Empire Builder, California Zephyr, and Coast Starlight in winter

Discussion in 'Amtrak Rail Discussion' started by margo, Aug 19, 2017.

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  1. Aug 19, 2017 #1

    margo

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    margo

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    I'm trying to plan a trip in December. I'm mostly interested in just riding the train and seeing the scenery.(Being from South Louisiana, we don't see snow or mountains very much). Our favorite trains are the CS, the western half of EB and CZ. I realize the trains have more problems being on time in the winter. We'll be starting in LCH. We would like the round trip to last about 10 days Any suggestions?.
     
  2. Aug 19, 2017 #2

    KmH

    KmH

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    Is this heaven? No. It's Iowa.
    The main attraction on the EB is Glacier Park and riding the EB eastbound accords the best likelihood of going through there in daylight.

    So start in LCH (day 1), spend a night in New Orleans and catch the CONO in the morning (day 2) to Chicago (day 3). Catch the CZ that afternoon.

    Day 4 will take you over the Colorado Rockies.

    Day 5 will take you over the Sierra Nevada mountains. Catch the CS in Emeryville that night about 10 pm after a 6 or so hour layover.

    Day 6 catch the EB in Portland (tight connection - about 1hr 10 minutes).

    Day 7 morning see Glacier Nation park as you rail by.

    The afternoon of day 8 you arrive back in Chicago and about 8 pm can catch the CONO back to NOL arriving on day 9. Overnight again in NOL.

    Day 10 catch the Sunset Limited back to LCH.
     
  3. Aug 19, 2017 #3

    TiBike

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    The southern half of the southbound Starlight -- starting from Sacramento -- is the best bet in winter. You get the Delta, San Pablo Bay, a bit of SF Bay, Elkhorn Slough, the SLO hills and the SLO/Santa Barbara/Ventura coast all in daylight. Northbound, you lose the light around Salinas.
     
  4. Aug 19, 2017 #4

    margo

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    Thank you . I love this forum :)
     
  5. Aug 20, 2017 #5

    Railroad Bill

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    As mentioned, we have taken the CZ westbound in January and found the snow in the Rockies and Sierra Nevadas to be superb. We had 10 feet of snow in the Sierras and had a snow plow in front of us as we crossed. Definitely want an eastbound trip on the EB to secure a daylight crossing of the Glacier Natl Park. Westbound EB can mean a after dark passage (which we experienced one time too. :(

    Have ridden both ways on the CS but not in winter so cannot comment on that route. But it is beautiful from LA to Seattle any time of year.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Aug 20, 2017
  6. Aug 20, 2017 #6

    Tennessee Traveler

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    I've done all these trains but only the CZ in Winter. Connection concerns to be aware of. If booking guaranteed connection, Amtrak will insist the connection from CZ to Coast Starlight be in Sacramento. Any other city from Sacramento to Emeryville is at your risk and I would recommend an overnight in Emeryville. The other connection concern will be the Coast Starlight to Portland Empire Builder - this is probably one of the most missed connections in the Amtrak system so I highly recommend overnighting in Portland or Seattle. Weather wise the two area were delay or even cancellation may occur are the Sierra between Reno and Sacramento and any of the Cascades in Oregon. Sierras because of too much snow to keep clear for freights and passenger trains. Cascades for possible track closure due to snow avalanche covering and even removing tracks. But I rode over the Sierras last winter and it was one of my most memorable experiences. Just weeks before the tracks had been closed for almost two weeks. So I say, "GO" but be aware and ready to change plans mainly allowing some overnights since weather causing miss connections are the "normal" not the exception. Also in winter I do not recommend same day connections in Chicago west to east such as the Empire Builder to City of New Orleans. The west bound connections are reasonable safe such as the City of New Orleans to California Zephyr and, if necessary, there is a bus bridge from Champaign to Galesburg. As far as I know there is no such bus bridge connecting Empire Builder to any train in Chicago.
     
  7. Aug 20, 2017 #7

    Dakota 400

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    A few years ago in February, I enjoyed a California Zephyr Chicago to San Francisco trip with a couple of days in the "City by the Bay". Great! Then, the Coast Starlight to Seattle to Seattle for another pleasant stay of a couple of days. An Empire Builder trip then followed with rain falling in Seattle as we left, turning into snow as the train headed East. Fresh fallen snow was the scene during the night and during our trip through Glacier National Park. This was a truly memorable Amtrak trip!

    Negatively, though, it was also memorable that when the Amtrak bus got us to to the Amtrak station in San Francisco. it was closed. (The train was quite late.) No cabs in sight. (This was before I had a cell phone.) Fortunately, a restaurant near the San Francisco station was still open and the Manager took pity on me and called a cab for me.

    I will be very reluctant to book another westbound California Zephyr journey as a result that ends in downtown San Francisco.

    Amtrak dropped the ball as far as I am concerned and I let them know that when I returned home. Maybe the situation today has improved since my experience
     
  8. Aug 20, 2017 #8

    willem

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    One possibility would be to book a ticket to Emeryville; the extra cost for going to Emeryville rather than Sacramento is minor. Then book a coach seat, on a separate, individual reservation, from Emeryville to Sacramento on the Starlight. Have your "normal" reservation for the Coast Starlight departing Sacramento to the north. If the Zephyr is on time, ride to Emeryville and catch the Starlight. If the Zephyr is late, get off in Sacramento. The reason for this peculiar booking is that Amtrak will cancel a ticket, including all subsequent legs on that reservation number, if you are a no-show. This means you cannot book a ticket from Emeryville to Portland (or Seattle) and then board in Sacramento because the Zephyr is late. (This would probably mean you would need at least three different reservations: CHI-EMY, EMY-SAC, and SAC-PDX. If you go to Seattle, that would be at least four reservations. Don't let this discourage you.)

    An advantage to catching the Empire Builder in Seattle, if you are in a sleeper, is that you will be closer to the dining car. Also, you get a dining car supper on the night of departure, rather than a boxed meal (which is quite good, for a boxed meal). Also, you just might get Gul as your car attendant—that is a real treat. He is the best I've seen.

    The "bus bridge" for the Empire Builder means getting off the train in Saint Paul and riding a bus to Chicago.
     
  9. Aug 20, 2017 #9

    margo

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    Thank you for so much advice. Experience is definitely the best teacher! I'll post our decision and trip report.
     
  10. Aug 21, 2017 #10

    Tennessee Traveler

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    all of "willem" advice and suggestions are excellent. My strongest suggestion is not to book a connection in Portland between the Coast Starlight and the eastbound Empire Builder. I rode the Coast Starlight to Portland this past June and we were on time in Klamath Falls but were delayed by freight traffic and missed the Empire Builder connection. All the transfer passengers had to detrain in Portland and report to ticket counter for re-booking and alternate arrangements. In the winter that can be a regular occurrence.

    My destination was Portland for a week so I witnessed the events inside the station. After a four night visit to Portland and the area around in Oregon, I took a early morning Cascade train business class to Seattle arriving around lunch time with time to walk down to the waterfront and still catch the 4:40 PM Empire Builder. I was not lucky enough to have Gui as my SCA but was next to the dining car. I agree with the assessment of Gui as I rode Chicago to Seattle with him a couple years ago. He actually brought a welcome aboard orange juice and cookie that he serve on black table cloth over my in room table. He then repeated that process again on the second day. He is representative of the majority of the SCA's I have experienced on all the long distance trains.
     
  11. Aug 22, 2017 #11

    v v

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    Margo, excuse me hijacking your thread but I have a complaint.

    We're also planning a longer journey for early next year mainly with Amtrak and thought yesterday the outline of our journey was more or less set. Then starting reading the responses to your questions and the descriptions are so ...... good that we are almost back to square one again trying to incorporate some of the advice you have been given into our journey too... and we weren't even going anywhere near the Starlight or Empire Builder!

    I think it's quite inconsiderate of posters to inspire and advise in such convincing ways that it's lead us during today's route re-think to end up lost in Butte, MT with no connections.

    May I second what you write about the help you have been given, but far too inspirational, ha ha ha
     
  12. Aug 22, 2017 #12

    PeeweeTM

    PeeweeTM

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    I'm with v v here: was planning on saving some money and stay home, but now I'm stuck with an Amtrak trip from New York to Seattle (via Portland) in January.

    Thanks a lot... ;-)
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Aug 22, 2017
  13. Aug 22, 2017 #13

    margo

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    margo

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    It doesn't take much to inspire us. LOL
     

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