Saturday, April 14, 2012

LA to New Orleans on Amtrak’s Sunset Limited

First: My apologies for the lack of photos. I took a bunch -- a few are decent! -- but for some reason my laptop is running v-e-r-y slow and I have given up trying to upload any photos for this post.
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Los Angeles Union Station is a great place to begin a rail journey. Built in the late 1930s, it’s right out of the Golden Age of rail travel and you half expect to see Carol Lombard or Douglas Fairbanks come sweeping through the main hall, just arrived on the Super Chief from Chicago.

The Sunset Limited is waiting on Track 10 and my sleeper is right there at the top of the ramp when I reach the platform. But this consist is actually two trains in one and there is another sleeper at the far end of the train which, along with one of the three coaches, is designated as the Texas Eagle. Tomorrow evening, those two cars will be uncoupled in San Antonio and added to the daily Texas Eagle for the run north to Chicago while the rest of us on the Sunset Limited continue east to New Orleans.

Today, however, the combined trains depart on time at 3:00 and once again I’m struck by how long it takes us to pass through these wall-to-wall cities before reaching some actual rural areas. I opt for a later dinner seating in the dining car and, as always seems to be the case, have some interesting tablemates. Tonight, it’s a retired librarian from Los Angeles, a woman born in Sweden who married an American and now lives in Longview, Texas, and a retired Amtrak conductor.

By the time we finish dinner and I return to my roomette, the Sunset has crossed the Arizona border and we’re slowing for our stop at Yuma.

The next day is all Texas, all day. In fact, the Sunset takes something like 25 hours to cross this one huge state and – believe me – the dusty, dry, barren desert of West Texas just goes on for-ever! Still, I’ve taken this train several times and once again find it all fascinating. The train passes within just a few yards of the Mexican border just a few minutes before stopping in El Paso.

By late afternoon we reach the Pecos River where the Sunset slows to cross over on a bridge built toward the end of World War II. The slower the better, too … because the view is spectacular.

Once again I score interesting companions for dinner. Tonight it’s two young men, both journalists working for a Swiss newspaper, and we spend a fascinating hour discussing the current state of that industry. Interestingly, the observe that European newspapers are not yet facing same the financial difficulties confronting American publications. Why? Because, says one, Europeans are still reluctant to trust news that doesn’t come on a printed page.

I choose an New York steak for dinner which comes medium-rare, exactly as ordered. There is, however, one big black mark for Amtrak tonight: they have run out of red wine. The waiter shakes his head. “Folks on board this trip? Thirsty!”

The second night passes comfortably and, thanks to some padding in the schedule, we arrive in New Orleans spot on time. By the way, he approach to New Orleans from the west means crossing the Mississippi River on he spectacular Hughey Long Bridge, which is well over four miles long and reaches a height of 280 feet. Not that’s what I call an entrance!

2 comments:

Drew James said...

I just left on the Chief from LA Union Station last week. It is a great station - my only complaint is that give all the trains through there they really could use a Metropolitan Lounge for sleeper passengers...

JIM LOOMIS said...

You're right! That would be a wonderful addition ... guilding the lilly, too!