Kevin Standlee (kevin_standlee) wrote,
Kevin Standlee

The TARDIS Train, Or How I Nearly Made a Negative Time Connection

Lisa took me to the Reno Amtrak station this morning to catch the Amtrak California Zephyr, which was running around 30-45 minutes late. I know that train's schedule, however, which has a significant amount of "recovery time" built in to it. That's why the stops from Sacramento onward have a D by their schedule with a footnote of "stops to discharge passengers only; may leave before scheduled time."

Amtrak #5

The delay gave me enough time to walk over to the Silver Legacy casino and get a coffee. About 9 AM, the Zephyr appeared. Boarding was busy as it usually is at Reno. I got really lucky, in that I ended up with two seats to myself. This was rare. The coaches were quite full. A good proportion of my coach (people all bound for Emeryville) were a Boy Scout group. I did not ask from what event they were returning.

Truckee River

The trip out of Reno follows the Truckee River, with many scenes like this. The bridge in the distance carries the highway over both the river and the railroad.

Donner Lake

West of Truckee, the serious climb into the mountains begins. Eventually you get to see Donner Lake far below the level of the snowsheds visible from I-80 on the opposite side of the canyon.

Amtrak View

Cresting the summit at the "big hole" tunnel, the line now heads down the west slope. Views on both the east and west sides of the mountains are full of smoky haze from the many wildfires burning this summer.

I had lunch in the dining car. The pork shanks were quite good, and a nice change from the usual hamburger.

Awaiting the Call

Roseville hosts some of the snow removal equipment, including these spreaders, sitting idle awaiting the call in a few months to keep the line clear up on "the hill."

Private Varnish

I had not noticed when I originally boarded, but on one of the many curves along the route, I saw that there were two private railroad cars at the end of our train. During the Sacramento station stop, I trotted down to the rear of the train and was able to get this picture of one of the two cars. The train was longer than the platform here and thus I couldn't see the last car, but I'd get a shot at it later.

The private cars are not accessible from the rest of the train. They are "low level" cars, whereas the Superliners that make up the California Zephyr are "high level" cars. Thus the connections between cars don't match up. The private cars are presumably part of a charter trip, of which are there are a fair number. I'd love to take one of those trips myself, but it's a shame there's no easy way for the passengers riding the "varnish" to come forward, if only for a little variety.

(It's technically possible, although unlikely to happen. A small number of Amtrak Superliner cars are labeled Transition Sleepers, and they are high level on one end and low level on the other. Such cars are normally immediately behind the (low level) baggage car, and this arrangement allows access by the crew to the baggage car during the trip. These cars are also used as the crew dormitory and the conductor's office, and are mostly off-limits to passengers, although to get a bit more revenue Amtrak has taken to selling some of the sleeper compartments on the dorm car nowadays.)

Benicia Bridge Approach

Approaching the Benicia Bridge, we passed a Capitol Corridor train bound for Sacramento on the other track. The newer of the two road bridges is above. The rail bridge carrying the line over the Carquinez Strait to Martinez is in the center, and the older road bridge is beyond that.

Amtrak 131/174

I dozed off after Martinez, and before I knew it we were in Emeryville, the end of the line, and about twenty minutes early. Rather than lug my heavy bag on board with me, I had gone ahead and checked it at Reno, because they have checked luggage service. That was to prove my undoing here at Emeryville. You can see the luggage carts down the train as they unload all of the checked bags, including the many kit bags of all of those Boy Scouts. It took quite a while to get it all unloaded.

Missed Connection

While the crew were still struggling to get the bags unloaded, along came a Capitol Corridor train for San Jose. Thanks to the early arrival of the Zephyr, if I had my luggage with me (which wouldn't have been that hard as it happens), I could have connected with a train that left before my originally scheduled arrival time on the CZ. Oh, well, at least it gave me 90 minutes or so to go have a relatively leisurely early dinner at the Emeryville Public Market.

Traveling in High Style

After the luggage was unloaded, the Zephyr pulled out of the station, heading for the Oakland Maintenance facility, where the train would be cleaned, serviced, and prepared for its return trip to Chicago tomorrow morning. This gave me an opportunity to get a good photo of the dome car bringing up the rear of the train.

Capitol Corridor at Fremont

After claiming my bag, I went to get dinner, then walked back to the station and read until the next Capitol Corridor train arrived. This still was 90 minutes earlier than what Amtrak's original connection booked for me was. Fortunately, Capitol Corridor trains are still unreserved coach, so if you have a ticket, you can just take the next one that shows up rather than having to wait for the next one. This train got me back to Fremont "on the advertised."

Stone Retrieved

I walked over to my mechanic's shop, where the Rolling Stone was sitting there waiting for me. I refueled both tanks, and we'll see by tomorrow evening whether the fuel leak is repaired.

As usual, I enjoyed my train trip. I'd do it more often if I could, but it isn't practical for the trips home. Coming down from Reno works, but the trips home do not, because the Zephyr leaves Emeryville at 9 AM. Also, even if I left the Rolling Stone at Fremont station (possible), the early morning Capitol Corridor train has an "illegal" (under ten minute) connection at Emeryville with the CZ, and that's cutting things too fine. In a pinch, I could book a Capitol-plus-bus trip to Reno, but I don't like booking a "train" trip that is mostly a ride on a bus.
Tags: amtrak, fremont, rolling stone, sacramento, sierra nevada, trains

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