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Holland America Dome Car Tour and Trip

by Chris Guenzler

I heard that the brand new Holland America Dome Cars were going to be on a tour with public viewing at various West Coast locations including Fullerton. My dear friend Barry Christensen sent me an e mail with an Internet Address of where I could sign up for a tour of these unique cars. I signed up for Friday the 4th of April to tour the cars. The next few days they sent me two e mail reminders about my upcoming visit. I really could not wait to see these cars. The day before my tour I took Surfliner 579 to Fullerton in order to get some outside shots of the cars.

After some pictures and a visit up to the Trainweb offices, I returned to Santa Ana on Metrolink 602.

My Tour of the Holland America Dome Cars 4/4/2003

I took Surfliner 579 to Fullerton for my prearranged tour of the two Holland America Dome Cars, the "Kenai" {HALX 1050} and the "Knik" {HALX 1051"}. First thing you notice is the size and height of these cars. They have a length of 89 feet, a width of 10 feet and a height of 18 feet, 1 inch, making these the largest rail cars ever built. These cars can carry 88 passengers under the dome and 44 in the dining room. The dining room sitting will reduce meal service to two sittings instead of three on other competitors trains when these cars are in service in Alaska. The cost of each of these cars are $3 million dollars each and were built by Colorado Railcar Manufactory, the premier builder of futuristic, customized full dome rail cars. The new four cars built are the two here, the "Kenai" and "Knik" and the two other new ones, the "Chena" and "Kobuk". These cars will be a great addition to the Holland America fleet. I climbed up onto the rear covered viewing platform which is a 9x10 feet area on the rear of the Knik and stopped to enjoy the view.

For picture taking, this area would be an excellent environment for that purpose. Since you have a roof over your head, one could take pictures in any kind of weather, something I would be doing if I rode in these cars in Alaska. To enter the car you push on the plate and a sliding door opens allowing access to the lower lounge with its built in leather sofa, two chenille chairs and a small black granite bistro table. They have a display case where souvenirs would be sold on trips in Alaska. Across for that there is an ADA wheelchair lift that allows access to the three wheel chair seats in the dome of the Knik. There is an ADA lavatory on the lower level as well as an ADA dining area in both of these cars. Each car is equipped with two restrooms which are very well set up for use. I walked down the nicely upholstery and carpeted corridor. The colors used in these cars are found in nature: green of Alaska jade, purple of native wild iris and "Honey" of fall tundra grass. That led to the car's dining area which has wall art of two layers of lit etched glass activated by speed of moving train.

The seats have black and "honey" plush velvet seat backs with purple accents in an elegant "tile" design. The seat cushions are custom made using classic black European Leather. Ambient Lighting of the dining car is inspired by images of ice caught in tree branches and it really looks like that. Leaving the impressive dining area, I walked into this car's well designed galley and across from the stairs to the upper level. I retraced my route back to the lower lounge at the other end of the car before heading upstairs.

Heading upstairs, the first thing you notice is the full 360 degree view from the upper level that these domes give you. The windows are the largest that I have seen and provide a clear view over seated passengers. These cars have more interior dome space than any other dome car in service in Alaska. I tried one of the seats and these cars have the widest dome seats in any dome car ever made. In the wall is a headphone jack for a GPS guided narration system, a six channel music and emergency system. In case there would ever be an emergency, these cars are equipped with 8 emergency window exits. The front of the cars have a beverage service area and the onboard staff will carry handheld PDA's for wait staff service to improve dining and cocktail service efficiency. For passenger comfort, each car is equipped with four separate air conditioning systems. The cars interiors are smoke free with smoking only permitted on the car's outdoor platform. Onboard luggage storage eliminates the passengers having to store their luggage under the seats like they use to do in the past. I was totally impressed by all of the features on the Knik.

I then took a look through the Kenai, which has a complete kitchen unit in half of the lower level designed to create meals for all of the passengers. The other end of the lower level is a dining area for 44 passengers. There are stairs at both ends of the car leading to the upper level. I walked past the bathroom into the lounge area. Through the sliding door is the outside viewing platform of the Kenai. Upstairs the dome area is very similar to that of the Knik. I walked back through the lower area of both cars and thanked the car's host for having me abroad these two unique cars today.

I walked over to the Trainweb office and told Ray of my visit. He had taken the 360 degree virtual pictures you see on Trainweb yesterday. Ray then told me that Trainweb had been invited to ride a special train of the Holland America cars on Monday from Glendale to Santa Barbara. Ray suggested that I go back over and ask if I could go along as well. I walked back over to the display train and found the right person to ask. I was happily told, "See you in Glendale on Monday." Now not only did I have the chance to tour these unique cars, now I would get a chance to ride them as well. I walked back across the pedestrian bridge to Metrolink Train 602 for my return to Santa Ana.

The Holland America Dome Car Trip Glendale to Santa Barbara 4/7/2003

Getting to Glendale Surfliner 763

I was up early finishing and then posting the four gauges story from Saturday on my web site before I drove down to the Santa Ana Amtrak station on a beautiful clear morning. This is going to be a great day of train riding. Surfliner Train 763 pulled into Santa Ana early and I took a seat upstairs headed to Glendale. I looked at a USA Today and enjoyed a cup of tea to Fullerton. I went back and found my dear friends from who I would be joining me on today's special train as we followed a BNSF freight train to Santa Fe Springs where we crossed over and increased speed. We passed the busy BNSF's Hobart Yard before we climbed the flyover across the Alameda Corridor and the Los Angeles River. We passed the Amtrak coach yards where our Holland America Dome Cars were being readied for our trip today. We ran by the LA Red Line Maintenance Yard before we rolled into Los Angeles Union Station for a quick crew change. I saw my ever friendly Metrolink conductor Jack Nealy while we were in LA. It was really good to see him. We left LAUPT on time, passed the Pasadena Gold Line and Metrolink shops, the remains of the Taylor Yard Shops before we arrived at Glendale.

Glendale 4/7/2003

The four of us inspected the Glendale depot with its rod iron work and Southern Pacific herald. The only other time I was there was in the pre restoration days of the depot when I attended a "Yes" convention for that great progressive rock band after seeing ?Yes? live at the Greek Theater the night before. I bought a Coca Cola inside the Greyhound area of the station {quarters only} and took a few pictures of this unique depot. It was now train watching time with all these Metrolink trains, a Coast Starlight and two Union Pacific freight trains. The Starlight was a few minutes late due to a stuck baggage car door so I hope anyone on that train who wanted to get detoured via the Feather River and the Highline like I did get their wish. It was then the waiting game for our special train to arrive. We seeked shelter in the shade from a very intense sun. There was a group of Railfans who were waiting for our train to arrive who kept us up to date on our train's special movement once they heard it on the radio.

The Holland America Special Train 4/7/2003

Our two car Holland America Dome car train pulled by the Amtrak 511, a BB-32-8WH arrived at 11:42 AM and the 11 passengers boarded at the back observation platform and at 11:44 AM we were on the move. The plan was to run us nonstop all the way to Santa Barbara. I went upstairs and took one of the seats in the rear area of the Knik. The first thing you immediately notice is the 360 degree view the windows give of the urban landscape we were passing though. Comparing the view from a standard full length Dome car, the larger windows in this car are far superior. There ride is smooth and my seat is really comfortable. The Amtrak 511 was really speeding our train along as we flew through Burbank, Burbank Airport and on to Van Nuys. I walked out onto the covered lower rear observation deck which is perfect for picture taking in any weather. While it was a little bit windy at 79 MPH on the Ventura Subdivision of Metrolink, it would be perfect for the slower speeds of the Alaska Railroad where these great cars are headed to. I rode the rear platform from Van Nuys to Simi Valley which included the trip through the Santa Susana Pass and Tunnel plus all of those great rocks. Remember a lot of those old Hollywood Westerns were filmed in Santa Susana Pass over the years. The view from the rear platform was incredible as I saw things that I never had seen before. What a traveling experience I was having on this train. These cars give the best viewing both inside and out.

I returned inside for a lunch at my seat of Smoked Salmon, chips, crackers and a Coca Cola for a most satisfying meal. The fold down table was quite easy to use and really sturdy. The 360 degree view down the Simi Valley was incredible and you could not have asked for a clearer day. As we rounded the big curve west of Camarillo one of the offshore islands stood out over the agricultural landscape. We briefly slowed for the curve at Oxnard before returning to track speed as this is by far the most impressive trip I have ever had over this line. On such a clear day as this these cars give a view one would dream of getting on a train. It is so fantastic and I hope to one day get a chance to ride these cars in Alaska. We crossed the Santa Clara River then made our way to Ventura where I returned to the open air platform for the trip along the California coast and a brand new open air experience to Santa Barbara. The offshore islands were really visible as well as that great Pacific Ocean. The mountains were beautiful as was the fading rail miles.

It was an excellent and unique travel experience, one I would treasure forever. What a way to see the coast from a train to Santa Barbara! Everyone on board enjoyed their trip in their own way aboard the Holland America's newest cars. The trip came to an end all too quickly as we pulled into Santa Barbara at 1:26 PM. We made the run in one hour and forty three minutes, the quickest trip to Santa Barbara that I have ever taken. I thanked our hosts for having me aboard with me receiving a key chain and two Holland America pins. It was an incredible experience and one I will never forget. Thank you Holland America!

Back Home Surfliner 784 4/7/2003

I went across to State Street to pick up some more Coca Cola and then a Chocolate Mint with plenty of time because 784 was about ten minutes late in arriving from Goleta. We departed Santa Barbara with Ray, Steve, Shivam of Trainweb and I sitting in a four seater. Steve was using a GPS unit to plot our route back. We had a pleasant trip back to Los Angeles but you really noticed the smaller windows on the Surfliner cars after that trip north. We had an eight minute fresh air stop at Van Nuys and arrived in Los Angeles fifteen minutes early. I got off for more fresh air and learned that Amtrak was swapping out our engine. Did Amtrak have the new engine here and waiting for us? Of course not! If this train was being operated by Via Rail of Canada then the engine would have been waiting in the station when we got there. I think Amtrak could really learn something from Via Rail of Canada. The new engine passed by my window at 5:17 PM and we left Los Angeles at 5:28 PM {5:10}. At Fullerton the Trainweb guys got off and after we made a quick stop at Anaheim, we arrived at Santa Ana 18 minutes late bringing to an end another truly exciting day of train riding. That night I was off to another video night of the Orange County Railroad Historical Society meeting with an interesting story to tell of my day on the Holland America newest Dome Cars.