Mo & Terry Smedley


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Heartland USA by Rail
June, 2005

Part III:  Los Angeles to San Antonio

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.

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Mo standing outside the BankAmerica building (used to be the Security Pacific building) at 333 So. Hope Street The Westin Bonaventure hotel, just across from the BankAmerica building.  You should be able to recognize this glass and steel beauty from one of the many Hollywood films that have used it as a setting. The BankAmerica building, from an artsy-craftsy angle. One thing the Southland can do really well is grow flowers.  This display was just outside the Wells Fargo building.
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I enjoyed the reflections in this picture.  The skyscrapers have their own particular beauty. Outdoor concerts are presented right downtown at the Wells Fargo plaza, where Mo is sitting in the amphitheatre.   The Angels Flight funicular railroad runs from the Wells Fargo plaza down to the public market.  It's currently undergoing repair. Since the Angels Flight isn't currently running, we hoofed it down and up the stairs.
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The public market is alive with activity this morning.  You could find just about any ethnic food you'd care for in here. An interesting outdoor sculpture composed of airplane salvage.  This is just outside the MOCA building (Museum of Contemporary Art). This is the new Walt Disney Concert Hall.  This creation is almost blinding on a sunny day!  The Dorothy Chandler Pavilion (home of the Oscars) is just beyond. Several fountains and a "greenbelt" can be found among the several blocks of civic buildings downtown.
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I don't know how they keep City Hall so clean and white! Ah, yes, a Los Angeles freeway (this is the Hollywood Freeway).  I was not unhappy to drop off the rental car and call it quits on driving around LA. Olvera Street is the official birthplace of Los Angeles.  It is located just a block away from Union Station. Our scheduled 1:20 AM arrival into Tucson was a little late - which makes for much better picture taking.
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The Sunset Limited consist is 9 cars plus 2 engines - baggage, crew dorm, sleeper, diner, lounge, 2 coaches, then a coach and sleeper that are switched through to Chicago at San Antonio. Arizona New Mexico West Texas....or maybe I have them mixed up.  No discernible difference as far as I can tell!
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The tracks run within a few feet of the Mexico border.  You can see the fence marking the border.  The buildings are in Mexico. The official border marker seen from the passing train. El Paso station - it was hot here!  That's me on the phone to the San Antonio hotel from our stop in El Paso - please don't give our room away, we're going to be late, but we'll be there!
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My bride of 30 years (almost) at El Paso station. This is Amtrak's official notice of delays along this route, found posted on the wall in the El Paso station.  It's something of an understatement, and some of the passengers boarding in Los Angeles were not aware of this.