Facebook Page
Amtrak San Joaquin The San Joaquin - Serving Bakersfield to Oakland

San Joaquin Travelogue 1 - Los Angeles to Truckee 9/26/98

While checking out the discussion boards at the Train Orders website one Thursday, I noticed that the First Annual Truckee Railfair was slated for the weekend. Union Pacific (UP) Railroad was going to present a locomotive display, including one of their steam engines usually housed at the train museum in Sacramento.  That alone was enough for me to give serious consideration to joining the festivities.  In addition, seeing the town of Truckee, which is located in California's Sierra Nevada mountains, was on my list of "to dos." I decided that if I could  get to Truckee by train I'd go........and after checking out Amtrak's schedules, the trip was on!!

Amtrak's San Joaquin trains run from Bakersfield to Stockton then over to Oakland.  In order for me to get to Truckee, I had to reserve space on  Amtrak buses which complete the connection from LA to Truckee.  And since I didn't have hotel reservations in the area, what with the last minute planning, I needed to get there and come back without an overnight stay. The only possibility gave me 3 hours maximum in Truckee. Oh well....better than staying home, so I made reservations via Amtrak's website Friday morning. Here's the itinerary:
Leave LA Union Station by bus  1:40 AM Saturday 
Arrive Bakersfield, board train #711 for Stockton 5:00 AM
Arrive Stockton, board bus for Sacramento  8:55 AM
Arrive Sacramento, board bus for Truckee  10:00 AM
Arrive Truckee  12:10 PM
Leave Truckee, board bus for Sacramento  3:00 PM
Arrive Sacramento, board bus for Stockton  6:35 PM (hour wait in Sacramento)
Arrive Stockton, board train  #718 for Bakersfield 7:39 PM
Arrive Bakersfield, board bus for LA  11:50 PM
Arrive LA Union Station  2:40 AM Sunday

Only an idiot would take this trip.....I qualify.

I got to LA's Union Station about 9:30PM.....way too early.... but I was worried about getting a parking space which turned out not to be a problem.  Both the San Diegan and the Sunset Limited were late so there were lots of folks waiting either to meet people or leave. The Sunset Limited had service disrupted after Texas due to a hurricane and people were being re-routed. I chatted with a pleasant couple from New Zealand who were touring the USA by train and were somewhat disappointed in not being able to get to New Orleans.  They substituted San Antonio and I mentioned that it was a charming city and said I thought New Orleans was overrated anyway.

I printed out all the tickets I would need at one of Amtrak's vending machines.  The way it worked was I was asked for my credit card, the machine "found" the reservation I'd made  earlier in the day on Amtrak's main website and started printing out my tickets, 3 each way including the buses.   I could have gone up to the Amtrak counter, but it was fun to experiment with the ticket machine.

Buses started assembling about 1AM, some to handle the very late arrivals off the San Diegan train. The bus area is just past the Budget Rent-a-Car counter and has both indoor and outdoor seating. I found my bus and we departed at 1:40AM, making a stop on the way at Van Nuys to board passengers. Additional Amtrak buses joined ours and three busloads of sleepy passengers got off in Bakersfield at 4:30AM to await the #711 San Joaquin.  At that time of the morning the air was bracing and the Burlington Northern Santa Fe yard was full of freight activity.  Right in front of the station on the second track a BNSF train with four diesels was rumbling at idle, most impressive. Another freight wended its way south on a further track and then our train backed up to the platform.  The San Joaquins run F59PHI engines and have matching double deck California cars.  Once the automatic doors opened, we were boarded in a matter of minutes (no reserved seating at that time....but it's all reserved now). This was a typical San Joaquin consist: engine, dining car, three coach cars and a trailing cab car. We were off right on time at 5AM, rolling past the brightly lit industrial areas around Bakersfield.

Darkness turned to dawn as we rolled through the San Joaquin Valley between farms and small towns. Breakfast seemed like a good idea and I headed to the dining car which provides both snacks and full meal service. I elected the meal service and was handed a menu which had about 5 selections. My pick was a cheese omelet with Italian sausage. There were several other egg dishes or cereal as choices and most entrees were about $6.  The omelet was preceded by melon chunks served in a chilled glass bowl. Utensils are nice stainless steel and the napkin is a large, extra heavy paper. The melon was excellent. My omelette/sausage was not freshly made but rather, re-heated but this did not stop it from tasting very good. I would characterize the food as similar to first class airline food except that Amtrak's coffee is fresh, strong and consistently excellent.  My waiter was a pleasant gentleman who kept my coffee cup brimming.

For those who have driven Highway 99 or I-5 through the San Joaquin Valley, let me assure you that the view from the train is considerably different.  I didn't find the view boring at all, although it is flat.  We passed refineries, farms, towns.....went over streams and man-made water courses. There is far more to see than from the highways and everything is up close and personal.

We pulled into Stockton right on time at 8:50AM.  Our Amtrak bus was waiting, which was as well since Stockton does not have an inspiring station nor is it in a particularly good part of town. The ride to Sacramento was over the same old boring I-5 that I remember.   We got into Sacramento at 9:45AM, as planned. With buses going in three different directions at 10AM, we had some confused folks until the drivers sorted us out....rather like shepherds herding their bleating sheep. Connections from the San Joaquin trains are excellent and varied (many more are available than are printed in Amtrak's National Timetables).  To get connection information, request a California System timetable from Caltrans.

Our bus passed through Roseville and Colfax on it's way to Truckee, where I would get off (it goes on to Reno and Sparks, Nevada).  This is gold rush country and I recognized Auburn, which I'd visited on vacation by car years ago, as we passed by it.  I made a mental note that the Capitol trains and the California Zephyr would be fun to ride on a future vacation in this area.
Towns like Roseville got their start by serving the newly built railroads of the 1860's. Roseville is still a busy railroad town today and a great place to watch trains for a day or so (it's a major UP hub). The station  echoes all the old charm of the gold rush country.  Roseville's Old Town district is within easy walking distance of the station...for shopping!!!.... so family members with diverse interests can all enjoy the visit. 
Colfax is at the end of the route of the Capitol trains, which starts in San Jose.  It's another town with strong ties to the railroads and has a nice little historic district. Judging from the gent who got off the bus with his fishing rod in hand, there is good angling nearby too.  The Colfax Chamber of Commerce is located in this old Pullman car and a caboose is on display nearby. 

As we climbed up further into the Sierra Nevada mountains (highest in the continental United States), the skies turned from sunshine into thick, lowering clouds.  It started to snow! Some folks on our bus were pretty excited because they had never seen snow fall before. And the white snow against the dark granite of the mountains was very beautiful. Unfortunately, the weather contributed to a severe auto accident on the other side of our highway, I-80, slowing us down to a crawl, then stop.  My short time in Truckee was destined to be shorter and we finally arrived, after passing by beautiful Donner Lake, after 1PM.

Truckee is a charming little town and it rolled out the red carpet for the visitors to its First Annual Railfair. Situated on Union Pacific's main lines through the Sierras, it was a great setting for the trains UP had brought up for display. The townsfolk were dressed in old-fashioned western garb and entertained both young and old with gunfights and other antics. Railfans and non-railfans alike were lined up to see the UP three old steam engine, a streamlined vintage 1950 passenger diesel formerly in service in the area, and the one of the most modern freight engines in the UP fleet.  The steamer was merrily tooting it's horn while I was there, to my delight. Between the crowds and not feeling up to par, I was not able to get down to see the display.  However, I did see two UP freight trains and Amtrak's California Zephyr come through. The engineers had a good time saluting each other with their horns.
This view is from the Amtrak station which is right on Truckee's main street.  There are lots of great shops and some excellent restaurants. The Truckee Hotel is beautifully restored and is almost across the street from the train station.  No need for taxis or other public transportation to get around in Truckee!  The great location for Amtrak stops is no surprise because many towns in California, as elsewhere were built around the railway stations.  It's only since the advent of the car that you can't get around easily on foot in the US.  Even in Europe, major cities are pedestrian friendly. 
The shops and restaurants are in some great old buildings. I was really sorry that I couldn't stay and explore the area for a day or two.  I did have lunch and it was just great.  The waitress was wonderfully friendly and the food was excellent.  But darn if I can remember the name of the was right across from the station.  Truckee would make a great weekend get-away from Los Angeles and I'm determined to come back soon. 

My bus was right on time at 3PM and I reluctantly boarded.  However, things brightened up, literally, as we returned and I was able to see up the mountains to Southern Pacific Railroad's cut for its tracks.  The laying of track over Donner Pass and the Sierras represents some of the most difficult work in railroading's history. It was truly spectacular as viewed from the bus and I am determined to return and ride Amtrak's California Zephyr, the one passenger train over the mountains. I believe this section of track should be maintained by the United States Government as a national treasure, similar to our parks, and expanded if possible to two tracks.

We drove out of the towering, granite Sierras into the foothills covered in their sheath of golden grass and then down into the Valley and Sacramento. The wait at Sacramento's station for my next bus was enlivened by seeing the California Zephyr again as we arrived.  Later, a Capitol train paused on its way to San Jose.  The bus left on time and we had a short wait in Stockton for the #718 train, pulled by an F40 rather than the more usual F59PHI.  Once under way, I went to the dining car, thinking to get a light meal and some wine.  I selected a salad, which was priced at $4.50 and which I expected would be all greens at that price. Instead, I once again got the chilled melon as an appetizer and a chef salad loaded with ham, turkey and cheese. Great bargain! With night closing out the views, it seemed a long ride back to Bakersfield and Los Angeles. But it had been a wonderful day!!

More Travelogues and Information

Train Page|Wizzle Tours

ink.gif 5.9 KSend Email to Wizzle at

Other Wizzle Pages

Fractals Seasonal Graphics Romantic Graphics Wizzle Tours

Updated: Tuesday, September 15, 1998