I rode Amtrak's Coast Starlight the wrong direction. I still loved it.

Originally published at: https://boingboing.net/2017/12/11/i-rode-amtraks-coast-starlig.html


I was being paid $1 every time I yelled "toot toot!"

My envy is hard to hide.


Back in the 90s, when I let the fear of flying get the best of me, I would ride between Phoenix and Houston on the Sunset Limited. I got to witness the slow erosion of Amtrak over that time due to Congressional budget cuts – servicewise, as the Phoenix station was eliminated and the next nearest one was Tuscon; and foodwise, as it asymptotically approached the quality we’ve come to expect from airlines.

All things being equal, I’d still rather travel by rail.


I know this is about a different mode of transportation but it’s the same idea:


I’m boycotting until Amtrack removes its ridiculous size restrictions on pet dogs accompanying people on the train. If they wanted to require a Canine Good Citizen or equivalent certificate I’d understand. But smallness is certainly no guarantee of good behavior in a dog.


Riding the train in Japan totally spoiled me for rail travel here in the states. I can see how USians enjoy automobile culture to our detriment, but it seems we had to eviscerate train culture in the process.

“making America great again” doesn’t seem to involve our once proud rail system.


I’ve only been on Amtrak once, from San Diego to LA and it was enjoyable.

I’d love to do the Coast Starlight. From the short video, it reminds me how I never tire of seeing those rolling coastal hills - golden sometimes, green in winter/early spring - dotted with old oak trees.


Back when I had more time, I rode a lot of trains. I rode across the country, up to Seattle, down to LA, etc. Unique and beautiful.

Also, LA’s Union Station is a beautiful building for sure.


I took the Amtrak from Seattle to Vancouver this year and it is spectacular with the train trundling slowly along the coast past beaches covered in driftwood, through woods with deer and bald eagles everywhere.

And it was silly cheap if you booked in advance.

Next I’ve got to go south and see what its like down towards Portland and eventually San Francisco.


I took the California Zephyr from Chicago to Emeryville, and it was fabu. It had a smoking car in 2001, which it probably doesn’t now, although who knows, since I don’t think anything about the train had been updated since the 1980s at that point so maybe it still hasn’t. Anyway, that was the best car people-wise.


I’m a huge fan of the Coast Starlight (in either direction). I don’t know why they are so pricey, but the sleeper cars are a cool thing to try once. Way better than the regular seating, but even that is overpriced compared to airfare.

1 Like

When my wife and I were kids (18 and 17 years old), we took a train trip from Dallas, TX to San Francisco, then Salt Lake City, then Denver and home. We were riding steerage class, where I found I slept best on the floor underneath the seats. Mostly we ate junk food but we did get a few meals in the dining cars and those were just fine.

That was the first time I saw California, and I was amazed at how beautiful it was. We went up the coast in the daylight and that was amazing as well. I got to the see the Navy’s mothball fleet!

Funny story about staying in hostels back then: my wife (girlfriend back then) was only 17, so she had to stay in a room with an adult. As her 18 year old boyfriend, I met that requirement. We’re about six months apart in age.


Passenger rail system that is. There’s a reason you need to budget in at least two hours of delays. Freight takes priority on every track except those for Acela, the U.S.'s pathetic version of high-speed rail.

I love trains and would love to see more high-speed rail here, but that’s not going to happen for a long time.


No mention of riding through the fire zone? The track between Santa Barbara and Ventura is a front-row seat for the blaze.

When you factor in the amount of time it takes to get through airport security, the narrow seats on the plane, and all the other indignities the airlines inflict on the cattle, the train looks a whole lot better.


That’s awesome! Glad you enjoyed it.
I wish I could be back out in California, despite the wildfires.
Always appreciated the beauty of the land.

1 Like

Wow! You must have flown first class on some really awful airlines, since I can’t think of a single international Business Class meal I’ve eaten that wasn’t 10X better than Amtrak dining car food.

1 Like

The only Coast Starlight story I have is second hand.

My aunt (actually second cousin?) used to ride from SF to LA to visit her son down there. She could drive, but liked the chance to relax.

An hour or so into one trip, she was treated to . . . the train hitting someone. It stopped in the middle of nowhere while an investigation was made.

It kind of broke the mood, so she asked my other cousin to drive down and give her a lift home.

SIGH. Longest train trip I ever made was from Montauk Point to Penn Station. The longest possible trip on the Long Island Rail Road, and . . . not special. Pine barrens, shabby Suffolk County suburbs, potato fields (now probably replaced with more shabby suburbs), and southern LI sprawl.

1 Like

I once did that journey in January. I feel your pain.

We did the Coast Starlight back in August. A few things to note:

*Scenery is spectacular, especially winging up into the mountains in Oregon and northern California.
*We paid for a deluxe sleeper with included bathroom. While this prevented midnight trips down the sleeper car to the public toilet, having the toilet actually in your room with you isn’t all that, and the included shower is tricky.
*The best use of the included toilet was when DH got trainsick. Our sleeper had a large mirror directly across from the forward facing seats, which resulted in seeing scenery going both forward and backward. That, and the incessant jolting and swaying, did a number on your stomach. I didn’t escape; the jolting also triggered an episode of my back spasms, although I didn’t get nauseated. If I’d been smart, I would have draped a towel over the mirror.

Lessons learned: the leg when we had the standard sleeper cabin was more comfortable although tiny, and for trips under 12 hours, coach can’t be beat.

eta: Passing through the low foothills north of Emeryville, if you look upslope, you may catch a glimpse of the SpaceX facility.

1 Like