After a wonderful 3 nights in Albuquerque, it was now time to head back home to Los Angeles. Instead of flying home, we planed on taking Amtrak’s Southwest Chief train from Albuquerque’s Alvarado Transportation Center to Los Angeles Union Station, where we originally started this trip. After resting for a bit in our room and letting our lunch from Sadie’s digest, we checked out of our hotel and drove our rental car back to Albuquerque Airport consolidated rental car lot, just before our grace period was up for late rental returns.
After the car was returned and all of the paperworks done, I hailed Uber to take us to the Alvarado Transportation Center. One funny thing about Albuquerque’s consolidated rental car lot is that Uber is not allowed to pickup from the curb so you have to meet your Uber in the parking lot. Thomas, our Uber driver, picked us up in his Prius and drove us to the Alvarado Transportation Center. During our conversation between Thomas and myself, I came to find out that Thomas is originally from Southern California. Thomas grew up in Fountain Valley, which is in Orange County, the same county where I currently live.
Thomas dropped us off in front of the station, we exchanged our goodbyes and we went inside the station to avoid the scorching sun outside. While the Alvarado Transportation Center was only built in 2000’s, the inside of the building is already starting to show signs of neglect and abuse. If there was air conditioning in the building, it was not working properly. The bathroom facilities looked and smelled like people have been sponge bathing themselves in the sinks.
It was around 2:30PM when we arrived at the station and Amtrak’s app was showing the train running about 30 min late. The scheduled arrival time of our train is 3:55PM which gave us lots of time we had to find a way to kill. Amtrak’s ticketing office, agreed to store our suitcases for us at no charge so we took up the offer and then headed out of the building to find a Starbucks for some coffee. I chose to go to Starbucks at the downtown Hyatt Hotel, and using Google Maps, we walked to Starbucks following the maps directions. Well, when we arrived, the Starbucks was closed. I bought couple bottles of water at the hotel gift shop and we hung out in the air conditioned hotel lobby, before walking back to the Alvarado Transportation Center.
When we arrived back at the station, my parents and I picked up our luggage from Amtrak’s ticketing office, and we found couple seats in the stuffy waiting area, to sit in and wait for our train. I took this opportunity to go outside and snap some pictures of the railroad and the station grounds. When it got closer to the arrival time of our train, my parents and I decided to go wait outside on the platform instead of staying inside the stuffy waiting room any longer. Others had the same idea, and the boarding platform filled quickly with others waiting for the Southwest Chief.
As time got closer for our train to arrive, the train servicing crew sprung into action preparing equipment for servicing the train once it arrived. Since Albuquerque is a servicing stop and also a crew change station, there are a lot of activity and personal involved when the Southwest Chief train, both eastbound and westbound stops in Albuquerque. The water tanks are topped off, engines are fueled, and windows washed, and etc. before the trains leaves the station.
I finally saw the engine of our train in the distance, slowly inching its way into the station. We walked towards the front of the train where our sleeping car was located. We were greeted at the door by our Sleeping Car Attendant, and she handed me our dinner reservation ticket. Once I told our sleeping car attendant that this was not our first time traveling on Amtrak or in a sleeping car accommodation, she smiled and let me lead by parents up to our room.
Our room number is D on todays train, which is the second deluxe bedroom from the center stairwell of the sleeping car. I put my suitcase up on the storage shelf and my parents luggage under the armchair after swapping my Vans slip-ons for Reef flip-flops. While, our train is scheduled to depart at 4:45PM, between the late arrival into Albuquerque and the time it took to attach Tioga Pass, a private railcar, the train finally began moving at 6:36PM.
Due to the electrical power from the engine power being cut off while attaching the private railcar, the dining car was running behind with reservation seating. Our dinner reservation was for 6PM but we were not called until almost 7PM. Dining in the dining car is communal seating. Unless you have a party of four, it is highly likely you will be sitting with someone you do not know. We were joined by an elderly gentleman who was on his way back home to Arizona after visiting family by train out East. We had a nice conversation during dinner with him, unlike our first trip with Amtrak on the Sunset Limited in 2014, this gentleman had all his marbles and was pleasant to talk to.
I ordered the crab cakes with rice pilaf for dinner, along with a salad and dinner role to start. My parents had the Amtrak’s Signature Steak with baked potato. To drink, I ordered the iced tea, and to my horror, Amtrak changed from brewing fresh tea onboard, to serving fake tea in a bottle. We finished off dinner with dessert. I chose the Greek Yogurt Cheesecake, which was really good. The yogurt, make the cheesecake taste light but still filling.
Once we were finished with dinner, we wished the gentleman a safe journey home and we headed back to our bedroom. We decided to have some wine at this point so I went to the sightseer car’s lower level cafe to buy some. Unfortunately they were out of wine, so I came back to our room with three beers instead. My mom decided to pass on the beer so my dad drank her beer as well.
When the train arrived in Gallup New Mexico, I disembarked to take some exterior pictures and also get some fresh air. Gallup is one of many “smoke stops”, which are longer stops, along the route. Once back aboard the train, I decided to take a shower before calling it a night. While our deluxe bedroom has a bathroom/shower combo, I like to use the communal shower on the lower level since it is much larger.
Just before 10PM local time, which is the last cutoff time for having seats converted to beds, I had our SCA convert the seats into bed and setup the upper bunk as well. She asked if we wanted to be woken in the morning for the abbreviated breakfast service, which would start at 5:00AM local time. Since all meals are included with the sleeping car accommodation, I said yes.
At 5:00AM we got the breakfast wakeup knock on our door. My parents and I begrudgingly got up and dressed before heading out to the dining car. Our server this morning had a serious attitude problem. With an attitude like his, he would have been fired from any other service oriented position in a heartbeat. I guess when your working in a government job, you can throw an attitude with impunity.
For breakfast this morning, I ordered the scrambled egg breakfast with sausage and my parents ordered the french toast with bacon. At this point the dining car was running out of everything so my scrambled egg breakfast, which comes with potatoes arrived with none. I’m supposed to get a choice of bread but I was not asked and the biscuit arrived with the eggs and sausages. At least the food was delivered by the other cheerful server instead of our server who badly needed a career change.
We were joined at our table by a lady traveling in coach with her family. Only she showed up for breakfast while her family was still sleeping. We exchanged good mornings when she arrived at the table but that was about it when it came to conversation. We finished our breakfast, and I begrudgingly left couple dollars for tip and then headed back to our room, which had already been converted back to daytime mode by our Sleeping Car Attendant.
By this time, we were around Barstow California. We were making good time, but bad things were just around the corner. An announcement was made regarding checking couple stuff on the engine. Once it was cleared, we left Barstow Station heading for the Victorville. Well just outside of Barstow, the S*&$ hit the fan. The lead engine broke down so we stopped and waited for people from BNSF to come and take a look. That “stuff”, the crew had to check at Barstow Station turned out to be a big deal after all.
Well the crew from BNSF could not fix the lead engine, so an announcement was made that we would be proceeding to a safe place to ditch the lead engine and continue to Los Angeles on the second engine. To get to the safe location, we travelled at a snail pace of whopping 7 miles per hour while one of the trucks from BNSF followed us from the road.
Our sleeping car attendant allowed me to chill in one of the empty roomettes while my parents were playing with the iPad and burning up cellular data in the bedroom. I put the seats in the roomette into bed mode, closed the curtains and got some more sleep, since at 7 miles per hour, we were going nowhere real quick with nothing else to do. We eventually got to the siding to ditch the lead engine and proceeded to Los Angeles with the single working engine.
While on flat land, the single engine is enough to provide both electrical power for the passenger cars and motive power to pull the train, the single engine could not do both while climbing up to Cajon Summit. During the climb to the summit, electrical power was cut to the passenger cars and dedicated to pulling the train up the summit. Due to the lateness of the train, our sleeping car attendant came through with snack packs for everyone.
We got through Cajon Pass and there were no more issues with electrical power vs motive power. When we got to San Bernardino, there was a final crew change. This crew change from what I can deduce is not a normally planned change and only happened due to the long delay and the current train crew timing out. There was confusion on the train when the new crew boarded and intercom messages went back and forth between the new and the old crew. Finally, we got the announcement from the new crew that they would be taking us the rest of the way to Los Angeles.
Once we got to Fullerton, we packed our belongings up and prepared for arrival into Union Station. I had to cancel our lunch reservations that I made last week since we were going to miss it now. 30 min after leaving Fullerton, we finally pulled into Los Angeles Union Station, 5 hours and 41 minutes late.
This trip on the Southwest Chief was our fourth Amtrak long distance train journey for my parent and myself. I can easily say that this was the worst trip out of the 4. Between the nasty server during breakfast, the dining car running out of everything both during dinner and breakfast, and the almost 6 hour late arrival, it is really hard to spin the experience into something positive.
Not everything was bad. Our sleeping car attendant was awesome and I have absolutely nothing to complain about her. When we first took the Sunset Limited in 2014 to New Orleans, we expected the worst, when we boarded but left pleasantly surprised. I think we boarded the Southwest Chief with higher than average expectations and it completely backfired on us this trip.