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Ride the Rails with me to the TrainWeb 10th Anniversary Celebration in La Plata, MO!

By Anton L. "CoastStarlight99"

It all started around October or so when I read Ray Burns trip report about his amazing trip trip to La Plata, MO. Located in Northeast Missouri, La Plata has a population of about 1,500 people. La Plata is also also obviously a stop on the Amtrak Southwest Chief, providing easy access to train riders. Ray's trip report talked about the tremendous amount of railroad (BNSF) activity in La Plata, the friendliness of the town, etc. But most importantly he mentioned the Depot Inn and Suites. This fantastic hotel is less then 1 year old, and is actually Railroad Themed! The entire facility features railroad antiques, hobo signs, and much more. It is a railfans dream! Soon after Ray's travelogue, others started to surface. Steve Grande then released a travelogue, and information that TrainWeb would actually be relocating to La Plata. This was very surprising to me since they have been based in Fullerton for so many years. I was a bit sad at first, since it was nice to have such a big website be located about an hour from your front door. At this time, I still was not planning on going to La Plata. But soon after, an official 10th Anniversary Celebration invitation appeared on the TrainWeb front page. This seemed like a great trip since many of TrainWeb's correspondents, as well as all of the owners would be attending. By mid-November, I was booked on the Southwest Chief! Since I am in High School, I booked a flight back since I would be missing 2 days of school with just one leg of the trip being by train. So I used Expedia to book airfare from Kirksville (13 miles from La Plata) to Los Angeles. I booked my trip on Wednesday, December 6, 2006 from Los Angeles to La Plata. Several others would also be on my train including: Andy Smith, Carl Morrison, Jonathon Ortiz, and last but not least, Richard Hamilton of Lets Talk Trains! After detraining in La Plata, I would spend two nights at the Depot Inn, then on Sunday I would fly out.

Wednesday, December 6, 2006:
It was finally Wednesday, and I could not wait to be on the Chief headed for La Plata. I had a Doctors appointment on Wednesday at 4:00PM. Sine I am experienced at Union Station, we thought it would be alright to leave at 5:00PM for the 6:45PM departure. At 4:50PM, I got picked up from my appointment and was on my way to Los Angeles Union Station. At the station, I was planning on picking up my ticket since Amtrak will no longer mail tickets to passengers boarding at staffed stations. I did not mind this, since the Quik-Trak machines are very convenient. Traffic on the 110 North is never great, but is usually not as bad as the 405 during rush hour. Since the traffic was bad, and my mom knows Downtown pretty well, we exited around USC, planning on taking surface streets to Alameda St. Unfortunately, things didn't go as planned. Figure St. was a nightmare. Apparently there was some kind of event going on at the Staples Center which was causing a huge traffic back-up. We also heard on the radio of some kind of teachers strike of some kind. We finally made it to Alameda Street...but it was 6:47PM! This was the first time I had ever hoped an Amtrak train would be late. But I sure did wish this time. In order to make my train, I knew I had to get to one of the Chiefs intermediate station stops. My only chance would be Fullerton , Riverside, or San Bernardino. My mom had no idea how to get there, and she was going to a performance at the Music Center that night. I told her she could leave, since a Taxi driver could navigate much better. So, I went to the Taxi stand where there were 2 other people also waiting for Taxi arrivals. I was very surprised that there were no Taxis already waiting. Finally about 6 Taxis pulled up, and I got in a green United Cab and told him to go to the Fullerton Amtrak Station. He did not speak fluent English, and needed directions from the man in charge of the Taxis at Union Station. Finally, we left Union Station and were on the freeway. Then, I began to have second thoughts. Fullerton takes 37 minutes on the Pacific Surfliner, and during this time of night, traffic would be a nightmare. So, I did the only thing I could think of and I called Amtrak to request the number of the station in Fullerton. It was busy! Then, I remembered the TrainWeb sendoff party at The Rail Restaurant , which is located right next to the Fullerton Depot. I gave them a call and they suggested I talked to Steve Grande. Steve was very helpful and he and others recommended that I should go to San Bernardino. It was my best bet. Steve actually missed the train in Fullerton a few weeks prior, I recall reading his trip report of how he ended up having to fly to Kansas City in order to meet the train! I also spoke with my friend Michael who did a MapQuest map to see exactly how long it would take me to get there from my current locations. The scheduled time of arrival for #4 into San Bernardino is 8:29PM, and it was on time. As my cab raced down the carpool lane, I finally reached San Bernardino just in time for the arrival of the Southwest Chief!

On the platform, about 15-20 people were standing together. Since Metrolink does not have as many trains at night, and only 1 Amtrak train services San Bernardino, I figured they were waiting for the Chief. After a few minutes of waiting, the Chief pulls up fast! The lead P42 locomotive went right past us, and the 2 sleeping cars were all the way at the other end of the platform. I ran down to the 0431 car to find my attendant Lupe and the Conductor opening the door. It turned out that some others foks were being bused from Bakersfield to San Bernardino, but were suppose to board at Los Angeles, as was I. As I prepared to board, the conductor asked to see my ticket. Since I had not claimed my ticket in Los Angeles, I only had the emailed itinerary from Amtrak confirming I had purchased my trip. The conductor then said "no ticket, no boarding". I was pretty mad by now, and told him what I had done to make the train, and how he could simply pull the ticket at the next staffed station. He agreed, however he said that the reservation was most likely canceled since nobody had claimed the ticket. When I was finally onboard, I asked Lupe if dinner was still be served, she said she did not know, but she thought they might have stopped after Riverside. I threw my bags in Room 7, and went to the dining car. As I was seated, I called 1(800)USA-RAIL to see what happened with my reservation. It turns out it was canceled, and the agent said she would have to re-book me. She then explained there was only 1 roomette left on the train, my room! It was also much more expensive then the price I had paid. I asked her if she could please give me the same rate, and she said she could not. So, I asked to speak to a supervisor. A few minutes later, the agent came back to the phone informing me that I could get the same price! She said that I can keep the same reservation #, and just get the ticket when I had a chance. I was sure relieved!

Southwest Chief #4 - Wed. Dec. 6, 2006:

Car Type
Paint / Notes
P42 Genesis Locomotive 123 Phase V
P42 Genesis Locomotive 152 Phase V
Heritage Baggage Car 1242 Phase IVB
Superliner Transition Sleeping Car (NONE) -
Superliner Sleeping Car 0431 32050 Phase IVB
Superliner I Sleeping Car 0430 32034 Phase IV
Superliner II Dining Car 38058 ?
Superliner Sightseer Lounge 33005 ?
Superliner I Coach 34093 ?
Superliner I Coach 34094 ?
Superliner I Coach 31030 ?


On The Train!

As I got off the phone, I was seated with a man and his two adult sons. They were the ones bussed from Bakersfield. They were taking the train to Flagstaff to go hiking. Our server was Yolanda, she was very friendly, and it was already clear she had worked for Amtrak for years and knew what she was doing! I ordered the Braised Beef with a Baked Potato. The salad came first, and I did not mind the new salad routine. Prior to simplified dining, your server would dress your salad. Now, several packets of dressing are already on your table for you to use. I picked up a pack of Italian dressing. The salad was good as always, and I was very hungry for my Braised Beef. It actually came very fast since the Dining Car was about 1/4 full. The meat was actually quite good! It was not steak, but for a "stew" meat, it was very good quality. I enjoyed the meal, and for dessert had the Chocolate Cake with strawberry sauce, always a good choice! It was also excellent.

Back in my room, I informed Lupe that everything was fine, and she said I could retrieve my ticket in the morning. After I said my name, a man passing by me introduced himself as Andy. Andy was actually "smitty195" from Trainorders who I had been corresponding with the last few weeks about the upcoming trip. We went to the lounge car and I told him all about my "interesting" attempt at catching my train. After returning to my room, I set my alarm for 5:30AM for my first day on the Southwest Chief!

Day 2 - On the Train!