kevin_standlee: (Pointless Arrow)
The drive through the Sacramento Valley and into the Sierra Nevada was not fun at all. The air conditioning in the minivan couldn't keep up with the nearly 40°C temperatures, and trying to do so also overheated the engine, so we had to turn off the AC whenever the needle went into the yellow zone. At Nyack we stopped and put additional water in the tank, which was not low, but not especially full, either. By Donner Summit it finally got comfortable, at we decided to stop in Truckee for dinner, because it would probably be much hotter in Reno or at home. Further making our minds up for us were warning signs that a brush fire at the Nevada border was causing delays.

Train Held for Fire )

While we had dinner, the warnings of delays from Nevada DOT had cleared, but the smoke and some fire was still there.

Smoke Over Gold Ranch )

We made no further stops and went home. Perhaps an hour after we got home, Amtrak went by (they were still at Truckee when we left). We assume that they had to get the all-clear not just from the fire department, but from Union Pacific. Lisa and I were on a trip coming up from Los Angeles on the Coast Starlight where for hours we thought we were doing to be put on buses at Paso Robles to take us to Sacramento due to a brush fire, but at the last minute the word came that the bridges were safe and we weren't going to have to ride any buses, which pleased up mightily. I hope the train patrons were similarly pleased. And on the bright side, their unexpected stopover was at one of the more comfortable places they could have been stopped between Emeryville and the Nevada desert.

I'm still on a backup computer, and nothing to restore the work machine has worked; not even the backup image from two weeks ago. Tech Support is dispatching a re-imaging DVD-ROM, which I am to use to re-image the computer back to bare metal. I sure hope it works, and that it arrives tomorrow. There's a lot of my job that I simply can't do on backup equipment.
kevin_standlee: (Watch for Train Traffic)
This morning, Amtrak came by with a private car on the rear.

Varnish on the Tail )

Also just barely visible in this photo is a tiny bit of snow on the higher peaks of the Pah Rah Range. On June 1. I don't remember snow lasting on the Pah Rahs this late in the year before.
kevin_standlee: (To Trains)
Yesterday afternoon, the eastbound California Zephyr came by relatively slowly because it was following another train. Lisa was out on the porch and called for me to come and grab my camera.

Odd but Beautiful Equipment )

More searching suggests that the faux-Pennsy car is an experimental track-monitoring-and-measurement car.
kevin_standlee: (Pointless Arrow)
Here's a selection of the photos I took on the train trip from Reno to the Bay Area last Saturday. Click through any of them to go to the full set.

Plenty of Snow in Them Thar Hills )

As I wrote earlier, after getting dinner at Emeryville, I caught a Capitol Corridor train to Fremont, collected my minivan, and drove home via Tracy and Sacramento.

I do very much enjoy this trip. I have yet to get tired of making it. If there was an easier way to work out the logistics (in particular, where would I park the Rolling Stone), I'd leave the RV in Fremont and commute back and forth by rail as needed.
kevin_standlee: (SMOF License)
Yesterday's travels went at least as well as could be expected. Even the fact that the California Zephyr was late into Reno was not that big a deal, for while it meant I couldn't get breakfast on the train (service ends 9 AM; the train basically needs to be right on time if you're going to get boarded and your ticket checked with enough time to get to the dining car), it did mean I had time to walk to the Wigwam, have my usual, and win it back on a free-play coupon.

Lisa drove me into Reno and deposited me at the Amtrak station, then headed home. (She'd not slept well and said she was going back to bed.) Amtrak made up some of the time we lost, and soon enough the California Zephyr arrived and I was on my way to the Bay. The train trip was as nice as I could want. Train was not overly crowded. Scenery was very nice, and I took lots of photos this time, but I haven't posted most of them. (Once you get clear of Truckee, you spend a lot of time out of mobile phone/internet range, so there's a backlog.)

At Sacramento, there was a small chance that the dispatcher might release us ahead of the Capitol Corridor service, on account of our train had fewer stops. But doing so would have delayed the Capitol, so we followed it down to Emeryville. Due to the CZ's schedule padding, we actually arrived early at EMY, but not early enough to allow me to make the "negative time" connection to the Capitol train. No matter, however, as there was another one 90 minutes later and I went over to the Emeryville Public Market for dinner before catching the train to Fremont.

The Capitol train had problems. The doors in the leading car wouldn't open, so you had to go down to car 2. The air conditioning in car 2 wasn't working, and today was quite warm. However, the train was lightly loaded, so going back to car 1 wasn't a big deal. You had to reverse that to get out at Fremont due to the non-working doors, but I could manage that. A short walk to my mechanic's shop and behold: my well-used minivan.

Reclaiming the Astro )

After collecting the minivan, I stopped by Suju's Coffee (across from where I used to live in Fremont) to buy a pound of coffee beans from them, then headed out Niles Canyon and the Altamont Pass. The combination of location, price, and IHG loyalty led me to the Holiday Inn Express Tracy last night. I could have pressed on a bit longer, but I did not see the need, and it would have cost me more at other IHG hotels farther up the road. This is not the best IHG property in which I've ever stayed, but the hot tub worked (and I remembered my rarely-used swim trunks), so I got a long soak. This made the tendonitis in my elbow feel better, not to mention my right leg, which woke me up yesterday morning with a bang when the muscled seized up.

Today it's on to Sacramento to visit my sister, then home. Sunday going away from the Bay Area should be a lot lighter traffic than my normal Sunday drive coming toward it to spend a week working down here, something I'm going a lot less often.
kevin_standlee: (Pointless Arrow)
As of this evening, the train that I'll be catching at Reno tomorrow morning around 8:30 AM was through Green River UT on time, so I'll need to be up tomorrow as if it were a usual work day for me. But that's okay. If I get tired, I can sleep on the train. I've confirmed with my mechanic that I'll be able to collect the Astro from him. I haven't picked a hotel yet because it will depend on when I actually get to Fremont. When the Zephyr hits everything right, there's a negative connection at Emeryville (i.e. I can connect to at train that leaves before the Zephyr's scheduled arrival at EMY, because that includes almost an hour of "recovery time."), and if that happens, I can go farther tomorrow night before laying over.
kevin_standlee: (Pointless Arrow)
Amtrak normally runs two trains a day across northern Nevada: Numbers 5 and 6, the west- and east-bound California Zephyr. However, for the past several weeks, service has been suspended and the train's Chicago-Emeryville (for San Francisco) run has been truncated to Salt Lake City, due to various mudslides, washouts, and other weather-related disruption. This messed up [ profile] gridlore and [ profile] kshandra's plans to come to Reno, which is a shame on multiple levels.

I could find nothing on Amtrak's web site about the service disruption, other than when you tried to check the train's status, you got a "cannot provide status due to a service disruption; call us for more information." It would have been nice if they'd given us Westerners the same courtesy they do when the Northeast Corridor services are disrupted. I found out what was happening from a railroad fans message board.

Union Pacific and Amtrak finally got things back together, and two days ago, the first westbound Zephyr started for the west coast again.

Coming Through... Slowly )

I heard #5 on the radio scanner as the engineer acknowledged the signals at East Fernley putting it into the siding to allow for a meet with an eastbound local freight (the "Fernley Flyer"). Thus the train, which normally blows through on the main at the maximum allowed track speed of 70 mph, was coasting along on the siding. They were only delayed a few minutes, though, as the "Flyer" arrived just as Amtrak pulled up to West Fernley.

I'm not sure when eastbound service will be restored. The train that came through westbound this morning isn't visible on the Amtrak "track a train" map, and there's a train #6 showing eastbound between Fernley and Winnemucca that I didn't notice going by this morning. If it's really there and not a mistake on the Amtrak system, it might be a set of equipment deadheading to get equipment back where it belongs.
kevin_standlee: (Snow Day)
Whatever was clogging LJ's pipes for the past day or so seems to have cleared again. You'd think they'd realize the problem after it happened once.

Last night we got rain, then snow, then rain, then below-freezing temperatures. This has turned the porch and sidewalk into ice-skating rinks. Lisa is on nights at the moment and did what she could, laying down more grit to improve traction.

The weather situation in the Sierra Nevada remains dire (although good for potential drought relief it it remains as snow instead of immediately melting and causing flooding. I heard yesterday that Amtrak has been turning the California Zephyr at Reno and not crossing the mountains, which explains why the eastbound train yesterday appeared to be dark. (Although I assume that passengers with tickets out of Reno eastbound were being accommodated.) From another source on Facebook (a Union Pacific employee), I read that UP has their snow spreaders out. They might have to resort to the Big Guns: the rotary snowplows.

It's difficult to tell yet whether it will be safe for me to drive to the Bay Area this weekend.
kevin_standlee: (Pointless Arrow)

Lisa took me into Reno yesterday morning, dropped me at the Amtrak station, and headed home. I went into the station and they told me that Amtrak #5 was on time, and thus I was too late to check my bag. They were wrong. Unfortunately, I couldn't prove it. Not wanting to lug my bag over to the Silver Legacy and back just to get coffee (and in case they were right), I skipped coffee and settled in to wait. Lisa later reported that as she got home, #5 was passing the house, and that's about right, as we left Reno around 45 minutes late. Lisa wanted to tell me that there were some private cars on the tail of the train, but something about Skype wouldn't let her leave me a message.

Silver Cars Through the Silver State )

As our train headed into the mountains, it started to rain, and rain continued fall heavily most of the trip. There was no snow at Norden on the west side of the summit, but snow was falling on Interstate 80 across the valley, and I saw bulletins of the freeway being closed due to multiple spinouts and accidents. Even after those were cleared, chain controls were in effect. Everything I saw made me really happy to have been on the train today.

I've been making this trip enough times that some of the crew — in this case, the conductor and assistant conductor, plus one of the California State Railroad Museum docents — recognized me. I spent most of the trip as far as Sacramento camped out in the lower level of the lounge chatting with them, except when I went to have lunch.

After Sacramento, the CSRM docents left the train, and I returned to my seat for the remainder of the trip to Emeryville. This is a lot less interesting than the Sierras, but it does have points of interest. Today's trip threatened to become more interesting that we might have wanted, however.

Troubled Bridge over Deep Waters )

Delays notwithstanding, we got to Emeryville. I had no problem with my luggage, as there had been lots of room on the lower-level luggage racks when I boarded at Reno. Because of the delays, my connecting train following us down from Sacramento wasn't too far behind, and so instead of going over to the Emeryville Public Market in the rain to get dinner, I stayed in the station and waited for my train to Fremont.

Incidentally, if you try to book a seat on the California Zephyr to San José, you'll be shown a very long (about three hour) connection at Emeryville. That's because Amtrak's long-distance connection rules require a two-hour minimum connection time. In fact, there's a train to San José roughly an hour or so behind #5 when it is on time. Because it's an unreserved coach train, you can just board the next train to SJ and show your ticket. Take note of this if you're thinking of coming out to Worldcon 76 San José by train from Chicago. (You can't check your luggage through to SJ, though; you'll have to hump it onto the Capitol Corridor train yourself.)

By the time we got to Fremont, the rain had stopped, which I appreciated because I still had about one km to walk to my mechanic's shop, where the Rolling Stonewas waiting for me.

Once again, it was a mostly routine trip, and much easier than it would have been had I tried to wrestle the RV over Donner Summit. In fact, if I had been driving, I would have had to leave on Saturday to get out ahead of the weather.

BTW, no costumes this Halloween. I couldn't fit anything into my luggage for this trip.

kevin_standlee: (Pointless Arrow)
I got a bit of a scare when Amtrak's system was telling me that status on my train this morning (westbound California Zephyr, train #5) was "unavailable due to a service disruption;" however, the track-a-train map shows it heading this way at 70 mph and Amtrak's social media people (Twitter account) say it's running only a few minutes late, which isn't that unusual. Indeed, even 20 minutes late at Reno can still mean an hour early at Emeryville because of all of the recovery time in the schedule.

I'm all packed, and my luggage even has about 2 kg leeway short of the weight limit for the flight to London on Tuesday. Considering that I'm carrying stuff that I'll be leaving behind in the RV, I'm feeling fairly comfortable about this.

In a few minutes, Lisa will drive me in to Reno and see me off for a two week stint.
kevin_standlee: (Pointless Arrow)
Bandwidth restrictions through the Sierra kept me from including the photos I took yesterday, but here they are now.

Yet More Train Pictures )

Later in the day, as we left Colfax, I was able to get a few pictures of views you can't get heading west because the westbound track is in a tunnel and misses "Cape Horn" on the original Central Pacific route.

Rounding Cape Horn )

This trip is worth it just for the scenery.
kevin_standlee: (Pointless Arrow)
The bus (Centerville Amtrak station)-to-BART (Union City)-to-Amtrak (Richmond) connection worked as advertised. I'm glad I did aim one bus early, however, as the bus ran a few minutes late and I had to wait what seemed an eternity at Union City BART to use the restroom. Had I also had time pressure to make connections, I would have been much worse off. As it was, I got to Richmond with 40 minutes to wait around the platform, but that's much better than missing the train, given that there's just the one train per day.

I would of course prefer an all-rail routing, but the bus-to-BART run isn't so bad, and as long as the bus actually shows up it's okay. I continue to mull over how to make this work for me, particularly in the winter months when wrestling the Rolling Stone over Donner Summit can get dicey. Once I get the RV back in full roadable condition (meaning both fuel tanks working), I will do more investigation, including making sure that there are parking spaces at Fremont/Centerville into which the RV will fit.

Train Tales )

I finished this entry as we approached Truckee and the cell phone (and internet) signal returned. Time to button stuff back up and give Lisa a call to tell her it's time to consider driving in to Reno to collect me.
kevin_standlee: (Pointless Arrow)
Looking at the weather as I rode the California Zephyr from Reno to Emeryville yesterday, I was even more glad that I wasn't trying to wrestle the Rolling Stone over the pass. Just outside of Reno near Verdi, a long line of stopped vehicles indicated a road closure near the state line for an accident. Based on my normal timing, I would have been caught in that closure had I been driving. Or maybe part of the accident.

We've been working on the logistics of how I can leave the RV in the Bay Area more often as a regular thing and "commute" back and forth by train. The RV does have to come "home" periodically so we can clean and resupply it, including dumping the waste tanks and refilling the water tank, but we might manage to make it only one trip in three or four that this has to happen. I'll also have to make sure that I can leave the RV parked at the Centerville train station for extended periods, which I've done before with my minvan when taking train trips from there. I wouldn't want to step off the train and find that my RV had been towed away!
kevin_standlee: (Pointless Arrow)
This morning's Amtrak #5 was on time out of Winnemucca, so in a little while Lisa will be taking me to Reno to put me on the train back to the Bay Area for another week. My mechanic called on Sunday to say that while he's finally been able to reproduce and isolate what he thinks the problem is (the fuel transfer switch), he'll have to order the parts, and thus I'm going to need to leave the RV with him yet again. Fortunately, thank y'all here on LJ, I learned that I do have a transit based alternative to get back to the eastbound California Zephyr from Fremont on next Saturday morning, so Lisa does not have to drive overnight once again.

Given the weather this weekend, I'm really much happier riding the train than trying to push an RV, even a small one, over windblown mountain passes. In fact, the weather forecast suggests there might be some snow at the higher elevation. Not fun to drive. I'll sit back and let the train take the strain.
kevin_standlee: (Pointless Arrow)
Yesterday, the eastbound California Zephyr had to go through Fernley on the siding because "Big BN" (the BNSF way freight) was holding the main, having completed switching cars at Fernley. Normally this means we would not be able to see Amtrak, since the siding is on the far side relative to us. However, the BNSF freight had conveniently stopped with an empty drop-center high-capacity (sixteen wheel) flat car at just the right spot, so Lisa decided to take a picture using the piece of specialty rail equipment as part of the frame.

Amtrak on the 'Scenic Route' )

Timekeeping on Amtrak #5/6 has been much better lately. You can't quite set your watch by them, but they haven't been running multiple hours late the way they have known to have done.
kevin_standlee: (Pointless Arrow)
It's most likely that Lisa will be able to drive down Saturday morning and collect me from Fremont after we leave the RV with my mechanic again. However, if she is unable to do so, I have two backup plans.

The former super-tight connection between the Capitol and the California Zephyr at Emeryville is now impossible, as schedule changes mean that the Capitol now runs behind the Zephyr arriving at Emeryville after #5 leaves. (This makes sense because the Chicago train makes fewer stops between Emeryville and Sacramento than the corridor train to Sacramento, so the trains don't interfere with each other this way.) So an all-Amtrak routing requires taking at 10 AM train from Fremont and a connecting Amtrak Thruway bus to Reno. I don't like this one, but it does work.

Alternatively, I could leave the RV with Cory very early in the morning and walk the three miles over to Fremont BART, then ride BART up to Richmond to connect with the California Zephyr. This one is all rail plus a fair bit of shoe leather. It's not so much the walking that puts me off, but doing so with a heavy computer backpack and my luggage. But this is the plan I'll probably use if Lisa is for some reason unable to make the trip.
kevin_standlee: (Pointless Arrow)
If I knew that all of the trips would go as smoothly as yesterday did, I'd do more to make my "commute" between Fernley and the Bay Area by train. Amtrak #5 was only a few minutes late (which meant I was able to make the last breakfast seating), had no on-route delays, and arrived at Emeryville about an hour early (which it will if there are no delays due to recovery time built into the schedule). That meant I could take the 3:50 train to Fremont instead of trains as much as four hours later for the 30 minute ride to Fremont. I collected the RV, but I won't know whether my mechanic has been able to fix the issue with the fuel-transfer valve until I go pay him for the work (and collect my spare keys) later today.

It took me only slightly longer to take the train yesterday than it typically does for me to drive. Mind you, when I drive, I generally stop to visit my sister, and I have fuel and meal stops along the way.

It was pretty warm in the Bay Area yesterday (and will be today) by local standards. That made getting to sleep a little bit of a problem in the heat, but it eventually cooled down sufficiently. I was tired enough that I didn't bother getting online, so when I got the Rolling Stone buttoned up for the night, I gave Lisa a call to reassure her that all was as well as it could be and did what I could to get to sleep. I guess it must have been enough because I woke up 30 minutes before my alarm this morning.

It's a shame that I can't rely on the connections working going the other way. The Capitol-to-Zephyr connection at Emeryville is only five minutes, which isn't a safe connection.
kevin_standlee: (Pointless Arrow)
Lisa took me to the Reno Amtrak station this morning to catch the Amtrak California Zephyr, which was running around 30-45 minutes late. I know that train's schedule, however, which has a significant amount of "recovery time" built in to it. That's why the stops from Sacramento onward have a D by their schedule with a footnote of "stops to discharge passengers only; may leave before scheduled time."

Through the Sierra to Sacramento, Emeryville, and Fremont )

As usual, I enjoyed my train trip. I'd do it more often if I could, but it isn't practical for the trips home. Coming down from Reno works, but the trips home do not, because the Zephyr leaves Emeryville at 9 AM. Also, even if I left the Rolling Stone at Fremont station (possible), the early morning Capitol Corridor train has an "illegal" (under ten minute) connection at Emeryville with the CZ, and that's cutting things too fine. In a pinch, I could book a Capitol-plus-bus trip to Reno, but I don't like booking a "train" trip that is mostly a ride on a bus.
kevin_standlee: (Pointless Arrow)
Lisa has been sleeping days and up nights this past week (in part as a reaction to the hot weather), so at the end of her day and the beginning of mine, she took me in to Reno to catch the train to the Bay Area, where I'll be working for the next two weeks.

Train Travelogue )

Because of the recovery time build into the schedule, the train was only about 30 minutes late into Emeryville. I was able to reclaim my checked bag, make my way over to the Emeryville Public Market (which is under a total renovation and thus only a few food stands were open), grab a meal to go, and get back over to the station with ten minutes to spare before the 5:35 Capitol to Fremont arrived. That was a relief, because the train on which I was actually ticketed was almost two hours later, and I really didn't want to hang around Emeryville that long.

I ate my dinner on the Capitol and in good time (early, actually; the train had to wait on its schedule time before departing) they deposited me in Fremont, at the Centerville station where I used to walk many evenings when I lived a couple of blocks away. In this case, I walked the other direction to my mechanic's shop, where by previous arrangement I collected the Rolling Stone using Lisa's set of keys. The brakes have been completely rebuilt and the rear springs (which were sagging) replaced. He didn't have time to get to the fuel tank switch issue, so I'll have to leave it with him again when we go to Westercon and repeat the process of vehicle swapping with Lisa.

It was a good trip, and I enjoyed it. I'm sort of glad I'll have to do it again in a few weeks. Although I'm tired, it's not the same kind of tired as when I make the drive, and I do enjoy the train trip much more than driving the 300 miles. If it were a bit more convenient to do so, I'd be tempted to leave the RV in the Bay Area all the time and use the train to get back and forth between home and work stints.
kevin_standlee: (Pointless Arrow)
You may recall that we had a late-season snowstorm here on Monday. The 15 cm on the ground here at Fernley was nothing compared to what Reno/Sparks got, causing massive traffic problems. Oddly enough, apparently there was very little snowfall in the Sierra Nevada to the west of us. The storm sneaked around the Sierra somehow.

Three days after the storm, few signs of of the snow remain on the ground here, and much of the snow on the surrounding hills is gone as well. The weather has turned sunny and warmer, and I took the opportunity to take pictures of both of Thursday's "people trains."

Westbound and Eastbound )

Fortunately, the quick melt has not triggered any flooding other than some very large puddles in some low-lying areas.

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