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Desert Wind Blows In for 1st Fullerton Run

Times Staff Writer

Amid cheers and music, the Desert Wind steamed into the Fullerton station for the first time Sunday afternoon, bringing new long-distance rail service to Orange County.

Harley Hartman, a Fullerton businessman bound for Las Vegas, was one of the first passengers to climb the steps of the Amtrak Superliner.

“I think this is really a good experience, a good deal for Fullerton and Orange County,” Hartman said. “It takes a little longer, but you can use the time for reading, sleeping, whatever you want,” he said of the six-hour excursion to the gambler’s paradise.

Aiming to improve service for Orange County residents, Amtrak initiated the rerouting, which calls for a 1:55 p.m. stop in Fullerton on the daily Los Angeles-to-Chicago run. The new route for the Desert Wind bypasses previous stops in Pasadena and Pomona, which are now served on another route for eastern destinations. The round-trip fare for the trip from Fullerton to Las Vegas is $63.

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City officials and many of those gathering at the small station agreed that the convenience of being able to catch the eastbound train without going into Los Angeles would increase train travel and benefit the city.

Twelve passengers boarding at Fullerton were going to Las Vegas, but many of the 75 or so onlookers at the station were train buffs or were there to show support, said Fullerton Councilwoman Linda LeQuire, who “christened” the rerouting in a speech to the crowd.

As Hartman and his fellow travelers gathered in the dining car for celebratory drinks, they said the increased service for Orange County had sparked their interest in train travel. “I could be sold on this very easily,” said Hartman’s friend Jim Vanik.

Vanik, from Rowland Heights, said the trip had brought back a lot of memories from childhood train excursions. “If a city pushed this and really marketed it, it could be very successful,” he said.

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Rodney Lilly, a self-acclaimed train buff, said he boarded the Desert Wind in Los Angeles but took the trip especially because it was the inaugural run through Fullerton. Lilly, who said he goes to Las Vegas about once a month on the train, said, “I made a special point of going this way because of the rerouting. I’ve been the other way so many times, this is different and new.”

The festivities Sunday were a continuation of a 15th anniversary celebration of Amtrak service to Fullerton, the 22nd-busiest station of more than 500 nationwide, an Amtrak spokesman said.

Ken Koehler, Amtrak’s western route manager, said he expected the Fullerton-Las Vegas run to become a party-type ride with a “happy hour” atmosphere, especially on Friday departures. “We’re trying to make the on-board experience part of people’s vacations. Las Vegas is so accessible, now we’ve made it more convenient with long-distance routes,” Koehler said.

Mildred Freeman, one onlooker at the station, said she was bypassing her usual twice-yearly trip to Las Vegas by car and planned a trip to the city on the Desert Wind because there is “less pain and strain.”

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“I think it’s fantastic. I wish it had happened a long time ago,” Freeman said.


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