Amtrak’s Sunset Limited: A Ride Worth Taking.

In many ways, this train could be considered the flagship for all of Amtrak’s long-distance trains. After all, the westbound Sunset Limited is designated Train #1 and its sister train, the eastbound version, is Train #2. The trains operate three days a week in each direction between Los Angeles and New Orleans. I do hear people say that the scenery is monotonous and it’s certainly true that West Texas seems to go on forever. But I like this train and have ridden it at least a half dozen times. Despite all those miles of desert, there are several highlights to the trip that are unique among all of Amtrak’s long distance trains.
Two-and-a-half hours after leaving Los Angeles, the Sunset reaches Palm Springs where you’ll see an absolutely astonishing number of wind turbines—and I mean literally thousands of them. By now, most of us are used to seeing a few of these things scattered around the landscape. But here in Palm Springs, they’ve taken it to a whole new level. Click to enlarge the photo and you’ll see many hundreds more in the distance.
Pecos River
I took this photo as the eastbound Sunset crossed the Pecos River. It was Judge Roy Bean who claimed to be “the only law west of the Pecos” although, in fact, he was never actually a real judge … a technicality pretty much lost on the men he hanged. The bridge was completed in 1954 and is 275 feet high.
Mex border
Just after the Sunset crosses from New Mexico into Texas and a few minutes before stopping in El Paso, you literally travel within a few feet of Mexico. That wire fence is the border … and it’s a good visual reminder of the difficulties involved in truly securing our border.
Just minutes before reaching New Orleans, the Sunset limited crosses the Mississippi River on the amazing Huey Long bridge. Originally built in 1935, the bridge handles both rail and automobile traffic. The longest span is 790 feet, you’re 153 feet above the water when you cross the Mississippi, and because the railroad portion of the bridge is almost 4.5 miles long, you have plenty of time to enjoy the view.
There is one complaint about the Sunset Limited with which I agree completely. This train should run daily! NARP (the National Association of Railroad Passengers) has been advocating that for several years because the three-times-a-week schedule makes the Sunset hard to book and of course that has a negative impact on ridership. Pretty basic stuff isn’t it? The more convenient the schedule, the more people will ride.
A big part of the problem is that the Sunset runs on track owned by the Union Pacific Railroad and UP has quoted an absurd number of millions that Amtrak would have to pay to operate the train for those additional four days. However, even at three days a week, the Sunset Limited is very much worth doing.