Friday, December 2, 2011

I Be Railin' - Part 1

I love Amtrak. I grew up taking the train down from Fresno to LA with my grandparents every other week. Even today I take the train down to the Bay every so often.

The service is frequent, not too costly, and rather comfy. In all fairness, I tend to prefer it over going on the 80 and 99, though I'll get further into that later. Over the summer, I got to experience something I've always wanted to try, true long-distance 'National' Amtrak.

Now, what's so special about 'National' Amtrak that I have to refer to it as such? Well, those frequent and affordable Amtrak trains I was talking about earlier? They're ran by the state, under 'Amtrak California', designed for more local trips akin to a (rather lengthy) commute. Amtrak in general is typically twice-a-day, long-distance, interstate travel. In a sense, they're like different rail services altogether.
Typical Amtrak Superliner, with added notations
(click image to enlarge)

First, I'll start off with the National Amtrak. I had the opportunity to go onto the Coast Starlight three times in the past few months. Technically, 'Coast Starlight' is a misnomer. While the train does parallel the coast on its 36-hour journey between Seattle and LA, the only time one sees the coast is for 2 hours on a stretch between Pismo Beach and Santa Barbara.

Granted, the journey is nonetheless a scenic one, and (largerly) more 'relaxed';one can take things more leisurely with, unlike most other forms of transit, freedom to move around easily. One can dine with a (limited) variety of (semi)gourmet meals at various(ly limited) times, rest casually in coach, or like what I tended to do, loiter around in the lounge nomming snacks and eying the scenery.

For me, the trip lasted around 15-hours. Given the high variations between the three trips I took, I'll just quickly sum things up - I wake up at 4 in the morning to catch the Coast Starlight a few hours later (I have a slow wake-up process). I leave Davis at around 7 am, with an assigned seat near the rear of the train, and proceed to have breakfast in the Dining car, where, given the limited space, I'm usually sat with 2-3 other passengers, which can either be fun or really awkward. We pass through the Bay Area, taking extended stops at Oakland and San Jose, before briefly entering the foothills and into Monterey county (albeit without seeing a bit of the coastline), speeding through farmland in the area around noon-ish, having lunch either in the diner or in the lounge. The farmland gives way to hills, giving way to mountains and a long series of ascending tunnels and descending curves into San Louis Obispo. After a long stop, the train skirts by Pismo Beach with hints of the Ocean, and we skirt along foothills and canyons, before finally seeing the coastline around 4 pm. We continue skirting along the coastline atop jagged cliffs, through Santa Barbara, and up until Ventura, where the train turns east... then north... then east again into canyons and tunnels as we enter the San Fernando Valley. By this point, the sun would have set and all that can be seen is the lights urban Southern California. It is also at this point, actually rather earlier by Santa Barbara, where the train is frequently delayed by both the Surfliner and Metrolink, local SoCal trains. Depending on rail traffic, arrival in LA will be no earlier that 9:30.

So, yeah, talk about a quick summary =P

Well, this certainly became a tad long-winded. For the sake of convenience, on my and your end, perhaps it's best that I split this post into two posts. So, until next time,

Hasta Marflebark!