Taking the Amtrak Coast Starlight from Oakland to Burbank

In the morning we headed into the Mission to take BART from 24th St to Lake Merritt. There’s no connection from BART to Amtrak in the east bay – even though BART and Amtrak run right next to each other for over 15 miles from Oakland all the way down to Union City – but from Lake Merritt Station we could walk 15 minutes to Jack London Square Station to catch the Amtrak Coast Starlight. There is a BART to Amtrak connection in Richmond, 25 minutes by BART from Oakland, but it turns out the Coast Starlight doesn’t stop at Richmond Station anyway. So we walked to Jack London Square Station. Our train was right on time at 9:09 am.

About an hour after boarding, our train stopped and we were informed that a train ahead of us had struck an individual on the tracks. We sat outside of Fremont for about 3 hours while that train swapped crews and waited for the coroner. The announcements were solemn at first – the incident was referred to as a “trespasser strike”, which in northern California means the individual intended to end their own life – but as time wore on the gallows humor of the crew came out as we were told that “coroners in this state move slower than molasses in January – and that’s very slow”.

Eventually, with no fanfare, we started moving again.

At Salinas we were told we could get off the train, but the crew couldn’t tell us when the train would start moving again. So nobody went far. We were there maybe five minutes.

The tracks looked like this all the way from Oakland to Salinas. Around Oakland there were more burnt and rusted out cars, around Salinas more tents. The unhoused population in early 2022 was 9,747 in Alameda County and 2,047 in Monterey County.

By sunset we were supposed to be on the coast past Santa Barbara, but the sun was setting and we hadn’t even passed San Luis Obispo yet. San Luis Obispo is almost 100 miles from Santa Barbara.

Our cabin attendant let us open the windows “as long as you don’t stick your head out too far [and get hit by something]”, so we made the best of the sunset light and took shots out of the moving train until night fell.

Around midnight, three hours after we were scheduled to reach our destination, the train arrived at Van Nuys station – one stop before our destination – and was held for inspection. Despite continuous assurances that the train was about to leave, we sat there for an hour. Had we distrusted the crew’s time estimates – and we should have known better by then – we could have disembarked at Van Nuys and easily beaten the train to our destination near Burbank. Instead, we disembarked at Burbank around 1:30 in the morning.