Rail Travelogue by Steve Grande
Note: This rail travelogue was accidentally deleted and lost for many years. We managed to recover it in late 2010 from archives and re-post it to TrainWeb.com. These are some of my earliest rail travels and travel writings. My experience and understanding of Amtrak and other rail operations was quite a bit less than today and my writing style may have been a bit less experienced back then. So please pardon any problems that you might find in these earlier rail travel reports. A number of these earlier reports also have few or no photos or very small photos which was intentional to reduce download time during the early days of the web when almost everyone had slow dial-up connections to the internet!
The Orange Blossom Festival in Riverside via Metrolink. Mark your calendar for this one! The Orange Blossom Festival is held once each year around the third weekend in April. Metrolink runs trains from Oceanside to Riverside along the Inland Empire Route and from Los Angeles to Riverside.
Only read this section if you are interested in when and why Metrolink ran the trains according to the schedule that they used for the Riverside Orange Blossom Festival. If you aren't interested in those technical details, then skip down to the next section titled: "Our Venture".
Although this festival runs for 3 days, Metrolink only runs special trains for it on Saturday. You can take the Metrolink to the festival on Friday, but the Metrolink trains only do normal commuter runs in the morning and evening on Friday, so you have to work your hours around that schedule. On Saturday, one train runs continuously between South Orange County to Riverside from early morning to early evening. Running the train continuously results in 3 trains from Orange County to Riverside and 3 return trains. There is only one round trip made from Los Angeles: an early morning train from Los Angeles to Riverside and a late afternoon train from Riverside to Los Angeles. Up until 1997, there has been no train service provided to the festival on Sunday at all. I'm hoping they will decide to change that policy in future years. Some or all of the financing for these special Metrolink trains to the festival is provided by Riverside.
I found the logic behind the Saturday schedule interesting. It was obviously planned so that only one Metrolink trainset would be needed for the whole day. That trainset starts in Oceanside where it would normally sit all weekend for its commuter run on Monday morning. To attempt to run that trainset to Riverside and then all the way back to Oceanside again several times during the day evidently would not result in a desirable schedule and would probably increase the cost to Riverside significantly.
Instead, the first Metrolink train left Oceanside at 7:25am, arrived at Riverside at 9:25am, started its return trip at 9:45am, but was only sent as far back as San Juan Capistrano! Thus, if you lived near Oceanside or San Clemente, you better be on that 7:25am train because that is the only morning train leaving for Riverside that day!
The train would arrive in San Juan Capistrano at 11:00am and be sent back on its way to Riverside at 11:15am, arriving in Riverside at 12:38pm. Except for Oceanside and San Clemente, most people along the route had their choice of an early morning or late morning train to the Riverside Orange Blossom Festival.
The Metrolink train would then sit in Riverside from 12:38pm to 3:00pm. The first batch of people that arrived at 9:25am who had experienced enough of the festival could leave on this 3:00pm train, unless they lived near Oceanside. This train was only going as far as San Clemente! However, I have a funny feeling this may have been a missprint on the schedule. The schedule shows this train arriving in San Clemente at 4:35pm and not going to Oceanside at all. However, the schedule also shows that train continuing to Oceanside just to pick up passengers at 4:40pm. With only 5 minutes between the time the train was scheduled to drop of passengers at San Clemente and pick up passengers in Oceanside, I'm sure you could have stayed on board for those 5 minutes and gotten off at Oceanside if that was your destination.
At any rate, the 4:40pm train that left Oceanside would arrive into Riverside at 6:10pm and then board everyone still at the festival who had come by train for the final return trip. That final return trip was to leave at 6:30pm and arrive in Oceanside by 8:21pm where the trainset would remain until its first regular commuter run on Monday morning.
Only one train was scheduled to make a round-trip from the Los Angeles area to the Orange Blossom Festival in Riverside. That train would leave Burbank at 7:45am, pause in Los Angeles UPT from 8:03am to 8:15am, and then continue on arriving in Riverside by 9:34am. That train would remain in Riverside until its only return back at 3:30pm. The return train would pause in Los Angeles from 4:42pm until 4:52pm and finally arrive in Burbank at 5:10pm. Thus, if you wanted to attend the festival from any of the cities along the Riverside line, you had to take this train in and would have to leave on the 3:30pm late afternoon train even if you wanted to spend more hours at the festival.
Running these two trainsets was probably pretty expensive for Riverside. All costs might not even have been covered between Riverside and the passenger fares meaning that Metrolink might even have chipped in to make these trains possible. That would explain why there could be no train service on Sunday and no additional convenient times on Saturday.
Advance tickets were sold by Metrolink which were a significant discount off same-day tickets purchased at the ticket vending machines. By mail, adults were $7.50, youth (6-18 years) / elderly / disabled were only $5, and a group ticket for 4 people could be purchased for just $20. These prices were exactly half the cost of purchasing the tickets at the vending machines on the day of travel, except the group ticket which cannot be purchased at the vending machines.
I didn't purchase advance Metrolink tickets to this event as I wasn't sure if we would actually be going until the actual day of the Riverside Orange Blossom Festival. Also, I didn't know if both children would want to go and whether or not my wife would want to go, nor whether we would go early or late in the morning. Thus, there was no sense in purchasing advance tickets by mail.
I decided to wear my "Amtrak Florida Service" white T-Shirt along with my white "Operation Redblock Amtrak" baseball cap. White was a good color to reflect the sun as it can get quite hot during sunny days in Riverside. I knew there would be a lot of people at the festival and I like to help get people thinking about train travel whenever I can. Thus, at festive events like this, I have no problem being a walking billboard for Amtrak.
It turned out that sun and heat were no problem at all that day. The weather was heavily overcast and looked like rain was imminent. If you live or visit California, you will find that we get "overcast" days about as often as other parts of the country get rain. But, except during winter, these "overcast" days fail to ever turn into rain! A lot of newcomers and visitors to California carry umbrellas around with them that never get used. Knowing that we could be quite a distance from the Metrolink train stop while at the festival, I decided to be a "California Visitor" for a day and took 2 "Amtrak Coast Starlight" umbrellas along that I had received as gifts from being a Sleeping Car passenger on that train. Naturally, there was no rain that day and I fulfilled my role as a typical California visitor! However, I was very happy with the overcast weather as it kept the day cool and comfortable.
Just as a little side note, I have some curiosity as to why Operation Redblock has produced obvious promotional materials as baseball caps, T-shirts, coffee cups, etc. Maybe the designers of this material only expected Amtrak employees to use these promotional items in-house where they would only be viewed by other Amtrak employees and highten their awareness of the existence of substance abuse problems among Amtrak staff. That would serve to let Amtrak employees know that Amtrak was aware that such a problem existed, that Amtrak is concerned about reducing the problem, and that an appropriate route exists to which Amtrak employees can bring their personal experience of such problems.
Substance abuse problems can probably be found in every sector of society, but do you really want to remind a passenger on a train that even the people in charge of his train might have a problem with drugs or alcohol? That just doesn't seem the appropriate time to remind a passenger about this ugly fact of life if you want him to have a carefree journey!
On the other hand, you could consider this a "coded" promotion. In other words, only the targets of the "Operation Redblock" would be reminded of the effort. Passengers would not think anything of it at all. How could this be? Amtrak employees are attending Operation Redblock presentations and are made aware of what Operation Redblock is all about. Thus, they are reminded of this effort whenever they see Operation Redblock material. The general public has no idea what "Operation Redblock" is and thus has no reaction to the promotional material. If anything, the "Operation Redblock" material that also has an Amtrak logo just reminds the general public that an option exists to travel by rail. Thus, this material has a 2 prong effect: reminding the general public of the option to travel by rail, and reminding staff of the need to curb substance abuse within Amtrak.
It was with this conclusion that I decided to go ahead and wear my "Amtrak Operation Redblock" white baseball cap. I knew I might get a few odd looks from any Amtrak staff (including those that operate the Metrolink trains) and would be branded immediately as a railfan by many riders on the train, but I was mostly thinking about all those people at the festival. I purposely avoid wearing a T-shirt and hat that promote the same theme unless I'm going to a tourist attraction like Disneyland or this festival. If my cap and T-shirt have different themes, then it looks like I just grabbed whatever was convenient in my closet. When they promote the same theme, then I look like a walking billboard for the theme. Well, this was a festival and I opted for the walking billboard!
The Riverside Orange Blossom Festival is only about 30 or 40 miles from my home and I could just as easily have driven there as taken the train. Actually, I had to back track about 3 miles to get to the nearest train station. That was less obsessive than last year when I back tracked about 30 miles round-trip to Irvine so I could have a longer train ride! I certainly would have gotten there faster by car, not because the train doesn't travel as fast as a car, but more because of the time to wait for the train at each end. However, I like riding the train just for the sake of the train ride and I also like to not worry about parking and traffic when I get to big events like this.
Instead of going to the Irvine, Santa Ana, or Orange Metrolink stations, I went to the new station at Anaheim Canyon. For those that are familiar with the area, this station is located within a block of where the 55 freeway and 91 freeway intersect. It is at the corner of Tustin Avenue and La Palma Avenue in the city of Anaheim. You'll see a Carl's Jr. at that corner. The train station is at the far end of the parking lot behind the Carl's Jr.
The design of the station is like any of the new Metrolink "bus stop" type stations. A concrete platform has been poured on one side of the track. There are "bus stop" shelters to provide a little protection from the sun and rain. There is also some seating. Tickets are purchased from machines that accept cash and credit cards. As with most Metrolink stations, there is an L.E.D. display that continues to display the date and time along with other useful information. This time the display was listing all the departure times of the Orange Blossom Festival trains for the whole day. These Metrolink stations are very modern and clean, but are no architectual match for the masonry or wood stations of yesterday.
There were two other people that had already arrived at the station. They asked me when the train would come and if it would be going to the Orange Blossom Festival in Riverside. I told them that is where the train would be going and the expected time of arrival.
The train arrived right on time and was quite long. There were either 5 or 6 cars on this Metrolink train. I think we got into the car next to the last car. These are double-decker cars and we went upstairs. We walked until we found a table with 2 facing seats on each side. Not all sets of seats have tables. The Metrolink trains do have fairly large windows and the seating on the second level is high enough to give a pretty good view, unobstructed by fenses and single level structures often found next to railroad tracks. The train was fairly full and the table we found was the last one available on the upper level of our car. I was a bit surprised that so many people had gotten up so early to take the train to the festival.
Everyone on the train seemed to have a brochure with a map and list of events at the festival except for us. My guess was that someone was going to come around and pass them out on the train. I was right! Actually, the person that came around way a guy I met at the last meeting of the San Diegan Club and rode back with me to Fullerton from that meeting. He is the only person I know that has covered more Amtrak milage than myself. Actually, he has traveled more than double the milage that I have traveled by Amtrak. He has just completed over 100,000 miles of travel by Amtrak and recently finished travel by all of Amtrak's routes. On this train he was wearing a Metrolink T-Shirt and handing out information about how to return from the festival by Metrolink. I asked his about the festival information that everyone had and he said he had plenty of them and would go get a couple of them for us. He returned shortly with them. I guess he didn't expect more people to have gotton on at Anahem Canyon.
Actually, that brings up another mystery to me. Trains normally only run the Orange County - Inland Empire Route on weekdays. Except for this Orange Blossom Festival, there are no trains on this route on Saturday. Yet, we let one person off at West Corona and some other people off at the La Sierra station. I would have expected that EVERYONE taking this train would be going to the Orange Blossom Festival since there is no regular Saturday service along this line. This was a special train arranged just for this festival. All I could think was that these people decided they could go visit someone using this special train who they would not normally be able to visit by train due to lack of Saturday service. Why else would people be getting off at stations that aren't normally serviced on Saturday? The same phenomenon repeated on our return train later in the evening, though the people that boarded the return train were not the same as the people that got off at these other stops in the morning.
Usually the Conductor will come through to make sure everyone has a ticket. Metrolink uses the "semi-honor" system. Sometimes they check for tickets and sometimes they don't. You can't buy a ticket on the train. You MUST purchase your ticket before you board the train. If you are found on the train without a ticket, you are subject to a very heavy fine and possible arrest. I've often been on the Metrolink and seen both the Conductor and Deputies from the Sherriff Department come through the train checking tickets! I've once saw a Conductor require someone that purchased a student price ticket to prove his student status and I once saw a Sherriff's deputy write a citation to someone that didn't have a ticket. Writing a citation which involves a stiff fine is probably the usual method of handling people without tickets. My understanding is that the fine is several hundred dollars. I think the only time they would arrest someone is if they had no positive proof of identity. They wouldn't have too much choice in that matter since the person could give a false name and address and never pay the fine.
I never saw the Conductor on this train, but two Sheriff Deputies did come through checking tickets. They asked me where I got on the train. They had never seen a ticket before with the abbreviation "ANCYN"! I told them I had gotton on at Anaheim Canyon, the stop that we just left. He appologized for his ignorance and said he didn't work this route very often. It actually makes sense that he rarely sees that abbreviation, but that will take a bit of explaining.
Anaheim Canyon is a new and very unusual station. It is sort of an orphan station. The only trains that go through that station and the only trains planned to ever go through that station in the future are those heading for either Oceanside or San Bernardino. All the stations south of the Anaheim Canyon station have trains that go to both Los Angeles Union Station and to San Bernardino. All the stations east of the Anaheim Canyon station have trains that go to Oceanside and are planned to have service that will also go to the Los Angeles Union Station. Anaheim Canyon is the only Metrolink station in the entire system that has no direct service to Los Angeles Union Station and no direct future service is planned! Thus, relative to passengers that have boarded at other stations, it is pretty rare to find passengers that have boarded at Anaheim Canyon.
Last year, much of the festival including the circus and rides were right by the Metrolink station. There was also an old steam engine and some other train things on display by the station. I think they must have decided this was a big mistake. This kept thousands of people away from Downtown Riverside. I'm sure part of the point of the festival is to bring people to the businesses in Downtown Riverside and get people to discover what Riverside has to offer. If people stayed down near the Metrolink station by the circus and the rides, that would harm the overall financial success of the event. This time, the rides and games were set up down the main streets of downtown Riverside and the circus was also placed near the downtown events. The empty lots near the Metrolink station were left empty.
Since all the activities had been moved downtown, a method was needed to get people from the Metrolink station to downtown. Normally, the University of Riverside (UCR) has trolly buses that transport people between the University and downtown. Most of these trollies were converted into a shuttle service around the festival, including transporting passengers from the Metrolink station to the festival. If you showed your Metrolink ticket on the trolly, the fare was free. Otherwise, the fare was 25 cents.
When I came to this festival in 1996, they also had the trollies. However, they didn't need as many since much of the festival was right by the train station. My guess is they had an equal number of "Shuttle" and "UCR" trollies or maybe even more "UCR" than "Shuttle" trollies. Nothing was explained last year to people getting off the Metrolink trains and everyone just boarded the trollies randomly. Fortunately, before the trolly got out of the parking lot, someone knew to ask where the trolly was going. The one I was in was going to UCR and not to the festival! As soon as the driver announced she was going to UCR and not the festival, the entire trolly just about emptied out! This year, things seemed to be a bit more organized. Maybe it was just that almost all the trolly buses were "Shuttles" this year with few "UCR" trolly buses that reduced the chances of the problem from the prior year.
We got off the trolly bus at the closest stop to the parade route. We started to walk toward the parade route, but the very first vendor booth that I encountered was an Amtrak booth! They had tons of material at the booth including a great diversity of schedules, Travel Planners, Vacation Guides, National Timetables, etc. Since I had my "Amtrak Operation Redblock" cap on and an Amtrak Florida Service T-Shirt, they immediately assumed I was an Amtrak employee. I explained that I wasn't, but was certainly doing what I could to promote Amtrak at the festival! I gave them one of my TrainWeb business cards and mentioned that I would try to wander by later on. The people staffing the booth were from Amtrak Reservation in Riverside. They gave an Amtrak paper engineer kids hat to each of my kids.
We watched the parade at 10am and then purchased tickets for the 12:30pm magic show. After the parade, we wandered around many of the vendor booths. We found one booth that had all sorts of little metal trains mounted on all sorts of rocks, crystals, geodes and railroad spikes. The prices were very reasonable. I purchased a painted railroad spike that had a small silver steam locomotive and tender mounted on it for $5. I also purchased a large geode that had on it an entire minature 4 car train along with miniature trees, elk, and other crystals. I paid $15 for that souvenire. My only reluctance was that it was pretty heavy and was starting to weight down my backpack!
By then it was getting close to noon and almost time for the magic show. We decided to attend the magic show before we would worry about lunch. The magic show was pretty good. One of the magicians kept turning everything into doves and then made them all vanish. After the magic show, we took the trolly bus back to the Metrolink station and went to the Applebee's Restaurant that is fairly close to the station. After lunch, we walked back to the festival. I purchased tickets for the kids to enjoy some of the rides and we played just a few of the games. I thought the price on the games was rediculous and that is why we only did a few. I think I only spent about $5 total on the games. Most games were like one try for $1 or $2 and 3 tries for $5. I couldn't see paying $2 to throw one dart. How much fun could that be for the kids? If they chared 25 or 50 cents per throw, maybe 3 throws for $1, they probably would have gotton quite a bit more money from me than just $5. I just couldn't see spending $2 on one try.
After wandering around a number of the various booths, we finally boarded a trolly to go back to the Metrolink station, once again showing our Metrolink ticket at a free pass on the trolly. We arrived about 20 minutes early for the train. There was already one Metrolink siting in the station. The doors were open and there was one person sitting inside. The sign on the train said "Los Angeles". The train was hooked up to a lot of power cables at the track. This train didn't look like it was going to be leaving anytime soon.
A family with three children came into the station. A Conductor pointed to the train in the station and the family stepped aboard. I was starting to wonder if this was going to be our train. However, looking in the windows, this family seemed to be exploring the whole train without sitting down anywhere! It turns out they were just taking a "tour" of the train and didn't intend to actually go anywhere on a train. They soon all came out of the train again.
More Metrolink staff started to appear on the platform. The train was about 10 minutes late, which is very unusual for a Metrolink train. Our train was still on its way to Riverside and had been delayed for some reason. We soon saw it down the line heading in our direction.
Once the train arrived into the station, the doors opened and everyone boarded. The train was quite full this time since people who had arrived on several trains during the day were all leaving on this very last train out of Riverside. Just like the train trip to Riverside, I was surprised to find additional people getting onto the train at some of the other stops in Riverside and Corona. It just seemed odd to find people getting on and off the train at stations where the train only goes once each year on Saturday!
We got off at the Anaheim Canyon Station where we had originally boarded in the morning. The other ladies that had boarded with us also got off as well as several other people that did not board our morning train. We got into our car and headed home!
Having the Metrolink trains take passengers to the Orange Blossom Festival seems like it will continue into future years. If you live in this area, keep this outing in mind for the 3rd Saturday in April for next year too!