Rail – A first-class bargain to southern California

1145-Coast Starlight by ocean.jpg

Regular readers who are rail buffs can skip the geography and schedule lesson below. Others not so familiar with west coast trains should read the next few paragraphs.

Amtrak’s Coast Starlght train operates daily between Seattle and Los Angeles. Below is an extract of the southbound schedule.

City Time
Seattle 9:45 a.m.
Portland 2:25 p.m.
Klamath Falls 10:00 p.m.
Chico 3:50 a.m.
Sacramento 6:35 a.m.
Martinez 7:34 a.m.
Emeryville 8:10 a.m.
Oakland 8:35 a.m.
San Jose 10:07 a.m.
San Luis Obispo    3:20 p.m.
Santa Barbara 6:17 p.m.
Los Angeles 9:00 p.m.

Many passengers who originate in the Pacific Northwest only travel overnight as far as northern California. That fact creates an opportunity for northern Californians to enjoy first-class travel at very low cost on the Coast Starlight when they’re headed to southern California.

Why? Because when sleeping accommodations are only occupied overnight by passengers traveling from Seattle and Portland to Sacramento, they are empty for the rest of the trip and are frequently sold by Amtrak at the lowest possible cost.

But why would you want get a sleeping accommodation when it’s a daytime trip between northern and southern California? Because you will get to enjoy amenities included in the price of your ticket that include:

complimentary meals – breakfast (boarding by Oakland), lunch, and dinner
Pacific Parlour Car (Santa Fe observation lounge) with movies, games, wine tasting, etc., exclusively for the use of first-class passengers
private accommodation

After I’ve finished the Airline Fare School series I’ll describe the much simpler fare structure that Amtrak uses. But for the purposes of this post I’ll just serve up the numbers.

The one-way fares you see below are the lowest possible for one or two persons occupying a roomette (the least expensive sleeping accommodation) from the boarding city to Santa Barbara. Fares to a nearer destination (San Luis Obispo) or further (Los Angeles) would be slightly lower or higher respectively. Rates do not include possible passenger-type discounts including senior, AAA or accompanied child.

Boarding city One adult    Two adults
Chico $183 $243
Sacramento $177 $231
Martinez $172 $221
Emeryville/Oakland     $141 $187
San Jose $136 $177

Now think about what a bargain this is.

Two people travel from Chico to Santa Barbara for $243 ($121.50 per person). Besides the transportation and magnificent scenery it includes 3 meals for two persons, wine-tasting ($5 extra per person), a private room, and a staffed first-class lounge car with free snacks and beverages.

And it’s readily available at these prices pretty much anytime of the year on short notice.

A very non-scientific test conducted by me today (5 October) checking availability at the lowest possible price from Chico to Santa Barbara and from Sacramento (and all boarding points south) to Santa Barbara beginning 6 October through 12 October showed two out of seven days it was not available, two other days it was available only from Sacramento and 3 other days it was available from both Chico and Sacramento. And sometimes when it’s not available from Sacramento it still will be available from boarding points further south such as Martinez or Oakland.

You can’t do this at Amtrak.com but an Amtrak call center agent can book you in a coach seat part way and then book the sleeper the rest of the way. Example: a coach seat from Chico to Oakland and then a sleeping accommodation from there. (Unlike things that fly, Amtrak call centers do not make you pay extra to speak with and book travel with a real, live person located in the good ol’ USA.)

The train ride to southern California is a beautiful one. Enjoying it in a sleeping accommodation is even better, and paying a remarkably low price closes the sale.

A final observation. This train (and most other long-distance trains) has been operating mostly without the awful delays for which it had become notorious. The sour economy means fewer freight trains and thus less cause for delay.

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3 Responses to Rail – A first-class bargain to southern California

  1. Dale Whited says:

    I rode this train in Sep 1980, from Seattle to L.A. Was very impressed with the coastal scenery north of L.A., which is shown in the photo on this webpage. In Nov 1981, I came out to Sacramento, from here in Omaha NE. Main goal was achieved: Several days of rental car driving all over California. A very, very interesting State.

  2. Dena provin says:

    Rates and times from salinas ca to Oceanside ca ? 🙂 thank you

  3. Greg Fischer says:

    Dena, you will need to contact Amtrak (800-USA-RAIL) or Amtrak.com for rates and availability.

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