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Nostalgia & History > Amtrak's Spirit of California Experiment

Date: 02/27/05 23:54
Amtrak's Spirit of California Experiment
Author: shed47

In the early eighties the state of California continued to expand its funding of Amtrak intrastate services and the Spirit of California was launched. The train was an overnight, as opposed to the Starlight's daylight, schedule between Sacramento, Oakland and Los Angeles via SP's Coast Line with full sleeping car service. Sadly, the train had a short life, making its last runs 9-30-83. Was its failure a result of Amtrak poor service/timekeeping, lack of state commitment/political support, or just low ridership?

I booked a roundtrip ride from San Jose to LA in June '82 and the roomette was this young railfan's first sleeping car ride and a great experience. 23 years later the concept of an overnight train with first class offerings would still seem valid. Considering the hassles of air travel and the drudgery of driving I-5 it still seems, and I'm well aware of the state's fiscal crisis, to be an opportunity lost.

In March '82 the train is seen on the Cal-P at West Causeway, a few minutes out of Sacramento after its overnight run from LA. Behind F40 240 are a "shorty" baggage car, ex-UP 10 & 6 Budd sleeper, and three Amfleets.

Date: 02/28/05 00:01
Re: Amtrak's Spirit of California Experiment
Author: shed47

After turning on the wye at Elvas, the Spirit's consist is seen returning to the Sacramento Amtrak depot where it will lay over until its departure that evening. SP's Sacramento Shops are still very much active on this March '82 morning.

The sleeper is AMTK2940-Pacific View, a 10 roomette, 6 double bedroom car built by Budd in 1950 as UP1447, converted to HEP in 1978.

Date: 02/28/05 01:56
Re: Amtrak's Spirit of California Experiment
Author: 4merroad4man

This, then was the grand experiement gone sour. No marketing, SP's unfriendly attitude and resulting poor handling. "The "Bird That Couldn't Fly" was the tag given to The Lark in 1968, and it's reincarnation was saddled with a nickname indicative of the agricultural issue of the time: "The Medfly". It could have been a great train.

Date: 02/28/05 05:39
Re: The Med Fly
Author: spnudge

I worked that job a couple of times out of SLO. You worked it to LA, got your rest and came back on a freight train. The trip back was advertised but they always set the call back until the middle of the night. Then by the time you would get back to SLO, you had ony about 10 hours off until you did it again. You spent most of your time in LA and because it was advertised that way, no HAHT. A passenger got mad at old Dick Hadley one night, he was the conductor, and tried to stab him with a little pen knife. I think they set his butt out at Goleta for the cops. It was a kick for months to see Dick out there and rib him on the radio.


Date: 02/28/05 09:17
Re: Amtrak's Spirit of California Experiment
Author: px320

I have often thought that the Medfly was a train that should be brought back to life.

For you young'uns, the Medfly monicker was attached to the train because then Governor Brown was embroiled in a Mediterranean Fruit Fly infestation in Southern California which threatened the citrus industry with destruction. Gov. Moonbeam refused to allow aerial spraying until it was almost too late. The Spirit of California was introduced with a lot of fan fare at the same time this drama was being played out and the Medfly monicker was almost immediately attached to it.

I rode the sleeper from LA to Sacramento and return in May of '82 to attend Railfair II at CSRM. That train also had a diner/lounge in the consist so it was a real overnight train that was a lot of fun to ride.

Date: 02/28/05 09:55
Re: Amtrak's Spirit of California Experiment
Author: sploopconductor

90% of the time we called it the "Medfly". The other 10%, and to put a little different twist on it, it was also referred to as the "Night Crawler".

I always enjoyed rolling it by in the middle of the night, made a nice break in the work!

Take Care, Stay Safe, Have Fun!


Date: 02/28/05 10:15
Re: Amtrak's Spirit of California Experiment
Author: MyfordBrowning

The Medflyer was a very good way to go between southern and northern Calif. by train with out wasting a full day each way or an overnight bus-train trip. Unfortunately it was a product of the Jerry Brown (D)administration and one of the first things his replacement, Deukmejian (R), dumped. I recall that it was gaining poassengers when it was discontinued.

Date: 02/28/05 11:02
Re: Amtrak's Spirit of California Experiment
Author: JohnSweetser

What is HAHT?

Date: 02/28/05 11:15
Re: Amtrak's Spirit of California Experiment
Author: cpn

JohnSweetser Wrote:
> What is HAHT?

Not exactly sure, but I think he is refering to home away terminal.


Date: 02/28/05 11:47
Re: Amtrak's Spirit of California Experiment
Author: rattenne

I that was a real interesting train. I have day shots of it around Davis and Sac. Rode San Jose to Sac a couple of times, and did a round trip to LA for a business meeting. The scheduling was great for a one day buness meeting in LA or the Bay Area/Sac. If the train kept on time (it did when I rode it).

I also would shoot time exposures of SOC Train (as we used to call it - just the initials of Spirit Of Calif.) at San Jose. I was lucky enough to get photos of the press train (which was a daylight run), the 1st revenue run and the last s/b revenue run.

Date: 02/28/05 15:43
Re: Amtrak's Spirit of California Experiment

I believe I still have an Amtrak tote bag I won by being one of the entrants that submitted "Spirit of California" in the "Name That Train" contest. I rode it from Oakland to Los Angeles once as I recall.

Date: 02/28/05 16:16
Re: Amtrak's Spirit of California Experiment
Author: CNWJAG

JohnSweetser Wrote:
> What is HAHT?

Held Away from Home Terminal. After a pool crew is layed up at their away terminal for 16 hours they go on the clock until called or until they've been there for 24 hours. Crews on a regularly assigned job with regular call times are not entitled to HAHT pay.


Date: 02/28/05 16:23
Re: Amtrak's Spirit of California Experiment
Author: sphogger

HAHT = held away from home terminal. After a predetermined amount of time pool crews start getting paid at the far terminal until they are called to work. 16 hours in pool freight. Everyone has their own agenda. Some folks love it, most people hate it, they'd rather go home. Gives the railroad the incentive to keep the pool moving and deadhead when crews stack up out of town.


Date: 02/28/05 18:31
Re: Amtrak's Spirit of California Experiment
Author: n6nvr

I expect the ridership wasn't all that great. LA is close enough to the Bay area that you can get up early and still fly up and get to meetings on time. And if you are riding for recreation, wouldn't all of us rather ride on a schedule that allows watching the scenery?

Date: 02/28/05 18:31
Re: Amtrak's Spirit of California Experiment
Author: DNRY122

I remember it well--taking it up to SF in 1981-82 to cover the last days (or so we thought!) of Muni PCC service. I was working a rotating shift, so coming into LA late on Monday morning was not a problem. At first I'd go to Oakland and ride the bus across the Bay, but then switched to the SP Commutes to make it an all-rail journey. Coming back to LA I'd usually wake up just out of Moorpark, right about where the big washout was last month. In Sept. '82 I drove up for the "last day" of Market Street surface operation, because there were reports of a rail strike that night--got to SLO just in time to photograph the buses loading up "Spirit" passengers as the trains were terminated around midnight. Then I spent all day riding and photographing PCC's (but that's another story)

Date: 02/28/05 20:21
Re: Amtrak's Spirit of California Experiment
Author: bnsfbob

sploopconductor Wrote:
> 90% of the time we called it the "Medfly". The
> other 10%, and to put a little different twist on
> it, it was also referred to as the "Night
> Crawler".

It was also known as the "Coast Ghost". Bob

Date: 02/28/05 20:46
Re: Amtrak's Spirit of California Experiment
Author: rob_l

Caltrans used their big electric freeway advisory boards on the LA freeways to advertise that train, but to no avail - it had a tough time attracting much ridership. The train was always pretty short.

I used that train once to return from an LA consulting trip in late 1982 or early 1983. The ride in the sleeper was pretty rough. Can't remember what the food was like, so I guess it wasn't bad. The train was not crowded, and it wasn't hard to get space on relatively short notice. (A radical difference compared to Amtrak West sleeper space nowadays.)

I think it was and still is very tough to attract much of the biz traveller trade - there are so many flights per day betwen LA and the Bay Area and at a reasonable cost. And if one is going to spend the night, might as well spend it in a nice hotel and get some sleep.

I had some college housemates at Berkeley in the early 70s from Santa Barbara. The idea of a night train on the Coast Route (none at that time) really appealed to them - they did not want to waste the daylight hours traveling.

Best regards,

Rob L.

Date: 02/28/05 21:36
Re: Amtrak's Spirit of California Experiment
Author: mcfflyer

I had the good fortune (and planning) to ride the Medflyer once, from LA to Sacramento. I can't remember if there was anyone else in the sleeper.

Actually, the whole overnight train idea was probably a mistake. Overnight trains like this don't do well any longer. Business people certainly wouldn't ride them. As was said before, anyone on an expense account would fly and stay in a hotel. And intermediate station ridership in the middle of the night would be poor. Overnight trains like this just don't do well. To further illustrate this, I've heard rumblings that the overnight Toronto to Montreal VIARail Enterprise, a train designed for business travelers, is on the block because of low ridership.

What should have been done was to put on another coast day train, one running before the Coast Starlight that would have run either between Los Angeles and Sacramento, or to run from Los Angeles directly into San Francisco as a reincarnation of the Coast Daylight. That way, there would be a dedicated California train, and one that wouldn't be subjected to weather hassles and delays north of Sacramento.

If you brought back the overnight train, and ridership probably wouldn't be that much better than it was. Put on a second day train, and you'd have far more ridership.

But the Spirit didn't die in vain. As part of the agreement to discontinue the train, a second San Joaquin was put on, that eventually turned a local train down the valley into a true transportation choice.

Date: 03/01/05 11:35
Author: spnudge

Held Away From Home Terminal. After 16 hours, you were paid at the last rate at 12 1/2 MPH until you were called back to work. It was an incentive to get the carriers to get you home and not sit away from home for days. The best I got was 47 Hours and 50 Minutes at the rate of Atk, because they deadheaded me to LA from SLO for service. That was about 60 miles per hour and your basic day was 8 hours equaled 100 miles.


Date: 03/01/05 12:04
Author: espee99

I was a regular on that train for the whole time it ran. I have fond memories of riding to and from Oakland at least weekly, even the plastic food was good in the early morning along the coast.

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