Recent California Zephyr Trip

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Recent California Zephyr Trip
Posted by Kevin C. Smith on Monday, November 06, 2017 3:00 AM

     Just got back a few days ago from a Milwaukee-Oakland trip on 5/6. If anyone is interested, here are some notes/impressions/highlights:

-Milwaukee Union (sorry "Intermodal") Station looks nice with the new trainshed. But I still don't understand why they went to the trouble/expense of building an overhead walkway when there were existing underground ramps.
-Chicago Union Station is undergoing big remodeling in the original head house section. New ticket windows/Metro Lounge/ceiling & skylight repairs/etc. It's going to be beautiful when it is finished!
-Speaking of finished stations...Denver's Union Station is gorgeous and convenient! I remember my first encounter with the station and neighborhood...40 years ago (cripes! that long? I am old.) A world of difference now.
-And finished but no longer a (train) station, the Burlington Depot in Omaha is looking sharp, after renovation by a local TV station.(pity they couldn't find room to squeeze Amtrak into a little part of the bottom floor). :-(

     But, onto the mobile portion of the trip: Off season travel made for a pretty empty train. We left Chicago on time, only to get stuck behind a Metra local so we were already late reaching Naperville. Not very late but BNSF has usually done MUCH better than that. Still, we made it up overnight and left Denver OT. And got stabbed by a BNSF freight for 5-10 minutes... C'mon guys!

     Passing through Grand Junction (with its sad looking D&RGW station), there were a lot of UP units that looked stored out of service. The Colorado Rockies are still breathtaking, and we got to Salt Lake City a little early. Across the platform from us was a UP office train which everyone admired. The rest of the trip was uneventful and we arrived OT in Oakland (though I got off and took BART from Richmond).

Sadly, this visit involved car rental and out of town travel but I still rode the MUNI subway, and F-Line at least once. Missed the cable cars, though. :-(

     The return trip was just as uneventful, and played out like the first leg. Mostly empty train (until Iowa, when we picked up quite a few people in Ottumwa). Left Burlington, crossed the Mississippi...and got stuck for 45 minutes waiting for a freight. (It's annoying when the UP is the dependable host road on this train.) That put us into Chicago just 5 minutes after my Hiawatha left. But I usually take the time to wander to North Western Station (I'm sorry...Ogilvie). There is a nice little market under the trainshed (which is, alas, all that remains of the old building) for a late lunch. After arriving in Milwaukee, I had enough time to explore the new streetcar tracks going in (can't wait to ride them next year sometime!).

     All in all, an uneventful trip (except for the guy that got his 5 lbs of marijuana confiscated in Reno). But uneventful trip make for happier (non railfan) customers. So, it was still good all around.

"Look at those high cars roll-finest sight in the world."
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Posted by daveklepper on Tuesday, November 07, 2017 2:41 AM

Thanks for the report.   What about food, ride quality, cleanliness?  Car attendents?

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Posted by Kevin C. Smith on Thursday, November 09, 2017 7:19 PM

As far as  food, I only ate in the lounge car (that and snacks are enough for my appetite & budget). Cars were clean (the light passenger load helped), though rest rooms are always problematic. Attendants were friendly, as always-though (my one constant complaint) they talk too damn much on the PA system.

"Look at those high cars roll-finest sight in the world."
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Posted by Deggesty on Thursday, November 09, 2017 9:01 PM

As to talk on the PA system, I heard very little in my sleepers (three trips this year) except for diner and station announcements, and the cafe attendant's announcements ("I'm open" and "I'm closing"). Indeed, in at least one car, I had to go to my room door to hear anything at all. I don't remember what I heard when I was coming back from Utica in September.

Perhaps there is a separate circuit for coaches?

Kevin, be glad you were not delayed by the UP's work in replacing concrete ties east of Bond. On my second trip, we arrived in Salt Lake City about six hours late, and on my last trip, I just had time eastbound to catch my breath in Chicago (I did not even go into the lounge proper) before going out to the Capitol to continue on to Washington.

 

Note to self: always re-read at least three times before sending.

Johnny

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Posted by Sunnyland on Monday, November 13, 2017 8:55 PM

sounded like a decent trip. I've not rode that train, only the original CZ years ago. Have rode Amtrak's Empire Builder, Coast Starlight and SW Chief.  I remember how incredible the scenery was on the CZ, running beside a river with 4 domes following behind ours.

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Posted by Deggesty on Monday, November 13, 2017 9:29 PM

Riding the RGZ westbound in 1972 and eastbound in 1980 were two good trips; I spent most of my time in one dome or another (three coaches and the observation car). My wife was with me on the first trip, but was unable to travel with me the second time--though she had gone east by herself a year or two earlier. 

I miss the domes.

Johnny

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Posted by CMStPnP on Monday, November 13, 2017 10:31 PM

Deggesty
As to talk on the PA system, I heard very little in my sleepers (three trips this year) except for diner and station announcements, and the cafe attendant's announcements ("I'm open" and "I'm closing"). Indeed, in at least one car, I had to go to my room door to hear anything at all. I don't remember what I heard when I was coming back from Utica in September.

For the Superliner Sleepers you have to set your intercom to the corrrect channel to get the in room broadcast...... and the most spectacular thing is the Channel # is different between the Superliner I and Superliner II cars for the in room broadcast.    Or at least it seemed so when I had to flip between Superliner Sleepers and Superliner Phases on the Texas Eagle once upon a time.   I was actually surprised to find that out.   Perhaps it was just those two cars due to a rebuild ...........as I would hate to think both fleets have that discrepancy.

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Posted by CMStPnP on Monday, November 13, 2017 10:45 PM

Kevin C. Smith
-Milwaukee Union (sorry "Intermodal") Station looks nice with the new trainshed. But I still don't understand why they went to the trouble/expense of building an overhead walkway when there were existing underground ramps.

Well first off the original Milwaukee 1965 station was built as a joint effort between C&NW, Milwaukee Road and WisDOT because even back then the two railroads did not want to spend the money to consolidate their seperate stations and Milwaukee wanted it's freeway built and the C&NW lakefront station torn down as Milwaukee via Henry Meyer was already looking towards the dream of a lakefront park without railroad tracks.

Milwaukee Intermodal Station is only being used to 1/3 it's capacity currently.   It has 5 tracks and that extra long platform between track 2 and 3 because it was intended to serve a number of Longer Distance and longer length Chicago to Twin Cities trains PLUS Chicago to Northern Wisconsin trains, not just one train to St. Paul (it was a joint C&NW and Milwaukee Road facility) .    The shorter platforms were intended for both Milwaukee suburban and Chicago-Milwaukee service for both railroads.   I remember using the station in 1970 with my Parents as a kid.   C&NW and Milwaukee Road had both their Chicago Trains in the station at one time, on tracks right next to each other (track 2 & 3), track 1 was kept open for the soon to arrive Fox River Valley train from Chicago to Oshkosh and points North.

Milwaukee Road made a number of attempts to sell the City of Milwaukee on West Suburban Service including running it's only West Suburban train 1 year beyond the formation of Amtrak and making one more attempt while it was bankrupt in the early 1980's with the Budd Co's SPV2000 demonstrator.  

I suspect the Mezzanine Platform and stairs were built as WisDot intends to convert the second floor at some point to a loft style waiting room from offices.    Just a hunch I have that is the future intent as they will need more waiting room capacity at some point to handle surge capacity if multiple trains hit the station at once.   Originally they were meant to replace the tunnels and the tunnels were to be filled with sand but smarter people prevailed and determined they should keep one set of tunnels for passenger handling capacity as the narrow escalators to the 2nd floor level are probably not enough by themseleves.   Ostensibly, they refer to the tunnels now as a emergency exit route.

The curent depot was the third Milwaukee Road depot built in Milwaukee.    Prior to the stone Milwaukee Road Depot built, they had a large Wooden Depot that also used a tracks in the street layout to reach it.   You can Google and read up on the wooden Milwaukee Passenger depot.   Info on it via the Internet.   the C&NW Lakefront line was actually the first and only line between Milwaukee and Chicago and the Milwaukee Road had no lines South of Milwaukee.    Milwaukee Road built the Milwaukee to Chicago route via Sturtevant but you'll notice that none of it's branches originated from the Sturtevant line.    Instead they originated from the C&NW lakefront line (then Chicago Milwaukee RR I believe) and crossed the new Milwaukee line see link to Map below............as they were seperate railroads back then and not yet absorbed into the Milwaukee road.

 

https://www.loc.gov/resource/g4061p.rr004640/

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Posted by ROBERT WILLISON on Wednesday, November 15, 2017 10:17 AM

I think lot of us miss the domes, especially the dome sleepers. But they can't scrap our memories thank God.

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Posted by Deggesty on Wednesday, November 15, 2017 10:53 AM

Yes, Robert, dome travel meant much to me. I will never forget meeting, in a dome, the woman whom I married fifteen months later. We were introduced by a freight train.

Johnny

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