Southwestern Circle Trip

Discussion in 'Travelogues / Trip Reports' started by Willbridge, Aug 8, 2019.

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  1. Aug 8, 2019 #1

    Willbridge

    Willbridge

    Willbridge

    Service Attendant

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    In July - August 2019 I made the Southwestern Circle Trip beginning in Denver, with an added segment to Seaside and Portland, Oregon for reunions (and to see lots of water). I was able to remain on the planned itinerary shown in the following message, with nothing but the usual delays, not missing any connections. On Train 14 and then on Train 11 the UP dispatchers followed in the old SP tradition: the train ran within minutes of on schedule until approaching the last stop, where a substantial delay reminded us whose railroad we were on.

    In brief, the Southwestern Circle starts in Denver, to Emeryville, San Francisco, Santa Barbara, Los Angeles, Fort Worth, Oklahoma City, Newton, Raton, and back to Denver. There are a number of other combinations, depending on one's interests. That is particularly true between Emeryville/San Francisco and Los Angeles.

    Some notes:

    + Yes, we were mooned by Colorado River rafters and saw eagles on the California Zephyr. But we had no salads for the duration of the trip, as a commissary foul-up left the lettuce behind in Chicago.

    + So during the layover in Sacramento I went to a nearby sandwich chain - the station Starbucks was closed already on my arrival - ordered the tuna sandwich with lots of salad items - and got a burst of diarrhea that was brief but almost certainly linked to that meal. Next time I'll try the Chinese dinner place nearby.

    + Rumor is that Portland's employee-initiated Metropolitan Lounge will be renovated. Its hours have been extended to serve all of the train departures with Business or First Class. (Previously it closed when Train 28 departed.)

    + Enjoyed walking around downtown San Jose, for the first time since 1974. On that previous visit it looked like a condensed version of postwar Berlin (but with palm trees) as a result of a badly handled urban renewal project. There are still some traces of that in the form of surface lots between the station and the Guadalupe River, but there are numerous post-1970's buildings as spillover from Silicon Valley.

    + Had a fabulous lunch at Hotel de Anza (1931 art deco / mission style) in San Jose.

    + California Amtrak Thruway buses stop for lunch in King City. I took the Thruway/Pacific Surfliner connection rather than Train 11 because I wanted to have more time for a connection in LAUPT.

    + A highlight on the Coast Line bus trip is the stop at Cal Tech in San Luis Obispo. Architecture worth a trip back to see it in more detail.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/California_Polytechnic_State_University

    + A boxed snack pack on the Pacific Surfliner.

    + Starbucks food in the beautiful LAUPT fountain court. Splashing water in fountains drowned out for a while by an angry fellow trying to express himself in Spanish regarding the unfairness of Guerra de Estados Unidos a Mexico (“War of the United States Against Mexico”). Unfortunately he had to revert to English in order to shout obscenities. Eventually a mellow security guard turned up and asked me if I saw him harass anyone. Some women had complained. I explained that he was just expressing political views, sort of like the president of the United States does, and we noticed that the appearance of the security guard was all that it took for him to calm down. After the guard went on his way, the now-subdued young man busied himself washing his shirt in a fountain and the court benches filled with passengers enjoying the peace that the architects had intended.

    + I wanted to go in Train 422 from LA to Fort Worth, but the through coach was oversold and so the check-in clerk put me in Train 2 to San Antonio. That meant that I would be scheduled to alight from Train 2 at 4:50 a.m. and board Train 22 at about 6:40 a.m.

    + Saw the desert in detail due to freight delays and track work. However, sunset was just as beautiful as old SP advertising claimed. Passengers in the observation lounge couldn't put down their cameras and smart phones.

    + The delay helped reduce the wait in San Antonio and I found the convoluted station operation required to switch cars and get passengers on the right trains in a station that was not set up for that to be interesting. [Chicago trains split off of the Sunset Line in El Paso in Golden State days before Amtrak.]

    + With all the rain earlier, central Texas was greener than I expected. An engineering highlight is the approach into Austin from the south.

    + In Fort Worth I tried the "Black Forest" ham sandwich from the same national chain as in Sacramento. No problems. I had visited Fort Worth Intermodal once before and in terms of service available it has only gotten better.

    + The Heartland Flyer consist was a Superliner Coach and a Superliner Snack Coach. It was sold out. Station dwells getting everyone in and out were added to by a PTC start-up failure and by freight delays, but I did have a few minutes to appreciate the work that has been and is being done on the Oklahoma City station. No signs point to the Thruway bus loading out front, but the security guard showed me the way.

    + The bus connection cleverly does several things in one round-trip. For my purposes it went well and it was easy to snooze.

    + In Newton, Train 3 was marked up on time, Train 4 was over an hour late, making for a bleary-eyed group of eastbound passengers.

    + On Train 3 I could appreciate the track work that has been done and noticed segments that need replacement. In the observation lounge informed passengers were horrified to discover that the narrow road parallel with no shoulders between La Junta and Trinidad was US350, planned future route of the Chief bustitution.

    + Lunch in the friendly Enchanted Grounds Coffee House in Raton. A table of regulars reminded me of a German stammtisch except that they did not invite me over to be interviewed; Raton is on I-25 so they are used to visitors.
    http://enchantedgroundsraton.com

    + Despite the optimistic sign, there is no agent in Raton and no sign indicating where the Greyhound Amtrak Thruway buses stop. The Greyhound agent / snack bar has gone out of business. Luckily there were two others waiting for the 1:15 p.m. Dallas - Raton - Denver bus when I arrived and with some detective work one could deduce where to wait -- and wait.

    + In the interim before the bus arrived, three uniformed police and a man in plainclothes converged on one of the waiting passengers who had strewn out parts and possessions while assembling his bicycle. He did not speak English. I'm not sure how he got to Raton, but the police wanted him to leave. The problem was that he had too much baggage for either Greyhound or Amtrak and with no agencies he couldn't ship some of the stuff.

    + The bus came 90 minutes late and lost more time while the driver rounded up a bilingual passenger willing to interpret a discussion of checked baggage rules. We had to leave the bicycle tourist behind, with some helpful hints about getting his stuff repacked in order to get onto the following Raton - Denver bus.

    + The driver did a great job, but nevertheless he was hassled by a lady who boarded in Colorado Springs complaining that we were going to miss her Kansas City connection in Denver. Then she went back into the station to use the restroom! The driver waited for her and we arrived in Denver while the Kansas City connection was starting to board. The last I heard of her she was complaining that the bus said "New York City" on the destination sign and that this was not right because she was only going to Kansas City. [A supplementary sign at the gate includes Kansas City.]

    + Home sweet home.


    P1050792.JPG A preview of Texas in Wilsonville, Oregon.

    P1050826.JPG Do you know the way in San Jose?

    P1050833 (2).JPG El Paso in a happier day.

    P1050839 (2).JPG Fort Worth Intermodal

    P1050841.JPG TEX to DFW departs. Heartland Flyer lays over while Oklahomans frolic in Fort Worth.

    P1050836.JPG Fun with PTC.
     
  2. Aug 8, 2019 #2

    Willbridge

    Willbridge

    Willbridge

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    Joined:
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    In July - August 2019 I made the Southwestern Circle Trip beginning in Denver, with an added segment to Seaside and Portland, Oregon for reunions (and to see lots of water). I was able to remain on the planned itinerary shown below, with nothing but the usual delays, not missing any connections.

    Itinerary for Robert Rynerson 2019 Summer

    Mon 15 Jul 2019 - Dep Denver Union Station @ 0805
    ATK 05 - coach - Lower Level confirmed
    Tue 16 Jul 2019 - Arr Sacramento @ 1413
    -----------------------------------------------------------
    Tue 16 Jul 2019 - Dep Sacramento @ 2359
    ATK 14 - business class - confirmed
    Wed 17 Jul 2019 - Arr Portland Union Station @ 1532
    ===========================================================

    Wed 17 Jul 2019 - Dep Portland Union Station @ 1820
    ATK 5564 - Thruway bus - confirmed
    Wed 17 Jul 2019 - Arr Seaside Cinema @ 2031
    ===========================================================

    Seaside, OR -
    confirmed
    ===========================================================

    Fri 19 Jul 2019 - Dep Seaside Cinema @ 1830
    ATK 5565 - Thruway bus - confirmed
    Fri 19 Jul 2019 - Arr Portland Union Station @ 2110
    ===========================================================

    Portland, OR -
    confirmed

    ===========================================================

    Mon 29 Jul 2019 - Dep Portland Union Station @ 1425
    ATK 11 - business class - confirmed
    Tue 30 Jul 2019 - Arr San Jose @ 0955
    ===========================================================

    San Jose, CA -
    confirmed
    ===========================================================
    Fri 2 Aug 2019 - Dep San Jose @ 0910
    ATK 4792 - Thruway bus - confirmed
    Fri 2 Aug 2019 - Arr Santa Barbara @ 1615
    -----------------------------------------------------------
    Fri 2 Aug 2019 - Dep Santa Barbara @ 1640
    ATK 792 - business class - confirmed
    Fri 2 Aug 2019 - Arr Los Angeles Union Passenger Terminal @ 1947
    -----------------------------------------------------------
    Fri 2 Aug 2019 - Dep Los Angeles Union Passenger Terminal @ 2200
    ATK 422 - coach - Lower Level - confirmed
    Sun 4 Aug 2019 - Arr Fort Worth Intermodal Center @ 1358
    -----------------------------------------------------------
    Sun 4 Aug 2019 - Dep Fort Worth Intermodal Center @ 1725
    ATK 822 - coach - Lower Level - confirmed
    Sun 4 Aug 2019 - Arr Oklahoma City @ 2127
    -----------------------------------------------------------
    Sun 4 Aug 2019 - Dep Oklahoma City @ 2220
    ATK 8904 - Thruway bus - confirmed
    Mon 5 Aug 2019 - Arr Newton @ 0145
    -----------------------------------------------------------
    Mon 5 Aug 2019 - Dep Newton @ 0245
    ATK 03 - coach - Lower Level - confirmed
    Mon 5 Aug 2019 - Arr Raton @ 1025
    -----------------------------------------------------------
    Mon 5 Aug 2019 - Dep Raton @ 1315
    ATK 8406 - Thruway bus - confirmed
    Mon 5 Aug 2019 - Arr Denver Bus Center @ 1835
     
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  3. Aug 8, 2019 #3

    Bob Dylan

    Bob Dylan

    Bob Dylan

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    Nice trip, look forward to the reports of your Adventures. Please take a Travel pillow and Light Blanket since you're riding Coach and Buses.(When you get to OKC on #822 the Am-Bus will meet the Train and take Passengers for Newton to the OKCBus Station on the other side of town).
     
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  4. Aug 8, 2019 #4

    Willbridge

    Willbridge

    Willbridge

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    I prepared some notes on the trip, which are in the first post. What is missing is an account of all the interesting people who I met along the way. Your suggestions are good. I took a light jacket, which was also useful on the Oregon Coast. I also took a neck pillow, which I've carried ever since Amtrak dropped providing pillows to coach passengers.
     
  5. Aug 8, 2019 #5

    Barb Stout

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    Barb Stout

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    Where was the PTC sign? And although you say the El Paso picture was on a happier day, according to your schedule, I would have guessed that you would have been there on the unhappy day.
     
  6. Aug 8, 2019 #6

    dogbert617

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    dogbert617

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    I'm thinking the PTC sign, was at the Trinity Railway Express station in Fort Worth. But not 100% sure.
     
  7. Aug 8, 2019 #7

    jis

    jis

    jis

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    Here is an example of an outfit that managed to get a waiver of the RSD requirement in order to get alternate schedule for operation by Dec 31, 2020! Or are they paying a fine? I don’t know.
     
  8. Aug 8, 2019 #8

    dogbert617

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    dogbert617

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    As I remember under the federal PTC law, individual railroads can apply for a 1 year waiver from the PTC law if they aren't yet totally up to compliance. And IIRC, they were only allowed to apply for 2 1 year waivers(for 2019, and also 2020) at most. I'm not sure if the last of those waivers would expire after December 2020 and that no waivers will be offered for 2021 if by some bizarre chance a railroad hadn't completely installed PTC by the end of 2020, but wouldn't be surprised if that was the case.
     
  9. Aug 8, 2019 #9

    Rasputin

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    Rasputin

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    Enjoyed your report very much. For our trip to Colorado Springs next year we had considered taking No. 3 to Raton and the bus to Colorado Springs but decided on a different plan.
     
  10. Aug 8, 2019 #10

    jis

    jis

    jis

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    They had to meet some 4 or so pre-conditions to be eligible for waiver without paying any fines. AFAIR an RSD was one of them. NJT raced to do an RSD on a ridiculously short segment to come under the wire IIRC.

    And no, it was not called "waiver", it was called "alternate schedule for implementation without penalty" or something like that. And there were several conditions that had to be met like all hardware installed, staff training completed for all relevant staff, an RSD etc. to be eligible. One could wangle through by paying some fines too AFAIR.
     
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  11. Aug 8, 2019 #11

    dogbert617

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    dogbert617

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    Well you know what I mean, whether it's called an alternate schedule for implementation without penalty, or a waiver. Tomato, tomatoe, like Bart Simpson once said on Simpsons. And I didn't realize there were 4 pre-conditions a railroad had to meet before getting a waiver, so thanks for mentioning that. I learned something new today!

    I remember reading about the 1 year waiver thing, from an article that talked about the passage of a federal law extending the deadline for PTC installation.
     
  12. Aug 8, 2019 #12

    jis

    jis

    jis

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    The point I seem to have failed getting across is that there was no specific one year or two year waiver. The railroad had to negotiate an alternate schedule with FRA for each of the steps in the PTC deployment process, and the proposed alternate schedule could not stretch beyond 31 Dec 2020. Other than that it could be whatever was negotiated and settled upon. There was a one year and two year thing in the previous round of extensions, which of course every railroad got themselves and then failed to meet the deadline, it was so loosey goosey. So they tightened the requirements in the 2020 extension, and required a complete plan instead of just doing waivers.
     
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  13. Aug 9, 2019 #13

    Willbridge

    Willbridge

    Willbridge

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    The El Paso reference was poorly worded. What I was getting at was Count Harry Kessler's observation of how normal life in a big city could be on the same day as a disaster or violent act occurs nearby.

    The PTC sign was in the Fort Worth Intermodal station.
     
  14. Aug 9, 2019 #14

    Willbridge

    Willbridge

    Willbridge

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    Note that it is in Texas, so not all laws apply equally.
     
  15. Aug 9, 2019 #15

    jis

    jis

    jis

    Conductor AU Lifetime Supporter Gathering Team Member

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    But the FRA regulations relative to PTC do apply equally, Texas or not. ;)
     

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