San Diegan Travelogue 2 - Los Angeles to Santa Barbara 9/12/98
It was a nice Saturday morning on the west side of Los Angeles and I didn't have much planned for the day. Steve Grande mentioned that the dome car was back in service on the LA-San Diego train that would be going through Fullerton at 12:36 PM. Despite fiddling around and being generally confused and unfocused, I still had time to make it to Fullerton to see the dome car when the mental fog finally lifted about 10AM. Besides, I'd had my car painted (looks better than new) and I needed to take the paint out for a good long test drive. Decision made........I would railfan for a couple of hours.
The paint drove beautifully, I'm happy to report (although the car needed to be washed). After I settled the car in a shady spot under a tree, there was plenty of margin prior to the arrival of the dome car to settle me in to my favorite spot at the west end of the platform at Fullerton. Actually, there was a tad too much time, which I used to study the San Diegan's schedule. This is dangerous. It generates a desire to actually get ON a train. At home, my problem with the schedules is minimal because there are no trains immediately at hand. But, from the station's platform, I could easily go somewhere. Where? Either San Diego (again) or Santa Barbara looked feasible. Nah!!! Waste of an afternoon when I ought to wash the car. I waited patiently for the northbound San Diegan to arrive with its dome car and tried not to think about traveling myself.
The dome arrived right on time behind one of Amtrak's older engines and it looked quite intriguing. Very intriguing. Very very intriguing. With a wave from the engineer, the train departed to Los Angeles with me still on the platform. A freight passed as well. I'd driven almost an hour and had only 5 or 6 pictures to show for it. Did that make sense? Did I really want to wash my car? As long as I was at the station, wasn't going somewhere the right thing to do? Amtrak needs me as a rider statistic! I'd do my duty and check out Santa Barbara. The ticket agent was a little surprised when I asked for a round trip which allowed only 50 minutes in SB, but, hey.........sacrifices have to be made. I decided to tough it out in custom class both ways. This turned out to be a spectacularly good decision because I got to see (and sit in) just about every variety of Amtrak coach equipment in a single trip.
Amtrak's coach seats are like olives.......they come in large, extra large, jumbo and super colossal. None of those airplane seats....olive size small to medium (itty bitty).... on a train. I plunked myself into the Horizon car's "jumbo" sized seat. This car was quite full so I was next to someone (unlike my first ride), and there was still plenty of room. The conductor said a number of folks would be getting off at LAX (30 mins from Fullerton) and I'd have an opportunity to get a window seat then. Nice fellow.....told me to take my hatcheck with me when I moved. I did just that and snagged a window seat, but on the inland side. Passengers were notified over the PA that they could get off to stretch their legs at LAX, but not to wander away from the train as we would be leaving on time.....which we did, with the car about 70% full.
Heading north from LA, the train goes through the San Fernando Valley, where I grew up. It was interesting to get a different perspective of towns I knew so well.......I'd seen these very tracks many times from my car. The station at Glendale is still being renovated but it promises to be very nice. At the Burbank airport stop I saw the buildings where my dad used to work, then owned by Lockheed. The Amtrak station at Van Nuys is nice and modern and has a ton of parking. Passing through Northridge (where my mom lives), I decided it was time to explore the train, which I didn't do last trip (too excited).
Regular coach class on this train (Amfleet equipment) was less crowded than custom class, surprisingly. It was a good opportunity to slip into a seat for a "test drive" so I did. There are maybe 5 inches less leg room than in custom, but still lots of space so I'll call these the "extra large" size seats. There is still ample room to move easily past a seat mate (unlike the plane). The seats are four across and the width seemed to be about the same as custom class. The color scheme in this single level car is chili pepper tones.... not as soothing as the blue in custom, but all in all I could easily spend a day in a regular seat and not be uncomfortable, especially when it is so easy to get up for a stretch and visit to the dining car.
After inspecting regular coach, I spent about a half hour in the dining car (ho hum ham and cheese sandwich for lunch) with some cheerful guys who were drinking Corona beer and having a great time chatting from table to table. The beer looked so good, I got some for myself and moved to the other half of the car where I was lucky enough to share a table with our conductor. We got to talking and he mentioned that a second dome car would be going into service on that very train (#779) in October (his information did not include a specific date). This is good news because #779 runs from San Diego all the way up to San Luis Obispo and the view from the dome car is great according to the conductor.
By the time I returned to my seat, our car attendant was serving wine, cheese and crackers and fruit. Oh goody! Despite going through the Santa Susanna Pass......scenic and full of tunnels......very slowly due to new rails, we arrived in Moorpark right on time. Darn......this was a good train ride with good wine. Chardonney, white zinfandel and merlot were the choices. In my role of web reporter, I felt obliged to try both the white and the red wines. After Moorpark, the train runs parallel to Highway 118 which I drive on a regular basis when I visit my cousin in Somis. This is a lovely, rural area in a narrow valley which is very reminiscent of Italy. After that comes Oxnard and the coast, which I could see quite well despite sitting on the inland side. All too soon we had left Ventura station behind (it's at the fair grounds and 2 blocks from a marina.....good destination) and were in Santa Barbara. I had to get off.....rats.
Santa Barbara station is just a few blocks from the beach. Every week end there is a an art fair along the waterside, but my 50 minute lay-over between trains didn't really give me enough time to see it. The SB station itself is an older building in Spanish colonial style (similar to the San Diego station) with ticket windows, inside seating for perhaps 20 people and a rest room. Additional seating is outdoors under a covered portico. I didn't have long to wait as our boarding for the return started about 15 minutes before the train was due to pull out. The trainset was made up of a brand new F59PHI engine, a superliner coach car doing custom class duty, two California car coaches and a California car diner. Wow.....all double decker cars! I boarded at one of the Cal coach cars, and tried out a regular coach seat. Not bad.....olive size "large." There seemed to be a little less leg room than in the single level Amfleet coaches but the windows were much bigger and the view was better simply because I was up on the top level. For people traveling together, the Cal cars have seats with tables and these were snapped up as the cars filled to about 75% capacity.
I headed through the diner to the Superliner car which has been adapted for custom class service with the addition of a small refreshment area. This Superliner car is the type that is used as "regular" coach class (sans refreshment area) on long distance trains in the west. This is coach? This is GREAT!! The seats were HUGE.....big, squishy, comfy.......absolutely super colossal. Each seat has both foot and leg rests and reclines waaaaaaaaaaaaay back. I'm going to go overnight to Colorado in this type of seating in October.........yeah, 2nd class, not the first class sleepers........... I will definetly be able to handle "roughing it." As we pulled out, our car's attendant came by with an offer of wine which I accepted. I settled into a pleasant glow which matched the sun setting over the ocean. This time I was on the side of the train which overlooked the ocean and with the sun's departure the car's subtle lighting gave it the ambiance found in a nice restaurant. Maybe I was the one with the subtle lighting? I went back for a quick peek in regular coach...... the florescent lighting was better for the folks playing cards and board games, but I like atmosphere. All too soon we were seeing the lights of the Valley, then Los Angeles, then Fullerton. The ride was over and it had been a wonderful day!
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