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A tribute to the Great Dome Cars and my reaching my 775,000 Rail Mile 12/1/2003

by Chris Guenzler

Every day is a good day when you get a chance to ride in a full length Dome Car!

That line I first said back on May 16th, 1998 when I got my first chance to ride on of the ex Burlington Full Length Dome 1395 as the River View now Amtrak 9302. This dome was shortly thereafter joined by the Great Northern Full Length Dome Cars built for the GN's Empire Builder numbers 1391 Ocean View which became Amtrak 10031 and the Great Northern 1392 Mountain View later Amtrak 10030. They were used on the Great Northern's Empire Builder until the advent of Amtrak on May 1, 1970 and continued on that train until it was the first service to have all new Superliner equipment assigned in 1978. After that, they were assigned to Amtrak's Auto Train were they ran between Lorton, Virginia and Sanford, Florida until that train was Superlinered in the mid 1990's when they were removed from service and placed in storage at the Beach Grove Indiana Shops. In 1999 Amtrak assigned them to the Corporate Service Unit and Amtrak West bid on all three for service in the San Diegan Pool. The River View first came out to San Diego Rail Days where the above photo was taken back in May of 1998. I got my first chance to ride one of these cars a few days later. That car was returned to Beach Grove but next the Mountain View was assigned to cafe service on the San Diegans. The Dome rotated to every train on our line out along California's West Coast. That started my many trips in this car. The Ocean View came west next so now I could take one Dome south and the other north. Nothing could be finer than riding a round trip in a full length Great Dome. Over the next few years I made many trips traveling south to San Diego and north to Santa Barbara and Goleta. These were the great days of train riding on the San Diegan Route. The Mountain View was used on the Amtrak West Excursion with me riding in it briefly on a Mt Shasta Daylight trip in June of 1998 and at the NRHS Convention in 1999 at Sacramento. Both those stories are also found on this web site.

Amtrak west then ordered the bi-level Surfliner Train Set. The first train set was put in service on May 26th, 2000. The San Diegan named was dropped used since 1939 and our service was renamed Pacific Surfliner Service. As the new cars arrived then the Horizon Cars were removed from service. The Dome Cars would continue to run until the last new cars arrived. This should have been the end. Amtrak in September of 2001 sold the Mountain View and River View to the American Orient Express for their train service. There became one problem with the Surfliner Train Sets as they were built as 8 five car sets. How do you expand the trains for pick travel periods. Superliner car would be mixed into the consist much to the train crew dismay. As ridership grew more cars would be needed, so one horizon set was returned into Surfliner service with the remaining Great Dome, the Ocean View back running on the famed Surf Line. Trips were once again made to Goleta and to San Diego. Schedules of the Dome Car were posted on Trainorders to all interested riders of the great cars.

The 775,000 Mile trip 12/1/2003

Ken Ruben, the official caller of Lets Talk Train, decided for some reason the rail mile 775,000 was very important for some reason I could never figure out. Was it that he thought it was three quarters of a million rail miles? I had been there and did that back on May 26th, 2003 on Surfliner 769 passing 750,000 rail miles 2.8 rail miles from Santa Ana. So to me this 775,000 rail miles would only get me closer to 800,000 and on to the one million mark ridden. Richard and CJ of Lets Talk Trains would talk it up every week as I neared it. I then got a chance to ride into the Carrizo Gorge and thought about reaching it on the Goat Creek Trestle. The best I tried there was no way I could plan to do it on that trip. Then Mundo on Trainorders posted the low level Horizon set schedule for the Thanksgiving Holiday 2003. A service disruption throw that schedule right out the window but the new schedule would be become important in my train riding career. It turned out that on Monday December 1st, 2003, the Great Dome would run from San Luis Obispo to San Diego on Surfliner 774. It would then turn north on Train 783 to Goleta. I had the Orange County Railroad Society Meeting that night so that meant an afternoon run. I worked my full day at McFadden before driving to the Santa Ana Amtrak Station for a trip to Solana Beach.

I boarded the Surfliner 578 on a beautiful afternoon for my trip south. Mishi punched my ten ride ticket and we headed south. We passed 579 at Irvine followed by the BNSF northbound freight. Following our run along the beach and the Pacific Ocean's edge, we met Metrolink 609 at San Onofre. At Oceanside we took the beach side track as always as we met 581 at the Oceanside Station. Twelve minutes later, I stepped off at Solana Beach where I got a Maple Bar at the Solana Beach Donut Shop and a Coca-Cola from the machine at the station. I crossed over the tracks and took the elevator down to Track 2 to wait for my northbound Surfliner.

Surfliner 785, the Dome Car Ride to 775,000.0 Rail Miles. 12/1/2003

The low level set of Horizon cars pulled in with engines on both ends and the Great Dome 10031 the second car back. I said hello to Pablo, our conductor for this trip, before entering the Dome and taking the front rear facing seat so I could overlook the train. 785 left Solana Beach on time as I enjoyed the 360 degree view the Dome offered. We left Track 2 at Craven switching onto the mainline and quickly sped up to 90 MPH as we headed north through Encinitas. I had put on my "Rush In Rio" tape and was listening to "The Trees" as Pablo punched my ten ride. I was enjoying the setting of the sun as we sped north towards Oceanside. Richard of Lets Talk Trains thought that he might join me on the trip but was no where to be found. While the train was fairly full, the Dome was almost empty making it nice and quiet. With the North Carolina Dome Car now out of Amtrak service, the 10031 is the final Dome Car running on the entire Amtrak system. We arrived Oceanside and left there on time. The moment was now closing in. We crossed the San Luis River and passed CP East Brook as 785 was gaining sped back up to 90 MPH. As we neared the old location of Fallbrook Jct we ducked under the southbound lanes of Interstate. We passed the former location of Fallbrook Jct and two tenths of a mile later we sped by the point of me passing my 775,000.0 rail mile. I opened my can of Coca-Cola for my personal celebration as the train passed the Coaster Stuart Mesa maintenance facility and sped across Camp Pendleton. Pablo stopped by to congratulate me before we went into the siding at San Onofre for Metrolink 604. The sun had already set but we had a beautiful twilight Pacific Ocean shore run with Venus shinning in the western sky. It was one of those scenes that a still camera could not capture but maybe a video camera might. San Clemente Island was in view as well which does not show up that often so it was indeed a special evening. All too soon, we turned off the beach for San Juan Capistrano and our next station stop. We passed Surfliner 582 at CP Avery and later Metrolink 606 just beyond Irvine. Nine minutes later, I detrained at Santa Ana with 775,049.4 rail miles thus ending another Amtrak rail adventure.

When might I ride an Amtrak Great Dome again? Only time will tell but I hope it soon!