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To be detoured or not, that was the question! A unique Coast Starlight Adventure

by Chris Guenzler

Union Pacific announced that it was going to be doing major track work on the Shasta Route replacing 72,000 wooden ties with concrete ties. The UP thought it would be best to reroute the Coast Starlight via the ex Western Pacific Feather River Canyon Route to Keddie then over the Highline to Klamath Falls. I read all about this on learning it would be 10 days off work and five days off four times on equalling 40 days of track work. Early the next morning, I purchased a Railsale ticket from Sacramento to Klamath Falls and a regular one way ticket back to Martinez for a trip in the middle of the first cycle. I modified a set of 50% off tickets I had for the same weekend to make this trip work. Over the next week the detours started with one very late train really messing things up, so much so that they were going to call off the detours. Number 11 would now run through and Train 14 would only detour if it did not reach Dunsmuir by 7:00 AM. I still decided to take the trip anyway. My Starlight did not get to Los Angeles until 7:38 AM and with tonight's southbound 11 running late, Amtrak decided to break the cycle of very late-running trains by annulling 14 out of Los Angeles and turning Train 11 into 14 at Oakland. They bussed all of 14's passengers from Los Angeles to Oakland. I found that out while I was at work the morning I was going to leave. I left work at lunch and went home to pack wondering if I was going to be detoured or not?

Surfliner 775 3/21/2003

As the train pulled in, I took a picture before I boarded the lower level of the cab car with Assistant Conductor Andy Jackson pointing me the way to a car with seats on this packed 775. Other than having to flag to crossing at Eckhoff Street in Orange, it was a rather unusual trip to Los Angeles where we arrived on time.

The Thruway Bus to Bakersfield 3/21/2003

I walked down the long tunnel to the Thruway Bus to Bakersfield, boarded and waited for departure time. We made really good time to Bakersfield but as we pulled up I was thinking, "Where's the train?"

Bakersfield 3/21/2003

The PA came alive with announcements. Train 714 would not be here until 7:45 PM and Train 703 would not leave until 8:15 PM or later. What happened was because the Starlight was so late, they put all of their LA and connecting passengers on that train. It left Oakland late due to mechanical problems and then lost its slot down the BNSF mainline. In order to get me and the other 11 connecting passengers for the Coast Starlight in Sacramento, they were going to bus us to the train. I look at this way, if I am being bussed to get to a train it would make me happy.

The bus of necessity to Sacramento 3/21/2003

We left Bakersfield at 6:13 PM and headed up CA 99 as the sun was setting. It was really a fast bus trip since I had my music with me. The Rolling Stones "Bridges to Babylon" followed by the Tubes "Live" got me most of the way to Sacramento. I gave the bus driver directions and we arrived at Sacramento at 10:20 PM, thirty-five minutes before the train would have arrived. If you take the fact we left twenty-three minutes after the train should have left, our non- stop bus trip was almost an hour faster than the train, yet I will always prefer the train no matter what. The waiting room was full of passengers waiting for the last train of the night.

About 11:05 PM, the conductor was collecting tickets inside the station and when it came to my turn, I asked the conductor, "Which way are we going tonight, Keddie or Dunsmuir?" He said, "The normal route, as why would you want to do the other way in the dark? Dah?" It just had not been my day. I went outside to the platform and waited in a cold breeze for the Starlight to arrive. At least now I could plan on sleeping the whole night through.

Coast Starlight 14 3/22/2003

The Starlight pulled in after midnight with a surprise, the consist was backwards, i.e. they either did not or could not turn the train in Oakland. I boarded the third coach, the Kiddie Car and received an aisle seat for my trip to Klamath Falls. The Starlight left Sacramento at 12:30 AM and I stayed up as the train ran up the ex Western Pacific from Haggin to Binney Jct where the Starlight continued the trek up the normal route with me asleep.

Later that same morning, I was up early at Sims deep in the Sacramento River Canyon and ventured into the empty lounge car to enjoy the pre-dawn portion in the morning rain. We made it to Castle Crag where we sat for thirty minutes while I enjoyed a breakfast of French Toast and Sausage. We slowed through Dunsmuir before heading around the Cantara Loop. Finally at Mt Shasta City I spotted two McCloud Railway units and their caboose at the interchange. Mt Shasta and Black Butte were both hidden by the clouds on this trip but the valley to the north deserved a picture.

At Hotlum, we passed a northbound UP freight whose last unit was an Amtrak Surfliner painted F-40PH.

As we entered Oregon I shot a few pictures before the rain returned. With no further delays, we arrived into Klamath Falls forty-five minutes late.

Klamath Falls 3/22/2003

I detrained in the rain for a picture of the Starlight changing crews before I got a ride downtown finding the Maverick Hotel on Main Street. I received an excellent rate and when I got to the room I showered, washed my hair and napped for a few hours as I was still dead tired.

I stopped at Blonde's, a fast food joint for a Hot Dog and fries which I took back to my room. I made several phone calls before exploring downtown K Falls finding a Safeway among other things. I spent this rainy afternoon watching VH1, TV Land and the FX channels. I walked and found my restaurant for dinner but it did not open until five so I called Heidi in Grants Pass but she could not come to see me today because she was having her taxes done and the bad weather conditions. Just add that up to the bad luck of this trip. To kill time until dinner, I walked around downtown then back to the station to see what was going on. The street layout in this town is crazy with streets at all kinds of angles. I made it back to John & Lori Steak County Restaurant & Lounge. Marcia was my server and I enjoyed an excellent Filet Mignon wrapped in bacon. The food was fantastic and it was a great restaurant to eat at. I would eat here any time I visit Klamath Falls so I guess that I recommend the place, absolutely! I returned to my room taking a hot bath before watching Matilda. Once that funny and touching movie was over, I checked out and walked back to the depot.

A BNSF freight came though the yard waiting to leave when a UP freight came through with two CP Rail units trailing the lone UP unit. I decided to try a little night photography since even after two years I was still learning with this camera. I checked to see if there were any rooms on the train for sale and of course there were not. The agent asked to see my ticket and ID saying how did he know it was really me and that someone could have stolen my tickets. Like that was really going to happen. I had already shown my ID when I bought the tickets and now I had to show it to check in? What's next, the conductor asking to see it when he takes my ticket or the car attendant asking to see it when I board or the LSA asking for it when I buy a snack, or the dining car steward asking to see it when he seats me? Just something for you to think about. I sat down and met Graham from the Bay Area and we talked until train time. The same conductor pulled my ticket and we had a good laugh about my failed trip to ride the Highline. Graham and I were already planning a future date to try the detour again. He said the only way we would get to ride through the Feather River Canyon on this trip was if something major happened!

Over the scanner we then heard the dispatcher say "Where are you?" "Castle Crag siding" "You derailed" "Is it just the siding or mainline which is blocked?" "Both" "How many cars are on the ground?" "34!" I told Graham we just got our miracle. The conductor then walked up to us and said "Boys you most likely got lucky tonight. I will keep you in the know as the evening goes on. We were two very happy railfans!" The Coast Starlight arrived into Klamath Falls and we boarded the train taking the front coach seats on the right side of the car.

Coast Starlight 11 3/22/2003 The Highline/Inside Gateway Detour

3/23/2003 One day of my sobriety switched from day 2985 to 2986 at Midnight as we continued to sit. At 1:05 AM we backed 0.8 to clear a switch to put us on the track next to the station so we pulled back into the station. Graham stayed up while I managed about three hours of sleep on this night. I woke up with him giving me the thumbsup that we were being detoured. Our BNSF pilot engineer arrived at 4:13 AM and we high balled Klamath Falls at 4:32 AM {10:00 PM}. We pulled down to the south end of the yard where we waited for a signal with a BNSF freight pulling down next to us. At Bieber Line Jct we finally curved off the UP's concrete ties for the wooden ties of the BNSF Gateway Subdivision and my new mileage began.

A bit of history now on the Inside Gateway. In 1929 the Great Northern proposed to extend its line from Klamath Falls towards the Western Pacific which would build north from their line at Keddie to connect someplace in between which was at Bieber in 1931. This line along with a friendly Santa Fe connection in Stockton would provide competition to the Southern Pacific. The line never saw passenger train service but James Hill of the Great Northern once thought of extending the Empire Builder to California. The Great Depression wiped out that idea. The line is dark territory with a top speed of 49 MPH and no signals. The line north of Bieber became the Burlington Northern with its merger of the Burlington, Great Northern, Northern Pacific and Spokane, Portland & Seattle in 1970. The UP gained control of the Western Pacific but had to give up the line to the BNSF when it merged with the Southern Pacific to provide competition to the UP Shasta Route.

We proceeded to the BNSF South Klamath Falls yard where we waited to receive our orders and while all that was going on I enjoyed a snack car breakfast. We left the yard at 5:50 AM, received our track warrants and headed out in twilight passing the Klamath Falls Airport. It was going to be a great day of train riding. We headed out among the sagebrush and fields with Mt Shasta looming off in the west. The Starlight passed through Merrill before continuing to Malin where we turned south as we are making this trip as Extra 112 West as we got our next track warrants at Kephart. The Coast Starlight crossed into California before we crossed the Modoc Line at the signaled junction at Stronghold. The train ran by the Tuklelake National Wildlife Reserve.

Lava Beds National Monument came into view with Mt Shasta standing guard behind. We ran along the high desert to Kandra passing an ash loading facility. Off to the west was the Medicine Lake Volcano. The pine trees started to make an appearance and became a forest by Mammoth as we made our way to Kephart.

We ran by Mud Springs Lake on the way to Scarface then headed to Lookout, the eastern junction with the McCloud Railway. The Starlight cruised across the Madeline Plain making its way to Bieber with the old water tank still standing. This is the end of the Great Northern built trackage of the Inside Gateway.

Now on the former Western Pacific, we descended to the Pitt River which we crossed on a low bridge.

The Starlight then started its climb up the grade twisting and turning to gain elevation. There was a mini dam on the Pitt River before it started into a canyon it had cut out through the basalt rock.

Mt Lassen was in view for a few short minutes before clouds covered it over just as they were now doing to Mt Shasta. The climb out of the Pitt River Canyon was spectacular as was the view looking back northeast over this unique and unspoilt part of California. We turned south running above the Clark Valley which we looped around to the southeast. We continued to Horse Creek before reaching the siding at Little Valley. We had Amtrak 112 and 113 for power, the two units which were notorious for having problems. We came to a stop for five minutes as they tried to restart 113 which had shut down and the crew restarted it with us then on our way south. We curved around several "S" curves to gain more elevation to follow Beaver Creek to Willim Springs. The Starlight crossed the creek there before rounding another ridge to Jellico. We reached some snow on the ground as we neared Halls Flat where we had to line the switch to get by BNSF 4504 South in the siding at 9:30 AM.

The Coast Starlight had been travelling through the Lassen National Forest. The train ran by Ebey Lake and across Grass Valley before running along Poison Lake.

The islands in Poison Lake are man-made and created for nesting waterfowl to protect them from shoreline predators. California Highway 44 ran across the valley as we ran southeast.

It started to snow as we neared Lodge Pole where we met our northbound counterpart, the Coast Starlight sitting in the siding.

A few minutes later we crossed Pine Creek Valley with the creek of the same name and I saw Windy Hollow off to the southeast. The Starlight sprinted along at 40 MPH across Highway 44 and then we ran along snow-covered Long Lake. We made our way through the forest to Robbers Creek then continued on to Westwood. This was the end of my new mileage as I had ridden here in the Feather River E's story also in the first book. I was having a great day in my life and does it ever get any better than this?

We passed the BNSF plow train and the Lassen Power Plant on the way out of Westwood. We went through Clear Creek Junction and the connection with the Almanor Railroad before crossing the Hamilton Branch. I enjoyed the view of Lake Almanor through the trees prior to the train reaching Almanor siding. We passed Canyon Dam before rounding the giant "S" curve crossing the Wolf Creek Overpass then plunged into Tunnel 6.

The Starlight proceeded to Greenville where we went into the siding for a smoke break for the passengers on the west side while BNSF 747 North, the Swift Road Railers passed by on the east side. We left Greenville at 11:52 AM just as the rain started. The Starlight passed the relocated Greenville Depot on the north side of the tracks as we made our way across the west side of the Indian Valley. The train next ran through Crescent Mills and crossed Indian Creek. At Moccasin siding we paused for UP 6245 North waiting for our passage. At the south end of the siding, our crew had to throw the switch so we could continue on our way. Indian Creek descends to make the entrance into the Feather River Canyon with Highway 89 running along it. We crossed over the high curved trestle before entering Tunnel 5 with Indian Creek far below. Minutes later we plunged into Tunnel 4 then 3. The Coast Starlight crossed another curved trestle before we rounded a curve crossing a high straight trestle.

You could see across the canyon the tracks we would be on in a few minutes before we plunged into Tunnel 2. With us still high above Spanish Creek, the train rounded a curve bringing the famous Keddie Wye into view. A van was waiting for our UP pilot crew and a Hi Rail vehicle was then sent out in front of us like they do in bad weather. This brought our trip down the Highline to an end, now the Feather River Canyon.

The Western Pacific was completed in 1909 as a 927 mile railroad with a grade of only 1% all the way from Oakland to Salt Lake City. The Golden Spike was driven right here on the Keddie Trestle back in those days. The most famous of all passenger trains to run over the railroad was the California Zephyr which ran until March 23, 1970, a year before Amtrak was born. The Western Pacific was one of my favorite railroads and it was a sad day in my life when it became part of the Union Pacific.

After our pilot crew change at 1:00 PM, we headed out onto the Keddie Wye then straight in Tunnel 29, then across a trestle straight into Tunnel 28 followed by 27, 26, 25 and 24. That took us to Paxton as we then continued our trek to Twain and Virgilia where we met BNSF 6331 East. The train headed down through Serpentine Canyon. The colors of the rocks were incredible as we dropped through Rich Bar. Any day is a great day when you are riding through the Feather River Canyon. The North Fork of the Feather River entered the canyon right before Belden. We ran along Rock Creek Reservoir and went through the Honeymoon Tunnels as the rain fell again. It was dry again as the Starlight reached Camp Rodgers as we continued to Tobin where Highway 70 and the Feather River were crossed on a truss bridge.

We made our way to the Rock Creek Trestle. The train ran by the empty siding of Merlin. Across the canyon the rock face was very impressive as we neared the Elephant Buttes. At Pulga we met BNSF 4677 East on the main while we pulled into the siding at 2:50 PM to relieve our Amtrak crew who were about to die on the law of service hours.

This delay was going to be only thirty minutes but the new crew was not here yet so they made it a smoke break as well as a stretch your legs time or a whatever break. The whole train got out with people going down to the river, the kids throwing rocks and just people having a good time talking. I took the time to get chicken wings for dinner as the lounge was about to run out of food. UP 4560 West passed as did another UP westbound. That train was followed by our old friend from Halls Flat, BNSF 4504 West.

The new crew arrived and we waited for BNSF 4834 East to go by before we departed Pulga at 4:35 PM. We reached James at 5:13 PM with UP 4864 East tucked away in the siding. We went through the last tunnel and entered the Sacramento Valley with the Sutter Buttes off to the south. We ran below Table Mountain with the hills really green. The Coast Starlight looked great against that background.

We crossed the Feather River one last time and went by the fantastic restaurant in the old Western Pacific Depot at 5:46 PM. We turned the corner and sped south towards Sacramento down the very green Sacramento Valley. We went by Craig with the old friend BNSF 4504 West in the siding waiting for us to pass it again for the second and last time today. We closed in on Binney Jct and as we crossed the UP East Valley Line, our detour came to an end but what a detour it was.

We headed straight on the old Western Pacific then the Starlight circled the west side of Marysville before we crossed the Yuba River. The sun had set in the west as we continued to Sacramento. Light wise it was the reverse of this morning, making it an interesting ending of a fantastic day of train riding. We crossed the Bear River and sped south in twilight. They announced that all connecting passengers for the Surfliners were to stay on the train to Los Angeles while all other San Joaquin Passengers and those mentioned as bus connections were to detrain in Sacramento. They said that we should reach Los Angeles about 9:00 AM, which suited me just fine as it would easily make up for the rail mileage that I lost by taking that bus from Bakersfield to Sacramento. I went to the Parlor Car since the Railphone in the lounge did not work and called my mother from there to call me in sick at work as well as to let her know what the revised plan plus the ETA in LA was and that I love her. I am very lucky to have such a great mother! My mood truly improved with that latest news. We crossed the American River and at Haggin we curved onto the former Southern Pacific Overland Route to the Sacramento Amtrak Station arriving at 6:47 PM. They watered, fueled and serviced the train while we were there. We left Sacramento at 7:58 PM, basically on the old schedule of the ill-fated Spirit of California, that state-sponsored overnight train that ran during Governor Brown's period of running our state. Graham and I talked the rest of the way to Suisan-Fairfield where I called it a night after a very exciting day of rail travel that I will never forget! At Emeryville, Graham woke me before he detrained to say goodbye and to keep in contact. I went back to sleep as we continued down the former Southern Pacific Coast Line.

3/24/2003 I awoke briefly at San Luis Obispo at 5:15 AM {3:20 PM} and was up for good just after the Coast Starlight passed through Grover Beach. Sunrise came after Guadalupe and the climb though Casmalia was beautiful in the early morning light. Crossing Vandenberg Air Force Base, the deer were out in force, something I had never seen in all my trips across the base. There was no dining car service this morning {why?} so it was another lounge car breakfast. I pointed out the coastal sites for a family from Oregon and we saw pods of whales spouting, another first time experience. The clear skies turned into low clouds as we cruised east along the Santa Barbara Channel. We passed the state parks and went to Santa Barbara, a mini fresh air stop. On the move again, I just sat back, listened to the Scorpions "Live" and let the Starlight take me south. The Scorpions took me to Simi Valley at 9:27 AM {7:41 PM}. In honor of my two night trip home, I selected Night Ranger to be my musical selection to Los Angeles. We met Metrolink 105 at Hassan and then went to Chatsworth to take the siding for Amtrak Surfliner 763. We made our way across the San Fernando Valley with no further delay until Burbank where there was a Metrolink train in the station and Metrolink does not allow two trains in a station at the same time. We reached Glendale at 10:19 AM {8:23 PM} with a UP log train sitting in the siding. These logs are being salvaged from the Arizona wildfire near Snowflake to the lumber mills in California and Oregon. Next the Starlight passed what was left of the former Southern Pacific Taylor Yard Shops. At the Metrolink Yard, I saw Amtrak F-40PHs 256, 300 and 338 which Metrolink had just bought. Minutes later I saw Pasadena Gold Line cars out testing. We arrived at Los Angeles Union Station at 10:32 AM {9:00 PM} and even I had an outstanding southbound trip on Amtrak even though I set a new Amtrak all-time late record of 13 hours and 32 minutes.

Surfliner 572 4/24/2003

A film crew was filming "Garfield" {the cat} on Track 13 which made getting to my train on Track 12 slightly more difficult this time but when I saw AC Andy Jackson, I knew I was in the right place. I shared a brief trip experience with him. We left Los Angeles on time and I was really glad to be headed towards home. All of the experiences of yesterday had me really dragging today. I sat back, drank a 20 ounce Coco Cola, listened to my music and relaxed while the Surfliner took me south. We had a yellow signal at La Mirada to a red signal at Basta. We sat there for twenty minutes. The BNSF LACBAR baretable could not get into the clear before our 572 arrived at Basta. We stopped at Fullerton and then at Fullerton Jct where we passed the BNSF local. We ran with no further delays as the train managed to make up a minute before we arrived into Santa Ana, only 19 minutes late ending another exciting yet incredible Amtrak adventure.