Leave No Station Unphotographed: The Blog of SubwayNut.com

 

Sitting in the Empty Superliner on the San Joaquin from Sacramento to Bakersfield to the bus to Montclair to finish the San Bernardino Metrolink Line – Finishing Riding Every Inch of Amtrak in California!

My original plan for the trip after me and my Dad decided to go skiing at Squaw Valley (before we knew about the lack of snow, in November when we were planning the trip) was to send Dad home and spend a couple days in Northern California, a couple days in Southern California to finish up SubwayNut stuff in both places and then fly home. I then checked the Sunset Limited and discovered that the fare on the Sunset Limited from Los Angeles to Tucson was only $40 and airfares from the L.A. Area versus those from Phoenix were about that much more. I realized I could basically get an included trip to Tucson and then Phoenix to visit some friends (staying with them) before coming home. The only downside would be delaying finishing Southern California (since this requires a weekday schedule since what I’m missing is almost all in Riverside County, weekday only Metrolink lines) to the next time I’m out here since the triweekly schedule of the Sunset Limited gives me just two days.

For the trip to Los Angeles I debated making an hour and half photo stop to get the full quafecta of points for the day. I decided not to. I want to get to Los Angeles County as soon as possible to at least get the last 4 stations on the San Bernardino Line that I’m missing. I checked the bus destinations and Claremont seemed the perfect destination (it was a few dollars more than closer places like Burbank or Union Station)  since its one of the 4 San Bernardino Line stations I’m missing.

With loud snoring in my room I’m awake and leave the hostel way to early, around 5:40. It’s about a ten minute walk and much to my surprise Starbucks is already open. I guess I’m not getting breakfast on the train. I go in and order a coffee (half real, half decaf, I avoid caffeine – the amount in it keeps me too awake on the train, I don’t fall asleep for the nap I need) and a muffin. I then use the underpass out to the platform following the signs to a train at the exactly the same place that I boarded yesterday. I get to the platform at 6:10 and the train doors haven’t opened yet.

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In a few minutes at 6:15 the train doors open, I board and immediately walk back to the rear Superliner car that doesn’t open its door at any station and no one decides to join me. Some interior car photos from further in the trip, including the sign that is the reason the doors don’t open and I had the car basically all to myself for the entire trip.

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6:30 – The conductor comes and collects my ticket a total of 10 minutes prior to departure
We slowly switch out of Sacramento on time at 6:40 and immediately split off of the line used by the Starlight to head north. The Superliner, even these modified by Amtrak for high-density seating, are so much more comfortable than the fixed California cars seating.

  • 6:43 – Pass a power plant, as I see the first rays of dawn over the foothills of the Sierras again. It is very strange being on the same early train, going the same direction for two consecutive mornings.
  • 6:44 – Pass a work train of crane cars on the opposite track and go over a grade crossing
  • 6:46 – Curve off of another rail line, this one used by the daily Capital Corridor train going to Auburn and the California Zephyr to go northwest on a viaduct over dark streets with the pale glow of today’s sun
  • 6:47 – Its through a neighborhood with parkingland along the American River
  • 6:50 – The parking garages that surround Cal State Sacramento and under the light rail that is running on a concrete viaduct, we finally gather speed.
  • 6:51 – Pass junkyards and see the smoke of a refinery, and gather speed, there is tons of empty space between us and the Sacramento army depot
  • 6:54 – If only there was enough daylight for a photo! Pass the Siemens plant and see two new Amtrak Sprinter electric locomotives outside of it destined for the Northeast Corridor directly along the rail line.
  • 6:55 – Pass modest houses of Elk Grove along the rail line
  • 6:59 ­– Through downtown Elk Grove, I know some of the throughway buses stop here I wonder if there any proposals to stop trains?
  • 7:00 – More industry with sidings full of tank cars
  • 7:01 – Finally the first of a day of fields as we finally leave the urban ring of towns around Sacramento
  • 7:04 – There pretty and I’m really enjoying dawn from the nice, dark Superliner car
  • 7:06 – More industry
  • 7:07 – Downtown Galt and back to fields and more trees
  • 7:10 – Sunrise over the Sierras
  • 7:12 – Grape vineyards and the announcement for Lodi as we pass agriculture

We enter Lodi passing buildings and come into this town at sunrise arriving at 7:14, we sit for four minutes to leave on time at 7:18.

  • 7:20 – A former freight platform with boxcars
  • 7:21 – Were back in fields
  • 7:22 – Pass the Micke Grove Zoo and now see horses
  • 7:23 – A warehouse that looks abandoned with a former freight platform, the sun has fully risen over the horizon
  • 7:24 – Start passing subdivisions as we go through Valley Oak, then were back to industry followed by more subdivisions as we come into Stockton
  • 7:26 – A guy drinking a beer asks wonders into my car and asks were the observation car “You know, the car everyone relaxes and kicks back in” is as we come into Stockton, I think he just got off the Starlight
  • 7:28 – Pass poorer looking houses and trash along the railway line as we get the announcement for Stockton and to go up to Car 5 only to get off the train we start passing a siding.

We slowly enter the Stockton-Downtown ACE Station(1 Photo), 5 minutes early at 7:30, I go to get a picture on the otherside of the car and notice that a seat is totally covered in duct tape with Out Of Service signs on it. One person boarding in Stockton has the wherewithal to come and sit in the Superliner with me, walking through the train, he luckily chooses to sit in the other half of the car. We leave Stockton on time at 7:35 slowly and I see the Stockton/Downtown, CA platform sign already has graffiti on it. We slowly switch tracks to the far east at Market as I get ready to ride the last inch of Amtrak I need to ride in California, the new connecting track from the UP (ex Central Pacific) at Church to the BNSF as we slowly pass a grade crossing.

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The train very slowly makes its way around the connecting track from the UP to BNSF and we cross onto the BNSF at 7:39.

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I’m back on the familiar San Joaquin (for the fifth time) Route speeding up as we leave Stockton passing “Mormon” and a freight train. I’ve now ridden every inch of Amtrak in the State of California!

We speed up passing more BNSF locomotives and more subdivisions and a road under construction, I decide to stop taking as detailed notes, I’ve blogged about the San Joaquin route before.

  • 7:45 – Passing an intermodal facility that was quite large
  • 7:46 – In the fields
  • 7:55 – Pass Escalon with a park and former Santa Fe caboose. Then were back to fields
  • 7:59 – Zoom through another yard full of tank cars, we pass some cows in a field
  • 8:01 – Get the announcement for Modesto and that were early so feel free to step off for 5 minutes, I decide to do this to see how the platform has changed.

We get to Modesto(9 Photos) at 8:02 and I decide to step off and get some photos. I run off and get some photos of the station; we leave on time at 8:08.

 

  • 8:11 – Pass another freight train
  • 8:13 – Pass a large freight complex with hopper cars looping around and a domed area.
  • 8:15 – Go through tiny Hughson
  • 8:17 – Pass a concrete plat
  • 8:18 – They announce were approaching Denair-Turlock (scheduled for 8:27) but because the trainset of Com-Arrows is in the station were going to go past the station and then back-up to make the station stop.
  • 8:19 – We take the switch onto the wrong track for Denair and pass the Com-Arrow Train that is already north of the station. I don’t see a conductor coming to the back, perhaps their already sitting in the locomotive.
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  • 8:21 – Pass the platform with a good two dozen people waiting, were early, this is a long siding.
  • 8:22 – Just south of the station we switch back onto the single track and come to a stop, blocking a grade-crossing. I see the conductor outside walking back to the locomotive to spot the train from there into the station. It’s an interesting move that seems silly (why not build a second middle platform in Denair?)

I hear the horn more as we back up over a second grade crossing and still manage to arrive in Turlock-Denair early at 8:25 for the good dozen passengers, my car stops north of the station. I see two conductors walking back from the locomotive along the dirt (we must have three conductors) and get the all aboard on time at 8:27. If it wasn’t for the meet we would have been in Turlock early. I notice new, modern format Turlock-Denair signs have replaced the old ones.

We leave Denair and continue south, passing another freight train and more wine groves, some watering is going on. The internet is working really well as I catch up to my blog.

  • 8:42 – Pass a bunch of abandoned planes at Castle Airport
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  • 8:44 – Get the announcement for Merced as we pass industry, including the Santa Fe pet hospital, perhaps in a former Station?
  • 8:46 ­– Briefly follow a bike path

We arrive in Merced at 8:48, just 3 minutes early for what I believe is a locomotive engineer change. We’re told we can’t get off. The conductor makes a welcome aboard announcement. As we prepare to leave and the doors close at 8:50 a northbound freight train passes on the siding track and we slowly leave clearly meeting it on the Merced siding.

  • 8:52 – We pass a freight yard with a former freight platform. We continue through Merced and seeing a few underpasses, then a road under construction.
  • 8:59 – Pass a caboose at some one’s house and junkyard, we then go through some houses and pass Oasis Foods in Planada
  • 9:16 – Pass some people standing in the field and get the announcement for the next stop

We stop in Madera(3 Photos) at 9:18 and I notice the station has received some improvements from my photo stop two years ago. There is a now a small building with restrooms (that have doors to the outside) and roll-up area that I assume contains the mobile lift for the Com-Arrow train. It has solar panels on the roof. I snap some photos to update my website.

  • 9:23 – We pass some burned out cars and some horses, there also a few boats
  • 9:27 – We come to a stop on a siding waiting for another train I assume, the next northbound train #701 that’s heading to Sacramento and passes at 9:32. We slowly start moving again at 9:33.
  • 9:43 – We continue through fields, cross a bridge and head into Fresno.
  • 9:44 – Pass a baseball field with people playing, its January.
  • 9:47 – Keep coming into Fresno
  • 9:48 – We slow down for Fresno and are told it will be a 4-5 minute stop and to feel free to step off.

We arrive in Fresno(4 Photos) at 9:52 and I decide to get off for a very brief moment, its only a two minute stop and we leave on time at 9:55. A third person joins me in the Superliner to sit at the conference table.

  • 9:58 – Slowly leave Fresno, passing a stopped freight train.
  • 10:01 – Cross another railroad, the Union Pacific I believe, a junk yard of the day and a northbound freight train. There is then a large junkyard and we go under CA-99.
  • 10:05 – We regain speed going through fields
  • 10:17 – Through the Kings County Club
  • 10:21 – We slowly come to more houses as we enter Hanford with the announcement, were also told were three minutes early.

I decide to step off in Hanford(6 Photos) as we arrive at 10:23 on track 1, closest to the station. There 5 minutes of recovery time here. I get a cab car shot and reboard walking through the train to the café car were I decide to try the Chicken burrito for an early lunch. We leave on time at 10:28. There only seems to be one thing sold out or not in stock. The California Cafe cars clearly have much more space. I return to my car thinking about eating my lunch at the seat with a table but a mother and young sun are now sitting there, the only other passengers. The rest of the train is relatively crowded.

  • 10:43 – We get the announcement for Corcoran and see a sign that proclaims it the farming capital of California

We make a quick station stop in Corcoran at 10:44, I go back up to the café car to pick up a spoon for my burrito and knife for my peanut butter sandwich. The mother and son have left the conference table and I eat glancing at an issue of the Fresno Bee left on it.

At 11:00 I see two conductors walking the train and they go downstairs they announce that were going to be going backwards again, waiting for a southbound train before backing up to pass a northbound one (I assume the northbound is freight). The third conductor soon joins them. I have the Superliner to myself again. On most other Amtrak routes they would just close the car, luckily not Amtrak California! We stop. The landscape is extremely dry fields.

  • 11:04 – Northbound train #713 passes (the third of the day)
  • 11:07 – We start backing up
  • 11:08 – The train finishes the back up move, the second of the day.
  • 11:10 – I hear the door slam and the conductors coming up the stairs from the Superliner, they’ve left the cab and are done backing the train up.
  • 11:11 – The train is on its way
  • 11:12 – We now pass a long double-stack train, the dispatching rules on the San Joaquin are amazing that even an intermodal yields to Amtrak, I guess its what all that Amtrak California money bought for siding improvements.
  • 11:19 – Take a siding to pass another double-stack slowly
  • 11:21 – We pass a small, simple platform that I realize must be the conditional stop of Allenswoth (Amtrak code CNL) for the State Historic Park that a train with a group of 20 or more will stop for.
  • 11:26 – Pass the County Line of Kern

We arrive in Wasco at 11:36 for a very brief stop. I get up to grab a last glass of water before the bus ride and start to pack up. Going to the next car I see a clearly recently released prisoner from the penitentiary in Corcoran. He is warring white, has a shaved head and all belongings are in a plastic bag, also looking out the window with some concern.
At 11:50 we get the bus bays announcement as we approach Bakersfield I think they say #6 for Claremont my destination to get it and Montclairs Metrolink Stations since it Cal State LA and El Monte are the only two I’m missing. I’m on the phone confirming my friends in Tucson.
11:59 – We go through a large freight yard with what looks like a platform and canopy that I think might be the original Amtrak Station at East Bakersfield. We then pass a lot clearly used by the police department
12:01-The Robobank Arena as I see the station.
We get to the platform in Bakersfield(5 Photos) at exactly 12:02, on time.

I get off the train through the downstairs door of my Superliner as the baggage starts getting unloaded and get of there, an employee screaming “Watch your step!” It was a nice, nearly completely empty restful trip in my favorite car on the San Joaquin, the modified Superliner who’s door doesn’t open. I’m going to miss these when the State of California gets enough new cars not to use them anymore. There will not be a nice quiet refuge on each train, perhaps by then they will institute a quiet car. I notice all the buses are newer than on my list trip and today there is only one that’s a generic white one. The new buses have a generic paint scheme in the style of Amtrak California but don’t actually say Amtrak California on them. I head over to a line maybe 20 people at bus bay number 8 for a bus that’s scheduled to make 11 intermediate stops on what is scheduled at 6 hours and 5 minutes southbound and a whopping 6 hours and 55 minutes northbound to keep the connection guaranteed and avoid most chances of missing the connecting train.

  

The bus driver comes on introduces himself as Mr. Brown, points out the emergency exits, and says their power outlets to recharge your phones and there is free wifi, the network name “Amtrak”. He then gets off, confirms the number of passengers and stops with the Amtrak employee. I hear them discussing numbers. The bus is supposed to go all the way to Indio but the farthest anyone is going today is Riverside. He and the Amtrak attendant confer “Easy Day.” I’m happy that there will be only one intermediate stop (not two) Pasadena, on my way to Claremont, CA. No one is going to La Crescenta, or anywhere up in the Palm Springs Area.

At 12:13, 3 minutes late were the second to last bus to leave, everyone else pulling out just before us except for the L.A. Connections bus with its luggage still getting stuffed underneath. I’m happy with my decision to go somewhere that isn’t L.A.-Union Station.

Were on the freeways at 12:20.

I need to by a Greyhound ticket (from Tucson to Mesa, just a pre-booking to pay cash at 7-11 and avoid the $2.50 on-line connivence fee) but the wifi has blocked Greyhound.com! I can though access the SubwayNut FTP server (Amtrak blocks FTP services) and make some website updates. I find this really funny but I guess the division of Coach USA that operates these buses under contract with Amtrak (and is owned by the Stagecoach Group that also owns Amtrak’s competitor is most short-distance markets MegaBus) doesn’t want people checking the fares of the competition. I almost click on the request an exemption from this blocked website button but don’t bother.

12:57 – As we head up towards the Grapevine I notice were parallel to another Amtrak California Bus. It’s the bus to Torrance.

At 1:17 I’m finally dozing off as the bus pulls over at a truck pullover area, three Amtrak California buses zoom by us staying on I-5. The reason is that the restroom has been occupied for far too long. The driver walks back says “Are you alive in there?” He then opens the door with his master key, it’s empty, the door managed just to shut itself! The driver comments that he was nervous for a minute about opening the door

  • 1:21 – Go under the other direction through the Grapevine.
  • In the San Fernando Valley we transition to the I-210.
  • 2:03 – We get off the highway to go into Pasadena and make that stop.

We stop on front of the Hilton at 2:07 to do the Pasadena Stop. A women is getting odd with her Walker but the stop is still really quick. We leave at 2:10.
We get on the Foothill Freeway (the 210) with the gold line in the middle of it that ends and becomes the construction project that is the gold line foothill extension, it leaves the median on a nice decorative bridge and we see a park and ride under construction at what will be its last stop. We end up in the HOV Lane.

The bus eventually gets off the Foothill Freeway goes a bit south down residential streets and pulls up in front of the Claremont Station at 2:41, 24 minutes early (scheduled for 3:05). There a few people waiting and the driver tells them he’s dropping-off, going southbound. Almost immedately the northbound bus to Bakersfield, arrives its scheduled for 2:40. It has the new text that Amtrak’s just started applying to their new thruway buses with the Caltrans (CT logo) and Amtrak Califronia: Your Train Connection written on the buses. I’ve already started my photo essay and don’t get a decent pic.

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I start my photo essay and I’m so early that the 2:45 train soon arrives. I’m not planning to take this train and still need to get out to Montclair the next stop.

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I buy my $10 weekend Metrolink pass (that I later realize wasn’t fully necessary, I could have easily done today for a $2.45 Silver Streak fare to El Monte and than a Metro Day Pass for $5 that might have made the day go faster), the Metrolink Pass is applicable for free travel on all local bus routes and systems. My plan is to walk to Montclair, the other stop I need that is only a mile and a half. The reason I didn’t get the four stops I’m doing today on the Sunday two years ago (the last time I spent quality transit time in L.A.) when I did the San Bernardino Line was because of the fact the four stops I would be missing would be so easy to get on regular transit.

I don’t feel like walking with my backpack and glance at Google Transit. Route 187 keeps popping up. I go to the stop in front of the station and the 480 is just arriving. The destination sign says Montclair TransCenter. I flash my Weekend Day Pass, get on and get nervous when we curve south and I realize the station is a block north of us. I later learn this bus was still going to the TransCenter, just taking a looping route to serve a mall. I think its not going to be much of a walk and start heading north. I can see the Montclair Station.

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There is one problem, its behind a fence and I learn the hard way that all access is from the north. This ends up being a full half-mile around to the nearest road underpass beyond the western end of the station, Monte Vista Avenue where I have to cross the street twice because there is only a sidewalk on the west side of the street in its underpass before finally getting to the station. The stop has two platforms, complete with a pedestrian tunnel but this tunnel only serves as access to track two and not any other access. I luckily have plenty of time before the next train that isn’t until 4:10

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At 4:10 I get on Metrolink on time. A Sherif deputy immediately comes to ask for my ticket with a “You’ve just boarded right.” He’s roaming the train, I haven’t seen this before, acting just like a conductor on an East Coast Train that would be collecting tickets

  • 4:12 – Claremont
  • 4:16 – Pamona North
  • We pass the auto club raceway, I can’t tell if it has a special platform. I believe it does
  • 4:27 – Covina
  • 4:39 – Baldwin Park

My original plan is to go into Union Station, dump by luggage and then head back out (there is a train at 5:35) to get Cal State-LA and El Monte that are both near Silver Line Stops. I start looking outside and realize the only chance I’ll have to finish the San Bernardino line before darkness is just by doing it all now with my backpack (who’s weight really isn’t too bad). I get off at El Monte at 4:45.

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The Silver Line and Silver Streak don’t actually stop at the El Monte Station, the El Monte Bus Station is a little under a mile away. I check my phone and see that Metro Bus Route 268 should be going there any time. First I walk by this locked up bus loop for the El Monte Trolley. I don’t quite know what to make of it since everything is fenced off. [Post-trip I discover its the terminus of the El Monte Trolley Lines, a small local bus system in El Monte that only runs on weekdays and Saturdays]

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I walk towards where Metro Bus Route 268 route is right as Google Transit says it is the scheduled departure time. I see it at a stop light and jog across to get it. It’s a quick under 10 minute ride to the new El Monte Transit Center that has buses stop on a rediculous two levels. As we pull in I see the Silver Streak, it and the Silver Line can both take me one stop down the HOT Lanes of the San Bernardino Freeway to Cal State-L.A. my final Metrolink stop. I figure out how to get upstairs to the second level of the huge bus station and I find the stop for the Silver Streak.

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I get on the Silver Streak, feel my pocket and make sure I have change since its considered an Express Route and I believe I owe a step-up fee. The driver though just waves me on and its a quick less than 10 minute non-stop ride to Cal State-L.A. Cal State-L.A. is one of the stranger transit station’s I’ve been two with one entrance from a high walkway above and the single Metrolink platform for a single track tucked under the platform for the inbound busway, directly across from the outbound busway that is at a different level.

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I spend a good 20 minutes getting photos as the sun sets before going back to the inbound bus platform. The first bus to come is the Silver Line. The Silver Line is considered a Metro Express Route Fare but accepts Metro Day Passes (longer passes and Metrolink tickets require a step-up free). I get on, flash my Metrolink ticket and the driver says the step-up fee is 95¢ (a ridiculously uneven fare). I just put a dollar bill in the fare box and let Metro keep the extra nickel. The driver says “Most People just do that.”

It’s another quick ride down the transit way, we make one intermediate stop at LA and USC Medial Center before we stop at the awkwardly positioned Silver Line station at the southern end of the plazas outside Union Station(11 total photos). I get off at 5:45 and head inside to drop my bag off to enjoy my final hours in L.A. without it.

Continue Reading for Finishing the Red Line, Select+ Still Doesn’t Get You a Preferred Seat in LA and Spending the $150 on a Roomette for Actual Sleep to Tucson.