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Oakland Circle II or My Last Steak on Amtrak?

by Chris Guenzler

I suggested to Chris Parker that we take a trip on the Coast Starlight before Simplified Dining would be introduced on this route. As the Southwest Chief had switched over early, this might be my last chance for a steak on an Amtrak long distance train. Chris agreed, so I used a Guest Rewards companion coupon for the northbound Coast Starlight ticket. For the southbound San Joaquin, I used a "Take a friend/Free Companion Fare Coupon" for that ticket. I then booked a night at the Jack London Inn. Chris had not traveled between San Luis Obispo and Oakland. To surprise Chris, I booked a sleeping car for that day and now our meals would be included. Would we have a Pacific Parlour Car? Would the Coast Starlight still be serving steak? Only by taking this trip would we find out.

Santa Ana 4/29/2006

I drove down to the Santa Ana Train station and parked. I will now show you how the construction of our new platform and pedestrian bridge is coming along.

The new northeast end Wheel Chair Ramp.

The future northwest where the new Wheel Chair Ramp will be.

The new waiting shelters.

Construction of the new southwest Wheel Chair Ramp.

The Bridge with scaffolding below it. While on the platform, I met a group going north that had been told to go to the south end of the train to board. I asked if they had Pacific Business Class tickets. They said no. I explained to them that their car would be at the north end of the train. Their leader said I did not know what I was talking about. So I went inside and asked the station agent where the Business Class car was, and he said it was on the south end. I walked outside and shared that information with the group's leader, who said that she never wanted to ride in a car with me, and stormed off. I guess some people can not accept being wrong.

Surfliner 763 4/29/2006

I boarded Surfliner 763 for the trip to Los Angeles and settled in for the ride. My book for this trip was "Pirates of the Caribbean Dead Man's Chest". We stopped at Anaheim and Fullerton before we made the sprint into Los Angeles Union Station a few minutes late.

Los Angeles 4/29/2006

Chris Parker soon found me waiting on a bench on Track 9. We saw a pair of Metrolink trains, one for San Bernardino, and the other for Lancaster. Surfliner 763 soon departed for Goleta before Surfliner 768 arrived and then left for San Diego.

Conductor Bob Riskie came by to say hello and then left to check out his train set for Surfliner 572. A few minutes later the Coast Starlight backed into the station.

Coast Starlight 14 4/29/2006

This train had P42DC's 117 and 118, Baggage 1234, Transition 39022, Sleepers 32095 Nebraska, 32015 Tennessee and 32088 Maryland, Diner 38055, Lounge 32020 and Coaches 34113, 34512 Kiddie Car and 34101. As you can tell, there was no Pacific Parlour Car in this consist. Our sleeping car attendant for this trip to Oakland was Carilyn. We had to switch from room 2 to room 8 for the trip which was fine with both of us.

We left Los Angeles on time and I called Lets Talk Trains, the internet radio show that has a link on my homepage, to announce that my newest story, the Spring 2006 trip, was complete. We ran by what was left of the former Southern Pacific Taylor Yard. The Starlight stopped at Van Nuys before we made our way to Chatsworth, where we did a running meet with Surfliner 774.

Chris enjoying his first sleeping car experience. The Starlight passed through the Chatsworth Tunnels and on to Simi Valley.

At 11:30 AM, Chris and I went to the dining car where we were seated with Mary and Mel going to Seattle. Christy, our waitress, was an avid Coca-Cola drinker like me. Her father had designed a large Coca-Cola plant. We stopped at Oxnard while we waited for our meals to be served.

I had the Angus Beef Burger, which was excellent and ice cream for dessert had returned to the lunch menu. I was extremely happy. At Santa Barbara, a fresh air stop, I talked with Carilyn who happened to be a big fan of After departing, we headed through Goleta, where Surfliner 763 was waiting to become 784. The mustard plants were in full bloom as we traveled west to Point Conception, by Jalama Beach and rounded Point Arguello on a cloudy day. The train made its way to Surf, Casmalia, Guadalupe, Grover Beach and then to San Luis Obispo.

The Coast Starlight at San Luis Obispo.

Conductor Alex P helps out with baggage before he went off duty. Chris' new mileage started once we left San Luis Obispo and continued until we arrived in Oakland. We went to the dining car for the "wine tasting" with Chris having a Pepsi and me a Sierra Mist. The train climbed Cuesta Grade on this overcast afternoon with Chris being amazed. He had seen the tunnels for years from the highway and now he was passing through them. At the north end of the Summit Tunnel, we exited into brilliant sunshine. We stopped at Paso Robles before we went to the diner for our 5:00 PM dinner reservation. We crossed the Salinas River which is normally dry, but on this trip, had water flowing. We were joined by Marilyn and John, heading home to Swan Lake, Montana after an around-the-world educational cruise.

My meal was New York strip, so I was able to enjoy one last steak which was my goal for this trip.

Chocolate bundt a la mode was dessert. During dessert, we passed a Union Pacific derailment at milepost 149, complete with four cars on the ground. I learned from the conductor, during our fresh air stop at Salinas, that it happened over a month ago. We traveled by the Elkhorn Slough with many seals on its shores, through Watsonville Yard and the Pajora Gap before we reached Gilroy.

We arrived at San Jose early and a Caltrain unit was there for a photograph. The Starlight departed San Jose on time and I introduced Chris to dark-room-after-sunset-scenery viewing. At Santa Clara, we waited for Capitol Train 751 before we headed to Oakland via Niles. We pulled into Oakland Jack London Station at 9:41 PM {9:32 PM}, ending a fantastic trip on the Coast Starlight.

Oakland 4/29/2006

Chris and I said our goodbyes to Carilyn, then walked the two blocks to the Jack London Inn. We checked in and this time we got Room 202, the north end room away from the tracks. After watching a few minutes of "Jackie Chan's Operation Condor", we called it a night.

4/30/2006 The next morning, we arose at 6:00 AM and started our day with a "waterfall shower". It is a great way to start the day. I checked my e-mail before joining Chris for a filling continental breakfast. We checked out and walked the two blocks to the Amtrak station. We watched Capitol train 720 load its passengers and depart Oakland at 7:15 AM. Our train rolled through Jack London Square and into the station at 7:21 AM.

San Joaquin 712 4/30/2006

Our train to Bakersfield backed into Oakland station with Cab Car 9307 Mount Baldy, Cafe 8801 Owens Valley, Coach 8018 Trinity River, Coach/Baggage 8201 San Francisco Bay with engine 2004. We boarded the Cab Car and took seats on the left side of the train. We left on time, met Capitol train 723 right before the Amtrak Yard then rolled into Emeryville and Richmond on a beautiful clear morning. It became a hazy morning as our train cruised along San Pablo Bay and the Carquinez Straits to Martinez. Chris was up at the front of the Cab Car videotaping our route to Stockton. At Port Chicago, we switched from the Union Pacific to the Burlington Northern Santa Fe and made our way to Antioch. We crossed the California Delta and met San Joaquin 711 at Trull on double track. At Stockton, the smallest group of passengers I have had ever seen, boarded our train. We stopped at Modesto {fresh air} and Turlock, passed San Joaquin 702 at Atwater and arrived at Merced for an extended fresh air stop. Before Madera, I got a hot dog and enjoyed it to Fresno, a very extended fresh air stop.

At Conejo, we took the siding for San Joaquin 713 then proceeded to Hanford for another fresh air stop. Before Corcoran, we met BNSF 4422 West and then ran to Wasco. We met San Joaquin 715 at the Kern River Bridge and arrived into Bakersfield at 1:39 PM.

Thruway Bus 4/30/2006

The bus left Bakersfield at 2:01 PM and went up the steep north face of Tejon Pass at 40 mph. A car had gone off the northbound lane which we heard about on the driver's radio. So we all played "spot the car gone off the road" which we all won. The bus did really well on flat or down grade, so we arrived LAUPT at 3:53 PM. That gave me twelve minutes to get to Track 12 and Surfliner 582. I said goodbye to Chris and thanked him for coming along on the trip, before I headed up to the right platform.

Surfliner 582 4/30/2006

I was greeted onboard by Conductor Rosie and minutes later we departed LAUPT on time. The train sped to Fullerton followed by Anaheim. We met Surfliner 583 at CP Lincoln prior to me detraining at Santa Ana on time. I drove my Geo Metro home, ending yet another fantastic Amtrak adventure.