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Heading for home via Tacoma, the Sounder and Coast Starlight

by Chris Guenzler

Following my last good night of sleep at the Days Inn, I enjoyed the final continental breakfast before using my last Max ten ride ticket from 82nd Street to Chinatown where I walked to Portland Union Station to wait for Cascade 500 to Tacoma.

Cascade Talgo 500 7/12/2005

I started the line for coach seat assignment for the Talgo that I would be taking to Tacoma. Train 500 pulled in Portland Union Station at 8:11 AM. The conductor took my ticket and Alaska Airline Mileage Card giving me Seat 7 in Car 5. I boarded the car getting a left hand window seat. Rush "Live in Rio" would take me north as we departed Portland on time. At Willbridge we crossed the Willamette River as I enjoyed a Coca-Cola. Minutes later we crossed the Columbia River on the Interstate Bridge which was opened when we arrived but was in the process of locking back into place before we could arrive into Vancouver, Washington. The movie this morning was "Guess Who" staring Bernie Mac. We stopped at Kelso-Longview before passing through the Rocky Point Tunnel. Minutes later we crossed the Toutle River then climbed the hill to Vader. Later we got stopped before Centralia by a UP freight in the process of clearing the station. We did our station work there before running by the Mima Mounds, a mysterious geological feature, before we stopped at the Olympia/Lacey Station. We crossed the Nisqually River before we ran along the shore of the Puget Sound. Ketron Island was off to our left. We passed through Steilacoon before we reached the Tacoma Narrows Bridge where they are building a new bridge to the west of the present structure. We came to a stop for the southbound Coast Starlight with two private cars on the rear markers. The train ran through the Nelson-Bennet Tunnel then a shorter second tunnel. We ran along Commencement Bay passing a northbound UP stack train and a few minutes later we reached Tacoma where I detrained twenty minutes late.

Tacoma 7/12/2005

I checked into the Bay Motel about three blocks down Puyallup Street from Amtrak. After putting my stuff in my room, I walked over to the Downtown Tacoma Streetcar. I made a round trip from the Tacoma Dome to the Theater District. Tacoma bought Skoda Streetcars just like Portland did. After an enjoyable ride I went to the Sounder Station to learn how to use their machines. I scouted out a few photo locations for after my Sounder trip before stopping off at Dairy Queen for lunch. I returned to my room to wait for my next Amtrak train to Seattle. I called Julie learning my Talgo for Seattle was running twenty minutes late.

Cascade Talgo 506 7/12/2005

The Talgo from Portland had major CTC problems south of Tacoma so we departed town 45 minutes late. The Talgo crossed over at Reservation and we were off for Seattle. At Stewart we crossed over before Puyallup. No views of Mt Rainier today. We sped through Sumner, Auburn and Kent on the way to our next stop of Tukwilla. The Talgo crossed the Black River before passing Boeing Field as we made our final sprint to Seattle. We passed the Union Pacific connection to their Argo Yard before we arrived at King Street Station.

Sounder 4:45 PM Seattle Departure 7/12/2005

I crossed the tracks at King Street Station and walked along the train to find a Sounder Ticket Machine to purchase my fare for Tacoma. Our train had engine 909, Coaches 236, 410, 404, 228, 218 with Cab Cars 11 and 305. I boarded car 236 right behind the engine which turned out to be the quiet car. This Bombardier Coach is equipped with small overhead luggage racks with a pleasant purple decorum. We left on time passing the Empire Builder, two Talgos and cars of the American Orient Express. In case you wondered why I am on a Sounder Train my reasons are two fold. First we needed a story for about this service and second I needed the new mileage from Reservation to the Tacoma Dome Station at the Freight House Square. Since I am sitting facing backwards I got to enjoy the receding Seattle Skyline. Tickets were inspected as we ran by Boeing Field. We stopped at Tukwilla where about a hundred passengers boarded. From here for a few miles I had a great view of the former Milwaukee Road line now Union Pacific. At the next stop at Kent we lost 30 and gained about 30 passengers. At Auburn a few joined and we lost over 100 passengers. The railroad theme restaurant in Sumner had recently burned to the ground. A large crowd detrained at Sumner. Minutes later at Puyallup most of the train detrained leaving just twelve passengers upstairs in the quiet car going to Tacoma. We came to Reservation finding a red over yellow signal and at TR Junction under Interstate 5 diverged onto new trackage for me. We climbed a grade crossing Bay and Puyallup Streets. We passed the overnight storage area, went under a wooden road bridge before crossing a long wooden trestle that ended at the Tacoma Dome Station. My trip on the sounder had been a complete success.

I detrained at the Tacoma Dome Station and after a picture of the front of our train, I walked to the rear. At the driveway to the street I waited for the reverse move to the overnight storage area across the long wooden trestle. After that I walked to a closed overpass to wait for the next Sounder train from Seattle.

The 5:10 PM Departure from Seattle passing the overnight storage yard before heading across the trestle to the Tacoma Dome Station. With that done, I walked back to the Bay Motel.

Tacoma 2 7/12/2005

After returning to the Bay Motel I visited a Union 76 Gas Station for some Coca-Cola for the trip home. I also picked up some chocolate donuts and milk for a quick breakfast in the morning. I dined at the Dairy Queen, made a few phone calls and watched the Major League Baseball All Star Game. I walked over to Amtrak and saw Cascade Talgo 708 come into Tacoma followed by the northbound Coast Starlight running two hours late. Since this consist would be my train home I wanted to see if it had a Pacific Parlor Car which it did. I returned to the Bay Motel for my last motel night of this trip.

Sounder 5:45 AM Tacoma Departure 7/13/2005

Up at 5:00 AM and after I had my breakfast I walked over to the Tacoma Dome Station. I bought my Sounder Ticket and boarded the 5:45 AM Departure for Seattle. I just sat back and let this train take me north to Seattle on a mostly cloudy morning. At Puyallup they have "Welcome" in the platform cement and the passengers line up in a single file line to board the train. No pushing or shoving or crowding as these passengers board Sounder Trains. This "Welcome" is at most of the Sounder Stations. I listened to more of Rush "Live in Rio" as the Sounder got me to Seattle five minutes early. After a round trip on the Sounder I have nothing but praise for the service they provide.

Seattle, a brief visit 7/13/2005

I checked my luggage with the Red Cap Louis and now was free to walk around Seattle. I went over to the Waterfront Streetcar for a round trip of their line. Car 512 was passed on the passing track. I was riding car 272 and on the way back we got passed by the Sounder 6:40 AM Everett Departure heading for the underground tunnel beneath Seattle. I went to Kinkos to check my E-mail which was a chore. I do not know why people send me things when they know that I am gone. I walked across the street to Seattle Union Station for a visit.

I walked inside the Great Hall and found a table to just look around. I felt like I was here to board the Milwaukee Road Olympian Hiawatha for Chicago forty years ago. I can dream can not I! Seattle Union Station was built by E.H. Harriman for the Oregon Washington Railway, a subsidiary of the Union Pacific Railroad. It opened on May 20th, 1911. It was designed by architect Daniel J. Patterson in a progressive Beaux Art Style. Trains that used the station were the Union Pacific and Milwaukee Road. The Milwaukee Road trains where electrified and ran under wire east to Othello and south to Tacoma, Washington. It was located across a bridge from King Street Station. The last train to serve Union Station was on April 30th, 1971 with the final arrival of the last pre Amtrak train. Seattle Union Station was listed as a Historic Place in 1974. The "Great Hall" is half the size of a football field 60 feet x 160 feet under steel truss construction. It is a magnificent building. I returned to King Street Station to wait for the Coast Starlight to board. I read the USA Today and just relaxed waiting for my bags from Louis the Red Cap to arrive which they did.

Coast Starlight 11 7/13/2005

The Conductors took my Sleeping Car ticket plus my Alaska Airline Mileage Card before giving me my boarding pass and to wait by Door Two. The train backed in at 9:25 AM. I boarded Sleeping Car 32099 New Mexico Room 4 right side. After getting a picture of our train and the consist I went to the Parlour Car for the on time departure from Seattle King Street Station. Our train had engines 116 and 117, Baggage 1708, Transition 39019, Sleepers 32104 Oklahoma, 32085 Kentucky and 32099 New Mexico, Parlour 39973, Dinner 38046, Lounge 33049 and Coaches 34061, 34515 Kiddie Car, 34034 and 34015. Garret Nelson is the Parlour Attendant and my Sleeping Car Attendant was Hak To. This trip I just sat back and relax. No views of Mt Rainier today and after Tacoma I enjoyed the Puget Sound before I took a nap to just north of Vancouver.

We pulled into Vancouver and I found the draw span open for ship travel. Remember water traffic always has the right away over rail traffic. I spent the rest of the time to Portland looking at the pre Amtrak railroad timetables that I had bought during the NRHS Convention. We arrived into Portland Union Station a few minutes early and I detrained.

They brought us into the station on Track 4 so to get into the station we had to walk around the front of the Starlight and the rear of the Empire Builder. I bought Hot Tamales and some post cards. Problems with the Steel Bridge {a lift span} delayed our departure from Portland as did "Getting a splash of fuel!" We departed Portland at 3:08 PM {2:25 PM} as I stood at the rear door watching us leave Portland and the crossing of the Steel Bridge. We had no delays to Salem 4:20 PM {3:37 PM} on what turned out to be a beautiful sunny afternoon. The Coast Range stood to the west across the Willamette Valley. At Renard we found a UP piggyback train with a local in the same siding hanging out onto the mainline delaying our passage for five minutes. Coming into Albany I saw Doyle McCormick's Nickel Plate RSD-5 324 and other Willamette and Pacific power. We departed Albany at 5:05 PM {4:10 PM}. We went into the siding at Alford for the northbound Coast Starlight running three and a half hours late. After that happened I had a Five PM Dinner Reservation with Richard and at 5:15 PM was joined by Winthrop and Gail. I had Prime Rib and a chocolate sundae off Menu 1. I wish Amtrak would not use the not made onboard Prime Rib and go back to cooking it onboard like on my first Coast Starlight trip back in December of 1980. That was fantastic restaurant Prime Rib not this poor version. After dinner, I enjoyed the fresh air stop at Eugene departing there at 6:08 PM {5:10 PM}. We pulled into the siding at Natron for UP 4291 West who was too long for the siding. Lookout Point Reservoir was absolutely beautiful in the late afternoon light. We rolled east through Oakridge and started the climb to Cascade Summit.

After a picture of Rooster Rock before we crossed the Salt Creek Trestle to reverse direction to climb the middle level. Once we did the 180 degree tunnel we met the UP 4852 West at Fields. At Cruzatte we met another UP eastbound but this time he was in the siding as we kept climbing. We crested Cascade Summit and rolled by Odell Lake. With that, I decided to make up my bed and call it a night.

7/14/2005 I woke up at the south end of the Chico siding meaning we were 2.5 hours late. It was a beautiful clear California morning with the Sutter Buttes off to the southwest. I enjoyed an early tea in the Parlour Car before going to the Dining Car for French Toast and sausage for breakfast. I dined with Paul from San Jose and Andrew going to Imperial Beach. After breakfast we crossed the Feather River and Starlight made the turn onto the ex Western Pacific at Binney Junction. We ran through Marysville and crossed the Bear River. Good conversations were had in the Parlour Car until we crossed the American River. We arrived into Sacramento at 8:05 AM and during the servicing I spoke briefly with my brother Bruce, the Amtrak agent, who was working baggage. We departed Sacramento at 8:29 AM {6:35 AM} with me reading the USA Today in the Parlour Car. The National Hockey League strike is over so once more professional hockey can be played. The train paused at Davis as I sat at a table in the Parlour Car reading the news. We crossed the Carquinez Strait lift bridge and made our way to Martinez. We left there at 9:30 AM {7:34 AM} for our run along the Carquinez Straits and San Pablo Bay. After Crocket right before we entered the lone tunnel, the California Zephyr blasted out of the tunnel on the way to Chicago. At CP San Pablo we got stabbed by an eastbound UP freight with a UP westbound in front of us. The UP 2551 West finally crossed over before we flew through Richmond and Berkeley before we arrived into Emeryville. The Coast Starlight departed at 10:21 AM {8:20 AM} after San Joaquin 714 left. We passed the old 16th Street Station closed by the Loma Pieta Earthquake which is now badly graffitied. The train passed the new Amtrak maintenance facility before running down the middle of Embarcadero Street to the Oakland Jack London Square Amtrak Station. We departed Oakland at 10:56 AM {8:50 AM} and took the Capitol Train routing via Hayward towards San Jose. Once we were back on the Mulford line we passed the Drawbridge Ghost Town, Great America and the San Francisco 49'ers training facility. The Starlight ran to the Cahill Station in San Jose departing there at 12:07 PM {10:07 AM}. With that I took a short nap waking up right before the Pajaro Gap. We got stopped in Watsonville waiting for a UP westbound freight to arrive. I went to the lounge car to see Larry, the always wonderful attendant, to buy a hot dog for lunch.

Views along the Elkhorn Slough. Just south of Castorville we came to a stop to get new block authority prior to our train reaching Salinas.

Southern Pacific 0-6-0 1237 was on display at Salinas during our fresh air break there. The Starlight departed Salinas at 2:00 PM {11:48 PM}. I walked to the back door to enjoy the view as the Coast Starlight headed up the Salinas Valley.

Running out of Salinas to near Soledad the tracks follow US Highway 101.

As we passed the automatic block it changed from red to green.

Passing some of the rich agriculture that has made this valley the lettuce bowl of the nation.

The Coast Starlight runs along the east valley hills.

The lone tunnel in the Salinas Valley.

Oil interests come into play near San Ardo.

The Salinas River off to the left.

Rolling further south up the Salinas Valley.

The train crossed the Salinas River. At McKay UP 5830 West was in the siding but we had to reline the east switch for our continue movement. We arrived into Paso Robles and departed there at 4:23 PM {1:38 PM}. We met the northbound Coast Starlight at Santa Margarita a little late after the removal of a passenger at San Luis Obispo by the police. I talked with Hak To, my wonderful Sleeping Attendant, as the train descended Cuesta Grade and we arrived into San Luis Obispo for a fresh air break. The Starlight left SLO at 5:39 PM {3:20 PM}. I had a 5:45 PM Dinner Reservation and went into the Parlour Car to wait. We finally were called into dinner at 6:05 PM. Tom O'Conner celebrating 30 years of Amtrak service as of today was our server. I was joined by Judy and Don from Boerne, Texas. We all had the Chicken Fried Steak as we neared the very foggy California Coast. I enjoyed a chocolate sundae for dessert. At Sudden we met Pacific Surfliner 775 then stopped to align the east switch.

We came out of the dense fog which produced a beautiful view of the California Coast.

Here is a different view of the coastline for you. I had returned to my room before Point Conception and turned east along a beautiful shoreline in the last light of the day. At Gaviota we paused while the UP 3929 West cleared into the siding all the way and was off the mainline. After we realigned the east switch we continued eastward. Knowing I had a bus ride ahead of me to get home, I napped from east of Gaviota to Van Nuys where at 11:15 PM I packed up the room before I used the Railphone to call home to let my mother know my plan to taxi home whenever we got to Santa Ana. I talked with Hak To for the last few miles into Los Angeles. The Coast Starlight arrived into Los Angeles Union Station at 11:35 PM {9:00 PM} under a crescent moon on Track 10.

The Bus 7/15/2005

I walked down that long tunnel into Los Angeles Union Station and had to make a wide detour around floor cleaning taking place to get to the bus which I boarded at 11:40 PM. It has always amazed me that Amtrak would not have the buses at the end of the platform to make life easier for all of the transferring passengers. Baggage could go straight from the train to the bus and it would speed up getting out of LAUPT. The same goes for bringing the train connecting San Joaquin Buses straight to the platforms. I put on ABBA as I knew this would take a while. Midnight came and went during the mass confusion of loading. We waited for a few more late arrivals before we left LAUPT at 12:28 AM, 51 minutes after we had arrived. We went to Fullerton leaving there at 1:05 AM, Anaheim at 1:26 AM and myself off the bus at Santa Ana at 1:35 AM. A waiting taxi took me home ending a fantastic trip to the 2005 NRHS Convention and so much more.