All Aboard the Pacific Coastliner

There is no better way to experience the California Coast than by train. You don’t have to worry about keeping your eyes on the road, the engineer has that covered.

I planned a short train excursion from San Luis Obispo to Santa Barbara. I would head south on the Pacific Surfliner, an AMTRAK rail service from SLO to San Diego. I would then return on the Coast Starlight, one of the few routes that AMTRAK took on from the Coast Daylight. This train (Number 14) starts in Los Angeles and ends in Seattle, running on much of the route used by Southern Pacific’s most famous passenger line, between Los Angeles and San Jose anyway.

I would have a little over three hours to sketch Santa Barbara’s Mission Revival Station and have lunch before heading back to the station to catch the 12:40 Coast Starlight.

The Coast Surfliner pulling into San Luis Obispo Station for its 6:55 AM departure. SLO is the northern most stop on the Surfliner.

I boarded train number 774 and we left at 6:55 on the dot. Once the houses and streets where left behind us soon to be replaced with oak covered Californian rolling hills and plowed farmland.

Once we passed through Guadalupe, the line curved to the east and the Pacific Ocean appeared for the first time. We skirted the edge of Vandenburg Air Force Base and our next stop was the appropriately named Surf. Surf is a former Southern Pacific railroad town. Now there is nothing left but sand dunes and a railroad platform.

Shortly after Surf, our train ground to a halt. The conductor informed us that the engine had lost power, well that was pretty oblivious. We were delayed for almost an hour as the engineer tried to get the locomotive running. You couldn’t beat the view, a stunning panoramic of Big Blue.

While we waited to resume our journey, I watched an entertaining black phoebe hawking for insects in the coastal scrub. I saw many raptors on the route: red-tailed hawk, northern harrier, osprey, bald eagle, America kestrel, peregrine, and many turkey vultures. Four northern flickers fleeing from the oncoming train was a nice bonus.

The delay did give me some extra time to work on my sketch without the movement of the train causing my line-work to waver (featured sketch).

Working on the line work of the interior of the Coast Surfliner. Rail travel can be slow, especially when the train breaks down. All the better to bring along a sketchbook and pencil case. One can never be bored when sketching! (Although I knew I would have less time with my Santa Barbara Station sketch. )

The southbound Surfliner slowly started up again on our journey toward San Diego, albeit one hour off schedule.

Pelagic birding from the second story of the Coast Surfliner.

The shadow of the Surfliner on a trestle on a Pacific Coast beach. At times on the Coast Route, the train seems to be on the very edge of the Pacific Ocean. This line is stunning.

The Coast Surfliner being pushed to San Diego as it leaves Santa Barbara Station running one hour late. Overall a wonderful ride, except for the breaking down part. Now it’s time to sketch!

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