Friday, August 3, 2018

Where the trains meet: San Luis Obispo

For a community that was never supposed to have a railway, San Luis Obispo has certainly managed to keep itself relevant as a key railway point. The city, located roughly half way between San Francisco and Los Angeles, is a crew change point where Amtrak’s Coast Starlight trains meet. The Coast Starlight and the Pacific Surfliner both serve this city, which is located on the old Southern Pacific Sunset Route (now Union Pacific).

Although freight traffic on the line is sparse in this area, there is a key time each afternoon where you can catch the Coast Starlight Amtrak trains meeting up and the arrival of the Surfliner from San Diego, all in a span of a few hours. Luckily for me, my brother was there on business in the spring and had time to wander around the station area.

While there, he snapped some photos of two Union Pacific diesel tied up next to a bumper, not to mention the two Coast Starlight trains meeting (see above). He also visited the San Luis Obispo Railroad Museum, which features a few pieces of interesting rolling stock, including an old SP bay window caboose and an old heavyweight passenger car (below). The volunteer there told my brother that the city sees only about one freight a week. Sounds familiar to me.

One of the benefits that this station has for railfans is that it has a cool pedestrian bridge where you can get some interesting shots of the trains meeting. My brother took advantage of this viewpoint to get some overhead shots. This shot below was his favourite and it's hard to argue. You can really appreciate the size of some of Amtrak's intercity trains, especially with their bilevel coaches. This shot also gives you a glimpse of the city's old train station (top centre of image above the tracks), which is where the railroad museum now operates. 

Here's another overhead shot. You can also see the UP local units pretty clearly in this shot.

I like that many of Amtrak's west coast trains have a unique paint scheme from the rest of the railway's national fleet. You might have noticed that Amtrak's intercity trains in California are branded "Amtrak California." This has to do, of course, with the fact that many of Amtrak's intercity reoutes outside the Northeast Corridor are state-sponsored, which is the case in California, hence the unique livery. Another example is the Amtrak Cascades service  in Washington State and Vancouver. In the case of the Surfliner, the cars are clearly branded as such.

My brother also told me that the station is nestled into an active, vibrant part of the city, with shops and cafes nearby. That made me think of how many railway stations at street level that I’ve been to that can make this same claim. Not many.

Thanks to my brother for taking a few moments to capture these dramatic shots from a beautiful spot along the Sunset Route.

Oh, and in case you're wondering about what I said off the top, San Luis Obispo was not supposed to have the old SP Sunset Route built through the city, but local businessmen greased the wheels with the SP's backers and the rest is history. It's a pretty typical story.


Eric said...

Forget sibling rivalry, this is sibling railfanning. Great photos and a nice spot, by the looks of it!
Thanks for sharing,

Michael said...

Thanks Eric. yes, the sibling rivalry is largely a thing of the past. My brother Marc travels a lot and he knows there are two big railfans in the family, including his son. I am the beneficiary as well. Can't complain.