The majority of the Coast Starlight run actually takes place in daylight hours, with the longest stretch being from the Bay Area down to the LA Basin via the Southern Pacific's Coast route. In our last segment we left off at Gilroy, about 75 miles below Oakland an at the southern limit of the Bay Area commuting area. In this segment I will cover the section between Gilroy and San Luis Obispo, which is at the extreme northern extent of the LA commuting area.
For those of you who are expecting to see all manner Pacific Ocean shots, prepare to be disappointed as those are all between San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara. Now I did take photos along that stretch, but because the Southern Pacific era searchlight signals had all been raped in recent years I decided against my usual survey technique and instead just took side window shots as we went along the coast. While these side window shots show a great deal of scenery and space launch facilities, there is very little railroad related material so I will save that set for some time in the future when I am really hurting for content. :-P
You can see the full set of these photos here.
After passing Gilroy things start positivly enough with a long section of interesting signaling that incorporates both Double Track ABS (a surprising rarity these days in the west) and short section of economy CTC. Here we see CP-CORPORAL at the southern entrance to the northern section of DT-ABS with an automatic signal for northbound trains and spring switch turnout in addition to an AEI reader.
At the exact point where the railroad crosses the San Andreas fault
there is the large "Graniterock" gravel quarry complete with its in
house motive power. Here we see GRCX #2000, a former Union Pacific SW10
(12-645 rebuild of an EMD SW7) parked next to a GE 44-ton.
Here is an old timey rock breaker just down a bit from a classic Southern Pacific signal bridge that marks the resulption of DT ABS territory.
The Salanis valley is truly the salad bowl of America.
At the Watsonville rail hub HLCX GP38-2 #1814 was switching the yard with UP GP40-2 #1415.
Not everything out of Watsonville was of the "local" freight variety and I was lucky enough to catch a trio of brand new SD59MX
locomotives, #9923, #9921 and #9914. With only 25 examples ordered
these are some of the rarest units on the UP system. Similar in concept
to the NS rebuilt SD60E's, the SD59MX units are variants of the SD32ECO,
with lower power 12-710 engines.
Another rare engine I caught at Watsonville was this Cotton Belt painted GP60 #1089.
South of WATSONVILLE JCT were some vehicles that give new meaning to the term "Cabbage Car"
The tidal marsh south of Watsonville would be about as close as the Coast Starlight would get to the coast for nearly 200 miles.
Farm labor transport buses were a common sight because food doesn't pick itself...yet.
Passengers taking a stretch at the Salinas, CA Amtrak Station, where once again the original railroad station was surrounded by a "temporary" fence.
An adjacent railroad museum had both a signaling display and Baldwin built S-10 class 0-6-0 switcher #1237.
There was evidence that automated harvesting technology was beginning to replace the more politically fraught methods. Also, Got Tomatoes?
As the Coast Starlight moved away from the coast, the sun came out.
Emerging from Tunnel 5.5
South of Salinas the Coast Sub is governed by TWC-ABS, which means that
there is automatic block signaling in both directions with manual
traffic control to arrange meets at passing sidings such as this one at
King City. When the line was re-signaled, a crude form of Absolute
Permissive Block was installed with automatically functioning absolute
signals at the entrance to each single track section.
The Salinas valley, because nothing could be wrong with growing fruits and vegetables in an arid environment.
California might not like to admit it, but it had been a major oil producing state for well over a century now. The San Ardo Oil Field was the most recent to be discovered, in 1947 and unlike state oil monopolies that ration the extraction of oil to keep prices high, in the US we we let private industry extract as much oil as quickly as possible.
I am not sure if this transloading facility is to ship oil out or to
bring some other commodity in. The San Ardo Field had had been using
assisted recovery techniques for decades.
Whatever was in the tank cars, UP ES44AC #7792 was on hand to pull them away along with EMD SD70ACe #8511.
Crossing the Salinas river. Can someone please explain why we are growing salad here again? The truss bridge was built in 1914.
Approaching Paso Robles, I found myself in wine country.
After a brief lunch break, the Coast Starlight was back in CTC territory as it went up and over the Cuesta Pass. At nearly a mile in length, the northernmost tunnel, Tunnel 6, is the longest.
The Southern Pacific Daylight route shares the pass with US highway 101.
Southern Pacific cantilever mast in service at North SERRANO
interlocking. Because this is not a route for through freight, Union
Pacific limits its capitol investment which has preserved some of the
The long trek of the Salinas River Valley means a comparatively steeper
descent down the southern slope of the grade to the coast south of San
Tunnel 11 at North Chorro interlocking.
Our engines as we swing around a curve on the Churro siding.
Descending the Cuesta Pass horseshoe curve.
And crossingthe Stenner Creek Trestle.
Due to schedule padding we were now running early and were treated to a somewhat extended station stop at San Luis Obispo.
On hand at the station was a Union Pacific mobile training trailer hauled by a brand new Union Pacific Ford F-450.
San Luis Obispo Amtrak station.
P42DC #123 with Surfliner F59PHI #461 at the head of the train. This
station is not unfamiliar territory for #461 as a daily Surfliner round
trip to LA originates at this station.
Representing UP were a pair of Canadian cabbed SD60M's #2376 and #2394.
South of the station was another small rail museum with a Southern pacific caboose and office car on display.
Because so many of the passing sidings on the section of TWC-ABS south
of San Kuis Obispo were occupied we had to wait for the northbound Train
12 to pass us by. It was well worth the wait because power was
provided by Phase I Heritage P42 #156 and P32-8WH #510.
Expensive real estate and truss bridges south of San Luis Obispo. One of these two things will get washed away in a mud slide. Care to guess which one?
The Pacific Parlor Car really made the trip for my friend and I.
Not only was the menu a breath of fresh air compared to the more
standard fare in the Dining Car, but the 1st class lounge atmosphere was
so much more relaxing than the regular lounge. Here is a shot of the
PPC dining area from the lounge area. The lower level had a 2+1 seating theatre. Of course with the scenery out the windows nobody was spending much time there.
Like I said I'll post the scenery-gasm photos some other time, so we'll now skip ahead to Train 11 at the Santa Barbara Station.
MISSION ACCOMPLISHED! P42DC #123 at tk10, LA Union Passenger Terminal.
BONUS MISSION ACCOMPLISHED! F59PHI's lined up at San Diego's ATSF Depot.
Using AGR points for this one zone sleeper trip also gives one business
class on the Surfliner which includes free California wine. W00t!
Tune in next time for some fun in the San Diego Sun.