Daily Archives: June 13, 2011


A friend recently responded to a Facebook post asking, “Are you diversifying? @trainguys coming soon??” I chuckled and then gave it some serious thought. First, let me say my love of aviation has not diminished. Like any good first romance, I can’t let it go. However, my love of trains is close second. This hidden love is becoming so evident that a friend described me, in great detail, as a hobo. Hey! I resemble that remark!

I recently returned from another journey “on the rails”; my second one this year. (See our blog “No plain (plane) experience for me”). In an effort to compare experiences between VIA Rail Canada and the US passenger rail system, the same friend and I set out on Amtrak this time.

When I was younger I remember seeing the Amtrak commercial “California Zephyr”.  I was intrigued and beguiled. The woman announcer’s voice beckoned to me. Thank goodness for YouTube because I was able to find that commercial and was once again lured to the rails (click to watch). The naming of trains by Amtrak evokes a sense of adventure and harkens back to the days of old when “riding the rails” was an experience. It was, and still is, about the experience for me.

The experience aboard the California Zephyr from Chicago to Sacramento was just OK. The crew were pleasant, food was tasty, and we departed and arrived on time. However, a few things were amiss. It was in the details. Even though the crew were pleasant, they didn’t carry themselves with pride. Average age appeared to be in the mid 50s. Most appeared not be be quite together in their style and how they wore their uniforms (stains, wrinkles, too big or too small uniform pieces). Hairstyles weren’t current or maintained. Underneath the pleasantness was a definite tone. And the coaches themselves were in need of a deep cleaning with emphasis placed on details (rips, tears, stains, repainting, lighting, etc.).

In Sacramento a connection was made to Amtrak’s Coast Starlight. And in an instant it all changed…for the better. As we learned, the Coast Starlight is Amtrak’s premier train. And most expensive. Why? More than likely it has to do with experiencing some of the most beautiful vistas. Amazing outcroppings of rocks. Raging river rapids. Full moons (yes, we were mooned a few times). Soaring forests. And snow-capped mountains. The service provided by the crew was exceptional. They all worked well together to provide an extraordinary experience. They were considerate, funny, thoughtful, and resourceful. They were willing to share personal tidbits and stories which made them even more enjoyable. Our cabin attendant and the Pacific Parlour car attendant were the standouts of this wonderful crew. Letters of commendation to Amtrak about these two is definitely in order.

Because the Coast Starlight is considered Amtrak’s premier train, the train was in better condition. The lighting, restrooms and shower facilities, and common areas were well-kept and the majority of the coaches had been renovated. The highlight of this train was the Pacific Parlour car. Built in 1956 for the Santa Fe El Capitan, this coach offered swiveling lounge chairs, private dining, wine tasting, a stand-up bar, and a movie theater. That’s right, a movie theater! There are only five of these special coaches left in existence and you can only find them on the Coast Starlight.

The experience on the Coast Starlight more than made up for any shortcomings of the California Zephyr.

So, back to the question first asked: will we diversify? I’ll never say never. I remind myself and you to remember: life is about the journey; it’s a quest for different experiences. Shake it up. Diversify when you can. By air or by train, we like a good adventure.