Riding the Rails

Today was spent riding the rails.  Why?  Well..

Years ago the National Park Service partnered with AMTRAK and formed the Trails & Rails program to give passengers an opportunity to learn more about a region’s natural and cultural heritage from NPS volunteers who ride the train on certain segments of very popular and scenic routes.  Earlier this year, AMTRAK and the NPS agreed to add the Trails & Rails program to the Pacific Surfliner route between San Diego and, initially, Los Angeles, but ultimately all the way to San Luis Obispo.

Guess what train-loving, park-loving fool volunteered to participate in this program?

We won’t formally kick off the program until later this summer–late June at the earliest–but today was an orientation ride for me so that I could become familiar with the route and the logistics of doing this.

I left my house about 7:45 a.m. to catch the Blue Line trolley to the Santa Fe depot downtown, the southern terminus of the AMTRAK line.  A little hiccup with the credit card reader on the ticket machine induced a little panic, but I was able to get that resolved and hopped on the 8:15 a.m. trolley.  That put me at the Santa Fe depot around 8:50 a.m., in plenty of time for my 9:25 a.m. departure on the 769 to Los Angeles.

You would think that being the train-loving geek that I am, that riding AMTRAK would be old hat for me.  Not so.  This was only my second time riding it; my first was from Ottumwa, Iowa to Chicago eons ago when steam locomotives were still in use.

Riding in coach was just fine, with plenty of leg room and it very easy to move around. I’ll have to admit though, that the seats were a bit firmer than I would have liked, and after a while, getting up and moving was definitely in order.

As you leave San Diego, you have to detour around the significant hills near La Jolla, so the tracks route you through Sorrento Valley.  But not long after leaving the valley, you’re on the coast near Del Mar experiencing one of the most scenic train rides around.

The tracks parallel the coast from Del Mar all the way up to a little past San Clemente and just before San Juan Capistrano.  Sometimes you’re a quarter to half mile away from the surf line; but other times, you’re within feet of it.  Amazing.

[Sorry about the music on the video.  The gal behind me was having a conversation and you could hear more than you’d like to in the original version. Set to 1080p HD for best viewing.]

As you get to the greater L.A. area, you pass through places like Santa Ana, Irvine, and Anaheim (right next to the Angels stadium).  From there, it’s pretty industrial all the way into L.A.’s Union Station.

Just like the Santa Fe depot in San Diego, Union Station is an architectural treasure from an era long-gone.  The art deco signs, light fixtures, and leather seats all harken back to the golden age of rail travel.

I had nearly two and a half hours to explore the area near Union Station and Union Station itself.

I probably should have done a little more preparation before taking the trip to see what was in the vicinity, but I just started walking around the historic downtown area–city hall, LAPD headquarters (no, I didn’t see Sgt. Joe Friday), and a bit of El Pueblo de Los Angeles, L.A.’s famous Olvera Street marketplace.  I will plan a little better for the next trip.

The trip back to San Diego went smoothly, as did the Blue Line trolley ride back to my truck in the commuter lot.  As far as the Trails & Rails program on the Pacific Surfliner is concerned, we’ll have to work out a couple of minor details before we kick things off later this summer, but it should prove to be a unique and fun volunteer experience.

Oh.  In case you’re wondering, it takes about two hours and forty-five minutes to make the trip each way on the AMTRAK segment alone.

Sorry about the photo quality from my cell phone.



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