Amtrak is advertising a special far for a trip to San Diego, transportation to the world-famous San Diego Zoo, and a zoo entrance package. Chris regularly takes Henry over to the Pasadena station to watch Amtrak’s morning train from Chicago arrive, and then depart for the last leg of its journey to Los Angeles. She buys San Diego excursion tickets during one of these morning visits. On a Saturday morning, we drive down to Los Angeles Union Passenger Terminal to take the mid-morning San Diegan south along the surf line. This train comprises Amfleet coaches and a food service car, hauled by a single locomotive. The train is very crowded and does not have guaranteed seating, so some people have to stand.
From Los Angeles Union Station, the line passes Terminal Tower, turns east past Mission Tower, then heads south along the west bank of the Los Angeles River. At Redondo Junction, where the ex-Santa Fe line to the LA/LB Harbor diverges and an ex-SP line to the harbor crosses, the line turns east and passes, in turn, UP’s Hobart Tower at the crossing of the UP line to LA/LB Harbor, Hobart Yard, Commerce Locomotive Facility across from Metrolink’s Commerce station, Pico River Yard, the crossings with the ex-SP branches at DT Junction and Los Nietos, and Metrolink’s Norwalk station (on a southerly jog of the line) before reaching the Amtrak/Metrolink station at Fullerton. This entire stretch of two and three track line runs through the urban fabric of Greater Los Angeles, with the line bordered by many old-line industries that were once rail-served, even if they are no longer.
At Fullerton, the line to San Bernardino proceeds straight ahead, while that to San Diego turns sharply southward. The Anaheim station is located adjacent to Anaheim Stadium, after which the line angles southeastward for a while. In Orange, the line from Atwood trails in from the north (east side of the line), after which the line resumes its southerly direction, passing through the Regional Transportation Center at Santa Ana. At one time, there were many citrus packing plants along the line in this area, all rail-served at the time of their peak operations. In the mid 1970s, the line leaves suburbia and enters agricultural and partly-rural areas south of Santa Ana. The line reaches the Pacific Ocean just south of San Juan Capistrano, and follows it closely, and in many cases intimately, to south of Del Mar. In the mid 1970s, this line is entirely single track with passing sidings.
South of San Clemente, where the Metrolink and Amtrak stations are at different locations, the line passes the San Onofre Nuclear Power Station and then runs through the large US Marine Corps base of Camp Pendleton. This provides a welcome area of open countryside along the inland side of the line. At the south end of Camp Pendleton, the line reaches Oceanside, joint terminal point for Metrolink services from Los Angeles and Coaster services from San Diego. Amtrak trains also stop here. The line continues through Del Mar, where trains used to deliver huge masses of patrons for the Del Mar racetrack, before turning away from the ocean to climb through Sorrento Valley to a summit near Miramar, then descends again into urban San Diego, passing Mission Bay, the facilities of General Dynamics, and San Diego’s Old Town before reaching the bayside station in San Diego itself.
About halfway to San Diego, we go to the food service car to get something to drink. This causes us to lose out seats, so we have to stand most of the rest of the way to San Diego. On arrival, there’s no obvious transportation to the zoo, so we enquire at the Amtrak desk. It seems that this excursion only applies to the early morning train! No-one had told us this, so we get the necessary forms for a refund. Fortunately, there’s a minibus route between the station and the zoo, so we take the bus over there. Once there, we buy combination entrance and attraction tickets at a discount on some card we carry. We’re going to give Henry what we promised him! The tickets include the guided tour around the zoo, and a ride on the aerial tramway, as well as entrance, so we take the tour, then walk to the areas that Henry seems most interested in. This includes spending some time watching the cheetah pace in his extended-run cage. We also take the aerial tramway, which is fun if not very illuminating. Then we take the minibus back to the station in time for the late afternoon train back to Los Angeles.
On the way back, we retain our seats by having only one person go to the food service car. Back in Los Angeles, we drive home to Sierra Madre. We have no difficulty getting a refund on the unused ‘excursion” parts of our tickets.
I have to spend a week at Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Center documenting the usage of a piece of research software. Because I’ll be gone a week, I elect to take the train up and back, and take the family with me. We have a rental car for use during the week. On the Sunday morning, we go down to Los Angeles Union Passenger Terminal to take Amtrak’s Train 13, the Coast Starlight, to San Jose. This train comprises “heritage fleet” coaches and sleepers, with lounge car and diner, all cars that Amtrak purchased from their original owners when it took over US nationwide passenger service in 1971. These cars are all now painted in Amtrak’s platinum mist color scheme, hauled by a couple of Amtrak’s SDP40F locomotives. We find a pair of seats and an adjacent window seat for the three of us; this means that another passenger will occupy the seat adjacent to one of us, since the train is full. This train has guaranteed seating (but not assigned seats), so we don’t have to worry about losing our seats when we go to the dining car for meals.
From Los Angeles to Chatsworth, the line runs through the urban fabric of Los Angeles, turning north at Mission Tower, across and along the Los Angeles River, past the SP Taylor yard and them the locomotive maintenance facilities. After the Glendale station, the route heads north through some of the earliest industrial areas of greater LA (including the original airport facilities in the area-no longer connected to an airfield-at Grand Central Air Terminal). The route separates from the Soledad Canyon line at Burbank Junction and runs diagonally towards the northwest corner of the San Fernando Valley, passing the Anheuser-Busch brewery and the General Motors car assembly plant at Van Nuys, along the way. West of Chatsworth, the lines passes through the famous ‘Chatsworth Rocks’ area, and then through a long tunnel under thousand foot high Santa Susanna Pass.. The mountains along this line, and further west, are covered in the typical Southern California brush and yellow grass (except in spring, when the grass is green).
The line then enters the Simi Valley, passing through the towns of Simi Valley and Moorpark, then descends towards the Pacific Ocean at Oxnard. West of Oxnard, the line comes alongside the ocean, which it will run alongside, or very close to, for the next 100 or more miles. West of Ventura, there are places where there is barely enough space for the railroad and US Highway 101 (built to Interstate Highway standards) between the ocean and the mountains. This is soon followed by the Santa Barbara urban area, followed by a line segment which has a number of scenic trestles over beach-access ravines. West of Gaviota, the highway veers away to the north, and the railroad is alone alongside the ocean. At Point Conception, the coast, and thus the railroad, turns north from its heretofore east-west alignment. Here, it runs through Vandenberg Air Force Base, site of the launch facilities for the Pacific Test Range and polar-orbiting satellites, past Surf, and then turns inland. After passing Guadalupe, junction with the Santa Maria Valley shortline, the route brushes the shore again at Grove Beach, then turns inland for San Luis Obispo. We eat lunch somewhere between Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo
North of San Luis Obispo, the line crosses the coastal mountain range using the Cuesta Grade to reach Santa Margarita Pass, after which it descends into the Salinas Valley. After passing through Paso Robles, the railroad crosses to the eastern side of the valley, where it remains until north of King City. The south end of the Salinas Valley, at a higher elevation than further north, is mostly savanna with live oak trees fairly widely spaced. The northern part of the valley is one of the most fertile agricultural areas in the world, and the valley floor is completely given over to agriculture. Much of the produce (tomatoes, green beans, etc.) grown in this area is snapped up by the major food suppliers, such as Birdseye and Hunt-Wesson. The rest of the way into Salinas, the rails follow alongside US 101 again. North of Salinas, the railroad runs through the beautiful nature reserve at Elkhorn Slough, to Watsonville Junction where there is a small yard and the Santa Cruz branch cuts off. Then the line turns east through market gardens and crosses the San Andreas Fault from the Pacific Plate onto the mainland. Turning north, the line passes through Gilroy and descends to San Jose. We eat dinner before arrival in San Jose.
I take a taxi over to the San Jose Airport, rent the car, and return to the Amtrak station to collect Chris, Henry, and the week’s luggage. We then drive north to Rickey’s Hyatt House in Palo Alto, our abode for the first part of the week. When we get there, I can’t figure out how to get the ignition key out of the lock (this is the first time I’ve driven a car with ignition key interlock), and have to get help. During the week, I drive over to PARC for my assignment (visiting Bob Flegal and the other developers of the “Flyer” illustration tool), while Chris and Henry play in the hotel pool. I come back to join them at lunchtime, as well as for dinner and the evening. Mid week, we have to move to another hotel in Mountain View, because Rickey’s was previously sold out for those days. On Saturday, we drive back to San Jose, turn in the car and take a taxi over to the San Jose station. We’re traveling back on Amtrak train 12, the reverse Coast Starlight. (This train is numbered 11, north of Oakland, and the northbound is numbered 14, north of Oakland, to conform to Southern Pacific train numbering practice. Eventually, Amtrak would drop this practice, retaining only numbers 11 and 14 for this service.)
The train is late, but not excessively so. It gets later during the day, but the schedule does not call for still being out on the line at dinner time, so the dining car has no dinner menu for today. As a result, we eat lunch twice, once at lunchtime, and once in early evening, before arrival in Los Angeles.
Pacific Railroad Society is running an excursion entitled “A Day on the Santa Fe”, with travel by special train comprising ex-Santa Fe high-level coaches on the Santa Fe line toward San Diego, with stopovers at San Juan Capistrano to visit the mission there, and at Oceanside (where the train will be turned) for a visit to the railroad facilities on Camp Pendleton. The entire excursion is on the same route (but less of it) that we used for our trip to San Diego. On the day of the excursion, we drive down to LA, and get seats on the upper-level of the rear coach, where a snack serving area has been set up. (Due to a miscommunication, there is no food service car on the train.)
PRS has made arrangements for box lunches to be loaded on the train at Irvine. When we get there, there is no sign of the lunches, so Excursion Director Marti Ann Draper makes some phone calls, and the train waits on a siding until the lunches are delivered. In San Juan Capistrano, we take a self-guided walking tour of the old mission, with its church ruined by an earthquake only a couple of years after consecration, back in the 1820s. Henry is more interested in the profusion of birds than in the buildings.
Back on the train, we proceed to Oceanside. There, after photographing a nearby Santa Fe CF-7, we take a fleet of buses over to Camp Pendleton to visit the US Marine Corps railroad facilities. We’re shown several locations, with some quite elderly switchers still in operation. At one location, Henry wants to go look at the locomotive, but our attempt to do so is met by screams from those who think they need a photo line to photograph a stationary locomotive! By mid afternoon, we’re back in Oceanside, but the train has not yet returned from being turned and serviced. When it arrives, we all climb on and are back in LA in time to be hone for dinner. We have to hurry up to feed Henry before he crashes completely—it’s been an exciting day for him.
To celebrate the fortieth anniversary of the opening of Los Angeles Union Passenger terminal (May 7th, 1939), PRS is running an excursion train from LA to San Bernardino, out via the Fullerton line, and back via Pasadena and the line that passes within a mile of our house. This runs on the Saturday of the anniversary weekend “Fiesta” celebration. As with the 1977 excursion, this train comprises former Santa Fe high-level coaches, along with some of the PRS private cars, hauled by Amtrak’s F40 locomotives.
From Los Angeles Union Station, the Fullerton line passes Terminal Tower, turns east past Mission Tower, then heads south along the west bank of the Los Angeles River. At Redondo Junction, where the ex-Santa Fe line to the LA/LB Harbor diverges and an ex-SP line to the harbor crosses, the line turns east and passes, in turn, UP’s Hobart Tower at the crossing of the UP line to LA/LB Harbor, Hobart Yard, Commerce Locomotive Facility across from Metrolink’s Commerce station, Pico River Yard, the crossings with the ex-SP branches at DT Junction and Los Nietos, and Metrolink’s Norwalk station (on a southerly jog of the line) before reaching the Amtrak/Metrolink station at Fullerton. This entire stretch of two and three track line runs through the urban fabric of Greater Los Angeles, with the line bordered by many old-line industries that were once rail-served, even if they are no longer.
At Fullerton, the line to San Bernardino proceeds straight ahead, while that to San Diego turns sharply southward. The line to San Bernardino climbs through the triple track in Santa Ana Canyon to Corona, Riverside, and San Bernardino. The latter city is 800 ft. higher than downtown Los Angeles. Henry spends the entire trip sitting between the window, and me pointing out all of the interesting things along the way. In San Bernardino, there’s time to walk around the classic old station, while the train is being turned and made ready for the return trip (by the different route).
The Southwest Limited travels between Los Angeles and San Bernardino via the Pasadena subdivision, which includes a 600 ft. climb in the ten miles between Los Angeles and Pasadena (an average grade of greater than 1%, with a ruling grade of over 2%), through the urban areas of Highland Park and South Pasadena, then a series of gentle dips and climbs over the remaining 45 miles to San Bernardino, 200 ft. Higher than Pasadena, through urban areas gradually decreasing to citrus orchards and farmland, with a steel-making plant thrown in for good measure. Today, we take this line in reverse.
It is interesting to see the area where we live, and the place I work, from the train as it passes by. It is also interesting to take the line down from Pasadena to Los Angeles through Highland Park. We would normally have no reason to use this segment of line. The excursion ends on our arrival back in LAUPT.