Amtrak Travelogue by Steve Grande
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!
San Joaquins - Steve's Review
08/22/96 - 08/24/96
on the Amtrak California Cars
For those of you that like to sit alone, there are 2 single seats at each
end of every car except the "Cab Car". The "Cab Car" is the passenger car
that is furthest from the locomotive. Since the "Cab Car" has a place for
the Engineer to operate the train in reverse from the very end of the train,
the configuration of seats is different at that end. All other passenger
cars do have 2 singe seats at each end.
Click here for photos & more info about the San Joaquins.
I sat in one of those single seats on two business trips in which I was
traveling alone. I'd say that seat comes the closest to having a private
accommodation on a train that has no private accommodations! Each single
seat has a large window on one side and a floor to ceiling see-through
plexiglass partition on the other side. I think the purpose of the partition
is to reduce the amount of noise that comes from the doors used for passage
from one train car to the next. There is also space between the single seat
and the plexiglass partition big enough for a sizeable suitcase.
Since the door from going from train car to train car is right behind the
single seats, you will hear a lot of track noise during the interval when
someone passes through the door until it automatically closes a few seconds
later. The reason most people pass through the door is to get to the cafe
car. Just sit as far away from the cafe car as you can to reduce the
number of people passing by your seat and through the door.
Another nice feature of the single seat is the amount of table space. Since
there are two chairs in front of you, you get two seat-back fold down tables
all to yourself! In summary, with a window on one side, a plexiglass wall
on the other and two fold-down seat-back tables in front of you, it is like
having a private room all to yourself! Personally, I rather sit in these
seats than a seat in the Reserved Custom Class!
Driving To Bakersfield
I don't really like riding buses, so I opted to drive my own car from
Anaheim Hills to Bakersfield. The trip is about 155 miles. The speed
limit is 70 mph for most of the way. It is possible to make the trip in
a little over 2 hours if there is no traffic. The worst part of the drive
is that I have to drive on the I-5 right through the heart of Los Angeles.
Commute hours are to be avoided at all costs since this can delay the
amount of time it takes to get through Los Angeles by an hour or more.
I can make this drive in far less time than the bus out of Los Angeles
Union Station. I have always found plenty of parking at the Bakersfield
Amtrak Station and haven't had to worry about where to leave my car. There
doesn't seem to be any time limit as to how long you can leave your car at
the station and there is no fee for parking. By arriving before any of the
buses, it also gives me a chance to be one of the first to board the train
and have a better chance of picking to sit anywhere that I like.
This time I left my house pretty early, about 11:10 A.M., to make the
3:50 P.M. train. I did encounter an unusual amount of noontime traffic
trying to go through Los Angeles. I decided to take a detour since I had
plenty of time and took the I-10 west to the I-405 north which joins
back into I-5 far north of Los Angeles. At the town of Gorman, however,
there was a severe tractor trailor accident. The entire Interstate came
to a stop. People got out of there cars and were just walking around the
freeway talking to each other. The freeway didn't move for about an hour!
Without traffic, I should have arrived about 1:30 P.M., but instead
arrived at about 3 P.M.
I only had to wait about 20 minutes before the train started boarding.
I had two "huge" boxes with me. Both were about the size of overgrown
suitcases in length and height, but about the same size in thickness.
I placed one downstairs in the bicycle rack as instructed by an Assistant
Conductor. The other box, to my surprise, fit perfectly between my single
seat and the plexiglass partition next to my seat! There wasn't 1/16th
inch to spare! The box also became a nice end-table for me to place my
The train left about 40 minutes late because some buses where late in
arriving. I suspect it was the buses from Los Angeles that were probably
delayed by the same accident that held me up for an hour. The rest of
the trip went without incident. The train neither lost any further time
nor made up any time. Don't be fooled by the 45 minutes in the train
schedule allocated for the train to make the 5 miles from Emeryville to
Oakland! Because of recent construction, traffic on the rail, and other
dispatch problems in trying to get trains between Emeryville and Oakland,
the train has taken almost the entire 45 minutes to make those last 5 miles
every time I have taken it.
View Of The American Orient Express
The return trip also went without incident. I got my usual early start
out of the Jack London Inn at about 6:20 A.M., but was surprised to see
an Amtrak train already sitting in the Jack London Station as I was walking
toward it. No Amtrak train is scheduled to be into the station before 7 A.M.
and the San Juaquin train isn't brought in before 6:30 A.M. If this wasn't
the San Juaquin train, then it was going to be in the way when the San
Juaquin did arrive in a few minutes. As I walked closer up the platform, I
could see that it was an Amtrak locomotive, but it was not the San Juaquin.
The train was the
American Orient Express!
I got a few more photographs, especially a few close-ups of the Dining Car.
I had never been able to get this close to the American Orient Express before.
The American Orient Express is made up of older passenger cars that have
been meticulously restored. There are Club Cars, Sleeper Cars and two Diner
Cars. A couple of the cars were dumping liquid underneath onto the tracks
right in the station. This both looked and smelled like it was from the
toilets. I suppose it might just have been drain water from the Diner Car,
but I think it was one of the Sleeper Cars that was dumping. I pondered
about this a bit. The older Amtrak cars also dumped the toilets direct to
the tracks before this practice was prohibited. The Superliners and all
newer Amtrak trains now have self-contained toilets like those on RVs or
airplanes. But would a restored train car from an earlier part of the
century have these newer self-contained units or still be using the older
type of units? Maybe they got some time of waiver so they could continue
to use authentic restored equipment, sort of like the waiver that antique
cars get so they don't have to meet today's safety and air pollution
standards. If you have an answer, let me know!
The San Juaquin did pull in on time at about 6:40 A.M. onto the track on
the other side of the American Orient Express. There was way acceptable
to Amtrak to get passengers to the San Juaquin without having the American
Orient Express pull out of the way. I don't think the crew of the
American Orient Express was aware of this scheduled train. They seemed
to be caught by surprise that they had to pull out of the station so that
passengers could walk across the tracks where they were parked.
Picking A Seat
Once on board the San Juaquin, I headed straight for the next to last car.
I had already decided that I was going to sit in the single seat at the
very end of the next to last car on the station side of the train. I would
have preferred to sit in the very last car to avoid anyone ever going
through the passage door between trains. However, I had already figured out
that the single seat arrangement was different because of the "cab car"
controls that allow the Engineer to operate the train from the last car.
Being in the next to last car would eliminate most of the traffic of people
walking between train cars and that is all I was trying to achieve.
I sat on the station side of the train for two reasons. The train would
be heading south for most of the trip. Thus, I would be on the west side
of the train away from the sun. That side of the train is cooler and the
shade is easier on the eyes. Also, most of the boarding platforms are on
the right side of this train when heading south. I like to watch the
activity at the station while the train is arriving and leaving the station.
First thing I wanted to do once the conductor took my ticket was to get
a cup of coffee and a muffin from the cafe. I went to the cafe car, but
it wasn't open yet. It was the old style cafe car and not the new
California Cafe Car that is usually on the 712 and 717 San Juaquins. That
happens sometimes when the new Cafe Car is in for service. There had been
a large traffic jam that had delayed the Cafe Car Staff from getting to
work on time. As a result, instead of having the Cafe Car open and
serving like they usually do when the train leaves Jack London Square,
nothing was ready yet and they were working hard to get everything set.
I asked if I could just sit there till they were ready since I didn't want
to walk all the way back to the next to last car of the train without my
coffee. They poured me a free cup of coffee and drafted me temporarily into
Amtrak service! My job was to sit by the door and tell anyone that tried
to come in that the Cafe Car was not open yet and that an announcement would
be made when the Cafe was open. I enjoyed my "temporary" employment with
Amtrak. Most people were pretty understanding and went back to their seat
to await the announcement. After about an hour and the acquisition of a
lot of passengers from about 5 stations, my message kind of wore out and
people were starting to pile up in the Cafe Car waiting for it to open.
Once it did open, I purchased a muffin, attempted to pay for my coffee which
they refused to accept, and then returned to my coach seat to enjoy the rest
of my journey in solitude.
I caught a couple hours sleep on the train. Usually I like to be awake
on the train as long as there is daylight to enjoy the sights. However,
I got less than 4 hours sleep the night before and the scenery is not
the most interesting for much of the San Juaquin route. Mostly it is open
farmland for as far as the eye can see between every station. The San
Juaquin Valley is one of the most agriculturally productive areas in the
world. It is impressive, but the last few hundred miles look pretty much
the same as the first hundred miles of farmland. Also, it was more
important for me to be well rested and wide awake for the 2 to 3 hour drive
home than to make sure I saw every foot of scenery for the sixth time.
About 11:45 A.M., I purchased a Ham & Turkey sandwich from the Cafe Car and
another cup of coffee to insure my alertness for the drive home. The train
arrived in Bakersfield at about 2 P.M., just 40 minutes late.
Return Drive Home
Thankfully, the return drive home was without incident or delays. Since
it was mid-afternoon on Saturday, there was no commuter traffic, it
was too early for the people going into Los Angeles to party on Saturday
night, and there was no traffic of people going away or coming back from
a weekend vacation. I made the drive home in just a bit over 2 hours.
Click here for info on Amtrak's California Cars.
Click here for info about Oakland's Jack London Square.
Please select one of the following:
Amtrak San Joaquins Review Page
Steve's California Rail Travel Index
More Rail Travelogues:
Steve Grande /
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