Mo & Terry Smedley
Heartland USA by Rail
We spent Wednesday morning walking around downtown LA. We stopped by what used to be known as the Security Pacific building at 333 So. Hope Street, where Mo worked from 1975 to 1977. We checked the building directory, but there was no sign of Scudder Investments still at this address. The weather was typical Southland - sunny and warm (hot for us), with little smog (judging by the visibility of the San Gabriels from downtown). We more or less followed a walking tour route that was described in the AAA tourbook, ad-libbing a little to make sure we were back to the hotel and train station in time for our early afternoon departure on the Sunset Limited.
We knew that this would be the "riskiest" leg of our Amtrak journey. The Sunset Limited has the dubious honor of Amtrak's worst on-time performance record. Over the past couple of months that I have been tracking on-time performance, this train has never arrived into San Antonio on-time (defined as being within 30 minutes of the published schedule). Within just a few minutes of our departure from Los Angeles, it was clear that this ride was going to be no exception to the rule.
To make the 108 miles from Union Station to Palm Springs took seven and one-half hours! We sat for two hours just outside the Pomona station waiting out a massive traffic jam of four trains - three UP freights plus our own. This section of the UP route is single-tracked, and there are just too many trains for the capacity of the track. I was monitoring cab communications with my handheld scanner radio. During this pileup, the exchanges between the four train crews and the Omaha UP dispatcher were getting pretty tense. The congestion was compounded by incorrect train length information on a freight that was following us. The dispatcher calculated that our train and the freight following us would together fit into a siding to allow two Westbound freights to pass. Unfortunately, the freight train was considerably longer than the dispatcher's figures, and the two trains would not fit and still clear the control circuits for the switch at one end of the siding. Eventually the clog was cleared by manually throwing the switch whose control circuit was fouled by the extra length of the trains in the siding.
Fifteen minutes later, we were stuck in another siding for about 90 minutes while five Westbound freights passed us. We ended up in Palm Springs about five hours late. From there, the jam seemed to clear a little. We arrived the next morning in Tucson about six hours late, and by the time we got to El Paso in the late afternoon, we were running about seven hours late.
Delays of this magnitude were not unexpected, and our plans in San Antonio won't be affected by an arrival that is late by as much as 10 hours. We arrived in San Antonio at 8:15AM, just under ten hours late, and were checked into our hotel (just a few blocks from the train station) by 8:30AM. After a quick shower and a chance to regain our land legs, we're off to explore San Antonio.
From San Antonio, the rest of the train travel gets easier. On time performance improves drastically on the rest of our routes, and eventually we'll be back in double-tracked BNSF territory where on-time is the rule rather than the exception.