Kevin Standlee (kevin_standlee) wrote,
Kevin Standlee

Home Again; More Train Tales

I'm back home now, at least until next Friday. Unlike the train trip up to Sacramento on Wednesday, today's trip was without serious incident and was actually running slightly ahead of schedule most of the trip.

After checking out of the hotel in Yuba City this morning, we headed for Sacramento, where Lisa was somehow able to make a (free on Sundays) curbside parking spce near the Sacramento Valley Amtrak station appear. This meant we could walk to the five-blocks-away St. Rose of Lima Park light rail station, and we knew that when we got back, we could just get my luggage and walk to the across-the-street train station.

Our plan was to ride Sacramento light rail out to Folsom, where I used to live, and possibly have lunch there. This was our first trip since the line extension to Folsom opened and on the new-generation equipment. The first railroad line in California was the Sacramento Valley Railroad from Sacramento to Folsom, laid out by Theodore Judah (who also surveyed the route of the first transcontinental railroad over the Sierra Nevada mountains). Passenger service long ago ceased on that line, but it remained an industrial railroad spur of little importance. Now, over a hundred years after the line was originally built, passenger rail in the form of half-hourly electrified light rail vehicles ply the route in about 40 minutes.

The end of the line in Folsom looks like they plan to extend the line across the American River someday, although it looks like it might have to be single track. To economize, it's already single track from Sunrise to Folsom, which means they can only run two trains an hour. I understand weekday commute traffic on the line is already outstripping capacity, but it looks to us like they've made it difficult to lay a second track should money become available. They may well end up having to tear up existing works in order to expand, whereas it seems to us that it would have been relatively easy to build a first track with a plan to build a second one someday. It isn't as though RT doesn't understand this -- the Brighton Bridge and the original line to Butterfield had single-track sections with space for expansion.

Anyway, we walked over to the Balcony Bistro, the new name of the Balcony Cafe in Historic Downtown Folsom. The Balcony was my favorite place to eat in Folsom, but alas, under the new management, they no longer have the brunch dishes -- notably the "Caps Off" -- mushrooms sauteed in wine -- I like. Still, the Ahi tuna eggs Benedict with wasabi was pretty good. Unfortunately, it took us more than 30 minutes for brunch -- not surprising -- so we missed the next train out, and that meant I would not be able to take the 2:10 train from Sacramento.

There is a 4-ish train, but it requires a bus transfer to Fremont, and I hate doing that if I have a choice, so instead we decided to wander around Old Sacramento for a couple of hours, which we did. We watched the Sacramento Southern excursion train come in and watched them servicing the little 0-6-0T steam switcher they were using to pull it. Then, not having time to do a decent trip through the California State Railroad Museum, we just went into the Museum Store, where we bought a couple of things and wished we could buy more.

By then it was starting to get to train time, so we made our way back to the van, had a snack (the bananas from the breakfast bar that morning that we hadn't eaten then), got my luggage, and headed into the station. It was unclear where my train would board, and there were a lot of people milling around on the platform next to a Capitol trainset on platform 4. But then another set on a holding track moved off to the west of the station and we heard an announcement that our train would board on Track 3. I turned around and prepared to board there, but the train stopped short of my position, and I found myself about as far from a door as was possible while still standing on the platform.

Rats! I thought I might have to stand until Oakland, but then I realized that most people were piled up on the first set of train doors, closest to where the crowd was. But there was an entire four-car trainset with two doors per car sitting there open. I swung wide and briskly walked, with Lisa trotting to keep up with me, down to the front of the train, where few people seemed to realize they could board. Bidding Lisa a quick goodbye, I got aboard and wrestled my heavy bag upstairs, and thanks to this quick work, managed to score one of the four single seats on the car. Hooray! And it even had a power outlet, although I had so many batteries with me that I could have run to Fremont and back without worrying.

I got on my ham radio and called Lisa, who had gone back to the van and was preparing to depart. I wished her a safe journey, signed off, and tuned to the railroad band as we eased out of the station only a couple of minutes late, which isn't bad for a nearly full (but not SRO) train.

Unlike the trip up from the Bay Area, the conductors did lift tickets this trip. So now I have a one-way ticket to Sacramento sitting unused with 90 days or so for me to use it. Maybe I'll buy another one-way and make a day trip to Sacramento sometime in January or so.

We had no delays on the way back to the Bay Area, and we seemed to be running on time or even early, having to "wait on time" a couple of times when we arrived at stations ahead of schedule. This ended up coming back to bite us. Making the stop at Hayward (last stop before Fremont-Centerville), I heard a loud hiss and the engineer radioed to the rear, "What's going on back there?"

The conductor said he didn't know, but a few seconds later said, "Some woman pulled the air back here." If you've ridden a train in the US, you may have seen emergency-stop handles in the train. Those handles are directly tied to the air brakes. When you pull on them, you "dump the air" and force the train's air brakes into an emergency stop. This would be pretty rough if we were traveling at speed, but in this case it meant we simply couldn't go anywhere until one of the conductors went back and reset the brake, then the engineer pumped up the brake line and they ran a short brake test. On a long freight this could take a while, but on a short passenger train like ours it only took a few minutes, and we were once again under way.

While this was going on, I was shutting down my computer and getting my luggage down from the upper deck to downstairs so I would be ready for the Fremont station stop, which is only a few minutes from Hayward. As the car in which I was sitting was also where the conductors had taken a lower-deck pair of seats for their "office," I overheard why we had the emergency-stop situation. It seems that a woman had several small children with her and was being a little slow to deboard at Hayward. When the doors started to close on her -- with some children on and some off the train -- she panicked and pulled the emergency stop. The conductor admitted, "I'm spoiled by all those commuters; maybe I rushed that stop a bit." He's used to the regular train riders, who know that you need to be at the door and step lively. People who haven't ridden often (or ever) may not know this and can get into trouble.

Still, we were only one minute late at Centerville, where cherylmorgan had walked down to meet me. (And a good thing, too, as she had the only key to the apartment complex's pedestrian gate.)

Now I need to finish unpacking and get something to eat. I had a hot dog on the train, but that's not really enough, I think.

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