The Sunset Limited is descendent of the former Southern Pacific Railway's service of the same name. It is the oldest named train in continuous operation, with service dating to 1894.
At the time it was built, Washington Union Station covered more ground than any other building in the United States and was the largest train station in the world.
Amtrak operates 15 long-distance trains over 18,500 route miles serving 39 states and the District of Columbia.
by Daniel Kahane
Holly and I met in Seattle, Washington, on March 2, 2012, at a house concert where I was performing. To make a long story short, I already had plans to travel on the Acela Express from New York Penn Station through Washington, DC to New Orleans. On a wing and a prayer, I invited Holly to meet me in New Orleans to go to Jazz Fest, explore the Crescent City, then return with me on the Sunset Limited.
To my amazement and delight, she agreed. In the subsequent days of email and very long telephone conversations between Brooklyn, New York, and Seattle, it became clear to us both that we would meet in New Orleans and become engaged to be married.
Our first kiss was in the great hall at the Amtrak station in New Orleans. I stepped off the train, having just had the thrill of crossing Lake Ponchartrain where it feels like, looks like, and the train is almost skimming the water. We digress. She was there, across the big hall, stunning, and looking and feeling just a little bit shy. So was I, shy, that is. We hugged for a long time.
At majestic Union Station in Washington, DC, I had shared a Red Cap ride with an older couple, Lon and Dee Dee, from a small town in West Texas. With his Stetson hat and his accent as warm and smooth as a Texas breeze, Lon stepped right out of the Wild West. I told them I was on my way to the Big Easy to propose marriage to my beloved. They appeared again as Holly and I waited for a taxi in New Orleans and offered their congratulations, though I had not yet popped the question.
Against all odds, we saw them one more time outside an antique store in the French Quarter as we headed for Café du Monde to eat beignets. We greeted each other warmly, then Lon looked at Holly and said, “This guys a treasure, but y’all gonna have to keep an eye on him.” Hmm…
We became engaged March 21 at the Candlelight Lounge in the Treme listening to authentic Dixieland Jazz, then soon headed back to California on the Sunset Limited in our cozy little Roomette. Heading through the lush, green bayou country saw my first wild American Alligator from the window of the Lounge Car.
We arrived in San Antonio at 03:00 (that's 3 o'clock in the morning), and set out walking. We realized we could make it to the Alamo and back without having to spend an extra two days in San Antonio waiting for the next train. We arrived about 4:00 am and feel extremely fortunate to have experienced the night lit, haunting beauty of that hallowed ground all by ourselves.
This time traveling on Train #1 eastbound, we arrived in San Antonio a bit earlier and took in the "Festival" parade and the Riverwalk.
On the last leg of our return home on the Coast Starlight, we meet Chicago Red, a bluesman from Chicago now based in Los Angeles with serious music biz creds who shared his amazing CD with us (I gave him a copy of mine).
Our Amtrak story continues as we travel back from California to New Orleans departing April 27 for our Cinco de Mayo wedding on the night of the supermoon. "Red" meets us at venerable Los Angeles Union Station to wish us bon voyage, and in the shaded patio of the Trax restaurant while we sip yummy gourmet gazpacho requests that I co-produce his next CD. Good Amtrak business karma.
Again, on account of the new schedule, the eastbound Sunset Limited took one of its last runs through the Salton "sink" during the daylight hours. Being an old desert rat, I was thrilled to have breathtaking vistas of my favorite California desert wilderness, the Anza Borrego State Park. Texas is big and beautiful. In Louisiana, I saw my first wild American Alligator and some great birds from the window of the Lounge Car.
This time Holly and I arrive in New Orleans together and delight in stepping into that sub-tropical warmth. Our time in New Orleans is full of magic and laughter, phenomenal food and friendship. Southern hospitality is not an urban myth. Our wedding in City Park is picture perfect and we especially want to share this part of our "train story."
There is a small engine that pulls a train carrying families around the lakes and the ancient oaks draped with Spanish moss. The spot we choose is about 25 feet from the little tracks. As we kiss for the first time as a married couple, the train passes right in front of us, the families on board cheer and the engineer blows the whistle.
We're on our way home. Our Amtrak Roomette is our Honeymoon Suite. We were treated like royalty by the Dining Car staff, and our Conductor kept us grinning with his wry southern wit. Who ever thought arriving early would give one pause to think… the "Limited" came in an hour or so early which made it 4:15 in the morning. Our car is waiting in long-term parking (a short walk on one level - thank you Amtrak) and we were able to slip out of L.A. and head home before the morning rush.
We traveled through America’s backyard, the desert borderlands, over the Pecos River Bridge, past the Lake Amistad, and through the "great" state of Louisiana. Traveling through the industrial port cities and into the bayou country that we have come to love, making new friends as we savor these vistas from the Lounge Car, there's one prevailing sentiment we continue to exchange… more train trips with Amtrak as soon as possible.