Trip to Reno
This is the first real train trip my wife and I have taken together. We took a short train trip to San Francisco a few months ago but this is Lana’s first train ride on a Superliner train. I have traveled on Amtrak since I was a boy when Amtrak used Heritage coaches. This was my second time over Donner Pass and it was a joy to see everything this time! The last trip over Donner was in the Winter of 1997. Click here to view that travelogue. If you are wondering why we left from Davis instead of Roseville (which is only a few miles from our house), the Davis parking lot has security guarding the lot at night and you must have a parking pass or risk being towed away. Roseville has a small parking lot but I don’t believe it is guarded. Also, it’s not in the greatest part of town. When I booked our tickets, I didn’t know that this parking lot for the Roseville depot existed. It is located about 300 feet away from the depot and I thought that you were only allowed to park in front of the station, which is a 2-hour parking zone. When I took short train trips from Roseville, I parked on the street close by but would NEVER leave my car there over night. Perhaps this parking lot is well lit and secure? Next time we will give it a try. Besides, leaving from Davis gave us nearly an extra hour of train ride each way! View photostaken on this trip.
Lana and I left home at about 8:15 AM so we would have time to go to the store and buy some snacks for the train and get some cash to gamble with in Reno. I don’t consider myself a big gambler at all. $20 in nickels is sufficient for both of us. The most I ever gambled was $500 in Roulette and I lost it all on one spin—double 00 in which the entire table lost their shirts! One gentleman sitting near me lost something like $3000. The $500 I lost was money that I was ahead so I came away even…but very upset nonetheless. I think it’s those cocktails they bring you frequently. The booze makes you very brave and I was feeling no pain that evening, not even after loosing $500.
With plenty of time before our train’s departure at 10:58 AM, we went into a nice restaurant very close to the Davis station and had breakfast. I had pancakes, eggs, sausage, bacon and a cup of coffee. Delicious! Lana had a breakfast pita of some sort. Along with home fries. We managed to kill about an hour there so we headed on over to the Davis station to check on how #6 was doing.
We went into the depot and found a seat in the waiting room. I obtained a parking sticker for the night and went out and placed it into the car window so we wouldn’t be cited or towed away. It was a very windy day in Davis and all over the Sacramento area. Lots of limbs from palm trees were flying everywhere and I really had to keep a watchful eye out so I wouldn’t get smacked. Tumbleweeds, branches and trash were blowing all over the tracks but that didn’t stop the freight train that roared through westbound right after we got there.
I called 1-800-USA-RAIL and found out our train was running nearly an hour late out of Emeryville. No reason given to why it was late but we settled in for the wait. I tried to railfan at trackside but was getting wind burned so I went back inside the depot where Lana was waiting. A late Capitol departed westbound at around 10:50 AM and then an eastbound came at 11:30 AM. Lana came out of the depot and thought we had to board this train. Being that it was Amtrak California cars, it was definitely not our train. It would not be a very comfortable ride through Donner on a Capitol.
11:40 AM #6 Dp. Davis – 41 Min late
The first call for lunch in the dining car was made so Lana and I headed right for it. This is one my favorite activities on the train. Eating in the dining car! My favorite meal is breakfast but lunch would have to do. Lana and I had the Olympic Burger (since Salt Lake City is the site for the ’02 Winter Olympics) which came with chips. It was very tasty but not as hot as a burger should be. For dessert we had the cheesecake topped with raspberry topping. The Dining car was not that full so the steward spread everyone around and Lana and I had our own table!
Dp. Roseville 12:55 PM – 46 min late
Dp. Colfax 2:05 PM – 1 hr. 10 min late
Dp. Truckee 4:12 PM – 1 hr. 1 min Late
What a beautiful ride over Donner and such a clear day on top of it! Last time I rode through here there was about 6 feet of snow on the ground with rotaries working the siding at Truckee. Snow was falling heavily all the way through the pass so I couldn’t see everything. There were a few patches of snow on the north-facing slopes only but it looked like the snow had fallen a few weeks ago when we had some cold storms.
It was only 3 blocks from the Amtrak station to our hotel, the Flamingo Hilton in downtown Reno. It was very nice and the price was a bit high but that’s par for the course for the weekend in Reno. It was hard getting dinner reservations before 8:30 PM. Next time I’ll call ahead a couple of days to make reservations. We ended up eating at a very nice Italian restaurant at Harrah’s across the street!
After dinner, we gambled for awhile, breaking even. $20 worth of nickels go a long way and the slot machines were paying out…for Lana at least. All my money was gone in 10 minutes. That was just to kill some time before our show started at 9:30 PM. We saw Carnival of Wonders, a magic show in our hotel, which was very entertaining. I have no idea how those magicians do their tricks but it was very well done. The show ended at 11 PM and we headed straight for bed.
It was very noisy around our room so neither of us got much sleep. Loud people in the hallway at 2 AM coming back from a late night out. A couple of trains woke us up too, we had a perfect view of the tracks. With so many grade crossings through downtown Reno, the engineer must sound the horn almost constantly.
Breakfast was a typical buffet with only so so food quality. I like buffets if the food is good but it seems like there is something “fake” about the food that they can produce so much of it for it to be all good. It’s hard to explain and I usually try to avoid buffets whenever possible. The only brunch buffet that I truly liked was at El Torito. After breakfast, we gambled some more. Lana lost all her money she won last night and I hit a $20 jackpot in nickels. I had about $10 left in my cup so I opted to cash it out. We threw some of it back in on the way to the cashier so we broke even for the trip and gambled for a few hours for free!
Before checking out of our room, I called 1-800-USA-RAIL and obtained #5’s status. The agent said it was running 30 minutes late out of Winnemucca, Nevada. Sparks has about 45 minutes of padding between there and Reno so I planned on a near-on time departure or close to it. After breakfast, we headed to the Reno depot. It was VERY cold, upper 30s and we only had light sweaters on! The depot was jammed with passengers with a handful waiting out on the platform.
Just for good measure, I called 1-800-USA-RAIL from the payphone at trackside and the agent gave me a different story. #5 was 2 hours late but could easily make up one hour by arrival in Reno. A handwritten note was placed by the ticket window with an ETA of 11:35 for train #5 into Reno. We wanted to eat in the restaurant on the top floor of the Flamingo Hilton but they didn’t open until 10 AM. Had we known the train would be so late, we would have gone up there. Instead we ate at a buffet at Harrah’s. The Pink Flamingo does not have that many restaurants but supposedly, a very nice one on the top floor with a breathtaking view of the city. We would have eaten dinner there last night but they were booked solid until 8:30 PM and our show began at 9:30 (but we had to be there by 9) to take our seats.
People started coming out of the depot at 11:30 for an anticipated 11:35 AM arrival but I hadn’t heard anything on the scanner yet. At 11:40 AM, it arrived into Sparks, 1 hr 19 min late. Sparks is a crew change stop for the California Zephyr and the train is serviced for the last time before arrival at its final destination of Emeryville. Scanner traffic revealed that the inbound conductor was running late and would be picked up along the right of way before arriving in Sparks! Unusual but it would save time of him having to drive to the Sparks yard and meet the train. I think he was in a taxi. More delays for #5 would result because those two private cars that were on our train yesterday would be attached to the rear of our train today! They were uncoupled in Sparks last night and are coming back today. There was a large crowd of people getting on the private cars in Reno as it turned out. Even more delays for #5 as they kept getting warning lights when performing the air test after coupling the private cars. After the fourth or fifth air test, the warning light went away and train #5 was allowed to leave the Sparks yard at 12:15 PM. The yardmaster at Sparks was getting upset at #5 for taking so long and said at one point: “When are you gonna give me back my railroad? I have 5 trains waiting on ya.” He even suggested if it was going to take a long time to fix, he wanted #5 to pull into a siding to let freight trains through.
12:24 PM Ar. Reno – 1:49 late
12:40 PM Dp. Reno – 2:05 late
It was so good to be on the train! We had stood outside on the platform most of the time because there were no open seats inside the Reno depot. Many thoughtless passengers thought it necessary to stow their luggage on the seats next to them instead of in front, allowing for other passengers to sit. One person had 4 seats taken up with luggage! It was no big deal because I was listening to the Sparks yardmaster get angrier and angrier with #5’s air test troubles. Once warm, I thought it time to go the dining car for lunch but they hadn’t called it yet. About 10 minutes after leaving Reno, they made the first call for lunch in the dining car so we headed there, 4 cars away. We were placed in the Coach directly behind the Transition sleeper car so it was a long walk. Also, our seats were at the very front of the coach so nobody was in front of us. We missed the tables but had plenty of leg room. Also, nobody but crew members would go to the next car up. I’ve mentioned it in previous trip reports that if placed in the coach directly in front of the sightseer lounge, you get ALL coach foot traffic through your coach. Not only do you get people from your car going back to the dining car or lounge, but passengers from all coaches ahead of you, so that door that is next to the sightseer lounge is going to be opening and closing ALL THE TIME. This was a welcome change. The whole trip back, maybe the door opened 3 times at most by crew going to their rooms to pick up something.
We got to the dining car and had to take a number as the dining car was already filled to capacity. We had #5 so we sat in the sightseer lounge and watched the breathtaking scenery go by. The Truckee River is so beautiful and there was even a waterfall. We were taking some photos when they called our number. Lunch was better than yesterday. I had the same, the Olympic burger with cheese and a diet Pepsi. Lana had the Caesar salad. She said that the lettuce was wilted but tasted ok. For dessert, I had apple pie but they were out of ice cream. Rats! I love the Apple pie a la mode on the train. We sat with a nice couple returning home to Freemont after a month-long train vacation! They stopped to see relatives all over the country and had been to Canada as well.
We sat in the Sightseer lounge for about an hour longer than went back to our seats to relax. My GPS unit worked pretty well so I was able to track our position, speed and elevation. I even marked off the detectors along the way so if we drive to Reno or railfan over Donner Pass, then I’ll know where they are in relation to the highway. It was interesting to see how many times Interstate 80 crosses over and under us! Noted a few railfan spots along the way on my GPS so I can get back to them.
Dp. Colfax 3:40 PM – 2:04 late.
Dp. Roseville 5:00 PM – 2:05 late
It was a bit disheartening to zoom past our house! Lana was ready to get off the train but I was happy we were late, more train riding and it was going to be a bit of a bottleneck at the Sacramento depot with Capitol #728 and #733 would be scheduled to depart. Naturally, the dispatcher would put them ahead of us since we are already late. “A late train always gets later.”
Ar. Sacramento 5:30 PM – 1:30 late.
In the Sacramento depot, there was Capitol trains #728 and #733. #728 departed to the East without opposition and it was coming up on #733’s departure time. There was a lot of baggage to unload along with a few pallets from the baggage car so things were progressing slow for us. We received an “all clear on the bags” and “all clear on the rear” so it looked like we were going to sneak out ahead of #733. #733 stops at more stations than #5 so it would be a good idea to get #5 out ahead of #733 since it is more of an express train than the Capitol Dispatcher 57 called #5’s conductor who was on the platform somewhere. No answer. Dispatcher 57 again called #5’s conductor. No answer. The dispatcher then said “if he’s not going to answer, #733 here’s your line-up.” I noticed a bit of surliness in the dispatcher’s voice. I understood he was a bit frustrated as he wanted to get #5 out of there but since the conductor was nowhere to be found, he took #733 ahead of us. Wait a minute, #733 had a last-minute mechanical glitch, a door open light in the locomotive! Dispatcher 57 called to see what was up again and radioed #5’s conductor for a third time! No answer! The engineer on #5 was also getting a bit upset with his conductor and answered the dispatcher. #733’s engineer said: “Ok, check the doors, we’re hi-balling anyway. Out!” A bit reckless I thought but as the train crept out of the depot, I didn’t see any open doors. We had THREE chances to leave if the conductor had answered the dispatcher and we never knew why he didn’t answer. Once #733 was out of the depot, the conductor was back on the radio.
Our line-up over the Sacramento River bridge came about 5 minutes after #733 cleared and we were on the move. It would be a 30 minute drive home so we used the facilities one last time before de-training in Davis.
#5 had to do a double-spot at Davis to allow for passengers to disembark from the private cars so it made for nice photos! It was a very enjoyable trip with plenty of train riding with spectacular views. We plan to do this again soon!