I had wondered earlier where the Sunset Limited was serviced since Orlando didn't have a coach yard for servicing passenger trains. At 5:30 PM, the Sunset Limited came through the Orlando depot going towards Miami. I assumed that it had been serviced in Sanford, FL, where they keep the Auto Train. There was a wye that was used to turn the train about five miles down the line. Train #1 pulled into the Orlando station at 5:55 PM facing the right direction! Boarding didn't commence until 6:30 PM, so this was a golden opportunity to photograph and get a train consist without rushing or dodging forklifts and electric baggage carts!
It was sunset and the lighting was outstanding! There was one photo that I think will be fabulous! The Sunset Limited is sitting in the station and the last bit of sunlight is shining on the depot building. The orange sunlight on the building is reflecting nicely off the silver cars of the train! I decided to let my camera make the exposure decision for me. As I learn more on what works and what doesn't regarding aperture and shutter speed, the camera has been doing a good job. I had been metering the light incorrectly. Before I would just point and shoot, without light metering my primary subject. If I remember to use the little rectangle in the middle of the viewfinder to meter the light directly on my subject area, then the camera will make the correct exposure decision.
I met my car attendant, Guy, before we were allowed to board. I gave him my ticket and we talked about trains and train travel until the call for boarding came at 6:30 PM. Once onboard, I unpacked my belongings for the THREE DAY coast-to-coast trip of the Sunset Limited. I knew I would be backtracking from Orlando to Jacksonville but it would be dark anyway. I have always wanted to see Orlando and this was the best option. Two years ago, I had visited Jacksonville and this time, it would have been a 14 hour layover (8 AM to 10 PM) and I didn't want to spend the money on a hotel for only 10 hours.
Immediately after we started moving out of the Orlando station, the first call for dinner was made. It would have been a good idea for me to skip dinner since I was still full from the pizza earlier. I ignored common sense and went to eat anyway! I want to get the most out of my accommodations, including "complimentary" meals. The dining car staff was the best so far on this trip. There were custom-made Sunset Limited menus and food was served on real china and glasses. Reality struck, they were missing two menu items for dinner, including apple pie! They had ice cream but I wanted it a la mode. Whey can't Amtrak get their act together? Is it their suppliers being short on that item? I settled for German chocolate cake which was delicious. I had the Filet Mignon (very small filet!) which was good along with mashed potatoes and corn on the cob and a salad. Service was very slow but worth the wait.
My table companions were very talkative and we had conversations on trains, train travel and the cities we have visited on our trips. Pat, one of the women and who happened to be my neighbor, is from New York (forgot which city) and she is quite the crab! She is very nice but demanding of Guy's attention and services. Since my room is next to hers, I have to listen to it! Pat is getting off in Tucson to catch the Phoenix-bound bus. The other woman I didn't get her name, but she is traveling to San Francisco. As of Monday, service of the Coast Starlight had not resumed yet between Los Angeles and Seattle. Service was only available between Emeryville and Seattle, since the major El Nino track damage occurred near Ventura, CA.
I got off the train here and went inside the depot to get a soda. I talked with Guy a bit more and explained that long apparatus in my room (my J-pole antenna). He said he immediately knew what it was for!
We lost some time during the night due to congested CSX freight traffic ahead of us. The congestion is being caused by signal outages and general CTC failure in Alabama! That's not good for us. I slept well last night with the usual few wake-ups when the train was stopped. I always wake up when the trains stops. No problem, I record the time we left the depot. Breakfast consisted of my usual: 2 eggs over, biscuits, sausage patties, orange juice and coffee. My table companions were the same as last night except there was a young man traveling from Philadelphia to Tucson, AZ. His train from Philadelphia had arrived early that morning and he chose to get a hotel room for the day in order to shower and rest. I chose to simply see Orlando, though I'd be backtracking 150 miles to Jacksonville. It was an extra four hours of train riding for me at NO cost! I had priced out the trip with the layover in Orlando and Jacksonville and there was no difference. The obvious choice was clear!
The latest we've been yet! They weren't kidding when they said (CSX dispatchers) that there was major signal trouble. When a signal malfunction or CTC failure occurs, all signals display RED and trains must be flagged into sidings by the dispatcher. Also when under this "flagging" condition, CSX Railroad has a rule of a speed limit no more than 15 mph! This slow order went on for us for over two hours! We would come into a block of two or three clear signals and working CTC and accelerate to a maximum authorized speed of 75 mph. That would be short lived though. "Got another red one." The engineer would say to the conductor. About 15 miles east of New Orleans, CTC for the entire line came back on line. Great timing. CTC stands for Centralized Traffic Control. Signals and switches for sidings are controlled in a central location by the dispatcher. In this case, the CSX dispatching center is located in Jacksonville, FL.
I noticed that in Alabama and Mississippi, there are few crossing gates at grade crossings! There are the bells and lights but no arms that block the road I can understand this at lightly traveled roads but I saw no crossing arms at major thoroughfares in the middle of towns.
Lunch today was an "abbreviated" one because of a "mechanical problem" in the dining car. What else is new! So many times I have heard of mechanical failures on board Superliner diners. I had a cheeseburger with potato chips, lettuce, pickle slice and 7-UP. For desert, I was finally able to have pie a la mode! Cherry pie since there is no apple pie aboard. Sitting with me was a couple from Glendale who took advantage of Amtrak's fly/rail vacation package to Disneyworld.
With hefty schedule padding built into the timetable, we instantly made up almost an hour into New Orleans! Too bad we couldn't "hi-ball" New Orleans and keep going. We would be only 2 minutes late but in bad shape: a broken dining car and NO water in four cars! I got off the train and shot half a roll of film of our train and the one next to us, The City of New Orleans, which was purposely held 1:05 for transferring passengers from the Sunset Limited. I guess chartering a bus to take passengers ahead of the train wouldn't work in this instance due to no major interstate highways near Bay St. Louis, MS.
Guy got himself yelled at by the inbound conductor because the train started to pull out without him and a bunch of people around him on the platform! After taking my photos of the train and the station, I re-boarded my sleeper and I decided to get back off to get one more photo. When I stepped off, Guy quickly grabbed my arm and told me to be careful as they were about to move the train 10 feet back. He didn't know why the train was going to be moved, but he wanted to make sure I didn't fall in case it jerked backwards as I was stepping off. He said he saw two ladies slip off a moving train and get caught up in the wheels underneath, killing both of them right before his eyes. Something like that would probably make me quit the business. That's why he acted ultra-protective of all his passengers. To prevent anybody from boarding or getting off of his car, Guy closed his door to our car.
Ten minutes had passed and the train didn't move an inch! On the platform were at least 10 people waiting to board his car, including me and several people who had arrived to board for the first time. I was getting nervous because all but one of the water hoses had been pulled, the baggage door closed, station service personnel and carts had disappeared and some car attendants' doors had been shut with the yellow step stools removed. When I saw the last water hose being pulled off, I went to the sleeping car behind me and boarded there. We began to pull FORWARD and then came to an abrupt stop after rolling a few feet. Guy and his passengers were still on the platform with his door closed. The conductor came running up and appeared to be chewing Guy out, though I couldn't hear anything. Just arm motions and the like. Maybe he thought that THIS was the train movement he referred to when I was on the platform? Well, it was a movement, but out of New Orleans entirely! I wonder what happens to the passengers if a car attendant is left behind? If anybody has any stories about a crewmember missing the train, send them my way.
Stefan from the dining car came by with dinner reservations and I got one for 6:30 PM. I'm actually getting hungry now. All that picture taking in New Orleans and en route. I guessed correctly about room #5 being on the north side of the train for the trip to Los Angeles. Makes it much easier to take good photos with the best lighting. I find it even easier to take photos from my bedroom rather than go into the sightseer car because of excessive reflection from the windows on the opposite side of the car. Across the hallway in room #6, a very quiet individual boarded in New Orleans and requested that Guy bring him all of his meals from the dining car. That's well within his rights, but he is young and seems capable of walking down to the dining car himself. I guess he doesn't like people very much and he always keeps his door curtains closed. I usually keep the door open to aid in air circulation and keep my curtain ajar on one side in case the car attendant was looking for me. This man only left his room to use the restroom the entire trip to Los Angeles!
Dinner tonight was outstanding despite the very slow service. I had the Chef's Special which was baby back ribs. The meat was so tender that it fell off the bone with ease. Pat sat across from me again. That woman sure can talk up a storm. The other two people were a mother and son traveling to Tucson (then bus to Phoenix) to visit a sick relative. For desert I just had some vanilla ice cream with some chocolate syrup and whipped cream (very small portion). Following dinner, I went into the sightseer lounge to purchase a Sunset Limited cap and key chain. Good quality items at a reasonable price. I might brave a shower tonight to avoid the rush in the morning. As long as the rail bed is horrible, I doubt there will be any competition for the shower. Earlier I smelled natural gas, so there might not be any hot water. I'll ask Guy BEFORE I go down to the shower.
The shower was fabulous with plenty of hot water! I forgot to check out the shower on the new Viewliner cars. Settled into bed around 10 PM.
I didn't wake up until nearly 7 AM after a pretty sound sleep. As usual, I woke up when we were stopped at Houston and I recorded our departure time. Shortly after that, I quickly fell asleep again and didn't wake up until we were stopped again in the San Antonio yards. Thanks to more freight congestion ahead of us and more signaling trouble, we lost all of our time that we had made up yesterday. When we finally pulled into the depot, a group of about 60 college students boarded the specially reserved rear coach car. I wonder where they are going? They didn't look like a rowdy bunch but I don't have to sit with them. Maybe at lunch I'll meet some of them and can find out more on their itinerary.
I took ten photographs on the platform of our train, San Antonio station trailer, the old San Antonio depot building (soon to be a saloon/restaurant) and the San Antonio tower which has a revolving restaurant and bar atop it. It was overcast and the very top of the tower was in the clouds. Guy had the car much too hot last night! It felt very warm and humid and when I got off in San Antonio, the temperature was 70 degrees and 95 percent humidity! No wonder I was hot all night. It is possible to run the air conditioner without cold air coming out. The air conditioning simply removes the humidity from the air. It wasn't the temperature that bothered me last night, it was the high humidity! Guy was real busy this morning and asked if I would like my bed made up or if I wanted to do it myself. I haven't had a car attendant ask if I wanted to make the bed before! Usually they get offended because you are doing their job for them. Since Guy had 10 people getting on, I told him that I would take care of it.
After my photo shoot, I went to breakfast where I sat with a woman who had just boarded in San Antonio. she was traveling from Chicago to Tucson and had been waiting outside on the platform for the train for over two hours. I told her about the Texas/California Eagle "Thru-Service" but she said that there were no Standard Bedrooms available. I plan to ride this train in the summer. I will take the Southwest Chief to Chicago and ride to Los Angeles on that train. To eat, I had the "Tucson Sunrise" which consisted of two pancakes, one egg, two bacon strips and a sausage patty. I had orange juice and coffee to drink. Why did I bring that Sweet & Low anyway? I kept forgetting to grab a few every time I went to the dining car! I remembered the first few mornings but the last three have been a bust. Fortunately Guy made plenty of coffee so the S&L wasn't just dead weight!
I had the Lumberjack burger for lunch, AKA, a bacon cheeseburger. I'm going to have to go on a diet when I resume my life on Saturday. The couple sitting with me began their trip in Chicago and were traveling to Los Angeles and staying aboard the Queen Mary for three nights! That sounds like fun. I didn't know that there was a hotel on board. There are two sections one could stay in; the modernized or non-modernized. The non-modernized cabins appear just as they were when the ship was still carrying passengers. The modernized rooms are cheaper too! I would assume it's more expensive for the older rooms because they are in much higher demand. I would want one for sure if I stayed there! After their stay on the QM, they will depart on the Coast Starlight (or bus to Emeryville) and travel to Portland. Then, transfer to the Empire Builder to Whitefish, MT for seven nights before continuing home to Chicago.
Guy stopped by my room to invite me to the dining car for wine tasting! I thought that was limited to the Coast Starlight. Another person there also was surprised at this event on this train. Stefan, the dining car chief, said that this was a new service for six months now. When I took the Sunset limited two years ago, we had an extra dining car what was used as a club car for sleeping car passengers. On that train we had champagne and assorted fruits. A trip report of that particular trip can be read HERE. At this wine tasting reception, there were three wines sampled, fruit, cheeses and crackers. The sleeping car attendants, Stefan and Don Noble, the Chief of Onboard Services, were serving the passengers. I asked Don if the Coast Starlight was running out of Los Angeles and he said he didn't know. He then took out his cellular phone and called Amtrak Operations to find out for me! Sadly, the UP/SP Coast Line will not be opened until, at the earliest, March 9, 1998. I began my trip on a bus and will end it on a bus. The other man at my table was traveling from St. Louis to Los Angeles where he will be renting a car to Las Vegas, NV. I was about to leave when Stefan came buy with dinner reservations. I chose 6:30 PM and hoped we would be out of El Paso. I really wanted to get off at El Paso and take some photos. The last trip through here I was stuck in the dining car eating dinner. I found out that the college group in the last coach car originated from Wisconsin and are going backpacking in Copper Canyon for a week. I guess it's their Spring break already.
We all were treated to a fabulous El Paso sunset! It was perfect and I got several photos of the red sky and the train in the foreground. I hope I metered the light correctly. Upon finishing the roll in my camera, that makes a grand total of eight rolls of film shot on this trip. The first two rolls should be waiting for me at home for I sent them in to Seattle Filmworks from Denver, CO. The other six rolls I will have developed when I get home. For dinner tonight I had the filet Mignon with vegetables, salad and baked potato. For desert I had cherry pie a la mode. My gosh, I'll never eat again after this trip! My table companions were identical to last night.
We didn't even slow down for Lordsberg as it's only a flag stop. According to the train manifest, we didn't have anybody getting off or on, so we rolled by. Our engineer asked another engineer on a Union Pacific freight train that was in the station if there was anybody on the platform. He said there wasn't so we rolled by at 50 MPH. what if someone was in their car waiting for the train? I'd be mortified if I saw it roll through without stopping! I would assume that if you do get on at a "flag stop" depot without a reservation, you must be VISIBLY waiting on the platform so the engineer will stop. Best thing to do is get a reservation ahead of time! It's time for me to pack up my things, including the laptop as we might arrive in Los Angeles before 8 AM! This train has so many opportunities to make up time along the way and this is proof of it. The only thing I'll keep unpacked will be my scanner with its rubber antenna attached. It's sad when such a great trip comes to an end. I'm planning the next one for this Summer, a ride on the Texas/California Eagle.
Guy woke everyone in the car around 6 AM so he could begin stripping the beds. He had to have all the beds stripped and made up by the time the train arrived into Los Angeles. For breakfast, Guy handed me a big pre-wrapped Danish. I used my free drink voucher to get a cup of coffee in the lounge to drink with the Danish. Guy had made a pot of coffee in the car and I was not aware that he had done so until I returned to my room. Guy said: "Oh, don't like my coffee anymore?" I apologized for not having noticed the freshly-made pot! I didn't even smell it. I enjoyed my coffee and Danish just before we rolled into Los Angeles Union station at 7:57 AM.
I gave Guy a nice tip when I got off the train and we said goodbye. After heading down into the station, the usual confusion and conflicting information among station staff prevailed more than ever! I went to the Amtrak Services window to find out where to catch the bus to Santa Barbara and the agent said outside along the side of one of the buildings, NOT under the roof area. Another agent said to wait in the waiting room for an announcement. I walked outside at 8:30 AM and hung out in the bus area and asked the bus drivers about the bus to Santa Barbara. At 9:35 AM a nice tour bus pulls into the bus parking area but doesn't stop under the roof area. He pulls further down along side of one of the Union Station buildings and that turned out to be the bus to Santa Barbara. No announcement was ever made in the station regarding this bus! There were only a dozen people on the bus so I could stretch out across two seats. Once underway, the driver announced that there was a box breakfast for each one of us and to pick it up at the front of the bus. A passenger volunteered to play hostess and passed all the meals out! In the box breakfast/snack was a bagle with cream cheese, blueberry muffin, apricot yogurt and a small cup of Orange juice. A 16 oz bottle of iced tea was also passed out separately. What a delicious breakfast that was and on a bus! I had no trouble polishing off the breakfast and I slept soundly most of the way to Santa Barbara.
My journey began on a bus and ended the same way. I was glad that I was able to go and look forward to my next train trip this Summer on the Texas/California Eagle. This trip is not set yet but it is something I would like to do.