Car rental - USA questions?

 
  Ads Deputy Commissioner

Location: Melbourne
Hello,
I am interested to hear from others here about your previous experiences with hiring and driving a car around the US.

*Was an international drivers license required or advised?

*One way rental fees - avoidable or commonplace?
Some websites suggest intra state one-way car hire can occur without attracting a fee, a few suggest booking and paying in advanced from an Australian based broker waives the fee, while other websites state that the one way rental fee is often charged at a standard $500US.

Any other advice from those who have rented a car for train spotting purposes around the Tehachapi/Barstow, California region?

Cheers.

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  M636C Minister for Railways

Hello,
I am interested to hear from others here about your previous experiences with hiring and driving a car around the US.

*Was an international drivers license required or advised?

*One way rental fees - avoidable or commonplace?
Some websites suggest intra state one-way car hire can occur without attracting a fee, a few suggest booking and paying in advanced from an Australian based broker waives the fee, while other websites state that the one way rental fee is often charged at a standard $500US.

Any other advice from those who have rented a car for train spotting purposes around the Tehachapi/Barstow, California region?

Cheers.
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Your Australian Licence will do.

I've never rented a car for one way travel. I pick it up and drop it at LAX. Last trip I drove to SFO and return. Sacramento is well worth a visit.

I've not driven to Barstow but I'm familiar with Cajon Pass and Tehachapi. Last trip 2013

I had a membership card with Hertz locally, and I was treated very well, including getting a newer car of the same type. It did give you priority at the rental counter.

I try to book at least the first night's hotel and drive straight to the hotel for a shower and a sleep. I go to Cajon first (closest) and stay in a hotel at the north edge of San Bernadino. The Interstates can get very busy at peak hour, and don't go past central LA at any time if you don't have to.

If you want to go to LA Union Station, catch a train in from San Bernadino. You get a better view on the way.

There's a couple of good motels in Tehachapi. I stayed in the one just off the highway interchange at the south end of town.

At Cajon, I'll generally follow a train up the hill in the morning. Summit and Blue Cut are morning shots. Drive up Cajon Boulevard, the old Route 66 that follows the Santa Fe tracks. In the afternoon there are good shots of descending trains around the rocks just north of Route 138 on the UP and the newer Santa Fe tracks. There are some afternoon shots of southbounds just north of San Bernadino.

There can be long periods of inactivity at Tehachapi, I think the shots in the morning are better. UP have marked many of the roads around Walong as "private", but you can still walk in to the ridge over tunnel No 10.

M636C
  Ads Deputy Commissioner

Location: Melbourne
Your Australian Licence will do.

I've never rented a car for one way travel. I pick it up and drop it at LAX. Last trip I drove to SFO and return. Sacramento is well worth a visit.

I've not driven to Barstow but I'm familiar with Cajon Pass and Tehachapi. Last trip 2013

I had a membership card with Hertz locally, and I was treated very well, including getting a newer car of the same type. It did give you priority at the rental counter.

I try to book at least the first night's hotel and drive straight to the hotel for a shower and a sleep. I go to Cajon first (closest) and stay in a hotel at the north edge of San Bernadino. The Interstates can get very busy at peak hour, and don't go past central LA at any time if you don't have to.

If you want to go to LA Union Station, catch a train in from San Bernadino. You get a better view on the way.

There's a couple of good motels in Tehachapi. I stayed in the one just off the highway interchange at the south end of town.

At Cajon, I'll generally follow a train up the hill in the morning. Summit and Blue Cut are morning shots. Drive up Cajon Boulevard, the old Route 66 that follows the Santa Fe tracks. In the afternoon there are good shots of descending trains around the rocks just north of Route 138 on the UP and the newer Santa Fe tracks. There are some afternoon shots of southbounds just north of San Bernadino.

There can be long periods of inactivity at Tehachapi, I think the shots in the morning are better. UP have marked many of the roads around Walong as "private", but you can still walk in to the ridge over tunnel No 10.

M636C
M636C

Thank you very much for this detailed reply.
Interesting and informative. A great help.
Cheers
  Johnmc Moderator

Location: Cloncurry, Queensland
M636C's reply is fairly comprehensive, but I'll add my $0.02.
When I was in LA for a short holiday in 2012, I rented a car from Hertz for 3 days. It was prepaid by my travel agent, so the pickup was simply the usual rental rental procedure - confirmation of license and credit card details (again, Aussie license is ok for a tourist.  I think it only becomes an issue for an extended stay).

I picked the car up in Santa Monica, but made my way out of LA almost immediately.  This was my first time driving on the right, so I think starting in LA gave me an advantage in that there was *no* temptation to drift to the left hand side.  Also, I hired in the mid morning, so the freeways were not parking lots :-).  

My first day was non-train spotting (I couldn't pass up a look at the SR71 museum in Palmdale), but I spent the night at Cahon Junction, where there is a Best Western Hotel that's quite reasonable.

Just south of the junction is a spot off the I-15, where Cajon Boulevard goes right beside the railway line, and I spent a little time there the following morning, catching a couple of BNSF and UP services.  
As far as Cajon Pass went, tales of BNSF & UP police kept me on the straight and narrow:D. I spent an hour or two beside the road there.  Further encouragement was in the fact that I hired a compact Nissan, which probably wouldn't have gone too well on the dirt roads beside the line.  And the fact that most of the tracks are in a national park (or similar) which requires permits sealed the "stay on the main road" deal for me.

Map of Cajon Junction and Boulevard spotting place

I travelled to the Western American Railroad Museum at Barstow, for the main reason that one of their exhibits is an FP45 in Warbonnet livery. It's not a huge museum, but it's definitely interesting.  That was more or less all the trainspotting part of my journey. http://www.barstowrailmuseum.org/index.html

Couple of car related things:

The highway to Barstow is about 100miles, which by Aussie standards isn't really *that* far.  The speed limit is either 65 or 70, I can't remember which.  It's 4 lanes for most of the way:  The far left is for two or more occupants only, the mid left is for the uber confident/crazy people for whom the speed limit is a suggestion (including at least two LA County Sheriff and Highway Patrol cars that passed me by).  The mid right is for slightly nervous newbie folks such as myself, who are content to stay about 5mph over the limit.  You should probably stay out of the far right, as this is one where slow semi's travel in, and also turns into an "exit only" lane without warning.

I hired an automatic, as I figured I would getting into enough trouble with indicators and rear vision mirrors, without having to worry about what gear i'm in.  And I would still be over there without my trusty GPS.

Also, the contract allowed me to keep the car an addtional day or two without having to notify the company.  I don't hire a lot of cars, so I don't know if this is a common thing or not.  It was certainly handy in my case.

I also found this site - written by an expat Aussie - to be quite helpful.  I had about 3 horns honked in my direction during my stay, without it, it probably would be more right turn on red.

http://www.californiadriving.com/
  Johnmc Moderator

Location: Cloncurry, Queensland
And another little quirk that I just remembered:  When i fuelled up - prepay by credit card at the fuel pump - I was asked to put in my ZIP code.  I was forewarned about this by that website, so I just entered in the code for my LA hotel.  Or you could just use 90210 Smile.
  M636C Minister for Railways

Since JohnMC was good enough to post the map, which can be dragged in the usual Google way, I thought I'd add some information about locations...

If you move left (West) from Cajon Junction on the map, you will see three "route 138" markers. The middle one os these is adjacent to the Junction for "Lone Pine Canyon Road". If you turn south onto that road, then take the first dirt road on the left  and head back East, you will be able to view the UP line coming through "Mormon Rocks", a striking rock formation visible in the Google map view. If you pick the spot, you can see trains approaching on three of the four tracks south bound and all four tracks northbound. This is a good spot in the early afternoon, but OK in the morning too.

You can get back on to route 138 and drive up the hill east bound to the spot marked "Cajon Pass" on the Google Map, known on the railway as "Summit". There is a dirt area north of the road at the very top of the pass where you can safely park clear of the road. There are excellent views of the three BNSF tracks but the fourth UP track (the "Palmdale Cutoff") is in a cutting although tele shots can be got of trains on that track at the east end of the parking area.

You can generally beat a normal freight from around Cajon Junction to Summit and vice versa but it is touch and go for the fastest container trains down the hill.

On Cajon Boulevarde, there is very little traffic. However, there aren't many places to park on the road itself. The road was four lane, and the eastern side lanes are closed. There are cross tracks that allow you to drive onto the closed sections and park clear of traffic. You can get a photo of your car next to "Historic Route 66" crests painted on the road surface. (They are on the in service road too, of course....).

There is another dirt parking area at Blue Cut (where the map shows a "trail marker") which is good in the morning for shots of north bound trains.

There is a level crossing just north of there at "Cosy Dell" on the map which allows early afternoon shots when the light has changed sides. The road runs parallel to the track on the West side and there is space to park.

Cajon Boulevarde is good for driving alongside the line. There is a lot of traffic on I-15 and you have to cross the truck lanes when joining and leaving. Cajon Boulevard was broken at the I-15/I-215 interchange, but I'm told that work is progressing to connect the two sections under the section of I-15 that runs off to LA. That will mean that you can drive from (say) University Boulevarde all the way to Cajon (the old Santa Fe Cajon station) without needing to get on or off I-215 or I-15.

I normally stay in one of the motels on University Boulevarde. There is a collection of fast food places and service stations there.There is a big Walmart, where you can buy basic survival items (boxed cans of soft drink and grocery items). I bought a basic mobile phone there as the cheapest option for making calls in the USA.

If you want to have cool drinks with you, take one of the Australian supermarket insulated shopping bags with you. There doesn't seem to be an equivalent in the USA. The motels all have ice machines, (but rarely bar fridges in the rooms) and you can fill a couple of plastic shopping bags with ice, and keep your drinks and food items cool. You can buy more serious folding insulated cooler bags, of course.

This food and drink will save you having to head back to civilisation if there are a lot of trains to see. This is more important at Tehachapi Loop (or just further north Caliente) which are a really long drive from the shops.

This isn't so much of a problem at Cajon Junction. There is a Subway restaurant in one of the service stations where you can photograph trains through the window sitting at a table.

M636C
  Showtime Chief Train Controller

It's been a few years since I hired a car over there but I can only give praise to Hertz.
We had one way hire a couple of times with no issues.
The biggest help they gave us was when my wife locked the keys in the boot when we stopped at the outlet shops on our drive to Las Vegas. We rang Hertz for help and they organised a locksmith to come out from Barstow. Hertz gave the locksmith the codes for the car and he made a set of keys up for us on the spot. Even gave us a spare set for free just in case it happened again. I can remember the locksmith had a big side arm on him and he laid it down on the back of his van and told us he didn't go anywhere without it!
  wally-wowser1 Train Controller

Location: overlooking the Mt vic washaway on Soldiers Pinch
We used this mob 2 years ago , picked up at LAX  by  bus that runs about every 30 minutes .  https://www.nationalcar.com/en_US/destinations/los-angeles-california-car-rental.html


One word of advice  , remove wheel hubs covers before you leave  LA  especially if not used to driving on the other side of the road .  Probably took all of 10 minutes  from walking in the door  of the office   until out the  gate  in the car . Take a look at  ALAMAO car   rental also   , they 1 way rental in some parts of the US  with no extra charge .  Caboose hobbies  in Denver  are closing down   next month  if you plan to go that far east chasing trains . Take your GPS or hire one of theirs  for about US $ 10  each day .


 Have  fun,   Wally.
  M636C Minister for Railways

As indicated by Wally, at LAX you wait for a bus from your car rental company, which run all the time and stop at each terminal. If you aren't renting a car straight away, similar buses are run by the major hotels at the airport.

I had a lot of luggage, so I dropped it at the hotel then returned the car empty (but full of fuel) to the yard and walked the two blocks back to the hotel. It just avoided having to struggle with luggage at the LAX Hertz rental car return, which is a bit chaotic. I had an early flight East the next day.

There are other odd things to remember. If you are renting a Ford, what is called a "Mondeo" nearly everywhere is called a "Fusion" in the USA. A Toyota Hi-Lux is called a "Tacoma".

I generally try just to accept whatever happens for the first three days or so. Just fit in with what the Americans do. As far as traffic is concerned, Americans are generally very polite drivers and seem to make more allowances than you see in Sydney, for example.

In shops and restaurants, your accent may be a problem. When I was last there (2013), it was rare to use a PIN with a credit card except at bank or ATM. I'd be amazed if they have "tap and go" now.


One more obsession....

In Lucius Beebe's book "Highball" there is a photo on Cajon Pass taken in 1938-39 of a light Pacific assisting the E1A+B on the Super Chief around a curve with distinctive rock formations, taken by Herb Sullivan. This area became known as "Sullivan's Curve". After the security clampdown, the access roads were sometimes blocked off by BNSF or UP.

However, the area is a "National Forest" (strange, with very few trees) and there is a public walking trail (the "Pacific Crest Trail") that heads up hill from I-15 and crosses all four lines just at that curve. It is only about half a mile walking, but it would take much of the day to get there, take the shots and head back, but I suggest it to anyone who has the interest and the time.

Of course, the single track of 1938 at the curve is now four tracks, two BNSF and a a main and siding track on the UP.
But the rocks are still there.

M636C
  Ads Deputy Commissioner

Location: Melbourne
Thank you all very much for your detailed replies.
They make for a terrific help and a great resource.
I appreciate your time.

Thanks again,
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