Eric & Pat's 2021 Trip Report: San Diego-Toledo-San Diego

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Bob Dylan

50+ Year Amtrak Rider
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Austin Texas
Good for you! I am curious, though. What response, if any, do you receive from your Congressional Representative? Do you contact all three of them: your two Senators and your House of Representatives member?
While I'm glad they let their Reps know what they thought, unfortunately far too many Reps and Senators have their staff send out "Boilerplate"responses unless you are on their "List" as a Contributer and Supporter.🥺🤬

I've received responses ( Snail Mail and email)that had absolutely nothing to do with what I wrote them about.💩

Both of the Texas Senators and my Rep are especially notorious for doing this!🥺🤬🤡
 

Willbridge

50+ Year Amtrak Rider
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While I'm glad they let their Reps know what they thought, unfortunately far too many Reps and Senators have their staff send out "Boilerplate"responses unless you are on their "List" as a Contributer and Supporter.🥺🤬

I've received responses ( Snail Mail and email)that had absolutely nothing to do with what I wrote them about.💩

Both of the Texas Senators and my Rep are especially notorious for doing this!🥺🤬🤡
Years ago when I started at ODOT we learned a lot from having to draft replies for Oregon Governor Tom McCall. I also used his signed copies as a form of policy guidance. Then a new governor took over and streamlined the process with a suite of 31 form letters scientifically prepared to cover every possible issue. Replies were much faster but they neglected to copy us.

So, of course, we'd go out to regional meetings and someone would launch into us about how dumb the governor's recent letter was and could we explain what it meant. That governor was defeated when trying for a second term but I was already gone before that.
 

Eric in East County

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Good for you! I am curious, though. What response, if any, do you receive from your Congressional Representative? Do you contact all three of them: your two Senators and your House of Representatives member?
We just contacted our House of Representatives member. So far, we received an acknowledgement that our message was received. If something more substantial comes through, we'll report on it.

E & P
 

John Bredin

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suburban Chicago (Deerfield)
While I'm glad they let their Reps know what they thought, unfortunately far too many Reps and Senators have their staff send out "Boilerplate"responses unless you are on their "List" as a Contributer and Supporter.🥺🤬

I've received responses ( Snail Mail and email)that had absolutely nothing to do with what I wrote them about.💩

Both of the Texas Senators and my Rep are especially notorious for doing this!🥺🤬🤡
My understanding (from a lobbyist for nonprofits) is that even if a legislator doesn't seem to care about your particular issue and sends an entirely boilerplate reply, some staffer is keeping track of letters, calls, etc. on a subject as a tally of constituents "for" and "against" so that the legislator has a sense of the issues his/her constituents care about and doesn't stake out an unpopular position for no good reason. And legislators presume that for every constituent who bothers to write or call, several others agree and just didn't bother.

So as long as (1) the message you sent isn't anti-Amtrak (you want Amtrak to improve, not disappear, so don't only say what's wrong or do a never-again) so it gets tallied as an "against" and (2) the boilerplate mentions Amtrak so it was tallied in the right place, every message to a legislator does some good.
 

Eric in East County

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My understanding (from a lobbyist for nonprofits) is that even if a legislator doesn't seem to care about your particular issue and sends an entirely boilerplate reply, some staffer is keeping track of letters, calls, etc. on a subject as a tally of constituents "for" and "against" so that the legislator has a sense of the issues his/her constituents care about and doesn't stake out an unpopular position for no good reason. And legislators presume that for every constituent who bothers to write or call, several others agree and just didn't bother.

So as long as (1) the message you sent isn't anti-Amtrak (you want Amtrak to improve, not disappear, so don't only say what's wrong or do a never-again) so it gets tallied as an "against" and (2) the boilerplate mentions Amtrak so it was tallied in the right place, every message to a legislator does some good.
Well put. In our posts on AU which are read by others, and in any messages we send to our representatives in Washington, we would NEVER say anything disparaging about Amtrak.

E & P
 
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Dakota 400

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Mar 5, 2014
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While I'm glad they let their Reps know what they thought, unfortunately far too many Reps and Senators have their staff send out "Boilerplate"responses unless you are on their "List" as a Contributer and Supporter.🥺🤬

I've received responses ( Snail Mail and email)that had absolutely nothing to do with what I wrote them about.💩

Both of the Texas Senators and my Rep are especially notorious for doing this!🥺🤬🤡
I marked your post as me being "angry". Not at you, but at that practice of my legislators in Washington and Columbus. The practice of doing this irritates me to no end!

I get very angry when I get no reply whatsoever! E-mails to both of my Senators as well as to my State Senator and State Representative sent recently remain unacknowledged.

I become very impressed when I do receive a response that actually addresses my concern. That does not happen often.
 

Dakota 400

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My understanding (from a lobbyist for nonprofits) is that even if a legislator doesn't seem to care about your particular issue and sends an entirely boilerplate reply, some staffer is keeping track of letters, calls, etc. on a subject as a tally of constituents "for" and "against" so that the legislator has a sense of the issues his/her constituents care about and doesn't stake out an unpopular position for no good reason. And legislators presume that for every constituent who bothers to write or call, several others agree and just didn't bother.
Thanks for an interesting post. This is my understanding as well.

I made a phone call to my member of the House to state my position on an issue. The woman's public relations skills who answered the phone were poor. I concisely stated my position. Silence on her end. I asked: did you hear me? Her response was: Yes. Didn't ask my name; didn't confirm that I was a constituent; no "thanks for your call". I hung up irritated! I felt that "I had bothered her."
 

Gary Behling

Train Attendant
Joined
Mar 28, 2019
Messages
56
Here’s our report for this year’s trip. Enjoy.
Eric & Pat




Prologue

Because we had to cancel our train trips back to Ohio in 2019 and 2020, we could hardly wait for 2021 to arrive so that we could set our vacation dates and purchase our Amtrak tickets.

At the beginning of 2021, the Southwest Chief and the Capitol Limited were only offering a limited number of departures a week. Although we assumed that they’d both be back to daily departures by the summer, we went ahead and arranged our travel dates based on this reduced service schedule.

To be sure of getting bedrooms on the Southwest Chief for the dates we wanted, we purchased our tickets very early in January. Even this far in advance, the coveted Bedroom E’s (which offer the smoothest ride) had already been booked on both our east and west-bound trains, and we had to settle for two Bedroom D’s.

Our SWC tickets were purchased using a combination of cash and the e-voucher that we’d been issued when COVID-19 forced us to cancel our 2020 trip. Our Pacific Surfliner and Capitol Limited tickets were purchased using travel points. The PS round trip Business Class tickets cost us 7760 points, and the CL round trip Coach tickets cost us 6248 points.

It was only after our e-tickets had been received and printed out that we made our hotel and rental car reservations.

In April and May, we both received Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 inoculations making us, theoretically, 95% protected against contracting the virus while we were traveling.

The day before our departure, we received e-mails from Amtrak with links to the site where we were to go to submit our pre-trip check ins for the passages from San Diego to LA and from LA to Chicago. These took us less than a minute each to complete and we immediately received acknowledgements that we were checked in. (To be on the safe side, we printed out copies of these acknowledgements to keep with the printed copies of our e-tickets.)

This year’s trip would be the tenth time that we’ve traveled from San Diego to Ohio and back on Amtrak.

Part 1: San Diego, California to Toledo, Ohio
Stage 1: San Diego to Los Angeles (June 29)


Our rail adventure officially got underway with our arrival at the Santa Fe Depot in downtown San Diego. (We consider the Santa Fe Depot to be our “home station,” since all our rail trips begin and end there.)

When we arrived, the station was not particularly crowded. Most of the people we saw were wearing masks, but a few weren’t. The Depot’s security consisted of a single, unarmed contract security guard.

When we went to check our one large suitcase through to Toledo, we learned that the Santa Fe Depot is no longer handling baggage. Instead, we were told that we would have to take our large suitcase along with us on the Pacific Surfliner and then check it in Los Angeles.

In the past, PS passengers would queue up outside in two lines: one for Business Class and one for Coach. This year, only Business Class passengers were allowed to queue up outside. Coach passengers had to wait inside the Depot.

Since the earlier you get into line, the closer you are to the front, we got into line almost an hour before our train was due to depart. That early, the platform was deserted, and we ended up being the first ones in line.

As it got closer to the time when southbound Pacific Surfliner No. 564 was due to arrive, an Amtrak agent appeared to open the heavy metal gate which keeps waiting passengers from wandering out onto the trolley tracks which must be crossed in order to get to where the trains load and unload.

A little over three weeks before we were scheduled to depart, we’d received an e-mail from Amtrak advising us that the Santa Fe Depot would be testing “zone boarding” for our Pacific Surfliner train #777, and that we would be receiving a new e-ticket that had our assigned zone number. When the new e-ticket arrived, it indicated that we had been assigned to Zone 1. When we informed the Amtrak agent that we were in Zone 1, she told us that “zone boarding” didn’t apply to Business Class passengers.

Pacific Surfliner No. 564 arrived at 11:16 a.m. Once all of its passengers were unloaded, it became No. 777 (Triple 7) for the trip north.

Incidentally, “Triple 7” is also the designation of the runaway freight train that Denzel Washington and Chris Pine attempt to stop in the movie Unstoppable. (Perhaps the scriptwriter came up with this designation from having ridden on a #777 Pacific Surfliner.)

Boarding for Business Class started at about 11:49 a.m.

When we boarded, the conductor told us to stow our big suitcase on a downstairs luggage rack as “luggage on the floor will be removed from the train.” By 12:00 noon, we were settled in our seats, our smaller carry-on items were in the overhead rack, and our little Uniden SC230 scanner was powered up and tuned to the channel that Triple 7’s crew was using. We’d also gotten out the annotated route map that we’d assembled using pages copied from Steam Powered Video’s Comprehensive Railroad Atlas of North America and which shows the entire route that we’d be following from San Diego to Toledo.

We departed on time at 12:05 p. m. Shortly afterwards the scanner reported “Triple 7 high balled and running.”

Once we were underway, and after sanitizing our fold-down trays, we got out the brown bag lunches that we’d packed for on the train. Shortly afterwards, an attendant came by passing out Business Class complementary snack packs containing hummus, cheese spread, almonds, brownie crisps, crackers, a beef stick, and dried apples. These we saved in case we wouldn’t be able to grab a bite to eat in Chicago before having to board the Capitol Limited. (A wise choice as it turned out.)

We got our first good view the ocean 33 minutes after departing from downtown San Diego.

Although most of San Diego County was experiencing a heat wave (it was sunny and almost 90 degrees when we’d left home that morning), along the coast it was overcast with temperatures in the low ‘70’s. Even though it was a weekday, the beaches and campgrounds were fairly well crowded.

Without slowing down, we went through the upscale beach community of Del Mar, passed the Del Mar fairgrounds & racetrack, and passed a control point identified on our railroad atlas map as “Crosby.” This designation was undoubtedly a nod to actor/singer Bing Crosby who’d lived in nearby Rancho Santa Fe and who’d been closely involved in planning and building the Del Mar Racetrack back in 1937.

By the time we departed from the Solana Beach station, our Business Class coach was almost full. As far as we could tell, everyone was masked as per Amtrak requirements.

As we were going by the Self-Realization Fellowship Temple in Encinitas, the engineer radioed the dispatcher, “Clear Swami.” (The Self-Realization Fellowship was founded in 1920 by Paramahansa Yogananda to disseminate the universal teachings of Kriya Yoga.)

At 1:18 p.m. just north of Oceanside, a trackside Radio Alarm Detector (RAD) reported that we were traveling at 88 miles per hour, that our train had 28 axles, and that there were no defects.

About a mile south of the San Clemente Pier, we saw a beached sailboat laying on its side in the sand, surrounded by law enforcement personnel.

As we got closer to Los Angeles, a few feeble rays of sunshine began to appear through the murk.

At 2:46 p.m., the scanner picked up the automated voice message from the RAD at milepost 144.45, which is about 10 minutes out from Los Angeles Union Station. Shortly afterwards, we crossed the Los Angeles River, made a sharp turn to the right, and began paralleling the concrete channel that keeps the river running on a straight course. (In addition to being a popular movie location, this channel often figures in the detective novels of Robert Crais and Michael Connelly, two of our favorite authors.)

After passing under the 1st Street Bridge, we looked off to our left to see if we could determine the approximate location where the Santa Fe’s Moorish-style La Grande Station had once stood. Prior to the opening of Los Angeles Union Station in 1939 it was the western terminal for such famous Santa Fe trains as the Chief and the Super Chief.

We arrived at Los Angeles Union Station at 2:56, only 5 minutes behind schedule.
I am just wondering about that Comprehensive Railroad Atlas of North America you mentioned. I looked them up on Ebay and elsewhere and found they are really expensive and usually cover just two states. My question is--- is there really enough information in these books that make them worth that kind of money?
 

Eric in East County

Lead Service Attendant
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East San Diego County
Thanks for an interesting post. This is my understanding as well.

I made a phone call to my member of the House to state my position on an issue. The woman's public relations skills who answered the phone were poor. I concisely stated my position. Silence on her end. I asked: did you hear me? Her response was: Yes. Didn't ask my name; didn't confirm that I was a constituent; no "thanks for your call". I hung up irritated! I felt that "I had bothered her."
It is probably best to state your position IN WRITING so that there is the possibility of the digital equivalent of a paper trail.
 

Bob Dylan

50+ Year Amtrak Rider
Joined
May 31, 2009
Messages
23,160
Location
Austin Texas
Thanks for an interesting post. This is my understanding as well.

I made a phone call to my member of the House to state my position on an issue. The woman's public relations skills who answered the phone were poor. I concisely stated my position. Silence on her end. I asked: did you hear me? Her response was: Yes. Didn't ask my name; didn't confirm that I was a constituent; no "thanks for your call". I hung up irritated! I felt that "I had bothered her."
🤮🤬
 

Dakota 400

Engineer
Joined
Mar 5, 2014
Messages
2,923
It is probably best to state your position IN WRITING so that there is the possibility of the digital equivalent of a paper trail.
Writing, either a snail mail letter or an e-mail, is what I usually do. I called because the House was to vote on an issue of concern to me that day and I wanted to register my opinion.
 

Eric in East County

Lead Service Attendant
AU Supporter
Joined
Jan 20, 2016
Messages
257
Location
East San Diego County
I am just wondering about that Comprehensive Railroad Atlas of North America you mentioned. I looked them up on Ebay and elsewhere and found they are really expensive and usually cover just two states. My question is--- is there really enough information in these books that make them worth that kind of money?
We bought most of our copies used. After scanning the pages we wanted, we relisted them on eBay and then sold them. I think we got most of our money back out of them.
E & P
 

Eric in East County

Lead Service Attendant
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East San Diego County
The railroad atlas map is particularly useful for locating Control Points, Radio Alarm Detectors (RADs) and the various junctions and operational points along the mainline that are usually identified by small signs located where the locomotive crew can see them. These, of course would not show up on a roadmap. The railroad atlas map, however, does not show the roads or highways that were being displayed on our GPS device. While we were in Findlay, we stopped by the Auto Club and picked up roadmaps for the states we’d be traveling through. These we trimmed down to just those areas that we’d be traveling through. Between the railroad atlas maps and the roadmaps, we were able to locate where we were at just about any given time. (Fortunately, we had a bedroom where everything could be spread out.)

E & P
 

Eric in East County

Lead Service Attendant
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East San Diego County
Prior to this year’s trip, we’d asked a number of questions on AU regarding “guaranteed connections” and what to expect if our SWC #4 train arrived in Chicago too late for us to connect with our Capitol Limited #30 train. The one question we DIDN’T ASK was if there would be a problem since our e-tickets for these trains had different reservation numbers. (As mentioned at the beginning of our trip report, the SWC tickets had been purchased using cash & a credit voucher, while the CL tickets had been purchased using travel points.) We have since learned that, because these two reservations had not been specifically linked, we did NOT qualify for a guaranteed connection! What we should have done was to contact Amtrak and specifically request that these two reservations be linked and then request written confirmation that they had been.

We feel that being aware of this particular Catch 22 is important enough to pass along to those you might find yourselves in a similar situation.

E & P
 

Bob Dylan

50+ Year Amtrak Rider
Joined
May 31, 2009
Messages
23,160
Location
Austin Texas
Prior to this year’s trip, we’d asked a number of questions on AU regarding “guaranteed connections” and what to expect if our SWC #4 train arrived in Chicago too late for us to connect with our Capitol Limited #30 train. The one question we DIDN’T ASK was if there would be a problem since our e-tickets for these trains had different reservation numbers. (As mentioned at the beginning of our trip report, the SWC tickets had been purchased using cash & a credit voucher, while the CL tickets had been purchased using travel points.) We have since learned that, because these two reservations had not been specifically linked, we did NOT qualify for a guaranteed connection! What we should have done was to contact Amtrak and specifically request that these two reservations be linked and then request written confirmation that they had been.

We feel that being aware of this particular Catch 22 is important enough to pass along to those you might find yourselves in a similar situation.

E & P
Excellent advice, thanks for sharing!
 
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