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Home > Blog > Exhibit Train Blog, 2011-2012 > San Diego, December 3 and 4

San Diego, December 3 and 4

Posted by admin at Dec 06, 2011 10:25 AM |
What’s in a name? Railroads—including Amtrak—have long used changing symbols, names, and slogans to redefine their services.
San Diego station's classical facade
Interior of the Santa Fe station
Santa Fe logo in decorative tile

San Diego station's classical
fountain and façade

Interior of the Santa Fe station

Santa Fe logo in decorative tile

Original Pacific Surfliner poster is on display in the Exhibit Train
Exhibit Train visits San Diego
Visitors meet our event partners inside the station

Original Pacific Surfliner poster
is on display in the Exhibit Train

Exhibit Train visits San Diego

Visitors meet our event partners
inside the station

As we pulled into San Diego, the station’s two towers, crowned with gleaming tiled domes, came into view. At that moment, it seemed hard to believe that only five weeks ago we started the West Coast leg of the Exhibit Train tour 1200 miles to the north in Seattle.

The historic Santa Fe Depot in downtown San Diego has to rank as one of the most charming and beautiful in the Amtrak national network. Opened to the public in 1915, it was constructed by the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railroad (ATSF) to accommodate the large crowds expected that year for the city’s Panama-California Exposition. Designed in the Spanish Revival style, the building originally included an enclosed patio with bubbling fountain, shady track-side arcade, and interior spaces accented by colorful tiles.

Exhibitors, including the National Association of Railroad Passengers, California Operation Lifesaver, and the Metropolitan Transit System, set up tables in the majestic waiting room, whose gabled ceiling of natural redwood beams is supported by a series of large two-story arches from which hang bronze chandeliers. Looking closely, one can see the old symbol of the ATSF—a cross-within-a-circle—incorporated into all aspects of the decorative tile, metal, and plasterwork.

We were also joined by members of the Pacific Southwest Railway Museum (PSRM) who helped us staff the Display Cars. A non-profit educational organization dedicated to the preservation and interpretation of railroads as they existed in the Pacific Southwest, the PSRM runs excursion trains and maintains historic depots in nearby Campo and La Mesa.

Playful squeals echoed across the room as children used their imaginations to enter the world of the Chuggington gang. If Brewster, Koko, and Wilson ever took a trip to the U.S., San Diego would definitely be a great place to visit and learn about American railroading—particularly the ATSF’s struggle to build its own transcontinental route through the American Southwest and into southern California. If they were lucky, the young locomotives might even get to travel the route of Amtrak’s Pacific Surfliners, which offers breathtaking views of the coast and the ocean. Perhaps Mayor Pullman and his nephew Denzel could come along and represent the town of Chuggington on an official trade or cultural exchange mission to San Diego!

Although the Surfliner name was only inaugurated in 2000, the route from San Diego to Los Angeles—referred to as the “Surf Line” by the ATSF—dates to the late 19th century. The Surfliner's predecessor, the San Diegan, began service in 1938 and continued to be operated under Amtrak after the new company took over the nation’s intercity passenger rail system in 1971. The name change came about as a way to rebrand the service after an intense period of investment in the 1990s that included refurbished tracks and stations, new rolling stock, and increased frequencies. Today, the Pacific Surfliner is Amtrak’s third busiest service after the Acela Express and the Northeast Regional.

To celebrate the name change, Amtrak produced memorabilia such as clocks, pens, and pins, a selection of which is found in a display case aboard the Exhibit Train. One of my favorite pieces is a poster by Michael Schwab, an artist who designed many of the route posters still used by Amtrak in its advertising campaigns. It features a Surfliner whose bi-level California Cars wear the service’s distinctive silver and blue livery. The train glides along the shore with the ocean seemingly within reach, and the bright sun shines from above to warm the scene.

Well, as they say, the railroad never stops—we’re heading back north for a weekend amid the Art Deco glory that is Los Angeles Union Station. See you there from 10-4 on Saturday and Sunday!