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Around the American West by Train

Around the American West by Train

Old Jan 21, 19, 8:26 pm
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Location: Orcas Island, Washington
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Around the American West by Train

The main purpose of this trip was to round out my coverage of Amtrak's system by taking the Texas Eagle from origin to destination--2,728 miles in 65 hours over three nights from Los Angeles to Chicago by way of San Antonio. I would spend a total of six nights in Bedrooms on Amtrak, and can say that all-in-all the trip was enjoyable. Service was good, with everyone trying to do a complete ob. The food in the dining cars seemed a little better than my last trip eight months ago--in particular, the steak was a better cut of meat and the omelettes were more carefully prepared.

Airplane boneyard museum Arizona

Rainbow and E 21st St Bridge, Tacoma

No snow in mid-January

St. Louis


Columbia River Gorge

Relaxing in Bedroom "A"

Last edited by Maglev; Jan 29, 19 at 8:26 pm
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Old Jan 22, 19, 9:30 am
Join Date: Apr 2004
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The location of your shot of the ANA 787 is not a boneyard, but rather the Pima Air Museum located outside Tucson.

The plane was donated to the museum by Boeing in 2015, since it was deemed to be "too heavy and out of norm to sell".
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Old Jan 22, 19, 12:54 pm
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You mentioned you spent 6 nights aboard the train. LA to Chicago aboard the Eagle is only 3 nights. You didn't mention any other train though, so I couldn't help but wonder if this were the entire report or just the beginning? I see the Columbia River Gorge which is only seen from the Empire Builder so perhaps you did CHI-PDX-LAX-CHI? Any pictures of your accommodations or the meals? Thanks!

Last edited by Seat 2A; Jan 22, 19 at 1:03 pm
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Old Jan 23, 19, 1:26 pm
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I was trying to be brief. Here is a more complete trip report:

This trip would be a rare foray out of the rural seclusion of Orcas Island, but would close a major gap in coverage of the Amtrak system—the Texas Eagle. I attempted to book everything first-class, staying at nice hotels and having a Bedroom for all overnight segments.

Flying from Orcas Island is the best way to get to Seattle, but it is iffy in the wintertime and on the day of my departure would have been uncomfortable in the least (with 40 mph wind gusts). I opted for the a ferry-and-bus routing early in my trip planning, including a small van from the ferry terminal to Burlington connecting to a bus originating in Bellingham, and then by light rail from Sea-Tac to Seattle (since the bus only goes to the airport, as people “only” travel by airplane).

One thing I noticed on the light rail into town was people having trouble with their four-wheel luggage rolling all over the place. I like two-wheel suitcases, and besides stability issues, I think the four-wheel design is inherently fragile.

My hotel in Seattle was a new Embassy Suites right outside King Street Station (and just a short distance from the light rail). I had requested a water-view corner room, and it also had a great view of the Downtown skyline as well as the train station. The room was very comfortable. The restaurant at the hotel was nice for lunch, but it had kind of a bar-like atmosphere and I decided I wouldn’t be comfortable there alone for dinner so I opted for room service later. I went out for a trip on the famous Seattle Monorail, which I found to be musty-smelling and the ride was very bumpy.

It was sure nice the next morning to just stroll out the door to catch the Coast Starlight. Our train departed about an hour late due to mechanical issues, but all four sleepers (plus a dorm car) and three coaches (plus a Business Class car) made a showing. My car was a refurbished Superliner I with my Bedroom on the ocean side, but my sofa was facing backwards. We had a rainy trip to Portland, with more rain the next day in California. At San Luis Obispo, we arrived in moderate rain twenty minutes early, but shortly after departure I heard a whooshing sound outside my room (# A) and immediately the train came to a stop. I was able to hear the conversations of the crew as they replaced the air hose section, and it was interesting because they were having a new guy do the job: “Put the wrench that way so you get more leverage on the first pull…”

Well, this event started a cascade of delays, largely weather-related (there were local flash-flood warnings, and we were following a track inspector). By the time we got to Moorpark, we were four hours down and were told that the locomotive had timed out and would need an inspection that would take an hour. But there was a Pacific Surfliner train that had been stuck behind us, so we could get on it. The platform for the transfer at Moorpark is short, so three of the sleepers unloaded onto ballast. Baggage was not transferred, so those with checked baggage had to either stay on the Starlight or come back to the station later. For some reason, after creeping along on the Starlight, the Surfliner was able to move at full speed.

I finally got to my hotel after 2 am. I felt like sleeping in the next day, and had become concerned about the on-time performance of Surfliners, so I canceled my round-trip to San Diego. It turned out the train I had planned to be on coming back was two hours late due to locomotive problems, and if I had been on board I might have been frantic about missing the Texas Eagle.

I got a 3 pm checkout from my hotel, the Westin Bonaventure, then spent a few hours at Union Station before boarding the Eagle. My sleeper was an unrefurbished Superliner II with a few maintenance issues, but it was oriented with my sofa facing forward. We were about an hour late for most of the journey to Chicago, and with the exception of a few short sections of fog in the desert had good weather. In San Antonio, we arrived late so our through sleeper was left attached to the through coach at the end of the train. This meant that when coaches were added in St. Louis, the passengers had to walk through our sleeper to get to the cafe or dining car.

My hotel in Chicago was the W on Lakeshore Drive, and my room had a nice view of Lake Michigan. The next day, I went up the Willis Tower before catching the Empire Builder to St. Paul. I had a Roomette in the Portland sleeper, and it had a flat spot on a wheel—click, click, click with every turn—I was glad I was not riding in that car across the country.

My brother and his partner met me at Union Depot in St. Paul, and I spent four days with them in Willow River. We went to the train museum in Duluth one day, which had some great rolling stock on display and nice recreations of various store fronts.

I had quite a long wait in the Empire Builder Room (first-class waiting area at St. Paul Union Depot) for my westbound train, as I did not want my brother to have to drive home too late at night. There were only two other sleeper passengers. My sleeper was a refurbished Superliner I with the couch oriented backwards. I opted to spend the next full day on the train with the bed down. I had room A at the end of the train, and the railfan window was fairly clean so I spent a lot of time looking out the end of the train. There was no snow on the ground in North Dakota and Montana until we got to the mountains. I got some good views in Glacier National Park under the moonlight.

We were early or on time until just outside Vancouver, WA, when we encountered about a half hour of delays. My sister met me at the station, and I had a nice visit for a couple days with her family. I went to the Oregon Rail Heritage Center one afternoon, which is a working museum featuring Southern Pacific 4-8-4 #4449 and other locomotives in various states of reconstruction.

The next-to-last day of my trip was a ride from Portland to Bellingham on a Cascades train, followed by a night at the Fairhaven Village Inn a couple blocks from the station. The last day involved a morning half-hour Cascades ride south along the scenic coastline to Mount Vernon, where my wife met me at the station. We ran some errands, then caught a ferry back home.

Here are a couple observations from this trip. This was my first time traveling in a Bedroom alone, and I selected room A for all segments for better soundproofing. I did not find the layout to be at all inconvenient, and noise from the end-of-car door was, well, just another train noise. I think for two people, I would have a source of conversation and not be so concerned about noise proofing; and also would prefer the layout of rooms B, C, D, or E.

Also, overall the service and food was very good on my trip. In particular, the cut of meat for the steak and the care put into the omelettes was much better, and everyone seemed to try to do a thorough job.
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Old Jan 27, 19, 5:36 am
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Very interesting, its a great way to travel, I did something similar last year LAX- CHI on the eagle, then CHI-PORTLAND, then on to SEA.
I love looking down the tracks out of the back of the train and it looks like you did the same. Because the train splits mid route, the Chicago section is at the rear and hence the views. Mind you half way through the journey it was so dirty I could no longer take pictures.
I always book a downstairs room, no foot traffic and if the window gets dirty you can get out and clean it, which I did much to the amusement of some other passengers!
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Old Jan 28, 19, 2:56 am
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Interesting TR. Thanks for posting.
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Old Feb 6, 19, 5:29 pm
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Tacoma Narrows Bridges

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Old Feb 6, 19, 7:36 pm
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Great tr. I would love to do this kind of train travel but can't convince the so.
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Old Feb 8, 19, 9:58 pm
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Thanks for posting. I love the idea of a train trip.
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