Sunset Limited + Coast Starlight + Empire Builder in April

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vinceg723

Train Attendant
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Jun 12, 2009
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27
I think I have an opportunity next month to ride the Sunset Limited (NOLA - LA) and the Empire Builder (Portland-Havre-Milwaukee), and possibly the Coast Starlight (Oakland-Portland), with some flying in between (airfares are so inexpensive). For those who know these routes and cities well, I have a few questions:
  1. When the westbound Sunset Limited stops in San Antonio at 12-2 am, has anyone stepped away from the platform to see/do anything? I see a few bars close by that could be interesting. I’d love to see San Antonio at any other hour, but I can’t imagine venturing far past midnight.

  2. Has anyone spent any time in/around Havre? My family lived in nearby Harlem in the 1910s and again in the 1930s, and I have a great great grandfather buried in Havre (I’m told he was electrocuted working on the railroad in 1917). I can’t imagine riding by without stopping to see this piece of family history, and this crazy 3x/week schedule means I’ll have two days there. I’ll rent a car, explore the area, visit Harlem, etc. Any recommendations for sights to see would be welcome.

  3. And finally, my booking dilemma: To catch the Empire Builder, I’m either going to board the Coast Starlight in Oakland and ride it overnight to Portland to transfer directly to the EB, or fly to Portland and enjoy Wednesday evening / Thursday there before boarding the EB. I haven’t ridden that stretch of the CS in 20 years and would love to see it again. I’ve also never spent more than a few hours in Portland and would love to see it as well — and I cannot do both. I realize this is a personal decision about how I want to spend this time, but any comments to help sway me would be welcome. I'm leaning toward taking the CS, but I’d be curious to know how often the CS-EB connection is missed. I see online that in the last month or two, the CS was once 4-5 hours late. I know in 2001 I had to be bused from Klamath Falls to make the same connection. If this is rare in April, I won’t stress about it. If it’s common, maybe I’d be safer skipping the CS and flying?
Thank you for any input you may have. I’ll be sure to post some trip reports when/if I pull this off next month. (Last September I was fortunate to be able to travel to Newark-Oceanside via the Cardinal, California Zephyr and the Coast Starlight, and I thank all of you who answered my questions and/or commented on my trip reports!)
 

Bob Dylan

Conductor
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Messages
22,118
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Austin Texas
#1) San Antonio Layover-
IF #21/#421 is in time into SA ( usually 930pm-10PMish) you'll have time to walk 5 blocks West to the Riverwalk ( East Commerce runs under I-37 close to the Station, it's well lighted and Safe).

Both sides of Commerce have Highrise Hotels and the Giagantic Convention Center is on your Left).

There is a 24 Hour Dennys that lots of Train riders( and tourists and Night people) visit for a Midnight Snack on your right.

At the Riverwalk by the Marriot on your right there is Rivercity Mall, which has Stores of all types, Cafes and bars and a Movie Theater but most Stores start closing down early around 10pmish.

The Alamo is closed @ Night but is Lighted, and right next door is the Famous Menger Hotel with the Bar where Teddy Roosevelt recruited his Roughriders. Worth a look and a Drink.

As for the Riverwalk, it's sort of a Bourbon Street type place on the Riverwalk with numerous Clubs,Cafes and Tourist traps but it's fun ( and Free) to walk around and sightsee.

Before you leave the Train check with your SCA about when you should return to re-board since you'll have a New SCA from SA to LAX, and after the Switching to #1 when it arrives your #421 Sleeper will be on the end of the Train.

As for your West Coast plans, you cant go wrong on the Starlight, even without the Pacific Parlor Car!

Portland is a really neat town, it's a hard choice.

Your Montana plan is really cool, you'll definitely feel like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz when you're in Montana, you're Not in Kansas anymore! :cool: 😍
 

Cal

OBS Chief
Joined
Jan 23, 2021
Messages
996
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Socal
I think I have an opportunity next month to ride the Sunset Limited (NOLA - LA) and the Empire Builder (Portland-Havre-Milwaukee), and possibly the Coast Starlight (Oakland-Portland), with some flying in between (airfares are so inexpensive). For those who know these routes and cities well, I have a few questions:
  1. When the westbound Sunset Limited stops in San Antonio at 12-2 am, has anyone stepped away from the platform to see/do anything? I see a few bars close by that could be interesting. I’d love to see San Antonio at any other hour, but I can’t imagine venturing far past midnight.

  2. Has anyone spent any time in/around Havre? My family lived in nearby Harlem in the 1910s and again in the 1930s, and I have a great great grandfather buried in Havre (I’m told he was electrocuted working on the railroad in 1917). I can’t imagine riding by without stopping to see this piece of family history, and this crazy 3x/week schedule means I’ll have two days there. I’ll rent a car, explore the area, visit Harlem, etc. Any recommendations for sights to see would be welcome.

  3. And finally, my booking dilemma: To catch the Empire Builder, I’m either going to board the Coast Starlight in Oakland and ride it overnight to Portland to transfer directly to the EB, or fly to Portland and enjoy Wednesday evening / Thursday there before boarding the EB. I haven’t ridden that stretch of the CS in 20 years and would love to see it again. I’ve also never spent more than a few hours in Portland and would love to see it as well — and I cannot do both. I realize this is a personal decision about how I want to spend this time, but any comments to help sway me would be welcome. I'm leaning toward taking the CS, but I’d be curious to know how often the CS-EB connection is missed. I see online that in the last month or two, the CS was once 4-5 hours late. I know in 2001 I had to be bused from Klamath Falls to make the same connection. If this is rare in April, I won’t stress about it. If it’s common, maybe I’d be safer skipping the CS and flying?
Thank you for any input you may have. I’ll be sure to post some trip reports when/if I pull this off next month. (Last September I was fortunate to be able to travel to Newark-Oceanside via the Cardinal, California Zephyr and the Coast Starlight, and I thank all of you who answered my questions and/or commented on my trip reports!)
1. Many people step away to see the city.

2.I'm sure a handful have, I haven't. I've only been in Havre once when I was on the Builder, and it was cold! So I didn't spend much time outside.

3. Take the Coast Starlight, that is a guaranteed connection meaning that they will hold the Builder for you. Or, if worst case comes, they will take you off earlier and bus you to meet your train. I personally would take the train, they are in much more danger than the city of Portland. And going through the Cascades is outstanding. You descend thousands of feet between Chemult and Eugene!
 

tomfuller

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Joined
Oct 24, 2012
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863
Location
Crescent Oregon (17 miles from Chemult)
1. Many people step away to see the city.

2.I'm sure a handful have, I haven't. I've only been in Havre once when I was on the Builder, and it was cold! So I didn't spend much time outside.

3. Take the Coast Starlight, that is a guaranteed connection meaning that they will hold the Builder for you. Or, if worst case comes, they will take you off earlier and bus you to meet your train. I personally would take the train, they are in much more danger than the city of Portland. And going through the Cascades is outstanding. You descend thousands of feet between Chemult and Eugene!
In February 2020, The Sunset Ltd. was running many hours late getting into Los Angeles. The CS left more than an hour before we got there. We got bused on full buses to Bakersfield to get on the northbound San Joaquin all the way to Martinez. It was still day light when we got to MTZ. I went with a couple other guys that were waiting for the CS to a Greek restaurant in Martinez. After waiting about 2 more hours in the station, we boarded the CS. We were late into Sacramento but made it on time to KFS.
You descend thousands of feet from Cascade Summit to Oakridge going through many tunnels and hairpin switchbacks.
The times that people were bused north from KFS to connect with the Empire Builder they went up US97 to I84 where they had lunch at Subway before taking I-84 and I-82 to Pasco Washington.
 
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vinceg723

Train Attendant
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#1) San Antonio Layover-
IF #21/#421 is in time into SA ( usually 930pm-10PMish) you'll have time to walk 5 blocks West to the Riverwalk ( East Commerce runs under I-37 close to the Station, it's well lighted and Safe).
Re the San Antonio stop -- I'm coming westbound from New Orleans, and I see 12:05am-2:45am on the schedule ... though I would LOVE for it to be earlier.

Also, thank you all for your advice re the Coast Starlight. I have in fact decided to take it from the Bay Area, probably San Jose, to Portland. Cannot wait!
 

Bob Dylan

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Austin Texas
Re the San Antonio stop -- I'm coming westbound from New Orleans, and I see 12:05am-2:45am on the schedule ... though I would LOVE for it to be earlier.

Also, thank you all for your advice re the Coast Starlight. I have in fact decided to take it from the Bay Area, probably San Jose, to Portland. Cannot wait!
The #1 Sunset is often EARLY into SA. Please post trip reports as you make your Wonderful triip!
 

Rasputin

OBS Chief
Joined
Jan 17, 2019
Messages
819
I have walked with luggage from the Amtrak station in San Antonio to a hotel on the riverwalk at dawn after arriving on the eastbound Sunset and I have walked back at dawn to catch the northbound Texas Eagle. I have also walked that route mid-day. No problems.

However I would not be comfortable walking that route late at night or in the wee hours of the morning unless I was with a group. But I realize that everyone has their own comfort level.

Try to be awake and in the lounge car early the next morning for the impressive crossing of the Pecos River on the High Bridge west of Del Rio. Hope you have a great trip.
 

Cal

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Socal
Also, thank you all for your advice re the Coast Starlight. I have in fact decided to take it from the Bay Area, probably San Jose, to Portland. Cannot wait!
That's great! I would try to wake up early so you can see the sunrise over northern California, it's beautiful. I'm not sure if it will be light outside by the time you go past mount Shasta, but definitely try to see it!

And when you go through the Cascades, the best views will be on the right!
 

vinceg723

Train Attendant
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Thank you all for the tips! Being up early is not usually a problem for me, so I hope to see those early morning views over the Pecos River and alongside Mount Shasta.

I have to say, I have never had a strong desire to ride the Sunset Limited. I was taking it more because opportunity was presenting itself and because I wanted to check it off my list -- and my real excitement was for the Coast Starlight and Empire Builder. But now I am getting excited about the Sunset Limited as well. Let me know of any other tips!
 

Maglev

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Here is a thread with lists of the "Stretch / Smoke" stops on Amtrak trains. Since many of these stops do not show a dwell time in the schedule, you should print this or mark it on your timetable (I often print timetables for the various trains I am taking).

 

Railspike

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A little off-topic..... Not being that familiar with where the rioting took place in both Portland and Seattle, are the areas around the stations safe?
 

Cal

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I have to say, I have never had a strong desire to ride the Sunset Limited. I was taking it more because opportunity was presenting itself and because I wanted to check it off my list -- and my real excitement was for the Coast Starlight and Empire Builder. But now I am getting excited about the Sunset Limited as well. Let me know of any other tips!
I've taken the most 'boring' part of the Sunset/Eagle (SAS-LAX) a few times. It may not be as impressive as the great Southwest, or Glacier National Park, but it's still quite nice. And seeing the sunset over the desert is amazing.
 

Cal

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A little off-topic..... Not being that familiar with where the rioting took place in both Portland and Seattle, are the areas around the stations safe?
I believe Portland is a bit sketchy. Seattle seems pretty safe, but maybe not at night.
 

Rasputin

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This discussion may be helpful for traveling on the Sunset (at least as far as El Paso):

 

TC_NYC

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Tri-Cities, Washington
Sounds like a fun trip, I would probably pass on the Coast Starlight OAK-PDX segment. Although Southern Oregon is beautiful, you run the risk of getting bustituted on the Portland-Pasco segment on the Empire Builder which is one of the prettiest segments on Amtrak, 2nd only to the CZ through the Rockies. The Portland station itself is a very nice and safe historic station, but the surrounding area is not the best. There's a nice restaurant in the station and one of the easiest Amtrak terminals to navigate.
 

caravanman

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It sounds as though you are having a leisurly tour, so you can maybe stay overnight at the end of each train ride section, so no matter how late the train may run, you will still be able to enjoy the full trip, without any bus rides! (Not sure how the reduced/non daily timetables might impact...)

It has been about 3 or 4 years since I visited Portland or Seattle, and while there might be a few folks "down on their luck" near those stations, I was entirely happy to walk around there on my own, as a retired senior...
 

Cal

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Although Southern Oregon is beautiful, you run the risk of getting bustituted on the Portland-Pasco segment on the Empire Builder which is one of the prettiest segments on Amtrak, 2nd only to the CZ through the Rockies.
Okay, I've seen videos and been through there (It did get dark before too long though). I don't think it's that great. Glacier National Park, the California Coastline, and maybe even Donner Pass looks better to me.
 

Sidney

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I usually ride the Eagle/Sunset from Chicago to LA or vice versa. One extra night for the same price as the Chief. If you board in Bloomington the price drops $152,low bucket. I ve done this by riding Coach from Chicago for $13.

The only route I have not ridden is the Lakeshore from Boston westbound. I'll be on that train in late May and then I'll be on the Eagle/Sunset to LA,just to have the longest possible points from East to West. Hopefully full service dining will be in place when I ride.
 

Rasputin

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There is no way in hell that I am going to miss any reasonable opportunity that I may have for the remainder of my life to ride the Coast Starlight through Pengra Pass in the Cascades. It is an exceptionally scenic line with amazing engineering and I am thrilled to ride this route every chance I get which unfortunately is not often.
 

Chris I

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Portland native here... take the CS and skip seeing Portland on this trip. Downtown is pretty quiet with Covid, and a lot of businesses are still closed. If you have a bit of time and want to walk around during your transfer, head West/NW from Union station into the Pearl District. There are a few nice parks and areas to explore.
 

Cal

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There is no way in hell that I am going to miss any reasonable opportunity that I may have for the remainder of my life to ride the Coast Starlight through Pengra Pass in the Cascades. It is an exceptionally scenic line with amazing engineering and I am thrilled to ride this route every chance I get which unfortunately is not often.
I thought it was the Willamette Pass or something, hm.
 

Rasputin

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I thought it was the Willamette Pass or something, hm.
We may need to call in an SP expert here. I believe the general area is known as Willamette Pass but the point where the railroad actually crosses the Cascades is named Pengra Pass after an early settler. Many people do describe the railroad crossing point as Willamette Pass so there seems to be some confusion.
 

flitcraft

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I second Chris' thoughts on Portland. Portland is still largely closed due to COVID, and, as a Pacific Northwesterner, I have to admit that April isn't a dependable month for walking around, at least if getting wet would bother you. I don't consider it unsafe, personally, as a female senior I've walked that area without concern, though there are a lot of homeless folks in the area. If you aren't used to that, you might find it more worrying than it objectively is.
 

RovinMoses

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A little off-topic..... Not being that familiar with where the rioting took place in both Portland and Seattle, are the areas around the stations safe?
Yes, the areas are safe, but you will see lots of homeless people. Our son lives two blocks from station and has not had a problem. Anarchists have targeted other sections of city and most of last the "riots" took place quite a number of blocks south of Union Station. Lots of places to eat that you can walk to from station.
 

RovinMoses

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I believe Portland is a bit sketchy. Seattle seems pretty safe, but maybe not at night.
Our son lives two blocks from PDX station and walks the dog every morning and evening. The area is safe although there are lots of homeless tents. There is a terrific store and deli just 8 blocks away. World Foods Portland However, if you plan on connecting to EB from Coast Starlight, you only have about an hour and fifteen minutes so it will be a nail biter if you're running late. I would take CS, then spend the night in PDX since there are a lot of hotels in the vicinity of Union Station. Don't miss that trip through the Cascades (and my profile pic is Mt. Shasta taken from CS).
 
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