Railfanning Correspondence- February 2016



See Nevada from the California Zephyr

AMTRAK California ZephyrFor a lot of people, railfanning means finding a location overlooking some railroad tracks, setting up a lawn chair and an umbrella, and listening to a radio or scanner to hear the trains coming. Then, when a train passes by, taking pictures, shooting video, or just enjoying the view.

That is a great way to enjoy trains, particularly if there is an unexpected surprise in the train consist such as a locomotive from a railroad back east, Canada, or even Mexico. Railroads even paint locomotives in “heritage” paint schemes to memorialize “fallen flag” railroads that were absorbed during mergers. Sometimes, an unusual cargo will be transported; military equipment moves by train can be very interesting, or how about watching the fuselage of a new jet pass by on a special flatcar?

We love to watch trains pass by and we often seek out particularly scenic locations when we go out to view trains, but we also like the idea of being aboard a train and watching pretty scenery roll past outside the train window. That is where AMTRAK’s California Zephyr comes in.

The California Zephyr is consistently lauded as one of the top 10 railroad experiences in the United States, mostly because of the stunning scenery it passes on its route between the San Francisco Bay Area and Chicago. Much of that scenery is concentrated in the Sierra Nevada and Rocky Mountains, just west and east of Nevada, but Nevada’s many smaller mountain ranges and wide open spaces can make for some captivating viewing as well.

In addition to the scenery, you have the experience of reliving a small slice of American history; riding aboard the country’s first transcontinental rail route, it was established back in the 1860s. We are just three years from celebrating the 150th anniversary of the driving of the “Golden Spike” at Promontory Point, Utah, and the linking of railroads from west and east. If history appeals to you, you have another great reason to ride aboard the California Zephyr.

Two California Zephyr trains cross Nevada daily. AMTRAK Train No. 5 crosses Nevada from east to west on its way to the San Francisco Bay Area, and AMTRAK Train No. 6 crosses the state from west to east on its way to Chicago. Both trains stop at three locations in Nevada: Reno, Winnemucca and Elko. You can board the train at any of those locations, and you can disembark at any of them, too.

The current AMTRAK California Zephyr Timetable, effective January 11, 2016, can be viewed HERE. The timetable provides the information you need to plan a rail  trip across part or all of Nevada, or even to points outside the “Silver State”.

So, with timetable in hand, let’s talk about Train No.6 first. It departs Reno at 4:06 pm daily and arrives in Winnemucca at 7:08 pm. From there, it is on to Elko with an arrival time of 9:31 pm. From Elko, the train continues east to its next stop at Salt Lake City and then subsequent points further east. If you want to ride the California Zephyr to view Nevada scenery, you will want to ride during the summer when daylight lasts the longest.

You can get on the train in Reno, or even Truckee, California, which is really far western Nevada, and ride across as much of the state as suits your fancy and then get off in Winnemucca, Elko or Salt Lake City and check into a hotel for a relaxing stay.  After that, you have the option of heading back west on the California Zephyr, or returning home by other means.

Let’s go back to the timetable and review the schedule for a trip from east to west on Train No. 5.  We see the train departs Elko at 3:03 am daily.  Ouch.  You may not want to get up in time to be at the station there by 3 am.  But maybe you don’t mind getting up early.  Let’s look at Winnemucca.  Train No. 5 departs Winnemucca daily at 5:40 am, still early, but much more civilized.  Once again, travel in the summer with its early sunrises is desirable for best viewing of scenery.  The train rolls into Reno for a still-early arrival at 8:36 am.

One little tidbit to consider.  Train No. 5 starts in Chicago and crosses much of the country before it reaches Nevada.  That long distance provides many opportunities for the train to be delayed by other rail traffic and by other causes.  It is entirely possible the train will be running two or three hours behind schedule, affording you the opportunity to get some extra “shut eye” before heading to the station.  You can track the train’s progress and updated arrival times on line with an AMTRAK smartphone application.

You might want to ride the train in one direction or the other, or maybe both.  You have options and the train is a great platform from which to enjoy Nevada’s plenitude of scenic mountains and its vast wide open spaces.  In addition to the great viewing, you have the historical aspects of a train ride and the experience of being aboard the train for a ride on the steel rails.

If the thought of a ride on the California Zephyr appeals to you, start your trip at the AMTRAK Home Page and enjoy your ride across the “Silver State”.

John Gaffney