Report and Photos by Russ Jackson
Rail passengers wanting to use the Coast Starlight, Amtrak trains 11 and 14, in recent years have agonized about the late trains not only at the endpoints of Seattle and Los Angeles, but at all stations in between.
On February 15, 2007, the status of that day’s two Starlights was 0% trains on time; for the month of February 1.8% had been OT, and since October 1, 2006, only 21.9% of the trains had been OT. The “official” reason given by Amtrak was “Due to track conditions (on the UPRR) between Klamath Falls, Oregon, and Sacramento, with numerous slow orders in effect, trains 11 and 14 are subject to delays.” Updated information for August shows on the 15th it was 0% for both trains, for that month it was 18.8%, and for the FY 20.2%
On May 30, 2006 the Coast Starlight, train 11, was at the Emeryville station at 1:45 pm, running 5 1/2 hours late.
In the last few months, however, the portion of the UP’s Coast line south of Oakland has shown an improvement, so that train 14, the northbound, could reliably run close to on time every day. The hangups there were largely solved with the completion of work in the Chatsworth tunnels in March. Train 11 was the same between Seattle and Portland. The problem continued to be the portion of the route between Sacramento and Klamath Falls into Eugene. It was such a consistent problem of no reliability that in the current Amtrak timetable, on page 94 train 11 appears along with the Cascades, but in the companion northbound timetable on page 95 train 14 does not appear, as Amtrak cannot guarantee it will arrive near to on time to carry passengers north of Eugene.
On July 26, 2007, at 12:44 pm, it’s scheduled train arrival time for train 14 at the Eugene, Oregon Amtrak station. The train will not arrive until after 6:00 pm.
On August 15 the official reason for the delays showed only 27 minutes of delay between Klamath Falls and Sacramento for train 11, and 59 minutes for train 14. Here are some recent performances in the segment between Eugene and Sacramento.
Train 11 Arrival at Sacramento
Scheduled time: 6:15 am
Date Actual time
In the same time period the arrival of train 11 into Los Angeles Union Station was similarly improved, with early arrival actually happening on August 8 and 14, and within 30 minutes on most other dates.
Train 14 Arrival at Eugene
Scheduled time: 12:44 pm
Date Actual time
In the same time period the arrival of train 14 into Seattle was approximately the same amount of delay, but with four days times being double digit minutes late instead of triple digits.
So, what’s happened? The UP completed track projects in that segment some time ago, which no doubt contribute to the improvement. Why the southbound now does so much better between Sacramento and Eugene is yet to be determined. Passengers can take assurance that improvements are being made.
But, it is still slow out there. As RailPAC Oakland member Bob Mac Donald wrote in the year 2000, “There’s no reason for the Coast Line to be ‘scenic but slow. Scenic Yes, Slow, No.'” The Starlight is scheduled to run the segment between Oakland and Los Angeles now in 12 hours 20 minutes. As Mr. Mac Donald points out, in 1956 the Southern Pacific ran that trip in 9 hours 45 minutes, with only one fewer stop.
With the on time performance improved now it’s time to work on returning the Starlight’s on board amenities, and improving service in the Pacific Parlour car!
Next month we’ll look at the Southwest Chief.
Source: Amtrak.com, amtrakdelays.com