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California – August 2011

Right, here we go... I've been back in Australia for over a week and am only just getting on top of the stack of photos taken from my most recent holiday. This was the not-Japan trip and it began in the USA.


The goal was simple... fly the red-eye A380 from Melbourne to LAX, jump in a hire-car and make it to San Francisco the 'scenic way'. A few days would then be spent in San Francisco before returning to LA via the inland route. This would include Yosemite and a few of the larger railroad junctions as seen from Google Maps.

San Luis Obispo

The Pacific Surfliner (I think?) happened to arrive just as we did. There were a few UP Locos stored as well... maybe for banking? The town was great, unfortunately we didn't check out the coffee; there were quite a few lively places around the station to do so though.

Amtrak and UP at San Luis Obispo Amtrak 90208 at San Luis Obispo UP at San Luis Obispo

The pedestrian bridge at San Luis Obispo was well designed. It provided a great view of the station and yard too.

San Luis Obispo Pedestrian Bridge at San Luis Obispo Pedestrian Bridge at San Luis Obispo

I had always thought that the Bachmann models of the Amtrak cars were just cheap and didn't include side-frames on the bogies... turns out they're actually like this in reality... not the prettiest view.

Frameless bogie San Luis Obispo Station Amtrak at San Luis Obispo

Paso Robles

The next stop via Highway 101 was Paso Robles. Not much happening here at all... I nearly expected to see the same Amtrak train coming through, but it seems that we beat it way too easily. The station has a Sushi shop built in, but the prices weren't what we were willing to dish out despite paying the US$.

Paso Robles Station Paso Robles Station Sushi at Paso Robles Station

Quarry Lake (east of Watsonville)

An accidental detour saw us visit a quarry near Quarry Lake. The initial plan was to divert from 101 to check out the seemingly large junction at Watsonville, but the weather and time wasn't on our side.

Quarry Lake Rake at Quarry Lake Facilities at Quarry Lake

Caltrain Station, San Francisco

Caltrain is a loco-hauled/control-cab operating passenger service from San Francisco (right next to the baseball stadium) down to San Jose. Turns out there's a few great restaurants next to the station in San Fran and whilst waiting for dinner I had a few minutes with a friends camera to check out the yard. Fortunately the sun was also in my favour.

San Francisco Caltrain Station Line-up at Caltrain Station 9xx Locomotives at Caltrain Station
Passenger cars at Caltrain Station

As you can see, it's a terminus; they'll end up in the water unless the dig or build over to Oakland. Unfortunately I didn't get to see any of the trains in action, nor ride one, but it's something I'll go back again for.

Trams/Trolley buses in San Fran

I was quite impressed to see the trolley bus routes in San Francisco. I had never actually seen any running and the biggest shock was the lack of noise. I'm used to diesel buses here in Australia and the electric versions are bloody quiet. I imagine it could even be a safety issue if no one can hear them coming?
Another impressive feature was that the trams used one of the trolley bus wires where they shared paths. Of course, the bus would not pick up the other polarity from the ground, so they needed two wires in the air. Trams, on the other hand, only used one and so you'd see, at intersections, trolley buses and trams banked up behind each other.

Trolley Bus Tram #1893 PCC Trolley #1051

San Francisco Cable Car Museum

This is a must-see for any rail enthusiast. Sure, the they're not exactly 'trams', but the techonology behind the system is awesome. This Museum actually still acts as the motive power source for the cars. The cables are turned here to pull the cars up the gradients. The cars are controlled by levers where the driver can choose to detach from the cable and apply brakes... i.e. allowing them to stop at 'stops'. Hence the cables are perpetually spinning, or during hours of operation anyway.

Cable Car Museum Cable Car Museum Cable Car Museum
Cable Car Museum Cable Car Museum Cable Car Museum
Cable Car Museum Cable Car Museum

And then... the Cable Cars...

The world-famous cars that run on the cables are a tourist trap. The ticket price is 4x a standard fare and the queues to ride them are usually large. The cars to move quickly, but I imagine there's a limit to the amount of cars on the cable at once as you'll often see the drivers at the end stops waiting for the other cars to climb the hill. Pretty frustrating as someone in the line waiting.

As for the ride, the gradients are awesome and the passing is pretty dangerous... hang of the side if you dare, but keep your head in!

San Francisco Cable Cars Cable Car Turntable Cable Car Turntable
Powell and Hyde (or Mason) Heading into the city Close passing
Close passing Another pass


A random stop through Oakdale on the way to the Yosemite National Park found a random caboose and the Sierra Railroad's Dinner Train. Not much was happening around the yards, so I didn't hang around long.

Caboose in Oakdale Mendocino Railway at Oakdale Mendocino Railway at Oakdale


The initial perception of Fresno indicated little railway infrastructure and life... fortunately I was wrong. After a little false navigation following disused lines I came across 'South Railroad Avenue' which followed the main line. It turns out that there's a junction and then the BNSF depot. Finally some real american horsepower. Santa Fe had always been my favourite railroad (first model train, etc...) and it was nice to see them, although in the amalgamated BNSF livery.

BNSF Locomotive at Fresno BNSF Locomotive at Fresno Stored freight cars at Fresno
BNSF Locomotive at Fresno BNSF Locomotive at Fresno

The last miles on Interstate 5

After Fresno the countdown was on to get back to LA before midnight. The plane to NY was leaving early the next morning and we needed some time to check out Hollywood. Along the way back there were a few freighters hanging around loading sites, one was from Golden State Feed and Grain and another from Rail America.

Golden State Feed and Grain Unused signals Grain silos
Rail America Rail America

And that was it... New York was next.