Chris Reed rides Amtrak's Pacific Surfliner from LA to San Diego
A new environmentally-friendly Siemens Charger made in a solar-powered factory in California. They weigh 121 tonnes and can reach 201km/h, although the top speed on this route is 145kmh. Theoretically. I doubt we topped 100kmh.
The journey: Los Angeles' Union Station to San Diego.
The price: US$35.65 ($57) for economy, $54.65 ($87) for business.
Duration: A minute shy of three hours. Theoretically.
Station experience: Union Station is a gem. In the golden age of Hollywood it was the way the stars got in and out of town. A combination of Californian Mission style and Art Deco, it's a cathedral to the joys of train travel. Massive high ceilings engender a sense of space and hush. Even the integration of the inevitable fast food concessions is comparably tasteful.
On time: At exactly 7.02am there was a jolt and we eased into the pink morning.
My seat: After taking public transport from LAX to a hotel near Union Station I could justify the little extra for business. Seats were in a two-deck coach, one of six pulled by a beast of an engine. There was one business coach. Most of the seats were in pairs with a handful of quads around tables. Most were upstairs. It wasn't super-modern but it was clean with comfy reclining seats and plenty of legroom. There was free Wi-Fi and we were offered free pastries before departure, with complimentary self-service coffee, water and newspapers.
Luggage: I was told to take my suitcase upstairs even though there were multiple empty racks downstairs. My suitcase was very heavy. There was lots of room though.
Fellow passengers: Business was less than 1/10th full when we left LA. Few people looked particularly businessy. Lots of people were respectfully quiet. Naturally I was in front of a blabbermouth and his unwitting companion. I coped for 75 minutes before turning to the Athletico Mince podcast.
The service: Everyone was polite and helpful.
Food and drink: The self-service coffee wouldn't get many props on Ponsonby Rd, but there's something about being in America that makes filter coffee tolerable. Certainly at a little after 7am the day after landing on an overnight flight from Auckland. I had loads. There was a cafe car selling everything from breakfast sandwiches to Bloody Marys, but I didn't need to visit - I was still full from a Mexican combination plate at LA's Grand Central Market the night before.
Toilets: Tired and basic but clean.
The entertainment: The scenery or BYO. Although I turned to a podcast, you come for the scenery. Theoretically. The full Surfliner experience starts in San Luis Obispo, almost halfway between LA and San Francisco. It's one of the most famous coastlines in the world, with fair reason. But on my leg, it took 80-odd minutes to shake off the worst of the urban sprawl - a plain of light industry giving way to the soft, low suburbia of Orange County. We went through beautiful, historic stations, passed the LA Angels baseball stadium and crossed lots of those concrete waterways where they do mad chase sequences in films. We eventually saw the sea 105 minutes in. Then there was a string of narrow beaches backed by jaunty holiday homes, the water pockmarked with surfers, the bleached sand and oceanside paths a haven for yoga practitioners and joggers. Then a long stretch when the line was separated from the ocean by parched scrub. Then the Truman Show -esque idyll of Oceanside. I felt healthy by osmosis. But we were running increasingly late. I had an appointment near San Diego 90 minutes after the scheduled conclusion and still had to pick up a hire car. I bailed a stop early after long delays at a single-track stretch and felt quite stressed for a while.
Would I ride again? A qualified yes. I'd travel everywhere by train if I could. I love it. This was a relatively cheap experience. The alternative would have been schlepping back to the airport for a short flight or braving the 86-lane freeway in a hire car. Were I on holiday, the delay wouldn't have mattered too much. I wasn't, so it did.