Eastbound Chief: A Better Night’s Sleep

The Southwest Chief stops for fuel in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

If I had to choose between the two, I’d go for Train 4, the eastbound Southwest Chief, my reason having nothing to do with the scenery en route. Rather, it has everything to do with the possibility of an early arrival into Los Angeles by the westbound train—occasionally a very early arrival. It’s happened to me . . . twice!

Although the official arrival time in L.A. for Train 3 is just after 8:00 a.m., it’s not uncommon for the Chief to arrive as early as 5:00 in the morning. When competing rail traffic is so light that an early arrival seems likely, a conductor will announce over the train’s PA system that sleeping car passengers may stay on board and sleep in for another couple of hours.

Indeed, on one of my trips on the westbound Chief, the conductor made that very announcement after the dining car had closed for the night. He said they were estimating a 5:15 a.m. arrival into Los Angeles the next morning. But, he said, sleeping car passengers could, if we wished, remain on board for an extra two hours of sleep. We did have to be off the train by 8:00 a.m. because that’s when the consist would be moved to the rail yard.

Our car attendant had other priorities, however. Evidently she wanted to catch the first train south toward San Diego, so she woke up everyone in our sleeper at 4:30 a.m. with a P.A. announcement. In preparation for our 5:15 a.m. arrival into Los Angeles, she said, she would be coming by our rooms in 10 minutes to collect our “dirty linen”. So much for sleeping in.

Basically, in terms of what you see out of the window, I don’t t think there’s much difference between Train 3 and Train 4. Lots of hot and dry scenery, lots of rugged terrain, lots of corn and soy beans the closer you are to Chicago. If you’re OK with possibly getting a very early start on your Southern California day, stay on the westbound Chief all the way to the end of the line at Los Angeles Union Station. Otherwise, I don’t think the scenery is significantly better for either Train 3 or Train 4.