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A Return to Post Katrina New Orleans and a surprise routing east of Houston

by Chris Guenzler

After seeing all the Hurricane Katrina and less of The Hurricane Rita damage, I decided once the Sunset Limited would return to New Orleans I would make a trip. I selected a pre Christmas Trip leaving LAX on December 16th and spending one night there. I made my reservation traveling in coach before securing a hotel room. Prices have gone through the roof at the few hotels which were now open. I played phone tag with the Quality Inn for two days before I finally got a room at a higher rate than normal. I chose this place because it is within walking distance of the station not knowing if the taxi's were back. Sleeping car rooms were sold out east and an over $500 room west was not for me. I would first go to Georgia for the rare mileage trips on the Georgia Southwestern Railroad then go to Lamy for my 900,000 rail mile that I had ridden. Two weeks of work at McFadden and I was ready for another trip.

Surfliner 573 12/16/2005

My Mother drove me down to the Santa Ana Train Station where I waited for Surfliner 573.

Construction has moved along well with the east platform being made.

The structure for the east tower is up and coming along. Surfliner 573 arrived into Santa Ana on time with Cab Car 6905, Coaches 6403, 6407 and 6404, Coach/Cafe 6304 and Pacific Business Class 6852 with Engine 464 in the push mode. We ran to Anaheim before stopping at Fullerton Jct. Surfliner 774 ran by heading to San Diego and BNSF 2736 West stopped before we ran into Fullerton. We ran west to our Norwalk stop, part of the Rail to Rail Program. We finished our run into Los Angeles Union Passenger Station arriving a few minutes early. I walked over to Track 11 to watch Surfliner 578 leave and talk with Conductor Jeff. The Southwest Chief was still sitting on Track 12 having arrived at 12:55 PM. It departed to the yard and it exposed the Altamont Commuter Express Cars on Track 13.

The ACE train set that had arrived on the back of the Coast Starlight last night.

Metrolink Train 308 with a leased train set from Seattle, Washington then arrived into LAUPT.

The Sunset Limited Train 2 12/16/2005

The Sunset Limited backed into LAUPT at 2:20 PM with Engines 82 and 26, Baggage 1164, Transition Sleeper 39015, Diner 38068, Lounge 33042, Coaches 34046, 34038 and 34101, Sleeper 32015 and private car Vista Canon heading to Tucson. The 34101 and 32015 are the Texas Eagle thru cars. The westbound Sunset Limited arrived into LAUPT at 2:35 PM. A seat problem in the 34101 further delayed our escape from LAUPT. At 2:50 PM {2:30 PM} we pulled out of LAUPT and headed east to start this adventure to New Orleans. We headed east across the Los Angeles River and through the Alhambra Trench.

Exiting the trench, we passed the Mission San Gabriel as the sun popped out for a few minutes on a mostly cloudy day. Conductor George Rainey took my ticket as we headed east through El Monte and City of Industry. Back into the gloom, we made our Pomona and Ontario station stops. Keith Richard and the X-Pensive Winos "Live at the Hollywood Palladium" took me just beyond Ontario. The Rolling Stones "Flashpoint" took me east through Colton Yard and we slowly made our way through the Old Colton Yard. We finally sped up after crossing over at Ordway in San Timiteo Canyon. We had been following the Ex Conrail NS 8738 East as it began to get dark. My book for this trip is "More Than A Game" by Phil Jackson and Charley Rosen. I took a fresh air stop at Palm Springs on a very cool evening. We had left someone on the platform as we left but they stopped to let her back on. I had a 5:30 PM Dinner Reservation dining with Tim and Elena going to Houston and Lani heading to Yuma. I had a New York Strip and a chocolate sundae. My dinner lasted from Indio to Thermal as we took many freight train delays during this period of time. After dinner, it was time for "The Keith Emerson Christmas Album". That was followed by U2 "How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb". I turned in after Niland and slow running would take us into Arizona and a stop in Yuma.

12/17/2005 We took over an hour to get into Tucson and finally left there at 4:00 AM {2:20 AM}. It took another hour to escape from Tucson. I woke up at 6:45 AM finding us climbing the Dragoon Mountains. I went to the dining car for breakfast. I was seated with Alan and Jennifer going to Houston and Peggy heading to New Orleans then on to Florida. We stopped at MP 1041 formerly Sybil while I enjoyed French Toast and Sausage. Alan and Jennifer told us about evacuating Houston and coming home only to find an old oak tree had been blown down onto their roof.

Back at my seat we sat while a total of eight westbound UP freights went by us while we were stopped there.

The train finally got moving and passed this freight. On the way to Dragoon we passed three more westbound freights. We came to MP 1056 and stopped at a red signal which then turned yellow meaning we were following some train east. We ran by Apache with a westbound local there before our train raced across the Wilcox Playa. I finished with the U2 and switched to Rod Stewart "Stay With Me" as we finally ran around CEFX 2789 East with a long string of piggyback flats.

Later we entered New Mexico at Steins. We stopped at Lordsburg to drop off four passengers before we left for Deming or so we all thought. The crew caught the passenger two seats ahead of me smoking marijuana in the bathroom. We went to the east end of the Lordsburg then backed into the siding. They gave us a fresh air stop after an hour of waiting for the Lordsburg Police to arrive. Two units of the Lordsburg Police then finally arrived and a Hidalgo County Sheriff. Two eastbound freights sped through Lordsburg before things could happen. Then they removed the passenger.

Our former passenger who was going to New Orleans being removed from the train and is pleading his case.

The conductor giving the officers his report. While all of this was going on our crew died on the Hours of Service Laws.

Our train and the police all leave leaving the passenger sitting on his luggage as we finally took off for Deming. I called Lets Talk Trains, the Internet Radio Show, every Saturday Morning 10-12 PT or 24/7 in the archives. They were celebrating their Milepost 1000 in the first segment of today's show. I managed just a few minutes on the show before the signal dropped out. Jethro Tull "The Christmas Album" took me eastward.

The Sunset Limited crossed the Continental Divide at 12:40 PM on the way to Deming.

We rolled through Deming at 1:10 PM as the Southwestern Railroad units looked on running over 7 hours late.

Peaks south of Deming. The first one being Florida Peak.

We stopped as we passed the UP second track project. A UP freight crew now died on the Hours of Service Law. We must now wait for a patch {relief} crew to arrive before that train could continue east. Every trip is an adventure!

The train in the Middle of Nowhere.

A rim and tire but no axle to be found in the Middle of Nowhere.

Later, the Joshua Del Muestro Mountains to the northeast with the Rio Grande River at its base.

View looking into the Rio Grande Valley.

The descent to the Rio Grande River.

The shacks in Old Mexico just beyond the USA/Mexico border fence.

Crossing the Rio Grande River into Texas and El Paso. We pulled into El Paso at 3:18 PM.

After a quick picture of our train in El Paso, I visited the Coca-Cola machine in the station. I have Coca-Cola with me but you can never have too much of it. We departed El Paso at 3:56 PM {9:00 AM}. The Sunset Limited escaped El Paso with no further delays. At Clint we met a westbound UP freight.

We headed east towards Alpine as the sun was setting. I had a 5 PM Dinner Reservation and was seated with Wes who is seated across from me along with TJ and Danielle going to Beaumont. The lone waiter was Bobby Chau and ended up being the only crew member to be on both my eastbound and westbound journeys aboard the Sunset Limited. We met Amtrak westbound Sunset Limited at Sierra Blanca. I enjoyed a New York Strip and chocolate sundaes were had by all at Table 12. "Songs from the Wood" by Jethro Tull was tonight's first musical choice. Amber, an 8th Grader going to New Orleans, kept us all entertained with her accent and smile. Tull took me all the way to Alpine where we switched crews and to Central Time. We departed Alpine at 8:36 PM {2:20 PM}. I put on "Greatest Hits, Jeff Beck featuring Rod Stewart". I called it a night as the train headed east towards Sanderson, Del Rio and San Antonio during the night.

12/18/2005 The train stopped in Del Rio at 1:00 AM and continued east to San Antonio at 4:24 AM {10:25 AM} and departed there at 5:38 PM {1:00 PM}. I slept until about 7:00 AM and following my morning preparations, I went to the lounge car to get a Big City Cinnamon Roll. I returned to my seat as the train ran through Flatonia.

Two mid Texas scenes. I finished the Jeff Beck and switched to the Rolling Stones "A Bigger Bang". Our train is very close to be running on the former eastbound Sunset Limited schedule so once again I am seeing the views that I should have passed through at night.

A bridge before East Benard, Texas.

We came to a stop while this train got out of our way into the siding at East Benard.

The BNSF Crossing at Rosenburg, Texas. We made our way into Houston arriving there at 10:15 AM {5:45 AM}.

The Sunset Limited at rest in Houston. I went inside the station for an ice cream.

Private cars of Creative Charters, the Everlyn Henry and the Dome Warren R. Henry. We departed Houston at 10:33 AM {6:15 AM}.

The skyline of downtown Houston. We came to a stop and on the bridge overhead I saw two Houston Light Rail Trains clamor along.

The Houston Riverwalk. At Tower 26 we came to a stop for ten minutes. We crossed the Houston Belt Line then came to a stop. They announced that we would be taking a different route to get to Beaumont and going that way we should not lose any time. I knew that meant the old Missouri Pacific line and I was a happy train traveler getting that new mileage. I went to the rear door for the journey over this new route for me.

We got a flashing red signal and we started our back up move to get onto the Houston Belt with the Houston skyline behind us.

Views of us backing up with the Houston skyline.

About to enter the Houston Belt.

The train now running forward crossed the Sunset Route.

Our train next passed CP Colin.

Passing through Freight Jct.

The major railroad junction called Belt Jct. We continued to roll east through Gold Coast Jct.

The train rolled through Settegast Jct.

The route for most part is straight as an arrow as it runs through the forest.

We crossed Houston Lake on a long low wooden trestle, the scenic highlight of this route before we passed through Huffman, Texas.

East of Huffman.

Fields east of Huffman. The west switch for the siding at Martha had been removed.

At MP 416 we crossed Bowle Creek.

Our route takes us across the bayous before Hull.

Hull, Texas.

More bayous along our route today.

At Grayburg CSX 7356 East was in the siding there.

Taking the odd curve on this line.

Our train crossed the Marsh Bayou.

Amelia, Texas.

A local at Elizabeth, Texas.

Elizabeth Control Point.

Curving along side the Sunset Route.

We have now returned to the Sunset Route ending my new mileage for now. It was a nice detour over the former Missouri Pacific Route.

I learned after the trip that effective with the resumption of service east of San Antonio on November 4th, 2005 Union Pacific established directional running of the Sunset between these two points using this former Missouri Pacific routing eastbound. I would like to thank Bob Phillips for this information.

Passengers enjoying the fresh air stop at Beaumont, Texas during the crew change.

Hurricane Rita after peaking in strength at 175 mph (280 km/h) steady winds out in the Gulf of Mexico, made landfall between Sabine Pass, Texas, and Johnson's Bayou, Louisiana, at 02:38 CDT (07:38 UTC) on September 24, 2005 as a Category 3 hurricane, with wind speeds of 120 mph (190 km/h) and a storm surge of 10 feet (3 m).

The BNSF and KCS railroad crossings in Beaumont.

The Neches River Drawbridge.

Engines of the Sabine River and Northern Railroad.

The railroad depot at East Orange, Texas.

Crossing the Sabine River and entering Louisiana.

After a bit of reading, we crossed the Calcasion River into Lake Charles.

Boats beached by Hurricane Rita along the railroad fill.

Another smaller bridge across Lake Charles. I have seen plenty of roofs with blue tarps covering the damage that Hurricane Rita did.

Iowa Jct, where the BNSF train operation starts on the Sunset Route until Live Oak outside of Avondale.

Damaged building from Hurricane Rita.

The Mermentau River Drawbridge. We pulled into Lafayette and departed at 3:50 PM{11:39 AM} before we ran to New Iberia 4:11 PM {12:05 AM}.

Louisiana and Delta Railroad CF-7 1500.

Louisiana and Delta Railroad GP-38 2000 in New Iberia.

Above Ground Cemetery at New Iberia.

Sugar cane fields as we neared Baldwin.

The Channenton Canal Drawbridge was crossed. With the light fading that was the last picture of the day. I will show you pictures of the other three drawbridges westbound. I put on the Lucia Micarelli "Music From A Further Room". Lucia had played with Jethro Tull during the last tour and is an excellent violin player. Darkness took total hold as we continued east crossing the Atchaflaya River and Bayou Boeuf Drawbridges. We made it to Schriever at 5:44 PM {1:26 PM} and twenty five minutes later we crossed the Bayou Des Allemands Drawbridges. Aerosmith "Rockin the Joint" was my final musical selection of this eastbound trip. We closed in on Avondale before the Sunset Limited crossed the 4.2 mile Huey Long Bridge across the mighty Mississippi River at 6:45 PM. We ran through western New Orleans before we wyed to back into New Orleans Union Station arriving there at 7:20 PM {4:00 PM}. This ends yet another excellent Amtrak adventure with new mileage included on this eastbound Sunset Limited.

New Orleans 12/18/2005

After my Bag IDs were checked by a New Orleans Police Officer, I was allowed to enter the station which I walked through the station. There a gentleman whistled me a taxi and told me about the $11 minimum for all taxi cab rides in post Katrina New Orleans. I would taxi to the Quality Inn on St Charles Street tonight and walk back to NOUPT in the morning. The driver drove me to the Maison St Charles Quality Inn and dropped me off out front. To get onto their property I had to walk through a gate on a side driveway off of Thalia Street. Once I had gotten into the office, I told them I had a reservation to stay there tonight. I found out that I was the first post Katrina guest to stay here. They had upgraded me to the Mardi Gras Suite above the office. I went up the stairs and found a three room, two bathroom suite much to my liking with a balcony that overlooks St Charles Street and a dormant street car line. I made a few phone calls and watched "The Grinch Who Stole Christmas" with Jim Cary in the title spot before I called it a night.

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