California Zephyr

Although my travels were formally over, I decided to go on one last adventure by taking the train from San Francisco to New York. Unfortunately, there are no more direct coast-to-coast trains, so that actually meant taking one from Emeryville to Chicago, and then one onward to New York. I also included an overnight stop in Denver along the way, to break up what is otherwise a 72 hour journey on both trains.

So first, the California Zephyr. It’s an extremely long train, so I never really got a good picture of it itself.

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I’d like to point out that I was not the only one taking pictures here–this guy had a better camera and even an Amtrak sweater!

Swag at the age of 16.

It’s a double-decker with most of the seats on the top level; the bottom one consists mostly of showers, bathrooms, and luggage racks.


Like in an airplane, there are safety information cards, but Amtrak upped the ante by making jokes on its versions.


The best part of the train, though, is the viewliner cafe car, which not only has a cafeteria below but panoramic windows and swivel chairs above!


Everyone in the car cheered on this little UPS truck that showed what the company means by “Worldwide Services” in rural Lake Tahoe.




Along long stretches of the track there are these wires–but they don’t carry electricity! They’re slide detection fences, that can alert a speeding train with a signal system if a rockfall has occurred.



The Zephyr’s journey traces rivers for much of the way, including the American River (which played a big part in the California gold rush) and the Colorado River pictured here (which supplies a significant amount of water to southwestern US states, and courses through the Grand Canyon in Arizona).



You really gain respect for the pioneers who made this journey before it was well-paved, and for the people that built the first road and railroad tracks.





Denver Union Station! On departing, we picked up the 5 private cars you see to the left, making our set over 17 cars long! For $10,000 or so, these owners pay to have their cars hauled from California to Chicago.


Iowa was mostly cornfields, as expected.



And finally, Chicago! It really seems to have earned the title of the windy city quite well.


Trains enter Chicago’s majestic Union Station–or the underbelly of it, that is.


I thought the conductor was joking when he said “last stop, Union Station”…but everyone got up and off the train.


To be fair, most urban stations in the US are designed like this (including Penn station and Grand Central in New York), but that contrasts more poorly with their European counterparts that are built with the tracks featured more prominently in their grand designs.

Either way, I was happy to have reached Chicago, and pleasantly surprised at how quickly 52 hours had gone by.


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