September 27, 2017

The ‘Coast Starlight’ from L.A. to San Francisco

After a rather weird stay on board the Queen Mary, I’m back on the rails today. I never thought I would take to life in L.A, but I was pleasantly surprised by Long Beach nightlife. The Queen Mary is such an iconic ship, but now as a business it is primarily a glorified theme park and the values of Cunard are long gone. I’m with some other British rail travellers and amazingly one of them was actually a passenger on the Queen Mary. The ship didn’t even offer him a complimentary drink to welcome him back. I find that rather sad.

I might have misled you in my last post by saying I was going to San Francisco today. I am actually going there, but to be more specific, my train is not. The Coast Starlight is a daily service between L.A. and Seattle. This takes about 36 hours. My plan is to get off after 11 hours at Oakland and then travel by bus to San Francisco. It should take less than an hour once I’m off the train.

At about 09.40 the train backs into Union Station on platform 10B, supervised by a man in dungarees that I’m convinced was once in “The Dukes of Hazzard” (the early 1980’s version). This train runs with allocated specific seats, and I’m up top in coach 14, seat 4, then seat 57, and seat 55 as I find one I like better. If you are thinking of taking this train the best views by far are out of the left hand side (towards the ocean). Eva, the carriage attendant, is seemingly tolerant of my seat moves and keeps track of me on her paper based passenger seating plan. Many seats are “occupied” but yet empty on trains like this one. This is because people prefer to sit in the observation car or the bar, and stay there for hours. Amtrak tried to get rid of observation cars, but their passengers revolted and they were reinstated.

Today the Starlight is made up of two locomotives, a baggage car, two sleepers, two observation cars, a dining car and two regular coaches. I’m right at the back in the last coach – no roomette for me on this journey, as I’m getting off at about 21.00. It’s very comfortable here in coach. The seats are business class sized and there is more leg room than I need. Well designed tables pull out and every seat has a 120 volt plug. Perfect.

Before long the café is open (underneath the observation car) and reservations are being taken for lunch in the dining car. There is some comedy value in this, as the diner supervisor announces the progress of bookings over the P.A. “Garcia, party of four, your table is ready”.. then cancels anyone who is a moment late “Garcia, bad luck, you’re now on the waitlist”..

After a couple of hours we stop at Santa Barbara and I have time to get off and stretch my legs. Eva tells me that I don’t have time for a swim (the water looks good) so I wait in the sun on the spotless platform with the posh station building. I must come back here one day.

I think I might have picked up a good American habit. I’m talking to absolutely everybody, and it feels quite normal. Last night I got chatting to a bus driver and before I got off he gave me a high five. I don’t think I have ever done a high five in public before, and certainly not with a public transport employee.

The rest of the journey is fairly uneventful until I head for a beer in the observation car. I’m quickly embroiled in debate with lots of people sat around me, and after a few minutes I wonder if I’m to be the new English Jerry Springer. I have a concept for a talk show, filmed in a train carriage – a quirky Englishman hosts and moderates debate between a very mixed bunch of Americans. Tonight’s debates for my fist show include taxes, native Americans, tobacco, guns and liberalism. Fortunately I’m rescued by some fellow Brits I’m dining with before things get out of hand. Two of my chat show guests are close to war, and I suspect that one of them might be carrying a concealed weapon.

As the sun goes down outside the views are of a mixture of crops – pumpkins, turf (miles of it) and oil. I’m supposed to be getting off at about 21.30 – in Amtrak terms this is to “de-train”. Generally I don’t like long day train journeys, but this one has been great – not just the amazing scenery, the great people, but the space on a train like this make 11 hours a real pleasure.

I shall write a further wrap up, but this is the end of my U.S. train based adventure – one I would commend to you. I hope you have enjoyed my blog – let me know what you thought. If you have a spare moment, please do join my mail list if you would like to stay in touch.

5 Comments on “The ‘Coast Starlight’ from L.A. to San Francisco

October 9, 2017 at 2:50 pm

Wow, beautiful views! I want to visit US and ride on train in sunny California 🙂

I’ve read you completed several Trans-Siberian rail journeys. What are your impressions?

Matthew Woodward
October 9, 2017 at 3:24 pm

I love Siberia, especially in the winter. Amtrak trains are a bit more comfortable than the older Russian ones and a “roomette” bed makes them great for solo travellers..

October 10, 2017 at 6:59 pm

Hi Matt,

we were on the same train it seems, I recognize the ‘Duke’. September 21st?

Greetings from Ireland

Matthew Woodward
October 10, 2017 at 7:08 pm

Small world and welcome to my blog Konrad! I think I did this on 24th so might have just missed you – unless you remember me! Great train – I’m going to use it again all the way to Seattle.

October 14, 2019 at 10:21 am

We were recently on the Stalite from Seattle to San Jose Cal. What a fabulous trip. Had a sleeper car. This was our bucket list. We are from Alabama. My Dad was a engineer for 47 years. I will always cherish this trip. Everyone was great. Met so many nice people.
Wish I could do over. FABULOUS


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