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Beep! Beep! Off to ride the New Mexico Railrunner

by Chris Guenzler

This trip was planned to ride the New Mexico Railrunner so I needed an on-time train in order to ride it. The day before I left, there was a bridge fire at Winslow, which caused the westbound Southwest Chief to sit in Gallup for over nine hours. Normally, this would have been my train. I worked a full day at McFadden then came home, packed and drove to the Santa Ana train station. I went inside to say hello to Marty, my excellent night-time Amtrak agent, who told me that the westbound Southwest Chief had departed Fullerton at 4:16 PM. I recovered my luggage from my car and walked via the Santa Ana Boulevard grade crossing to the east platform to wait for my train to Los Angeles.

Surfliner 583 3/22/2007

Surfliner 583 arrived today before the usual Metrolink train. The train had a consist of Surfliner Cab Car 6904, Coaches 6407 and 6453, Coach/Cafe 6302, Pacific Business Class 6804 with Engine 463 pushing. I settled into Coach 6407 and looked at the construction along Lincoln Street that has forced me to detour to and from the station. Anaheim and Fullerton came rather quickly today and soon we were on our final sprint toward Los Angeles Union Passenger Terminal. I really needed this good long train ride to relax me and get me that much closer to my millionth rail mile on April 27th. We arrived at LAUPT on time and as I detrained, I ran into Lawrence Dixon, the fabulous Amtrak conductor, who has been working in the yard the last few years.

I made my way to Track 12 to get some rare pictures of both Southwest Chiefs in LAUPT at the same time. The westbound train arrived today at 4:47 PM.

Another view of today's late Southwest Chief.

Southwest Chief 4 3/22/2007

The train had Engines 91 and 187, Baggage 1135, Transition 39041, Sleepers 32043 and 32075 "Connecticut", Diner 38050, Lounge 33048 and Coaches 34072, 34045 and 31004. Simon was my sleeping car attendant in the Connecticut and I room 4 for this trip to Albuquerque. This trainset had been yesterday's Sunset Limited and a little bit of rearranging by the yard crew turned it into today's Southwest Chief. I settled into my room, enjoying a 7 UP and listening to Jethro Tull's "Stand Up". I made an 8:00 PM dinner reservation before our train left on time.

I saw the Metropolitan Transit Authority building, where I had met Alex Kummant, President of Amtrak, last Saturday at a meeting in the MTA boardroom.

The downtown Los Angeles Skyline looked great from the Metrolink flyover across the Alameda Corridor and the Los Angeles River.

The view east along BNSF Hobart Yard in the City of Commerce.

Just after sunset, we passed through the Norwalk/Santa Fe Springs Metrolink station.

We took our first fresh air stop at a windy Fullerton.

A view along the train at Fullerton. As we left, I enjoyed the ride in my darkened room until 8:00 PM when my dinner reservation was called. I was seated in the dining car with Bob from Chatsworth, going to Albuquerque and ordered the Pork Chop and the Sweet Temptation Chocolate Cake for dessert.

I finished dinner in time for the fresh air break at San Bernardino where I noticed the Metrolink fleet was parked for the night.

The view along Train 4 at San Bernardino.

Light reflecting off both our train and a parked Metrolink train next to us.

There was a crescent moon over San Bernardino this evening. We departed on time and started the climb over Cajon Pass. I put on Mick Taylor's "Stones Throw" to enjoy the trip over the Pass. Our train took a delay at Kennebrook before we continued the climb and then crossed the summit. I made up my room and called it a night as we headed toward Victorville.

4/23/2007 I woke up at a rainy Flagstaff and went to the lounge car.

The train ran across Canyon Diablo just after first light on this cloudy Friday morning. I then decided to go to the rear door of our train for some pictures there.

The train was running down well-maintained BNSF tracks on the way to Winslow.

Interesting tracks just west of Winslow.

BNSF action at Winslow as the sun parted the clouds.

The train passed the location of the bridge fire which had quickly been filled in. I went back to my room and put the camera battery on the charger then went to breakfast. In the dining car, I was seated with three people who would not say a word to me, even when I tried to start a conversation. I did enjoy the railroad French Toast and Sausage Patties. After breakfast, I found out that I had a dead battery. With no spare, I would have to use the film camera for the rest of this trip. I put on the Scorpions' "Eye II Eye" which took me to Gallup, New Mexico and afterwards, Queen's "Innuendo" took me past Grants. I decided to take a nap, awaking almost at Isleta and realizing that I would make my connection to ride the New Mexico Railrunner to Belen at 12:30 PM. We crossed the very swollen Rio Grande River on the way into Albuquerque.

The Rio Grande Valley.

BNSF power in their yard at Albuquerque.

The former Santa Fe Railway Shop Building in Albuquerque.

Two views of the M-190 still on those same flat cars at the exact location as they were last month. The Southwest Chief arrived at 12:18 PM, which gave me plenty of time to walk two hundred and fifty feet to the downtown station of the New Mexico Railrunner.

Two views of the Southwest Chief I just had detrained.

New Mexico Railrunner 509 3/23/2007

A large group of passengers were waiting to board the New Mexico Railrunner. Rides were free down the line to Belen until April 1st, 2007.

New Mexico Railrunner 509 came in from Sandoval/US 550 and after a large group of 42 school children detrained, I boarded. I took the last rear-facing seat in the cab car so I could take pictures through the conductor's office next to the operator's room. This train had Engine 101, Coach 1002 and Cab Car 1104. Once everyone had boarded, we slowly moved forward and passed the Southwest Chief. When the doors close on this train, they go "Beep! Beep!"

The Downtown Albuquerque Station.

Passing the Southwest Chief before we headed back down the way I came into Albuquerque.

Leaving town we passed the shop buildings.

The train ran by the future Bernalillo County/International Airport station, which will locally be known as Rio Bravo.

The train crossed the Rio Grande River.

At Isleta, we left the Southwest Chief route onto new rail mileage for me.

We took a curve as we headed south.

There were ponds along the tracks.

The train came to an intermediate signal. New Mexico Highway 314 parallels the west side of the route most of the way to Belen.

The storm is behind us as we sped south towards Belen.

Our train stopped at Los Lunas station.

The train ran by Chloe siding.

Back on single track nearing the southern end of the New Mexico Railrunner.

Another scene along our route to Belen. A few minutes later, we came to Belen Junction, where we exited the main track for the station track at Belen, arriving at 1:12 PM.

New Mexico Railrunner at Belen as a BNSF eastbound rolled by the Belen Station. I walked over to the Rail Cafe for a soft drink to celebrate finally reaching Belen by rail.

My New Mexico Railrunner train was getting ready to head back north to Albuquerque and I took the same seat for my trip back north.

Belen Jct, where the El Paso Subdivision joins the BNSF Transcontinental Mainline into the yard at Belen.

New Mexico Railrunner 510 3/23/2007

The train pulled up to the red signal and we waited for a westbound BNSF freight train that followed us south from Albuquerque.

A few minutes later, a BNSF light engine move with SD40-2's 6704 and 6924, both still in cascade green livery came by. Once it cleared, we got a flashing yellow and we headed back to Albuquerque while I sat back and enjoyed the ride. To the west I could watch BNSF freights dropping down into the Rio Grande Valley as they headed east. We arrived back in Albuquerque almost on time and I thanked the New Mexico Railrunner crew for an excellent trip.

I tried to call both Steve Grande and Chris Parker, but had no luck. I next walked around downtown Albuquerque after finding out that my westbound train was on time. I tried to find a camera shop, but they had moved out to the suburbs. I returned to the platform and sat in the sixty-one degree afternoon sun. I bought an Indian blanket as a retirement gift for my principal, Esther Severy, who is retiring at the end of the school year. Storm clouds had been around all today but had yet to pass overhead. I saw a headlight coming and set up for a picture of my train.

Southwest Chief 3 3/23/2007

The train pulled in at 3:45 PM and I noted the consist of my train back to California. This train had Engines 5 and 98, Baggage 1242, Transition 39018, Sleepers 32099 "New Mexico" and 32031, Diner 38064, Lounge 33042 and Coaches 34014, 34061 and 34097. I boarded the 32031, taking Room 6, with Nina as my sleeping car attendant. The weather started turning bad with strong cold winds so I walked down to take a picture of New Mexico Railrunner 512 heading north to the Sandoval County/US 550 station on the same route that the Southwest Chief had just taken.

Back in my room as the rain began, New Mexico Railrunner 511 passed our train heading south to Belen. I put on Queen's "The Works" and we left Albuquerque four minutes late. We crossed the very full Rio Grande River before we passed through Isleta. I now know what is down those tracks after years of wondering. Next it was time for Alice Cooper's "Billion Dollar Babies Deluxe Edition" and I listened to the live CD of that set. That lasted until it was time for dinner at 6:30 PM. I was seated with Don and Linda, heading home to Los Angeles from Santa Fe via Lamy. Richard Talmy was my excellent waiter and I had the Pork Shanks with a Chocolate Bundt Cake for dessert. We headed into the same storm that had passed through Santa Ana two days ago as we crossed the Continental Divide at Thoreau. For the first time ever, it was not possible to see the Red Mesas because it was extremely dark with low clouds. After dinner, we were west of Gallup and I listened to Jethro Tull's "Back to Birmingham", which took me into Arizona, followed by ABBA's "More Gold". In Holbrook, I finally saw the Apache Railway at the BNSF interchange. I called it a night after Winslow after another fantastic day of train riding.

3/24/2007 I awoke as were coming down Cajon Pass almost to San Bernardino. I went to the dining car with a choice of only an omelet or the continental breakfast. Since I can not eat eggs, I was stuck with cold cereal. I will never understand why Amtrak cannot serve a full breakfast on this train, when it can on the Empire Builder and the California Zephyr. I had Frosted Flakes, tea and an orange juice. We stopped at San Bernardino and then Riverside on a mostly cloudy morning. The Southwest Chief made the final sprint to Fullerton where I detrained to catch Surfliner 564 for Santa Ana. That train came arrived on time and soon we were at Anaheim. We then slowly proceeded to Orange where we waited for a late-running Surfliner 763. Once it passed, we took a slow order at CP La Veta before we arrived at Santa Ana where I detrained, ending yet another excellent Amtrak trip plus a ride on the New Mexico Railrunner.