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Christof Spieler @christofspieler
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Running an hour late out of Beaumont, Amtrak #1, the westbound Sunset Limited from New Orleans to Los Angeles, crosses the San Jacinto River.
Half an hour later, it passes Englewood Intermodal Yard, piled high with containers from East Asia.
…and then crosses Tower 26, where rail lines from north, south, east, and west coverage within sight of Downtown Houston.
Because of a fast run from Beaumont (or maybe the miracle of padded schedules), it arrives in Houston only 20 minutes late.
After a pause for the smokers on board, it leaves only 6 minutes late. Its will be another 16 hours before there’s another train here. The 10th largest metro area in the United States gets 6 trains a week.
Next stop San Antonio. In another day and a half — early on Monday morning — this train will be in LA. The station canopy is the last remnant of Houston’s Grand Central Station, built 1934.
Right now that train is near Valentine, Texas, where the railroad passes right by Prada Marfa. I saw it there in 2012.
Valentine has a population of only 134, so two Superliner cars hold as many people as live in the town. The train is a little island of civilization traveling through a lot of emptiness.
Right now, the Sunset is pulling in El Paso, 1:39 late. Together with Ciudad Juarez (the upper half of the photo) it forms one of the more isolated metro areas in the US — 200 miles west to Tucson, north to Albuquerque, east to Midland, or south to Chihuahua.
Here’s #1’s eastbound counterpart — #2 — leaving El Paso’s downtown train trench behind it in 2013. I’m out of Sunset photos, but I’m enjoying the vicarious trip west, so I’ll add some as the train passes places I’ve been.
Leaving El Paso, the train runs alongside the border fence and the Rio Grande, sharing a narrow strip of land below the UTEP campus with I-10 and the BNSF line to Albuquerque.
…and then crosses the river into New Mexico on a dramatic truss bridge. It has spent 23 hours — nearly half its total New Orleans to Los Angeles trip — in Texas. This section of New Mexico was purchased by the US from Mexico in 1853 in part to make this rail line possible.
For the most part, the Sunset’s route is pretty flat. Past Benson, AZ, though, the train is now winding through the mountains. At Davidson Canyon, one of the UP’s two tracks crosses the other. #1 is taking the upper track.
The sun has set for the second time on the trip. Half an hour ahead, in the darkness, is Tucson. Before daybreak, the train should be in Los Angeles.
The Tucson photos are from May 2017. For anyone wondering how I know where the train is, check out
Overnight, the passengers will miss the Saguaro cacti at Picacho Peak in the Sonoran Desert, just past Tucson, before the sort-of-near Phoenix stop at Maricopa.
The train is scheduled to cross the Colorado River into California around midnight. Anyone on board unfortunate enough to want to go to Palm Springs is mentally preparing themselves for a 2:00 am arrival.
(As of right now, at Tucson, the train is an hour late.)
A few minutes ago, #1 crossed Beaumont Hill and dropped into the LA basin. After hundreds of miles of desert, it’s surrounded by masses of people. More people live in the LA metro than in New Orleans, Houston, San Antonio, El Paso, Tucson, and Phoenix combined.
Right now, the trains is rolling past Colton Yard, just southwest of San Bernardino. (Photo was Oct 2017.)
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