SP Flood Shuttle Train (1993) August 25th, 1993
Submitted by John Gale
[This train operated earlier this year until about mid-May, when the Route 38E and Route 40E bridges reopened. - Ed.]
Southern Pacific Railroad is operating a flood relief train in eastern Yuma County for agricultural areas cut off by the heavy flows in the Gila River. These record water flows have damaged several bridges, and of course closed all river bottom crossings, isolating the area north of the river from Interstate 8 and Wellton and Yuma, leaving only the huge SP bridge intact.
SP is operating 14 round trip shuttles a day on a 5.9 mile route from Wellton to Roll. The service is operated with a single train shuttling back and forth, leaving the McElhaney Spur, at the Wellton end, every hour on the hour, and Roll on the half hour. The track is not running track speed, and takes about 15 minutes for the trip.
The entire service takes place on the Phoenix Line, and thus does not interfere with SP’s heavy transcontinental traffic on the Gila Main. All other train traffic on the Phoenix Line continues to operate in normal fashion, including Amtrak service. Amtrak has no stops in the area where the flood service is operating.
The shuttle train is actually operating as a mixed train, with borrowed Amtrak coaches, and boxcars for freight. Transportation for both passengers and freight is provided free of charge.
Southern Pacific reports that the train is averaging about 500 passengers a day, with the record being 632 on one day. Service is expected to continue at least another month or two, as long as the Gila River keeps flowing at a high level.
Sunset Ltd. Coast-to-Coast Inaugural Run – Trip Report August 11th, 1993
– Bob Katz
The inaugural run of Amtrak’s Coast-to-coast service from Los Angeles to Miami was many things to many people. To an historian, it was the first time in the history of the US that a regularly scheduled train carried passengers from one coast to another. To Amtrak Public Affairs it was a by-invitation-only media event designed to bring publicity for the extension of the Sunset Limited’s route beyond New Orleans to Miami. To the crew aboard the March 31 train eastbound out of New Orleans, it was a dry run before the first revenue trains in April. But to the residents of Mississippi, Alabama and the Florida panhandle, it was the restoration of passenger train service that had not been seen for more than two decades.
In order to accommodate the outpouring of glee and excitement of the new towns on the route, the official inaugural run was done in the daylight hours, stopping for the night in Pensacola and in Jacksonville. The new schedule of the eastbound Sunset Limited will normally visit Mississippi, Alabama and western Florida in the dark. The train carried invited guests from the media, travel agencies and organizations (like ARPA) that promote rail travel. The most famous passengers were the Disney characters, Pinocchio, Donald Duck, Pluto and Jiminy Cricket — the theme of the trip being “From Disneyland to Disneyworld.” Also on board were Amtrak officials (to make speeches at the station stops) and entertainers (piano players, barbershop quartets and costumed Mardi Gras celebrants) to ensure a lively time.
The festivities started in the Crescent City, New Orleans, to the accompaniment of a Dixieland jazz band, followed by the appearance of the Disney characters, speeches by Amtrak officials and mayors of some of the towns being served by the new service. Miss New Orleans (Cheryl Leah Ebert), daughter of an Amtrak employee, christened the train with a bottle of champagne which she smashed against the back of the Beech Grove, Amtrak’s private car, the only single-level car on the bi-level train.
The first day’s itinerary had the train stopping for ceremonial receptions at the Mississippi towns of Bay St. Louis, Gulfport, Biloxi and Pascagoula; the Alabama towns of Mobile and Atmore; and stopping for the night in Pensacola, Florida. Every town, big or small, brought thousands of cheering adults and children to the stations to welcome the Sunset Ltd. High school bands played; Amtrak and local officials made speeches; and the Disney characters worked the crowd. There even were many people waving or filming the train as it cruised by them between stops. The friendliness and excitement were overwhelming to the train riders. The phrase Southern hospitality is not a cliche.
On board the train, the mood was festive, with many people boarding and disembarking at various stops to share in the revelry. Sadly, the Disney characters kept to themselves while on the train, staying in their Deluxe accommodations with their curtains drawn. The Disney employees who served their meals had the demeanor of Secret Service agents.
Food service the first day consisted of Cajun food: gumbo, barbecued shrimp, catfish, and potato salad. The normally efficient and controlled dining room atmosphere one expects from Amtrak was absent. In its place was bedlam, as dining room personnel, car attendants, various other Amtrak employees, and even ARPA secretary Nancy Crosby pitched in to deliver the three-course meal to everyone’s seat. This was not an easy task, as the train, which normally holds 450 passengers, was carrying as many as 750, many of whom filled the lounge, dining car and the aisles. A tray of food being delivered to a car at the end of the train would often be depleted before reaching its intended destination. After a stop in Quincy, Florida for thirty Kentucky Fried Chicken dinners, the starving masses were at last fed.
The second day’s events were similar to the first, but this time the train riders were treated to southern hospitality Florida panhandle style. Opening ceremonies were in Pensacola, followed by stops at Crestview, Chipley, Tallahassee, Madison and Lake City, Florida, and finally Jacksonville for the night. The stop in Tallahassee, Florida’s capital, was notable by the presence of the governor of Florida, Lawton Chiles, as well as the mayor of Tallahassee. The train rode through a banner commemorating the event.
The trip from Jacksonville to Miami was somewhat anticlimactic, both for the train riders and the townspeople at the station stops, for these cities have never been without regular train service. Occasionally, someone would execute a double-take after noticing that the expected Heritage equipment was replaced by Superliner bi-levels.
The high point of the Sunset Limited’s ride through the Silver Star’s route to Miami was the stop at Orlando, for that was where the train was met by Mickey and Minnie Mouse. There were conjectures as to why the Mouse couple did not ride along (FDA restrictions?), but the official words were “previous commitment.”
The next newsletter will contain a report on the first westbound run of the Sunset Limited from Miami, as well as more observations on the inaugural run.