Mo & Terry Smedley
Heartland USA by Rail
We left Seattle right on time at 10:00AM. In Portland, we were delayed about 90 minutes to get past a scheduled trackwork window for maintenance on Union Pacific tracks between Portland and Eugene. We took the extra time in Portland to walk along the waterfront and through the Saturday Market. Other than that delay (and several slow orders through the work area), our train ran mostly as expected, arriving in Los Angeles just after midnight, some three hours late. Given the Coast Starlight's recent performance, our arrival time into LA was actually earlier than has been typical.
I experimented with a small GPS unit on this leg - it was entertaining to track our progress (and watch our speed) along the way. There was quite a bit of 80 MPH running - the Superliner II cars ride pretty smoothly, and the speed is deceiving. I would not have guessed we were traveling that fast.
The Superliner cars have aged fairly well, although the effects of years of deferred maintenance can be found if you look carefully enough. Crew morale did not seem particularly low. Our sleeping car attendant (Cruze) was quite friendly. Conductors along the entire route made a real effort to communicate the reason for any delays we encountered. For example, when we went "in the hole" (in a siding) to wait for an opposing train, they were prompt to explain why we had stopped and about how long we would have to wait.
I listened in on crew communications using my handheld scanner. I couldn't detect any attempt on the part of UP dispatchers to deliberately delay our train's progress. The delays we did encounter seemed mostly to occur as a result of all that single track on most of the UP network in California. By comparison, much of the BNSF route from Milwaukee to Seattle is double-tracked, which provides much more flexibility in scheduling meets or passes. Legend has it that in the 60s and 70s, railroads were tearing out double-tracked mainlines in an effort to reduce maintenance costs. Now that (freight) traffic is at record levels, some portions of the single-track system are well beyond their capacity. Amtrak lists the UP routes in California and Texas at "breakdown" because of unpredictable delays scheduling trains through all of that single track.
We encountered a minor power problem South of Santa Barbara. Our conductor elected to continue the train with limited internal power rather than to encounter a lengthy delay at Oxnard attempting to fix it. This decision was well-communicated to passengers. From my observation, most passengers preferred an earlier arrival time and did not complain too much about the loss of internal power. The engineer did attempt to resolve the problem during scheduled stops at Oxnard and Simi Valley, and had some limited success restoring power from the second locomotive.
On our first day in LA, we picked up a rental car than fought our way across LA freeways to Pasadena (only to discover that the Huntington Library was closed on Monday), back to Santa Monica where we enjoyed the beach and pier, then over to Buena Park for some shopping at Knott's Marketplace, and a fun dinner at Medieval Times.