Dewi's Trains,
Trams & Trolleys

Around America by train:
Los Angeles to San Jose

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The Coast Starlight

Arriving late in L.A. was made worse by commuter trains getting priority. But we were told that train #14, the Coast Starlight, would be held for us to make the connection. As it happened, we drew in on track 11 with about 10 minutes to spare, while train 14 was due to leave from the adjacent track 10. However, to reach the other platform, we had to walk down the long ramp, along the tunnel, and up the next ramp. On this leg of our journey, we were to ride in coach. Our car, the one for people going to San Jose, was the very last one in the train, so we had a long walk, we boarded with no problem. These tracks at Union Station are terminus tracks.

Our train had 5 huge locomotives. On entering Los Angeles we had seen "Mission Tower", the control tower for the tracks. Now we passed it on the opposite side and turned north, mixed in with commuter traffic. We went through little stations at Glendale and Simi Valley, then Oxnard, where there were a few older men just watching, smoking, sipping coffee, apparently merely train-watching. Just before Santa Barbara, we spotted the Pacific Ocean. Santa Barbara is a very open station in the middle of the town, with free access.

After Santa Barbara the track runs very close to the sea. It climbs up, cuts across little headlands, then drops down nearly to sea level again. It is far closer to the sea, with much better viewing, than highway 101. There are twisty little valleys with tiny streams, blind valleys, and occasional groups of black and white cattle. There are headlands that jut out into the sea, tapering and terminating as a row of rocks, each smaller than the one on its landward side. Many of the bays have beaches, some accessible by road (or track!). The on-shore wind blows sand UP some of these cliffs, and deposits it just landward of the edge, into dunes. Then a battle ensues between plants trying to establish themselves and the sand being added to the dune.

Further north again, the train runs further from the sea, the hills become more rugged and rocky, and the fields become more grassy. Coming close to San Luis Obispo, it all begins to look like an enlarged version of the Gower Peninsula, in Wales: the rocky cliffs, the bays, the fields. Indeed, the whole landward side looks like British countryside.

Then it changes to wine country: fields and fields of grapes ("some of the finest Chardonnay grapes in the world" according to our P.A. announcement). Also many irrigated fields of vegetables.

On leaving San Louis Obispo, the train has to gain height to get through the mountains. It does this by winding back and forth on a continuous upgrade. At one point, from our seats in the rear cars of the train, I looked across - and up - to see another train on a parallel track, going the other way, about 100 yards away. Then I realized that it was the front end of our train! The track had bent around in a tight horseshoe, of the kind more often seen on highways (or on the narrow-gauge White Pass and Yukon route).
This taught me that I should have a camera ready, out of the bag, at all times. Soon after the horseshoe, there were other convoluted bends in the track, and we went through tunnel no. 11 (at Chorro) and eventually found ourselves high up over quiet green valleys, then we gradually went down through other tunnels, finishing with tunnel no. 6, a very long tunnel. It's remarkable that the tunnels were made tall enough to take double-deck trains!

The train went up almost into the clouds, which blanket the tops of the mountains. Later, and lower, we passed what looked like tiny farms, about an acre each. One had ostriches running around. Another had a donkey/ass, with of course asses ears standing up.
We went through an agricultural area, rather more slowly than previously. There was irrigation: lettuce, cabbage, and other anonymous vegetables, the cultivated area reaching almost to the track: it's as though the track had been slapped down right across the fields. Leaving the fields, we went faster, and through something like a steelworks, then something like an oil refinery, then an industrial area before running into Salinas. By now it was dark, but we could see that we were in one long conurbation, on into San Jose.

Our friends were at the  end of the platform to meet us,. They actually live in Palo Alto, about 20 miles from San Jose. Our greeting was more or less "Nice to see you again! Can we use your washing machine?" as we were by now running out of clean clothes. We passed some light rail on the way to their delightful house: open, airy, with lots of light varnished wood. Glass of V8, chatted, went to bed.

Next morning, we were up at 7, ate muesli/toast and fruit, and set out to see Stanford University and its exceptional collection of Rodin sculptures. The Burghers of Calais were presented outdoors. The Gates of Hell and various other pieces were outside the art gallery and the Balzac pieces and others were shown inside. We tried to enter the church/chapel but it was closed because of weddings. We took a general walkabout, outside and in the art gallery, where we also saw the horse: bronze made to look like driftwood.

Next day: up early (we thought) ready to go at 7:20. But the clocks had gone forward to Daylight Saving Time, unknown to us, so we were late at 8:20. Nevertheless, off we all went to buffet breakfast, then to the Lick observatory on Mt. Hamilton. It's 4,200 feet up, and about 20 miles of winding road. Dave drove very carefully and smoothly. Several cyclists, including two recumbent in red & yellow overall covers were grinding their way up. Visited main building & visitor centre, looked at photos taken with telescopes, attended tour and exposition of 36 inch refractor. The room is kept at its night-time temperature. Keeping on station was done by lead-weight-driven clockwork-type mechanism, but now by motors. Other movements (turning dome, opening, floor-raising) were by water power.

Then to Baypointe station on light rail (VTA - Valley Transit Authority) for Dewi to ride a train to Mountain View. Driver is segregated, one must purchase ticket first as Proof of Payment, and there are roving inspectors (but did not see one). Asked other passenger how to purchase, and bought a single-trip ticket to Mountain View, via Vienna. One short stretch of the line is single-track, nearly into Mountain View. From there the track uns alongside Caltrain. There is, or was, a single crossover, but short pieces of rail have been removed (but left nearby) to prevent inadvertent movement of vehicles from one track to the other. The driver said the system runs at 750V DC. I'm a little surprised as they also run "heritage" cars, which were probably for 600V. The cars have auto couplers so they can be easily coupled & uncoupled to take care of varying volumes of traffic. Platforms are raised a bit above tracks; one must step into train at level, but then there are three steps up, at each door.

Click on thumbnail for larger picture.

image DSCF1206
Leaving Los Angeles. The train we arrived on, the Crescent, is on the left.
Photo DSCF1206 on 05/04/2002
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California coast: the sand is blowing over the tracks, rather like the blizzrd on the day we started our journey.
Photo DSCF1208 on 05/04/2002
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Front of train seen from rear of train, as it emerged from tunnel north of San Luis Obispo
Photo 1066_17 on 27/04/2002
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Rodin: a Burgher of Calais, on the grounds of Stanford.
Photo DSCF1209 on 06/04/2002
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Stanford University
Photo DSCF1210 on 06/04/2002
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Lick Observatory
Photo DSCF1215 on 07/04/2002
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San Jose light rail
Photo DSCF1216 on 07/04/2002
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San Jose light rail
Photo DSCF1217 on 07/04/2002
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San Jose light rail at Mountain View station
Photo DSCF1218 on 07/04/2002
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Light Rail and Amtrak at Mountain View, San Jose
Photo DSCF1219 on 07/04/2002

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This page last updated on 20/04/2006 20:47:03.