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gregh
We’re a retired couple from Australia and planning an Amtrak trip from San Francisco to Boston. I particularly want to travel across the Rockies west of Denver.
(Last year we did Boston to New Orleans to LA and enjoyed it so much we want to try it again. In that case I obtained much help from this Forum - see http://www.on-track-on-line.com/trips/trip...0-hunter.shtml) .

I’ve quite a few questions here and would welcome any help you can offer. So here goes…

1. How easy/hard is it to get from San Francisco International airport to Emeryville station? Seems likes it’s a BART ride then a bus or taxi.

2. Sacramento. Because of plane arrival time in SF (11am) and the Zephyr departure time, we have to spend at least a night and I thought of taking a train to Sacramento on the afternoon of our plane arrival, and spending a couple of days there. (Seen SF before.)
What is the district around Sacramento’s station like? Is it safe? expensive hotels? (I’m a 3 star hotel man) or to be avoided?
Are taxis available at the station?
Any recommendations for accommodation near the station?
Is the California Railroad Museum worth spending a day at?

3. Will it be daylight crossing the Rockies into Denver in September? Arrival in Denver is 6:30pm.


4. I want to visit the Cass Railroad and the Durbin Rocket in WV, so plan on spending a few days In Washington DC and driving to WV. The question is, what is the best scenic route from Chicago to Washington? The Cardinal or Capitol Ltd ? They both seem to connect with the Zephyr.

Thanks in advance.
Greg
KevinKorell
Greg,

Sounds like a great trip, and a wonderful way to see the USA! smile.gif I'll try to answer your questions as best as I can, and hopefully others with experience in these matters will chime in as well.
QUOTE

1. How easy/hard is it to get from San Francisco International airport to Emeryville station? Seems likes it’s a BART ride then a bus or taxi.

Amtrak has a system of connecting buses called Amtrak Thruway. They are most prevalent in California. There is a bus connecting from various points in San Francisco to the Amtrak station in Emeryville to meet each and every train (including the California Zephyr, Coast Starlight, and Capitol Corridor).

The best way to go from SFO Airport to Emeryville would be to take BART from the airport to the Embarcadero station, which is the last station in San Francisco before BART goes under the bay to Oakland. You would need to walk a long block east on Market Street and cross the Embarcadero (a major street parallel to the Bay) itself to the official Amtrak Thruway bus stop, located adjacent to the Ferry Terminal. Amtrak's bus will then deliver you right to the Emeryville train station in time for your train.

On Amtrak's website, put in the station code "SFC" as the origin, and "SAC" for the destination, and it will show you both the connecting Thruway bus and the Capitol Corridor train you would be taking to Sacramento.
QUOTE

2. Sacramento. Because of plane arrival time in SF (11am) and the Zephyr departure time, we have to spend at least a night and I thought of taking a train to Sacramento on the afternoon of our plane arrival, and spending a couple of days there. (Seen SF before.)
What is the district around Sacramento’s station like? Is it safe? expensive hotels? (I’m a 3 star hotel man) or to be avoided?
Are taxis available at the station?
Any recommendations for accommodation near the station?
Is the California Railroad Museum worth spending a day at?

As in any major city, be on your guard at night. If possible, find a hotel that has its own free shuttle to pick you up at the station, and verify in advance that they can do this at the hour you plan on arriving. See here for a list of hotels in the Sacramento area that are either walkable from Amtrak or a light rail ride away. Keep in mind however that if you arrive very late at night, the light rail may not be running at that hour. The light rail, run by Sacramento Regional Transit, stops right by the station.

Taxis are available in front of the station as well, and they may be a safer alternative for you late at night.

I have not been to the California Railroad Museum, but it has been highly praised by those who have been there. If you have the time and love trains, by all means it's a great way to spend the day. It is very close to the Amtrak station (just walk underneath a freeway overpass). It's also part of Old Town Sacramento, itself worth a visit.

And I think that addresses all your Sacramento questions! smile.gif
QUOTE

3. Will it be daylight crossing the Rockies into Denver in September? Arrival in Denver is 6:30pm.

If your train is on time or close to schedule, then yes in September you should arrive into Denver in daylight. And in my opinion, the approach into Denver is the best part of the trip. The tracks wind back and forth as you descend from the mountains to the mile high plain where Denver is located. So you will alternately see the city on your right, then left, then right, etc.... until you get close to the city.
QUOTE

4. I want to visit the Cass Railroad and the Durbin Rocket in WV, so plan on spending a few days In Washington DC and driving to WV. The question is, what is the best scenic route from Chicago to Washington? The Cardinal or Capitol Ltd ? They both seem to connect with the Zephyr.

I haven't ridden those tourist railroads, but maybe somebody else here has.

The Cardinal and Capitol Limited each offer their pros and cons, and they traverse very different routes. The Cardinal (for now) only runs three days a week, so you will have to plan your entire USA stay based on the days the Cardinal runs if you really want to take that train. It runs via Indianapolis, Cincinnati, Kentucky, West Virginia, and Virginia, finally approaching Washington, DC from the southwest over the same route the Crescent (from Atlanta & New Orleans) takes. The highlight of this trip is the New River Gorge in West Virginia.

The Capitol Limited starts out running closer to the Great Lakes, going through Toledo, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, and then through Maryland, a small part of West Virginia, and back into Maryland as it approaches Washington from the northwest. It runs every day of the week, so its schedule makes the rest of your journey more flexible. Highlight is the morning travel along the Allegheny and Youghogheny Rivers after Pittsburgh, and going through the mountain ranges in Maryland.

The schedule, as of now, has the Cardinal leaving Chicago the earliest, so it may not be recommended if you are making a same-day transfer from the California Zephyr. The Capitol Limited leaves a little later, which gives you more leeway in the event of a late arrival.

More information on hotels near trains in the cities you plan to visit:
San Francisco
Denver
Chicago (in case of a misconnect or you wish to break up the trip)
Washington, DC/Baltimore

Do enjoy your trip, and if you have any other questions please ask away! We look forward to another great trip report! smile.gif
AlanB
Greg,

I'll add a few thoughts to Kevin's excellent answers.

1) Should you decide to stay in San Fran, those same Thruway buses would connect you with the Zephyr.

2) As Kevin noted, your train must be on time or close to it. Any delays of 3 hours or more could see you decending the Rockies into Denver in the dark. I'm told however that while you miss the scenery, that experience of watching the city's lights it also pretty interesting.

3) In addition to the 3 day a week schedule of the Cardinal, you must consider that there is little room for delays on the Zephyr. There is only a 2:55 window for delays. The connection to the Capital gives you more cushion for a late running Zephyr.

You should also know that the Cardinal does not run with a full service dining car, it uses what's called a diner lite car. That means no steaks cooked to order or anything that requires a grill, since it doesn't have one. Everything is pre-prepared and warmed in a convection oven. This is not to say that the food isn't good, some of it IMHO is actually quite good. But again, you can't get eggs cooked the way you might want them and the train's lounge car is also the same car.
gregh
Thanks Keven and Alan for the fast responses.

Getting from SF airport to Emeryville by BART/Amtrak bus stills sounds complicated - walking a 'long block' dragging a suitcase doesn't appeal!

Is there a BART station nearer Emeryville, where we could get a taxi?

I didn't know Sacramento had a light rail so that's a bonus, but I doubt we'll use it from the station, with our luggage.

Kevin's lists of hotels should be useful, but what do those RT numbers in the notes refer to? Light rail or bus routes? I also didn't know about Sacramento Old Town - thanks, we'll see that. Just need to find a hotel on a bus/lt rail route to get back to it and the railroad museum.

Sounds like we should see the Rockies, so we'll just hope we're on time.

From your comments I think we'll use the Capitol Ltd from Chicago to Washington. The later departure and earlier arrivals are better and it sounds like it's scenic too.
The clinching reason being the lack of dining car - Amtrak's website still shows a full menu. My wife is coeliac - no wheat etc - and pre-packaged meals are almost always unsuitable. On our last trip we found nothing suitable for her in the cafe cars between Boston and NY whereas 2 meals in the dining cars were usually gluten free (fish and steak). Did get a bit boring for her, and no desserts for her except ice cream. It's also why we try to break the trip into one night trips so she can restock on GF food/snacks for the next leg.

Another question, probably unrelated to this trip. At stations marked as having no 'checked baggage' service (eg Framingham near Boston), is it therefore IMPOSSIBLE to JOIN the train there if you have a sleeping berth? The small roomettes only have room for small hand bags. Can you get on with your bigger bags and get the attendant to have them put in the baggage car?



AlanB
QUOTE(gregh @ Apr 6 2011, 06:45 PM) *

Getting from SF airport to Emeryville by BART/Amtrak bus stills sounds complicated - walking a 'long block' dragging a suitcase doesn't appeal!

Is there a BART station nearer Emeryville, where we could get a taxi?


Yes, there is a BART stop across the bay near Emeryville, Ashby. I'm not sure about cabs at that station though, but most likely there would be some.

However, you could avoid a cab entirely by taking BART to the last stop on the Red line, Richmond. At Richmond you only need to go downstairs from BART and back up to the Amtrak platform to catch a Capitol Corridor train to Sacramento.

QUOTE(gregh @ Apr 6 2011, 06:45 PM) *
Kevin's lists of hotels should be useful, but what do those RT numbers in the notes refer to? Light rail or bus routes? I also didn't know about Sacramento Old Town - thanks, we'll see that. Just need to find a hotel on a bus/lt rail route to get back to it and the railroad museum.


Light rail.

QUOTE(gregh @ Apr 6 2011, 06:45 PM) *
From your comments I think we'll use the Capitol Ltd from Chicago to Washington. The later departure and earlier arrivals are better and it sounds like it's scenic too.
The clinching reason being the lack of dining car - Amtrak's website still shows a full menu. My wife is coeliac - no wheat etc - and pre-packaged meals are almost always unsuitable. On our last trip we found nothing suitable for her in the cafe cars between Boston and NY whereas 2 meals in the dining cars were usually gluten free (fish and steak). Did get a bit boring for her, and no desserts for her except ice cream. It's also why we try to break the trip into one night trips so she can restock on GF food/snacks for the next leg.


Definately a better reason then for taking the Capitol. At least there they can try to do some things to accomodate her needs.

QUOTE(gregh @ Apr 6 2011, 06:45 PM) *
Another question, probably unrelated to this trip. At stations marked as having no 'checked baggage' service (eg Framingham near Boston), is it therefore IMPOSSIBLE to JOIN the train there if you have a sleeping berth? The small roomettes only have room for small hand bags. Can you get on with your bigger bags and get the attendant to have them put in the baggage car?


The attendant cannot officially put your bag in the baggage car. I've seen some that cheat and do so, but an equal number simply store bags that are too large either in the vesitbule of the car, the shower changing area (when no one is using it, they'll put it their room when someone does need the shower), or in an empty room if one exists.
KevinKorell
Greg,

The Ferry Building Thruway bus stop is just the main Amtrak bus stop in the city, but it's not the only one. However you need to be pre-ticketed before boarding at any other station in the city since there are no agents at the curbside bus stops other than Ferry Bulding.

The Financial District stop (SFF) appears to be closer to the Embarcadero BART station than Ferry Building (SFC). But fewer buses serve it. You also should try Civic Center (SFV) and San Francisco Shopping Center (SFS) which are closer to other BART stations.

The closest BART station to the Emeryville Amtrak station is MacArthur (in Oakland). One could get a taxi between the two, or there is also a free shuttle bus called Emery Go Round that will get you there. See the red or purple coded lines on the map on this page.

The Note ## numbers on my hotel listings are simply footnotes. Scroll down to the bottom of the particular chart or page to get details on what transit lines serve a particular station. It was easier to present the information outside the table rather than inside it.

All the hotels shown are within a 5 block walk of a station, or else if they are further, they say they have a free shuttle van. The station could be an Amtrak station, light rail stop, etc. If 5 blocks is too far to walk particularly with luggage, I suggest you contact the hotel to find out exactly how far the walk is or that they might have a shuttle anyhow which could pick you up.

A station marked as "no checked baggage" means that you cannot start or end your trip at that station if you require checked baggage. Neither the attendant, nor anyone else on the train, has access to the baggage car. Baggage is put on and off the train at designated stations by crews based on the ground, not the train.

You are allowed 2 pieces of luggage per person (excluding purses, laptops, etc.). There is space to store luggage during your trip on the lower level of Superliner cars on most of the long distance routes. If you do take the Cardinal or another long distance route equipped with Viewliners, there is space for luggage within your room in space above the hallway. You can ask an attendant to help you get it stored up there or get it down before detraining.

Finally, it would be helpful to inform Amtrak upon making reservations that your wife requires a special diet. A reminder call before you depart on your trip to the USA could not hurt.
gregh

Thanks again Kevin and Alan. Your detailed information and web links are really helpfull.
The recommendation of using Richmond to change from BART to Amtrak sounds good.

QUOTE(KevinKorell @ Apr 7 2011, 09:41 AM) *


............
Finally, it would be helpful to inform Amtrak upon making reservations that your wife requires a special diet. A reminder call before you depart on your trip to the USA could not hurt.



Just for your future reference, I tried asking Amtrak about special meals on our last trip. Here's their response:
AMTRAK DOES NOT OFFER MEALS SPECIFICALLY DESIGNATED AS "LOW FAT", "LOW CHOLESTEROL", "LOW SODIUM", "GLUTEN FREE" OR "PEANUT FREE". MOST DINNER ENTREES ARE NOT PREPARED ON THE DINING CAR. THE FAT, CHOLESTEROL, AND SODIUM CONTENT MAY VARY, AND CANNOT BE CONTROLLED BY THE CHEF. DO NOT PUT IN REQUESTS FOR THESE TYPES OF MEALS; THEY CANNOT BE HONORED.

Your boarding station may be the only location to purchase food and bring it on board the train. In most instances, the train only stops to discharge and pick up passengers. It only takes a few minutes.


Probably the most unhelpful experience we had on Amtrak. All 'real' people were very courteous and helpful.

Regards
Greg
BillMagee
One additional comment:

If you have a lot of luggage, BART may not be your best choice. The BART station at SFO Airport is great for luggage, but the trains and all the other stations are not. The stations and fare gates at the other stations are not well set up for carrying luggage, so you might find yourself lifting the bags over railings and up steps to get to the street. I use BART often between SFO airport and downtown San Francisco and it's a great service, but I only have a single carry-on bag. If I had more luggage than that, I would not take BART.

You could get from SFO to the Amtrak bus station at the Ferry Building using the SuperShuttle van service. This is the van that serves the downtown hotels, but they will also drop at Amtrak. The cost is $17 per person (plus an appropriate tip for luggage handling), but they will take you from the arrivals area at SFO directly to the Amtrak Ferry Building bus stop, and will handle your bags for you. At the Amtrak stop, you just drag your bags to the Amtrak office, check them, and wait for your bus.
gregh
QUOTE(BillMagee @ Apr 8 2011, 11:05 PM) *

One additional comment:

You could get from SFO to the Amtrak bus station at the Ferry Building using the SuperShuttle van service. This is the van that serves the downtown hotels, but they will also drop at Amtrak. The cost is $17 per person (plus an appropriate tip for luggage handling), but they will take you from the arrivals area at SFO directly to the Amtrak Ferry Building bus stop, and will handle your bags for you. At the Amtrak stop, you just drag your bags to the Amtrak office, check them, and wait for your bus.

Thanks Bill, This might be our best option. But it's nice to know all the alternatives.
KevinKorell
One warning about the potential BART to Amtrak transfer in Richmond: Richmond is known to be a high crime area, particularly at night. I don't recommend doing this if it will be late at night or at other times when there are few other fellow passengers making this transfer with good intentions. During the day, particularly a weekday it should not be a problem. The transfer is done within the same complex, so there is no need to go out on the street. Don't stray from the station area at any time of day if you absolutely don't have to.
gregh
Just another question if I may.

We will have about 3 hours layover time in Chicago between the Zephyr arriving at 2:50pm and the Capitol Ltd leaving at 6:10pm. Assuming the trains are on time, does anyone have any suggestions as to what we might be able to see in that time? Is the station close to downtown so we could walk around a bit?

KevinKorell
Greg,

I would not venture too far. Boarding for the outbound train can start well ahead of the scheduled departure, so that they can ensure the train leaves Chicago on time. And since you are probably going to want to have dinner aboard the Capitol Limited, having a meal in Chicago is not an issue.

Union Station sits on the west bank of the Chicago River. Each east-west street crosses it on a bridge. The area east of the River is known as the Loop, even that which is physically outside the overhead CTA transit loop that the downtown core was named after. So you can walk east on the adjacent streets to access the downtown area, and even the overhead or underground subway lines for a short ride.

As for tourist things to do, the Willis Tower (formerly Sears Tower) is a block east of the river, easy to walk to back and forth from Union Station. You could take a quick trip to the top for its scenic view.
gregh
Thanks Kevin. Much appreciated.
Regards
Greg
gregh
Well we completed our trip and had a great time. The trip from San Francisco to Denver is truely fantastic.

I've put a complete report here:
http://www.on-track-on-line.com/trips/trip...15-hunter.shtml


Thanks for everyone's help.
Greg
KevinKorell
Greg,

Enjoyed reading your report! Typical trip showing both the good and bad of train travel and the levels of service experienced with the crews.
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