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A pre Christmas Trip on the Sunset Limited 12/2004

plus the New Orleans Streetcar Lines including the new Canal Street Line

by Chris Guenzler

My winter Break or Christmas Vacation was on my mind and I needed to be going someplace. With a note in the new Winter Amtrak Timetable that "Just before press time, the Sunset Limited schedules were under review. Schedules may change between November 2004 and April 2005." With a major change going to take place in the future, I decided that this would be the time to ride both ways across the USA in a sleeping car on the Sunset Limited. Richard, my good friend of Lets Talk Trains made a trip in October that was 14 hours late and the train was terminated in Sanford. Due to family health problems he flew home. Steve Grande of was on a westbound Sunset Limited that was due in the morning the new San Luis Obispo Surfliner was to start. We went to and from San Luis Obispo with Steve arriving back at 7:21 PM, 12 hours and 41 minutes late. As the weeks neared I kept a watch out on how the trains were running. One set was turned at New Orleans with passengers being bused to Florida and a westbound just this last week was turned at Tucson due to a UP head on wreck at Iris, CA. I could not wait to see how my trains would do. Like I always say, "Every trip is Adventure!" So join me now and ride along on a Sunset Limited adventure.

A little change of plans!

My planned leaving from Santa Ana on Surfliner 589 was put into chaos when my mother told me she had Opera tickets that night. I decided to take 582 to Oceanside then 589 from there to Los Angeles and the Sunset Limited. That was the plan until the night before my trip when the BNSF put some cars on the ground around CP Cumbres at the top of the Miramar Grade making train service to or from San Diego impossible. Train service would now be from Solana Beach north with San Diego passengers being bused to Oceanside. I learned that 582 would turn into 591 at Solana Beach so I would just need to exchange my tickets from going north from Solana Beach instead of Oceanside.

Surfliner 582 12/17/2004

My mother drove me to Santa Ana and I exchanged my tickets. Out on the platform 582 came into Santa Ana three minutes early. It was led by Surfliner Cab Car 6903, Coaches 6400 and 6451, Coach/Cafe 6300, Pacific Business Class 6800 with F69PHI 481. I settled into a lower coach seat for my trip south listening to Rush "Feedback". I felt relaxed without a care in the world. Once the Rush was done, I listened to a three disc of Prince "Hits/B sides". I am trying out my new CD player on this trip with my usual cassette player along just in case. The train made its way to Oceanside where everyone detrained except for those of us going to Solana Beach. After a limited service Coaster train arrived into Oceanside from Sorrento Valley we headed to our final stop of Solana Beach. I walked up stairs and waved to an extremely busy Karen, the excellent Amtrak agent there before returning to track side to wait to board my northbound train to Los Angeles.

Surfliner 591{589} 12/17/2004

Conductor Ted Ewing opened the door at 6:50 PM and I took a left hand seat in Pacific Business Class for the night time ocean view for the trip to Los Angeles. We departed Solana Beach at 7:10 PM {6:53 PM}. We met Surfliner 784 at CP Swami before we headed to Oceanside. The trip along the coast was beautiful this night as the lights of Dana Point showed brightly. Inland at Rancho Capistrano they had their Merry Christmas sign and manager scene up on the hill lit for all to see. Passing through Santa Ana without getting off always feels funny to me. We met Surfliner 590 at CP Lincoln. There was enough light to see the latest work on the new Santiago Creek future second track bridge. A brief delay getting onto the BNSF before Fullerton prior to that stop. We made our way the rest of the trip to Los Angeles with no delays arriving there twenty minutes late. As the Sunset Limited was not in the station yet, I had to go inside the waiting room until after 10:00 PM when they let the sleeping car passengers walk out to the train.

Sunset Limited 2 12/17/2004

I was greeted by my sleeping car attendant Rick Fisher. I stashed my stuff in my room before I walked the train to get the consist. Our Sunset Limited had P42DCs 835 and 21, Baggage 1735, Transition 39013, Sleepers 32093 and 32073 California, Diner 38043, Lounge 33047, Coaches 34098, 34022 and 34078 with Sleeper 32076 Delaware on the rear. The last two cars are the Texas Eagle section of the Sunset Limited. As I took the number of the Delaware I was met by Anna Maria Vella, the wife of former fantastic Amtrak conductor now retired Dale Anderson. I returned to my room 6 in the California and caught up on things listening to Yes "Magnification". It was announced that we would wait for the late running Coast Starlight and should be leaving in fifteen minutes. Our Sunset Limited is waiting on track 12 so did they bring the train in on the track next to us. No! It came in on track 10. That is really nice for all those transferring passengers plus their checked baggage. The Sunset Limited departed LAUPT at 11:05 PM {10:50 PM} and took the Metrolink line east from Los Angeles to El Monte. With all that complete, I called it a night.


I woke up to a beautiful clear December morning as we held the mainline at Mohawk, AZ. Starting my day off right in the dining car I enjoyed French Toast and Sausage. As I was changing into fresh clothes, the sun rose in the southeast sky as the train headed towards Gila Bend. While my room was being made up, I spent some time in the lounge car. Here I saw a car flipped over on Interstate 8. I returned to my room and there was a noticeable smell that came into the room. It smelled of sewage from the holding tank and it would blow into the room off and on. During the trip it would give you a headache every so often. At Gila Bend I am always on the lookout for the old tracks of the Tucson, Cornelius and Gila Bend Railroad which ran a mixed train right into the seventies. This railroad connected Gila Bend with the copper mining area around Ajo, AZ.

A few of the many Saguaro Cactus near Shawmut. Jeff Beck "Who Else" was my listening choice for this morning. The Sunset went into the siding at Estrella for the UP 3947 West. As he was passing, the conductor announced that we would be here for two more then move to the next siding of Mobile for two more. Just a tad bit of freight train congestion I would have to say. UP 5097 West came blasting through Estrella as I switched to listening to "Tales of the Crystal Flute" a Jethro Tull concert from the Rock Island tour. Strange Avenues agreed. The UP 4112 west was our last train at Estrella before we moved on to Mobile for the UP 4926 West and UP 4936 West. On the move again we made it to Maricopa, the Amtrak train crew change point. A short platform meant four station stops. We finally departed Maricopa at 9:38 AM {7:12 AM}. I went back to my room and napped most of the way to Tucson. I detrained and walked to a deli for some Coca-Cola before returning to the station and calling Lets Talk Trains, the Internet radio show.

The Sunset Limited was serviced in Tucson. We departed Tucson at 11:29 AM {9:40 AM} and came to yet another stop less than a mile away to let a westbound UP freight clear out of our path. We then crossed over to the south track at Vail taking it for the climb to Mescal.

Here the Sunset Limited crossed over the normal eastbound route. From the summit at Mescal we dropped into Benson before we crossed the Santa Cruz River.

The Sunset Limited next tackled the grades of the Dragoon Mountains.

Our train nearing Tully on the climb out of the Santa Cruz River Valley to Dragoon.

The Sunset dropped into the Wilcox Playa. "Rush in Rio" would take me well into New Mexico.

The train curved into New Mexico near Steins.

We made a brief stop in Lordsburg slowing into a siding for a UP stack train to clear at Ulmorris. From there we crawled along for a few miles near Separ as we were following the UP 4911 East as he went into the siding for us. We stopped at Deming but that nice wooden station building is gone. I got myself a 6:30 dinner reservation as we should be way passed El Paso by then. I was on the last disc of "Rush in Rio". A special thank you to Mrs. Carnett for the new CD player and to Mrs. Angle for the CD case she gave to me a few years back that I am finally using on this trip. I am enjoying both of them thank you very much. I began to wonder where our westbound Sunset Limited counterpart was and how was it doing coming west today. I went to the rear door of the Delaware to watch the descent to the Rio Grande River and sunset.

After more miles of single track, the UP is installing miles of double track on the climb out of the Rio Grande River Valley.

Looking down into the Rio Grande River Valley.

Fifty feet from Mexico gave me these views.

Sunset went but came back before going for good. As the train crossed the Rio Grande River into Texas, it was announced that all Texas Eagle passengers would be bussed to Fort Worth to connect with their train. We had a twilight run into El Paso as a BNSF freight was leaving for Belen. We pulled into El Paso and I ventured into the station for some Coca Cola and a phone to see where Train 1 was. It was 9 hours late at Del Rio but Julie said it should be only 7 hours into El Paso. Our train sat in El Paso while the three buses backed down the platform to the rear of the train. If I were to do the Texas Eagle I would always get a room in San Antonio and take the next day train north. It was jacket weather in El Paso and I told the Janesville Juant, San Antonio part of the story to the amusement of a fellow passengers. We departed El Paso at 6:12 PM {3:41 PM} before we passed through the El Paso Yard and a few minutes later I headed to the dining car for dinner. I enjoyed a most excellent New York Strip and the usual chocolate sundae. While I was sitting in the dining car our train never moved as a UP freight in front of us had broken down. We started moving again at 7:54 PM, a one hour and fifteen minute delay as we slowly proceeded east before finally picking up speed. The Scorpions "Live Bites" got me through that delay and out of El Paso once and for all. I set the watch ahead to Central Time, made up my bed and called it a night.


I woke up east of Del Rio as the train was making the trek towards San Antonio ETA 9:30 AM {4:46 AM}. Starting the day off with a pancake and sausage breakfast followed by a most wonderful shower then fresh clothes. I walked back to the now San Antonio sleeper which would become the stand by equipment for the Texas Eagle.

Sunday morning so good luck to all the drinkers on the train. Seeing all the locals going to church brought back the first transcontinental Sunset Limited when I got tossed off. I can laugh about it now with my 3623 days of sobriety. Listening to Van Halen's "Best of Both Worlds" should get me to San Antonio.

The world goes from brown to green once we crossed the 100th Meridian. We finally picked up speed at Sabinal then went by the UP 2405 West at Saco, TX. Next we reached Dunlay where we crawled down the siding meeting UP 3965 West followed by UP 9636 West. Here our train crew died on the "Hours of Service Law" so we expect to be here 45 minutes. Why 45 minutes? That is how long it takes to drive from San Antonio to here. The crew van showed up at 10:45 AM and we left Dunlay for good at 10:52 AM. The Skyline of San Antonio came into view way off in the distance. We went by the NS 8542 East at Lacoste then by the UP 9241 East at Macdona. We slowed to a crawl before stopping at Alamo Jct. Ex Conrail 8357 South along with NS 3227 along for the ride on the ex Missouri Pacific. At 12:02 PM we started moving forward through Alamo Jct before we stopped at CP Withers. We stopped again with a UP westbound on the track ahead with no crew onboard. At 12:40 PM we started moving only to stop a minute later. At 12:45 PM we tried again but only got 100 yards.

At 12:53 PM we move again this time we passed Sloan Yard with the view of waiting trains. We ran along Texas 371 North until it joined Texas 353. From there we passed the homes and light industries before the Tower of America and Alamodome came into view as we made the final curve to the San Antonio Amtrak Station arriving there at 1:25 PM {4:56 AM}. The fresh air and warm sun felt good on my skin.

The Sunset Limited during the servicing stop at San Antonio.

The Southern Pacific 794 MK5 2-8-2 is on display in front of the San Antonio Station.

I enjoyed the view of the Tower of America before the engineer blew the horn for all to reboard our train. The Sunset Limited pulled forward then backed up to remove the two rear cars formerly destined for the Texas Eagle this morning. We left San Antonio for good at 2:24 PM {6:00 AM}. The Sunset Limited blocked the traffic for 24 minutes at the crossing east of the station. Some impatient drivers u-turned trying to get around the train but got caught a second time as we headed east towards Houston. I put on Yes "At the House of Blues in Las Vegas" for the start of the journey east. We stopped at the east end of Kirby Yard for the UP 5173 West. The Sunset Limited stopped at the eastbound Kirby fuel pads to refuel both engines of our train. We departed the Kirby fuel pads at 3:12 PM. I enjoyed this afternoon passing through all the small towns and across the creeks and rivers along our route.

I ventured to the rear door of the 34022 coach for about thirty minutes.

The crossing at Flatonia where the old Cotton Belt joined the Sunset Route. I had a 5 PM dinner reservation and took my camera. I enjoyed a New York Strip and sundae.

I also enjoyed my interesting attempts to get a good sunset picture. Returning to my room, I listened to Queen "Live at Earls Court" as the train continued the trek towards Houston. The train arrived into the Houston area well after dark and closing in on the station we passed the UP 4799 East with a stack train. We arrived into Houston and I detrained to visit the station as well to enjoy the 55 F degree night air. We departed Houston at 7:31 PM {10:55 AM} before coming to yet another unexpected stop. I saw Minute Maid Park the home of the Houston Astros and one of the ballparks I still need to visit. We started moving again but came to a stop a few minutes later right before Englewood Yard and I called it a night. That stop lasted well over three hours.


The Sunset lost even more time while I slept the night away. I awoke someplace east of New Iberia and headed to the dining car for a limited breakfast menu that did include French Toast. Remember this train if it was on time would be around Pensacola, FL by now.

We crossed the Bayou Boref as we continued east on this new day. Since I am in the land of bayous, voodoo and the like, I put on Ozzy Osbourne "The Ozzman Cometh". We reached Schriever and departed there at 7:46 AM {5:56 PM}. It is Monday morning and everyone out in the real world is headed to work as they all race about trying to be on time. Talk about the exact opposite of all of us on this train.

Our Sunset Limited did a morning crossing of the Huey Long Bridge over the Mississippi River. Once we were back on solid ground, the bad news came that due to the Sunset Limited tardiness, the train will be terminated at New Orleans and passengers to all points east of there would be motor coached to their destinations. If I went along with that plan I would be bused to Orlando then bused right back. Not this train rider as there are things I could do for two days in New Orleans while my train stays there. We backed into New Orleans Union Passenger Terminal at 9:19 AM {8:30 PM} or 12 hours and 49 minute late ending a very interesting eastbound ride on the Sunset Limited.

Click here for the unexpected New Orleans Layover!