Unless one lives on the East or West coast where the Amtrak railroad functions as a commuter line no one would expect the passenger rail carrier to deliver on time performance. Instead a person would choose to ride Amtrak because of the slower pace and the scenery along the route. In fact that is how they promote themselves as the way to see the country. Their advertisement says: “Experience a better way to travel. Spread out. Kick back. Sleep. Eat. Refresh. Step off the train and leap into the sights and sounds of the American landscape, from great cities to quaint towns and amazing vistas. Amtrak brings them all to you in comfort and convenience”
It was with that understanding that I decided to take my trip to the West coast. I was not disappointed! The Empire Builder arrived at the St. Paul depot 45 minutes late and we never gained the lost time on our way to Chicago. I spent the night in a hotel in Chicago and went back to Union Station the next day to board the California Zephyr. We departed on time but several hours out of Chicago we were stopped by a policeinvestigation. According to the steward of our car there was a man who was riding an Amtrak into Chicago who jumped off the train as a freight train approached. His suicide caused all rail traffic to halt as the police sorted out what happened. Three and a half hours later we were on our way once again. The first day out is through the farm lands of Illinois, Iowa and Nebraska. I found myself marveling at the vastness of the land we travelled through and all the crops that were being grown. As we crossed the Mississippi River it grew dark and our steward lowered our seats to make our beds and I went to sleep. It was a bumpy night as we were riding on older rails, but I managed to sleep fairly well. I awoke feeling a bit bruised from all the bumping, but as I limbered up in the morning I felt fine. The meals on the train were all very good and although I was warned to bring snacks as I would get hungry I found that I was very satisfied in what was offered.
We arrived in Denver three and one half hours late and there they washed the windows, refueled the train and switched out the crew. Then we began our climb into the Rockies. The views were just spectacular as we climbed to the 9200 foot mountain pass. At times the edges of the cliffs were so close it looked as if we would be plunging thousands of feet downward. In the midst of this beauty I found myself reflecting on the many people who built this line over 100 years ago.
We came to the longest tunnel of that line (the Moffat tunnel) which was completed in 1926. They started the tunnel on both sides of the mountain and met in the middle. It is an amazing piece of engineering even today. There had been a monsoon rain a few weeks earlier that had washed out part of the freeway as well as the rail we were riding on. They were able to repair the track so that we could travel through, but they were still working on the freeway repair. We left the Rockies as the sun began to set and it became too dark to see the beautiful scenery of eastern Utah. I went to bed as we entered the salt flats on our way to Salt Lake City. The track was smooth and I slept like a baby.
We awoke outside of Winnemucca where we were stalled due to freight traffic on the rail line. Because of the fires in Northern California and Oregon much of the rail traffic was routed through the rail we were on. Another three hours passed as we waited for an all clear signal to move ahead. We passed through the Sierra Nevada mountain range as we descended into California. We arrived in Sacramento six and one half hours late only to discover a fire had begun in the next town we would pass through so the train again waited for an all clear which came two hours later. Our trip was completed eight and a half hours late as we arrived in Emeryville (suburb of San Francisco) at 1:30 am. We got to our hotel and we would begin the next day to journey to Los Angeles.