Warning: very long and detailed.
Part 2, covering the leg from Chicago to New Orleans, will be posted later.
My friend Pierre dropped me off at the Emeryville Amtrak station (just across the bay from San Francisco) for 8:30am. Train #6 was due to depart at 9:35am so I had some time to kill. The first thing I did was to pay for my Sleeping Car upgrades, which I did easily as there was no line. I then looked around the modern station for a bit and picked up some brochures before heading outside to enjoy the cool temperatures. After all, we don’t get any cool weather in New Orleans until at least October, so I have to enjoy it while I can. My mother's boss let me borrow his digital camcorder, so I gave it a test go by filming the outside of the station. Before I knew it, I heard the familiar sound of an Amtrak Genesis locomotive pull up. Train #6 pulled into the station at 9:15 with the following consist: 2 P42 locos, 1 Baggage Car, 1 Superliner Sleeping Car, 3 Superliner Coaches, 1 Sightseer Lounge Car, 1 Superliner Dining Car, 2 Superliner Sleeping Cars, and 3 Boxcars at the tail end. I made my way down to the #631 car, which was located directly behind the Dining Car. My car attendant, Glenda, said her hellos and showed me where I had to go. I made my way up to room #9 of the venerable Superliner 1 sleeper, which had undergone a Beech Grove refurbishment in 1995, as indicated by the small plaque near the upper vestibule. I found the room to be clean but not spotless, and it didn’t really show its true age. Everything in the room functioned as it should and it was, of course, quite comfortable.
We departed at 9:35, right on time. The Conductor came through picking up tickets at 9:45 just as we started to cruise past the bay, affording all passengers on the left side of the train an amazing view of the San Francisco skyline. Glenda came into the room at around 10:00am and gave a little speech regarding the room and the train. She said she has fresh coffee, water, and juice out near the stair case, and that if I need anything to please let her know. She said she’s been doing this route for some 25 years. Impressive! First station stop was Martinez, at 10:17am. We started out climb over the impressive Suisan Bay draw bridge at 10:25am. Once we got off the bridge it was interesting to see the hundreds of mothballed Merchant Marine vessels anchored in the bay, undoubtedly waiting to be scrapped. We passed through Davis, CA (the home of UC-Davis, which has a very nice campus and very modern buildings) at 11:05. The skyline of Sacramento came into view at 11:20, and we stopped at the station at 11:35. This was a scheduled smoking break along the route, so many passengers chose to de-train to at least get some fresh air. We’d have an extra few minutes here as it turned out, as we had to wait for connecting passengers from the six-hours-late Coast Starlight to arrive from Seattle. We finally left Sacramento at 11:49, only 17 minutes late thus far. I went to lunch at noon and sat with a family of three going to Denver. We had a nice conversation (and a tasty meal) as the scenery became more and more impressive. I left the Dining Car at 1:15 and hit the Sightseer Lounge Car for awhile as we made our way to our next stop at Truckee, CA. The mountain vistas were stunning (the American River Canyon was truly impressive), as was Donner Lake, seen from several hundred feet above. I went back to my room for 4:15 and remained in there until we reached Reno at 5:25, just a little over an hour late. I stepped out in RNO and chatted with Glenda for a few before making my way back on the bi-level Superliner train to continue the journey east.
I went to dinner at 6:00pm, and sat with a couple going to Indianapolis and a woman going to Boston. All were, of course, making connections in Chicago like me. I had the chicken breast stuffed with Goat cheese tonight, which was very good actually. As was the chocolate cake. We were stopped for a good thirty minutes in a Union Pacific yard outside of Sparks, NV waiting for a passing freight train. I returned to my room for around 7 to make a few calls, then hit the lounge to watch the sunset in the Nevada desert. We were put on a siding for about 45 minutes to let two freights pass. We got moving again at about 8:25pm. I decided it was time to check out the occupancy in Coach. All three coaches were booked to about 95% capacity. I found a rare open pair of seats in the second car and hung out there for maybe an hour before returning to my sleeper for the night.
I woke up at 6:30am after a pretty restful sleep. I went down and took a shower then went to breakfast. A gentleman whom I was sitting with told me that we were a little more than two hours late – not too bad thus far. I also sat with two ladies who were on their way to Nebraska for a family reunion. I returned to my room after breakfast to find it converted to the daytime configuration. I watched some of the interesting scenery then went to the lounge for about 8:15. We passed through the inspiring Price River Canyon in between Provo, UT and Helper, UT. We arrived into the small little railroad town of Helper at 9:25, or two hours and seven minutes late. Passengers could de-train here for a few minutes. The weather was gorgeous. Sunny, clear, and cool temperatures. We departed Helper at 9:33. Upon departure the Assistant Conductor gave a nice lecture over the train’s P.A system regarding the history of this town. Apparently, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid used to frequent the place. We got some more interesting trivia from the A/C as we headed East through the Utah desert. We passed through the town of Green River, UT and then flew past the nearly deserted town of Thompson, which was a former Amtrak stop in years past.
I went to lunch about 12:15 as we passed through Colorado’s Ruby Canyon. Next stop: Grand Junction. I had a burger, which was good. The scenery was amazing, as we cruised past the Colorado River going 79. We pulled into Grand Junction at 1:03pm, a tad less than two hours late. I got off here to check out the concession stand, a local railroad tradition in this area, and bought what turned out to be one of the most delicious peaches I have ever had. I also took a stroll up to the head end to get some good footage of the locomotives in all their glory. We departed Grand Junction at 1:23pm. Next stop: Glenwood Springs. We got to Glenwood at 3:15. Wow what a neat little town. I could easily spend some time there. We were stopped here for about ten minutes so I got out to get some cool mountain air. En route to Granby we passed through the spectacular Glenwood and Gore Canyons. Somewhere in this are we passed our late sister train #5 waiting on a siding for us to pass. I went to dinner at 5:30. Sat with a girl from New Zealand going to Detroit, a girl from Britain going to Chicago, and a lady going to Mt. Pleasant, Iowa. We arrived Granby at 6:25pm, and were only there for a minute or so. We made the short, scenic cruise to Fraser/Winter Park and arrived at 6:54pm. We were off at 6:57pm for Denver. To my surprise, we had no delay entering the Moffat Tunnel, and cruised through at about 60mph. To say the least, the approach into Denver was magnificent. Numerous tunnels, steep mountain ledges, and finally making our way down Big Ten Loops giving us that great airliner-style view of the Denver metro area. It was breathtaking. We arrived into Denver at 9:38pm after doing some maneuvering to pick up some more boxcars and a private car. I did get out here to get the blood flowing a bit.
Our journey continued after approx twenty min in Denver. I listened to some music for the first half hour or so after leaving, and then called it a night. Through the night I got bumped around pretty good. Very rough track. I didn’t get much sleep, probably about four hours. Still, I was comfortable. I awoke just as we pulled into Lincoln, NE, three hours and ten minutes late. After taking a shower I had breakfast at about 7:30. We pulled into Omaha at just about 8:30 and got some bad news. Apparently there was some massive flooding on the track ahead near Creston, Iowa. The flooding was 200 feet wide and five feet deep. BNSF has cancelled all train service on the route. The Conductor announced that we would be here for awhile while Amtrak and BNSF officials decided what to do. At about 9:30am the announcement was made. All passengers ending their trip at a stop between Omaha and Chicago would be bussed to their final destination. All passengers going to Chicago or making connections would remain on the train. The train would go over a Union Pacific detour to Chicago. Also, a UP locomotive and crew would be driving us through the detour. The Conductor estimated an arrival time into Chicago of around 10:30pm. He did say that is an estimate and could easily change, as UP is running the show now.
We departed Omaha at exactly 11:30am. Nothing but fields, fields, and more fields. Initially we were making some good time. I had no idea which route we were taking, so I as trying to look for anything to give me an indication. As we cruised pass Highway 30 I saw a sign that read “Ames 159 miles”. Ok, at least we’re going in the right direction I thought, as Ames is in Iowa. For all I knew we could have headed South to Kansas City before taking the Southwest Chief’s line up to Chicago! I went to lunch at 1:00pm . Sat with a couple going to Chicago (ultimately Michigan) and another man going to Indiana. During lunch we got put on a siding for a good thirty minutes. When we started moving again, it was at a snail’s pace, about 20 mph. I got back to my room for about 2:30. Around 4:00pm the A/C gave a little speech regarding the history of this rail line we were now on, a former Chicago and North Western line through the heart of Iowa. He said that we will enter Illinois upon crossing the Mississippi River at Clinton, Iowa. He also said that he had no idea as to when we will arrive and that Amtrak cannot do anything to make us move any faster. I like the fact that he explained the UP meltdown situation thoroughly to the passengers. We crossed the spectacular Kate Shelly High Bridge somewhere towards the middle of the state. It really was something, several hundred feet high at least. We stopped for a UP crew change at some yard which had at least 15 tracks in it at one point. After very slow moving all afternoon we came to a stop at 5:41pm and remained motionless for 45 minutes. The call for dinner came at 6:00pm. The only meal available is Beef Stew with a salad, bread, and beverage, due to diminishing food supplies. Every passenger on the train got the meal if they wanted one, even Coach passengers, which was a nice thing to do. At 6:45pm we sped through Marshalltown, Iowa.
At this point, the sky really started to look ominous. We were held again at 7:10 for a freight for twenty minutes. At 8:00pm the weather has really deteriorated. It’s easily the worst lightning storm I’ve ever been in. Torrential rain and wind just added to the drama. We came to a stop at 8:28pm, which wasn’t surprising considering how bad the weather was. At 8:50 the Conductor announced that the electrical storm had caused some frights to stall ahead of us, knocks out all the track signals, and also one freight had a wheel slip off the track. He said we’ll be here for awhile, and that once we reach Clinton (now only 65 miles away) Amtrak Passenger Service Reps will board the train to take care of passengers’ connections, hotels, etc. We started moving again at 9:40pm. I fell asleep for a bit, and when I woke up at 11:30, we still had not reached Clinton. It looks like it’ll be a long night.
I was enjoying a pretty restful sleep when the announcement came over the p.a at 3:45am. “Ladies and gentlemen, passenger service reps are now on the train in the Dining Car, and will assist each passenger. Please bring your tickets with you and proceed to the Dining Car.” I ran out of my room to make sure I wouldn’t have a long wait. I was number four in line to get served. Shortly after I arrived, the entire Dining Car filled up. Some of those people were probably there until at least 6:00am I would imagine. The Amtrak rep gave me a meal voucher, hotel voucher, and she said she has rebooked me on train 59 on the 28th. She told me that all the sleepers were sold out on 59 so I would get a refund for the sleeping car fare I paid. I went back to my room and crashed.
I woke up at 6:40am.Still not in Chicago. I found a towel somehow and took a shower at 7. There was no soap left in the shower but thankfully I had brought some with me just in case. I spoke to a Dining Car attendant at around 8:00am and she told me that we were in DeKelm, IL, which is about 65 miles from Chicago. The Conductor came on the p.a at about 8:30 and said that “possible” arrival into Chicago of 10:30 or 11:00am. He said the UP crews in the locomotive aren’t giving the Amtrak crew any information. Typical UP nonsense. What a terrible operation they have. We had now gone over 21 hours without a stop…not even a smoke break. That has to be some sort of a record, or close to it at least. At 9:10am the Lounge Car attendant offered to give passengers on medication or Diabetics whatever remaining food they had left. There is still coffee and juice left on the upper level, but that’s all. Suffice to say I was getting hungry at that point. I made it a goal of mine to get a deep dish Chicago pizza during my long layover. We crossed the Fox River at 9:12am, signaling our arrival into the Chicago metropolitan area. Finally, at 10:43am, we pulled into Union Station, and detrained at around 11 after we did some maneuvering to detach the boxcars and express cars. Before I detrained an announcement was made that this train would be quick turned here and would operate as train #3 to Los Angeles this afternoon.
On my way out I thanked Glenda for the hard work and great service and tipped her accordingly. I heard several passengers make anti-Union Pacific comments, but no anti-Amtrak comments, which made me happy. The entire train staff was courteous and professional for the entire journey. One of the things that I really enjoyed about this trip was the numerous narrations by the a/c regarding things of interest along the route. It was a very nice touch and I wish it would be implemented on every long-haul route, as all of them (even though not as scenic as trains #5/6) do have great historical significance and pass through interesting places. As I walked down track #3 for the terminal, I took one last look back at #6. She sure showed me a good time. It was an adventure to remember.