Sunday, April 30, 2006

Train 14: The Coast Starlight

It's Saturday evening in Emeryville, just across the bay from San Francisco. The travelogue has taken a pause since I arrived here, as it hasn't exactly been train based, and I've been catching up with a very dear friend who I don't the chance to spend much time with normally. So you'll have to forgive me for the brief interuption. The journey recommences here. I'll bring you some photographs when I upload them next (probably Wednesday or Thursday, when I'll tell you about the next stage of my trip).

We're at Emeryville station with plenty of time for the 22.12 departure of Amtrak's northbound Coast Starlight. This train will be carrying me all the way to it's terminus - Seattle, in the state of Washington. So far today we've driven more than three hundred miles from Santa Barbara, where we spent a night. And before you post any sarcastic comments, yes, I do know that this very train could have taken me from Santa Barbara. But, like I said, I wanted to spend as much time as possible with Junia, and it also gave us the chance to have a little road trip in the process.

The train is more or less on schedule, and soon we can hear it approaching in the darkness. When it's bright headlights come into view and the clanging of the bell announces it's arrival on the station threshold, Junia gets all excited for me ("Oooo.... I wanna go on a train too..."). I tried persuading her, but tomorrow she's getting on a 747 and heading to the UK for a two week holiday. You can't have it all.

The train pulls in with a roar. There are two locomotives, a baggage car, a transition sleeper, three 'first class' Superliner sleepers, a Superlinerrestaurant, a sightseer lounge and cafe, and three Superliner coaches. There should also be a 'parlour' car for the sleeper passengers (with a lounge, a library, big screen films and wine tasting). However, since I'm at the back in good old coach, that's no problem for me.

I say farewell to Junia (see you in another fifteen months?) and head to the last car, where passengers north of California are directed. The female coach attendant does something that I've not seen before, and actually assigns us a numbered seat when we board. Perhaps this only happens on Californian long distance services, and to be honest I'm a little peeved. I've been given one of the few seats on the car I would deliberately avoid. It's upstairs, right at the front of the coach. So not only is there a foot rest for my long lanky legs, I'm also about to spend the night at right by the door to the next carraige. These have a habit of sliding shut silently but opening with a god almighty crash. The seats are also directly above the wheels of the coach (yep, I admit I'm turning into an Amtrak geek) and they turn out to be some of the bounciest in the whole train. When we have started moving and the coach attendant comes by to take our tickets, several passengers ask if we can move (we have all been grouped together at one end of the empty carraige). Apparently another sixty passengers will be joining us in a few hours in Sacramento, so there's nothing doing until we get there.

Luckily for me, the gentleman sat next to me soon finds somewhere else to sleep (it turns out he curled up in the cafe area under the sightseer lounge) and I have two seats to myself. I do my best to curl up, but the leg rest doesn't adjust much and it's not particularly comfortable. The ear plugs do a bit to soften the crash of the door, so I resign myself to a long night and try to sleep.

I wake up at Sacramento and look out of the window. We're scheduled to leave here at 23.59, but it's already nearing 00.30 and nothing's happening. The coach has filled up, and more or less every seat is taken. I watch a fuel truck refuel some adjacent locomotives. It finishes up and pulls away. Still nothing happens. We start movint after 01.00. I count myself lucky for only one hour's delay at this point, and eventually sink into deep sleep.

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