The Red Line for the Short Ride to Union Station comes immediately and at 9:05 I head up to the Metro Center exit, it has tons of signs dividing entering and exit passengers through its locked faregates but no staff. I walk through the tunnel and find the desk in the lobby where coach passengers get seat assignments. My ticket isn’t scanned and he hands me an aisle seat. I ask if I can have a window and I’m told no, sorry they need the windows for groups and the usual sold out train excuse. I flash my Select+ card but that does nothing either. The station staff don’t understand what a Select+ card means. Why can’t Los Angeles have a lounge yet? I grab my backpack from left luggage that has an agent at it and find a seat to await the boarding call.
At 9:22 we get the Boarding call. I head up to tack 11 and ask the attendant at the door if their any window seats left. She is station staff and lacks a map. I board and realize I’m in seat 34 right across from the staircase (one of the worst seats possible). My seat mate soon comes and I discretely charge my phone over him before trying to read. Then we chat for a bit, he’s a young just graduate from Yale (who’s graduation I was at).
At 9:50 the Coast Starlight arrives across the platform from us. I predict successfully a ten minute delay. We start leaving at 10:10. We get announcements from the cafe attendant (open until 11:00pm) and the dining car (breakfast starts at 6:30, lunch and dinner by reservation only). Then we pull-up to the platform, the last southbound Pacific Surfliner of the evening passes us.
At 10:33 –Really start moving along a yard and UP double stack. The attendant comes back and tells me there sorry their no windows left and that this train is not set up the same way as trains in the northeast when I try my Select+ card one more time. It isn’t a real perk but thought it might mean something. None of them have any idea what it means. Amtrak you need to treat your best customers better in stations without Lounge Access on trains were seats are assigned! I got much better treatment flying on United with lounge access and my business class upgrade than in coach on Amtrak.I decide to sit in lounge car and at least look out as we leave LA.
- 12:52 – Pass El Monte. I’m quite confused of our route. This stop is on the San Benardino line, I guess the sunset takes its own route out of LA not following the Riverside line. We didn’t go down The middle of a freeway like the San Bernardino line does! I glance at the map on my iPhone and see another line that we must have taken to leave LA. We go along another short viaduct.
- 11:00 – Pass a yard and double stack. We take a line just north of the Riverside line but not directly along it. It’s all warehouses of the Inland Empire.
- 11:10 – Join a darkened rail line. It’s used by the Riverside Line for our one co-station stop of Pomona although Amtrak uses the north platform, Metrolink the south.
At 11:12 we arrive Pamona with its odd mixture three platforms and mixture of Amtrak and Metrolink signs. Maybe a half-dozen people are led out of the station for boarding. We leave at 11:14, back to industrial lights.
- 11:19 – Go through a yard that is our split from the Riverside line.
- 11:21 – Arrive in Ontario to a larger crowd then Pomona, there is clearly no one boarding at least the Sunset sleepers since they pull up beyond the platform. We leave at 11:27. I go back to my seat to try and sleep their which I doubt will happen there. I debate how soon I can become “a lounge lizard.” We pass a scrapyard and then the lights of the Ontario Airport and the grade crossing where I photographed the Sunset when it still had a daylight schedule leaving Los Angeles until the change about a year ago.
- 11:36 – Another intermodal hub and we follow I-10. Traffic is beating us.
- 11:41 – Keep slowly following I-10
- 11:43 – Slowly pass a large yard between us and I-10
- . I decide to sit in the lounge again who’s lights are unfortunately on. The yard is huge, well lit and I notice the full moon.
- 11:52 – We slowly leave the yard behind but sidings continue. A locomotive headlight nearly blinds my eyes.
- 11:56 – Over two tracks that I believe is the Inland Empire line and over the route I will take into Los Angeles in two mornings time back to LA as I begin my loop trip.
- Midnight – Keep going by the same yard very slowly.
- 12:03 – finally regain some speed.
I doze off in the sightseer lounge, the crew has kept all the lights on and I know better than to ask for them dimmed. My aisle seat has enough light from the stairs though to keep me in the lounge, the 3 seats are more comfortable
At 1:02 I arrive at the sandy platform and shelter of Palm Springs. It’s clearly windy I can tell from the trees blowing. There is a lone taxi, I wonder if its still a smoke stop like on my last trip (those photos were lost). Since we’re late I don’t bother trying. We leave at 1:08, a five minute stop. I see the lights of this desert city off in the distance. The lights continue.
- 1:22 – Clearly pass the airport
- 1:28 – The lights of Palm Destert and Indio continue
- 1:30 – regain speed
- 1:38 – finally leave the towns of the high desert behind.
- 3:01 – I guess I get some actual sleep! I awake as we’re quite close to Yuma. We haven’t lost any time, were due into YUM at 26 minutes late.
- 3:05 – I see the conductor walk back for YUM’s station work from the transition sleeper. The approach is neat as we follow the remains of the Colorado River still in California around the city.
- 3:12 – on a curve see the sign Ocean to Ocean Highway and cross the Colorado River (with some water) into Yuma and enter the State of Arizona.
- At 3:15am we arrive in Yuma with an island platform and a ramp. I don’t see much of a station house We leave at 3:18.
- 3:27 – Pass some industry
- 3:32 – Yuma slowly fades away, I sleep again
- 4:43 – Going through the desert, see the first rays of light.
- 5:11 – I keep my iPod on and zone out as the expected Sonoran desert landscape with some hills in the background emerges as the sun slowly rises. I-8 is just north of us.
- 5:14 – Under I-8 and through Gila Bend, a tiny town
- 5:23 – First large cacti and go through an unusual scenic stretch of desert with large mounds. Sonoran Desert National Monument.
- 5:28 – Another track joins us. The moon is still out.
- 5:46 – Reach a few houses, the outskirts of Maricopa.
- 5:49 – Pass a feedlot
At 5:53, the first spot at Maricopa. The only station I know of with both arrival and departure times that isn’t a smoke stop because of its short platform. I even verify this fact when I walk by my attendant.
- 5:58 – The second spot in Maricopa, blocking a grade crossing the cafe attendant arrives
- 6:01 – Start pulling up. We go past the station with luggage piled along the platform (no sign of a cart) destined to Maricopa then continue up for a half-dozen passengers. The platform is fenced off. I see the Zephyr Bullet Lounge that was once used as a station house. It has a modular current station building.
- 6:12 – Pull up for a second time, when will Maricopa get the long platform it needs?
- 6:14 – Finally leave the Maricopa station, a very poor substitute for serving Phoenix.
- 6:19 – Zoom by a double-stack train on a siding. There is more green then you would think off in the distance. We’ve left Maricopa behind
- 6:50 – It’s through irrigated fields, following I-10. I will be on this exact corridor a few feet away this afternoon on the bus to Phoenix. I’ve fallen asleep again but decide I should be courteous and get up. I wonder if this corridor will ever get commuter rail?
- 6:56 – Leave the mountains and go back to fields.
- 6:59 – Pass some auto carriers that block the sun.
- 7:01 – We get the good morning announcement. The conductor says the train is non-smoking under federal law (this fully applies now with the AutoTrain non-smoking) and the usual shoes required. He finishes with “On behalf of your El Paso based train and engine crew, thank you for riding Amtrak” Maricopa I gather is the crew change point but the short platform means it isn’t a smoke stop. The cafe car attendant has a humerus announcements. Mentioning he has coffee and yogurt.
- 7:07 – The subdivision of Marana. We finally hear from May the dining car steward that she is open for breakfast.
I pack up as we slowly enter Tucson, getting the ten minute before arrival call as expected. I pack up and we arrive on time at 7:30 for what will be a 45 minute layover for those continuing east. I get off and step out into the Arizona heat to await my ride. Of course there photos first of the train in the station.