A small postscript to my prospective train adventure and a warning to all who buy tickets online from Amtrak: a week before my departure for San Francisco and two weeks after I bought my ticket online, I went to the train station to pick it up. Only after I signed the receipt for it, did the clerk tell me that mudslides had halted the Coast Starlight until February 15.
Since I need to be there by February 8, this was not news that I wanted to hear. Nor was I thrilled that nobody from Amtrak had notified me that my ticket was now unusable. The clerk limped his way through refunding the purchase to my bank card which I can only hope was done with more efficiency than hitherto shown by Amtrak, and I went home to buy a plane ticket, which would have been far less expensive had I done it a week ago.
So take fair warning--we do not have a civilized train system in this country, and those who run it do not give a damn.