Bad UP and good UP

Posted by Fred Frailey
on Thursday, August 11, 2011

I left those who read my previous dispatch (“The Summer of Service Disasters on Amtrak”) hanging on the end of a limb. The southbound Texas Eagle had left Dallas headed north — that’s right, Wrong Way Corrigan we were. But it was only because the dispatcher in Spring, Texas, had nowhere else to put us. Our Dallas Union Terminal track is needed by the northbound Eagle, then en route from Fort Worth on one Union Pacific main track, while a succession of freights and switch jobs occupy the other main. So to finish that narrative . . . .

After we wait an hour outside the station, the other Eagle shows up, and we have clear sailing to Fort Worth, arriving four and a half hours late. And that’s about how late we remain all the way to San Antonio. I feel sorry for folks ticketed to Austin and San Antonio. Their expected arrivals of 6:30 and 9:55 p.m. respectively, turn out to be midnight and 2:30 a.m.

I don’t feel sorry enough to stay awake and keep them company in their misery. I sip one last glass of wine and go to bed somewhere near Round Rock. My trip is not nearly over. Three days a week at San Antonio, a sleeping car and a coach from Chicago are attached to the Los Angeles-bound Sunset Limited from New Orleans. My bottom line is getting to L.A. on time or earlier, because my wife and I are to meet and spend two days together before going to China (her) and Canada (me). Let me let you in on a secret: Catherine hates to wait.

Because there’s almost an eight-hour layover in San Antonio for the through cars from the Eagle, its late arrival is not a problem for me. The question is whether the Sunset Limited can maintain its scheduled pace. Seeking to predict the answer, I do some research in the archives of If the westbound Sunset leaves El Paso on time, it will usually reach Los Angeles an hour ahead of schedule. If it leaves El Paso two hours late, it will still usually reach Los Angeles on time. In other words, there’s lots of rubber in the schedule.

Guess what? We depart El Paso on time to the second. I turn in after Tucson, Ariz., confident we’ll make L.A. an hour early. I am wrong. We come to a stop one hour and one minute early. By the time Catherine can collect her luggage at LAX an hour later, I am cruising into the United Air Lines arrivals area in my rented car. I am her hero for a day.

So the Superliner sleeping car line number 2130 participates in two adventures. One, the Texas Eagle from Chicago to San Antonio, turns into something of a reliability disaster. Then those headed to L.A. on the Sunset get red-carpet treatment all the way. Good UP and bad UP? Well, it’s fun to say that. A more accurate summation is that Union Pacific in East Texas is as jammed as a Lone Star State beer hall on Saturday night, whereas it has fewer trains in wide open West Texas and oodles of capacity at the moment on the Sunset Route west of El Paso.

Now, if you'll pardon me, it's almost martini time here at the Beverly Hills Hotel. Tomorrow I'm off on the next leg of this adventure, to Seattle, where every hotel in the city appears to be booked solid. Bill and Melinda Gates must be throwing $100 bills off the Space Needle. I have two days to find a place to stay. — Fred W. Frailey

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