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I'm off to ride the Talgo

by Chris Guenzler

With my first full year at McFadden finished summer came and I felt restless. It was time to plan another train trip. The State of Washington's Department of Transportation had been looking at ways to improve passenger train service in the Seattle-Portland corridor and leased a Spanish built Talgo train set from Spain on a trial basis. They started a new train running between Seattle and Portland that made one round trip per day. In August 1994, I planned a trip to Seattle to ride the Talgo south to Portland on the train from Spain.

San Diegan 571/573 8/19/1994

I started this trip off like any other boarding in Santa Ana and going to the Amcafe for a morning screwdriver to dedicate the start of another train trip. 571 was running late having some major engine problems. We stopped at Anaheim before we crept to Fullerton very slowly. At Fullerton everyone was instructed to get off of that train which was then taking out of service and put into a siding. Train 573 arrived a few minutes later taking on all of Train 571 passengers making it a standing room only train. I managed to board the cab car first and went straight to the rear door where I sat on my suitcase with a great rear end view of the railroad all the way to Los Angeles Union Station where the Coast Starlight was patiently waiting for us to arrive.

Coast Starlight14 8/19/1994

I walked off my second train of the day right onto the third, a Superliner coach for Seattle on the Coast Starlight. We left Los Angeles fifty five minutes late and considering all of the problems with train 571 I felt very lucky being only that few minutes late. I settled into my coach seat long enough to get my ticket taken before I was off to the lounge car for a round of drinks and a lounge car seat for the Pacific Ocean view later in the day. The train was not as crowded as normal with very few lounge car seats taken. We made our escape from the hot and smoggy San Fernando Valley on this August morning, through the tunnels and out into the Simi Valley before we got to Oxnard. From Ventura north along the coast the train was traveling through the dense fog limiting the view to just the surf crashing down on the rocks. Highway 101 traffic was just creeping along with everyone keeping a safe distance and running with their lights on while the train speeds through the fog. Santa Barbara was reached with very few new passengers boarding before we continued west to Point Conception where we turned north through even denser fog across Vandenberg Air Force Base barely being able to see anything out of the train's windows. Makes my mind think, "You are on a train traveling through a dense fog bank, next stop the Twilight Zone." The low clouds rose as we turned a away from the Pacific Ocean to Casmalia but then returned in force near Pismo Beach before we arrived at San Luis Obispo, an hour twenty minutes late following our meet with the southbound Starlight. We climbed into the clouds as we conquered the Cuesta Grade and headed for the upper reaches of the hot and sunny Salinas Valley. Near Templeton we passed a ranch with Llamas definitely not something I would expect to see in North America. That is one of the neat things about train travel is that you never know what you are going to see.

I made a notebook up for this trip with copies of employee timetables pages, grade profiles and maps so I could learn this route a little better. I figured as often as I ride this route I really did not know where all the sidings were, the river's names or the names of all the small towns that the Starlight passes through. I had the route covered all the way to Seattle so I was using this trip as a learning experience. The Starlight made good time down the Salinas Valley and following the station stop at Salinas, the train made its way through Watonsville, the Pajaro Gap, Gilroy and on to San Jose. I had dinner in the dining car, a half baked chicken which was almost all bones and no meat. The sun set as we passed through the ghost town of Alviso prior to the train making its way through the evening gloom passed the Oakland Coliseum where the Oakland A's were home, down the streets through Jack London Square all lit up to the darkness of the West Oakland Yards to the Amtrak Station in Oakland. After a brief walk upon departure I turned in for the night.

8/20/1994 The next morning I awoke to the train twisting and turning up the upper reaches of the Sacramento River Canyon to Dunsmuir where we departed two and a half hours late. I was off to the lounge car with my notebook waiting for the lounge car to open up. The Starlight rounded the Cantara Loop and climbed out of the Sacramento River Canyon. The lounge opened so I purchased some cookies and a couple of screwdrivers to take upstairs. I was sitting looking out at Mt Shasta as the train was traveling towards Black Butte when an attractive lady with a beautiful smile sat down near me and we went about introducing ourselves to each other. Her name was Carol from Cottage Grove, Oregon and had been to Denver on the train. She was traveling alone on the train and was having a liberating experience. She noticed my notebook and was fascinated by it. I got talking about the places I had been to and she was amazed. We got talking about music and soon discovered that we both liked a lot of the same groups. We both loved Monty Python and we did the Argument Clinic much to the amazement of the other passengers who thought we were having a real argument at first. We just sat there with both of us discovering that we had never met anyone one like each other before.

While we were having a wonderful traveling experience together the train continued north stopping at Klamath Falls where I made another screwdriver run with Carol joking with me about what I was drinking. We just laughed about it as the train ran along Upper Klamath Lake as we continued our conversions. I have never met anyone like her before that I felt this comfortable with. The old saying, "Time flies when you are having fun!" had a totally new meaning this morning as the next thing I knew the Starlight had reached Chemult. As the Starlight crossed the Cascades, Carol and I kept talking enjoying our morning together. It is too bad this was not a winter crossing I told her because it is really beautiful when it is snow covered. We talked our love for mountains and canyons before talk turns to the Denver-Salt Lake Route which is the most beautiful route in the United States. I told her that Ruby Canyon was my favorite canyon on the whole Amtrak system and she agreed having only made one round trip through it. We enjoyed the passing of Odell Lake before the train plunged into the Cascade Summit Tunnel. As the train wound its way down the scenic west slope our conversion continued only interrupted when I would point out some scenic highlight along the route. Nearing Oakridge I went downstairs for some lunch and returned to a discussion of what we did for a living as well as family. I was amazed at the number of topics we discussed on this morning. As we neared Eugene, we exchanged addresses and phone numbers promising to keep in touch. We both made a promise to each other to do just that and not to be like people who exchange information I have been guilty of doing that in the past but in Carol case I would not. We bid each other goodbye and off she went to her coach to gather up her stuff. The Coast Starlight arrived at Eugene and I saw Carol on the station's platform wishing she was still onboard with me.

As the Starlight pulled out of Eugene I felt empty and alone with Carol heading home to Cottage Grove. I have never felt like this on a train before. The train headed down the Willamette Valley with me unable to get her out of my head. Salem and Albany came and went with me caring less. The train made its way into Portland Union Station where I detrained for some fresh air and got my first view of the Talgo train between its journeys. Leaving Portland two hours late, I went to the dining car for a New York Strip Steak but wished Carol was sitting across the table from me. The steak was quite good and after dessert was done in a leisurely manner, I returned to the lounge car for a few rounds of nightcaps. I drank a toast to Carol with CC and seven. The train rolled along the shore of the Puget Sound to Tacoma as the long day of August turned into twilight. The Coast Starlight rolled the last miles to Seattle arriving one hour and thirty minutes late. I detrained and taxied to the Travelodge near the Space Needle for the night. There was one thought about my life that crossed my mind. If I was not on the train would I have ever met Carol? Now that is something to think about.

Mt Baker Talgo 751 8/21/1994

I taxied back down to King Street and got my boarding pass with an assigned seat for the trip on the Talgo Train to Portland. My coach had thirty two seats with a water closet {restroom} at one end of the car. The coach is low to the ground and the whole train tilts through curves to increase speed. The seats have a jack for head phones that lets you listen to three channels of music or the soundtrack of a movie that are watched from overhead monitors. There are sliding doors at each end of the car that when closed cuts off almost all of the outside noise so the cars ride extremely quiet. At one end of the car where the restroom is a WC sign that lights up anytime the door is locked which lets passengers know when the bathroom is occupied so there is no need to wait in line or even knock on the door. I was assigned to a single window seat on the right side of the train so I could view the Puget Sound and Columbia River. The Talgo has a Bistro Car which is a lounge that has a bar with five stools and several tables. There is a small kitchen that prepares meals for an adjacent car which is a diner. At each end of the Talgo train set are power cars that power the train plus houses the onboard entertainment equipment. The power cars allows the Talgo to be pulled by any kind of locomotives making Talgo trains practical for all types of service and one of the main reasons the state of Washington selected the Talgo for their trains.

We left Seattle on time heading south past the King Dome and the industrial south side of Seattle. The Talgo ride was smooth through all of these switches since a single wheel set is at each end of the car where there are no seats. I sat waiting for the first curve by UP's Argo Yard and the Talgo passive tilting system made this curve hardly noticeable. As the Talgo passed Boeing Field the video monitors came alive with a Talgo produced video which provided the historical background plus information about the Talgo train. Following the ten minute video feature, I went to the Bistro Car to get my lunch of hot dogs, chips, a pair of mixed drinks plus a Talgo Hat and Talgo T-shirt. I returned to my seat as the Talgo sped through Auburn and made its way to Tacoma. From here to Olympia we ran on the curving water level route along the Puget Sound where I am set to judge the Talgo's tilting ability. So as the Talgo ran down the route and through the curves, it handled them well and I enjoyed the feel of noticing the curves. The Talgo provided an enjoyable smooth ride and besides the view out of the Talgo's large windows of the Puget Sound was not too bad either.

Following the stop at Olympia-Lacy, they showed "Greedy" with Michael J Fox which I enjoyed watching both it and the passing scenery. It was the first movie I had ever watched on a train from my own seat. Before the movie started, the Talgo people sold headphones to passengers as the sound comes out of the jacks in the armrests not over the train's main speaker system. During the course of the movie, the train made its stops at Centralia and Kelso-Longview then the movie finished as the Talgo was running along the Columbia River. The train made its last Washington stop of Vancouver before it crossed the Columbia River into Oregon for the trains remaining miles into Portland Union Station. All in all I had a wonderful Talgo experience and enjoyed all features of the train mostly impressed with the passive tilting system. It was the most quiet train that I have ever ridden and lived up to all of my expectations. I can see the use of Talgos on other Amtrak lines and would take any future opportunities to ride the Talgo in my train riding future.

Portland 8/21/1994

I detrained at Portland and found a taxi to take me across the Steel Bridge to the Travelodge on the east side of the Willamette River for my one night stay. I chose this location for two reasons: One - it is close to Portland Union Station and Two - its location is right off of the Portland Light Rail Line. After checking in, I took the Historic Trolley for three blocks before riding out to the east end of the light rail line then made a trip into downtown Portland and back. I found a liquor store for my evening drinking supply and a fast food restaurant for my dinner before I spent a quiet evening in my motel room before calling it a night.

Vancouver, WA 8/22/1994

The next morning I arose early to a heavy Northwest overcast sky and following checking out I took the light rail back to downtown Portland where I walked over to Union Station to buy a one way ticket to Vancouver. I boarded the Mt Rainier 750, a four car Superliner train for the ten mile trip across the Columbia River to Vancouver. I spent the morning taking pictures of trains and by noon had stored my bags at the depot so I could walk over to a restaurant called The Crossing which was made out of railroad cars for an excellent lunch.

On my way back to the station, I stopped off at Esther Park to photograph a Spokane, Portland and Seattle 2-8-2 W-3 539 before I returned to the station to take a few more pictures of passing trains before my southbound Coast Starlight arrived.

Coast Starlight 11 8/22/1994

I boarded the Starlight in Vancouver and got my choice of seats while the train crossed the Columbia River. Since I was only going as far as Martinez on this train, I took a left hand window seat and got my ticket taken before I went to the lounge car for my first drink since lunch and enjoyed the trip into Portland. I stayed on the train during the servicing stop nursing my drink having seen enough of Portland Union Station on this trip. The Starlight left Portland on time and crossed the Steel Bridge over the Willamette River turned south heading along the east bank through the Southern Pacific Brooklyn yard and passed Oregon Falls. There was a wild party going on in the rear of the lounge car and the conductor walked through warning them to keep it down. He left and within an hour they all detrained at Salem. I got a dinner reservation followed by a couple of drinks as I enjoyed the trip down the fertile Willamette Valley. The train made its stops at Albany and then later at Eugene where I thought of Carol before my time for dinner was called. I went to the diner and sat with a retired couple from Spokane who were going to Santa Barbara to see their grandchildren. We spent the whole dining experience talking about the Pacific Northwest while we enjoyed our New York Strip Steaks. I visited the lounge car for my usual nightcaps as the train climbed Cascade Summit in the very late afternoon light with the mountains looking so peaceful and calm with the lounge car having that same feel. It is one of those magical moments that can only happen on a train. The only sound heard was the flanging against the wheels on the rails and the sound of the engines working hard inside a tunnel. We topped Cascade Summit then descended to Chemult in twilight of the evening. I had one more drink before returning to my coach seat to sleep the night away.

8/23/1994 The next morning was hazy as I awoke as the train was pulling into Sacramento and a glance to my watch showed that we were running right on time. I went to the lounge car for a breakfast of cookies and screwdrivers. I enjoyed the morning's run with the crossing of the Yolo Bypass, Davis, Dixon, Suisan-Fairfield, the Mothball Fleet and the Carquinez Straits Bridge before the train pulled up to the wooden station at Martinez where I detrained into a cold fierce wind. I took refuge inside the station with a good size crowd waiting for the southbound valley train.

San Joaquin 712 8/23/1994

The San Joaquin arrived at Martinez right on time with me being the first one on the train. I found a nice large window seat in the Horizon coach before I was off to the lounge car to start my morning drinking on this train. We ran along the straits east of Port Chicago where we switched from SP tracks to those of the Santa Fe for the reminder of our trip to Bakersfield. The train made a brief stop at Antioch before it headed out across the California Delta Country where the San Joaquin and Sacramento Rivers converge to create a very wet environment. I love water crossings of any kind and the delta is full of passages and channels. It is unique for California and a favorite of mine to travel across on train trips. At Stockton we were joined by passengers off of the buses from Sacramento and San Jose. The San Joaquin's are a leader in the nation for having passengers using the train from connecting Thruway buses. You can get almost most major areas of the state of California by using the system of a San Joaquin train and a Thruway bus. For example: You could leave San Diego on the overnight connecting bus to the first northbound San Joaquin train take it to Martinez and transfer to another Thruway bus to Eureka. By doing that you would have traveled almost the entire length of the state of California. With the influx of new passengers the train filled up.

The train passed Stockton Tower, a favorite train watching site with three major railroads crossing each other there followed quickly by Mormon Yard, the Santa Fe's main yard in town before the train escaped the city limits and returned to the rich agricultural parts of the San Joaquin Valley for the reminder of the trip south to Bakersfield. We passed our sister northbound train before Riverbank our next stop. The train sped through Empire with its piggyback facilities and connection with the Modesto Empire Traction Company. We crossed the Tuolume River before our next stop of Turlock-Denair. The train sped south crossing the Merced River then flew by the Castle Air Museum before it arrived at Merced. The train turned east for eight miles before turning southeast again running close to the foothills of the Sierras as this train gets and continued on the speed run to Madera, an Amshack on the eastern end of town. Back up to track speed miles later we crossed high above the San Joaquin River then made our way carefully into Fresno. I had two drinks since Stockton and I went to get lunch switching from Screwdrivers to whiskeys and sevens to go along with my hot dogs and chips. We left Fresno on time and ran along the Santa Fe yard before crossing the Southern Pacific Valley Mainline and head directly south miles later crossing the Kings River before we stopped at Hanford. Here the train was met by buses to Visalia and San Luis Obispo along with points in between.

The train left here on time to our next station stop of Corcoran where I got a seatmate for the reminder of the trip carrying only a brown grocery bag. He had just been released from the Men's Correctional Facility at Corcoran and was heading home to Los Angeles. He had finished a five year sentence with six months off for good behavior and is totally happy to be free. We went to the lounge car to have a few rounds of drinks as the train headed for Bakersfield. He told me his tale of his third stay in prison. Number one was for burglary, number two was attempted breaking and entering with a weapon and his third for carjacking with a weapon. He says if he ever goes back he will be in prison for twenty years to life so he is not planning on doing anything illegal again. I wished him luck with his new start. My drinking was according to my plan to be in the right mind set to face the Thruway bus trip to Los Angeles. The train passed another northbound San Joaquin before our stop at Wasco before we made our final on time sprint to Bakersfield where the passengers rushed to one of the eleven buses to such places as Las Vegas, Santa Barbara, Van Nuys, Torrance, Palmdale, Indio and Los Angeles to where I was going. I took the front seat and with no one joining me I stretched out once the bus was on the freeway. I fell fast asleep and stayed that way all the way to Los Angeles Union Station where I debussed to wait for my train to Santa Ana.

San Diegan 580 8/23/1994

I walked straight to track number eight and the conductor who recognized me allowed me to board an empty Amcafe car and the LSA served me a seven and seven as I waited for departure. The passengers all showed up and we left nearly a full train. The train passed Hobart Yard, picked up speed and quickly made its way to Fullerton, Anaheim and Santa Ana with me arriving at home in time for dinner ending another Amtrak trip.