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Around the Country - December Epic part 3 - Sunset Ltd and Coast Starl

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oregon pioneer

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Feb 15, 2011
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near Seneca, Oregon
The Friday before Christmas, we took the Greyhound bus from Savannah to Tallahassee. Yes, we love the train, but since Hurricane Katrina, the Sunset Ltd no longer runs from Jacksonville to New Orleans, so we broke the journey up into two days. Changing at Jacksonville was easiest if we just started out from Savannah on the bus. I was impressed with the cleanliness of both the Savannah and Jacksonville stations, and I love the amenities like plug-ins and wi-fi on the buses. Miss the legroom and the ability to walk around, get something to drink in the cafe, and (most of all) wash my hands. Finding the coastal-plain scenery of forests and waterways interesting.

On Saturday, we took the bus from Tallahassee to New Orleans. It was still not crowded till we go to Pensacola, then full the rest of the way in (mostly with service members heading home for the holidays). The bus to Mobile had wi-fi but no plug strip. The bus from Mobile to NOL, had a plug-in but no wi-fi (probably because they've pressed everything into service for the holidays). So nice to come into the NOL transit center and see the Amtrak counter!

Monday 11am

After a rainy Sunday walking around the old city, we left our hotel and walked to the station to catch the Sunset Ltd. We left right on time at 9am. Attendant is John. We're riding though bayous alternating with sugar cane fields. Looking at the fields, I'm guessing they spray all kinds of chemicals so they can just keep growing the same thing without rotating crops. I've also seen refineries and factories on the horizon that remind me this is the area called “cancer alley.”

7pm

We were 40 minutes early into Beaumont, must have been some padding in the schedule there. On the back side of the big storm that rolled eastward yesterday, it's sunny, breezy, and kind of cool, but we still enjoyed the walk-around while waiting for departure time. Some pax, even some OBS from the diner, walked over to a nearby Dollar General, but I'd feel nervous getting that far from the train.
 

oregon pioneer

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near Seneca, Oregon
Tue 9am

I slept right through the switching and putting the trains together in San Antonio. There's something about the rocking of a train that puts me to sleep in spite of noise and a small, firm shelf of a bed (I always get the top bunk because I'm smaller).

At lunch yesterday, we were handed “express menus” and our server Tanisha explained the train was given the wrong menus, then she had to rattle off all the items not listed. By dinner, we had handwritten menus, and by morning, they had printouts someone must have gone to get during the SAS layover. The train had filled up in Houston, and the TE cars added at San Antonio appeared to be full, so the dining car was really busy for breakfast.

About thirty minutes after leaving Sanderson (still right on time!) we glided to a halt . There was a pickup truck with UP insignia stopped on the dirt road alongside the tracks. The driver got out and signaled our engineer, then our conductor announced over the P.A. that there's a broken rail up ahead, and they're deciding whether to try and walk us over or repair the rail.

10:30am

While we're stopped, I'm in the lounge car working on my trip report. Hubby came up to me to say there'd been all kinds of excitement in our car. Somebody with a nicotine deficit had opened the door to get off and have a smoke, just decided he wanted off and that was it! He was now back on the train, and a conductor bigger than both of us put together was giving him a talking-to. Words were mentioned like “this is common sense: what if the train began to move and you tried to get on, and fell?” and “you will not be reaching your destination.”

Well, we're moving again and picking up speed. Guess they are only reprimanding the rule-breaking smoker, and not putting him off the train at Alpine. The diner crew is very cheerful, with host Veronica wearing a Santa hat that says “bah, humbug!” I guess she figures she's got everyone pleased that way, whether they like Christmas or not. By early evening, the lounge was running out of food, and the dining car ran out of many selections during dinner. The train seemed quite understocked for the number of passengers. When we were on the ground at Tucson, I asked, and our car attendant told us if we ended up as late as the trainset ahead of us (4pm LAX arrival), we'd be served Amstew for both breakfast and lunch, as they had nothing else left.
 

oregon pioneer

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Christmas Day (Wed) 2pm

They kept saying the Sunset Ltd would make up time yesterday, but it got about 2 hours late, and then only “made up” the amount that was padded into the schedule. We ended up getting into LAX at about 6am, a very civilized time of the morning. Hubby and I were already awake and dressed, because the train slowed and stopped at the incoming drop-off stations, and people walking around and talking woke us up. After the good sleep the first night, it was not a hardship. John, our attendant, says that in theory, we can occupy our roomette till 6:30, but in practice, the train pulls out to the yards about an hour after arriving at the station, and he must have the beds all stripped by then.

We stowed our bags in the corner behind the desk at the new Metropolitan Lounge. The lounge attendant was very nice, and approved of our plan to walk up to The Original Pantry for breakfast. It was about 2 miles each way, but we'd been sitting for two days and the weather was SoCal beautiful. What a classic that place is! We walked back up Figueroa, and down the hill through Grand Park to Union Station.

The Metropolitan Lounge was very busy by the time we returned, and most everyone boarded the Coast Starlight with us. There was an escort for walkers from the lounge, but I used the restroom and missed it by moments. Those of us that missed it got to go down the elevator and walk through the tunnel. The train was not yet on the platform anyway. As it backed in, I realized (oh, joy!!!) that the two cars in the rear were old Zephyr dome cars, now obviously private cars.

A little history about me and those old Zephyr domes: in 1968, I took the train from my home in northern Vermont to my first year of college at the University of Utah. The best way for me to get there with all my stuff was for my Dad to drive me to Montreal and put me on a train to Chicago, then to take the California Zephyr from Chicago to Salt Lake City. There was one of those dome cars on the train, and somewhere I have some photos I took from the dome as I got my first views of Utah's red rock country.

We usually come south to California in winter, and it's usually fairly green. I don't think I have ever seen it so brown. It's awfully dry this year. On the bright side (literally, ha, ha!) the weather is gorgeous and the ocean is glittering in the afternoon sun. While the train was stopped at the station in San Luis Obispo, I ran down to the back end and got Hubby to take a photo of me with one of the Zephyr dome cars. The owner and a bunch of folks on excursion were taking in the sun on the platform, and were excited (especially the dad and young rail-fan son on excursion) to hear my story of how I had ridden in one. I didn't dare ask to look inside, and I know they've been refurbished and changed since 1968. Photos coming later.
 

greatcats

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Feb 27, 2006
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Flagstaff, Arizona
Thank you for the interesting report. I am a bit confused as to what breakfast and lunch you would have been served stew, as no meals are normally served going into LA - maybe if they were really late. I am perplexed why the diner was not better stocked with food. I look forward to your photos.
 

OlympianHiawatha

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Norman, OK
Last time I rode the Sunset it was on the "new" schedule and they did serve an extremely early (0430) extremely abbreviated Breakfast heading into LA; of course I slept that one out and waited for a proper Breakfast at Philippe :)
 

oregon pioneer

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Thank you for the interesting report. I am a bit confused as to what breakfast and lunch you would have been served stew, as no meals are normally served going into LA - maybe if they were really late. I am perplexed why the diner was not better stocked with food. I look forward to your photos.
Last time I rode the Sunset it was on the "new" schedule and they did serve an extremely early (0430) extremely abbreviated Breakfast heading into LA; of course I slept that one out and waited for a proper Breakfast at Philippe :)
You are right, under normal circumstances these days, when the train is on-time, there is NO breakfast on SL on the way into LAX. But the #1 trainset that was two days ahead of us was sooooo late (arriving LAX 4pm) that they had to have TWO extra meals (breakfast and lunch). Our attendant John said they have the Amstew already on board, and if extra meals are required, they use what's on board. They no longer re-stock *anything* in the way of food along the way, even if they run short. Hubby and I went down to check out what was left in the cafe at 9pm the last evening. He had Budweiser, wine and liquor, and a couple of sweet rolls, plus some juice and water. That's it.
 

oregon pioneer

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END OF THE STORY

Right on time through Oakland, and then there came a report of a “car on the tracks” that needed to be cleared ahead. The owner of the private cars decided at that time that he wanted to have his cars dropped off in the Oakland railyard, and this caused the conductor some consternation, because there was no “trainorder” for it, but it was accomplished and I got to see some new rail as we pulled through the yards. It actually seems not to have cost any additional delay, as we still had to wait for an inspector to OK the tracks after the car was removed. Seems someone (reportedly under the influence) had decided to take a left turn, and drove down the tracks instead of the street. The track was OK'd and we proceeded, about an hour late.

During the night, we gained a little time. Mt. Shasta appeared on schedule out the window of the train as the sun rose and turned the snow pink and gold and purple. We got up before dawn to get an early breakfast, and a good view as we crossed the boundary between California and Oregon. Leaving Klamath Falls on time, and ready (really ready after 18 days) to get off at Chemult, onto the shuttle bus for Bend, our car, errands, and home.
 

caravanman

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Nottingham, England.
Excellent report, so nice to know you can take the good and bad of the trip all in your stride, and manage to remain positive.

Looking forward to your pics!

Best wishes,

Ed :cool:
 
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Bob Dylan

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Austin Texas
:hi: Wonderful Trip and Report! Mt. Shasta in the Early Morning Light is Always one of my Highlights on the Starlight going North!

And is the Original Pantry in LA as Good as Philippe for Breakfast or is it One of Those Win/Win Situations Depending on your Tastes and your Walking Ability? :help:
 
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oregon pioneer

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near Seneca, Oregon
Looking forward to your pics!
Pix are here.

And is the Original Pantry in LA as Good as Philippe for Breakfast or is it One of Those Win/Win Situations Depending on your Tastes and your Walking Ability? :help:
Well, I think the Original Pantry compares in atmosphere to Philippe's, but Philippe's has the train memorabilia, and a broader menu. You can get to the Original Pantry on the Red Line (it's at 9th and Figueroa).
 

Michigan Mom

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Enjoyable to read, and even more so to catch the spirit of adventure that shines through the travelogue.

The world outside those big windows is always fascinating.. and I noted with interest the description of what is probably GM sugar fields being grown.
 

oregon pioneer

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Feb 15, 2011
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near Seneca, Oregon
The world outside those big windows is always fascinating.. and I noted with interest the description of what is probably GM sugar fields being grown.
MM, I believe most GMO sugar is still made from sugar-beets. GMO sugar cane is "currently under a limited field testing." But the genetic manipulators are in the process of getting to *all* our food. :angry2: I believe it is mostly a question of whether public opinion changes in time to persuade the growers that people care what's in their food. The worst thing about traveling is the difficulty of finding good, healthy food. The Amtrak diner could be a lot worse, it's better than most we see out there!
 
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