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The Coast Starlight, Mother's Day weekend 2005 -- Page 1

Mr. Toy's Train Travel Tales

The Coast Starlight

Mother's Day Weekend 2005

Monterey, California
Salem, Oregon

Northbound: May 5-6
Southbound: May 9-10

Page 1


The purpose of this trip was to spend Mother's Day with my mother, something I haven't been able to do for far too many years. We were joined in Salem by two sisters and two nieces, one of whom flew out from Denver just for the day.

As with most previous trips, we rode from Salinas to Salem, Oregon. One of these days we'll have to take the train farther north, or head down south, as we have never seen the Starlight's route beyond these two points.

We purchased our tickets at about a month before our departure. On our last trip we ordered over the phone, so we could request an upper level room northbound, and a lower level room southbound to compare ride quality. Having realized that, contrary to popular opinion, there is no significant difference, we opted to take the luck of the draw. So we were given Roomette 8 on car 1432 northbound, and Roomette 2 in car 1131 southbound.

(NB: the first two digits of the car number are the train number, 14 for the northbound train, 11 for the southbound train. The second two digits indicate the position of the car in the train. Sleeping cars are numbered from the diner forward, so 1430 is closest to the diner, while 1432 is closest to the front of the train.)

I didn't get as many scenic photos as usual on this trip, partly because the dark overcast skies didn't provide good light, and partly because I've shot many of the trip's highlights before and I didn't want to repeat myself. You can see them in my previous Train Travel Tales.


The Salinas Amtrak station, with the Monterey Thruway minibus out front.

As usual we rode the little Amtrak Thruway mini-bus from downtown Monterey to the Salinas train station. Our train, as expected, was running late, about an hour and a quarter, which is within tolerable limits. During our wait I made friends with a Brit, who rode over on the bus with us, and a man who was taking his family on their first overnight train trip to celebrate the birthday of their oldest son, who appeared to be about 10.

As we talked these gentlemen took an interest in my rail travel experience, and in particular my radio scanner, with which we can listed to train crews, Union Pacific dispatchers, and automated defect detectors placed every few miles along the tracks. I then showed them how to watch for the signal down the tracks to see if our train was coming. As we talked I observed, then commented aloud, that we must be a pathetic sight, three guys staring at a lightpost. They laughed.

We had a false alarm with the signal, as a freight train came through first, with empty auto carriers followed by double stack containers. The station attendant said that there had to be at least 15 minutes between trains, so we waited a bit longer.

Freight rumbles through. The sun sets.

Click for video Video Clip
Train 14 arrives in Salinas

WMV format
43 seconds

By 8:00pm we were on board and rolling. Our sleeping car attendant was a tall, good looking fellow named Choice. He was a true gentleman in every sense of the word. Polite, cheerful, and helpful. During our journey he was always there when we needed him, but unobtrusive the rest of the time.

Our car was oriented with the Roomettes forward, putting us about as close to the front of the train as we could be without being crew members. Only Roomettes 9 & 10 were closer. Our car (“Tennessee”) and the one behind us, had been through the shops recently, and bore new exterior stripes and logos, new interior upholstery and curtains. Three sleepers and three coaches were packed to the brim, making this a very busy train. In fact, there was an announcement that there would be no empty coach seats after Sacramento.

After boarding we went straight to the diner for dinner. I had the steak, and Heidi had the lamb. I would have preferred the chicken, but since we were there for the last call, the chicken supply was depleted. Our meals were reasonably good, though I can't say it was the best steak I've ever had. We concluded the meal by splitting a piece of cheesecake.

Our server was Irma. She was pretty busy, but she always made the effort to let us know we were on her mind. We had no table companions. One pair from coach sat down with us, but they got scared off by the prices, opting to save their sparse cash reserves for a full breakfast in the morning (which they did).

Tom was our attendant in the Pacific Parlour Car, the first-class lounge car which is exclusive to the Coast Starlight. Tom is a wonderful fellow, who we met once before. Whenever we sit down, he comes by to ask if we want anything. He provides appropriate background music, and he loves to talk about all sorts of things, especially Amtrak history. He really takes pride in his Parlour Car operation.

After a brief lounging in the Parlour Car, I tucked Heidi into bed. Much to my delight, I discovered that she actually prefers the upper bunk. She finds it cozy. I don't mind it, but I prefer the lower because it feels less confined and has the benefit of a window. I was willing to giver her the lower, but she insisted on taking the upper both ways. I feel like Jack Sprat.

Curiously, Choice had made up both beds with the head away from the step, which is unusual. This made getting into the upper bunk a little more challenging, but I think it may be safer with our feet were towards the front of the train. In the unlikely event of a sudden stop, our feet would hit the wall first, instead of our heads.

Meanwhile, I returned to the Parlour Car for some reading. I noticed we took a different route to Oakland, bypassing the tracks along the edge of the bay and taking the inland Niles subdivision instead. This is of no real interest except to railfans, and those of us who like to watch the San Mateo Bridge go by, which wasn't possible this time. We took this route in both directions. I had my scanner with me, and a detector report at milepost 12.4 (12.4 miles from Oakland) indicated our speed was 59 MPH.

Somewhere around Oakland I retired for the night.

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