RAILforum Post New Topic  Post A Reply
my profile | directory login | register | search | faq | forum home

  next oldest topic   next newest topic
» RAILforum » Railfans » Trip Reports » Trip on: San Joaquin, Southwest Chief, City of New Orleans

Author Topic: Trip on: San Joaquin, Southwest Chief, City of New Orleans
Full Member
Member # 4344

Member Rated:
Icon 1 posted      Profile for palmland     Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
This is a recap of the rail portion of our latest adventure that involved airlines, ferries, buses, and even Uber. We had been visiting friends near Santa Rosa for a few days. Our visit included many winery tours and tastings, a trip to the redwoods, and then to the Pacific that was particularly photogenic.


Day 1 - San Joaquin

Started the day with an on time, clean and quick Amtrak Thruway bus connection from Santa Rosa, CA to the Amtrak Martinez, CA. station. Only downside: the ridiculous 0600 departure time requiring an 0445 wake up. San Joaquin service train 712 was on on time at Martinez. Unfortunately it was the somewhat unpleasant Horizon single level equipment. We decided to take this routing as we had never traveled down the San Joaquin valley.


It was a scenic trip from Martinez to just before Stockton as the tracks followed the bay/river however we went in the hole twice. The first meet was a very long freight of autos and then an eastbound train. As a result Stockton departure was 20 minutes. Surprisingly a large number of passengers boarded there and our train filled rapidly. Stockton is not a town I feel the need to visit again. An uneventful ride down this agricultural but slightly depressed looking part of the country took us to Bakersfield only 10 min. late and a quick transfer to the LA bus. This is one trip we don’t need to do again.

Los Angeles Union Station was busy at rush hour. We headed to the new Metropolitan lounge on the second floor. It was very inviting with a helpful agent on duty. After settling in, I went in search of dinner since we were too tired to contemplate dinner in the diner. Improvements in the station include a new marketplace that had fresh salads and a nice bakery where I picked up some Baklava for desert. With our Napa valley wine we were all set.

Soon the redcaps were ready to take us to bedroom D, car 0430 – Texas. Our exit to the tracks was out the back door of the lounge and then over the tracks that lead into the platforms. There was even a stoplight on the narrow path for recap and, presumably, service carts. As we moved out of the station, we began our ‘al fesco’ dinner after cocktails. By then we were more than ready for bed as we left the San Bernandino station. Julio, our pleasant attendant was ready to make our bed and we were out for the night.

Day 2- Southwest Chief

After a good night's sleep we awoke to a beautiful cloudless NM morning. Strange to see lots of water in the stream beds. Flávio is our LSA and Julio is SCA. They proved to be an excellent crew. If only Amtrak could get all crews to be this pleasant and efficient.

Wi-Fi on the SWC! Sort of. Slow and intermittent given the wide open spaces of our route. SCA said they have had it for about a week. Apparently each sleeper has its on connection as each sleeper has its own password. Surprising that they would install it in these cars as they are in need of refurbishment: SL 1 with the dirty brown carpeting on the walls - although seats/coaches have the newer blue.

We were into Albuquerque early even though we were 30 min. late out of Gallup. The water on the ground turned to snow around the state line but was only visible in the higher elevations. We never tire of seeing the red rock formations in NM. But then, not much of that around South Carolina.


Had a good lunch and the dining car crew is one of the best I've seen. And, miracle of miracles, last call for breakfast was not until 0930. I still remember the trip when you had to reserve your breakfast seating that ended at 0830 or your were out of luck. Dinner was forgettable. The Signature Steak had the consistency and flavor of Salisbury steak. Couldn't imagine paying the menu price of $25 for it.

Much of the line over Glorieta Pass was well maintained even with sections of jointed rail. Earlier this summer that was a large track force that came through this area. It was good too to see the last of the semaphores still very active. I suspect they may be even older than I! A meet with No. 3 and a slow order due to erosion, maybe from the recent heavy rains, resulted in a 30 minute late departure from Las Vegas.


As the sunlight faded we climbed into Ration. Local temp was 41 with a strong breeze. We were glad to be headed south again.


Despite some 25mph slow orders, we arrived LaJunta 10 min late. I did see another federal grant awarded recently insures the SWC will remain in its current route. BNSF is not waiting for the funds to trickle down. Much work already. Total for various grants and city contributions is now around $45 M.

Day 3 -

Another clear day and an on time KC departure. We had breakfast with two young guys from southern California. Both were modern day railfans and had a large model railroad. Good to see the younger generation keeping the hobby alive. One, who was headed to UCLA grad school in financial planning, had built a large railroad on four levels that was mostly SP inspired. We spent a lazy morning reading in the lounge and in our room. We decided to skip lunch since we had eaten so much heavy food the last couple days and planned to eat a big meal in Chicago.

On board there is a large Mennonite group from Ohio. They were returning from a mission trip to Mexico where they were teaching in the schools. They had boarded the train in Albuquerque after a long bus ride.

As always, the people you meet on the train have interesting stories to tell. Another couple was returning to Indiana (we had a long discussion about the Hoosier State). They had helped their daughter, a medical student, move to San Diego for her residency work. They like to use the train because they had the time and like the slower pace. He was a ‘never again’ frequent flyer. Too many airport hassles and long plane rides around the world as he accumulated over 3 million miles. Another couple was returning home and took the train because the price was right and getting to a local airport then a multiple stop plane ride was too hard and expensive. The sleepers have remained full throughout the trip. Surprisingly the coaches were quite empty yesterday in NM and CO, but filled up overnight and were mostly full heading into the big city.

We spent most of the day in the lounge car enjoying the midwest and finally the crossing of the Mississippi after a stop in Fort Madison.



Arrived Union Station about 25 minutes early! Tonight Bedroom A on Train 59, the City of New Orleans. A quick tour of the Great Hall found the steps down to it from Canal St have been replaced as part of the station renovations. Since it is a landmark building, had to use the original specs. That means the 50 tons of marble used had to come from the same quarry- near Rome, Italy! Also a good exhibit off the new Met. Lounge to be in the vaulted ceiling entrance into the Hall. Exhibit incl. good history of each of Chicago stations. Worth a trip just to see it.

After a four course dinner at the Greek Islands restaurant, the pleasant walk to/from the station was most welcome. We stopped into an interesting Catholic church on the return and caught the tail end of a wedding – unfortunately we weren’t invited to the reception.

Back at the station our redcap showed up about 7:15 pm for our 8:10 departure. This gave us plenty of time to settle in and make our way to the lounge, that was almost empty. It was a real treat to sit there in the darkness and watch the lights of the city as we left. With the multiple see-saw moves to get us onto the St. Charles Air Line and over to the CN/IC mainline it felt like watching the rewind of a movie as we made multiple passes at the attractive skyline.

Back in the room we braced ourselves as we accelerated out of town. The rough track was a preview of things to come. This was our biggest complaint of the entire trip as we lurched from side to side throughout the night. BNSF track in Kansas was much smoother.

Day 4, City of New Orleans

All things seem better in the daylight and it was with some trepidation that we ventured into the Cross Country Café for breakfast. Perhaps that name is no longer in vogue as the end door of that car was clearly labeled Diner-Lounge. And that’s what it was. There has been much written about the shortcomings of those cars and the poor food being offered, so we went into it with low expectations. I guess it helped too that we had eaten Amtrak’s heavy bland food for three days and were ready for something lighter. As a result the continental breakfast and the chicken salad lunch was just right for us. And, I must say, that car was the perfect fit for the relatively light load on the train. The lead attendant and a helper apparently had no problem serving dinner to all in the half of the car with tables, and it worked fine for breakfast. The car had an almost cozy feel as you saw when entering only the side with tables and each with a nice table lamp. The helper at dinner was also there for breakfast but shortly thereafter opened the café side for those in the coaches.

The biggest surprise was the diner-lounge attendant’s innovative use of spices. Another sleeper passenger told us we should try her Bloody Marys. So, later in the morning we took her suggestion and had a pleasant conversation with another passenger who was heading to New Orleans to do some house hunting for a retirement home on the gulf who was enjoying the drink.

As we all now, Amtrak recently has been trying very hard to eliminate any individuality of food and the creative use of spices that chefs used in the past. Well this lady was not to be denied. She was from the Bahamas and initially brought her own spice with her from there to enhance her concoctions and now made the spices herself that she purchased. If you’re on this train and have her as the café attendant, I won't reveal her name as I'm sure there is some regulation against doing this, but you have to sample her drinks. It was so good. The lounge area of the diner-lounge worked well to enjoy our drink with a couple other passengers and some of the crew as we discussed New Orleans dining options. Between its music and food, its one of our favorite cities to visit - but not in the summer. The crew was based in New Orleans so they had lots of good insights.


We spent a pleasant day heading through south Mississippi and Louisiana small towns and were well ahead of schedule after leaving Hammond.

After passing Lake Pontchartrain, we passed our northbound counterpart with two Iowa Pacific cars on the rear including Adirondack Club. I’d love to ride it, but not sure it’s worth putting up with the rough ride. We backed into New Orleans about a half hour early and began the final leg of our trip with a few days in New Orleans with friends.

What’s the scorecard?

San Joaquin – C. Once you pass Stockton, the scenery varies little. The first few fields of crops were interesting but then it got a bit boring and the towns were mostly depressing. The Horizon equipment and bus ride didn’t help. Don’t need to do that again.

Southwest Chief – B+. Excellent crew, one of the best in a long time. Everything worked in the sleeper but the unrefurbished Superliner I car showed its age. The food was mediocre at best, but the scenery while not spectacular was always interesting. BNSF did a good job of keeping us on schedule with the unbelievable amount of freight traffic on the Transcon portion as well as through the soon to be repaired track in Colorado and Kansas.

City of New Orleans – B-. Only the rough track kept this from being a really good trip. No doubt, though, those looking for a culinary experience would be disappointed and the scenery was interesting but unremarkable.

Time to plan our next trip.

Posts: 2317 | From: Camden, SC | Registered: Mar 2006  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator

Quick Reply

HTML is not enabled.
UBB Code™ is enabled.

Instant Graemlins

Post New Topic  Post A Reply Close Topic   Feature Topic   Move Topic   Delete Topic next oldest topic   next newest topic
 - Printer-friendly view of this topic
Hop To:

Contact Us | Home Page

Powered by Infopop Corporation
UBB.classic™ 6.7.2

Copyright © 2007-2016 TrainWeb, Inc. Top of Page|TrainWeb|About Us|Advertise With Us|Contact Us