The Coast Starlight (3)

The Coast Starlight (3) – US Rail Journeys Series 2 Episode 23

Descending the Cuesta Grade:

The Coast Starlight (3) starts as we pass through some of the tunnels at the summit of the Cuesta Grade. We descend at a rate of 2 feet for every 100 feet forwards. Because of the incline passenger trains are limited to 30 mph and freight trains 25 mph.

There are horseshoe turns where I can see both ends of the train from my seat in the Observation car. The highway runs parallel with us for part of the journey. We pass through beautiful scenery with many valleys on the descent.

Below me I can see the Stenner Creek Trestle, built in 1904 from components fabricated in Pittsburgh. The components were brought west by rail.

Near the bottom we pass a State Penitentiary. Dr Timothy Leary, a leading member of the 1960s psychedelic counterculture, apparently escaped from here.

San Luis Obispo:

We arrive at the station at San Luis Obispo as the late running northbound Coast Starlight is about to leave for the climb up the Cuesta Grade and on towards Seattle.

As we pass some modern housing beside the tracks we see a father, with his young child, waving to us as we pass.

On the edge of the Pacific Coast:

We reach the Pacific coast after travelling through an agricultural area. We emerge through the dunes and see the sea!

The journey along the coastline is one of superlatives. We are so close to the sea. We are only a few feet from the edge. At times it is probably only 30 feet (10 metres) above the beach. So close to the Pacific Ocean.

We travel through the Vandenberg Air Force Base – the train goes across the base where no road would be allowed to go.

We travel for over 100 miles along the stunning coastline. For people in Britain think Dawlish on steroids!

On to Santa Barbara:

At the end of the journey we turn inland towards Santa Barbara. As the episode ends the conductor announces that we’ll arrive in 10 minutes.

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Next up:

I hope that you’ve enjoyed this podcast. If so, please join me in two weeks time when we travel from Santa Barbara to Los Angeles Union Station on the Coast Starlight.


To visit the Amtrak website please follow this link.

You can also listen to this podcast on Amazon Music, iTunes/Apple Podcasts, Castbox, Deezer, Podchaser, Spotify and Stitcher.


AKM Music has licensed the theme, Steam Railway, for use in this podcast.

Storyblocks has licensed Surfin Ghoul by Paul Mitchell Beebe and Second Wave by Lance Conrad for use as incidental music in this episode.

© The MrT Podcast Studio 2019 – 2020

Author: Tim D

In the early 1970s Mr Timothy & his Phonograph was a popular mobile disco around Leeds University and Tim was known as MrT. Tim also spent 9 years broadcasting a weekly programme on Hospital Radio in Wakefield. He worked for more than 40 years for large industrial organisations and spent his last 15 years in global commercial management roles. Following retirement he started making podcasts in 2017.