Last week Sarah of The Coachella Valley Art Scene was invited on behalf of the Ace Hotel in Palm Springs to report on a trip from Los Angeles to Palm Springs with Amtrak . The adventure sounded fun and so on Tuesday Sarah took off at 8:30am from the Palm Springs Train Station to embarck on the journey with fellow leaders in her community. Together the group of Coachella Vallians would take a bus ride to Los Angeles, get a tour of the Amtrak’s Maintenance Facility, a tour of Union Station, and take the train back to Palm Springs come sunset.
Read the story and check out the photos below to see what she learned, what happened, how to take the same trip and where to find out more information on the Amtrak:
A trip on the Amtrak from Los Angeles to Palm Springs
a story told by Sarah Scheideman of The Coachella Valley Art Scene
At 8:00am on Tuesday morning I was in my car driving to the Palm Springs Train Station. This was going to be my first time ever taking a train, let alone, reporting on my experience of riding in one. I was super excited, to say the very least.
I pulled up to the Train Station and met the group of fellow Coachella Valley community leaders and members who would be boarding with me. Some were members of our Chamber of Commerce, others were political figures, a few local business owners and even a pair of Middle School students. It was a wide variety of people from the desert who were brought together by Amtrak to learn more about the company, the trains, and experience what it could be like if these trains traveled to Palm Springs on a daily basis.
Awhile back, I had lived in Los Angeles and it was almost every weekend that I would commute back to the Coachella Valley via car (going to throw in here that I drive an 1983 diesel Mercedes that runs on Diesel + Veggie Oil). Each time I made the trek back and forth, I’d pass Amtraks along freeway. I always knew that riding by train was the safer, greener, more efficient way to travel – however the hours and the prices to do so were not as reasonable. Hours of operation for the trains to/from Palm Springs were in the darkest hours of the night, plus the Amtrak only stopped in Palm Springs three times a week. So, for a weekend visitor like myself, it was just not compatible.
This particular day was different.
Once everyone met we all boarded a large Charter bus that took us into the city of Los Angeles to embark on our first activity of the day, which happened to be the Amtrak’s Maintenance Facility…
We pulled up to the Amtrak’s 8th Street Maintenance Facility and got out of the Charter Bus when we were quickly instructed to put on our safety caps before entering the site.
I wish I could have kept it as a souvineer, would have been a great accessory at Coachella Fest or some super fashionable event like that. However, as I soon learned, the blue Amtrak hard hat was more for safety purposes then it was for a fashion statement.
Right away we were greeted by the Amtrak’s 8th Street Maintenance Facility’s Manager who lead us into the official “hard hat zone”. Here is where we got to explore the inner workings of the Amtrak.
We started with learning how the Amtraks operate and are maintained on a daily basis. Learning about the constant flow and what it takes to make it happen in the bone yard on a daily basis was surprisingly quite fascinating to me.
I learned that just within California the Amtrak operates approximately 70 intercity trains and 100 commuter trains per day! This includes the following long distance trains through California:
- The California Zephyr (daily San Francisco Bay Area –> Salt Lake City –> Chicago)
- The Coast Starlight (daily Los Angeles –> Oakland –> Seattle)
- ** The Sunset Limited (tri-weekly Los Angeles –> (**stops in Palm Springs) –> New Orleans)
Some Amtraks cars will be worked on for 14 hours, others take a couple days to get serviced. They tune-ups just like any other car, tuck, or bus.
Before heading outside to the train yard, we made a stop at this “Putting America to Work” sign. Here is where the Manager broke it down to us how Amtraks helps the economy but providing thousands of jobs.
For instance, did you know that at the end of 2011 Amtrak employeed 2,921 California residents? Total wages of Amtrak employees living in California were $199,702,426 during 2011. That certainly impressed me. With those numbers, it was put into perspective of not only how beneficial the Amtrak is for Palm Springs and our local tourism, but also how beneficial Amtrak is to California’s economy.
As we weaved our way around the facility I couldn’t help but appreciate the consistent color wave of silver, red, yellow and blue that was sprinkled throughout the inside of the maintenance facility, stretched out and around the yard, and even made it’s way tastefully inside the trains.
Featured above are long distance trains. Long distance trains also support thousands of jobs and many of them are surprisingly from rural areas.
They are also a major factor in tourism industry in many communities as well. Where these train stations are built in Downtowns often become the focus for developing around. Thus, helping to the development and growth of cities.
After being shown how each car works or next adventure was to actually go inside each one and learn it’s purpose for the passengers:
- Coach Car – Much like an airplane setting, the Coach area offers wide, reclining seats with a leg rest, a folding tray table and overhead lights. You can order at-seat meal service and extra pillows as well. Nothing too glamorous, but if you are traveling on a tighter budget this is definitely the “no thrills” way to go.
- Sightseer Lounge – Cafe Car – This is the ride to sign up for if you want to spend a little bit more money and get bang for your buck. The large panoramic windows and informal seating set an ideal atmosphere for sightseeing and making new friends. As you’ll see in the photos featured below, this Car that we had the opportunity to travel in. The experience was wonderful as I got to see parts of the Inland Empire that I had never even seen from my car. Plus, you get to watch the Southern California sunset through huge windows.
- Dining Car – On the top levels of the Dining Cars is a full-serviced restaurant on wheels that serves hot meals from waitresses that are prepared by Amtrak chefs below. The bottom level of the Dining Car is a full-service, state-of-the-art kitchen that is maintained at the highest standards and checked often. Eating in the Dining car is a lovely dining experience as you can enjoy a good meal while the outside scenery passes you by outside your window’s view.
- Sleeping Car – 14/15 long distance routes operate overnight and have “Sleeping Cars.” Sleeping Cars provide a range of small private rooms with amenities for day and night use. The average Sleeping Car passenger travels over 1,000 miles. It cost significantly extra to book a Sleeping Car Room.
After touring the Maintenance Facility and learning about the inner workings of the Amtrak’s daily procedures, we had a pretty good grasp on what it takes to make this large operation run.
In fact, after talking about it so much, the anticipation to board the train and try it out for myself first hand was making me antsy.
Good news, next stop was Union Station!
Union Station is located in the Northeastern corner of Downtown Los Angeles. Across the street is Los Angeles’s historic Olvera Street, where Los Angeles was founded.
This is where comers and goers of Los Angeles come to board the Amtrak, Metrolink, Metro Rail, Metro Liner and is also a hub for Bus services.
The grand Union Station, looking similar to a Mission on the outside, first opened in 1939 and still has many of the original tile floors, art deco lighting fixtures and architecture.
On every floor of the Union Square there is a larger-then-life mural to greet you upon your arrival. Featured in the photo above is my personal favorite, created by Richard Wyatt in collaboration with May Sun, titled “City of Dreams, River of History” (1995). Located in the east Portal of Union Station, this one greets you as you enter the main train station area.
After we ride the elevator down, we began to explore and this is where we came across many other art pieces, all of different mediums. One large-scale sculptural piece is a mound of petrified train artifacts (left behind from passengers) that have been collected over the years. Across from the sculpture was a really cool electronic light installation. If you stood at about a 30 degree angle from the light board your eyes would trick you into seeing a moving train, however, if you look at the light board dead on it just looks like a regular electronic light show. I really enjoyed both of those smaller art pieces, both of which were smaller and at eye level.
We took a small detour to a building that was adjacent to Union Square is a wing called the ‘Metro Headquarters’. At every floor of this building there are a series of truly stunning murals by James Droolin, “Los Angeles Circa 1879, 1910, 1950 and after 2000″. Featured in this photo is “Los Angeles Circa 1879″… my oh my have things changed. It’s amazing how profoundly transportation can change a city.
While touring the Metro Headquarters we were showed all the neat nooks and crannies of the facility. One of my favorite nooks was an old bar that was no longer in service. Tucked way in the back of an out-of-service restaurant, this small night club looked like many memorable times where spent within each of these booths. In the back of my mind I could almost hear the clinking of glass cups, the muddle of voices, and 1940’s background music while standing in there. The architecture was well preserved with a wavy easthetic that looked perfect for intimate settings and conversations.
Beautiful cement walls, title floors and 8-point-stars graced the inner workings of the Headquarters.
Returning back to Union Station, although the outside is very square and rectangular, I picked up a lot of curves and tunnels on the inside… seemingly preparing us for departure in your tunnel-like mode of transportation (trains).
And althought the ceilings were high and the building grand, the station wasn’t exactly the largest one I had ever been to from the inside. Regardless, it was a beautifully lit from large windows beaming in natural sunlight, really playing up to Los Angeles’s sunny weather.
3:00pm struck and it was time to board the train!
Down the terminals of Union Station we hurried to catch the Sunset Limited train back to Palm Springs…
Walking through the terminals reminded me why I love Los Angeles and the big city so much – the diversity and the culture.
People quickly passing by you on your right and left sides are from all sorts of different locations from within the United Sates and across the world. A majority of these people are from different ethnic backgrounds, speaking different languages. These terminal have an echo, bouncing so many different words, outbursts of laughter, foot steps, and cell phone ring tones off the walls.
It’s a happening place, everyone passing through these terminals is in transit and on an adventure of some sort. Some simply getting off work after a long day waiting to board train back home, while others are traveling from one part of the country to the next to full their sense of adventure and need for change of scenery.
In walking through the terminal I thought back to Richard Wyatt and May Sun’s “City of Dreams, River of History” mural in the East Portal of Union Station that I had just passed while on my way to this lower level. Depicted that mural are the early and contemporary settlers of Los Angeles then, and here in front of me were the contemporary settlers of Los Angeles today.
The energy that I felt in these terminal tunnels is exciting and invigorating…. the anticipation to board is eating away at me….
Next thing you know, the clock strikes 3:30pm and we are being whisked away in the Sunset Limited train heading East bound to New Orleans from Los Angeles with a pit stop in Palm Springs!!!
We entered the Sunset Limited and were fortunate to sit in the Sightseer Lounge – Cafe Car. Here is where we sat comfortably and watched the world pass us by. Natural lighting from the large windows that stretched from one side of the train to the other and above our heads made the narrowness of the train unrecognizable and almost forgettable.
Sounds of the Sightseer Lounge Car – Cafe Car were quiet and contained. At one point a group of women sang, and another time someone played the harmonica – both of which lifted the spirits of all those around them. If so inclined, this was definitely an easy place to stir up converstaion with a neighbor, most of whom where traveling from another part of the United States – everyone’s story just as fascinating as the next.
With so many different personalities and characters aboard, this was the perfect place for a writer like myself… and just being honest, I kinda didn’t want to ever get off!
The Dining Car was one of my favorite sections of my Amtrak ride.
This was a delightful place on the train with an ultra friendly waiting staff and good eats. Here is where I got to really engage in conversation and felt comfortable in their spacious booths.
One of the best parts about traveling from Los Angeles to Palm Springs is all the graffiti pieces you get to see along the side of the train tracks, they were the perfect backdrop to contrast my delicate flower sitting on the dinner table.
While over a cup of coffee and choclate and vanilla pudding, my new Amtrak friends told me all about their travels across Europe… they had some great stories.
After good conversation at the dinner table, we decided to take a walk and explore the train together.
We walked from one side, to the other! It was so much fun! Took about 45 minutes to an hour to do so – of course stopping along the way to talk with complete strangers and ask them where they were coming from and where they were heading. Some from Northern West heading to Arizona, others from Northern California heading all the way New Orleans to visit family. Everyone seemed open to engage in conversation and had a positive outlook on traveling on Amtrak.
Unfortunately, many were not traveling to Palm Springs, however you know I gave them the full rundown of what makes Palm Springs so wonderful when speaking with them. $5.00 says they will plan to make a stop in Palm Springs next time around!
Sometimes when we were squeezing through parts of the train (featured in the photo above is the hallway outside of the Sleeping Car’s rooms) I felt like I was in a movie. I can’t quite place what it was – but there was something very cinematic about the whole experience of traveling on the train. Needles to say, I enjoyed every minute of it.
After going up and down the train, exploring all the different cars and speaking with fellow Amtrakers, it was time to sit down and relax for the remaining hour left of our short 2 1/2 hour ride. IPads, iPods, iPhones, magazines and books sat in the laps of everyone around me and again I was reminded of how similiar traveling on a train is to traveling on a plane … except a train is way more comfortable.
Into the sunset we traveled….
…passing by some great Inland Empire landmarks…
… and finally arriving at our Palm Springs destination by sunset.
Touring the maintenance facility, Union Square, and riding the Amtrak back from Los Angeles to Palm Springs was a very educational and fun experience.
What I took most from it was how easy it is to ride, and how inexpensive it can be. Riding the train is not just eco-friendly in that it’s like one big carpool (with a couple hundred on board), but it’s also a time for relaxation and reflection. Seeing the world pass you by outside your window is not when your mind goes numb (like how it does when driving in your car), but when the ideas come to life.
Currently, there are only 3 stops at the Palm Springs Railroad Station per week which is very unfortunate considering that many other cities have stops at their stations 3 times a day. While on the train I was imagining what the desert would be like if we had 3 Amtrak trains coming into town from Los Angeles – it could really be incredible. It would not just bring in income and boost the local economy, but it would also have to change and develop our culture significantly.
To make this happen it will take lots of time and funding. But, it’s certainly not impossible.
With the help of local govenrment, leaders, and communters we can make it happen.
Please visit the Amtrak’s website to get more information on how to get involved:
* * *
Thank you for reading. All words and photos by Sarah Scheideman.