California Coastal Carpinteria Trip

Going back in time today, the story of my trip to Carpinteria, California for a week of work. I had some fun adventures and around about explorations while learning how to traverse the landscapes of Carpinteria on up to Santa Barbara. The trip, spoiler alert, was a most excellent and awesome trip! It all started on April 1st, but no fool’s day for me, with a bike ride.

Departure Bike

I left the house and walked a mere ~200 feet and there sat one of the new zippy e-bikes that LimeBike has in the city. I scanned it to unlock the bike, loaded up my luggage in the front rack and off I went to the bus stop. It wasn’t absolutely necessary to use the bike, but it would give me a few more minutes downtown if I wanted to grab a coffee or something. I often, since my trip is from Ballard to Seattle City core and then to the airport, stop and grab a coffee or eats downtown before leaving for the overpriced and routinely lackluster options at the airport.

Within just a few minutes I arrived at the bus stop and checked the arrival. The next King County Metro Route 40 bus arrived within just a few minutes. I boarded, plopped my luggage on the ground and sat back and enjoyed the ride into the city. We arrived downtown, I decided today to skip the downtown drink and grub and instead opted to board the LINK direct to the airport.

I boarded the LINK and in a short time I arrived at the airport. The regular security bullshit and TSA circus facade ensued and I already wished I had decided to take the Coast Starlight. Flying is the closest thing to the icky confines of a bus, one just gets to go 400+ mph and arrive faster, but the journey and the airports are such a mall bathroom style trash show. However, there was a silver lining, like so many of my flights these days, I was at least flying first class on Alaska Airlines.

As one does with the Alaska Airlines wing of SEATAC I rode the little underground subway bus train contraption.

First or Business Class

There’s so many blasted designations about first class or business class, this status or that status, upgraded, or bobbityboopity status. One just doesn’t know what entitles one to what when it comes to the airline flight experience. As anyone would, I long to just be rich and be ushered to my plane with my closest of friends, family, and comrades only! But I digress, this business or first class thing I had purchased wasn’t so shabby!

The flight was smooth, except for a little bumpy coming out of the low lying clouds in Santa Barbara. Walking off the plane I noticed two things about the airport that I immediately fell in love with. The first thing is that they have a patio you can sit on that is effectively on the tarmac where you can watch planes taking off and landing. The second thing is that it is a small, super chill, single food establishment type of airport. None of that crazy big airport cruft!

Upon arriving, I of course, now needed to get from Santa Barbara to Carpinteria. That’s where things were sort of tricky. I’d done exactly zero research on how to get from there from here. I checked Google Maps and it gave me a transit ride that would take about an hour, I checked Lyft, it would take about 35 minutes, and there was also a possibility, if I wanted to, that I could go to Goleta and take the Amtrak Pacific Surfliner into Carpinteria via the ~27 minutes trip along the coastline.

I did the dumb thing and took a Lyft, albeit he conversation was fun, friendly, and rather heart warming. My drive was a guy originally from Ethiopia, who had come to America about 15 years ago. He told me how he’d come here, worked construction for a number of years. He had a great boss that even during the downturn helped all his crew out by letting everybody stay at his house. He had then gotten married, and now his wife and him live with their two children there in between Santa Barbara and Carpinteria. He drives Lyft now and it gives him the freedom to work when he needs to, take her to work and immediately start getting pickups, and even pick up the kids and have all that flexibility one needs as a parent. He loves it!

We also talked cars and Lyft costs, and the related economic impact of that. He knew it was closer to the loss and profit line then a lot of drivers seem to realize. It was refreshing to talk with such an optimistic guy in light of today’s political nightmare we have.

That was the last car I’d get in for the trip however, and even though I had a great conversation with the driver, I was glad to be out of that traffic mess and on to other things. I arrived at the Motel 6, which seemed immediately I’d made a slight mistake, as a a much nicer hotel was next door. But it turns out, after check in, the room wasn’t half bad. Very 60’s era retro, clean, and very egalitarian. It appeared it would work out perfectly, as I only needed the room for the very functional purpose of sleeping. I’d otherwise be in the office or around exploring the whole time anyway.

That Oddball City Limits

One thing I noted, as I’d mentioned I could catch the train at Goleta, is that Santa Barbara’s Airport is effectively in Goleta, not in Santa Barbara. But zoning and city limits and all that fun stuff put things where they are. Here’s a map of the city limits of Santa Barbara outlined in red.

city-limits

…having arrived, I unpacked, and immediately went about getting some work done and then caught some sleep ready for the week of teaching & recording! But alas, I’ve got more about that coming, so stay tuned!

Empire Builder Onboard

Our exodus from Chicago went smoothly. Arriving at Glenview, Milwaukee, and subsequent stops on time. The train ran smoothly in these segments, how the train ought to run really. It makes me curious too about the 110mph trains in this corridor. It would be nice if we could get the Empire Builder up to those speeds in this corridor, or at least up to 90 mph with the existing equipment. It seems a possibility with the fact the Santa Fe, decades ago, ran the double decker Superliner cars easily at 90mph!

The Bleak Countryside

As we rolled north and then turn northwest in direction upon leaving Milwaukee the landscape changed slightly. From neighborhoods, cleanly organized traditional grid suburbs, and empty countryside with spotty industrial building corpses and a spot of trees here and there, the scenary shifted away from all of this. In its stead was the grand smaller girth of the northern Mississippi river.

Always a sight to see at any point, but at this point in the Mississippi where we cross she’s extremely wide, but deceivingly so. You see, there’s numerous islands right center in the river, where the bridge segments make landfall. I suspect, at time of construction this made the bridge construction dramatically simpler versus attempting to cross at a section that would have traversed the entire width. The crossing is seemless and if one doesn’t know the geography would cross without awareness that the segment before and after the island are the same river!

The river shorelines on both sides are endless trees with a few small house boats interspersed between them all. We ride along on the south shore of the river, with the almost desolate look to the countryside. It’s spring, supposedly, but one couldn’t tell by the lack of green amongst all the trees. Nothing is really blooming yet, and everything is a tones of gray, with the brown grass peaking out among the high river waters flooding the shorelines.

After a few hours the sun begins setting and the absolutely epic view along the hilly horizon is outside our window. An amazing view that requires a few pictures, and a long look along the edge of the hills. The red emblazons this hilly edge as the yellow of the sun’s light dissappears for the night. The pictures, upon quick review after taking, are a paltry nothing compared to actually seeing the beauty of the sunset in person.

As night rolls around, the bunks down, the train rocks back and forth settling us in for sleep. Tick tock, tick tock the night hours pass by.

Homeward Bound Empire Builder

Today, we left Chicago on the Empire Builder on time with a clear highball clean all the way to Milwaukee. The train is such a great way to depart such a great city smoothly rolling along. The breathtaking views, the grand station, the comfortable Metropolitan Lounge (or one of the other first class lounges) which is recently remodeled bring together an absolutely great experience.

Chicago Union Station Metropolitan Lounge

Before even talking about the trip I need to elaborate on this Metropolitan Lounge in Chicago. This is the way to do travel right! My first thought walking into the new lounge is simply, “wow”! It’s nice. There’s a small bar, a cheese and fruit bar to complement the wines, an upstairs section and downstairs section, and enough nooks and crannies to kind of hide away with a little privacy throughout the lounge. The airlines or anybody that actually cares about quality experience and comfort should take note, that this is how you put a comfortable lounge together.

Upon entering we (wife and I) walked in and displayed our tickets, which then granted us access to the lounge. We entered and were greeted by the fruit and cheese bar, with the wine & other drinks bar just past that. I immediately stopped by a had a wine tasting while she climbed the steps to the second floor. While I was tasting the wines she found a comfortable set of chairs, propped up leisurely and had a few phone calls to make.

While she enjoyed her conversations I went through the rounds of wine options. I then decided to actually got a bottle of the reisling for the trip! It had a nice sweet and smooth body to the taste, that would be perfect pre- and post-deserts on the train. With the bottle in hand I went upstairs and took a number of photos of the lounge.

The art on the wall included some of the famous pictures and logos of the fallen flags, such as the Pennsylvania Railroad, one of the classic shots of an old PRR steam engine (T1 Class) that is massive in comparison to the men standing in front of it, and other shots of engines and other railroad imagery adorned the walls.

The chairs and couches in the lounge are upholstered nicely with a range of styles. Some chairs have high backs, some are more functional, some sit along tables and counters for laptop work, and there are numerous outlets on the various tables and counters along the walls.

Enough on the Metropolitan Lounge, onward to the train! (i.e. the next post)

Thoughts & an Empire Builder Trip to Chicago

Today, on my birthday of April 21st, my wife and I set out for a trip from Seattle, Washington to Chicago, Illinois. We’ve chosen the Empire Builder for this trip, since we’ve opted to skip flying whenever schedulig allows. Which fortunately for us means we’ll be taking the train for the vast majority of our travels from now on.

As I start this post it’s 7:56pm and we’re approaching Leavenworth, Washington. This town is a moderately famous – at least in Washington – as a little town that dresses itself up as a kind of German mountain town. It’s cute, albeit I’ve still not been there yet. It’s on the “visit and have a beer or three” list however.

The Empire Builder leaving Seattle is one of the more scenic parts of this route, and overall probaby one of the more scenic parts of any route in the United States. It is simply stunning.

The Start, Urban Tunnels

The train departs, on time at 4:40pm from King Street Station. Within just a few dozen feet from the station we enter the tunnel which takes us underneath the actual city of Seattle. It’s a short tunnel built in the early 20th century. We gain egress just north of the downtown city core along the waterfront. Looking out of the train, from the west the view is over the magnificent Puget Sound, to the east one can see the Seattle Space Needle along with the surrounding hills of Queen Anne.

As we roll north the Empire Builder passed through Interbay, across the northeastern side of Magnolia. The route then goes through a cut gully with forrested sides and a wooden pedestrian overpass just before turning directly north to cross the rail bridge near the Ballard Locks and then make way along the waterline around Ballard, Edmonds, Mukilteo, and into Everett where the train enters another tunnel. This one cross the downtown core of Everett and allows the train to pull into the eastern side of Everett’s downtown core.

With the waterline edge and city tunnels crossed, we then enter the lowland areas between these coastal regions and the inland mountains of Washington. The train travels through a number of small towns along the way, where signs of industry that once was is evident. Eventually we start to rise up into the mountains, climbing grade after grade.

Aboard Amtrak

Amtrak, clearly a pseudo private public corporate entity with monopolistic enablement has a clearly confusing aura in many ways. The crew on this run are nice, enjoyable to talk to, and good natured all around. Over the years the service aspect toward the customer has been very hit or miss with Amtrak, confused even more so by it’s actual mission.

Our car attendent has a slight accent, which I can’t place exactly. He got us sorted right away upon boarding the train and has been quick to ask if he can help and has helped others on the train. I’ve actually handled putting the bunks up and down in the roomette, so haven’t needed much assistance at all. As for the baggae, that too, I just stowed myself.

The diner has a happy crew, the lead and respective wait staff team have smiles and jovially answer questions while taking orders and serving passengers. With this jovial spirit among the crew it makes it even more jovial among the passengers. As always, a deluge of conversations have started and continue throughout the trip.

Night Train into Spokane

Eventually we pass out, well before getting to Spokane. I’ve been having a helluva a time in the top bunk getting to sleep. The top bunk, being at the top of the swing back and forth of the car as it rocks along the tracks can be forceful. I reluctantly admit, I’ve got a bit of a wrenched gut trying to gain calmness and relax like I used to. The 501 derailment back in December isn’t fully out of my system. I might be back physically, but mentally I have some burned in muscle memory whenever I feel the train sway hard. The top bunk, is where all of the hard sway is.

However, amidst the fight I have to get some sleep we pull into Spokane. I noticed we stopped and I peak out the window. There the lights of the Spokane station eluminate the night. In a few moment after initial detraining the merging of the Portland Empire Builder will begin. Once connected we’ll be on our way again, but I decide to sneak downstairs and see if I can snatch a quick breath of fresh air. However, no luck, as the train starts moving again to get into position to get connected up to our other segment.

There in the night, with no visibility into what is going on I count the minutes in my mind where the train shifts into the yard. I pull up my phone and look into google maps so I can see the track layout and figure out our exact position in the rail yard of the station. I get that figured out and feel the train come to a complete stop. My guess is that the Portland segment is either arriving within minutes or already here since we’ve already manuevered into position.

Sure enough, in the dead of night the power drops from the train and everything is pitch black and eerily silent. Within a few seconds the initial coupler strike of the trains connecting is heard. Oddly, it appears they didn’t get it with that attempt. Another attempt is made. This seems to make the connection. Again power is turned on, oddly, and then cut off again. The other engine then traverses the length of the train and is connected to the front of the now combined train. We’re ready for departure.

Onward to Idaho, Montana, and More!

Sometime around 2 am I finally pass out and sleep like a newborn! The sleep is absolutely great! I’m relieved because sure enough, as with train travel, the next day starts real early. Just as we are running along Whitefish Lake the announcement is made over the intercom that we’re just minutes away from Whitefish itself.

We gather ourselves together after a topsy turning night of missed sleep. Upon gaining our footing we stroll to the diner and meet some tablemates to have lunch with. You see, Amtrak follows the old passenger rail tradition of seatting other passengers with other pasengers. Largely, this is to help with capacity and ensure they can feed everybody that wants to be fed.

Let’s Talk Track & Ride Quality

As we roll along, I’ve got this new perspective at this point in life on passenger rail. Two things have painted this new perspective for me; 1. The derailment of 501 that I was on and 2. having travelled on a number of trains in western and eastern Europe. With those two things in mind I feel compelled to discuss the quality of the ride.

It’s real easy to discuss the ride quality compared to trains in Poland, Netherlands, Sweden, England, Germany, and Denmark. The simple statement, is in the United States the passenger rail ride is garbage. It’s bumpy, often violent moves and bounces, and feels like the cars are working dilligently to jump right off the tracks. The ride is one thing, as I’m more than happy with a bit of a rough ride in spite of my stressed induced reactions to some of the jarring bouncing. But what really irks me is the fact, again, the America does so poorly at something. It’s not just that we have one of the weakest and least comfortable of all rail systems of all first world developed nations.

With all that jarring and bumping, I still need to add more context. Sure, rail in the US appears to be built with poor standards that leads to this ride quality. But overall, the ride quality is still better than flying, driving, or any number of other transportation options. Not a little bit either, but by a large margin. For one, let’s talk about the seats.

Seats

The seats in most of Amtrak’s trains are huge by any normal sized person’s standards. But these seats are designed to take care of 95% of Americans, which means they’re not a normal sized peron’s seat. Beyond the seat, just in front of it, for the Empire Builder and similar Superliner styled train service there’s a most excellent foot rest. It’s the kind of foot rest, when paired with the seat, one pulls it out and reclines the seat and it’s practically a bed.

You know those big reclining seats for flights across the Atlantic or Pacific on planes? Yeah, the seats that start at about $3500? Yeah, those seats. Those seats are junk compared to these “commoners” seats. Even Amtrak amidest it’s strife delivers seats that make those seats look like overpriced prisons.

That’s not all though, there isn’t just this magnificance that is the regular fare on Amtrak there’s often other options too. On the Empire Builder there’s the standard roomette, bedroom, combined bedroom, accessible room, and family room options also. Each of these have their respective space and comfort, with the added benefit of showers, folding out to beds, and all sorts of other niceties. All of these also include all the meals for the trip and more. Which in the end, turns out to be some pretty epic level service in spite of our ridiculously rough riding, 50s era, laggard train options.

Speed & Sleeping Food Combo Thoughts

Now some might say, well, the trian is so slow. Let’s take a few different vantage points on this. First, yeah, obviously the train is slower the flying. This is also America, were we have 50s era train tech out here on the rails still. This isn’t exactly high speed rail clocking along at a blazing 200mph or more. The Empire Builder for instance tops out at 79mph and averages somewhere well below that. But let’s compare this to what it really compares to however, because honestly only comparing it to aircraft on the speed measurement is just idiotic.

Let’s compare train travel to automotive travel for instance. If you’re trying to make this same trip it would be thousands of miles you’d put on either your own car or a rental car. It means you have to drive, and can’t do anything else while you do. At least you shouldn’t be doing anything else while driving if you’re a respectable person. Don’t even get on about stupid radio or podcasts, those barely count as doing something. So that’s a huge cost on your vehicle you’re going to undertake, many hours of unproductive time you’re going to throw away, and a host of other things.

I addition, if you’re going to actually get sleep and stay rested for your arrival you’d need to get a room, likely two nights for sure. This means you’ll rack up that cost well beyond merely gas, having a car on lock down to use, and start getting into the area of getting food and room. In the end, unless you’re really looking for a subservient, non-service focused, and time consuming way to get from Seattle to Chicago you could drive. But taking the train gives you your time to spend in a million different ways while enjoying all the scenary and staying rested. No actually far more because you get to go where you otherwise can’t while driving and you actually get to look at the scenary, unlike in a car when driving where you do actually need to keep paying attention to the road or you’ll die in a car fire.

In summary, if you want to relax, enjoy life, and see the country while en route to your destination then you take the train. It’s great, even when the ride is bumpy.

If you’re in a hurry you fly, if you hate the planet or want to smoke pot in a bunch of states then go ahead, I suppose you could road trip it. But whatever you do, enjoy the trip! 😉

A Summary of Current US Passenger Rail Plans

The last few days have been pretty extensive in coverage of rail related passenger services in the United States. A lot of the same repeated diatribe has followed, but some has been new and some has started to create some forward momentum. While reading through all of the material one of the pieces that stood out is an article at The Urbanist. It’s an article that covers numerous pieces of information about the current state of affairs of US rail projects including; The Sorry Case of Wisconsin, Brightline, Dallas’ Dire Need for Quality Transit, among others. The Urbanist, a good one to keep a check on regularly or just go ahead and subscribe, is a solid and reliable medium to keep up to date with transportation and urban news in Seattle and the state of Washington.

In other news, not that it takes an entire study at this point, but Microsoft backed one that tells us we really ought to have some high speed rail in the Cascadian Corridor! The WSDOT one here also has lots of good information about options beyond just high speed rail and other related options. The Governor is also bullish on the idea.

But I digress, that’s some good information if you want to catch up. The summary statement is, and history would show us, if the US would actually put forth just a little effort to modernize the infrastructure and systems we have (Air Traffic Control, High Speed Rail, Highways, Interstates, etc) we’d have a massive return on investment based on the build out of those systems. But alas, just like before Lincoln kicked off the rail boom to build the intercontinental railroads, the US sits laggardly in the dust of the world around us racing ahead into the future.

I hope to see these things take off soon. In the meantime, back to some urban-centric issues here in Portland and Seattle. Cheers!

Post Wreck Thoughts on 501, PTC, US Liability, and America’s Failing Transportation

I’m already looking forward to healing, obviously, and getting back on the bike. I look forward to riding back to King Street Station, getting on the train and handing off my bike for a station hand to rack on the train. Then rolling, minus a derailment, onward toward Portland to spend time with family and friends biking around town and enjoying one of the greatest, more human, pedestrian friendly, and foodie cities in this great nation. I don’t fear, fate has its hand in what it will hand me, but I can’t live with fear and worry, uncertainty, and doubt. I look forward and am beyond just thankful that I will live to ride this trip again.

In the meantime; Amtrak, Sound TransitWashington Department of Transportation (WSDOT), and Oregon Department of Transportation get y’alls asses in gear and get that PTC working, ensure those engineers really, truly, 100% know that line and please get this service running back at 100%! It’s too important to thousands of people to let falter!

New Information, Thoughts on PTC

As I should have expected, BNSF actually has the PTC up and running on their lines. Amtrak trains don’t have PTC on in cabs as far as I’ve learned. If anybody has more information about this please let me know, I’d love to get more details on the matter. I’ve started researching more about PTC too and trying to determine what exactly is the issue and complexity of the system beyond merely the cost. I know that’s as much a red herring as it is a legitimate excuse. PTC is in place in so many places on so many lines that there’s not a lot of functional excuse, except I bet there’s a lot of bullshit regulation and related bureaucratic mess in the way of the railroads getting this implemented.

The money, also something put totally on the backs of the railroads, hasn’t exactly been easy to invest in as they do have to stay sustainable (the freight railroads). Meanwhile, Amtrak which like all modes of transportation (cars, buses, places, etc) is entirely not sustainable from its current state of legislative ecosystem (meaning the way it must account for costs, revenue, systemic matters of stations, debt, etc).

Health Insurance, America Fails Americans Miserably

Another major issue here, that slams all transportation modes, is in insurance claim scenarios like this an incident is liable to entirely destroy a company that operates passenger service. In European countries people that are injured are covered under national health care policies and plans, and lawsuits and liability insurance help to rebuild and make the railroad (or airline, ship, or roadway) better after an incident. Instead in the United States, except for the cap placed by Congress in 1997, Amtrak has its budget wrecked by lawsuits and the need to cover people’s medical costs. Airlines suffer a similar fate if not careful. The problem is, there’s always accidents, but a passenger system shouldn’t be destroyed by lawsuits because of a singular accident, it should be fixed and rebuilt better, safer, and stronger.

In America, we simply do not do this anymore. Our actions instead tend toward destroying a large singular entity with litigation; such as Amtrak, an airline, or bus carrier, while with distributed incidents like the almost 40,000 deaths per year in automobiles, we simple push the cost back onto insurance and individual owners and purchasers. The latter works to perpetuate the most deadly of transportation modes (automobiles) while it defers, damages, and arguably makes the safer modes (buses, trains, planes, shits, etc) harder to operate, manage, and make safe. It’s a perverse and backwards effect that we get, but something that could be remedied with a simple fix.

Instate some form of national health insurance that would easily handle this versus a company or organization be decimated that is trying to build good, reliable, and safe way to travel. The fact we don’t have something in place for just basic, simple, and honest health and welfare in this nation is disheartening and decrease entrepreneurial activities of all sorts. The data shows this too, in tight correlation with actions in developed nations. We do better, have better business, able to build better systems (transportation and otherwise), and more if we had just the most basic of fundamental elements to fall back on in society. Simple single payer and a minor unemployment or injury welfare system would work seamlessly for this. Our current system however is 2x the cost and doesn’t do the job, but we have examples (Sweden, Norway, Finland, Switzerland, Netherlands, France, Germany, Japan, and many others) of how to do these two specific things at 1/2 the cost we currently do and actually having them be functional. Maybe we’ll get there one day, but unfortunately I’ve no hope of us succeeding in my lifetime.

On The Topic of Amtrak Safety

Amtrak has been notorious for unsafe activities along its lines. Much of that is conflict between Amtrak non-union and union employees. There has been cases where the union has even, or well individuals of the union, have even attacked prospective contractors that were going to provide service. There has been situations where the leadership has completely screwed over people in the union. I’ve studied the history and kept up with so many actions within the organization, that it’s hard to see which side would be the higher integrity side.

This of course conflicts with my own experience, as I know people in union and not in union at Amtrak that are top notch people. They work hard, they’re studious and have attention to detail. They’re safe and they work safe. But I also realize I have the viewpoint of operations in the northwest, which are very different than back east, and also different then down in California or the southeastern United States. Amtrak isn’t merely one big organization of singular work cultures. It is instead a giant Governmental quasi-corporation run around a faux demand for profits while working as a Government mandated transportation service that is built of what was many different corporate cultures. Why you may ask? It’s easier than one might at first see, but if we look at the history we know Amtrak came from the many railroads that used to run America’s massive, extensive, world class, and top tier passenger services around the country. Those cultures still eek through just a little in each geographic area and for respective trains along the lines.

How does one fix this? The NTSB issued some reports and Amtrak is slowly but steadily working on implementation. It’s important to note, like all transportation modes in America Amtrak is underfunded heavily for what it actually must do and how it must operate. Whatever the specific fixes are, the overall fix is that the non-union and union Amtrak staff must start working together to better focus on safety and ensure it’s actually part of the day to day operations. Instead, it’s currently something that is disregarded or ignored and this leads to these incidents. Nobody wants to incidents to happen, but they happen when this is how operations work. It must change.

America is Failing

We used to have the fastest trains, the best passenger service, at some reasonably good prices, in nice expedited fashion, that was routinely right on time.

Now, Amtrak barely putter along half the time. They’ve improved dramatically, but by comparison to European systems, even the one’s that aren’t top tier, like England’s or Italy’s rail systems, Amtrak trails far behind them in safety, quality of service, equipment, timeliness and related metrics. This comes from chronic under-funding from Congress and a blatant discrimination against rail service from mostly Republicans while Democrats fumble through managing Amtrak and fumbling through reasoning why Amtrak should have right of refusal over almost all of passenger service in America.

In Close…

That’s it for thoughts on the matter at the moment. In a future post I’ll talk a bit about the slim chance America has for improved service in the next 10-20 years. For now, I’m off to get some other things done, enjoy some Christmas time festivities, and simply be thankful that I’m alive today. Cheers, and merry Christmas, or happy holidays, to all.

If you’d like to learn more about Amtrak, and the convoluted insanity that is Government manipulated transportation in America, here’s a few starting points.

Passenger and Related Transportation Law, History & Info in America

The Story on Amtrak Cascades Train 501 Derailment

First off, yes, I was aboard the Amtrak Train 501 in car 2, seat 4c. I had just sat down after having a breakfast burrito and speaking with several people in the bistro car. I spoke with the bistro attendant and her trainee that was with her. We talked about how great train travel is, how much better it is than flying, and we spoke with a passenger named Scott Claggett.

It was the first time Scott was taking the train on this route, which was also the first time for everybody at this hour! He usually had to fly and he was euphoric (as were most of us) at how easy and how much more comfortable it is. We discussed what I was up to, how I had my bike aboard and was bound for Portland to meet up with some friends, ride around the city, enjoy some tasty food and eventually head back on the late train that day.

I sat down and looked out the window. We whizzed by traffic over on the Interstate. We were easily doing full track speed limit of 79 mph. I could tell just from the rate we were passing the traffic on the road, but also how fast we zipped through Lakewood Sounder Station. The new tracks along this route are super smooth, solid, and stable. Then… well, back to this in a moment. First more of the events before.

First Observations, Rewinding Just a Bit

A few observations I made when boarding the train in Seattle. The train had a lead engine and a trailing engine. So no cab car. The trailing engine was one of the older engines, a Genesis, while the lead engine was one of the brand new engines that WSDOT just bought to put into service along this line. The train set itself was the standard Talgo equipment that Amtrak has used for service in the Amtrak Cascades corridor between Vancouver, British Columbia and Eugene, Oregon for decades. It was older, but still perfectly reliable set equipment. As things go, most of these train sets and cars are perfectly usable for well past 40-50 years if maintained well.

Just before boarding we were even given these inaugural trip placards. A nice little souvenir I thought. I put it on for the moment, before heading out to board the train.

2017122010501014-img_3698-x4

Fancy. It’s always nice to have a souvenir!

We departed out of Seattle King Street Station 9 minutes late because of an issue, which it appeared was starting the lead engine. That’s the new engine. When they pulled the train out of the yard (the area just south of the train station) for boarding I suspect the Genesis engine was used and then the engineers/drivers went to the other end to start it. I shortly walked a little past my car 2 toward the new engine when I realized the train had both attached. I was curious and also excited to see how the new engine would handle the train set.

There were two Amtrak Staff, a man and a woman, talking happily near the power car (the car that manages electricity and such to the train set between the engine and the actual train set where passengers ride). I spoke to them for a minute, asking why the new engine was off, and jokingly I said, “are we just going to push the new one to Portland?” With a smile the woman responded that they were going to get it started in just a minute.

I boarded, found my seat and began unpacking my normal kit of stuff I use while on the train; laptop, cell phone for headphone use, and such. As any regular readers would know, this wasn’t my first train Amtrak Cascades trip by any means. I think it’s more around the thousandth trip or so at this point. I got my laptop, phone, headphones, etc all out and did a little web surfing. At 9 minutes after the train pulled out of the station.

Everything was very smooth, and the lead engine pulled really well and evenly. I was easily pleased with its performance from a passenger perspective. We made great time pulling into Tukwila Station, and then easily rolled up to 79mph or so on our way to Tacoma. On the way we flew by several Sounder Commuter Trains heading into Seattle. They travelling at 79mph and we traveling at 79mph gave us a fast closing speed of 158mph, which provides a slight whoosh whenever we pass.

The train slowed for the turns leading into and pulling into Tacoma. It was a smooth deceleration and we pulled into the new Tacoma Station. I had just minutes before this near Sumner grabbed a burrito and talked with the people in the Bistro, as I started this story. We’d stopped just before entering Tacoma, likely so a train could depart from our arrival track in Tacoma Station. We pulled in and waited for passenger to detrain and board.

Then we departed Tacoma. The last station this train would ever stop at.

We pulled and smoothly snaked through the turns leaving Tacoma Station and getting over onto the new Point Defiance Bypass. The tracks were super smooth, as I mentioned before. The train got up to running speed of 79mph very quickly and smoothly.

Time passed in a surreal way at this hour. With the sun just barely risen and an easy, relaxing glow along the horizon. I relaxed, snuggled in my chair and began to check email and a few other things before diving into some code I was going to work on.

Then in a matter of seconds as I looked out of the window waiting for the laptop to bring up something, I reached forward out of reaction to grab onto the seat back tray as the train lifted hard, catapulting me upward toward the luggage rack above. I hit my head hard against the luggage rack. In those milliseconds I realized we were derailing and I’d hoped we didn’t have a ravine or hill to fall down, it’d be no problem then. But the drop came and it was hard, I was tossed upwards into the luggage rack and then thrown across the seat row into the seat’s side across from me. The impact broke 4 of my transverse process pieces on my lower lumbar vertebrae. Of course, at this point I closed my eyes for a split second as I then was thrown against the floor of the car, slightly under the seats.

718_Vertebra-en.svg

Here is a good photo of the vertebrae and the transverse process, which is what is broken on me in four places on my right side now! Argh!

Lumbar_vertebrae_anterior

These are the lumbar vertebrae, four of which now have my broken transverse process bones.

I held on for dear life. I got a lot of dust and dirt in my face, I spit, and closed my eyes for a moment while the car thudded, slid, banged, then dropped, slid, thudded, veered slight to an angle. I squinted just a bit to see as the car made these jarring movements. The power was off, and we hit again, but it was a complete stop this time.

WTF!?

First thought. I was hurt. But how bad. I thought, alright, what do I know. I’m hurt, but intact I think, I blew air upward trying to ensure dust wasn’t near my eyes and I reached around to clear my face. I felt blood. There was a fair amount of it on my forehead. I turned my head to both sides and pushed myself up from the floor a bit. The car seemed stable. I looked to my left and realized the ceiling was caved in and there was water that had poured in. I sniffed, I could smell just the once dormant dust, no fuel, no burning. For the immediate moment I seemed safe. I looked to my right and saw another passenger picking himself up. I heard a call for assistance from that direction, someone was hurt. I picked myself up more from the ground and could feel pain, but couldn’t determine how bad it was.

I looked myself over real quick. I wasn’t impaled, nothing seemed broken, at least at this point. I did know I was mostly suffering from blunt force trauma. I just wasn’t sure how bad. But I was up. I looked around to see where my phone was. I needed to get out, help others, and call if emergency wasn’t already called. There was another passenger to my left I realized as he came forward, stumbling just a bit, but upright. I saw they’d turned on their cell phone lights, I asked if they could “look for a white iPhone.” and I checked on the man calling for help. He’d fallen, or more likely been catapulted into the cargo racks by the floor near the front of the car. I leaned down, excruciating pain shot through my side. But I reached out and put my hand on his leg to reassure him and asked if he felt hurt (obviously, but wanted to say something to reassure). He said he was hurt. I told him, “yeah, you took a pretty hard thrashing, sit tight for a minute and we’re going to get coordinated to get out ok”.

I could see in his eyes the shock. He wasn’t entirely lucid just yet but he was starting to collect what was happening just like the rest of us. I stood, painfully, again shooting through my right side. I thought, “well, gotta ignore it, gotta get out and get people out of this. I know I’m in good shape compared to what some will be.”

For a split second I pondered what a rigid trainset (a good thing) like the Talgo would do falling. Where we all split apart in cars? I didn’t know. We could see toward the other cars, so our car 2 seemed split apart from the others. We had fallen too. The car seemed to be in a ditch or ravine of some sort. I looked out and of the window with clarity for the first time and saw the rail bridge a 30 feet or so above, which is where we should have traversed. That made sense why I’d been slammed onto the floor so many times on the way down the hill. I saw tree splinters and fragments of a few other things as I looked out.

car2-where-i-was

One of the fellow passengers found my phone and handed it to me. It was intact. I wiped it off and checked that it worked still. That was good. For now though, priority, get us out and help the others get out. We were able, we needed to get to safer ground. I turned to the emergency window and pulled the release seal off of it. Pain was evident, but I got it off the window. I started to pop the window out and remembered these windows are about 60 lbs, maybe 90, whatever it is they’re heavy and awkward. I asked, “hey, the window is heavy, help me out a bit?” and one of the passengers helped me get it to the floor of the rail car and slide it between some seats. As we gathered, I grabbed my back pack and stowed my laptop, which I’d seen right on a seat. It was filthy, but looked intact.

Information Backtrack

As I’ve read articles and seen pictures of the incident, I saw some pictures of car 2! Chris Scholls, who I assume was one of the passengers I was working with to help us all get out. Here’s one of his photos he took, which happens to be I believe my seat and the wrecked seat behind me. The caved in roof there, which I realize later after looking at aerial photos is from one of the other cars (I suspect one of the bistro/table cars) that came to rest against our car’s roof, crushing it in like this.

chris-scholls-view-behind-me

The Railcar I was Inside of.

NOTE to Chris: Hey, thanks for helping me out and the others, and for finding my phone and handing it to me. Hope it’s ok I’ve posted your pictures here, if not, lemme know and I’ll fix. Again, thanks! Also, more on Chris’s observations here, he also helped the man tossed into the corner baggage. He’d gone over as I tried to get the emergency window off.

I slung the backpack on. All of us including the man who’d been thrown to the floor into the baggage compartment in the front of the car, were standing, mostly. The man who’d been thrown in the corner had immediately started to climb out the window but couldn’t get footing. The other passengers were helping him but it was awkward. I told him, “come back in just for a moment. Let me climb out and I can spot you.” I looked to the other passengers, somewhat to verify they would look at me and seem confident in the idea. In these situations I always try to look at others to also verify I’m not more injured than I actually think I am. It’s hard to tell when you’ve been impacted like this.

They looked back at me, and I could tell as they nodded that they agreed. We weren’t really saying much, verbal communication being a bit exhausting at the moment. So the man came back in for a moment and I leaned out of the window, putting one leg over as I looked down to verify I had something, anything firm to stand on. It was mostly soft dirt and splintered and broken trees and tree limbs. Obviously, looking back, it was disturbed ground as the engine had tore through this area before the car came to a stop here and tilled the dirt thoroughly.

I was able to get a slight step on a tree branch or trunk or sorts. I looked around a bit more before putting full weight on it to ensure I was going to lose it and stumble further downward. We were after all still about 10 feet above where ever the next car was in front of us. In those few second I observed that a pickup truck had the front right fascia smashed in front of us in the ditch too, and car 1 of the train had crushed into it. I couldn’t even imagine how that had occurred, we were all clearly off the highway in this ditch area.

Once I got stable I released my grip on the train car and let myself down enough to step from the tree trunks to the ground. The pain was very evident during this, my side feeling like I had stabs coming from inside my body outward. But I stood for a moment, saying, “one more second, let me get stable”. My cohort waited a second and then I looked back up to the car. The bottom of the window was now about where my head was. I reached up, left hand stabilized on the window edge. Right hand ready to help, and I reduced weight on myself where I was standing so I could stabilize more.

First the older man came down. I chuckled, as he accidentally kicked me in the chin, but it was a moment I realized if I’d noticed that I’m definitely lucid and coherent. I also finally started thinking about next steps as I helped him down. I helped the others and we all got down. I’m not sure who said anything or what, but we all seemed to decide to head up the hill, which meant going under one of the rail cars, but it seemed solidly placed. So up we went under and around the derailed mess to get to safer ground.

2017122010501014-img_3703-x3

Pic 1: We walked up the hill, and at the top of the hill I turned and took this picture. Market my position on west side of the tracks, then displaced to take a shot from the east side.

2017122010501014-img_3701-x3

Pic 2: I then, walked across the tracks in front of Genesis Engine 181 and took this picture. Relative same position but east side of tracks.

chris-scholls-amtrak-derailment-interior-06-ht-thg-171219_4x3_992

Another of Chris Scholls’ Pictures, of where we walk up and through to get out. Good job on thinking of snapping some photos Chris.

More of Chris’ photos and interview on the news is available here.

On the way up I also saw one of the fatalities. He was familiar and I stopped to check his pulse, but as I painfully bent down realized it was to late. He was gone. I found out why he seemed familiar later, as we had met a number of times at rail advocacy group dinners. RIP Jim Hamre! We’ll miss you good sir.

I continued walking with others from my car, while we heard screams for help elsewhere, but none of us were really in the condition to help. So we continued up the hill to see if we could find others to assist by directing to the screams. We made it to the top of the hill and I took the two quick pictures above (pic 1, pic 2). I saw another severely injured person, I went to help, but another person that wasn’t as beat up came up and started helping him. I looked around and decided I couldn’t take any immediate actions to help, so quickly called my wife, father, and mother. I wanted to them to know I was ok before the TV News bombardment and all that began.

After that I walked among others who had gathered, checking if anyone needed help. After about a minute MPs (Military Police) from the nearby based arrived and I approached immediately to give what SITREP I could. Reporting the screaming from the flipped car near our car 2, the severely injured and others. They immediately leaped into action and linked up with the emergency response down the hill putting together a triage area and starting to coordinate command.

Everybody getting there onsite, and as I’ve learned, even more from the traffic in the street leaped into action almost immediately, until more emergency response could arrive. I also met Beverly and Charlie Heebner then, and assisted them down, then back around to appropriate positions to be taken away via emergency response. Beverly was a real trooper, in spite of her injuries, she’d taken two sticks and fashioned them as temporary canes to walk about. Charlie, stood with her and assisted. I really merely was there as extra assistance for a bit. They’re real troopers, and I saw them interviewed later on TV (at 1:19 in the video in this article/video on ABC News).

At this time I walked the track, from the Genesis engine (parts of it are seen in the pictures above, it was the trailing engine, number 181). I walked about 200 feet, maybe a bit further. I was looking for damage, anything that I could discern and report that may have been the cause or reason for this derailment. Mainly I was curious, but if anything popped up or I could help I wanted to make sure I could. I was also just exhausted, but with my injuries, I couldn’t really sit down.

Eventually I, per suggestion from fire response, headed down to triage myself. I could do no more and it was of no use for me to stay where I or others were on the hill. Only severely injured should stay so they could wait for ambulances to come to them. Otherwise it was better to displace to triage where we could organize and be taken to a more appropriate location.

2017122010501014-img_3705-x3

Looking back at the train from the triage area. Emergency responders clearly working and handling the tactical logistics of getting people out of the train, and keeping people safe in the situation unfolding.

When I walked up I immediately saw Scott Claggett. We started talking about the incident and our personal experiences of this horror show. Albeit our exhaustion, and the horror of it, we discussed how we would indeed be back on the train again. It beats flying, and is – in spite of this incident – still safer than taking a bus or driving.

I spoke to a number of people, many of who, if you’ve been watching the news, have been all over the news. I spoke to some reporters but I was honestly done. I knew I needed to get checked out. I was standing upright, I’d been helping, but I was in some serious pain and knew I’d gotten beaten up pretty bad by being thrown around.

I stood and waited with the conductor of the train. The conductor is the person, if you aren’t aware of how Amtrak passenger trains work, the person that generally is in charge of the overall train. Not who drives, but sits among the bistro usually and helps organize passengers on and off, makes sure tickets are collected and insures people don’t miss their stops. All of that kind of thing.

On this day the conductor made the first emergency call to dispatch, and got emergency on its way. When I talked to him, he was coordinating with the rest of the team on the train to coordinate injured with the emergency staff. He was also a bit beat up, but in spite of that doing his job and getting information out and coordinating as needed. Eventually we both took an ambulance ride, once the higher priority injured were taken away, off to St Peter in Olympia.

Upon arrival to the hospital, I registered in the ER but requested they put me back of the queue. I suppose they did, but even then, they got everybody in and cared for quickly. I got a temporary bed to get checked out and be brought in for x-ray and CT scan. One that was done I waited.

Eventually a nurse and then the doctor came to report the news. Which was bad news but mostly good news. The x-ray showed nothing but the CT scan showed I had broken what I’d mentioned before, the transverse process. It hurt like hell too and I had swelling and bruising. The good news, simply was, eventually I’d recover fully.

For the most part, my ordeal and hellish adventure was over.

Here are some links to other information related to the tracks & train that derailed.

Debunking and Verifying Reality vs. Trash Media and Idiot Twitterers

Let’s talk about a few other things related to this wreck and some of the news coverage. For the most part, the MSM or outlets like ABC News, NBC, and, others have been excellent a mostly been accurate. There’s a few specifics and nuances that are a little distracting, but the bulk of their coverage has been spot on. Fox has even done an ok job, but then there are the tertiary media, whatever one would call them. The mud slingers, trash, scum of humanity, who have purposely tried to push the wrong narrative, a broken and deceitful narrative out to misinform and rile up political agitators. I hate saying this but even one of Trump’s tweets, about the tax bill and infrastructure was horribly off base. He spoke of this infrastructure as old, when in reality it is new and extremely high quality. He misguided millions prospectively as well as the other horrible individuals out there trying to hurt, agitate, and push a political agenda while people are hurt, trying to help each other, or dying.

1st thing. The train was moving at 81.3 mph according to a speed recorder and last recorded GPS reading. This wasn’t extraordinarily fast for the 79mph segment of track, but where we had entered and the curve we derailed on was rated for 30mph. Which means that for a mere few seconds, maybe 10-20 seconds, braking was not applied for the 30mph turn. The track we had been on is indeed 79mph, so the idea or suggestion some might have that this was a runaway train and actually “speeding” as in, breaking the law, could be disingenuous. The train, for whatever reason, failed to brake. That is, from a perspective of physics, the culminating issue that arose.

2nd thing. The drivers on the highway that thought we were going fast would have because 79 mph trains had not particular run on this track in its history. It was effectively new track for these trains that would go this fast. So the idea they thought we were speeding, wouldn’t have been an accurate observation, except on the point leading up to where the train didn’t brake. That area however is in a valley, and the people on the road actually can’t really even see the train there. So this perception, albeit prescient of what was about to happen, was particularly an accurate perception considering it wasn’t something they’d likely be informed about anyway. No problem with their observation, but possibly a little inappropriate to take that perspective as it doesn’t add to the accuracy of what did or was happening. In a few weeks or months they’ll see 79mph trains on that corridor again, so hopefully it doesn’t trigger fear or worse, erratic behavior or actions on part of motorists trying to travel on the highway there.

3rd thing. I personally walked the track (as mentioned above) from which we came for almost 200 feet so I could personally look and see what was there. Nothing, absolutely nothing was there. No signs of track damage, structural issues, blockages, or even derailment occurring before the curve. So for the assholes out there blaming Antifa and trying to turn this into a political circus seriously just shut up and have some respect. You’re adding exactly zero and hurting many people in the process by your spurious lies, fear mongering, and trash talk – Most of the shit scum associated with the likes of Jack Proboseic, Mike Cernovich, Alex Jones, and other individuals that are routinely riling up people for pro-Trump agitation (and you could be pro-Trump, but these guys add a new realm of insanity to things) and hostile aggression toward a host of Americans (not just Antifa). I can’t warn people enough about these individuals, they are the scum that would initiate a “beer hall putsch” in a second against the American populace in favor for Trump or some similar fiat leader. They’re dangerous, uninformed (or they love the lies they spread), and generally a threat to those they agitate against and sometimes even for those they agitate for. Do note, I’m not even making this statement to be anti-Trump, just anti- these fear mongering, hate spreading, disgusting individuals that act to divide Americans with lies, misinformation, and other trash. Absolutely horrible actions they’re taking and disrespect they’re acting on.

4th Thing. Whoever misreported and didn’t confirm the false report of 6 deaths did a horrible job of spreading misinformation. There were 3 fatalities, not 6. Seriously, get your reports straight before going live with this type of information. Ugh.

5th Thing. This is one incident, keep sane and smart and don’t let the scariness of this incident make you fear train travel. It is still dramatically safer than automobile travel, safer than bus travel, and generally safer than most modes. The only mode option that beats it out is flying. So don’t gimme some mess about how scary it is, suck up those fears, and try to make smart decisions that are actually based in legitimate data for yourself instead of trigger happy FUD racketing.

6th Thing. In a knock on Trump’s hypocrisy. He’s a liar, simple as that, his budget will cut Amtrak, cut infrastructure, cut infrastructure not just for passenger service but for all modes (i.e. expect those highways to keep decaying too). Don’t believe the nonsense in his tweets. Just know that this is completely unrelated to his budget, will only be hurt, and will only cause more collapse of America to maintain, modernize, and improve transportation infrastructure in the United States.

7th Thing. Seat belts would have likely dramatically reduced actual injuries. Albeit trains should have them, they don’t. Also, even though it is perfectly safe to move around on a train, in wrecks like this people thrown from the train are usually the people who are killed. In this case I can attest to the fact that the people who did die, were in motion or transition while the train tore apart, and got thrown from the train. Resulting in their unfortunate deaths. If we want to basically eliminate these causes, minimize standing in between cars and maximize the time passenger spend in seat, safely seated and preferably belted. Again, I’d even have had no injuries but maybe being shaken strongly about if I’d been able to actually stay in my seat, but instead was thrown and thrashed harshly around. Maybe for future trips I’ll be bringing my own seat belt?

8th Thing. The nonsense the Lakewood mayor was complaining about in wasn’t even related to this incident. He was complaining that people wouldn’t obey the crossing gates and related things. Which seriously, people need to pay attention to crossing gates PERIOD, what is the deal with being idiots around crossing gates? Just chill out and don’t go blowing through them. They’re dropped on BOTH sides when a train is coming and there are NOT many crossings anyway. The entire line has sections like this, Lakewood isn’t a special snowflake. Anyway, this is something again, that has been offered by some news sources and a foreshadowing but is really more of an ill-placed anti-passenger rail complaint by the mayor. I could go on, but just suffice it to say, this is inappropriately related to this incident and negligent reporting at best, and outright dangerous in other ways.