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Andy Anderson Amtrak Journeys The Coast Starlight
Leg Three - Oct 24th - 25th 2009: The Coast Starlight
andy anderson all aboard the coast starlight
All Aboard the Coast Starlight

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Breakfast at Original Philippe's

Instead of having the taxi driver drop me off at the station, I opt to begin today at Philippe's for breakfast.

This is a cool place. Actually, I think the word I'm looking for is ambience. I linger over some eggs and toast, and a cup of nine-cent coffee (that's right a cup-'o-joe at Philippe's is nine cents, with no refills). Although I've been told the roast beef sandwiches are to-die-for, I decide that: One, it's way too early to have one, and two: If I bring one on the train, and wait before I eat it, it probably won't be as good. I decide that the famous sandwich at Philippe's will have to wait for another trip.

Andy's Note: I'm planning another journey in 2010, covering the same route. So, I'll put it on my planning sheet to try the sandwiches then.

Additional Note: The trip for 2010 is set, and in the planning stages. Learn more...

The jaunt back to Union Station is a short one, plus the weather is ideal. It's in the high fifties, which I find perfect for walking. I arrive at Union Station around 8:30AM. The Traxx Bar is not supposed to open for first-class passengers until 8:45AM; however, the attendant invites me in, and tells me to have a seat. I'm the first one... Whoopee!

This is different from my experience a year ago, when no one was allowed into the lounge until EXACTLY 8:45AM; plus, the lady that checked us into the lounge seemed to be having a really bad day. In fairness, she did chill out later, but it was a rough start to the day.

Today, however, everyone is friendly and conversational... Hmmm.

Okay, so we've established that it's a great day outside, and all the Amtrak staff are super nice. All we need now is a choir of angles singing The sun has got its hat on.

The Traxx Bar fills up fast, and before long, it's standing-room only. Since I got here early, I snagged a seat with a small table, so I'm writing on my computer as things happen around me, and basically people watching. I get up for some hot tea (non-booze type drinks are free), and chill. You can get adult beverages for a price; however, it's a bit early for the hard stuff. So, even though I'm on vacation, I forgo my adult morning beverage. With that said, there are several people sipping on bloody mary's... I think I'm jealous.

It's almost an hour before the conductor comes to the lounge to check our tickets, so there's no rush to get things done. Besides, it's a beautiful day in California, and what could be better than sipping some tea, and just plain people watching.

I wish all the major Amtrak stations had something like the Traxx Bar. Weather permitting, the Traxx lounge opens up into a courtyard, and today the weather is permitting. As I sit here, a warm California breeze is blowing through the lounge, and small birds jump around hoping that someone will drop a piece of food. From what I understand, Amtrak made a deal with the owners of the Traxx Bar to use it in the morning for the departing Coast Starlight first-class passengers. There are other areas of the station that could be opened up; however, they're closed off and reserved for special occasions, and filming. It's probably a question of money... They can make more money by renting these areas out to Hollywood, and people with more money than sense... Just my opinion.

I don't want to jinx the whole thing, but so far this trip is going without a hitch. The plane to Chicago was early, the Marriott was great, and the seventy-hour trip on the Texas Eagle/Sunset Limited went off with nary a problem. When I got to LA, the Marriott in Hollywood was perfect, and now it looks like we'll have an on-time departure from Los Angeles on the Coast Starlight...

My mother, bless her heart, would be waiting for something bad to happen. She was of the opinion that God had to humble you every now and then. But dear old mom is not on this train... as a matter of fact, if she were, I'd have to dig her up. However, after a lifetime of hearing how God is going to humble me, I'm always waiting for the other shoe to drop... Thanks mom. Let's just call this my graveyard humor, and leave it at that.

After a bit, the conductor strolls into the Traxx bar, takes our tickets, and even takes the time to talk to each one of the passengers... that adds a nice personal touch to the beginning of the trip. Twenty minutes later, he leads us out to the Coast Starlight. It's a short walk through the early morning sun. For people who don't want, or can't, make the walk, there are several electric carts all set up to transport them to the train. It seems that Amtrak has thought of everything.

As we approach the Coast Starlight its freshly-washed exterior stands gleaming in the rays of the early morning West Coast sun. Our car attendant meets us at the doorway to our sleeper car, and takes us to our respective rooms. So far, so good.

I arrive at my room to find a bottle of champaign, and two glasses. Now, that's what I'm talking about. Our car attendant stops by each of the deluxe bedrooms, and roomettes, introduces himself, and offers to explain the features of a Coast Starlight sleeper. I tell him that I'm a bit of an old hand at train travel, and he smiles. On the way out, he invites me to the Pacific Parlour car for some refreshments, and then leaves me to my own devices.

The couple next to me (Charles and Adele), are new to train travel. They're going up to Seattle for a few days, and at the last minute decided to take the train. On the advice of a good friend, they booked a sleeper. Typically, you won't be able to get a bedroom on the Coast Starlight unless you book early. However, at this time of year, the body count is not as high as other times. Plus we're carrying an extra sleeper car. As I begin unpacking, I hear our attendant going through the full speech with mynext-door neighbors.

Thirty minutes later (spot on time), we're pulling out of Los Angeles with nary a hitch.

The Coast Starlight Consist

The following is the consist of the Coast Starlight:

Genesis Engine 56
Genesis Engine 176
U.S. Mail Car 1710
Superliner Sleeper 39005
Superliner Sleeper 32007
Superliner Sleeper 32072 (George M. Pullman)
Pacific Parlour Car 32009 (Columbia Valley)
Superliner Diner 38061
Superliner Lounge 33034
Superliner Coach 34093
Superliner Coach 31515
Superliner Coach 34031
Private Car
Private Car

Superliner Sleeper 39005 is not being used on this trip, and 32007 is less than half full. According to the conductor, they fill the sleepers from the back to front. Since I'm in the back sleeper, our car is full. The conductor said that in the winter months they get a lot of skiers, and they usually fill up pretty quick.

I don't have a lot of information on the private cars. Amtrak will pull private cars for those that have the money to have them. There are several movie stars, and captains of industry that own a private car. In addition, there are companies that will host your party in a private car. I'll be interested in seeing if anyone "special" is in those cars.

Andy's Note: I never did find out anything else about those private cars; however, they looked like old restored parlor cars from the turn of last century (without any external markings), and every time we made a stop several large dudes came out and kept the sightseers back. So they weren't just tourist cars... it must have been something else. Everytime I got close with my camera, I got a nasty stare from one of the big dudes. Hummm.

Back to the trip

After we left San Louis Obispo, the Parlour Car did a wine tasting. That's something I'm usually involved in; however, since all first class passengers get a bottle of champagne in their rooms, I feel that I've had my allotment of alcohol for one day...

Just like my last trip, I'm spending most of my time in the Pacific Parlour Car. I've talked to everyone from ladies visiting from Great Britain, to a retired social worker from Los Angeles going to visit his son in Oregon. There is so much interaction in the Parlour Car, I think every Amtrak train should have one (if I ruled the world, things would be different).

A Sight of Fearless Leader

While I was boarding in Los Angeles, I noticed someone that looked familiar. Now, I don't want you getting too excited, but I actually saw THE Chris Guenzler... Yes, I'm not kidding, I actually saw him. He isn't, as some suggest, some avitar who was just made up by Amtrak to promote rail travel... he is alive. Actually, Steve is the founder of the trainweb site, and he's personally traveled over one million rail miles.

If you're interested in how long that would take... Well, the average speed on a long-distance trip, counting delays and stops, is about forty-five miles per hour. I'm basing this on the last two long-distance trips I've taken, so I could be way off in my calculations... way off. But remember, your train might get up to eighty mile per hour, but there are occasional delays, stops, and smoke breaks.

So, let's assume that you're going to travel a million miles, and you're traveling at forty-five MPG. At that speed it would take two and a half years to go a million miles. Now that's some serious train time.

I was going to say something to him on the trip; however, he got on the train, and basically got off the train. So, I missed my opportunity to talk to the legend himself.

God Speed Chris Guenzler, and may the force be with you.

Back to the trip... again

On this leg of the journey, I'm in bedroom E. That's the last of the bedrooms, and essentially in the middle of the car. As I mentioned before, rooms D and E are my favorites. For a detailed look at a sleeper car, click here.

The room is the same as the one on the Texas Eagle/Sunset Limited, except everything is reversed. So, when you enter the room, the couch is on the left, and the chair is on the right. On the Texas Eagle/Sunset Limited I was in room D, and the couch is on the right and the chair is on the left... Isn't this interesting stuff? Aren't you glad I told you that? It also means that if you're sitting in the chair and you're looking out the window... if you're in room E you are looking at where you're going, and in room D you're looking at where you've been. Wow, this is heavy stuff.

Anyway, I go though my setup, and get out all my stuff. I start plugging in computers, and recharging batteries. Actually, I'm surprised I haven't blown a fuse... knock on wood. One other thing of importance: All rooms will have their little squeaks, and knocks. Sooooo, what you do is bring along two things: packing tape, and some sticky putty. Once we take off, I identify the areas that are knocking or squeaking, and begin puttying and applying tape. At the end of the trip, I'll remove the material and no one's the wiser. Actually, I got that tip from a car attendant several years ago. In fact, he came back to my room with a roll of tape and putty. Good Amtrak attendants are the best... and they are not the exception; they're the rule.

Andy's Advice: Some train sites suggest bringing along duct tape, but don't. Duct tape leaves a mark when it's removed. Packing tape is like big clear Scotch tape, and it won't leave marks. The same with the putty, it helps to dampen those pesky doors that bang against the frame, but when the putty is removed there's no telltale marks... It's Magic!

Here's another interesting piece of information. On the Texas Eagle/Sunset Limited I was traveling in a Superliner I, now, on this portion of the trip, I'm in a Superliner II. What is the difference,? I'm glad that you asked... Well, there were more hooks built into the walls of the Superliner I bedroom to hang your cloths and stuff, and the toilets flushed automatically, when you closed the lid; in addition, the doors to the public toilets opened inward. It was also harder to get the top bunk to lower and lock into place.

In contrast, the Superliner II cars of the Coast Starlight, have a more modern look. The toilets have a button for flushing, there are almost no hooks in the bedroom for hanging stuff, and the upper berth is easier to get up and down. Oh, and the public toilet doors swing outward. That's probably some type of safety thing; however, I've almost gotten smacked a couple of times by a door when someone exits too fast... I HATE it when that happens.

I have also noticed that the Superliner II cars seem to run somewhat quieter; however, since I've not ridden hundreds of trains to get more of a scientific result, it could be that the Superliner II cars are used on routes with better tracks.

There are other subtitle things, like the color scheme, and the location of light switches. All things being the same, I do like the improvements made to the Superliner II, and I hope that I see them on the Empire Builder.

Lunch in the Pacific Parlour Car

Passengers in first class have the option of dining in the regular diner car, or having lunch and/or dinner in the Pacific Parlour Car. The menu selections are limited; however, the service is excellent, and it's much less crowded. I pick a 12:15PM reservation, and wait for my time to come.

In times past the attendant would call for you over the intercom. On this trip the car attendant said that we should just come when it's our time. So, at 12:15PM I get up from one of the lounge chairs (I was already in the Parlour Car doing some work), and move over to the serving area. There are only six tables in the Parlour Car, so the seating is obviously limited. The thing is that most people choose the diner car, with its expanded menu selection, so there's never a crowd. The choices are an Italian sandwich with pasta salad, or bbq pork dish. I choose the sandwich option, and it arrives in less than five minutes. I eat by myself, and at no time were all six tables occupied. That's another thing I like about dining in the Pacific Parlour car: You can choose to dine alone.

Life on the Coast Starlight

After lunch, I move back to the other side of the Parlour Car, and continue working. One section has large tables for guests that are dining, the other half has small tables and comfy swivel chairs. When meal time is over, the dining tables are open for passengers to sit and work (like I do), or just relax and start up a casual conversation. During the day, drinks and snacks are always available for first-class passengers, and the lower portion of the car has a movie theater, mostly for the kids.

There are plenty of outlets for plugging in electrical stuff; like my computer, and I set up shop, begin working on this travelogue, and strike up several conversations. Some sit down and we talk for ten or fifteen minutes, others just say a few words in passing. One thing for sure, if you're sitting in the Pacific Parlor car, or the Sightseer Lounge car, be ready for some conversations.

About an hour into the trip we break out to the Pacific Ocean. It's a beautiful day. The blue/green of the Pacific waters reflects the mid-day sun, and send it back to our speeding train like a million sparkling diamonds. There are plenty of waves on that ocean, and plenty of surfers to ride them. Along the shoreline, dozens of RV's are parked next to the sand. Some have BBQ's set up and others are using piles of rock to make fire pits. Couples sit in lawn chairs, holding hands as they watch the ever changing moods of the ocean. Little children run in and out of the waves. You can almost hear their laughter through the thick windows of the Parlour Car.

As I continue to work on my computer, the sun slowly move westward.

Andy's Note: Although it seems that all I do is plug in my computer and work, that's not really the case. As a matter of fact, I spend a lot of time talking, relaxing, and just gazing out at the passing scenery. In a world full of stress and problems, I find travel on the train a decompressing experience.


The sun, having performed its function, retired for the evening, and the windows in the Pacific Parlour car are reflecting the light of the old sconces that illuminate the interior of this restored beauty. The darkness is almost complete, and only a faint wash of dark blue reminds us that the sun has set. I have a 7:30 dinner reservation; however, it's 7:00PM, no one is eating, and I'm the last person the attendant is going to have to serve. Since she can't clean up until I've had my supper, I ask her if I could go ahead and eat now. I can tell she's happy about my decision. I had the chicken and veggie plate with hot tea, and no dessert.

Andy's Note: Will Andy ever have a dessert on this trip? Keep reading and find out.

Dinner in the Pacific Parlour Car is defined as an intimate affair. Normally, there are not more than two people seated at a table, and if you wish you can dine alone. I was alone for lunch and dinner. The menu usually consists of only two entrees. This evening they were chicken with veggies, or bbq ribs. The meal always begins with a salad, and ends with dessert. When I travel on the Starlight I always take my meals here. Oh, one more thing, breakfast is not served in the Parlour car; that's served in the regular dinning car. And now you know the rest of the story. I had the chicken with veggies, and hot tea... As usual, the meal was excellent.

Oh, by the way, I didn't get any dessert.

Day 2 On the Coast Starlight

I wake up at 4:30AM, and dress for the day. It's still pitch black outside my window, and not even the light of a lamp post or house light breaks the through the blackness. My GPS tells me that we're close to the Oregon border, and we're traveling about fifty MPH. Around 5:00AM we make a short stop in Dunsmuir, California, to pick up two passengers. So that puts us four minutes ahead of schedule. As the morning wears on, I begin to see a bit of light on the eastern horizon. Soon it turns into a red smear , and not too much later, the sun makes it's appearance. The world it illuminates is shrouded in a cold fog. I can see frost on the plants, and ice on some of the standing pools. So the temperature must be hovering around the freezing mark.

The world around me is painted in a palette of Fall colors. As the sun touches the trees, they fairly explode with Autumn shades of yellow, orange, and red. This is some beautiful country. And for viewing Fall colors, it seems that I hit it spot on. I can't wait to see what the Empire Builder will show me.

The fog finally burns away, leaving a cold, hard-blue sky, occasionally punctuated with linen white clouds. It's a fantastic scene, and it's just outside the window of my sleeper. I decide to skip breakfast this morning. I'm not all that hungry, and I do have some snacks in my bedroom, if my stomach starts growling before lunchtime.

At 7:45AM we stop a Klamath (that's forth-five minutes early). Since we won't leave until our scheduled departure, we'll be here for about an hour. I hop off the train, camera in hand, into a beautiful thirty-two degree Fahrenheit day... And me in short sleeves. The good news is that the sun's out, and there's no breeze, so it's tolerable. I take my shots, and return to the warmth of my bedroom. Then at 8:25AM (spot on time), we pull out of the station.

As we move out of the small town of Klamath, the landscape returns to one of color, with vast tracts of land, lakes, and tall mountains. I spot Mt. Reiner from a distance (we passed it earlier in the morning before the sun came out), and take a shot with a zoom lens. The light of the early morning sun, gives it a graceful golden appearance.

We hit Chemult station three minutes early. Two passengers exit... no new passengers board... we're back on the road in three minutes. I still think the Chemult station is the smallest in the world. It's a tiny building is about the size of a deluxe sleeper, and parked beside it is a van that, presumably, takes people to civilization.

Not much is going on, and to be honest with you, I don't want much to happen. I pack up my computer and head into the Pacific Parlour Car. Once there, I grab a table, and between people watching, I hit the keyboard. Since I didn't do breakfast, I take a 12:15PM lunch reservation, and look at all the vast open spaces that are Oregon. Just about the time of my reservation for lunch, we pass the Three Sisters Mountains. Their snow-capped tops reflect the rays of the Autumn sun. According to the car attendant, there are almost three-hundred miles of trails in the surrounding wilderness.


Lunch in the Parlour car is like all my other meals; intimate, and excellent. I have a lite salad with beef, and hot tea. And... once again... no sweet stuff. Actually, I'm proud of myself. I think.

Back to Travel

We get into Albany a bit ahead of schedule (1:20PM), and continue to head north. We get into Portland early (3:15PM), and spend an hour in the station, waiting. This waiting stuff keeps us on time. In January, when I tried this trip, Portland is as far as I got. Back then, the Coast Starlight was stopped because of mud slides between here and Seattle. To read about that trip, click here, or go back to the main index.

At almost every station, the Coast Starlight arrives early. By the time we hit the Seattle station, and the end of this leg, we arrive one-hour early (7:45PM).

The Waterfront Marriott: Seattle, Washington.

I pack up my bags and head to the Marriott Seattle Waterfront. It's only about a six-buck taxi ride. However, upon arriving at the hotel, I discover that I left my cell phone on the Coast Starlight. I call Amtrak, and they said that the train was already taken for it's clean up, and they wouldn't know anything until the next day. I settle in for the evening, watch a few things on TV, and hit the sack around midnight.

It's time to call this portion of the trip a wrap... Read More...

Navigation: Home - Journey Index - Leg 1 - Leg 2 - Leg 3 - Leg 4 - Leg 5

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Keep the faith... And keep traveling
Andy Anderson