Amtrak #5, the California Zephyr, finally arrives at the Reno, NV station platform.
Tracking Rail News

Tracking Rail News: October 2010

A UP freight train delays the arrival of Amtrak #5 in the Reno trench.

Comments by Russ Jackson
Photos by Bob Snow and Russ Jackson

. . . On Time Performance. With the fiscal year ending in a few days, we will hold off the big numbers until the yearly data is available. September has been a fairly routine month, once the flooding in Iowa subsided. The California Zephyr continued to have a few delay problems there, but OTP for 5 and 6 at Denver was good up through the date of this somewhat early writing, September 16. We looked for what might be the effect of the ordered slow running of the Southwest Chief through western Kansas into Raton Pass that was mentioned here last month. The answer is very little. For example, on the #3 that departed 37 minutes late from Chicago on September 11, its latest departure time enroute was 52 minutes at LaPlata, MO. That train was “on time” out of Hutchison, KS, and “on time” out of Lamy, NM, ending up 13 minutes late out of Fullerton and 45 minutes EARLY into Los Angeles Union Station. RailPAC VP South, James Smith, confirms that the rough riding on that now speed reduced segment can be very disturbing to a sleeping passenger.

. . . Trip Report: on the Zephyr, Starlight, and Chief in August. Comments by Bob Snow, Abiquiu, New Mexico. In mid August, along with my garlic-growing and bee-keeping partner Bill Page, I traveled a loop from Denver to Davis on the Zephyr, Davis to LA on the Coast Starlight, and Los Angeles to Albuquerque on the Southwest Chief, with a stop at Reno for a 5-day trip south into the Sierras with Bill’s son David, who is also the author of the best guide book on Yosemite & the Southern Sierra Nevada.

The trip on #5 was excellent, with only a four-hour delay on the Zephyr coming into Denver because the massive flooding in Iowa had just begun to affect that train, and a slight delay at Reno due to a long Union Pacific freight.

Amtrak 5, the California Zephyr, finally arrives at the Reno, NV, station.

I did not see any evidence of the construction at Denver Union Station. We did load on a platform several tracks north of the platform that is next to the ballpark. The Zephyr was full, with 3 coach cars, two sleepers, and two private cars. Leaving Denver late, we had to wait an additional 55 minutes to clear the yard. The Zephyr had to back up after Glenwood Springs as it left a few passengers on the platform! Then we had to wait for the East–bound Zephyr at Granby. However, the California State Rail Museum guides did their usual great job of narration on the Zephyr between Reno and Sacramento.

The Coast Starlight and Southwest Chief were each 70-80 % full for those runs, and they both ran on time for most stations even getting in early at Los Angeles and Albuquerque. The Davis station is a real joy both in attractiveness and service.

Picture proof of the Zephyr departing Davis, CA, station on time.

The motel (Hamilton) across the street from the station is great (free cocktail hour and free full breakfast). It also houses a wonderful restaurant – -The Seasons. Union Station in LA is still one of the best in the world, and the Traxx restaurant is not to be missed.

Amtrak #11, the Coast Starlight at the scenic Santa Barbara station.

We rode both coach and sleepers on the trip and report very friendly service and ok food. We particularly enjoyed meeting new people in the dining cars, such as the 85 year-old couple from Grass Valley returning from a family reunion in New York State, and an alternative medicine man from Santa Fe who takes the Starlight and Chief once a month from San Francisco returning from consultation work. Others included a mother and son from Bolivia, a retired policeman and wife from Montreal, and a tea party activist from Southern California. Most were first-timers and all said they were loving the trips. Lots of young people on the trains also- – building riders for the future.

I understand why the Parlor car is unique to the Coast Starlight, but it would be a draw for any long-haul train. Also, Amtrak could do more marketing of travel items (caps, tee shirts, travel bags, etc.). And, the excellent dining room staffs could easily be supported better by fresher food, and menus tailored to the specific train.

. . . Elsewhere around the West. . . .

Arizona. . . “Both prospects face daunting challenges, though,” was the comment of Arizona Republic writer Sean Holstege on May 17, when he wrote that “Efforts are under way to introduce daily long-distance Amtrak service to southern Arizona and ultimately bring passenger trains back into downtown Phoenix. That plan coincides with “state efforts to connect Arizona’s two largest cities, Tucson and Phoenix” by rail. The State of Arizona officially published its “state rail plan” in August, and these two factors figure prominently in it along with “bolstering its current rail network’s freight-carrying capacity.” Because Arizona, like most of the other states, is running its budget “in the red”, the prospects for getting the plan implemented are slim. . . . Oregon. . . A new train station for the Coast Starlight in Chemult is under construction for November completion, at a cost of $600,000. The existing metal combination station and welcome center will be replaced with a small building with restroom facilities, a new platform, and an information kiosk. Approximately 9,000 yearly passenger trips currently use the Chemult station, with the prediction that by 2030 there will be 14,000. . . . San Diego. The “Trolley” original 18.8 mile line from downtown to San Ysidro will celebrate its 30th Anniversary next year! This writer was there for the dedication and a ride on one of the original U-2 cars. It is good news to learn that during the next three years renovations to that line and to the second line from downtown to El Cajon, are being constructed and modernized, and new cars are being purchased.

The UP's Tom Mulligan (right) and CCJPB's Gene Skoropowski board a Capitol train at the Suisun station enroute to Sacramento in November, 2007. . . . Retirement. We note that Thomas Mulligan recently retired as Director-Passenger Operations for the Union Pacific, having worked for the UP for 40 years. During his time in that office he worked closely with the now retired Capitol Corridor’s Gene Skoropowski to improve the regional passenger service in northern California. Mr. Mulligan is the recipient of Railway Age magazine’s 2010 W. Graham Claytor, Jr. Award for Distinguished Service to Passenger Transportation. The magazine says, “The Capitol Corridor is arguably the finest example of a freight railroad-passenger rail cooperative agreement in North America–a model that others should follow.” We heartily agree. What is Mr. Mulligan doing in “retirement?” He now serves on the Omaha, NB, City Council. . . . Los Angeles Union Station. Construction continues on the remodeling of the waiting room and ticket areas. Movie companies continue to use that magnificent building over 100 days each year. It is now owned by Colorado-based commercial real estate company ProLogis, and the charges to use it for filming are up to $10,000 a day. While there are no formal plans to reopen the historic Fred Harvey restaurant, that could happen, too. RailPAC Associate Director, Ken Ruben, is proud that he was one of the few that ate there on the last night in when it was closing its operations on June 30, 1967.

. . . Thruway buses. Speaking of Anniversaries, on September 15 the dedicated Amtrak feeder bus system funded by Caltrans celebrated its 30th. The most successful, of course are the Bakersfield to Union Station line that connects to/from all the San Joaquin trains, and the line from Sacramento to Stockton. Buses now allow riders to reach as far as Eureka and (photo) Chico.

. . . We get letters. This from RailPAC member Robert F. Mac Donald: Russ, I was most interested in your write up about the Coast Daylight! (September, 2010) While individual segments of the Coast Line between Gilroy and Santa Margarita are OK, the method of dispatching (expect by radio) is early 1800’s for the 153 miles. Yes there is “POOR Man CTC” between Gilroy and Salinas,but it is poor and meant for 5-man freight crews. You stated that $ 43 million is programed for upgrading the sidings and signals (dispatching, CTC and now PTC) of some of the Coast Line. I would like to see RailPAC tweek Caltrans Division of Rail into getting the line between Santa Margarita and north of Gilroy up-graded ASAP. The Bay Region and the Coast Line to LA have run out of time (140 years) on the three or more major earthquake faults running though the Bay Area and south to Indio, CA (Expect 7.0 to 8.9 + quakes at any time). Putting it bluntly, this tweeking should be handled as a Homeland Security matter and not a transportation project. Have Caltrans review the 1952 railroad damage south & east of Bakersfield.. All trains used the Coast for a month. Then have them review the damage done by the Jan. 9, 1857 (Fort Tejon) earthquake that ruptured the San Andreas Fault, a distance of 225 miles from Parkfield, CA south and east. Both these major quakes were rated at about 7.9 on the seismic scale. We could have 8.0 plus earthquakes along our Coast too, again! Put the State’s money to work on this up-grading of the Coast rail line quickly!

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