Tuesday, 15 November 2016

Across America with Amtrak - Part 4 - One more night on the Southwest Chief

Our final night on the train begins in the lobby of the Grand Canyon Railway Hotel (for it is the railway which provides the bus). We already know that the Southwest Chief is running late as James tracked its progress on WiFi over dinner. Indeed I have two email alerts on my phone detailing the increasing delay to Amtrak's train #3. We suspect this means that the bus from Willimas will run late also but neither of us are confident enough to order another cherry cola in the route 66 diner where we have eaten.

'Route 66' roughly parallels the Southwest Cheif and is very
much in evidence in the town of Williams. 
We are correct- staff on the desk let us know that we have 'time for at least one drink' in the 'pub' attached to the hotel. To tell the truth we are both stuffed from dinner so instead wait it out on the comfy chairs in the lobby. About an hour later than planned Clay the driver turns up with the peeling minibus and the four passengers (ourselves included) set off into the darkness to Williams Junction. Not even the singular station light is illuminated to greed us and with just the minibus providing light the night sky is perfect for stargazing- it is cold though! Within moments lights appear down the track and I comment to Clay on the precision of his timing, 'Oh no- this is just a freight train' he replies. 'The train has been further delayed.' 'Is it often on time?' I question. 'No' is the simple answer. 100% of our Amtrak trains have been late so far and with our final one 90 minutes down before we have boarded this figure is unlikely to improve. The large black lady sitting opposite me warns her husband not to stand out in the cold 'You will catch flu'- I feel this is slight over-reaction but they are obviously not used to the chilly temperatures being from Southern California. Every time I see lights approaching I walk out hopefully to the platform and several times I am greeted by the roar of a huge freight train thundering past- Up to five locomotives motor up the grade pulling their payload of over 100 wagons stacked with containers two high. After the train passes silence returns to this dark clearing in the forest somewhere in Arizona.

Eventually a different pattern of lights appears on the horizon, the station light is switched on and the Southwest Chief pulls into view. I half expect to see Philip waiting for us at the door but it is of course a new attendant. He shows us to our roomette and informs us that breakfast is served from 0500. That is terribly early given that it is now almost midnight but he doesn't know when the last sitting will be because of the delay. We set the alarm for 06:30 and I give up on the idea of a shower tonight. I enquire about the delay and the attendant informs me that it was due to police attending the train to remove a passenger at Albuquerque and then getting stuck behind a freight which had 'killed it'.
Breakfast is enjoyed as we traverse the Cajun Pass. BNSF's GE ES44C4 #7063 is seen climbing one of the tracks through the mountains with a long intermodal train. This section would have been in darkness were it not for our 90 minute delay.

I could have slept worse but am already semi-awake when my alarm sounds. Looking out of the window I can already tell it is warm. I elect to pop down to the diner to find out what the deal is with breakfast and return with the good news that we can snooze for another hour. When we do go go down to breakfast the train is traversing the Cajun Pass, a busy stretch of railway through the mountains which surround LA. The landscape here is very dry and has been tarnished by the devastating Blue Cut Forest Fire which had ravaged the area just months earlier. Several passengers we had spoken to talked of drought in California and the fact that there had not been significant rainfall for 5 years. I elect to have the omelette which is one of just a couple of options still available. There is much discussion about yesterday's delay. It turns out that it was our rather camp waiter who called the police to the train as there was a drunk making threatening remarks towards staff and passengers. The story goes that when he was refused travel he clung on to the train and they had to call the police- who evidently were in no hurry. This was the third person the dining attendant had had to remove from the train this week! Other passengers who had seen the unruly man expressed their thanks that he was not permitted on board, 'anything could have happened'.

Journeys end for the Southwest Chief- LA Union Station a mere
2265 miles from Chicago.
With the diner closing and the observation lounge also shut 'to prepare for our arrival in LA' -(what do you have to do to prepare some seats for arrival that takes over an hour?) we have no option but to return to our room. With a little while still to go and the scenery of the mountains now behind us I elect to have that shower that I abandoned the night before- for the novelty as much as anything. I had never taken a shower on a train before! It was pleasant actually- warm and quite frankly better than the fairly poor facilities at the cheap hotels we had stayed in so far. Feeling refreshed I headed back to the roomette for the view of the low relief cityscape as we made our final approach to LA Union station. Los Angeles had been described to us as a group of suburbs looking for a city, and I can't disagree as we passed towns of San Bernadino and Fullerton. Somehow we had made up 45 minutes of time in the last 45 minutes of the schedule, quite how I do not know, but being just 45 minutes late seemed pretty good going.

So that was it. Coast to coast with Amtrak completing and as I often find on these long journeys I had surprised myself with how little of my magazines I had read and how my i-pod had remained largely untouched.

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