Mo & Terry Smedley


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Heartland USA by Rail
June, 2005

Part I:  Seattle to Los Angeles

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.

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Mom & Dad took us to King Street Station for our departure from Seattle on the "Coast Starlight". That's my bag filled with electronic gear (computer, GPS, radio, cell phone, camera, and a ton of requisite battery chargers) in our Superliner II sleeping compartment. During our break in Portland, we took a walk from Union Station.  The Empire Builder (getting ready for its afternoon departure) and the Coast Starlight are stabled at the station. The area near Union Station has been recently "gentrified", and sports colorful flowers and other lush landscaping.
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Mo picked out a sun hat at the Saturday Market. Saturdays brings out lots of people, some of them pretty "interesting", to downtown Portland. Here's proof we hit 80 mph.  This is a screenshot from Microsoft Streets & Trips hooked up to the GPS unit.  On the tangent track South of Davis, California, we were rolling at 80 mph for quite a while. Quite a collection of electronics to while the time away...cell phone, scanner radio, GPS, laptop computer.
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A sunny stop in Oakland (Jack London Square), just before lunch. The view is beautiful coming down the Cuesta grade into San Luis Obispo.  You can see the trestle we're going to cross after rounding the horseshoe curve. Here's a shot of our two locomotives at the horseshoe. We had a quick stop at San Luis Obispo.  I ran as fast as I could to get up the pedestrian overpass to take this (shaky) picture.  You can see Mo waiting impatiently on the platform.
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At San Luis Obispo station, with shiny stainless steel Superliner II cars in the late afternoon sun. Sunset over the Pacific as the Coast Starlight makes its beachside run into Santa Barbara. Santa Monica beach:  Just like Ocean Shores .... except that it's sunny & warm, and there are people actually in the water. You can have all the fun you want at the beach, as long as you don't partake in anything from this lengthy list of forbidden activities.
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Pretty pastel-colored buildings along the beachwalk. Muscle Beach, with the Santa Monica Pier in the background.  No sign of Frankie Avalon or Annette Funicello. Santa Monica from the end of the pier (where we had lunch) Lots of bright white sand in the Southern California sun.  I felt a little overdressed.
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The "Ghost Rider" all-wooden roller coaster at Knott's Berry Farm.  I didn't ride it (we didn't actually go inside the park), but I did enjoy watching & listening to others on the ride. Mo with a new friend at Medieval Times in Buena Park.  We were members of the "green team", as you can tell from Mo's crown. Dinner is served up just in time to watch the Knights in sporting competition.  The horses were magnificent, and the show was produced with typical Hollywood flair.  By the way, dinner is eaten entirely by hand - no utensils provided here! The "green team" rooted for the Green Knight.  Our Knight almost survived to the end, but eventually lost to the evil Black & White Knight.