Having fifteen minutes to wait for my delayed train, I suggested we get a coffee in the Depot Café. While we waited for our mochas, who should happen to come in but johno, who said he had just picked up a friend (Terry Terry) who had come in on that westbound train. He collected his lunch order from the café and we bade him farewell, then headed down to the far end of the platform.
I had some hope of avoiding the crowd and getting a good seat by going to the far end of the platform, because most people tend to hang around at the station end. I don’t blame them. Although my train was scheduled to arrive on Track 1, it’s not that unusual for the dispatcher to send it down Track 2 instead, and if you go down to the far end of Platform 1, you have to dash the entire length of the platform and hope they’ll wait for you while you make your way around the rear of the train and its pushing locomotive sitting in the Fremont Blvd. grade crossing. Besides, if you’re not familiar with how the trains operate at this station – and many people riding the train today are non-frequent train riders – you can certainly be excused by assuming that all eastbound trains call on Track 2, because that’s the “right hand” track when facing east. But since the westbound Capitol had just left on Track 2, there was almost no chance of my eastbound train being routed there.
A couple of minutes after 1 PM, my train hove into sight. The Capitol train arrival-prediction system had been overly optimistically displaying “ARRIVING” for several minutes before the train’s headlights came into view as the train cleared Newark Junction.
The train rolled into the station and I climbed aboard. As I’d hoped, I was the only one who had gone that far down the platform, so I had a door to myself. Centerville station is on a curve, so some cars have a very large gap and high step to climb aboard. I wrestled my bag into the train and waved goodbye to Cheryl, then climbed upstairs. To my delight, I found that one of the single seats (there are four on each car, one in each corner of the car) was still available, thanks in part to the Capitol Corridor management team adding extra cars to the consists for this heavy holiday travel day. There was even space in the luggage rack for my rolling bag.
I set my computer bag and briefcase on the single seat and quietly rejoiced that I would not have to share a seat on the ride to Sacramento, while having about 1 1/2 seats’ worth of space to myself. I have been on an overloaded Capitol where I had to stand for the entire trip to Sacramento, and I did not like it very much. What was even worse was that the car was so heavily loaded that we actually overloaded it and you could feel the suspension hitting the stops.
But that was several years ago, and the Capitol management team learned better. Today it looked as they tied everything in the car yard that will roll onto the trains, leaving no spares. If I read the station notices correctly, they’ve even borrowed some equipment from Caltrain for certain trains. I don’t envy the people riding those trains; Caltrain’s gallery coaches are not built for medium-distance travel. I once rode from Sacramento to San Jose on a Caltrain-equipped Capitol, and it wasn’t that comfortable. OTOH, it beats not having a seat.
The conductor came and lifted my ticket. “You need me to sign that,” I said as she handed me my ticket stub.
“Don’t worry; we’re too busy today for that stuff,” she said, bustling off to deal with other passengers.
This train had so much extra equipment that it actually had two café cars, one of which was in the lower level of one of the Superliner coaches that California paid Amtrak to rehabilitate from the wrecker line and then pressed into Capitol service. The attendant in that car made an announcement that, “If you’re waiting in line, you’re in the wrong café! Come on down to the Secret Café located in the lower level of the car that’s not like any of the others!”
I headed down there – it was nearly at the opposite end of the train from me – and sure enough, the attendant was the only one in the café. I ordered my lunch and we chatted a bit. He asked if my headphones and radio meant that I was listening to the train radio. I said yes, I was. He said, “You know, we have a name for folks like that.”
Wryly, I said, “I know – ‘foamers.’”
“Yes! But I’m a railfan, too,” he said, proudly displaying a new “fallen flag” pin he’d purchased today at San Jose Diridon station during his layover.
I would have stayed and chatted some more, but other passengers had finally puzzled out where the Secret Café was. I didn’t want to hold up the line, so I headed back to my seat and settled in for my trip.
Because of the extra equipment on today’s train, it was too long for some of the smaller stations – Hayward, Coliseum, and Berkeley in particular – and it therefore had too “double stop,” making two stops so that they could serve both the front and rear halves of the train. As we headed north and west, the train steadily filled up. At Emeryville, the connection for San Francisco buses, the car in which I was riding filled up completely. By Martinez, I reckon this train was just about completely full, although on-board announcements indicated that there might have been a few seats left in the rear cars. I felt smug about my good luck.
While rolling along San Pablo Bay, I considered starting up Locomotion, which always makes time go by quickly. But I soon discovered that I’d left the disk back at home on my desk. Oh, well, that’s no great loss on a train ride. On a long plane flight, it would be much more irritating. But I did find the thought of playing a train simulation game while riding the train amusing.
Listening to the railroad radio as we made our Martinez stop, I heard the drawbridge operator inform our train that he was about to open to let a ship through. Our engineer said, “Okay, slow engines,” and we slowly drifted out of Martinez toward the signals protecting the open drawbridge. One of the conductors made an announcement and said, “They didn’t give us a time for how long we’ll be waiting here; hopefully, it won’t be for too long.”
While we were stopped, I went to the Not Secret Café only one car behind me, where only one person waited, and got a cup of coffee. As I was returning to my seat, the drawbridge operator radioed to let us know that the signal should clear ahead of us soon. About ten minutes after we stopped at the open drawbridge, we continued on our way. This delay will, if I understand it correctly, will be attributed to “Union Pacific” because they operate the drawbridge, but I think that’s a little unfair, because ship traffic has the right of way over rail traffic.
The trip through the flatlands between Benicia and the Yolo Causeway were without incident. I drank my coffee and read one of the books Cheryl bought me while we were in Chicago. After we left Davis, I started stowing my things and preparing to arrive in Sacramento slightly after 4 PM, having had a very relaxing and pleasant afternoon. Throughout the trip, as I watched cars inch their way along I-880 and I-80 through Oakland-Berkeley, and saw that the backup from Cordelia Junction on I-680 stretched nearly all the way back to the Benicia Bridge, I felt better and better about leaving the driving to Amtrak and letting other people stress out in the rain and holiday getaway traffic. Train travel really is the way to go whenever possible.