September 26, 2017

‘The Southwest Chief’ from Flagstaff to Los Angeles

There is much speculation about how late the train will be into Flagstaff this evening. Dan, the Brakeman on my earlier Grand Canyon train, has advised me to buy a bottle of wine and decant it into a water bottle so I can have a drink on the station platform. Four hours delay is quite normal on this service. Amtrak don’t own the track, so freight takes priority. “The Chief” is coming from Chicago, so it will have had plenty of opportunity to pick up a big delay.

I return to the station after a quick dinner to discover that tonight the train is just ten minutes behind schedule, so I ready myself on the platform. This is the first time that I have seen a Superliner (the double deck long distance trains) approach in the dark. It looks pretty special. First you hear it, the rumble, the tooting and the sound of nearby level crossings closing. Then you see the lights and its monsterous scale. Finally, you get to see just how shiny it is – every light in the station reflects off the silvery sides and bounces back at you.

A chap called Art will be my conductor tonight. He shows me upstairs where I’m in roomette number three. My bed is already made up, but it’s too early for bed, so I remove the bed roll, store it in the top bunk and pull the seats back up. With a glass of wine in one hand, I complete my usual procedure of downloading and editing the photographs that I have taken during the day. Then I start to charge up all my devices ready for tomorrow morning. I’m getting good this, and have even now worked out how to send my pictures wirelessly from my camera to my iPad, then after editing, to airdrop them onto my Macbook. There is no IT department at Matthew Woodward Adventure!

A glance of my watch and I remember that we are already on Pacific time, so I remake my bed. Sleep comes easily, and I wake the next morning to hear Art encouraging passengers to visit the dining car for breakfast at 06.00. I’m skipping this culinary treat and will grab something in L.A.

The landscape has changed overnight. Passing through the outskirts of the city Los Angeles the houses are low and Spanish styled. Palm trees grow in their gardens. As we get into the downtown area the empty concrete canals remind me straightaway of two Hollywood films. The classic alien ant film “Them”, and more recently, “Terminator II” – the scene where Arnie escapes from the T1000 killer cyborg made of liquid poly metal on his Harley with John Connor.

Union Station is much calmer than I had anticipated, and although there are plenty of vagrants wandering about, it looks fairly safe to me. There are no obvious gangs waiting in the concourse looking to recruit passengers or indeed any angry people shooting at each other. A couple of friendly cops observe what people are up to, ready to deal with any problems. “To protect and to serve”.

This has been my final Amtrak overnight journey. I have very much enjoyed travelling on the Superliners. Not only are the Roomettes great for one person, there is a real sense of space with several places to enjoy the journey – the cabin, the dining car, the observation car, and even the café. The food has also been quite reasonable, and the company great. Americans love to socialise on train journeys. Amtrak may not always be on time, but they are comfortable and fun.

I’m off to Long Beach now for a quick stay on the Queen Mary. This is a reminder that I have finally reached the Pacific Ocean. Just sixteen days ago I was looking out at the Atlantic from a boat in New York harbour. I have therefore successfully completed my U.S coast to coast rail challenge. But my train adventure isn’t over yet though. Tomorrow I’m getting on to a day train to San Francisco. It’s called “The Coast Starlight”, not as I keep telling people at the bar, “The Starlight Express”!

2 Comments on “‘The Southwest Chief’ from Flagstaff to Los Angeles

September 26, 2017 at 10:07 pm

I’m looking forward to some overnight train journeys ( and some big day trips) in the US sometime! ! Sounds like you have been having fun!

Matthew Woodward
September 27, 2017 at 6:48 pm

I have really enjoyed the Amtrak experience Rob – its not much loved by Americans as a long distance way of travelling, but very relaxed and comfortable.


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