ARM Trip Report

Train Riding to/from NRHS Convention, Portland Oregon, July 2005

Art Bliss

Originally I had planned to ride to the NRHS Convention in Portland this year on a private car that was going to be part of the inbound convention train via the inside gateway.  This plan fell apart completely 1 week before the start of the convention.   Very luckily Bart and Jane had 1 space left in the Vista Canyon on their trip which I pounced on.   Bart collected me on his second pass around terminal 4 at Sky Harbor Airport and the next morning we drove to Tucson to ready the Vista Canyon for the trip.  The most difficult job which I only partially did was unload/load all the food that Jane bought for the trip.   This gave me perspective on what it takes to operate a private car these days.

So at midnight on 7/1, the UP had us spotted west of their yard where Amtrak Train 1 could couple on to Vista Canyon.  We left Tucson at 2:10 am - 2 hours 10 minutes off the advertised which is not bad all things considered.  As we have become accustomed, our westerly progress started to deteriorate almost immediately.   It took 17 hours for Tr 1 to travel to Los Angeles where the scheduled time is 10 hours 10 minutes.  We experienced long delays in East Yuma (53 mins), Palm Springs (1 hr 34 mins), Cabazon Siding (2 hrs 28 mins), and east of Ontario where we progressed 18 miles in 2 hours 2 minutes.  In (East) Yuma an eastbound freight outlawed over the switch where Mains 1 and 2 join before crossing the Colorado River.   A westbound train crew left their train, boarded and moved this eastbound to unclog the bridge.  At Palm Springs, Amtrak had 2-3 busses waiting to take passengers to Bakersfield to make connections while we waited/watched 3 trains go by.  At Cabazon Tr 1 pulled into the passing siding behind a westbound.  1 eastbound went by and finally a second (very slowly) - being scrutinized by the police from a signal mast for a robbery suspect.  Amtrak patched our crew here as well.  We met Tr 2 just east of the Ontario station but were not on a track with a station platform and there were freights on our tail.  So, Tr 1 passed the station and to LA by traveling the METRA Cutoff which we did at speed.  Bart and Jane served us a wonderful dinner on board that was unexpected.  One would think we should have arrived in LA in time for dinner seeing as we should have been there at 10:10 am!  Our Tr 1 consist was #’s: 44, 46, 1252, 39005, 32092, 38066, 33050, 34064, 31032, 34088, 32053, and the Vista Canyon.

July 2 was an open day in Los Angeles and I elected to ride down to San Diego.   I had never been there and enjoyed my short stay down on the waterfront.  I returned to LA on Surfliner Train #583 with consist #‘s 6903, 6453, 6406, 6306, 6807, and 460.  We all ate a fine Mexican dinner across the street from the station and returned to the Vista Canyon which was located in the Eighth Street Coach Yard.  About 9:30 pm, Amtrak pushed Vista Canyon down to the turntable and reoriented us.  Bart pointed out the various facilities in the yard and we got a glimpse of ATSF steam engine #3751 which is stored there.

Sunday morning, July 3, our 10:15 am departure from LA shaped up quite nicely.   The Train 14 consist was all put together right before our eyes.  Sometime around 9 am, Bart heard on the radio that during the final inspection it was noted that the second engine had a bad fuel pump.  Later it was determined there was no replacement pump in stock.  Later this engine was taken out of the consist.  Later the new engine was inserted in the train and the brake tests etc were redone.  By 1:58 pm, Vista Canyon had been tacked onto Tr 14 and we were backing out of the coach yard for Union Station, arriving at 2:18 pm.   While people were loading, a conductor announced on his radio that the toilets in the last 2 coaches didn’t work, and that ‘this train is going nowhere until they are fixed‘!  Bart approached him saying ’I repair cars such as these for a living and am sure the compressed air valve that drives them is closed - give me 2 minutes’ to which the conductor replied ’No, I’ll call maintenance’.  The radio cracked again with the response ’You are leaving‘!  We indeed left - at 3:15 pm, 5 hrs and 5 mins late, and with unserviceable toilets in the 2 coaches just ahead of the Vista Canyon.   The scenery going up along the coast is gorgeous.  Jane and staff served us a delightful dinner on board, and I went to bed about 11 pm, north of Paso Robles CA somewhere.  Up to this point Train 14 had met or passed only 10 trains 3 of which were passenger and we were 5 hrs 15 mins off schedule.   The consists was 65, 166, 1171, 39019, 32104, 32085, 32078, 39973, 38046, 33049, 34061, 34515, 34034, 39957, and Vista Canyon.

I awoke at 6 am Monday morning while Tr 14 was being serviced and noted that private cars Dover Harbor and J Pinckney Henderson had been added behind Vista Canyon.   Also heard that the toilets in the last 2 coaches were working fine - just turn the valve on.  We met Tr 11 south of Chico running 4 hrs 45 min late and our Tr 14 was 6 hrs 25 mins late at this point.  The benefit of running late now was that we saw the wonderful scenery - Shasta Lake, Sacramento River Canyon, Dunsmuir, snow covered Mt Shasta, and the lava flows towards Grass Lake.  The scenery continued and the descent from Cascade Summit down into the Williamette River valley was spectacular.  We lost more time after Eugene OR (probably due to the inbound convention special that we had caught up to) and arrived in Portland at 12:09 am - 8 hrs 29 mins off.  During this day we met/passed 16 freights and 2 passengers.

Tuesday, July 5 I took time to photograph the private cars parked at Portland Union Station and Bart introduced us to several private car owners who showed off their cars.  In the afternoon, many of us took pictures of steam engines SP&S 700 and SP 4449 at they entered Union Station in preparation of the Convention Steam Train Special the next day.   Wednesday morning, July 6 as to be expected, there was a large crowd looking at the steam engines on the point of the Convention train.  It was a Kodak moment as the train departed the station as well as for the next half a mile along the tracks.

A big reason why I came to the Convention was to ride the Amtrak trains from Portland OR to Spokane and Seattle WA, and then to Vancouver BC.  Also I had never ridden the CN track between Vancouver and Jasper.   So, I said good by to Bart (Jane was out shopping for more food!) and the rest of the Vista Canyon travelers and boarded the Portland section of the Empire Builder, Tr 28.  This was a very rough transition after riding in great comfort aboard the Vista Canyon.  Now I was riding in coach.  Train 28 departed 17 mins late consisting of 185, 207, 33044, 34109, 31023, and 32029.  After crossing the Columbia River into Vancouver WA lots of spectators appeared waiting for the steam special’s return.  We met it 35 mins east of Vancouver (MP 42) with 4449 in the lead now.   Again, the scenery was great - steep rock outcroppings, railroad tunnels, river freighters/barges, locks/hydropower dams, wind surfers, and the river.   The sun set on this beautiful landscape about 10 mins before arriving in Pasco.  10 mins after leaving, the train stopped and the engineer appeared in the café car wanting some dinner!  The attendant provided him with a micro waved sandwich and we were on our way -  arriving at Spokane at 12:05 am, 8 mins early!  We met/passed 12 trains.  I was tired and hungry and the all night restaurant served me a very respectable breakfast for $5.69.   Train 7 arrived containing 144, 184, 1255, 39036, 32052, 32068, 38005, 34139, 34136, (Tr 27-33028, 34091, 31003, and 32012).   5 people boarded Tr 7, we left at 2:45 am as advertised, and I promptly fell asleep in my coach seat.   After Wenatchee, Tr 7 works its way up to Steven’s Pass and the Cascade Tunnel.   While we wait for 2 800 horsepower fans to ‘flush out’ the exhaust from a preceding freight, a National Park Service volunteer narrates information -  built from 1925 to 1928, 8 miles long, and the track drops 600 ft westbound, and a 2.2 % descending track cut into the mountains on the west side.   It was a slow trip to the valley floor at the small town of Index.  Only saw 5 freights, and we arrived in Seattle 5 mins early.

On Friday July 8, I rode Amtrak Cascade Tr 510 to Vancouver, BC.  These Talgo trains seem like you are riding in an airplane - cushy seats with TV monitors explaining the safety features, car/train layout, and expected arrival time at stops.   The views before and after Bellingham along the coastline were good but the ride became bumpy when we crossed into Canada - stick rail.  We were 20 mins late into Vancouver and our train pulled into the farthest station track inside a heavy wire mesh cage.  The customs process was lengthy - cars were unloaded 1 or 2 at a time, checked baggage was spread out along the platform and for claim, and the waiting line (20 mins for me) was not protected from the light rainy weather.  Canadian customs officials expected passport identification (driver’s license with birth certificate was sufficient) and the questions more detailed - they wanted to see my itinerary.  The bombing in London had just occurred.   I now checked in with VIA to claim my section.  Riding The Canadian (Train 2 in my case) seems a lot like doing a boat cruise - the ticket agent and staff were super friendly. “Did I want to have early or late seating for dinner?  Your section is U3 in Car 222 which is on Track 5 - the coaches are on Track 4.  We’ll check your suitcase and deliver it to your room.  You are welcome complimentary snacks and drinks in the lounge before boarding.  Enjoy the musician/singer as well!”   We left the station at 5:40 pm, 10 mins late, loafed out the BNSF rails to CN/Douglas Island where VIA could water the train at 7 pm - finally we’re moving.  Oh yes, a champagne welcome toast in the tail end dome/obs.   I was quite surprised when at CN/Kane Tr 2 turned left and crossed the Fraser River.  I had hoped to ride the CN route all the way to Jasper AB.   Upon inquiry, I learned that for the last 5-6 years, CN and CP have been doing ’directional running’ on their lines through the Fraser River canyon which greatly improves train throughput due to lack of passing sidings.  All eastbound trains go on CP and the westbounds travel on CN.   So, I missed riding the CN from Kane to Cisco Bridge.  Darkness fell some 20 miles east of Agassiz while I was eating a sumptuous dinner.

Tr 2 made Jasper 45 mins late (Saturday, July 9) after a scenic ride.  The train was serviced here and I had a chance to walk the platform writing down the long consist -  6449, 6436, 8616, 8103, 8126, 8104, 8101, 8502, 8313, 8307, 8319, 8503, 8408, 8340, 8306, 8328, 8509, 8402, 8335, 8332, 8333, and 8707 - 22 pieces of equipment.   The scenery was great although less mountainous all the way to Edmonton AB where we arrived 1 hr 5 mins late.  VIA staff person Diane Garth was a wealth of information and described to me how CN sold their station property in downtown Edmonton to a community college and which eventually forced VIA to build a new station near the CN yard northwest of the city.   The backup move into downtown took about 25 mins and was time consuming.  I went to bed after Wainwright AB having seen 22 freights and VIA Tr 1 this day.   I spent much time in the last dome observation car which was never really crowded.  It was always stocked with coffee and fruit throughout the day - a nice touch.

On Sunday July 10, I detrained in Winnipeg MB only 30 mins late.  Leaving the station I realized that The Winnipeg Railway Museum occupies 3-4 tracks in the station.  They have about 20 pieces of equipment on display as well as many photo exhibits showing the history of the CN and CP in the western provinces - also a good display about building the CN line to Churchill MB.  After the museum tour I figured out the city bus system and was able to get out to the airport from which I flew back to Chicago and then to our summer place in Vermont.  I enjoyed it all.

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