20 March 2011

Rail - Another Tehachapis detour on the Coast Starlight (Spring 2011)

Back in October 2008 I had the pleasure of being able to ride the Coast Starlight over the Tehachapi mountains as it detoured away from the coast line due to track work being performed there.

Northbound Coast Starlight, train 14, 29 October 2008 in the Tehachapis

Well, the opportunity is again available for you to take this ride that has not been available on a regular basis since Southern Pacific's San Joaquin Daylight was discontinued with the advent of Amtrak on 1 May 1971.

For the following three periods, the southbound Coast Starlight, train 11, will detour via the San Joaquin Valley and the Tehachapi Mountains to accommodate Union Pacific track work .  (The northbound sister train, # 14, will operate via the normal route.)

- 23-31 March
- 8-15 April
- 23-25 April

(Here's the pop-up info that appears in Amtrak.com.  Be aware that sometimes detours end sooner then advertised if the maintenance work is completed early so you may want to reconfirm that the train will detour before you travel.)

In addition to the fact that this detour only affects the southbound train, the route of the detour is different.  The detour in '08 was nonstop (except for crew changes) between Los Angeles and Sacramento.

This spring, the detour offers more bang for the buck.  Train 11 will operate normally as far as Oakland, but following that will traverse the Altamont Pass (via the original Western Pacific route used now only by freights and ACE commuter trains) and then run down the San Joaquin Valley to Bakersfield where it takes the rugged Tehachapi route, along the west side of the Mojave Desert, and finally down into the L.A. Basin.

What is not stated is whether the train will use the BNSF tracks also used by regularly scheduled Amtrak San Joaquin trains, or use the old Southern Pacific mainline.  The detour in the autumn of '08 used the old S.P. route, and I expect and hope that this one will, too, so as to really conjure the ghost of the old San Joaquin Daylight.

In a springtime as wet as this one has been, it should be a lovely trip across the Tehachapis.  You may even see some snow, as you can see in an old April 1971 photo from the last days of the S.P. train that I used in my '08 blog post about the trip.

To get the most out of the trip I recommend you book a sleeping accommodation (even though it's a purely daytime trip unless you originate in the Pacific Northwest) so you can enjoy the service in the Pacific Parlour Car.  (Remember that when you book a sleeping accommodation on Amtrak it includes your meals.)  If your party is one or two persons book a roomette.  If your party is three persons you can probably get Amtrak to allow all three to occupy a bedroom accommodation, but you will need to book that with Amtrak's call center (800-USA-RAIL [872-7245]).  Otherwise for parties of one or two, you can book either type of room at Amtrak.com or through the call center without having to pay a "live person" fee.

Sample prices using availability and fares for travel 10 April from Oakland to Los Angeles as of 20 March 2011.

Rail fare (per person before discounts such as AAA, senior, etc.): $54
Accommodation charge (for the room, not per person): $101 roomette, $213 bedroom

Note that the accommodations charges are the lowest possible but what is actually available when you book may be higher.

If you ride the detour comment back on this blog to let other readers know about your trip.


  1. I just took the detour today. I wasn't even looking to take it - wanted the coast route. Alas it was an amazing treat.

    Route followed Niles Canyon, up to Lathrop where it did a time consuming change of divisions (don't know names.) Then it followed the old SP (now UP) corridor along 99 instead of the BNSF corridor into Bakersfield and then onto Tehachapi and down to LA through Soledad Canyon. There were no official stops between Oakland and LA, however, we were allowed to have a break outside in Bakersfield when the crew changed.

    So beautiful up there! I'll be posting some shots on Flickr hopefully. Took lots of video too. For $54 not a bad deal.

  2. Brian, after you've added your pictures to Flickr, please comment back with a link. I'm sure readers (and that includes me) would like to see the photos you took on the detour.

  3. Greg, Thanks for the recommendation. I've finally put the photos online. You can find the link below. Since I hark from Fresno, my favorite video is of the pass through Fresno on the UP right of way where California High Speed Rail will go. Granted, it will be about 30 to 50 feet off the ground.


  4. Brian, thanks very much for posting the Flickr link to your photos. Very nice! The Tehachapi pass was very green thanks to all of the late spring rain. I wonder when the next detour will take place.