Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Travel the Northwest on AMTRAK

For those of you that know me, you will probably find it surprising to know that I never had the chance to ride the AMTARK “Cascade” service that run between Eugene and Seattle. At one time, I was a regular. I knew staff and made friends on board. I rode AMTRAK weekly from Klamath Falls to Eugene as an interpreter for Klamath County Tourism and then returned that same night on the southbound #11. Since we moved to Southwest Washington in 2003, we have found several scenarios that would find us on one of the reliable commuter trains. We tried to go to a Mariner game, we tried just go to Seattle for the day or to visit our family in Eugene. Budget and logistics are always an issue but last weekend, it all finally fell together.

The famous Southern Pacific clocktower at Portland's Union Station gives a less than subtle message about how to travel.

Laurie and Jared went to Eugene to be with her family but I had a high school football game to cover on Friday night and deadlines to meet on Saturday. That left Kyle and myself free to take a train to Eugene on Saturday evening. I worked through the website which didn’t even give me the option of going south on AMTRAK #11 that comes through in the early afternoon. Instead, I needed something in the early evening so AMTRAK train #507 was the ticket!

The snack car is usually right behind "Coach #3", therefore, if you are looking for peace and quiet in the walkways, try to sit in Caoch #5.

For the non-train types lurking out there, in general, AMTRAK in the northwest is very reliable. Check during winter storms, but all but one of the trains are usually on time between Eugene and Seattle. Train #14, the northbound Coast Starlight from Los Angeles to Seattle is typically an hour to three down by the time it reaches Eugene. This says more about the congestion in California and the crossing of the Cascades east of Eugene. The rest are almost like clockwork.

The total cost for us was $45 ($30 for me and $15 for that drag along son of mine that is still considered a youth by Amtrak’s definition) for a trip from Kelso to Eugene. The train was right on time and was very comfortable to ride. Perhaps “leg-room” may be an issue, but I suspect that most folks don’t ride long enough for it to be a real issue.

AMTRAK Cascade service features coaches with comfortable seats and electric outlets for your gadget needs. We had heard wireless internet was available, but could never pull it up on Kyle's laptop.

From Kelso to Eugene on the timetable is just over 4 hours. It dawned on me driving home Sunday night that it typically takes 3.5 hours to drive if traffic in Portland is perfect. The 30 minute stop in Portland gives you a chance to catch some fresh air (and for me to take a few photos), but I found myself muttering without this stop, it would make the train real competitive with Interstate 5.

AMTRAK train #508 is ready for departure north out of Portland on Saturday night.

Of course, I always tell people that ask about riding the train to not be in a hurry. Enjoy the chance to take what is for most Americans a unique way to travel.

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