Riding Amtrak on the California Zephyr

This is the Sacramento station which hosts not only Amtrak but California sponsored commuter trains and buses. This building has been under renovation since 2012, but so far, no restaurant has been opened. However, another 5 to 10 years are needed to finish the work. This is one of the trains that the state of California subsidizes. There are about 3 dozen short haul trains daily using the Sacramento depot. This is the interior of the station with the famous painting of the driving of the Golden Spike to complete the Transcontinental railroad in 1869. The benches clearly show the heritage of this venerable station. As we waited in the “lounge” for sleeping car passengers, we got the word that the California Zephyr bound for Chicago was running late. Due to depart at 11:09 am, the time kept moving back to 1 pm and finally 3:20 pm. Had we known about the delay caused by storms and fallen trees the night before on the Westbound Zephyr, we could have visited the nearby California Railroad Museum. The train was 12 hours late reaching Emeryville, California. Adding to the frustration was the lack of air conditioning inside the station as the temperature inside rose. The Zephyr arrives surrounded by California Amtrak trains. The train had to be re-furbished and cleaned up before leaving Emeryville. Here the train passes the extensive Union Pacific engine facility at Roseville. The Colfax, California depot still bears the paint scheme of the Southern Pacific. The Zephyr negotiates its way up the Sierra Nevada mountain range. The grade out of Colfax is the steepest on the line. Off to the left is the American river. It’s about 1,000 feet below the grade of the rail line. I had to grab this shot of the Truckee California depot from the train window as it rolled past. Truckee was named after a Paiute Indian chief. There was a station stop at Reno, Nevada in what looks like a cavern. The passengers thought that over 2 nights and 3 days the train would easily make up the 4.5 hour late departure from Sacramento, but as the journey progressed that delay increased. Near Salt Lake City, Utah there is the gigantic copper smelter works. Then it’s on to the Great Salt Lake. We pass a passenger train operated by the Utah Transit Authority. After Provo, Utah the California Zephyr must pass through a series of loops known as the Gilluly Loops headed to the top of the Wasatch Plateau. This beautiful building is the Grand Junction, Colorado depot which is no longer used by Amtrak. Below is the current Amtrak station. This is the Colorado river before Glenwood Springs. Today the current is quite strong, but I am told this is not always the case. There were several rafters on the river enjoying the strong current. Glenwood Springs rates a station stop to stretch and take on passengers. The sign under the roof advises customers that the Zephyr is getting ready to depart. The cliffs surrounding the Colorado river are about 1,000 feet on each side. Each car has an attendant who is responsible for working with the passengers to ensure a pleasant trip. By far the best car attendant (porter) we had on the whole trip was Cammy. Even though she had been up for several days having worked the westbound Zephyr, she was always bright, cheerful and helpful. She has been with Amtrak for 22 years and made the travel more enjoyable. The baggage car gets unloaded at Omaha, Nebraska which is known as the “Gateway to the West”. The Union Pacific Railroad began construction here and headed toward California for the making of the Transcontinental Railroad. The magnificent building is the former depot built by the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy railroad in 1898. As an example of Art Deco architecture is has a place on the National Register of Historic Places. There is another stop at Ottumwa, Iowa. Notice the roofless passenger shelter. By this time the train was about 7 hours behind schedule and those with connections in Chicago began to ask questions. I managed to get a quick shot of the West Burlington Shops operated by the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad. Burlington is the last town in Iowa before crossing the Mississippi River. This is the massive lift bridge crossing the Mississippi into Illinois. By now the passengers with connections out of Chicago had received word from the Amtrak conductor that arrangements had been made for them. Some would stay in Chicago overnight at Amtrak’s expense while others would be bused south. We were in that group headed southbound on the City of New Orleans. Our final destination on the California Zephyr was Galesburg, Illinois which meant we didn’t have to spend another night in Chicago. But had that happened we planned to visit the Museum of Science and Industry. We say goodbye to the Zephyr here as it speeds on into Chicago for a late evening arrival. Despite the delay we had a wonderful train trip; we met interesting people during meals because you get to sit with complete strangers in the dining car. Some were talkative and interesting and some barely spoke English. That’s the fun of travel…the unexpected.

Share tips, start a discussion or ask one of our experts or other students a question.

Make a comment:
characters remaining

3 Responses to “Riding Amtrak on the California Zephyr”

  1. Silas Evers

    500 Miles in the real world. What would that be in N scale. How do I convert the real world and make it apply to n scale. 1:160 and 33 feet? The California Zephyr is one of my favorite trains next to the Empire Builder.

  2. James C Fox Jr

    I enjoyed the pictures. I've traveled on the Zephyr a few times. It's most scenic of the Amtrak routes.

  3. Jacques Graber

    Wonderful travelogue! I'd love to take a trip like this. The last train trip I took was in Europe from Rome to London. We traveled125 mph ln electric trains. I rode Japan's Shinjensha in 1989. First train trip, I took, I was 8 or 9; the "Daylight" from Davis CA, to Mt Shasta CA