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Passenger Trains > California Zephyr trip report


Date: 02/08/19 10:58
California Zephyr trip report
Author: DavidP

Last week I rode train 5 end-to-end from Chicago to Emeryville, getting out of Chicago just ahead of the deep freeze.  Here are a few thoughts and pictures for those who might be interested:

Timekeeping:  The theme of this trip was loss and recovery.  At 2pm sharp the conductor called over the PA “let’s get out of here…are we done loading the diner?”.  With no response from the diner, #5 got underway a minute late, prompting agitated PA calls of “we gotta get off here” and “conductor, you gotta tell us when we’re moving!  We got the door open and stuff hanging out!”  Apparently the operating crew was unaware the diner was being loaded on the opposite side from where passengers boarded.  After a five minute stop to finish provisioning, we were underway again and back on schedule through Galesburg.  Things went downhill from there, though, taking a ninety minute delay east of the Mississippi while five eastbound coal trains passed.  More time was lost in Iowa waiting for maintainers to clear a frozen switch.  The next morning I awoke briefly at 5am, aware that we had stopped in Kenesaw, NE.  I re-awoke at eight to find us still there, as BNSF had shut down the line due to 70mph plus winds.  Eventually the winds relented, and we got underway, leaving Denver seven hours down. 

That’s were recovery began, thanks to UP dispatching and Amtrak shortening up station stops.  By Emeryville, we had recovered almost 2.5 hours – impressive, even with #5’s padded schedule.  Nice job!

Train condition:  My expectations were low based on recent reports of dirty and poorly maintained LD trains, but – surprise – everything worked!  I had found a really good price on a bedroom, and it didn’t disappoint.  The room was clean, well-stocked and fully functional.  Same for the diner and lounge.  Window cleanliness wasn't pristine, but I've definately seen worse.

Food:  Not bad, but not great.  First time having the steamed PEI mussels for lunch - nice addition!  Compared to my recent trip on VIA's Ocean (posted on the Canadian board), the overall dining experience isn't as good.  The biggest gap is in presentation, but food quality is also inferior to VIA's pre-prepared, heated-on-board dining car offerings.

Service:  Sleeper attendant Carl Harris was friendly, attentive, and proactive in offering in-room dining, bed turn downs, luggage help, etc.  My only (mild) criticism is excessive use of the PA.  His opening announcement was over the top in focus on restroom usage – “upstairs is for light duty only, downstairs for heavy duty…please, please, please flush - we don’t want to be driving anyone out of their rooms”.  Except much more lengthy and graphic, and repeated three times!  Likewise, the lounge attendant’s 6-8 daily breaks were bracketed by a long announcement, always with his signature phrase “never fear, I will reappear…and you WILL eat again”.  Funny the first half dozen times, but he might want to work on some new material.  Seriously, Amtrak could stand to create some standards and provide crews with training on effective but non-intrusive use of the PA.

One more thing – with #5 running so late into Emeryville, the diner crew prepared a complimentary beef stew for all passengers going beyond Sacramento.  The full crew, including chef and both conductors pitched in to run bowls back to the coaches – nice to see!

The extreme lateness meant that much of the normal Colorado scenery west of Fraser was encountered in darkness, but the silver lining was seeing territory not normally encountered in daylight.  I particularly enjoyed the trip across Nevada.  The CZ route is a national treasure!  Overall, a good trip that I can't wait to do again.  Here are a few iPhone pictures:
 
1) Heading up the Front Range in late afternoon light

2) Looking back at Denver across the Big Ten curves

3) Bedroom E in Superliner II sleeper "Delaware"

Dave



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 02/08/19 12:05 by DavidP.








Date: 02/08/19 11:05
Re: California Zephyr trip report
Author: DavidP

Three more:

4)  A little further up the Front Range

5)  McCook, NE after the wind hold was lifted.

6) Near Donner Summit








Date: 02/08/19 11:08
Re: California Zephyr trip report
Author: DavidP

Three more:

7) First southbound Front Runner of the day at SLC

8) The Zephyr at SLC, a little after 5am

9) A bald eagle flying seen through the lounge windows along the Truckee River








Date: 02/08/19 11:12
Re: California Zephyr trip report
Author: DavidP

Last ones - random scenes from day one in Illinois and day three in Nevada








Date: 02/08/19 11:46
Re: California Zephyr trip report
Author: RevRandy

Thank you for what seems a fair report on a trip on a train that was beset by problems beyond Amtrak's control (the winds).  

Nice to hear that on-board staff members (with the exceptions of the PA announcements - I always minimize the in-room speaker) were helpful to travelers.  I agree the steamed mussels are a wonderful addition to the lunch menu. 

Makes me look forward to my next LD trip.  



Date: 02/08/19 12:14
Re: California Zephyr trip report
Author: robj

Thanks for report, nice photos to go with.

Bob



Date: 02/08/19 12:31
Re: California Zephyr trip report
Author: Hou74-76

I agree with you, the CZ is a national treasure and your "random" photos at the end say it all.



Date: 02/08/19 12:37
Re: California Zephyr trip report
Author: andersonb109

PA announcements should be standardized throughout the system. Instead of sometimes way too much, and other times nothing.  They are on Delta. I can pretty much re site what's said from boarding announcements, to safety briefing, to "welcome to our Sky Miles members...we appreciate your loyalty and business. So why not Amtrak? 



Date: 02/08/19 14:06
Re: California Zephyr trip report
Author: swirsk53

PA announcements on Acela's are pretty standardized,  Announcements remind me a lot of the airline style announcements re Amtrak Guset Rewards members etc. 



Date: 02/08/19 14:52
Re: California Zephyr trip report
Author: DavidP

swirsk53 Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> PA announcements on Acela's are pretty
> standardized,  Announcements remind me a lot of
> the airline style announcements re Amtrak Guset
> Rewards members etc. 

I’ve heard a fair amount of variation on Acela and corridor trains too - more so than on planes where I spend a lot of my time.  One big difference between an LD train and an airliner is announcements can be limited to specific areas, such as one sleeper or just the coaches.  This makes sense given that different information needs to be conveyed, but when you have a crew with several particularly verbose members, it really adds up.  My gripe isn’t really about the individuality either - that can be part of the charm of LD train travel.  Its more about being concise and maintaining a customer friendly, rather than bossy, tone.  I’ve encountered dining car stewards who read the entire menu twice over before each meal, snack bar attendants who have to describe every drink they know how to make, crews conducting back and forth conversations over the PA, and conductors who want to describe in great detail all of the possible consequences of various misdeeds that a passenger might possibly consider committing on the train.  How you say something has a lot to do with how your audience receives and digests the message.

Dave



Date: 02/08/19 15:19
Re: California Zephyr trip report
Author: P

In photo #6, it appears something has tossed snow over the bank.  You dont often see snow clearing activity on this route, so I am wondering what they use?  Plow, dozers??



Date: 02/08/19 15:20
Re: California Zephyr trip report
Author: jp1822

You couldn't have said it better: 

"The CZ route is a national treasure!"

I've always seen it as "Canada has the Canadian and the United States has the California Zephyr." The CZ is the ambassador train for the United States. It's one train that could have some opportunity for revenue growth. The western portion of the route lends itself to a Rocky Mountaineer operation....barring all the "rules" and "barriers to entry" that Amtrak and even private RR's would likely throw forward.  



Date: 02/08/19 17:11
Re: California Zephyr trip report
Author: DavidP

P Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> In photo #6, it appears something has tossed snow
> over the bank.  You dont often see snow clearing
> activity on this route, so I am wondering what
> they use?  Plow, dozers??

Yes to both.  UP had two Jordan spreader sets staged at Truckee when we passed through.  I understand that the general practice is to run flangers, then spreaders as needed.  Once the storm passes and the track is clear, MOW forces use bulldozers to push snow further away so there’s room to put snow from future storms.  In extreme winters, when snow piles up too high for the spreaders, rotaries are the last line of defense.  They can get through almost anything, but leave the track in deep snow canyons for the rest of the winter.  Since my trip there has been significant snowfall, so I expect things look a little different now.

Dave



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 02/08/19 19:51 by DavidP.



Date: 02/08/19 21:07
Re: California Zephyr trip report
Author: P

DavidP Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> P Wrote:
> --------------------------------------------------
> -----
> > In photo #6, it appears something has tossed
> snow
> > over the bank.  You dont often see snow
> clearing
> > activity on this route, so I am wondering what
> > they use?  Plow, dozers??
>
> Yes to both.  

Upon re-reading this now, I realized that I had mistaken that photo for Colorado even though you labeled it as Donner. There have been some great photo and video documentation of snow clearing on Donner, but not so in Colorado. My mistake. Having said that, have any snow clearing efforts been necessary in the Colorado mountains in recent years?

Posted from Android



Date: 02/08/19 23:09
Re: California Zephyr trip report
Author: mp51w

I really like the farm house scene in Nevada!  You took some amazing photos from the comfort of your bedroom.



Date: 02/09/19 15:38
Re: California Zephyr trip report
Author: bmarti7

Nice report and pics.

BB



Date: 02/09/19 16:13
Re: California Zephyr trip report
Author: joemvcnj

mp51w Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> I really like the farm house scene in Nevada! 
> You took some amazing photos from the comfort of
> your bedroom.

What grows in that soil ? It looks so rocky and arrid. 



Date: 02/09/19 21:35
Re: California Zephyr trip report
Author: PHall

joemvcnj Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> mp51w Wrote:
> --------------------------------------------------
> -----
> > I really like the farm house scene in Nevada! 
> > You took some amazing photos from the comfort
> of
> > your bedroom.
>
> What grows in that soil ? It looks so rocky and
> arrid. 

Add a little irrigation water and you would be amazed!



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