Desert Wind Trip

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This article  appeared in Water Station No. 25, the monthly publication of the Southern Nevada Chapter, NRHS.

by Chuck Brandt

    With the possible discontinuance of the Desert Wind in mind, I recently took the ride to Los Angeles and return.  The train, which was fairly crowded in both directions, consisted of ten cars: a baggage car, transition sleeper (for the crew), three sleepers,  diner, cafe-lounge and three coaches.  I like the coaches on the rear - you get some nice views of the train rounding the sharper curves.

    Wednesday, September 18, 1996 we departed Las Vegas thirty minutes late, at 8:53am behind engines 841 and 311.

Here, at a earlier date, July 27, 1993, the  Desert Wind passes the Mirage Hotel on it's way west, behind one of the new GE P32's in Pepsi can livery.  During this period the train's consist was  five cars, with the lounge behind the engine and the lone sleeper on the rear.

    There wasn't much freight traffic on the U.P.   Our first meet was passing a westbound waiting for us at Nipton.  Things went smoothly until coming down the west side of Cima hill where the dispatcher put us in the siding at Hayden.  There we sat, for . . 5 . . 10 . . 15 minutes before an eastbound stack train came fighting its way up the hill . . about twenty miles per hour.  We passed Kelso at 10:54am, met another eastbound at Sands siding; then approaching Basin I heard the engineer radio "red over lunar, we're going in the siding." This time the DS timed it just right and we made a "rolling meet" as UP6004 east, a short TOFC train went by on the main.

    We stopped at Barstow for 24 minutes (instead of the usual five) while local paramedics checked on an ill passenger.

#35 at Barstow on April 7, 1992

    Arrival at Los Angeles (LAUPT) was at 4:28pm - 53 minutes late.  While in L.A. I got to watch the many new Metrolink commuter trains come and go, as well as ride the new extension of their subway - the Red line, which now runs to Wilshire and Western.  And, of course, a famous "french dip" at Phillippes!

One of the new Metrolink commuter trains departing LAUPT.

    Returning the next day, we departed LAUPT "on the advertised" at 10:45am with the same equipment and same Chicago based crew.  One of the car attendants was frantically trying to reach the Conductor over the P.A. saying we had a visitor aboard who didn't get off in time,  But, to no avail, someone got an unexpected ride to Fullerton!

    We soon caught up with San Diegan train #74 at Norwalk and ran on a yellow to Fullerton, where we departed 16 minutes late.  We climbed Cajon Pass on the steeper South track. A Santa Fe train employee riding next to me in the lounge car pointed out the spot where the most recent "runaway" accident occurred (where the SF freight derailed, caught fire and forced the closure of nearby I-15).  As we passed he showed me two crosses that were placed on the spot in remembrance of the two crew members who lost their lives in the accident.

    Apparently the North track was out of service this day,  As soon as we reached Summit at 1:30pm we crossed back over to the North and then passed by a total of eight westbound SF and UP  freights strung out between Summit and Hesperia, waiting for us to go by so they could start their journey from the high desert down into the L.A. basin.  We departed Barstow 19 minutes late, after an 8 minute "smoke stop."  Soon we were back on Union Pacific rails at Daggett.

    With the train scheduled for discontinuance soon there doesn't seem to be much pressure for the UP dispatcher to get it over the road on time.  Just before reaching Kelso we started slowing down - 59mph at mp233.  "We must be following something," I thought.  Shortly after, Engineer Bob's voice comes over the radio "yellow at west end of Hayden."  A half mile further I hear "red at the east end."  On the steep grade we simply roll to a smooth stop at 4:10pm.  Six minutes later a heavy westbound coal train creeps into the siding to let us by.  As we start up the hill again I hear in my earplug, "we're following one up the hill."  Red signal at east Elora siding, red at signal 248, another red at Chase siding.  Slowly we crawl up the hill about 15 mph.

    The Amtrak conductor offers apologies over the train's P.A. system and explains the situation - being sure to mention that it's a Union Pacific freight train that is holding us up!!  By now, people can see the train ahead on the sweeping left curve as we approach the top of the hill at Cima.  Everybody is fidgety. First call for dinner is made by the dining car steward.  Finally the freight - 3452 east, a K-liner stack train, clears up and we pass Cima at 5:06pm and quickly resume track speed of 79 mph.

On May 10, 1994 the eastbound Desert Wind drifts downgrade into the Las Vegas valley, just west of Arden. (Note the  Stratosphere Tower still under construction).

     Now we're speeding towards our (my) destination.  In the lounge car people are smiling and conversing once again - instead of grumbling!  We meet a few freights along the way, including another closely timed "running meet" at Erie siding, where I-15 goes over the tracks, north of Jean.  Soon we glide to a stop at the downtown Amtrak station.  It's 6:26pm.  We are 51 minutes late and another fun train ride is ending.  Until next time . . . .

Ed note: There never was another "next time."  The popular train, by then running ten cars, was discontinued in May, 1997.  Now, after  ten years, the boom town that is Las Vegas still remains without rail passenger service. 

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