Houston, Texas to Tacoma, Wa

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henryj

Conductor
Joined
Dec 19, 2008
Messages
1,589
Location
Houston, Texas
Way back in February I was planning my trip to the Garden Ry Convention in Tacoma, Washington. I wanted to get a train ride out of the trip as I usually do on these. I looked at the options from Houston. Fly to Chicago and take the Empire Builder or CZ. Fly to Kansas City and take the SWC. Or take the Sunset direct from Houston. I have already been on the EB and the CZ was running hours late every day and still is. The SWC was an option, but when I priced it the cost for a sleeper was substantially more than the Sunset. So in the end, I really did not want to start my vacation off with a plane ride, so I took our only train here in Houston the Sunset Limited and I am glad I did. I was flying back so I parked my car at the Hobby airport and took the Super Shuttle to the Amtrak depot. I left on Friday, July 30th. The Sunset leaves at 9:50pm. It was early arriving so I boarded and got settled in. I had roomette #13 downstairs. I usually like an upstairs room, but this is what they gave me. There is one advantage to downstairs, it's quiet with little traffic. And when the train makes a station stop you are right there by the door. And you can stroll down and open the window whenever the coach attendant is away and take some pictures or just hang out. You also get easy access to the shower. We left Houston on time and arrived in San Antonio an hour early. Lots of padding in this schedule. We parked in San Antonio for over three hours before leaving on time at 5:40am. The train adds a sleeper and coach from the Texas Eagle here. I got some good sleep while we sat in the San Antonio depot. I had been looking forward to getting away from the sweltering heat in Houston(it's still hot as H here) but was worried about the desert crossing and the performance of Amtrak's ac. I needn't have worried as it was raining in the desert and nice and cool all the way across. We got into Alpine, Tx Saturday on time and thus beat #2 to the platform. I got out and stretched my legs and took in the cool mountain air. We met #2 on the way out of town. The mountains around Alpine were all green from the rains. Heading west through Marfa and Sierra Blanca we passed through numerous thunderstorms. The sky’s were spectacular. We arrived in El Paso early also so we had over an hour there. I got out expecting to find the usual oven like heat only to find it pleasantly cool with rain storms on the horizon. Took the usual walk around and into the nicely restored El Paso depot. From El Paso we headed into New Mexico and more spectacular sky’s and lightning displays. Deming is a flag stop. We slowed but did not stop as no one was getting on or off there. At Lordsburg we did stop and let off some people. There is no station at either place so we let them off at a road crossing. It looked like a car was waiting there for them. After that it got dark as we approached Benson and then Tucson. We were still early so we had over an hour in Tucson. They announced that if passengers went over to the bars for a drink to not miss the train as the next one through was not until Tuesday. I got a good nights sleep except for some rather rough track around Yuma. I had my GPS with me and clocked us in the 70’s most of the time although at times the train drifted up into the low 80’s briefly. Track was super smooth. Food was good at all times as was the service. My first breakfast out of San Antonio was of course Railroad French Toast. I usually had a salad for lunch and the New York Strip for dinner. We experienced some delays overnight and arrived in Palm Springs a little late. I had an early breakfast as I had to change trains in LA. We arrived on time at 8:40am. The weather in Los Angeles was fabulous and I had some time to kill before the 10:15 departure of the Coast Starlight so I went out and sat in the open air patio adjacent to the waiting room. It was in the 60’s probably and felt great. I boarded my train when they announced it and had roomette #6 this time which is upstairs. It was on the right side of the train, but it didn’t matter as I was going to sit in the Pacific Parlor car to watch the Pacific coast go by when we got past Santa Barbara. The Coast Starlight not only has the usual Superliner lounge car but also a lounge car for first class passengers only called the Pacific Parlor car. You can also order meals in the Parlor car if you like. I tried it for lunch but returned to the diner after that. It is a nicely done car, an older Santa Fe El Capitan lounge car that has been refurbished. The track on the former Southern Pacific coast route is not being maintained to very good standards by the UP and is very rough. One could hardly stand up or walk when the train was moving. UP has moved all their freight trains off this route, sending a message to Amtrak and California that if they want to keep it they will have to pay for maintenance. The views of the Pacific coast are of course spectacular as always. Other than some commuter trains and the meet with our southbound counter part there was little traffic. We had a long stop at San Luis Obispo where we could get off and stretch our legs a little. One stop, I think Salinas, it was downright cold. We were maintaining schedule easily and stopped in San Jose, Oakland and Sacramento before I decided to get some sleep. I woke up the next morning to some spectacular views of Mount Shasta in the early morning light. We stopped for a few minutes at Klamath Falls(Crater Lake) where we got off to walk around. It was early in the morning and a beautiful clear day with temps in the 60’s. Felt great. The track from Oakland north was smooth and continued to be so all the way to Tacoma. From Klamath Falls the route continues through the mountains through numerous tunnels then descends around two grand loops to the river and eventually into Eugene, Ore. Really great scenery. We arrived in Portland around 3pm, early as we had been doing all along the route, so I got off and walked through the station and got on one of the light rail trains(which are free in town) and rode into town a few blocks. Got back in plenty of time to reboard as we had over an hour there. From Portland north the views continue to be spectacular as the train winds along the sound into Tacoma. We got slightly delayed and arrived about 20 minutes late. It was overall a great trip. I flew back a week later on SWA, a miserable 6 hour flight I would just as soon forget. While in Tacoma, I rented a car a visited the numerous beautiful railroads included in the Garden Ry tour. I took plenty of pictures which I am still editing and will post on Flikr later on.
 
G

Guest

Guest
Nice report henry! We enjoyed the green desert on our just completed western trip also! And how nice to have it cool in West Texas when it's such a blowtorch in the rest of the state! I was born in Alpine, used to spend summers in the mountains where my Grandfather was a SP man for 40 years so the good old Sunset is my first and most remembered train! :wub: Glad it was a good trip, even SWA cant make long flights pleasant now days, too bad you couldnt ride the CZ back, we really enjoyed the Zephyr and the SWC!
 

Railroad Bill

Buckeye Train Watcher
Joined
Jun 28, 2007
Messages
3,806
Location
Northern Ohio
Fantastic trip report and so glad you had a wonderful trip on the SSL and CS. We took our first Texas Eagle/SSL trip last summer and enjoyed the trip across the deserts. :)

Too bad you couldnt train it back to Houston :eek:

Best wishes.
 

henryj

Conductor
Joined
Dec 19, 2008
Messages
1,589
Location
Houston, Texas
Fantastic trip report and so glad you had a wonderful trip on the SSL and CS. We took our first Texas Eagle/SSL trip last summer and enjoyed the trip across the deserts. :)

Too bad you couldnt train it back to Houston :eek:

Best wishes.
I would have but there are no decent connections on the return. You have to spend the night somewhere, LA or Chicago which I did not want to do. Amtrak will not even give you an option between Tacoma and Houston. It says it can't be done. You have to use the multi-city option to even get a booking.
 

AlanB

Engineer
Honored Member
Joined
Aug 22, 2002
Messages
28,402
Location
Queens, New York
Fantastic trip report and so glad you had a wonderful trip on the SSL and CS. We took our first Texas Eagle/SSL trip last summer and enjoyed the trip across the deserts. :)

Too bad you couldnt train it back to Houston :eek:

Best wishes.
I would have but there are no decent connections on the return. You have to spend the night somewhere, LA or Chicago which I did not want to do. Amtrak will not even give you an option between Tacoma and Houston. It says it can't be done. You have to use the multi-city option to even get a booking.
Correct! Unfortunately the same day connection between the southbound Coast Starlight and the Sunset has been broken for a number of years. :(

There are high hopes though that with the better on time performance these days that Amtrak will be able to renegotiate the schedules of both the Sunset and the CS to restore that southbound connection. But that of course all hinges on UP.
 

AAARGH!

Conductor
Joined
Jul 12, 2008
Messages
1,056
Location
Cleveland, OH
Way back in February I was planning my trip to the Garden Ry Convention in Tacoma, Washington. I wanted to get a train ride out of the trip as I usually do on these. I looked at the options from Houston. Fly to Chicago and take the Empire Builder or CZ. Fly to Kansas City and take the SWC. Or take the Sunset direct from Houston. I have already been on the EB and the CZ was running hours late every day and still is. The SWC was an option, but when I priced it the cost for a sleeper was substantially more than the Sunset. So in the end, I really did not want to start my vacation off with a plane ride, so I took our only train here in Houston the Sunset Limited and I am glad I did. I was flying back so I parked my car at the Hobby airport and took the Super Shuttle to the Amtrak depot. I left on Friday, July 30th. The Sunset leaves at 9:50pm. It was early arriving so I boarded and got settled in. I had roomette #13 downstairs. I usually like an upstairs room, but this is what they gave me. There is one advantage to downstairs, it's quiet with little traffic. And when the train makes a station stop you are right there by the door. And you can stroll down and open the window whenever the coach attendant is away and take some pictures or just hang out. You also get easy access to the shower. We left Houston on time and arrived in San Antonio an hour early. Lots of padding in this schedule. We parked in San Antonio for over three hours before leaving on time at 5:40am. The train adds a sleeper and coach from the Texas Eagle here. I got some good sleep while we sat in the San Antonio depot. I had been looking forward to getting away from the sweltering heat in Houston(it's still hot as H here) but was worried about the desert crossing and the performance of Amtrak's ac. I needn't have worried as it was raining in the desert and nice and cool all the way across. We got into Alpine, Tx Saturday on time and thus beat #2 to the platform. I got out and stretched my legs and took in the cool mountain air. We met #2 on the way out of town. The mountains around Alpine were all green from the rains. Heading west through Marfa and Sierra Blanca we passed through numerous thunderstorms. The sky's were spectacular. We arrived in El Paso early also so we had over an hour there. I got out expecting to find the usual oven like heat only to find it pleasantly cool with rain storms on the horizon. Took the usual walk around and into the nicely restored El Paso depot. From El Paso we headed into New Mexico and more spectacular sky's and lightning displays. Deming is a flag stop. We slowed but did not stop as no one was getting on or off there. At Lordsburg we did stop and let off some people. There is no station at either place so we let them off at a road crossing. It looked like a car was waiting there for them. After that it got dark as we approached Benson and then Tucson. We were still early so we had over an hour in Tucson. They announced that if passengers went over to the bars for a drink to not miss the train as the next one through was not until Tuesday. I got a good nights sleep except for some rather rough track around Yuma. I had my GPS with me and clocked us in the 70's most of the time although at times the train drifted up into the low 80's briefly. Track was super smooth. Food was good at all times as was the service. My first breakfast out of San Antonio was of course Railroad French Toast. I usually had a salad for lunch and the New York Strip for dinner. We experienced some delays overnight and arrived in Palm Springs a little late. I had an early breakfast as I had to change trains in LA. We arrived on time at 8:40am. The weather in Los Angeles was fabulous and I had some time to kill before the 10:15 departure of the Coast Starlight so I went out and sat in the open air patio adjacent to the waiting room. It was in the 60's probably and felt great. I boarded my train when they announced it and had roomette #6 this time which is upstairs. It was on the right side of the train, but it didn't matter as I was going to sit in the Pacific Parlor car to watch the Pacific coast go by when we got past Santa Barbara. The Coast Starlight not only has the usual Superliner lounge car but also a lounge car for first class passengers only called the Pacific Parlor car. You can also order meals in the Parlor car if you like. I tried it for lunch but returned to the diner after that. It is a nicely done car, an older Santa Fe El Capitan lounge car that has been refurbished. The track on the former Southern Pacific coast route is not being maintained to very good standards by the UP and is very rough. One could hardly stand up or walk when the train was moving. UP has moved all their freight trains off this route, sending a message to Amtrak and California that if they want to keep it they will have to pay for maintenance. The views of the Pacific coast are of course spectacular as always. Other than some commuter trains and the meet with our southbound counter part there was little traffic. We had a long stop at San Luis Obispo where we could get off and stretch our legs a little. One stop, I think Salinas, it was downright cold. We were maintaining schedule easily and stopped in San Jose, Oakland and Sacramento before I decided to get some sleep. I woke up the next morning to some spectacular views of Mount Shasta in the early morning light. We stopped for a few minutes at Klamath Falls(Crater Lake) where we got off to walk around. It was early in the morning and a beautiful clear day with temps in the 60's. Felt great. The track from Oakland north was smooth and continued to be so all the way to Tacoma. From Klamath Falls the route continues through the mountains through numerous tunnels then descends around two grand loops to the river and eventually into Eugene, Ore. Really great scenery. We arrived in Portland around 3pm, early as we had been doing all along the route, so I got off and walked through the station and got on one of the light rail trains(which are free in town) and rode into town a few blocks. Got back in plenty of time to reboard as we had over an hour there. From Portland north the views continue to be spectacular as the train winds along the sound into Tacoma. We got slightly delayed and arrived about 20 minutes late. It was overall a great trip. I flew back a week later on SWA, a miserable 6 hour flight I would just as soon forget. While in Tacoma, I rented a car a visited the numerous beautiful railroads included in the Garden Ry tour. I took plenty of pictures which I am still editing and will post on Flikr later on.
May I suggest paragraph breaks... One big paragraph makes it hard to read. Nice report though.
 
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