Merry Christmas from!

Merry Christmas to all the dogcaught readers!  I hope your holiday season is filled with all the things you enjoy.

Last January I was on Stevens Pass (Washington) enjoying my annual winter railfanning adventure.  Like normal I was up early and on the road looking for that first railroad photograph of the day.  My travelling companions, Robert Scott and Scott Lothes agreed we’d have a pretty good opportunity east of the pass to get a morning photo of Amtrak’s Empire Builder.  Off the highway and down a recently plowed forest service road we went to a gap in the mountains called “The Slot”.   Cautiously walking up the icy road to this location I set up for an 8 second exposure that would capture the lights from the passenger train streaking by in the very low pre-dawn light.  The result is one of my favorite images from 2011.

Amtrak Around The West

At the end of November my mother-in-law and her travelling companion embarked on an Amtrak trip from Havre, Mt. to Tucson, Az.  As I discussed her journey with her I was interested in her impressions of the trip and I’m writing this post as a recap of how they felt about long distance train travel.

I personally was excited for her adventure and I hoped that she would experience the same comfortable stress free ride that I have had in the past.  With the snows she was experiencing in Montana it seemed to be the perfect way to make her way around to see family especially when it was a trip from central Montana to southern Arizona.  However not all seemingly good ideas end up that way.

Amtrak’s Coast Starlight arrives into Vancouver, Wa. on time.

The trip didn’t start off so well.  BNSF derailed a Z train at Kintyre, MT east of Havre throwing a big wrench into the start of her vacation.   The good news was the eastbound version of the Empire Builder was already in Havre so all they had to do was run the power to the other end and suddenly the westbound Builder was in town!  The other passengers on the westbound version were bussed from Wolf Point around the derailment and the train with my mother-in-law aboard ended up departing Havre around 9 hours late.  Sadly Amtrak and BNSF did not turn the train so they rode backwards to Spokane.

9 hours late and getting later is not enough time for Amtrak to turn the Builder around at Portland and Seattle.  Amtrak made the decision to put everyone on buses at Spokane and turn the train there.   This did not please many folks including my mother-in-law’s travelling companion.  He’s tall and doesn’t fit well in the cramped spaces of a motor coach.  They did enjoy their complimentary Subway sandwich though the comment was made the food on the dining car was better.

Tired from not sleeping well on the train and from the stress of the previous day the travelers arrived in Vancouver the next afternoon.  The one thing my mother-in-law said about the service disruption experience was that the station agent in Havre was wonderful.  She went out of her way to ensure they were informed and she made got them to the station in a timely fashion so they would get a good seat on the train.

After resting for a few days their trip continued on Amtrak’s Coast Starlight to Los Angeles.  Departure from Vancouver was on time and arrival was on time into LA!  Whew!  The travelers overnighted in LA in preparation for the last leg on the Sunset Limited to Tucson.  When collecting their bags at Tucson they realized that one bag was missing.  Unfortunately my mother-in-law’s travelling companion had packed his CPAP machine in that bag (he was warned about checking vital luggage).  Fortunately Amtrak knew where it was (somehow got off the Starlight  in Eugene) but it would still be a couple of days before it arrived in Tucson thanks to the tri-weekly schedule of the Sunset.  Again he was none too happy but the station agent in Tucson did bring it out to where there were staying right when it arrived.

Amtrak’s Coast Starlight, with a very important passenger aboard, crosses the Columbia River between Oregon and Washington.

The return trip would be pretty much non-stop from Tucson to Vancouver with 2 overnights on the train.  Based on their comments to me sleeping on the train was not at all comfortable for either of them.  They struggled to find a position which was restful and the constant goings on seemed to be quite distracting.  It also didn’t help that on the Starlight one of the sliding end doors was not working correctly (have they worked right since the first Superliners were introduced?) so it would be stuck open for long periods of time until someone would close it.  The result was they were very tired after two straight days of riding.

With one leg remaining from Vancouver to Havre the travelers were both quite done with riding the train.  They had been excited about it beforehand but it didn’t seem to meet their expectations.  The travelling was easy but not entirely restful thanks to the the inability to sleep well.  The food was good and in fact the Thanksgiving meal they ate was quite good.  They had few issues with other passengers though at times they felt like the clientele was entirely from another place (I would agree Montana and California are very different places).  The attendants, conductors, and agents all seems to be a positive part of the trip.  In the end though the positives were not likely enough to cause them to line up another Amtrak long distance trip.

The trip from Vancouver to Havre was uneventful and totally on time.  Less than 24 hours from when they left Vancouver they arrived at their home.  Sleep was the first thing on the agenda.

Thanksgiving Trains


Racing Along the Sound

Amtrak Cascades train 507 races along Puget Sound passing under the  Tacoma Narrows bridge near Titlow.

Thanksgiving isn’t always the best time to head track side to see trains.  Many times the crews are enjoying the holiday with their own families so the railroad tends to move slower.  I decided to chance it anyway and head to Tacoma for some railfanning time with my Dad and daughter on Saturday.  It was nice to do a bit of exploring around town and find a few places I’d never visited before.

We hit D Street in downtown after exploring the new overpass being installed over Pacific Avenue for the Sound Transit Lakewood extension.  We drove the Schuster Parkway and Ruston Way out to Ruston.  We visited Titlow Beach and the adjacent park.  In the end we saw 3 Amtrak trains including one of the special holiday trains, 2 UPs, and a BNSF vehicle train.  Not bad for 4 hours of railfanning!


Fall In Progress

Fall in the Northwest still lingers on.  Some trees have completely lost their leaves while others have not.  In a few short weeks everything will be gone until spring.  Until then we still enjoy seeing places here and there where the color is strong.  At this location on the Washougal River most leaves hang on under the mild conditions near the river.   At locations not protected from frost the trees look much more bleak.

With a La Niña winter ahead who knows what condition the Empire Builder will see as it passes here.  Cold and snow are certainly a possibility.

Smooth Operators

A couple weeks ago was National Train Day and while I was photographing the event at Portland Union Station I was looking for unique angles and photos that were a bit different that the standard shots of the equipment amongst the crowds. We had gray and intermittently-stormy skies which let to things being wet. At one point I created an image looking down between a Superliner and SP Daylight observation car that were on display. The gray skies, wet pavement, and smooth reflective cars made for an interesting photo.