The First Sunset Limited Trip on New Schedule   May 31st, 2012

Robert Manning

TRIP REPORT: Talk about a change of pace, how about eating a late dinner at Traxx Restaurant which is located directly inside Los Angeles Union Station! The station is pretty empty at 8 p.m., but then it starts to fill up with passengers planning to depart on the new schedule change for the Sunset Limited at 10 p.m. After a very enjoyable dinner, you take a leisurely walk through the tunnel of LAUS, board the train, and go directly to your bedroom; this is really a no-hassle, easy way to travel. You can only imagine how it was years back when this famous old train always departed from both ends late in the evening. You have to wonder how did people traveling in the southwest, in the heart of the desert, cope with no air conditioning in those early years.

Night view at LAUS, looking from the Traxx Restaurant through the waiting room to the boarding gates

It was nice to see that this train was sold out, no seats left in coach, and all the bedrooms were taken! On this trip when I entered my bedroom, I was pleased to find my bed was down and ready for a good night’s sleep. But there were a few problems: The connecting wall for the adjoining bedroom was very loose and continually rattled. I stuffed paper and towels under and between the walls, which did help some, but it was annoying. A severe problem: apparently the volume control for the room speaker had been turned to up to blast level. When an announcement was made it was like having an air horn going off in your room. There was no way to control the volume. An Amtrak Supervisor, Mr. Winston McIntosh came into the room to talk with me, an announcement was made and due to the noise level, Mr. McIntosh covered his ears. It was that bad! A couple of minor issues: the curtains were frayed and the Velcro attached to the curtains was not sticking. Also, two of the reading lights were apparently burned out. I should also make the point that this was one of the refurbished sleeping cars (don’t know when it was refurbished); apparently this sleeping car is just wearing out.

The next morning I was put on a waiting list for breakfast because the diner was full. After a short wait, I was seated and had a wonderful breakfast. I had oatmeal, which was not instant and I was offered eggs cooked to order, plus a good variety for a breakfast menu. This was a very pleasant surprise. I should also add that the dinning car staff was nothing short of excellent. The food for breakfast, lunch and dinner was very good. However, the second morning for breakfast was another thing. The only offering was cold cereal, and pancakes, no other hot food. The dining car was clean, but showing a lot of wear. It needed to be refurbished.

Union Pacific damage from the tornado in Texas, as seen from the Sunset Limited

On the second day traveling in east Texas, we were told of a delay because of a tornado that had damaged Union Pacific freight cars and track at Weimar, Texas. I remembered hearing heavy rain and hail during the night. It was something to look out my bedroom window as the train was moving and seeing the lighting in the distance. What a pleasant experience. But, as a result of the tornado we were two hours nine minutes late arriving into New Orleans. Obviously this was not an Amtrak problem, but due to this kind of weather event.

More tornado damage in East Texas in early May, 2012

This two day trip was an overall wonderful experience, and many of the fellow passengers I talked with seemed to very much enjoy their train trip. I certainly am concerned with the aging condition of the long distance equipment. This stuff is definitely wearing out.

SUNSET LIMITED COMMENTS: The new schedule with a seven hour later departure from Los Angeles allows for a connection from the 9:00 pm arrival of the Coast Starlight. This time change, along with a different time departure from New Orleans, will apparently financially improve the Sunset’s bottom line. This is good.

One major problem is the early morning arrival into Los Angeles Union Station. This train has been arriving at 4:30 to 4:45 am. This is way too early, especially for mom and the kids. I know we can find a later arrival time slot into LAUS.

We strongly believe that a reroute from LAUS via Fullerton and Riverside, as opposed to the current Pomona and Ontario schedule could be accomplished. That reroute would have an immediate financial improvement for this beleaguered train. Of course if this train were a daily train coupled with this reroute, you can only imagine the financial benefit. The public benefit would of course be immense. It really comes down to this: There is apparently barely enough long distance equipment to service the current Western trains.

Robert Manning, Executive Vice President, Rail Passenger Association of California and Nevada

This entry was posted on Thursday, May 31st, 2012 at 10:13 AM and is filed under Commentary.