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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Posted by Kevin C. Smith on Friday, December 01, 2017 3:09 AM

CMStPnP
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.



Earlier this year, I just happened to wander over to the Amtrak status map and noticed that a northbound Hiawatha must've gotten delayed, as it was running only a few minutes ahead of the westbound Empire Builder into Milwaukee. Their scheduled arrival times were no more than four or five monutes apart. As if that weren't enough, a late eastbound Builder was due in within three or four minutes of that! I would have liked to have been in the station to watch those crowds get taken care of.

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Posted by kenny dorham on Friday, December 15, 2017 9:22 PM

We live in California. We would like to go to New York City in the spring. We would Love To take the train, but the price was Huge compared to flying, and the train time would burn up half of our vacation time.

I should have been born 40 years earlier, then i could have enjoyed some Real/Gorgeous passenger train travel.

Of course, if i had been, i would probably be dead now.

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Posted by PJS1 on Saturday, December 16, 2017 8:28 AM

kenny dorham

We live in California. We would like to go to New York City in the spring. We would Love To take the train, but the price was Huge compared to flying....

The best scenery between New York and California, subject to dispute, is on the California Zephyr between Denver and California.  Maybe the best of the best is between Denver and Salt Lake City.  I have done Denver to Salt Lake City and return three times. 

Fly from New York to Denver, take the Zephyr to Salt Lake City, and fly home from there.  You would have one night hotel stays in Denver and Salt Lake City.  

The Zephyr departs Denver at 8:05 am and arrives in Salt Lake City at 11:05 pm.  If you booked today a trip for June 19th for two adults today, the cost of a coach ticket for two would be $132 or $488 for two adults in an economy room.

Check Southwest Airlines between Newark and Denver as well as Salt Lake City and California.  They have some really good fares.  I am flying to LAX in February so that I can ride the train from LAX to Santa Barbara and then Santa Barbara to San Diego the next day.  See, I really do like to ride trains; I just don’t like being on them overnight.  I got a fare from Harlingen to LAX for just over $100.   

Rio Grande Valley, CFI,CFII

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Posted by RailSpike on Saturday, December 16, 2017 3:38 PM

I don't think one can compare plane fares with Amtrak.  Take a plane when you need to get somewhere within a specific time frame or you purchase a seat on sale.  You can't be in a hurry taking the train.  Yes, trains are for travel, but also, if not more so, for the experience.   

Amtrak coach fares will be more competitive with plane fares.  Sleeper fares cannot compare to plane fares.  With a sleeper you get a private compartment, some with private toilet and shower and some without.  However, there are toilets and a shower in each sleeper car for the use of those not choosing to get a Deluxe Bedroom.  All meals in the diner are included in the sleeper fare.  Sleeper travel doesn't seem quite as outrageous when you factor in meals, a hotel room plus the travel itself.  It all depends on how far you're going and the choice of accommodation.

And, one cannot see much of the country from 30,000 feet. But you can get a great view of the country in the Sightseer Lounge or dining in the Diner. Not to mention the interesting people you can meet during your trip.

Be careful, you could get hooked on train travel like so many of us.  

 

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Posted by NKP guy on Saturday, December 16, 2017 7:44 PM

 

 

[/quote]

Deggesty

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.

 

 

   You and me both, Johnny.

 

   I rode the Rio Grande Zephyr from Denver to Salt Lake City on July 3, 1976 (the day before The Bicentennial).  Although it was a day train, I had reserved one of the bedrooms in the dome car which was the last car on the train.  Upon inspection, I discovered that the folded away beds had mattresses, but no bedding.  Well, it was a day train.

   In the dining car that day I enjoyed three unforgettable meals.  The best breakfast, the best lunch, and the best dinner (Rocky Mountain Rainbow Trout Almondine) I have ever eaten while riding a train.

   Upstairs in the dome car, somewhere around Winter Park, one man brought out a guitar and began to play, and then another man went downstairs and brought back his banjo.  For the next 90 minutes or so we dome car passengers were treated to some wonderful American folk music (I remember "Shenandoah" and many others)  played by two gifted musicians; a few of us sang along to this impromtu concert.  No passengers were from Colorado or Utah; all of us were from far away...Tennessee, New York, Ohio, Georgia, etc., and all this on such a special day in American history.  I don't mind telling you that I had tears in my eyes for most of that 90 minute dome car concert and fell in love with this nation, its history and its people, all over again.  Only trains can do that, as a recent article in the New York Times about dining cars, can attest.

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/28/arts/gabriel-kahane-amtrak-8980-brooklyn-academy-of-music.html

 

 

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Posted by ROBERT WILLISON on Monday, December 18, 2017 10:08 AM

Deggesty

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.

 Ah the domes do have special memories for you Johnny. 

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Posted by Deggesty on Monday, December 18, 2017 3:19 PM

Yes, Robert, domes, especially those with clean windows were important. The lady had spent the previous night in a roomette from Boise, and she was returning home by coach--the windows in the coach dome apparently were not cleaned in Portland, so she trespassed in the first class dome so she could have a better view.

Johnny

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Posted by kenny dorham on Wednesday, December 27, 2017 7:08 PM
Thanks for the replys.....
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Posted by ATSFGuy on Monday, January 01, 2018 1:36 AM

How long is the CZ? How many hours does it take to go from Chicago to Oakland?

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Posted by Kevin C. Smith on Monday, January 01, 2018 4:39 PM

ATSFGuy
How long is the CZ? How many hours does it take to go from Chicago to Oakland?

"Long" as in train length? I have ridden it with as few as 8 cars (baggage, 3 sleepers, diner, lounge, and two coaches); and with as many as 10 cars (baggage, 3 sleepers, diner. lounge, 3 coaches, and a private car).

"Long" as in travel time? Scheduled: Just over 52 hours westbound, just over 5 hours eastbound. Actual: I have arrived as much as 4 hours late. BNSF rarely buggers the schedule, UP rarely does not.

"Look at those high cars roll-finest sight in the world."
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Posted by Deggesty on Monday, January 01, 2018 5:06 PM

It is scheduled to take 52:10 from Chicago to Emeryville. You then either take a taxi to Oakland or wait an hour or so and take one of the California trains the six miles to Oakland.

When Amtrak began hauling freight, it made Emeryville the western terminal, because too many street crossings would have been blocked while the freight was loaded or unloaded.

The bus service to/from San Francisco connects with the train in Emeryville.

Johnny

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