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Trip to Monterey

Trip to Monterey


On May 26, 2001, I traveled from Roseville, CA to Monterey, CA to meet my wife Lana who was there to attend a convention. From there, we drove down to Southern California to spend the next week to visit family and friends. I didn't want to leave my wife's truck (she took my car to Monterey) in the Roseville train station parking lot the entire week, so I ordered a taxi cab the previous day to pick me up at 4:45 AM to catch the 5:30 AM Amtrak throughway bus to Sacramento. From there, I had tickets to take the Coast Starlight, #11, to Salinas in order to finish the trip via bus to the Monterey Hyatt Regency. This was my second trip on the Coast Starlight in the same week...in the last 72 hours for that matter. Two days ago I returned from a trip to Paso Robles to ride up with some friends of mine. On May 25, 2001, the night before I was to depart, I called 1-800-USA-RAIL to check the status of #11. Cool, only 10 minutes late. I also checked on the Internet to make sure, and both the Internet and automated train status via telephone were exactly the same. I stayed up real late--11:45 PM--prepping the house for a week without inhabitants, which included adding on to my existing drip watering system to accommodate some plants in containers so they wouldn't die. The rest of the smaller container plants I set in the middle of the lawn in order for the sprinklers to give the plants a splash every day.

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May 26, 2001, 4:20 AM, Antelope, CA.

My clock alarm went off, jarring me awake. What a short night that was and I knew today would be a fun day, so I had no trouble getting up. I was pretty much ready to go but had to pack my toiletries and make sure everything was locked up. At 4:30 AM, I hear a loud KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK at the front door! Oh, great, I was in the bathroom! I got myself to the front door, still sporting a major "bed head" hairdo, and the cab driver was there ready to take me to the train station. I was a bit aggravated that he was so early and hoped he wouldn't charge me a "wait" fee. HE was early and I told him that he would have to wait 15 minutes until the scheduled time I had requested. I'm sure he could tell I was not ready to go. When I opened the door initially, my burglar alarm was counting down to go off because I forgot to disarm it when I answered the front door. I was telling the cab driver he was early, etc. while the alarm tone was sounding off, meaning I had 30 seconds to disarm the house before the siren went off and police called. I slammed the front door and ran back to disarm the alarm. I finished up what I had to do, but the cab driver threw off my routine, making me feel extremely rushed now knowing he was waiting outside for me. I feared he'd drive off without me or charge me a "wait" fee. I grabbed my very full, heavy backpack, armed the house and headed out through the garage side door since I dead-bolted the front door...so I had thought. Inside the cab, the driver said he was not entirely sure where the Roseville depot was located so he would need some help getting there. I'm glad I was not a tourist!

4:50 AM

I got the cabbie driving in the right direction to the Roseville depot and we were on our way. He told me that right after he pulled up to my house, a call came out for a fare from Orangevale to the Sacramento airport, which would have been a $50 fare. The cab driver told me: "I now regret taking this fare because of this call that just came in while I was waiting for you." What nerve and rudeness on his part, but I was not shocked at this coming from a cab driver. I hate to stereotype people in their profession but this guy manners fit his job descreption to a tee. He was nice enough but lacked basic manners, in my opinion. He then told me that "If I hadn't picked you up, there was no other cab anywhere near here and you would have been stranded." Little did I know that had this cab not shown up, I could have walked to the Sacramento depot to catch the Coast Starlight! We were about half way to the Roseville depot when it hit me. I was 99% sure that I DID NOT LOCK THE FRONT DOOR to my house! With the cab driver showing up very early and my house alarm about to sound, I remember slamming the door and running back to the alarm control panel to disarm it before it went off, without even locking the door! I mentioned to the cab driver that we needed to head back so I could check it out. I even made a joke that "maybe you won't regret taking this fare too much now." He actually laughed at that (it was a bit sarcastic on my part but he didn't get it) "joke" and we headed back to my house. I walked up to the door and walked right in with no key! The pre-alarm warning went off like it usually does. I closed the door behind me, locked and dead-bolted it right then and there. I disarmed the house, verified all windows were closed and locked, double-checked the front door that it WAS locked and dead bolted. I re-armed the house and went back out through the garage side door and we were off to the depot once again. I also had left a light on in the hallway but that would not have been a big deal. Fortunately, this only added $4 to the fare which was a small price to pay for what could have really happened.

5:02 AM Roseville Depot

The cab driver seemed to rush as we drove back towards the train depot, but I told him I had allowed for plenty of time, as it turned out I would have PLENTY of! The Amtrak bus originated in Roseville and I knew it would leave on time to Sacramento in order for me to connect with #11 to Salinas. The cab fare was $20 even so I gave him $25 and told him to keep the change. I was probably being too generous but I was just grateful to be at the station! Since train #11 was only 10 minutes late since the last time I checked, I knew with at least 40 minutes of padding built in between Chico and Sacramento, the train would most likely be sitting in the station when my bus arrived. To kill a few minutes, I used the only pay phone by the locked depot (It is not staffed by Amtrak personnel but has a travel agency that can issue Amtrak tickets for an additional fee) to get the latest status report on #11. What I heard would be the beginning of what would turn out to be a very LONG day! The status report that Amtrak gave me was that #11 was "3 hours 27 minutes late." Yikes, I rushed for nothing and I could have slept in and perhaps taken the morning Capitol train from Roseville to Sacramento, but even that train didn't arrive for another 3 hours. Since I had to spend three hours somewhere, I would rather do it in downtown Sacramento where there is a station waiting room and more things to do, rather than be stuck in Roseville. There was a restaurant that I could have camped out in but that didn't even open until 6 AM. The Amtrak bus pulled up at 5:07 AM and I was glad to board it.

6:05 AM Sacramento, CA

Aboard the Amtrak Thruway bus, I was so tired by this point from all the "excitement" of today already that I nodded off. When I awoke, we were getting off the freeway in downtown Sacramento. Wow, I usually don't fall asleep on buses. At the Sacramento depot, the waiting room was nearly deserted. I guess the passengers taking train 11 had either been notified or had done the smart thing by calling in ahead of time for a train status report. I spent some time exploring the depot, enjoying the cool morning air and to watch the sun come up. It was going to be another scorcher! Yesterday it had been 101 degrees and today it would be hotter. Since #11 was more than 3 hours away, I decided that my stomach couldn't wait for breakfast in the dining car...wait, they usually stop serving breakfast in the dining car by 9! Rats, looks like I'd get lunch instead, so I was on my own for breakfast anyway. I noticed a Denny's by the J Street freeway off ramp that we took to go to the depot and I was determined to eat there. I got kind of lost on the way and maybe I had just imagined seeing the restaurant, being groggy from my brief nap? I made my way around to the freeway off ramp and there it was, food! It was 6:12 AM and the restaurant was PACKED with customers, most from the Vagabond Hotel adjacent to the restaurant! There was a small booth open, so the waitress (only one on duty of course and I waited 5 minutes just for someone to seat me) placed me there. My back hurt a little from lugging around a very heavy backpack with all my railfan gear and some other odds and ends needed for my vacation. My wife had the big suitcase that contained my clothes that would last me the rest of the week. I had the Denny's "Grand Slam Slugger" breakfast that consisted of eggs, hashed brown potatoes, sausage, bacon and orange juice. I also added a cup of coffee to wake me up, followed by a big glass of water to wash it all down. DELICIOUS! It was the best Denny's I had been to in a long time and the waitress was very friendly, unlike most of the Denny's I have visited in the past. I went into a Denny's in Paso Robles while driving home from a job interview from the Bay Area and I actually overheard (when I walked in), two waitress arguing over who was going to wait on me. Neither of them wanted to! One girl said: "Are you going to take him? I don't want him, you take him." I would have said they all can go to you-know-where and was writing a letter to the corporate office about their attitudes, but I was too tired and hungry to care. They got off lucky that day.

7:15 AM Sacramento Amtrak station

Back at the Sacramento depot, I arrived to find a freight slowly making its way through traveling eastbound. The Amtrak depot is an excellent place to railfan. It has a nice sweeping curve to the east which makes photographing trains desirable and a huge steel drawbridge over the Sacramento River to the west. I called Amtrak once again for an update on #11. Now Amtrak told me #11 was 4 and a half hours late! It lost another hour and it hasn't even gotten to Chico yet. I went back and forth between sitting in the waiting room and the benches on the platform beside the tracks. There was a cool breeze, too cool if you didn't have a coat, so I chose the station waiting room for now to catch up on some reading to kill time. I had printed a couple of long travelogues of other railfans to read.

10:18 AM Sacramento Amtrak station

The station agent just made another announcement that #11 would be arriving soon. I was already milling around on the station platform and had been doing so since 10 AM. The station agent made an announcement that #11 would be her by 10 AM but that deadline had come and long gone. I took out my scanner and used my Radio Shack telescoping antenna to see if I could get a fix on #11's position. I heard the detector at MP 98.3 AND the one at 148.0. Those detectors were 10 miles away from the depot and transmitting at very low power levels. Wow, that Radio Shack scanner antenna continues to amaze me. The train that went by the detector at MP 148.0 was traveling at 70 MPH and it had to be #11. Freight trains are restricted to 60 MPH and passenger trains, 70 MPH along that stretch of track. I knew it would be at least 15-20 minutes until the train got here because it has to go through multiple crossovers and over switches to get to the depot and the speed is restricted to about 15 MPH over the switches. I chatted with an elderly couple waiting for their daughter-in-law to arrive from Seattle and I gave them a quick railroad education. The woman came up to me and asked if I was the conductor and when the train would be arriving. I love it when people see my radios and ask questions. I advised them that the train was under 10 miles away and the woman exclaimed "I just heard it! It's coming any second now, you were right!" I let her believe whatever she wanted to, since it had just went over the detector at MP 148.0 and there's no way you could hear a locomotive whistle that far away. I was happy it was a bit late now because I would get to have the delicious 11/14 burger for lunch in the dining car! Surprisingly, there are hardly any people on the platform! The elderly couple, me and maybe two others were the only persons around waiting outside for #11. It could be that the rest of #11's passengers were all still in the waiting room. There is a Capitol corridor commuter train waiting on track #1, and an announcement was made when it arrived that "THIS IS NOT THE COAST STARLIGHT! DO NOT BOARD THIS TRAIN!" Train #11 would be coming into the depot on track #2 and this Capitol train was blocking access immediately in front of the depot. People could either (1) cross the tracks behind the end of the train or (2) use the tunnel underneath the tracks to gain access to the center platform. #11 came around the corner VERY slowly, even stopped for a minute before continuing its slow approach into the depot. I appreciated it because I needed to get a train consist of the locomotives and cars. It would save me the trouble at Oakland.

10:38 AM #11 Ar. Sacramento - 4:38 Late

I recognized the crew from my train trip up from Paso Robles just a few days earlier! It was the same crew indeed but I don't think they recognized me though. I sat in the second coach car behind the sightseer lounge, which was a superliner II coach. In this consist, there was a Superliner I coach that had been fully refurbished inside and it included new carpeting, seat upholstery, cushions, curtains, and ceiling panels. Each seat had an electrical outlet for laptop computers or whatever the passenger wanted! I settled into my seat which was by the window on the left hand side of the car near the stairwell. The car attendant said I could sit wherever I wanted! I chose a seat with the cleanest and unscratched window I could find.

11:08 AM Dp. Sacramento - 4:48 Late

Underway at last! We sat for 30 minutes while the locomotives were fueled, trash dumped and cars watered. The delay was that the "water boy" filling the cars was taking too long, so they told him to stop so the train could go. The crew even called him the "water boy" jokingly. I figured we were to meet train #6, the eastbound California Zephyr due to arrive in Sacramento at 11:35 AM between Sacramento and Davis. There were a LOT of passengers on the platform by this time and a station agent was on a forklift hauling pallets of goods to be loaded on the baggage car. After we crossed the Sacramento Causeway and entered a double track zone, #6 zoomed by at 11:18 AM at top speed! We were traveling only 25 MPH because the dispatcher was going to cross us over to the #1 main. I was starting to get hungry and my mouth water for that delicious 14/11 burger!

11:35 AM Ar. Davis - 4:57 Late

11:38 AM Dp. Davis - 5:00 Late

We were delayed at Davis due to a red signal. A Capitol was arriving shortly and we needed to be crossed back over to the #2 main.

12:20 PM Ar. Martinez - 4:52 Late

12:38 PM Dp. Martinez - 5:10 Late

Due to platform reconstruction, we had to make three platform spots to take care of business. The first spot was for baggage, second for sleepers and the last spot was for coach passengers. This sounds very familiar! When I lived in Santa Barbara, the Coast Starlight had to make at least two spots per station stop for this reason. Between Davis and Martinez, the first call for lunch in the dining car was made! I was sitting in the lounge car enjoying the beautiful scenery that I had enjoyed just 72 hours ago when the lunch announcement was made. At the lunch table, it took awhile to break the ice. Across from me was an elderly couple who boarded at Sacramento heading for Los Angeles for the holiday weekend, and would return on #14 on Monday, 5/28/01. Lucky for them! Sitting next to me was a lady traveling from Seattle to Oakland. My 14/11 burger was delicious as I had anticipated it would be! For desert I had the turtle cake again, delicious as usual! The service was a bit slower this time but I know they were busy. During lunch, I found out that the reason for our train's tardiness. Between Klamath Falls and Dunsmuir, there was a 40-mile stretch of track that failed an FRA inspection yesterday. As a result, all trains were ordered 10 MPH over the entire stretch of track until Union Pacific Railroad could being the track back up to code! Wow, 10 MPH for 4 hours must have been grueling for everyone. I wouldn't have minded unless I had a connecting train. More delays mean a longer train ride.

1:20 PM Ar. Emeryville - 5:05 Late

1:30 PM Dp. Emeryville - 5:15 Late

1:45 PM West Oakland Coach Yard

We were sent into the Oakland Coach Yard to have our two roadrailers removed and to my surprise, two more locomotives added to the head end! They said that F40PH #399 will be added, but I hear the Coach Yard master say "locomotives." No mention of the second unit number. After several starts and stops, we were on our way out of the Coach yard down to Jack London Square station. Our Head End Power (HEP) to the train was never cut. Usually when they add locomotives, the power to the train is temporarily switched off when cutting in any type of locomotive or cars. Not this time. The dining car chief even said they would be cutting power to the train and it was "LAST CALL FOR LUNCH!" He said when the power goes, the dining car service goes. I ventured back to the rear of the train to witness the roadrailers being pulled off the end of our train, rather us pulling away from them. I was unable to go all the way back to the last coach car because it had been sealed off. The coach was either dead heading to Los Angeles or it was reserved for a group yet to board. All in all, this train is very empty! Speaking optimistically, I should say the train is about half full. Every passenger traveling single has two seats each in which to spread out. Also this is the most tardy #11 I have ever ridden on since I started taking it as a child.

Power observed in the Oakland Coach yard:

2:00 PM West Oakland Coach yard

We moved about 5 feet and stopped again. The locomotives were added, so what's the hold-up? According to the scanner chatter I heard, the 34106 Coach car is having toilet trouble and they are going to have to pump out the tanks. There have been some arguments to who can or can't dump trash off at the Oakland Coach yard. Capitol, San Joaquin commuter trains and the California Zephyr are serviced in Oakland, so naturally they are allowed to dump bags of trash off on the platform. When the Coast Starlight crews drop off trash here, the crews working in the Coach yard get really ticked off and even have yelled at Starlight crew members! Everyone's playing for the same team here and I don't know what their issue is (the Coach yard staff)! At one point I heard a Coach yard worker snarl (on the way up from Paso Robles a few days ago): "There they go again, dumpin' their garbage again here. What do we look like, a dumping ground for them?" One of the coach car attendants was gathering up trash from the two coach cars he was covering and started to haul it downstairs. Another coach attendant said he might get yelled at by "those guys down there." The attendant carrying the trash bags said: "Hey, they keep sayin' they want a clean train and I can't haul this garbage all the way to LA...will stink up the place...and if they don't like it, then they can write me up." He placed two large bags of trash on the platform outside the door and came back upstairs whistling to himself with a grin from ear-to-ear. On the scanner, I heard someone say: "So the Coast Starlight isn't good enough to dump trash here, or what?" No reply to that comment. Anybody else hear this while going through the yard? On the move again out of the Oakland Coach yard at 2:20 PM

2:29 PM Ar. Oakland Jack London Square - 5:24 Late

Upon arrival into Oakland, the car attendant or conductor did not come down and open my coach car door! There were 3 or 4 people in the same coach wanting to get off to smoke or detrain. They panicked and ran up the stairs cursing Amtrak out and they thought for sure they would be stuck on the train when it started rolling again. I would have probably opened the door had I been the first one down in the vestibule. I was at the back of the line on the stairs to get off the train. I decided just to go back one Coach car and detrain there. Nobody ever came and opened the car door for the entire duration of the stop in Oakland! It was the only car door on the entire train that remained closed. Perhaps because the car I was in was also the "Kiddy" car and they feared that children might try and wonder off? I didn't want to chance opening the door for my convenience and have a child get off the train because I left the door open. It was no big deal for me to get off the train one coach car behind me and run up to the front of the train so I could see what additional locomotives they had added in the Coach yard. The result in Amtrak staff cutbacks does affect their abilities to open the doors at designated stops and the probability that passengers getting stuck aboard will increase. It's Amtrak's responsibility to make sure passengers get off at their designated stop. If a passenger gets stranded aboard the train and misses their stop, then Amtrak must make appropriate arrangements to either put the passenger up in a hotel until a return train can take the passenger back, or pay the cab fare.

2:54 PM Dp. Oakland Jack London Square - 5:34 Late

4:00 PM Ar. San Jose - 5:44 Late

A lot of people boarded here and now the train was nearly full! Fortunately the seat next to me was still empty and I was able to stretch out to snooze a bit.

4:11 PM Dp. San Jose - 5:40 Late

5:47 PM Ar. Salinas - 5:41 Late

My coach was nearly at the end of the platform, so I had quite a walk back to the station. I had no idea if they were going to have a bus to Monterey waiting for connecting passengers or not. Since it was a guaranteed connection, it would seem like Amtrak would recall the bus. What I predicted was that since the northbound Coast Starlight was only an hour away (and was running close to on time), Amtrak would have the bus come back and get both sets of connecting passengers from both trains to take to Monterey. It would be the most financially sound decision and I agreed with that, even though it meant waiting another hour in the "near-freezing" temperatures of Salinas. #11 pulled out at about 5:55 PM. I went inside the Salinas station to see where and when my bus would be departing. The station agent said that the bus was released until #14 (northbound Coast Starlight) arrived, just as I expected. There was a cab waiting to take passengers to Monterey (I assume that Amtrak would have paid the fare) but she had JUST RELEASED IT! That ticket agent sure didn't wait long before releasing that cab. I was inside the depot in about 4 minutes after getting off the train. I asked if a cab could be called but the ticket agent declined to do so, since a bus would be along within the hour to take me to Monterey. I explored the depot and surrounding area for a bit and it was FREEZING, probably 58 degrees with the stiff breeze making it feel like 48! Sure was different than Sacramento. Out in front of the depot, a panhandler approached me and asked if I had any spare change because he had "just gotten out of prison and my mother hasn't wired me any money yet." Oh my gosh! Of course I said I didn't have anything and he walked off.

Salinas is the beginning point for Automatic Block Signal (ABS) territory and what I found strange was that at the end of the platform, there was a signal that would change from red to yellow and then green, and remain lit! Usually the signal with either (1) turn red as the train is going by and then go out after the rear end clears or (2) remain lit after the train passes and turn from red to yellow, then turn off. Only an approaching train would cause the signal to turn yellow, then red, then when the on-coming train passes, the signal will turn green...then turn off once the train got one signal block away. This signal, however, remained green and did not turn off. I thought perhaps there was a freight train hot on #11's heels, but I would have heard a track warrant given to the freight train's engineer by the dispatcher. The signal would remain lit up all nice and green until #14 approached and arrived around 7:10 PM, 23 minutes late. The bus, or I should say, converted mini van was there ready to go when #14 arrived. I boarded it along with about 7 other passengers from the northbound Coast Starlight. It was quite uncomfortable and it chattered and rattled to no end! It even stalled out a few times when trying to start up from a standstill at a green light. Yikes, will I ever get to Monterey? Yes I would, about 8:10 PM where I met up with my wife where we had a fabulous filet mignon dinner at the Hyatt Regency restaurant. Delicious! I got up at 4:25 AM and it only took me 15 hours to get from Roseville to Monterey using public transportation. My wife drove it in about three hours. It was quite the adventure but I'd do it all over again to ride the Coast Starlight!

Consist of train #11

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