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Riding the Rails between Chicago and San Fran aboard the California Zephyr

Riding the Rails between Chicago and San Fran aboard the California Zephyr

Old Apr 2, 20, 9:46 am
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Riding the Rails between Chicago and San Fran aboard the California Zephyr

Inspired by Seat2A numerous train trip reports I was looking forward to taking this trip for sometime. Growing up in Florida a right of passage for all elementary school safety patrol students is an Amtrak train trip up to the nation's capital. Unfortunately, my 5th grade year coincided with 9/11 and the powers that be thought it best we stick to a trip to Disney rather than DC. This would be my first long-haul trip by train and I was looking forward to seeing a large part of the American heartland at ground level rather than out of an airplane window. If you have the time and are willing to part with the same amount of money as a first class ticket from ORD-SFO, then I really suggest this way of travel for your own room and all meals included.

There is something nostalgic about the journey and trail travel in general. I often thought about my grandparents during the journey all dressed up and boarding the Seaboard Line back in the 1950's for travel between NYC and Miami. It also conjures up images from one of my favorite films: North by Northwest.

All of the staff I interacted with were extremely friendly and enthusiastic/proud to work for Amtrak from the car attendants to the waiters in the diner. You also get a chance to mingle with people from all over America and the World. I was surprised to find many people who take the train simply because they refuse to fly either out of fear or comfort. I also quickly realized that these trains serve communities across America that are simply under-served by air service either due to their distance from large airports and prohibitive costs flying to regional airports.

This trip was taken during Memorial Day weekend in 2019.








If anyone has watched the movie The Untouchables with Kevin Costner than this staircase at Chicago's Union Station should look very familiar:



The recently renovated Metropolitan Lounge at Union Station was a very nice place to spend an hour or so before the all aboard call. Light snacks and lots of varying candies were on offer. I also recommend going across the street from the station to the CVS to pick up a sleeve of bourbon as you can enjoy a drink from the comfort of your room onboard and save some jingle.












I recommend grabbing a room downstairs closer to the rails given there is less rocking motion and much less foot traffic as people walk between cars on the upper levels of the train.



Here's the diner menu used throughout the trip. All meals are included if you get a ticket with a room.






The rest of the pics are mostly scenes of the American plains and west. Following the Colorado River through the Rockies and into Eastern Utah is one of the most breathtaking views in the Country. The snow covered Sierra Mountains around Truckee California were beautiful as well.

























































tennislover9 is offline  
Old Apr 2, 20, 10:41 am
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Nice pictures! We took the train also, though we boarded in Grand Junction. It was summer so snow only on a few peaks. I fear we may not see train travel even as it was on your trip much again, particularly as they phase out Dining cars.
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Old Apr 4, 20, 7:56 am
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Some impressive pictures
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Old Apr 5, 20, 10:55 am
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Great TR, and some lovely pix.
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Old Apr 5, 20, 5:26 pm
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did I miss them or are there no pictures of what the inside of the cabins look like?

thanks!
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Old Apr 16, 20, 6:18 pm
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Great report! Thanks!
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Old Apr 18, 20, 5:39 pm
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I haven't been over to the Trip Reports forum for awhile. Thanks for this well photographed report. I look forward to reading of your future rail excursions!
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Old Apr 19, 20, 3:37 am
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Thank you for the report! tennislover9 how long does the trip take?
Some of your photos look like they are taken off the train at the stops. Are the station stops long enough for passengers to get off and walk around?
I'm in Europe and have never done a train journey longer than around 6 hours so this unfamiliar to me. I really like the report because it is something different for me.
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Old Apr 19, 20, 4:55 pm
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Originally Posted by flyingbee View Post
Thank you for the report! tennislover9 how long does the trip take?
Some of your photos look like they are taken off the train at the stops. Are the station stops long enough for passengers to get off and walk around?
I'm in Europe and have never done a train journey longer than around 6 hours so this unfamiliar to me. I really like the report because it is something different for me.
California Zephyr Information and Schedule
flyingbee likes this.
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Old Apr 26, 20, 12:58 pm
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Originally Posted by xooz View Post
Nice pictures! We took the train also, though we boarded in Grand Junction. It was summer so snow only on a few peaks. I fear we may not see train travel even as it was on your trip much again, particularly as they phase out Dining cars.
Ouch - they're seriously considering removing catering from a journey that takes over two days?
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Old Apr 26, 20, 3:10 pm
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They are phasing it out on the east coast. I fear that it will continue to spread west due to costs and Covid, leaving us with just the pre-packaged meals to purchase on the train. I have nothing that confirms this though.
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Old Apr 27, 20, 1:38 am
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I did this journey a couple of years ago and agree with your suggestion to sit downstairs. The other advantage in doing this is that you can clean the window at a station if it gets dirty and you want to take photos.

One other tip, if the train is running early, get off at Richmond and take the BART into town. I was in my hotel before the transfer coaches had even left Emeryville.
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Old Apr 27, 20, 2:17 am
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Thanks for that. I’ve always wanted to do this trip...
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Old Apr 27, 20, 8:38 am
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Originally Posted by Gatwick Alan View Post
I did this journey a couple of years ago and agree with your suggestion to sit downstairs. The other advantage in doing this is that you can clean the window at a station if it gets dirty and you want to take photos.

One other tip, if the train is running early, get off at Richmond and take the BART into town. I was in my hotel before the transfer coaches had even left Emeryville.
There is a BART station across the street from the final Emeryville stop, We used that in lieu of the bus transfer.
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Old Apr 27, 20, 4:29 pm
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Thanks tennislover9. Great TR and Pics.
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