The Coast Starlight, which operates daily in both directions between Seattle and Los Angeles, is my favorite of all the Amtrak long-distance trains. The southbound train runs along the shores of Puget Sound, climbs over the Cascade Range in Oregon, rolls through the lush Central Valleys of California, and down the coastline into Los Angeles, with the Pacific Ocean just yards outside your roomette window.
The scenery is certainly one reason for the Coast Starlight’s popularity. But – for me, anyway – the real attraction is the wonderful Pacific Parlour Car that is found only on this train. Instead of taking the Southwest Chief direct from Chicago to Los Angeles, on multiple occasions I have opted instead to take the California Zephyr to Davis, California, where I spend the night and catch the southbound Coast Starlight early the next morning.
That’s an extra day added to my trip, another Amtrak ticket, and one additional night in a hotel, just so I can enjoy the ride from Davis to L.A., relaxing for much of the time in the parlour car (yes, spelled with the “u” to give it just a bit more panache).
These cars are for the exclusive use of sleeping car passengers and feature eight overstuffed swiveling easy chairs, a lounge area conducive for conversation with fellow passengers, and several booths where you can choose to have you meals instead of going to the dining car. And there’s a serving area with an attendant, who is ready to provide you with the beverage of your choice. (Mine is a Bloody Mary immediately after boarding in Davis at 7:00 a.m. Breakfast to follow.)
Having read the preceding paragraphs, you will therefore understand why a cold chill went up my spine at the news that Amtrak will be taking the Pacific Parlour Cars out of service in January for “restoration”. Supposedly, they will be returned to service by the middle of March.
But these are “cost-cutting” days, with influential members of Congress demanding that Amtrak do whatever might be necessary to achieve break-even. So far, as a result, those of us who travel in sleeping cars no longer get newspapers slipped under our doors during the night … the little bottle of cheap sparkling wine no longer welcomes us aboard … and (this is the biggie!) the coffee pots in each sleeping car are now unplugged at 9:30 in the morning instead of making hot coffee available throughout the day. If they’re trying to save pennies on newspapers and coffee, why wouldn’t they be tempted to save dollars by eliminating …
No! I won’t say it. I’ll try to not even think it.
But hear this, (Amtrak President) Joe Boardman: If you eliminate that wonderful vestige of the Golden Age, you do so at your peril. Because Hell hath no fury like Parlour Car passengers scorned.