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» RAILforum » Passenger Trains » Amtrak » From Houston to Seattle and back

Author Topic: From Houston to Seattle and back
Mike Smith
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Here's my train trip I just finished 2 hours ago. This is raw "as it happened" writing, so I may modify it by adding other interesting stuff, and possibly some pictures in subsequent posts.

It all started when I attempted to book an Amtrak trip to Seattle from Houston. I requested an overnight stay in Los Angeles, due to the lack of a same-day connection to the Coast Starlight. Amtrak, in its scheduling wisdom, doesn’t want anyone in Texas to have any type of rational connection to the rest of the USA. Amtrak Guest Rewards computer decided this was not an acceptable booking and I did not need to see the Pacific Ocean on the Starlight. It decided that I would want a BUS trip from LAX to Bakersfield and then catch a commuter train to Sacramento where we would meet up with the Coast Starlight at midnight. That is Pacific Time. My normal bedtime is 9:00 pm, Central Time. Amtrak Guest “Rewards” would not change the booking to accommodate my normal bedtime.

I had planned on circumventing the booking system by purchasing a ticket on the Starlight if we were going to be close to early. As of Yuma AZ, we were going to be early into LAX. Unfortunately, the Union Pacific dispatcher’s plans did not include getting the Sunset Limited into LAX early, or on time. We arrived 2 hours late, due to freight trains and track construction projects.

We took the bus to Bakersfield. It was a nice 100-degree day, so the AC on the bus was shut off for the climb out of the LA basin. Half of thee 3-hour trip was without AC, due to the lame engine in the bus. It could not climb a hill AND furnish AC to the packed bus. {packed bus = every seat occupied} We survive the ordeal, sweating like pigs, and arrive at Bakersfield to learn there was engine problems with the train that will take us to Sacramento {#714/703}. Great…

So, at a delayed arrival of 8:31 into Bakersfield {6:10 scheduled}, we finally leave Bakersfield at 10:00 pm. I have been assured the Coast Starlight will wait for us at Sacramento, because tomorrow’s CS has no beds available. I am currently downstairs in an Amtrak California car with the AC screaming loud and no cooling happening. It is 11:20 PM Pacific Time {1:20 am, my internal clock time}. I’m still about 3 hours away from a bed. I’m NOT a happy camper! I could have been in bed 2+ hours ago; if Amtrak would have booked me the way I requested. We arrived into Sacramento around 4:00 am and arrived in Seattle about 1:00 am the next day. The scenery on the CS was excellent and we had a passenger in the Parlor Car that really knew the history of the area we were traversing. He made the trip very interesting. His passion was geology, so we learned quite a bit about the geological activity along the California Valley north of Redding and the Cascades route and the future “volcanic” activity! {Mt Shasta was stunning!} He and the conductor were having a nice discussion of the slide area and the other 30+ slides that happened in the region. The conductor was giving us a “heads up” when a particularly scenic waterfall or shot was approaching. I thoroughly enjoyed this part of our trip, even the spirited “political” discussions about our silly energy policy, global warming/cooling, and the freon fiasco. Myself & another conservative had an invigorating talk with 2 liberals, and a moderate as we traveled from Eugene northward. It amazed me that they did not know Congress was blocking our access to our own oil {estimated 1.5 TRILLION barrels} with their insane energy policies.

Leaving Seattle on the Empire Builder 45 minutes late, due to a late arrival of the train equipment, we encountered no further delays, until Wisconsin. One of the bright spots on this eastbound train was the dining room staff. The dining car steward, Cody, had 4 full sleeper cars and 5 full coach cars to feed. He and his staff were fabulous! The food was properly cooked, the waiting list was being seated on a regular basis, and the reserved dinner reservations were called within seconds of the scheduled times. That is a tremendous achievement, based on the number of cars and the fully loaded train!

We had to detour onto Union Pacific Railroad tracks in Wisconsin, due to the massive Mississippi River floods. This put us 7 hours late into Chicago. It would have only been 4.5 hours late if there had been a connection between the UP line and the normal line of the Empire Builder. Instead of connecting, we rolled across the top of our normal line in West Milwaukee, staying on the 25 mile an hour UP track, instead of the parallel 79 mph track out of Milwaukee.

After spending the night in Chicago, due to no “same day” connections out of Chicago to Texas, we headed home on the Texas Eagle {Yes, I know. If there was a connection, we would have missed it}. What a contrast! The Empire Builder had all new refurbished equipment; the Eagle had all old run-down equipment, except for the diner. We have a full train with a revenue transition sleeper, sleeper, diner, sightseer, & 4 coaches. Why is the Texas Eagle getting short-changed? The most dramatic difference was the dining car. The Empire Builder had the standard Amtrak diner; the Eagle had the “new” Diner-lounge car. It seats about half the people the normal diner seats. And the Eagle’s dining car steward, Tim, was the opposite of Cody and the Empire Builder’s diner. Tim stayed fairly close to his dinner reservations, due to the fact he only had 2-3 couples per time slot. Breakfast was a disaster. Tim opened the diner at 6:45. By 6:55, they were “full”, and taking reservations. I was #5 on the “waiting list” at 7:00 am. At 7:45, I went to the diner and asked Tim how much longer was the wait. He stated that he hadn’t called #1, yet, so probably about 20 minutes. I saw 1 clean empty table and 2 dirty tables that were available. In about 10 minutes, numbers 1 through 7 were called for breakfast {7:55 am}. Tim was waiting for the entire diner to clear out before seating the next bunch of people. He repeated this procedure at 9:00 am. Most normal diners will seat people as tables become available, so the cooks can have a nice flow of orders, instead of getting bombarded with orders, then sitting around for 30+ minutes, waiting for the next bombardment. This makes no sense to me.

The Eagle is currently running 5.5 hours late {Sunday morning}, due to freight traffic south of St Louis. Which is more important, freight or passengers? Union Pacific clearly believes freight is more important. I do understand the flooding has freight congestion everywhere, however what would an attack on a few of our rail lines do to all of the freight that is shipped throughout our nation? We need a realistic national rail transportation policy, instead of the shortsighted policy we now have.

Estimated time of our arrival at our home is now 7:30 pm, giving us a 12-hour period to rest and recover from our 11-day vacation, before we have to be back at work on Monday. We arrived home at 7:05 pm Sunday.

Posts: 1418 | From: Houston, Republic of Texas | Registered: Jan 2001  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
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Great trip report, aint Amtrak an adventure?
Posts: 229 | From: Long Beach CA | Registered: Jan 2007  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Mike Smith
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I forgot to add that all 4 of the long distance trains I took were full. There were numerous announcements that single travelers had to double up in the coaches so the families could have seats together.
Posts: 1418 | From: Houston, Republic of Texas | Registered: Jan 2001  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
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Mike, I am in Spring, don't fly, have family in NY so you know how that goes! The trains out of Texas are nightmares. Sunset Ltd is so late it is rediculous. So we just drive to NOL to catch the Crescent, which is awesome train!!!!

I am in no hurry, so I take the train.

Posts: 168 | From: Spring TX USA | Registered: Jan 2001  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
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I enjoyed your trip report, particularly Amtrak's idiotic policy of putting you on that wretched bus rather than directly on the Coast Starlight. Is there anyone awake at Amtrak? It is obvious that a connection in L.A. is impossible between the CS and the Sunset, so any rational policy would be to allow an overnight and not the absurd bus/train connection in the wee hours of the morning.

Just out of curiosity, wouldn't it have been better to pay your fare to L.A. and then book your rewards trip on the CS? More expensive certainly but at least no bus.

Posts: 524 | From: Toronto Ont. Canada | Registered: Mar 2001  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator

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