Sunset Limited departs Los Angeles Union Station at 2:30PM Sunday, Wednesday and Friday arriving into Palm Springs at 5:06 PM and even with this short distance the train can be late. .With this said, For some unknown reason this train had been running fairly on time. And by that I mean an hour or so late which is not too bad especially if you don’t have to put up with the Friday drive. So I had a lunch meeting scheduled for 12 PM Friday February 9, 2007 at LA Union Station and of course purchased a ticket on the Sunset Limited for this date. I checked with Amtrak at 10PM Thursday night before my departure and was informed the Sunset Limited was running on time. Well, Friday morning the day of my departure the train arrived at 9:05 AM at the Palm Springs station. I was hoping that we could make it into LA around the noon hour. I boarded the train and met the conductor Dan Compsano whom I have met on prior trips. Dan stated the train was late due to freight traffic and we would have to wait for an east bound freight before the train could depart.

    We waited until 9: 30 AM before leaving the station. This area is double track and I could Not understand why we had to wait. I remember one time on a prior trip the train backed up a short distance then we headed west bound as an east bound freight went by us. Well, any way I knew I would be late and I planned on making a phone call as the train arrived closer to the station in order to change my plans. I then decided to go into the diner and talk to some passengers and staff. I talked to a young couple from Texas who said they had taken prior trips on this train and sometimes they drive but the problem with the train is dependability. The train could be many hours late. This couple also said when they arrive into Los Angeles they are met by their grandparents and the can use their car so they would rather take the train. I then asked how they liked the food in the diner and they stated it is kind of like Denny’s but not the variety that Denny’s offer and the paper plates and plastic cups are “crummy”. I then met a retired couple from Portland Oregon.   This couple had taken the Empire Builder from Portland to Chicago, spent several days in Chicago then traveled on the City of New Orleans to New Orleans where they stayed for three days. They were now traveling on the Sunset Limited to Los Angeles where they would spend the night before departing the next morning on the Coast Starlight back home to Portland. This couple stated that they like to travel on the off season and they both like to take the train and see the country. This couple both agreed that Empire Builder had the best food and amenities on any of the Amtrak trains they had traveled on  And that the food on this train was very basic.

    I met the lead service attendant Casey Kahler, who stated that some food entries such as omelets, egg dishes, French toast, hamburgers and pork chops are now cooked on the grill and this is accomplished with only one person in the kitchen. I must add that Casey was very friendly and enthusiastic.
    Later I talked with Dan Compsano and assistant conductor Mathie Pierotti who said that the reason we were now stopped was that we had to wait for a rock train to pass our train.  Then as we were coming into the Colton Yard we had to stop in order for a number of BNSF freight trains at the interlocking to pass. This time we had to wait twenty five minutes. We also had to wait for a Metrolink train to pass and after that another freight train. As we came close to the LA Station we again stopped for a freight train and by now the time ran out for the train crew, in other words this crew had worked twelve hours and by federal law they could work no longer. We then waited as another crew took control of the train and once the train started it took fifteen minutes to arrive into Los Angeles Union Station at 1PM.

    I would also like to add that Dan Compsano is one very conscientious, dedicated and friendly conductor. He and and Mathie Pierotti always made clear announcements and would always state why the train was stopping, and how long we would be stopped.

    At 2:20 PM I boarded the eastbound Sunset Limited for Palm Springs and the train departed on time at 2:30 PM. And arrived at Palm Springs at 5:26 PM. Only twenty minutes late which was not too bad, and when we arrived twenty passengers detrained at this little unmanned station.

    I remember many years ago I began asking our local authorities why we don’t have regular passenger train service from the Los Angeles area to the greater Palm Springs area. Everyone had a different answer and none made any sense. So now I have become an advocate for this service and I am not alone. The Coachella Valley Association of Governments which includes all of the desert cities has funded at least two studies in order to determine if train service between LA and the Coachella Valley would be feasible. Both studies (the last feasible study was in 1999) concluded that passenger rail service would definitely be viable. However two things stand in the way, the Union Pacific Railroad and money. First the Union Pacific states because of freight congestion it is not going to happen and the second is the cost estimated to be around five hundred million dollar’s, maybe. The other thing is that a second track is needed through the desert and maybe we could use that term “public private partnership “ because the Union Pacific needs a second track through this desert and it is the UP’s desire to double track the “Sunset Route”. This will be a very interesting year.

Robert Manning     

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