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Amtrak San Joaquin, BART and Calrain
All In One Day!
Saturday, April 5, 1997
TrainWeb.com/stevelog/sg970405.htm

Note: This rail travelogue was accidentally deleted and lost for many years. We managed to recover it in late 2010 from archives and re-post it to TrainWeb.com. These are some of my earliest rail travels and travel writings. My experience and understanding of Amtrak and other rail operations was quite a bit less than today and my writing style may have been a bit less experienced back then. So please pardon any problems that you might find in these earlier rail travel reports. A number of these earlier reports also have few or no photos or very small photos which was intentional to reduce download time during the early days of the web when almost everyone had slow dial-up connections to the internet!

Several months ago I had purchased advance tickets for a trip to a passenger rail meeting at the Spaghetti Factory in Jack London Square in Oakland. Then, I had to make an unexpected trip to Chicago on business a week before this meeting. It turned out that it would work perfect to arrange a circle trip to go from Fullerton to Chicago via the Southwest Chief, take care of business, then go from Chicago direct to the meeting in Oakland via the California Zephyr, and then return home after the rail meeting via the Coast Starlight. Thus, I never did use the round trip San Joaquin tickets between Bakersfield and Oakland, California.

The day I thought would never come was fast approaching: April 8, 1997, the day my round-trip tickets to Oakland would expire. Saturday, April 5, 1997 was the only day I would be able to use these tickets. I had some things I needed to take care of Sunday and Monday, April 6th and 7th. Thus, I could not use the tickets on those days. I'm going with my kids to Las Vegas on Tuesday, April 8th (via the Amtrak Desert Wind), and would not be able to use the ticket on that day either. Thus, if I was going to use the tickets at all, it would have to be on Saturday, April 8th, and I would have to be back by Sunday morning, April 9th!

I thought of changing the tickets or cashing them in. I'm not sure of the exact rules on this, but I do remember something about a $20 penalty per adult for changes or cancellations. That was more than 30% of the price of these tickets! Thus, I really didn't want to cash them in or change them to a new date.

For months, I've been trying to ride the segments of the Caltrain route in the San Francisco Bay Area that I haven't taken. Whenever I have had the opportunity in the past, it has always seemed to be late evening when it would be difficult to see out the windows.

I decided to kill 2 birds with one stone: to use the San Joaquins tickets to go to San Francisco and to explore the Caltrain route. I knew it was going to be a tight schedule since I did have to get home by Sunday morning.

Since I'd have a long drive from Anaheim to Bakersfield, California in the middle of the night, I wanted to take a little nap before I left my house. I had about 3 hours available to me between 10 P.M. and 1 A.M., but I don't think I fell asleep until midnight. Thus, I only got about a one hour nap.

I had a choice between driving all the way to Bakersfield, which is 147 miles, or taking the Amtrak bus. Neither alternative is very good. I am not the only one that wish that Amtrak would figure out some way to run a train from Los Angeles to Bakersfield. Los Angeles Metrolink commuter trains run as far as Lancaster which is less than 50 miles from Bakersfield. Unfortunately, those 50 miles are up and down a mountain through the Tejon Pass. Trucks struggle with that pass and many cars overheat, especially if they don't heed the warnings to turn off their air-conditioners! Radiator water is supplied at designated turn-offs for vehicles that find themselves in trouble during the climb. A special ramp is available for run-away trucks on the descent.

Actually, there are tracks that run from Lancaster all the way to Bakersfield, but my map shows so many curves and switchbacks that it would probably take a passenger train many hours to travel between these two points. Construction of a more direct route of the Tejon Pass has been contemplated with no further action ever taken. The bus takes less than 3 hours from Los Angeles to Bakersfield and will probably remain the only way in which commuters will be able to get between these stations for a long time to come. A lot of people travel this route and a convoy of buses is often needed to get everyone from the Los Angeles (LAUPT) Amtrak Station up to the Bakersfield Amtrak Station and visa versa.

The drawback to driving is that I can't sleep plus I put the wear and tear on my car and have to supply gas for the 300 mile round trip.

If I were to take the bus, I could drive to the Amtrak Santa Ana station, 10 minutes from my house, and get the Bakersfield Bus at 12:35 A.M. Friday evening is the most busy evening of the week. I have even seen the bus leave a person behind because the bus had no more seating available! I have no idea what that person did. The next bus wouldn't be until 5:30 A.M.!

I didn't have a ticket for the bus. That would mean the bus driver would wake me up in Los Angeles at 1:35 A.M. and make me go into the terminal to purchase a ticket. Then, I might not be able to reboard a Bakersfield for a half hour or more. Many buses meet in Los Angeles and they try to reduce the total number of buses headed to Bakersfield by combining any buses that are lightly loaded. The bus would then arrive into Bakersfield around 4:30 A.M.

I've taken the bus before and it isn't too bad if you can sleep all the way from Santa Ana to Bakersfield. I tend to snore rather loud, so that has always been a concern for me. I hate to be the one keeping everyone else awake on the bus. That is also a factor in why I never travel overnight in a Coach Car in the train.

I had to weigh the above against a simple 2 hour and 20 minute drive from my house direct to Bakersfield. On that basis, I decided to drive. I left my house at about 1:20 A.M. It really wasn't too bad. At that hour, I was able to keep to the speed limit or a little above for just about the entire journey. I drove almost the entire distance at 70 MPH. The posted limit varied between 65 and 70. The roads were fairly empty. Without having to worry about using the air-conditioner in the car, I was even able to make it over the Tejon Pass at more than 65 MPH the whole way!

Even though I had driven to Bakersfield before, I forgot the exact exit. Actually, I forgot that Bakersfield had about 5 exits off the 99 freeway. I tried the first 3 of them pretty quickly. I knew I'd recognize the right exit the minute I reached the bottom of the ramp. Instead, the third exit put me onto another highway! I recognized the street name on the first exit off that highway. I ended up in downtown Bakersfield, just a few blocks from the train station. So, I managed to discover a back road to the Bakersfield Amtrak station, but I think the normal exit off the 99 freeway is much shorter.

I arrived at the Bakersfield Amtrak Station at a bit before 4 A.M. The train was scheduled to leave at 5 A.M. My guess was that the buses would be pulling in at any time and that they wouldn't bring the train down to the station till probably 4:45 A.M.

There seemed to be a lot of freight engines moving around the station area. Bakersfield is a pretty good size freight yard. There may have been a dozen or more freight engines and numerous sets of freight cars on various tracks in the yard.

I decided to turn on my scanner to locate what railroad frequencies were being used in the yard. I figured I could use this information to get an idea on when the Amtrak train might be getting ready to pull into the station. For a while I listened to all the chat involved in moving the freight engines and cars back and forth through the yard. There was a lot of switching going on.

Finally, I heard the call to bring train #711 down to the station. I looked behind the station and noticed that some of the Amtrak buses had pulled in. Passengers were starting to reach the platform. I put on my backpack, got out of the car and locked up. I kept listening to my scanner using an earphone.

I'm not sure what action is initiated by the request to "bring the train down to the station", but it doesn't result in any immediate action of getting the train into the station! I waited quite a while on the platform before the train began to move down. Maybe the Engineer and Conductor just started to head down to the train on that request. Then, I suppose they had some things to do to get the train ready before they could bring it down.

There were at least two Amtrak California Car trainsets facing north in the yard. They used to run these trains in "push-pull" mode. I believe they used to run in pull mode when heading south and in push mode heading north. In "push" mode, the engine is at the rear of the train and the engineer operates the train from a booth in the "cab car". A "cab car" is a regular passenger car with seating for passengers, but it also has a special booth at the end of the car. The booth contains controls that lead to the locomotive at the end of the train. The Engineer can operate the train in reverse from this booth. The purpose of "push-pull" trains is so that the train does not have to be turned around when it reaches the end of the line. The train can be run at full track speed in either forward or reverse and can be operated either from the engine or from the cab car.

There are some problems inherent with "push-pull" mode, especially on the Amtrak California Cars. First, in the event of a grade-crossing collision with an auto or truck, there isn't much protection for the engineer or the passengers in the cab control car. There are seldom injuries to the Engineer or passengers when the locomotive is pulling the train. The mass of the locomotive is no match for most cars and trucks. Thus, the Engineer is protected by the mass of the locomotive and the closest passengers to such a collision are in a car behind the locomotive. A train is not as safe for the Engineer or passengers when being lead by the Cab Control Car as when it is being lead by the actual locomotive.

There is also a technical problem with the California Cars when operating with the Cab Control Car in the lead. Ever since the first delivery of the California Cars, they have been plagued by problems with the doors. There is a sensor that will not allow the train to move if an open door is detected. The problem is that the sensor often reports an open door even when all the doors are closed. When operating with the locomotive in the lead, there is an override to the sensor that will allow the train to proceed. When operating with the Cab Car in the lead, the sensor can't be overridden. Thus, the train gets stuck until the sensor problem can be found and fixed. I've been delayed for lengthy periods 3 different times in California Cars because of this problem. The first such delay was in January of 1996 when these California Cars were new and Amtrak hadn't quite figured out the source and solution to this problem. I was heading south from Santa Barbara and hadn't even reached the next station, Ventura, yet. We were stuck there for almost 5 hours! A freight engine was used to pull us the rest of our route once they gave up on trying to solve the door problem. Once solution that always seems to work is just to not run the California Cars from the Cab Car! As long as the locomotive is the lead car, the Engineer can always override the door sensor problem.

I've heard that a decision was made to always run the San Joaquins with the locomotive in the lead because there are so many days in which there is thick fog in the San Joaquin Valley. The fear is that this could lead to more situations than on most rail lines where a vehicle could be stalled on the tracks and remain unnoticed until it was too late for the train to stop. The door sensor problem might have also been part of this decision. I don't have definite confirmation that all San Joaquins now run with the locomotive in the lead position nor that the above is the reason for this decision, but that is what is floating in the rumor mill. If anyone has the true story on this, please do forward it on to me!

At any rate, the locomotive was facing north ready to take us on our northbound journey to Oakland. Thus, the train had to be backed down into the station. The Conductor walked down the platform radioing instructions to the Engineer. The Engineer was controlling the car from the locomotive and, unable to see anything behind the train, had to rely on the radioed instructions from the Conductor. Evidently the Conductor and Engineer were communicating over some channel other than the road frequency or the other two yard frequencies that I was monitoring. I didn't pick up any of the communication that I witnessed between them. I didn't bother to try to locate the frequency that they were using. I knew they'd be operating on the road frequency as soon as they were done backing the train into the station.

As soon as the opened the doors, I boarded the train and headed for my favorite seat on the upper level. I like the individual seats that are at the very back of the very last car before the Cab Car. These seats are the furthest away from the Cafe Car which means there won't be much traffic of passengers passing between cars to get a bit to eat. There is plenty of room to stretch out in those individual seats. Those seats are the closest you can come to having your own private room on the Amtrak California Car trains. There is plenty of room for a small suitcase or backpack beside the seat, two fold-down tables in front of you and two footrests. You also get a large window all to yourself and there is never any concern about who might end up becoming your seat-mate.

On this particular trip, the Cab Car was off-limits to passengers. The automatic door would not operate by the "PUSH TO OPEN" button and there was a bar blocking access to that car. This actually created more traffic near my seat than I was accustomed to. At almost every stop, someone that boarded the train would attempt to go all the way to the end of the train to go into that empty car, only to find it locked out.

I can't tell you too much about most of the northbound journey. I slept between most stations. For some reason, I managed to wake up shortly before we arrived into each station. I noticed that the train ran right on time for most of the journey, even arriving into many stations a minute or two early.

I was amazed to see daylight before even 6 A.M. so early in the year. Then, I realized that the clocks would be moved ahead an hour in just one day for Daylight Savings Time. Thus, starting on Sunday, it will once again be dark at 6 A.M.

The train pretty much remained right on schedule all the way up to Martinez, California. I only had one more stop to go to get to Richmond, the stop where I planned to get off and change over to the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) trains. Because of construction work and a special Amtrak train that we had to wait to pass us, we arrived into Richmond 20 minutes late. This 20 minute delay changed my plans for the rest of the day.

Once I checked the BART schedule, I realize I need to have been on the BART train to San Francisco that had left 10 minutes ago. The current train would not get me to the Powell Street Station in San Francisco until almost 11:45 A.M. That would only give me 15 minutes to get to the Caltrain. If I missed that, there wouldn't be another train until 2 P.M.

I let the first BART train go by which was heading to Fremont. To get to the Powell Street BART Station, the closest to the Caltrain Station, I needed to take either the Daly City or Colma BART train. That would be into the station in about 10 more minutes.

I was surprised how the BART trains start from Richmond like clockwork. Since Richmond is the very start of the line, I guess I shouldn't have been surprised. The trains seem to leave exactly on the minute they are scheduled to leave and seem to keep pretty close to their scheduled time at every station. When I grew up in Boston, I sometimes was able to get a schedule for one of the subway trains. If I remember correctly, it would say something like: "Saturday & Sunday trains run approximately every 20 minutes" or something similar to that. When I arrived at a station in Boston, the only information I had was the maximum time I was likely to wait before the arrival of a train. I don't remember there being exact schedules of when each train was expected to be at each and every station. Thus, I was surprise by how precisely the BART trains were scheduled. This was something that I was not used to as a veteran Amtrak traveler.

I tried to call a friend that I would be meeting in Palo Alto to let him know that I would probably be arriving 2 hours late and wouldn't have much time to visit before I would have to head back. Then, I got an idea. I could take a BART train to Fremont instead and have my friend pick me up there. He did that once before and Fremont isn't very far from Palo Alto. I could ride the Caltrain up to San Francisco instead of down from San Francisco. I used my cellular phone while I was on the BART train going over some elevated structures. Twice that I tried to reach my friend his line was busy. I knew the BART train would soon start to travel underground and I would no longer be able to use my cellular phone.

Then, I got paged by my friend. I immediately called him and we agreed that the best course of action would be for me to switch trains to the next BART train heading for Fremont. I told him that I would figure out what time that train would arrive in Fremont and call him back as soon as I was on a BART train outside of the underground.

After the BART went underground, I got off my train and switched to a train headed to Fremont. There was only about 5 or 10 minutes between those two trains. After a few stops, the Fremont BART train left the underground and was back on elevated tracks. I called my friend to let him know when my train would arrive in Fremont. My friend's answering machine answered instead of him answering live!

Giving it a second stop, that seemed to make sense. I figured my friend probably realized the same thing I did while I was in the BART underground. What wait for me to tell him when my train would arrive in Fremont? The BART train was going to get to Fremont faster than my friend could drive there, so why wait for my call? The logical thing to do was just get in the car immediately and drive to Fremont. I reasoned that he must have figured the same thing and was already on his way to Fremont. Since I did say that I would call with the arrival time information, I did leave that information on his answering machine. If he actually hadn't left but had to step away from the phone for some reason, then he was sure to check the answering machine when he returned.

Don't ask me why, but my friend had not left. He did not hear his phone ring and he did not check the answering machine. He just sat and waited for my phone call! After a long period of time had transpired and he felt he really should have gotten a call from me already, he paged me. The moment I got the page with his phone number, I realized things had gone wrong! I called him and he asked me why I hadn't called. I explain that I had called, that he didn't answer, that I assume he had already left, but that I left a message on his answering machine just in case. I was just one stop from Fremont and my friend was still at home! Once I got to Fremont, I had to wait 40 minutes for my friend to arrive. He could have been on his way all the time that I was on my way to Fremont on the BART train.

By the time my friend picked me up in Fremont, it was already after 1 P.M. I had to be to the California Avenue Caltrain Station in Palo Alto by 2:25 P.M. We had just a little more than one hour. He drove me to a middle-eastern buffet that he wanted me to try in Palo Alto. It was just one block from the California Avenue Caltrain Station. It was so close that he was able to park his car in a lot that is used by Caltrain commuters.

The food at the buffet was pretty interesting. I probably would have enjoyed the experience a bit more if I didn't have to keep one eye on the clock. At 2:10 P.M., we walked to his car and I got my backpack out. We were at the California Avenue Caltrain Station no later than 2:20 P.M.

I was quite surprised by the number of people waiting for the train. The Caltrain route is quite unlike any Amtrak route with which I am familiar. Including this trip, I have been through every station on the Caltrain between Tamien (just south of San Jose) and San Francisco. The train seems to get very heavy usage, even on weekends. During weekdays, the train runs about hourly and about every two hours on weekends. During commute hours, the Caltrain even runs as far south as Gilroy, the Garlic capitol of the world!

During weekdays, many of the Caltrain stations are manned by live ticket agents instead of automatic ticket machines. The shelters are a bit bigger and more covered than the bus-stop like stations of the Los Angeles Metrolink and the LRV stops in many cities. Some of the stations have telephones, newspaper racks, parking, and sheltered seating. They also have a considerable amount of information posted about the train schedules, ticket prices, connecting services, etc.

Most of the stops along the Caltrain route are very close to restaurants and stores. Residential neighborhoods aren't far from the stations and we also stopped right in front of one university and one convention center. This is a very unusual experience for me. Most of the stations along the routes of the Amtrak San Diegans and Metrolinks in southern California aren't close to anything! You usually have to take a taxi, bus, or have your car at the station or have friends pick you up from stations along those routes.

In southern California, there are few stations where you can step off and have dozens of interesting places to go within a short walk. There are a few exceptions such as San Diego, Santa Barbara and San Juan Capistrano. But, even a place like Fullerton, the restaurants are spread over quite a distance. I'd bet that few people ever take a train down to Fullerton just to go to a restaurant there ... maybe a few railfans, but that is about it. Along the route of the Caltrain, however, it seems like many people use the train as a main mode of transportation to bop from one town to another. At most stations, there is a tremendous concentration of stores, restaurants, offices, theaters, homes, etc. There are a lot of interesting places to get off the train and explore. Since the trains run fairly frequently in both directions from early morning until late evening, it is a mode of transportation that is convenient and dependable to get where you are going and to get back.

I've heard that it is impossible to find a parking space in a parking lot near a Caltrain station during the business day, but for after hours, it seems the perfect place to park your car and then use the train to go where you want. The fares are also reasonable. It only cost $3.75 to go one way from California Avenue in Palo Alto up to San Francisco which was about an hour ride.

During the weekend, the ticket booth is not manned. I began to wait for my train. Within about 2 minutes, at least a dozen more people showed up! I was reminded of growing up in Boston where there was almost always a lot of people waiting to board the next transit train at just about any hour of the day or night. I couldn't help but think if trains would just be run on a frequent and regular schedule, people would use them. The Caltrain seems to prove that point, but I also believe it is necessary that the train runs through places that are reasonable. The Caltrain runs right through the heart of many active towns up and down the San Francisco Bay Peninsula. I don't know if most of the routes of the Los Angeles Metrolink could expect the same success rate due to the lack of desirable destinations within walking distance of most of the stations.

There is a very wide set of maybe 4 steps to board the Caltrain. The doors open automatically and are also very wide. Unlike most Amtrak trains, there is no need for a conductor to open each door individually, put out a stool, and help passengers on and off individually. Thus, loading and unloading of the Caltrain is done extremely quickly. Amtrak really needs to learn something about loading and unloading passengers rapidly from trains. Amtrak California has solved this problem with their new California Cars, so long as the automatic doors are actually working.

Inside the car there is a set of seats on the lower level, two seats on each side of the train. The upper level consists of a row of single seats on each side of the train. You get to the upper level by climbing a spiral staircase, one on each side of the train. You have to pick which side of the train you want to be on upstairs since each spiral staircase only goes to the seats on one side or the other. There is a long hole that runs the length of the car between the two rows of single seats on the upper level.

The Conductors make their rounds collecting tickets or money while the train is moving. The Conductors don't come up to the second level. Instead, the just reach up through the hole between the two levels to collect your ticket or your money! I was half-way to San Francisco by the time the Conductor got to me to collect my money. It seems to be a bit on the honor system. I had to tell the Conductor where I got on as well as where I planned to get off. Otherwise, the Conductor wouldn't know what to charge! Actually, I saw a few people that were only taking the train a stop or two get on and off the train without ever paying. I'm not sure there was much else they could do. I don't think Caltrain expects you to explore through the train yourself to find the Conductor.

The Caltrain arrived into San Francisco on time. I knew I needed to take either bus #30 or #45 to get over to the BART station, but I didn't know where the bus stop would be outside of the Caltrain station. As usual for most rail transportation I have ever used, there were no signs to help make the connection from the Caltrain to BART. There weren't even any signs to help find the bus stop for bus #30 or #45! As I stood at the corner surveying the bus stops on some of the 4 sides of that cornet, I noticed that none of them were for bus #30 or #45. Then, I saw a bus #30 approach the intersection, take a left turn and stop about 200 feet down the street away from the corner!

I crossed the street and headed down that way. I discovered bus stops for both #30 and #45. They were actually separated from each other by about 100 feet. I decided to stand midway between the bus stops for bus #30 and #45 so that I would only have to run about 50 feet depending on which arrived first.

Whenever I run into a situation like this, I can't help but climb onto my soapbox and start complaining about the lack of connectivity of public transit systems. In San Francisco, as I have just explained, the Caltrain doesn't connect with BART and there are no obvious indications at either end which bus to take and where to get the bus to get from one to the other. The bus stops are also not located in logical and easy places to facilitate transferring from one to the other. I can only concluded that those in charge of this arrangement assumed that not enough people transfer from one to the other to require a logical and clearly marked method to transfer from one to the other. Personally, I believe this is a self fulfilling prophecy. If there was an easy way to step off the Caltrain or BART and step onto the other, I think many people would use it.

The same is true of Amtrak in San Francisco also. There is no easy way to transfer from Amtrak to the Caltrain unless you are willing to take Amtrak all the way to San Jose. Even then, you can't get from the Amtrak San Joaquins to the Caltrain without a multi-hour bus ride from Stockton to San Jose. There used to be various Amtrak Thru-Way Bus Connections between the Oakland and Emeryville Amtrak Stations and the Caltrain Station, but that was eliminated supposedly because so few people used it. There is still a thru-way bus that connects various Amtrak trains from Oakland and Emeryville to San Francisco, but those buses no longer stop at the Caltrain Station.

Likewise, there is no easy connection between the Coast Starlight and BART. The Coast Starlight used to stop in Richmond which has a BART station right next to the Amtrak Station. The Capitols, San Joaquins and California Zephyr stop there, but the Coast Starlight no longer stops there as of 1996. Thus, the easiest way to now get from the Coast Starlight to BART is to take a connecting bus from Jack London Square to downtown Oakland.

Forget about the airports, both San Francisco and Oakland. Neither BART nor Caltrain nor Amtrak go direct to either of those airports. You have to use a connecting bus to get from any train to any airport. Even the new "BART to SFO" proposal is going to require Caltrain and Amtrak users to have to switch to BART to get to the airport.

The question that may never be answered is just how many people would use rail for transportation if transitions from one to another were made convenient along with easy transfer to the airports. If transportation systems were planned and marketed properly, I believe the growth in use of these systems would skyrocket. However, buses should not be included as a reasonable method of transferring between one rail system and another or to an airport. The minute you include buses, you have to take out the word "convenient" from the description of any such system and the word "rapid" out of "rapid transit". Buses have to deal with traffic just as much as any car in urban traffic, but unlike a car, have to stop every couple of blocks for passengers. Buses are great at feeding rail systems and airports, but are a ridiculous solution of connecting them with each other.

Getting back to the travelogue, another bus #30 came along in less than 10 minutes. I took that to Market Street and still had to walk a good long block from the nearest bus stop to the entrance to the BART.

Fortunately, the BART train arrived fairly soon. I took that to the 12th Street station in downtown Oakland. From there, I took a bus that even included the word "AMTRAK" on sign on the front of the bus. That bus brought me to the back of the Jack London Square Amtrak Station. All these changes between Caltrain to bus to BART to bus to Amtrak weren't so bad, but I'm glad I just had a backpack and wasn't attempting to roll some luggage along with me!

I arrived at the Jack London Square Amtrak Station less than an hour before my 5:30pm train was to leave. My train backed into the station at about 5:10pm. At first, I couldn't be certain it was the right train. Usually there is an electronic sign on the side of the train that tells the destination of the train. In this case, I was looking for a sign that said "BAKERSFIELD" but all the signs on this train were blank.

I walked toward the conductor to verify this was the right train and immediately overheard him verifying to other passengers that this was the train for Bakersfield. I boarded the train and went to my usual favorite place: one of the very last seats in the last car of the train, not counting the Cab Car. Something just told me this was exactly the same car in which I had come up to Oakland. Not till I used the restroom was my suspicion confirmed. I have rarely found graffiti in Amtrak trains, but the San Joaquins and Capitols are a mild exception. Since these trains run almost like local commuter trains, graffiti can sometimes be found in the restrooms. This train was no exception and the graffiti was the same graffiti as I had found in the restroom on my way up. That is one unpleasant way of being able to distinguish one virtually identical car from another.

The rail journey home ran pretty much on schedule. One family got on the train fairly early in the journey and split up. The guy had a steel guitar with him and sat at the table in front of me. His wife and other members of his party sat elsewhere on the train. When they got something from the Cafe Car and sat together for a while, this gave a bit of confusion to the Conductor who didn't understand why their stuff was spread out over two different sets of seats with split seat checks. They managed to straighten out the situation without much difficulty. The train wasn't too crowded, otherwise the Conductor would have been more strict about not taking up more than one seat per person.

Another Conductor came by a little later who was fascinated by the passenger's steel guitar. The passenger tried to tune it up but found that impossible to do. Evidently it was too difficult to hear on the train and really needed an amplifier to work properly. These passengers got off the train in Stockton.

A mom with 3 children and a baby got on in Stockton. The Conductor carried up the baby who was in some type of baby carrier up to the second level. He placed the baby carrier on the table that was at the set of seats in front of my single chair and then he seated the rest of the family at that table. This family chatted and played for most of the journey. The kids were fascinated by the train. The Conductor would stop by this table quite often. He evidently really enjoyed children and answered all their questions about trains. They asked for his autograph and he obliged. Then, he asked for their autographs and their ages. All this autographing was done on the back of seat checks. He also gave the kids seat checks as souvenirs. The Conductor said he lived in Oakland but had an office in Bakersfield. He said he had a place in his office where he posted all the drawings that kids had made for him and that he would post their autographs to this wall also.

I didn't mind the kids being there. I like to see kids enjoying the train ride. However, I probably got quite a lot less sleep on this trip than I might have otherwise. The only thing that I did mind was that one of the little boys came into my seat area a couple of times and stuck his head against my window. This would be the equivalent in an airplane of a child squeezing himself between where you are sitting and the seatback in front of you so he can see out your window. Before I could say anything, each time the mother would reprimand the boy saying: "Come out of there and don't bother that man." I would imagine that a lot of kids don't have a real good concept of personal space. This can be a real asset in some lines of work. He'll probably make a great salesman one day!

Once the train arrived in Bakersfield, the passengers emptied out pretty quickly. The Conductors opened all doors to all the cars. Originally, Conductors would place a footstool at some doors and only open those doors. That would really slow down the loading/unloading process. Now, they just announce that stools are not available at all doors and ask that passengers please come to the doors with the stools if they have a problem with the steep step from the train to the platform.

My car was parked less than 10 feet from the train so I was able to get in my car and drive out of the parking lot in a matter of seconds. This is a tremendous advantage over the bus which has to wait until everyone has boarded and all the checked baggage has been transferred from the train. With empty midnight roads and a speed limit in parts of up to 70mph, I was able to make it back to my own city before 2am. Had I taken the bus, it wouldn't have gotten within 10 miles of my house until at least 3:25am and I would still have had to drive home from there.

I would have been home by 2:15am, but it was the start of Daylight Savings Time and the time jumped from 1:59am to 3am! Thus, I arrived home at 3:15am.

So, that was the end of my journey! Leaving at 1am from my house which is an hour southeast of Los Angeles, I made it up to San Francisco, down the peninsula as far as Palo Alto, and then returned home almost all by rail in just over 24 hours ... even with time to stop and have lunch! The total round-trip distance was just a bit over 1,000 miles.

More Rail Travelogues: Steve Grande / Others


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