Adios, Amtrak?

(Note: This is the final entry from my second San Diego trip via Amtrak. To start at the beginning of the trip, click here and follow the links at the top right of the page.)

We arrive at Sacramento at 9:39, which is 7:24 late, and the delays continue between Davis and Martinez. When we finally reach Emeryville, it is around midnight. We should have been there at 4:49 p.m., checked in, had drinks and dinner. Instead, we go right from the station to the hotel. Our wake-up call is in five hours.

Early Tuesday morning, we take Caltrain No. 210 at 6:45 a.m. from San Francisco to Santa Clara. The trip takes about an hour and costs $6.75 per person. We then take a free shuttle bus from the Santa Clara station to the San Jose Airport, arriving at 8:45. Our American Airlines Express flight to San Diego does not leave until 11:45, but we are able to get on an earlier flight, which leaves at 9:52. Security takes less than five minutes and we have little time to wait for the flight.

After the excruciating experience of yesterday, the trip from San Francisco to San Jose to San Diego via public rail and air is surprisingly easy and takes a little over four hours – less than the time it took to go 186 miles from Winnemucca to Sparks, Nevada. I hate to say it, but it may be time to say Adios, Amtrak.


Despite being a whopping 6:22 behind schedule leaving Truckee, CA, I don’t feel all that bad after seeing picturesque Lake Donner.

Of course, that all changes five minutes later, when at 5:10, we have to wait 47 minutes for an eastbound UP freight train coming up the mountain.

You know, these freight delays are getting out of hand. Coast Starlate, meet your brother, the California Forever.

If today is any indication, that letter Amtrak sent to Union Pacific about the legal and contractual obligation of UP to keep Amtrak trains moving isn’t working. In fact, it appears to be making things even worse. After costing me a minimum of seven hours today, my message to Union Pacific is the same one I give their engine when it finally chugs past: A nice, big one-fingered salute.

Sparks At Last

At 3:15, just outside of Sparks, we stop to obtain a permit to use a UP track not normally used by Amtrak. We receive permit No. 973, which is good until 4 p.m.

When we finally arrive in Sparks, it is 3:24 p.m. and we are 6:29 behind schedule. We change the crew in Reno and leave at 3:38 p.m., which puts us 6:24 behind.

Since my last trip on the Zephyr, Reno’s station has changed. Instead of stopping above ground with a view of the city and casinos, we now stop below ground. You have to give Reno officials credit on two accounts: The Zephyr no longer blocks the streets near the casinos and passengers don’t get to see just how outdated and rundown the hotels are in the downtown area. How is that for a sleight of hand?

As far as the near collision, nothing new to report. When asked, the engineer said he didn’t get the license plate of the tractor trailer. During the crew change in Reno, he was seen shaking his head while leaving with the conductor, obviously discussing the incident. My hat goes off to him for being quick on the brakes.

Near Collision In Nevada

I wake up on Monday at 6:35 a.m. PT, 10 minutes before our station stop in Elko, NV. Thinking it may be a smoke/stretch-your-legs break, I quickly put on my clothes and go to the bathroom to put in my contacts. However, it is a quick one-minute stop and we depart at 6:50. We have lost more than 30 minutes during the night and are now 3:29 down for the trip.

We eat breakfast (leftover cheesecake from last night’s dinner and a cinnamon bun I bought in Grand Junction) as the Utah mountainous desert goes by.

Around 9 a.m., outside of Battle Mountain, NV, we slow to about 30 mph. On the scanner, I hear the conductor ask the engineer if we are behind a freight train. He gives a cryptic yes and no answer, saying we are behind a freight train, but not directly behind it and the freight is doing well.

At 9:20, I hear the tail end of a conversation on the scanner that worries me. I can’t tell if it is our train talking to the dispatcher, but someone is told that they are doing switch work at the border, it won’t be finished until 2:30 p.m. and to plan accordingly. I assume it is the Nevada/California border, but I’m not sure as I missed the beginning of the transmission. We are scheduled to be at Reno at the time of this conversation, but should now be there around 1 p.m. If we sit for a while, I guess I’ll know the reason.

Outside of Winnemucca, we stop at a red signal for 15 minute before we are given permission by the UP dispatcher to pass the signal.

Winnemucca features a triple stop – the first to change the crew, the second for the diner car and the third for a smoke/stretch break.

We left Winnemucca at 10:50, which put us 4:37 behind schedule

We were restricted to 30 for most of the way from Winnemucca to Sparks.

At 2:45, we made an emergency stop as a truck was backing up on the crossing, according to the engineer. I knew something was up when I heard the brakes squeal as we came to a stop. I think the 30 mph limit may have save us from hitting the truck.

The train was inspected and we resumed five minutes later.

Rocky Mountain Relaxation

At 9:26, just outside of Arvada, we make our winding way up the mountain. At the first tunnel, there is a Union Pacific freight train stopped exiting the tunnel. As the tunnel is only one track, we need to wait for him to pass us before we can proceed. Twenty minutes later, the UP begins backing up through the tunnel. Five minutes later, we make our way through the tunnel.

From 9:55 until 10:31 we go through 18 tunnels, in between wonderful views of Arvada, CO and the surrounding area.

We continue to be hampered by UP. At 10:33, we stop for a red signal a 7212 is head of us. We lose seven minutes. At 10:53, the conductor makes an announcement that one of the UP trains head of us has engine problems, forcing us to move at 9 mph. They are going 9 mph. I heard chatter earlier about someone’s engine bucking and cutting off, just like it did yesterday, but didn’t realize it was the train ahead of us.

At 12:11 p.m., we finally get to the east side of Moffat Tunnel, where we are greeted by a red signal. Twenty minutes later we start through the long tunnel.

We finally arrive Fraser/Winter Park at 12:53, which is 2:46 late.

The delays continue heading to Glenwood Springs. We have a pair of 15-minute stops, including one at Shoshone, with a nice view of a hiking and boating area. During one of the delays, the eastbound Zephyr passes us near Allen, CO.

When the train arrives at Glenwood Springs, we are 3:01 behind schedule, but we cut the deficit to 3:01 at Grand Junction.

Memo to Amtrak: Fix your #@$#@$ vending machines. While Grand Junction features a fruit stand and gift shop which sells ice cream, both of the vending machine are out of order and the change machine is out of change. Earlier in the day, the Pepsi machine in Denver was completely empty, as well. In this time of budget cuts, how is it that you don’t want my money?

After Grand Junction, we decided to again dine in our sleeper car. I had a hamburger and she had the same choice as last night – chicken. Once again, both were good choices. We watched the sunset over the Utah mountains during our meals just before we pulled into Green River, Utah 2:59 behind at 8:57.