Kevin Standlee (kevin_standlee) wrote,
Kevin Standlee

Train Tales

My train trip to Sacramento was mostly without incident. Once again the dispatcher put my train on platform 2 even though the signs say it should be on platform 1 (the main platform nearest the station). I really don't care which platform they use as long as it's consistent. As it is, you don't know which platform the train will use until it's already there, and if you're on the wrong platform, you have to wait for the train to pass and then go around the back of the train sticking out into the street crossing with the gates down and the lights flashing. This is not good. And the train crews have no control over it -- it's a dispatcher in Omaha throwing the switches to suit herself. It's not as though the dispatchers don't pay attention and simply route all north/east-bound trains to platform 2 (that would be "right hand running" in Centerville). The eastbound ACE train a few minutes earlier was on platform 1 where it belongs.

Anyway, my train, with extra cars, arrived and I hurried across the grade crossing to get to it. Fortunately, with lots of people boarding, even at a little station like Centerville, there was little chance they would leave without me. Having only one door available for boarding (a consequence of stopping at the tiny platform 2) slowed things down further.

Even though Centerville was only the third stop from the train's origin at San Jose, the train was already getting pretty full. I went down to Car 1, which appeared to be a Superliner inter-city car converted to service on the Capitols. Because it's a Superliner, rather than one of the "California Cars" that make up the regular service on this train, the doors to board the train do not open. (California Cars have centralized door control, where the conductor can open and close all of the doors from one location. Superliner doors are manually controlled and you must have a train crew member there to open them. Unlike in the UK, Amtrak doesn't want passengers operating the doors themselves, presumably from fear of lawsuits.)

Anyway, given the layout of the train, I figured Car 1 would be last to fill, so I went to the far end of it and took a corner seat. Another advantage of this car is that it has the Superliner overhead racks, which were big enough for my luggage. The California Cars have absurdly small overhead compartments, and doors to the compartments that are so narrow as to make the overhead bins useless. After the conductor lifted my ticket, I joined the queue in the cafe car, and got my lunch (a hamburger and potato chips) around 30 minutes later, just as we were clearing Colosseum station.

The train continued to fill up. I expect there were probably people standing in places, even though seats remained in Car 1 where I was. After Berkeley, my car had filled sufficiently that someone came as far down as I was and sat on the aisle seat. I was already settled in, having finished my lunch, listening to the train radio and reading a book. My seatmate plopped on his headphones and promptly fell asleep.

An hour or so later, we came to Davis, the next-to-last stop. The folks on the seat on the opposite side of the aisle called out to my seat-mate, "Aren't you getting out at Davis?" (They had noticed that his seat-check said "D" rather than "SAC" like mine and the rest of us around him.) He started awake, grabbed his bags, and dashed for the center of the car -- and down the stairs, to the doors that don't open. I (and several others) yelled at him that he was going the wrong way. But he was lucky. The conductor came and opened the door on Car 1 because there were so many people trying to get off here.

As we rolled over the Yolo Causeway rail bridge approaching Sacramento, I heard the train's two conductors talking about the Sacramento (end of the line) station stop, and agreeing that the lead conductor would handle Car 1 while the assistant conductor would do the other doors. This was smart, because there were still a lot of people on the train, and all of them were getting off at Sacramento.

Because this was the terminus of the train, I took my time putting my stuff together and getting off. I was in no hurry, for reasons I will explain shortly.

Passing through the station, I spied Gene Skoropowski, Managing Director of the Capitol Corridor Joint Powers Authority that runs the Capitols, standing in the cavernous (and crowded on this Thanksgiving Day) Sacramento waiting room, wearing a sign around his neck that said something like, "Need help? Ask me!" As I've said before, Gene is someone who genuinely loves running trains, and we need an army of people like him working for us in transit. Anyway, as he had nobody immediately occupying his time, I went up and said hello to him. I've spoken briefly to him before, but don't expect him to remember me; he did, however, remember me from the e-mails we have exchanged, and I'm flattered at that. I asked him about the Superliner on our train. It didn't look like something pressed into service from the main Amtrak fleet, as there was permanent Capitols-style placards on board. He explained that CalTrans paid Amtrak to rebuild a half-dozen or so wreck-damaged Superliners that had been sitting on the back tracks at Amtrak's Beech Grove shops in Indiana for want of money to repair them. (Amtrak has lots of unservicable equipment in storage but no money to put it into service.) Then CalTrans leased the cars to provide additional capacity for the intra-California trains. What a smart idea!

Having been enlightened by one of the best railroad managers in the business, I headed out to the front of the station to look for Lisa. But that's another story.
Tags: trains, travel

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