About Me

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Split personality. Liking the arts, especially opera, and hockey and Los Toros. I know, I know THAT one is non pc currently. But I can't help it saw some in Spain and got hooked, but good. But on the other hand right now opera and hockey are in the forefront!


Sunday, May 18, 2014

The travails of train travels - Mother Nature plays rough?

I am here now, when I should have been on the way to Sacramento to catch  the Coastal starlight for Los Angeles tomorrow morning (early) and The Getty Museum. Well, these will just have to wait for another time.

On Mother's Day we fly (relatively calm flight) North to land in Denver (Dome of courthouse?)
in a light snow fall with, BRRRR, 32  degrees.
Monday will see us boarding the California Zephyr (a daily Train from Chicago-Sacramento)
by 8 AM. Well, we are in the brand spanking new Denver Union station, but not the Zephyr! Waiting for it becomes a challenge. Snow falls in wetly plump flakes, the wind is biting, the station has NO warm waiting area, and NO cafe to buy any warm or cold drinks, or food! But in the basement on the
way to the ladies and gents, there still rests an OLD, OLD big wall safe

framed like an old master by a carved lintel and sides :-) - maybe from the late 1800... Wild West times?
Across the street on the corner, the life saver for chilled waiting-for-the-train travelers, an old and warmly welcoming wood paneled bookstore,  and coffee shop. We spend 5 hrs there reading and sipping, and having a sandwich, as do many others! I finish a book off the low price used book cart and put it back, I buy several others. I have also a book I finished on the plane and give it to the cashier, she loves the author and is happy! I am happy, too.Then she brings over a big chocolate cookie as thanks. I am tempted but ... the cookie goes to the window clerk at the station for her courtesy in making some changes to our itinerary WHEN we think the train would ONLY be a couple hours late. We'd get off in Reno, rent car, drive to Tahoe, back to Reno, then hop the train to Sacramento on the 18th, to stay the night, then get the Coastal Starlight to LA. Or so we think.

Finally, Nr. 5 Zephyr rolls in at about 1 PM! We hear departing riders (Chicago to Denver), that they spent hours evacuating the train and sheltering from tornadoes in Nebraska, even having dinner there, how that was done I have no clue, I mean the dining car and staff evacuated too, or did they? But done it was, so we were told by our train mates, who hailed from New Zealand, Australia and the UK... us being the sole US passengers in that coach.
We clamber aboard and up to the second level rooms.
And settle in.....alas for more waiting and waiting.

After having to scrounge around for a second engine (needed to pull that train up and over the Continental divide and parts further West), an Amtrak one not in working condition at all, a Union Pacific one is finally found, which, sadly, needs some (minor?) repairs on brakes  (yikes-imagine brakes NOT working on those steep gradients!!!)
Meanwhile a freight train has first crack over the track. Do YOU know why? Freight train companies OWN the tracks, and Passenger trains are only guests, riding the rails AFTER FREIGHTS!
Almost 5 PM now and we are OFF, slowly moving past Coors Field and points West.  Steadily climbing higher and higher onto snowy fields while Denver sinks back in the twilight..
Looking East down toward Denver
Behind us a tunnel
We reach and stop at Winter Park-Fraser, ride through tunnel after tunnel, steam past snow ladden trees and slopes; in the distance a dam. The 10 minutes long Moffat Tunnel is breached, we have dined (rather good food) while watching elk and deer foraging in the snow and - stop again - at Granby. For several hours, yet! More delay. Why? Waiting for the relief crew, who are "on the way" to take over. Meanwhile the eastbound Zephyr steams past down towards Denver, 2 freight trains rattle past us on the way West and out of sight.
And we wait.
Ah, the relief crew IS here.And off we chug. Up the narrow slope past some rushing streams and into the dark -with snow flurries.
Rushing streamlet-snowy trees
We bed down and the chugging lolls us to sleep, but wait  - we stop! AGAIN.
There is commotion at the back of our coach (the last one). I climb out onto the passage way - hello - there are two crew members hanging out the back door playing flashlights behind on the narrow track ...while talking with the engineer(s) who are up front/back??? What's going on on? The train starts backwards, slowly, slowly, down a curvy track guided via walky-talky ? to the engineers by the flashlight-wielding crew members. I recall  reading about such in 'old wild west' books and seeing it in movies...except of course in those days the crew would have walked in the snowy tracks wielding lanterns while several crew would be station along the length of train yelling instructions to the engineer at front, now back, of train ;-)
Christmas card view in May ?
A curve now and again, all downhill; snow flurries, I barely see the abyss on the right, but clearly see the brown wetly shining rock wall to the left. And slowly we return to the East. Where we stop. Over night, at least!
Why??? Because ahead a rock/mud slide blocks the track. Which in my thinking must have happened AFTER those two freight trains went west, why? Well, they sure did NOT come back past us. While we waited for the relief crew!
Sunrise somewhere in the Rockies
We try to sleep, but the compartment gets chillier, by 4 AM I am freezing and wear almost every stitch of clothing I have in the carry-on. And then, the lights go out and the toilet flush is not working. By 6 AM, a huddle of passengers collects near the (I want to say samowar-lol, but we are in USA) so it's a big coffee urn, which the sleeper car attendant (a lovely-smiling lady) has finally plugged in as we have electricity again! We wait, some of us sneak a cuppa... it is weak, but HOT!
Another announcement. The rockslide is too large and may take 3-4 days to clear.
We are heading back to Denver. We have a decent breakfast and marvel at the beauty of the snowy mountains now lying glistening in the morning sun under a blue sky!

Back to Denver
We arrive at Union Station, there this day's Zephyr waits.It was more or less ON TIME, but now will be taking off several hours late because all Sacramento bound Passengers (those that wished to go on) transfer to it, and the train (and all to come in the next 3-4 days) will be re-routed via Wyoming! The short destination riders (say Glenwood Springs, Grand Junction etc) will be bused!
We and a few others, elect to get off and go back home (in our case, because the Lake Tahoe/Reno portion of our trip would have been totally lost). We spend a night relax, and sleeping soundly at a hotel near the airport having taken the bus from Union Station and the courtesy van to the hotel, and hop on a full plane back to Houston on Wednesday.
As a first I get my palms swiped, usually I get a pat down alone. No, I did not handle explosives etc. May have wanted to explode due to frustration, but must concede, customer service personnel at Amtrak office was most courteous and we are getting a refund with apologies, and a voucher for future travel (? as if; maybe we will-but NO over nighters!).
A strange thing... we arrive back home and find an e-mail notice from SW Air about a delayed departure of our flight, DUH? Which took off from Denver ON TIME, arrived early in Austin, continued quickly to Hobby? 

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