Amtrak 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 final Amtrak Desert Wind arrived into Los Angeles on Monday, May 12, 1997 at around 4 PM Pacific Time. This is the travelogue of my ride on the very last 72 miles of that journey from San Bernardino to Los Angeles.
I traveled with a friend, Ray Burns, on this trip and we took about 40 photographs using two cameras. Those photos will be posted to this web page within 3 or 4 weeks.
I had purchased tickets to take the Desert Wind on Saturday, May 10, 1997 from San Bernardino to Los Angeles thinking that would be the final Desert Wind. Others told me that there was a good turn-out of railfans in Fullerton to see what they also thought to be the final Amtrak Desert Wind. But, we were all mistaken! The final Desert Wind left Chicago on Saturday, May 10th, and would not arrive into Los Angeles until Monday, May 12th!
I purchased a pair of tickets again for the really final Desert Wind that was scheduled to arrive into Los Angeles on Monday, May 12, 1997. Ray Burns, a friend and co-worker at TrainWeb, and I drove from Anaheim, California to San Bernardino, California. This is a distance of about 50 miles. I used the "Train Arrival Information" selection on the Amtrak Web page at http://reservations.amtrak.com to find out that the Desert Wind was running 1 hour and 15 minutes late.
We left from Anaheim at about 12:40pm and arrived at the San Bernardino station at 1:20pm. The Amtrak Agent in the station told us that the train was still running about 1 hour late. Thus, we hopped back into the car and went over to a nearby Chinese Fast Food place to grab a late lunch. We were back to the station at about 2:10pm.
There were a surprising number of people in the station waiting to board the train, maybe 10 or 12 in all. I really expected nobody to be boarding other than ourselves. Only 2 of the people in the station seemed to be railfans and I'm not sure if they boarded the train at all. Metrolink trains run between this station and Los Angeles about hourly, so the only likely reason for anyone to take this train from San Bernardino would be just for the experience of the last Desert Wind, or to get to Fullerton, a stop not serviced by Metrolink directly from this station.
While we were waiting, we decided to take a few photos of the front of the station. We went outside for about 5 minutes to do this. That almost cost us this trip! When we went back into the station, we saw the Desert Wind already out on the platform! It rolled quietly into the station and I don't believe that any announcement of its arrival had been made.
I noticed that many of the passengers that I thought would be boarding the train were still sitting calmly on the bench chairs inside the waiting room of the station. I ignored that and just bolted for the door for fear that we would miss this final Desert Wind! Most of the doors of the train had already been shut and the only door that I could still see open was in the lead Coach Car, about 8 cars up from the station building! I just started running for it with the hope the Conductor would notice me and not start the train until I had boarded. I looked behind me just to make sure that Ray was also running for the door. To my surprise, he was just standing in one place taking a photo of me running for the train! On a second thought, I realized that was O.K. As long as I got to the door where the Conductor was, I could have her delay the train until Ray caught up to me.
The Conductor had been walking in my direction while I was running in her direction. Thus, we arrived at the door of the second Coach Car at the same time. The Coach Cars were at the lead of this train and the Sleeping Cars were at the tail end. The Conductor asked me if I was boarding the train. I said yes and she opened the door to that second Coach Car. She then started shouting down the tracks asking someone if they were getting on this train. At first, I couldn't believe that Ray was still that far back that she had to shout that loud. However, I later found out that several people hadn't boarded yet and it wasn't Ray that she was shouting to.
Ray and I went upstairs and walked back several coach cars until we were much closer to the Sightseer Lounge Car. Several more people then boarded the train. I think the people that were in the station didn't realize that this was the train they were waiting for. Maybe my bolting for the door in the station got them concerned. At any rate, they did come out to the train. The Car Attendant let them in the door to one of the cars near the station so they didn't have to wait for these people to walk all the way to the coach cars at the front of the train before the train could leave. They might even have been let into the door of one of the Sleeping Cars.
Once our tickets were punched and taken by the Conductor, Ray and I moved to the Sightseer Lounge Car and sat in a couple of single seats facing the north side of the train. There were several railfans down the other end of the car taking video and photos. This train was fairly uncrowded. That didn't surprise me since: (1) A lot of people thought this train was already no longer running, and (2) most of the people that ride the Desert Wind depart in Las Vegas.
Ray and I spent much of our time talking to another passenger who took the Desert Wind from Chicago to Los Angeles just because it was the very last Desert Wind. He would be returning later that evening on the Southwest Chief. He was interested in spending the intervening hours exploring Los Angeles, Olvera Street, and maybe even getting a look at the Los Angeles Metrorail and the new California Cars. He told us that a great number of people had gotten off the Desert Wind in Las Vegas and that there was quite a bit of news coverage of this train when it went through Las Vegas. This was the very last Amtrak train to serve Las Vegas.
Ray went up to the Dining Car and the Sleeping Cars and took photographs and the names of every Amtrak staff person that he could find. Those names are posted below and the photographs will be posted shortly. We also got names and photographs of every Amtrak staff person that went by our seats in the Sightseer Lounge Car. Everyone was cooperative on this sad but historic event.
Several announcements were made over the P.A. system thanking everyone for having joined the Desert Wind for this very last journey. They also gave a brief status of the Texas Eagle which appears to have been spared at least for the next several months due to the quick action taken by the Texas legislature. Unfortunately, no such support had come forth to save the Desert Wind.
The person from Chicago told us that service had been supurb even on this very last run of the Desert Wind. They had been given special souvenir menus from the very last dinner to be served on the Desert Wind the previous night.
I found out that this train would be immediately sent up to Oakland to be used as a consist of the California Zephyr on its new daily schedule as soon as it was needed. In that vein, the Chief of Onboard Services reminded all the Car Attendants to not dump their dirty linens off the train in Los Angeles. Instead, they were to drop off the dirty linens in Jack London Square in Oakland, California.
From San Bernardino to West Corona, the Desert Wind follows the same tracks used by the Metrolink Inland Empire-Orange County Line. The entire route taken by the Desert Wind between Barstow and Los Angeles is also the exact same route used by the Southwest Chief. Thus, that segment of rails will continue to be used by an Amtrak route. It is the segment of rails between Barstow and Salt Lake City that will not see Amtrak trains again for the forseeable future.
I was at the NARP Region XII 1997 Annual Meeting last Saturday, May 10, 1997, that was held at the Santa Ana Amtrak Station. Ron Scolaro, Director of Government Affairs for Amtrak West was one of the speakers. He indicated that Amtrak West is very interested in starting a corridor service between Los Angeles and Las Vegas, Nevada. They are looking at a service that may run as many as 3 trains each day and have already done a study that shows it wouldn't take too much capital investment to decrease the travel time from 7 hours 15 minutes down to 5 hours 30 minutes. Unlike the Desert Wind, as a corridor service, this new train would have additional stops to serve population centers along the way.
Earlier that same week a high-speed rail conference was held in Las Vegas. Amtrak West brought down the Talgo Train from Washington and provided demonstration runs for key people at the conference. Serious steps are being taken to try to make this route a reality over the next 18 to 24 months. The first concrete step to be taken is that the state of Nevada has been moved from the jurisdiction of Amtrak Intercity over to that of Amtrak West. That gives Amtrak West the green light to study and propose rail service between California and Nevada.
As far as service running between Las Vegas and points east of there, no plans for restoration are presently in the works. I believe the next Olympics will be held in Salt Lake City. It wouldn't surprise me to see some temporary service put into place between Los Angeles and Salt Lake City via Las Vegas during the Olympics. However, this might just be a temporary extension of the Los Angeles to Las Vegas run if that comes into service by that time.
Back to my trip on the last Desert Wind...
Fullerton, our only station enroute between San Bernardino and Los Angeles, came up faster than I had expected. I should have been the first one to the door so I could get off, snap a few photos, and hop back on. Instead, I was at the end of a long line of people getting off in Fullerton. As soon as I got to the door, the Car Attendant asked: "Are you getting off here?" As soon as I answered: "No", she got back on and closed the door behind her! So much for getting a few photos in the Fullerton Station.
I did see some familiar people on the station platform at Fullerton. Knocking on the Sightseer Lounge Car window was totally ineffective to get anyone's attention. As the train left the station, I noticed a lot of railfans beyond the west end of the platform with video cameras videotaping this final Desert Wind.
The final leg of the journey into Los Angeles was uneventful. It can take as little as 30 minutes to get from Fullerton to Los Angeles, but there are usually minor delays due to freight traffic or coordinating with Metrolink trains also going in and out of the Los Angeles station.
The Desert Wind had one minor delay of maybe 5 minutes as we approached the Los Angeles station. Coming into the station there appeared to be a couple of railfans on the platform. Unlike what I was told about the reception this Desert Wind got in Las Vegas, there were no reporters, TV stations, or any media at all to see the arrival of the final Amtrak Desert Wind into Los Angeles.
After we got off the train, I went to the rear of the train and Ray went up to the front of the train. Ray was going to try to get the name and photo of the Engineer, but he had already left by the time Ray was able to get to the front. There was a sign on the front of the train that read: "FINAL #35", but it was in pretty bad shape from having been on the front of the train for all those miles. There was also a big sign at the end of the train that read: "THE END", which was also in pretty bad shape.
I started from the back of the train and made note of the number and type of each car on the train. Ray did the same walking back from the front of the train and we met in the middle. Mike Kimura was also at the platform when the train arrived. Mike is a frequent visitor and contributor of information to the TrainWeb pages. Ray, Mike and I took a few photos of each other with the Desert Wind in the background which you will see posted to this page in the near future.
After one final glance at the Amtrak Desert Wind, we walked down into the tunnel under the tracks to head over to the station. The first thing I did was to check the time the next Metrolink would be leaving to take Ray and I back to San Bernardino. It would be leaving at 4:51 PM. I used my credit card at the ticket machine immediately. I've seen trains come and go while people were struggling with these machines to spit out the tickets. I wasn't about to wait until just before the train would leave to purchase my ticket and become the next victim of a ticket machine problem.
We then went to the bagel place and purchased some beverages. The bagel place was the only place that I could see to purchase something to eat in the station. There used to be two other places in the station including one that sold mexican food. They were both gone! One place that was in an enclosed area was gone. The other place had their own large stand in the main lobby of the station. The entire stand was gone and the area was roped off. All the tables that went with these places were also gone.
I am really curious why these places have been removed. I hope what they plan to do is to build a Metropolitan Lounge for the station. Los Angeles is one of the few major Amtrak Stations that doesn't have one. With the San Diegans, Southwest Chief, Coast Starlight and connecting buses from Bakersfield and the San Joaquins, I think a Metropolitan Lounge would be a useful addition to the Los Angeles Union Station. If they allowed San Diegan Custom Class passengers to also use it while waiting for their train, it would make the extra charge for Custom Class a bit more justified. For an extra $18 round-trip, all you get now on the San Diegan Custom Class is a newspaper, coffee, juice, and a tiny bit more leg room. The comfort of a Metropolitan Lounge would make the extra cost a bit more justified.
When I checked the clock on the wall in the station, it read 4:45 PM. That gave us only 6 minutes to get out to the Metrolink train! Mike said it was only 4:40 PM and that we had about 10 minutes. Fortunately, the clock on the wall was running 5 minutes fast. Ray and I headed for the train while Mike headed for his car. There were great crowds of people coming into the tunnel from Metrorail subway trains and Los Angeles shuttle buses.
We walked to track #9 and then followed the rest of the crowd that was heading out to the track. As we walked the length of the train, I noticed that just about every seat was filled! I figured that the further we walked down the platform, the more likely we were to find a less crowded car. We finally did board one of the last cars and managed to find an empty table on the train.
I'm not going to go too much into the details of this trip back to San Bernardino on Metrolink. This train does take a different route and does not go through Fullerton. It takes a more northerly route staying fairly close to interstate route 10 through Pomona and Claremont. For the first 20 minutes of the ride, many more people got on the train than the number that got off. After that, more started getting off than got on. By the time we got to San Bernardino, our particular car was empty but there were still quite a few people that got off from the other cars.
We arrived into San Bernardino at about 6:20 PM. Driving back to Anaheim took another 40 minutes and we arrived in Anaheim at 7:00 PM. So that was the end of the special trip to ride the very last Amtrak Desert Wind to Los Angeles!
As souveniers I have the punched stubs to the tickets. I also have the unused tickets for the prior Desert Wind dated May 10, 1997 that I mistakenly thought would be the last one. Also, just for my collection, I have an unused $5 ticket for the final leg of the Amtrak Pioneer on May 10, 1997 between Tacoma and Seattle, Washington.
I received the following e-mail from Mike Kimura on the following day, Tuesday, May 13, 1997:
From: MNK@mass.es.hac.com Date: 5/13/97 11:22:53AM To: Stephen Grande Subject: Final Amtrak Desert Wind #35 arrives at LAX @ 4:00PM PDT Steve It was great to see you yesterday evening and to share a sad moment in Amtrak's history... The demise of the Desert Wind. R.I.P. I've been posting the following message to several places. Mike ================================================================ A couple railfans and I watched, photographed and videotaped the final Amtrak Desert Wind #35 arrive at Los Angeles Union Station yesterday (5/12/97) at 4:00PM PDT (25 minutes down). This time there was no media coverage. The lead unit (AMTK #837) wore a paper banner flapping in the breeze that read: "FINAL #35" and the last car (a US Mail/Amtrak Express Baggage car) wore a paper banner that read: "THE END". The full consist was: 837 AMTK P40-8BWH "FINAL #35" 43 AMTK P42-9BWH (back to back) 1126 Baggage 39019 Transition Sleeper 34075 Coach 34057 Coach 34139 Coach 31519 Coach 33014 Sightseer Lounge/Cafe 38015 Dining Car 32011 Sleeper 32053 Sleeper 32013 Sleeper 1720 US Mail/Amtrak Express Baggage "THE END" Note: The entire train (minus 1720 US Mail) deadheaded to Oakland later yesterday evening. Mike Kimura firstname.lastname@example.org