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Rail Travel in and Around California by Wizzle - The San Diegan The San Diegan - Serving Paso Robles to San Diego

San Diegan Travelogues

The First Ride - 25 July, 1998 - LAX to San Diego
San Diego Station - 25 July 1998
Fullerton Station - 16 August 1998
Up to Santa Barbara - 12 September 1998
Pictorial Impressions - along the California Coast 1998 - 1999

The First Ride - July 25, 1998 - from Los Angeles to San Diego and Back

After much hesitation and a lot of surfing on the web to get information about train travel, I decided to take a vacation via Amtrak. I'd always wanted to take the coast route from here (Los Angeles) to Seattle and the Coast Starlight looked like the perfect train for me. I booked my tour for February of next year using Zephyr Travel (very responsive) but got a sudden attack of cold feet.  Would I like the train? Am I train material? I'd never ridden anything that ran on rails except the train at Disneyland.

I decided a practice run was in order.  By using Amtrak's reservation web site, I was able to figure out which train to take in the morning and which one offered the best return time. I'd been studying the schedules at the San Diegan website for several days, but found that letting the reservation database do the work was MUCH easier.  Also, the database had information for a train which left Los Angeles at 9:20AM and this train was not in any of the schedules (national, west or San Diegan).  Since the reservation database offers several alternatives for any choice will see several options if you ask to leave at 9AM, for instance.....and using the site is really simple, I highly recommend this neat service.  Amtrak was definetly getting me off to a good start.

From my home near the airport, it was a 30 minute drive to Union Station early on Saturday morning.  Traffic was really light and I was very lucky to find a parking spot at the station.  That is one tiny parking lot! It turns out that the #40 bus runs fairly near my house and would have taken about 65 minutes, which is just a little more than  what I would expect time-wise driving if traffic had been worse.  The #42 bus starts right from the LA International Airport (there is a shuttle from the terminals to the bus station at LAX) and deposits the traveler on the east side of the station in a Very Nice plaza. Taking the MTA light rail is also an option so for my next trip I may leave the car at home.

I got in line to purchase my tickets.  The departure board wasn't showing the 9:20AM train at all so I was a bit nervous.  But after a short wait in line (for either tickets or baggage check....and the Coast Starlight was going out at 9:50AM), it turned out there was no problem.  The 9:20 did exist and I opted to upgrade to Custom Class for an additional $11 each way.  That put my total  at $68.....$46 for the basic fare plus $22 for the upgrade.  This turned out to be an excellent choice for me since I was recovering from an illness that makes me kind of slow in walking around.  Also, this train was darn full! With Custom Class I could hobble to the car at my snails pace and not have to worry about snagging a seat.

When our train was called for boarding, I followed in the wake of the passengers who had been lined up at the gate, but there were also plenty of Amtrak personnel to direct me to the right track and car.  The Custom Class car looks nice and shiney from trackside and with a heave ho up the steps I'm aboard.  On a train at last! First impression? Comfortable and spacious.....I mean REEEEEEEEEally spacious.  I got a seat by myself on the right side of the train, which would give me a view of the ocean. The seats are wonderful, roomy, recline and there is an absolute ton of leg space.  What a change from being squashed onto a plane. There was a footrest that comes down from the seat in front or a legrest that comes up from your seat.  When the tray table is down, there is still space and you are not pinned into place.  The windows are large and it is easy to see out of  both sides of the train. Great!

One thing that struck me right away was how quickly and quietly we were on the move.  Being used to plane travel, I expected a longer wait......I don't know why because we were boarded only 10 minutes prior to scheduled departure.......and I expected more noise and vibration.  The train just sort of glided out, leaving the Coast Starlight on the track next to ours.  I got really excited at seeing that, knowing I would be aboard in a few months.

We were some seven minutes late leaving the station and it was a slow ride through the rail yards.  Although the start of the trip wasn't scenic in the classic sense, it is an eye-opener to see all of the freight yards, industrial buildings, etc. which are required to support a major metropolis.  Things began to get more scenic as we approached our first stop, Fullerton.  This is Steve Grande's home ground and I tried to spot his webcam, but couldn't.  From the train, the station looked very pleasant and a goodly number of folks got on board.  We added even more people at the Anaheim and Santa Ana stations.  It turns out this was the start of racing at Del Mar and the train stops at Solana Beach which is 2 miles from the track.  I noted that the Anaheim station is right next to Anaheim stadium where the Angels play.  I've parked farther away at Dodger stadium so the train must be a great way to get to games.

By this time the train was really full.....full of eager race fans who were starting the party right on the train.  I heard one fellow, swigging his drink, say that if he'd wanted to stay sober he would have driven to the track.  Definetly a lively group!!!  Many of the race fans knew each other so they were standing in the aisles and chatting as we passed out toward the coast.  Fortunately, I'd gotten my complimentary coffee as we left LA and didn't have to try to get past them.

The early morning fog started to burn off as we pulled into the station at San Juan Capistrano.  From there the train heads toward the coast. It was a beautiful day and there were lots of people at the beach enjoying the weather.  At one point we got so close to the water that I was expecting the train to be sprayed with saltwater.  We deposited most of our car's passengers at the Solana Beach station where they would find free shuttles to take them to the track.  The train was quiet again......that is one thing that I noticed quiet a train is compared with a plane.  Within a half hour were we pulling into San Diego station.
I got off the train with every intention of heading right into the station, but ended up on the platforms taking pictures for quite a while.  It was a lovely day and I had the outdoor platforms, which run north to south, practically to myself.  You can see the pleasant little covered areas with their old-style seating at the right side of the picture.  Other than Amtrak, the Coaster and the San Diego trolleys, there is not a great deal of activity in this station, unlike Fullerton with its roaring freights. 
 I got a nice the head of our train was this lovely private rail car, the Scottish Thistle. Not being a railfan I don't know what kind of car it is.

 The gentleman in charge of the car graciously posed for a picture. I could see dining tables and a buffet set up within the car. I definetly consider seeing this car beginners luck and would love to know more about it. Please email me if you have any information.  And for you railfans you can click to get a larger image to view. 

Also in the station with us was a Coaster train. I was under the impression that the Coaster ran only on week days, similar to most Metrolink trains here in LA, but there it was! I was certainly getting to see a lot on my first outing. 

I had allowed 2 1/2 hours between trains, thinking to take a trolley up to Old Town, but we got in to San Diego about a half  hour late and what with taking pictures of the Scottish Thistle and San Diego station and getting a snack, I found myself with less than an hour left until boarding time.  I spent it people watching and chatting with a gentleman in biking clothes who had ridden his bike down from Fullerton.  I guessed he was a good 75 years old!! He would be putting his bike on the San Diegan for the trip home.

As we boarded for the return trip on the 3:00PM train, I heard the conductor say that the coaches would be full....once again I felt lucky that I had chose Custom Class.  My car was about 2/3rds full.  I'm amazed at the popularity of this train.  I only wish the Orange County Metrolink line ran during the week end. This time I sat on the inland side of the train and paid more attention to the stations and towns that we passed.  San Juan Capistrano, Oceanside and San Clemente definetly looked like they were worth visiting.  Another excuse to ride this train!
My return train turned out to be the San Diegan which had pulled into the station about 40 minutes after the morning train. Here you can see it sitting on the farthest of the tracks used by Amtrak.
There were quite a number of kids on the train, mostly pre-teens.  All of them were really well behaved and seemed to be interested in the journey.  I caught a nice photo of  a father and son as they enjoyed the ride back to their home in Fullerton. 

Custom Class service on the way back included cheese, crackers and several glasses of wine, very pleasant wine too (choice of white or red....I had one of each) brought to our seats by the attendant. Before I knew it we were back in LA.  After exploring Union Station I headed home on the freeways. I had a most satisfactory,  relaxing day and found out I AM a train person.  Many thanks to Steve Grande and his website for getting me started.

Consist of San Diegan 1574 departing LAX at 9:20AM (runs weekends during summer season only - discontinued after Labor Day)

Scottish Thistle
Engine 369
Engine 372
Custom Class Car 44839
Coach Car 44635
Cafe Car City of Solana Beach
Coach Car 54071 (looked older)
Coach Car 44206
Baggage Car 9638

Read more about my first outing....or get some useful information to plan one of your own

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Updated: Saturday, August 22, 1998