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» RAILforum » Passenger Trains » Amtrak » SWC TO GRAND CANYON

   
Author Topic: SWC TO GRAND CANYON
Iron Mountain
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About a month ago, October, I celebrated my three score and ten birthday by taking a trip, via Amtrak, to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. In light of the fact that some of the contributors to Train Web have voiced concern about the future of the "Chief" I thought that this might be a good time to travel the storied "route of the stars".

My wife and I caught the Missouir River Runner (MRR) in Kirkwood, Mo. We arrived in Kansas City that evening at about 9:30PM. The Southwest Chief was running a little late, about 40 minutes, so we didn't board until 11:00PM.

As we walked to the train we were met by our sleeping car attendant, Peggy. She was absolutely great. Once all of the new passengers were on board she gave us a short welcoming, introductory, informational speech. She made up our beds and bid us all a good night's rest.

I took a quick shower before turning in. The shower worked fine. Hot water and all. I was glad to climb into bed. Unfortunately, the tracks across eastern Kansas are rough. The Chief rumbled, thumped, bumped, and shrieked. The swaying back and forth and bouncing up and down was considerable. I am not sure if the problem was lousy tracks along with the engineer trying to make up for the delay in KCY. But eventually things settled down and I slept fairly well.

I woke up around the Kansas Colorado line. My wife and I had breakfast somewhere between Lamar and La Junta, Co. We were treated to a dramatic sunrise while eating. We shared our table with some very nice folks from Pennsylvania. Sharing a table in the dining car is nearly always an enjoyable experience. And our dining car attendant, Moses, was great also.

We went back to our roomettes after breakfast. I should mention that my wife and I always book separate roomettes. We find it so much more comfortable. Personally I find the romette about the right size for one person. We are usually across the hall from one another. On one trip on the Texas Eagle the attendant rearranged the room assignments so that we could be across from one another. Nice gesture. We rolled along enjoying the changing landscape and watching for pronghorn antelopes. I recently read somewhere that the pronghorn is the second fastest animal in the world after the cheetah. Our vigilance was rewarded occasionally. The countryside in southeastern Colorado is arid and scrubby. We passed though the Comanche National Grasslands area. As we got closer to Trinidad, CO we began seeing hints of mountains, some with snow, to the west. Much closer to the train interesting rock formations began to appear breaking up the vastness of the plains.

South of Trinidad the landscape was comprised of more rocks, draws, ridges, and pine trees. The valleys often had great bursts of bright yellow trees that may have been cottonwoods changing into their fall hues. The progress of the train slowed as it worked its way up the grades to the Raton Pass. The elevation of Raton is 7538 feet. There is a lot of back and forth routing in the form of horseshoe curves enabling the train to climb over and through the Pass. Raton was a stop. The town has its name on the side of a bluff. The station is adobe in the southwestern style. Observing the changes in both the countryside and architecture is part of the fun of train travel.


We ate lunch somewhere near Las Vegas, NM. Then at Lamy we had our first long delay. Part of the reason was that is where #3 and #4 pass one another. We were sidetracked. But after #4 passed we had a very slow long stretch of travel. The slow down put us behind schedule.

Lamy was one of the shabbiest looking stations that I saw on the trip. I was surprised because there was quite a bit of activity at the station. It is the pick up and drop off for Santa Fe.

We finally arrived in Albuquerque. The weather was beautiful. Warm and sunny. The train took on fuel and water. Peggy took our picture next to the train. Albuquerque has a new station done attractively in the adobe style. It is a combination Amtrak, Greyhound, and NM Rail Runner station. The interior is decorated with mosaic tiles with southwestern motifs. Very nice. I found a plaque about the construction of the station and I think is about 12 years old. There many vendors selling Indian crafts outside of the station. I was hoping to see one of the Rail Runner trains but their schedule didn't sync with ours.

The progress from Albuquerque to Gallup, NM was slow. It was dark by the time we arrived in Gallup. We passed though Winslow, AZ(always reminds me of the 60's song about a flatbed Ford) and stopped in Flagstaff. The Flagstaff station appears large and there was a lot of passenger activity there.

We pressed on at a good clip and arrived at William's Junction, our destination, about an hour late. William's Junction does not have a station. There is a gravel parking lot and a light pole with a bright light on it. The Grand Canyon Railroad Hotel, which was where we stayed, sends a van to the stop to pick up or deliver hotel guests. The van driver turns on the light on the pole if there are pasengers waiting to board or if he is waiting for hotel guests to get off the train. The light is the signal to the engineer to stop. Quaint.

We were whisked off to the hotel. We were ready for a good nights sleep. The hotel was great. The beds were comfortable and the staff was friendly and helpful. The lobby was beautiful. It was rustic but well appointed. There was a large fireplace in the lobby and a cheerful fire was burning.

A word about Williams: its reason for existence, in the past, was US Highway 66 and the Santa Fe RR passenger service to and from the Grand Canyon. Williams must have faced some difficult times after the decommisioning of US 66 and the demise of the Santa Fe passenger trains. The BNSF does not pass through Williams. But the community did not wither on the vine. Fortunatley the close proximity of the South Rim of the Grand Canyon and the connecting railroad, the Grand Canyon Raillroad, have given the commuity a reason to exist, if not thrive modestly. And Amtrak's close by stop helps also.

The original Santa Fe passenger station has been preserved. It is now a gift shop and snack area. Next to the station is a large restaurant and another gift shop. The restaurant is a buffet style operation. We ate breakfast there before boarding the Grand Canyon Train for the the Canyon. Breakfast was delicious with cooked to odrer items along with the buffet. On our return a week later we were going have supper there but the price was more than we wanted to spend. So we had a very pleasant meal in the hotel's restaurant. We opted for sandwiches and draft beer which were tasty and reasonably priced.

We rode the Grand Canyon train to the South Rim where we stayed in a hotel for a week. The train consists of mostly 50's vintage passenger cars including dome cars. There was one car from the 1930's for which I purchased tickets. It was the least expensive. I am fortunate to have ridden on trains such as the UP City of Portland Ltd. and the Burlington Zephyr on which I enjoyed dining and riding in the dome cars in the pre-Amtrak era. Consequently, I did not feel the need to spend the extra money. It would be a good experience for someone who never rode the trains in the 50' and 60's. There was entertainment, singing and guitar playing, and the inevitable train robbery. I was robbed of a dollar by fearsome looking desparado. I would think that children would have great fun on this 80 mile trip.

Upon arrival at the Grand Canyon we disembarked at the original Santa Fe station. It is a log structure. Some mule seer were nibbling around the station oblivious to the passengers. The entire enterprise at the South Rim and Williams was a joint effort by Santa Fe and Fred Harvey.

Because this forum is primarily about Amtrak I won't say very much about the Grand Canyon other than it was an indescribably moving experience for me. I want to go back.

In order to catch #4 back to KCY we had to be in the hotel lobby by 3:00AM. The hotel van took us to the train stop. The van driver waited until he heard the approach of the SWC then he hopped out and turned on the light.

The train was about 20 minutes late. it was cold and chilly. There had been some snow the day before. We were glad ro see the SWC arrive. Julio, our sleeper attendant, met us and got us loaded onto the train. He asked us if we would like some coffee. We said yes. He brought coffee to us with plenty of cream and sugar on the side. We enjoued our pre-dawn coffee and Julio's hospitality. We napped until breakfast time. Julio was a good attendant.

On our return trip we ate breakfast, lunch, and dinner on the train. The diner food was good. A couple of meals were very good. The only complaint was that we ordered steaks medium rare and they were medium well. Big deal.

We pulled into KCY right on time, 7:24AM. We walked across the platform and boarded the eastbound MRR. Talk about easy. The trip back to Kirkwood was good. The train was on time all the way. The staff was friendly. The difference in terrain from the West to Missouri is remarkable. After hundreds of miles of arid wide open spaces the bright green meadows, forests and hills decked out in the brilliant reds and yellows of autumn were quite a contrast. It was a good trip and it was good to be home.

The on-time performance of the MRR was on the spot. The SWC's performance was good when one considers the length of the trip. One of the SWC's slow downs was due to high winds. The service was very good on the SWC. The accommodations were clean and comnfortable. There were fresh flowers in the diner and the bathrooms. Great trip. I will go again.

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jimhudson
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Nice Trip! It's on my Bucket List (but Not in the Summer!) Thanks for Posting!
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Henry Kisor
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Thanks for posting this! My wife and I are heading on the SWC from Chicago to L.A. and San Diego in January, and reports like this just make me wish December was over already.
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Railroad Bob
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Thanks for taking the time to write the review. I've read so many negative Amtrak reviews lately it's good to see a positive one such as yours, Mr. Iron Mtn. I'm glad the attendants did a good job.
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DeeCT
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One minor point. The shuttle bus is for ALL passengers arriving or departing from Williams Junction. (Have used this many times since my brother lives "down the road" between Ash Fork and Seligman.)
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palmland
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Nice trip report Iron Mountain. My wife and I will also be on the SWC in January, but only as far as Albuquerque to visit her brother and then on to Winslow.

Sounds like your trip was almost as good as the Super Chief - minus the Turquoise lounge car. Regardless of how the route of the SWC is finally resolved, I suspect at least Chicago to KC will continue to be a popular service, perhaps morphing into a new mid-western corridor.

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sojourner
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Thanks for the report. Everything sounds great, though I'm surprised to hear you found Lamy station so shabby. I kind of liked it when I was there (admitted about 10 years ago).
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mr williams
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quote:
Originally posted by Iron Mountain:

We finally arrived in Albuquerque. There many vendors selling Indian crafts outside of the station.

They are Indian alright, if you look closely you'll see that the labels say "made in India"!

I was there ten years ago and was a little disappointed to discover this.

Sign of the times I suppose.

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Iron Mountain
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To those of you that are planning to ride the SWC to western points I wish you good travel. Sometimes I am hestiant to be too positive when reviewing Amtrak but I was quite surprised at the service and cleanliness. I hope that this standard of service will be maintained.

DeeCT, I wondered about the vans myself. My question is, if not the hotel then whom? Are they a municipal service? Are they like taxis? We were not charged any fare for the service. I suppose it was figured into the hotel rates.

Mr. Williams, I did not investigate the "Indian" products but I assumed that at least many of them were not authentic. Clever idea saying that they were made in India.

Sojourner, I viewed the Lamy station from the train. I did not actually go into the station. Part of my perception might be due to the fact that there is no grass or greenery around the building.

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TwinStarRocket
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There is not much grass or greenery around any station in New Mexico, probably because there is so little rain and so much sun. They even have humidity as low as 4% sometimes.

There used to be a Harvey House across the tracks from the Lamy station, where there is now nothing but desert.
http://www.harveyhouses.net/states/newmexico/nmhouses.html

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notelvis
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Thanks for this good report Iron Mountain. Good news delivered in clear, no-nonsense Missouri fashion. By simply stating that the Grand Canyon was a moving experience for you and then adding "I want to go back" you conveyed one of the driving forces for those of us who love to travel - by train or otherwise - just for travels' sake.

I imagine that in time...... perhaps even before the SWC endures a reroute.... that the shuttle van between Santa Fe and Lamy will succumb and passengers wishing to arrive by train in Santa Fe will be directed to transfer to Rail Runner commuter train in Albuquerque.

And - finally - when we were last in that part of the country.... June 2012 .... we paused for lunch at a decent place out by the interstate in Las Vegas, NM. #3 rumbled by outside our window while we ate. A timeless travel memory.

--------------------
David Pressley

Advocating for passenger trains since 1973!

Climbing toward 5,000 posts like the Southwest Chief ascending Raton Pass. Cautiously, not nearly as fast as in the old days, and hoping to avoid premature reroutes.

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DeeCT
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Iron Mountain,

courtesy of Wikipedia,

"Williams Junction is a train station located southeast of Williams, Arizona. This station is not accessible to private vehicles; passengers are transferred via an Amtrak Thruway Motorcoach shuttle to Williams, Arizona which travels in part on a gravel road to connect with the Grand Canyon Railway. There is no physical train station at the junction."

The hotel obviously benefits by allowing it's beautiful lobby to be used as a waiting room. Because of the time of the arrival and departure of the SWC, many passengers like you stay there either on night of arrival or departure. There is also the obvious tie in with the Grand Canyon Railway etc.

Cost of the shuttle bus is paid for by Amtrak. (and of course passed on to us in ticket prices.)

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Henry Kisor
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Of course there's a lot of Chinese-made tourist schlock by trackside in Albuquerque, but there also is a good deal of genuine and excellent Navajo jewelry, primarily at the Veronica and Betty Yellowhorse tables. Those two are well known in the Southwest Indian folk art trade.

It helps to have a little education.

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railrev
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We took the Grand Canyon Railroad to the Canyon in September and had a package deal that included the train ride, two nights in the Williams hotel and one night at the Canyon. Dinners and Breakfasts at Williams were included as was one lunch at the Canyon as part of our bus tour. We drove from San Diego to Williams because at that time of year, most of the train ride is in the dark. Highly recommend the packages available like this.

--------------------
Railrev
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PullmanCo
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For what it is worth...

The last time I rode 5&6 from Omaha to Reno, the ride on the historic Burlington was not especially good either. Single track lines that aren't the true mainline anymore don't get that much maintenance.

Like Mr IronMountain, I was in an enclosed section lower, errrr, "roomette."

BTW, there's a reason Pullman used 18sq feet for one person in an enclosed room... it's too small for two! They had, always, to discount the upper berth of even a standard section to sell it, relative to the standard lower.

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DonNadeau
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The van from Williams Junction (SWC) to Williams (Grand Canyon Railroad Hotel) should be reserved as part of your Amtrak trip, with a separate ticket coupon. The van is an Amtrak Thruway service, with no extra charge.

On my trip last year, the van dropped passengers off at all requested downtown hotels, but I do not know if this is the usual procedure.

I stayed at the other Grand Canyon hotel in Williams, simply the "Grand Canyon Hotel" without the "Railroad" in its name on old Route 66, & loved it. It gives a true historic Route 66 experience, but not one those wanting posh would enjoy.

http://www.thegrandcanyonhotel.com/gchhistory.htm

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@DonNadeau

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George Harris
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quote:
Originally posted by PullmanCo:
BTW, there's a reason Pullman used 18sq feet for one person in an enclosed room... it's too small for two! They had, always, to discount the upper berth of even a standard section to sell it, relative to the standard lower.

The upper in a section was what you got when traveling on the company, the railroad company, that is. The minus to me was no window.
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Gilbert B Norman
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OK; so long as this topic has now ventured into the world of former sleeping car accommodations, one may wonder how, well after the public at large decided Berths and other single passenger accommodations had gone the way of dinosaurs, railroads such as New Haven, L&N, UP, and their respective interline 'partners', ordered new cars with Sections rather late in the game, i.e. the mid 50's.

The reason was that those roads still had Government traffic traveling, say, Wash-New London, Chicago-Huntsville AL, and Ogden-Butte, and Government regulations called for a Lower as the standard, which was deviated only with extenuating circumstances.

Considering the 'hoops' through which lowerling government employees must jump when exceeding 'guidelines', it is no wonder that those roads saw a demand for Sections long after the others knew they were in 'Boot Hill'.

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