This Post I finally got around to posting on Wednesday October 19th from my iPhone as I rode the Empire Builder. I’ll add photos at some point.
Greetings from Portland, Oregon!
I arrived here on Saturday working my way down via Amtrak Cascades (and briefly the coast starlight), getting all four of the remote intermediate station photographed for the website. It started with me waking up around 6:00am to enjoy a final cook-your-own eggs breakfast. I then checked-out and walked down to King Street station getting there around 7:00 where the line was much longer for the Quick-Track machine instead of the ticket window so I went there to pick up my ticket from a friendly agent before making my way to the next stop to drop off my backpack to be checked through to Portland so I did not have to deal with it. The baggage stop accommodated my request completely, handing me my tag for Portland just as it was announced baggage service for the train was closing.
Next came what is probably the most unnecessary feature of getting on an Amtrak Cascades train at a terminus. Waiting in line for the conductors to collect my ticket within the station. They handed me my seat assignment and I walked out to the platform assigned to a car with no one else in it except four people and on the aisle right next to someone else. As soon as we started leaving Seattle at 7:29 I went up a pair of seats to have to two myself. At the same time the conductors were telling everyone over the PA to not move up to the empty coaches, they were needed for passengers at intermediate stations. Well I was getting off at one. No one yelled at me for changing seats even though the correct assignment was right there on the seat check.
7:31 – Bistro car announcement for Pacific Northwest Products like Hank’s bakery as we go through the grade crossings of the train yard and I am surprised to see so much Sounder equipment, as we speed south in the morning twilight, through the industrial warehouses south of King Street Station.
7:36 – run by Boeing Field and its museum of flight passing some US air force planes inside the station.
7:40 – going by a yard just south of Boeing Field we pass the 3 airline bodies on freight cars.
7:42 – enter Tukwila, a party with someone in a walker is waiting on the ADA mini-high platform, Amtrak Cascades do not use them, instead the ADA car has its own onboard
lift. There are about 20 people waiting to board. My car fills with more intermediates, and they do not get seat assignments, its fine that I moved up a seat. On a long-distance train I would have been yelled at already.
We leave again at 7:45, and speed through the combination fields and suburbs of the Sounder Line that I spent the week riding multiple times.
7:55 – speed through Auburn as the conductor delivers tickets (just pre-printed in Seattle, not the full blown issuing a paper ticket onboard that most other trains make those boarding at stations without ticketing services do).
8:02 – Go through Sumner along the line that has its fare share of suburbia but also farmer’s fields in many places.
8:04 – its Pullayup, and we leave the small town going from a street of houses to fields.
8:09 in an open cut we start slowing down before passing a rusty green railroad bridge we don’t use with the announcement made for Tacoma and we switch away from Sounder’s little branch line at Reservation, the Sounder Cars in their yard for the weekend just visible across a roadway, as a UP freight train passes us entering the train yard.
8:14 – we arrive in Tacoma to a huge mob of at least 100 people on the platform, this is going to be a long stop. My car, the intermediate car gets more crowded but there are still pairs of two seats available.
8:18 – We leave Tacoma, following the harbor and some docks along with freight cars in the yard.
8:23 – we start following the southern side of Pudget Sound although their roads between us and it as we go through Port Defiance, that one day might be bypassed for a faster (albeit less scenic trip)
8:27 – enter the first short followed by a longer Tunnel.
8:29 see Pudget Sound and the Tacoma Narrows Bridges, between trees we cross beneath them and stay along the sound before curving away at 8:31, slowing down a bit., entering a seaside community University Place, before reemerging along the Sound, and keep following it some settlements, paths and a ferry dock, interrupting the view of it.
8:40 – still along the southern side of Puget sound a see a deer in the water. No announcement saying deer since I am no longer on the tourist Rocky Mountaineer.
8:42 – we pass a long inter-modal train luckily not blocking the view of the sound, as the Salish Sea as the bistro car attendant makes one his advertising announcements since the sea is depicted in the ceiling of the bistro car. Throughout my Amtrak Cascades trips it has been strictly called the Bistro car (even by passengers), not the cafe car.
8:46 – go over two halves of a freeway and leave Pudget Sound for good, entering a forest.
8:48 – pass over a high trestle over a stream, and then go through woods continuing south, sign says our arrival in 3 minutes I’m waiting for the announcemt, as the electronic sign tells Olympia/Lacey departing passengers, to gather your belongings.
8:53 – go over a misty lake and slow down.
8:54 – We arrive in Olympia-Lacy. I get of the train and start doing a platform photo essay including the train leaving the station. I almost get locked onto the platform by the volunteer station attendent who is closing the gate of the platform. The station building was built entirely with private funds (there is a brick donor plaza right out front). The volunteer (who is not allowed to access money) was very friendly and proud to staff the only (according to him) all volunteer run station house in the country. I started going for a walk hoping to find a café or something but the stop is in the middle of the suburbs with nothing around, just a subdivision and a school. Without platform access I photograph the northbound train at 10:34 passing through from a highway bridge nearby. I then return to the station and take my full photo essay of it and have a long chat with the volunteer. He also having to tell all the passengers that the conductor will have and deal with their tickets since the Quick-Trak machine is out-of-order.
Eventually the Coast Starlight comes in and I barely get some pictures of its two locomotives while standing up on a nearby bench. Platforms are definitely better for photos than over gates. The volunteer opens the gate once the locomotives pass it, for safety I suppose. The train comes in making first a stop for the sleepers before moving up to make a second stop for the coaches. The conductor asks for real tickets with the broken Quick-Trak machine a complete surprise to him. Myself and one other person have them. Everyone else gets on the train, getting dollar signs on their seat checks so the conductor can do the tedious process of getting them ticketed on board having to call up to get their reservation details.
At 11:31 we leave Olympia-Lacey and start passing through farmland I move immediately to the sightseer lounge car which is technically a primitive type of dome car with its slight rap-around windows that go lower in the car but have less of a windowed ceiling. The fact the seats face the windows make it almost better I find for sightseeing than GoldLeaf on the Rocky Mountaineer. My stay was short though going through woods and fields, in places briefly following a river soon it was 11:45 and our scheduled arrival time and I went back to my assigned seat. The lady across from me who had also gotten on in Lancey still had her wallet out but had not yet paid. A single broken Quick-Track machine is a conductor’s disaster.
11:51- we pass a bit of an intermodal container port.
We got to Centrallia and I realize I only have an hour to wonder but am hungry since it’s time for lunch. I end up at the Jersey Diner (it was that or a café, I’ll find a café in Kelso for dessert). The Jersey Diner was one of the seeder ones I’ve been too but the loud locals inside, hearing a bit of the town’s gossip more than made up for it. The burger and fries were as greasy as ever. Around 12:45 I wonder back to the station to get more of a photo essay.
1:08 we leave Centralia right on time and I get assigned to car #3, the unique ADA car with 2 by 1 seating to allow a wheelchair to get through and reach the bistro (not cafe) car. There is a mother and her two little kids wit lots of luggage as we speed by trees and fields. We pass yet another freight train. The line reminds me of the two tracked Empire Corridor water level route west of Albany where four trains a day and lots freight coexist.
1:24 go through Whitlock as chat a little bit with the mother and her two young kids (one is already in kindergarten) coming across from Whitefish (Kalispbell) to Kelseo.
1:31 and follow a river through the fields and enter woods.
1:41 we pass a highway and an employee doing track-work on the opposite track and then go back to farmers fields as we slow down and switch tracks.
We arrive at Kelseo at 1:51 it also has a gated platform but I violate it and photograph the train leaving with another (less friendly volunteer meeting it). This beautifully station, in a small town full of tractors, is neat to see and is also staffed by a few less friendly volunteers. I look on my iphone for a café and find nothing, most of the few shops including the few restaurants are closed on a Saturday. I type in Starbucks and start wondering to the local strip mall, turns out it is not a café to sit in but just a counter in Safeway. There is the towns one slightly grim shopping mall nearby and I decide to go there just to find a place to sit down and end up wondering into a branch of the local library where I sit and use the Wi-Fi not having to even buy anything to drink. I even glance at a few magazines that look interesting and get some website work done.
Around 3:00 I start wondering back to the station and get my full photo essay of it before sitting and waiting. There is no one else waiting to get on except for me, a few people waiting for passengers down from Seattle. Eventually 22 minutes late at 5:02 I see the train and enter the paddock of gates that say wait until passenger train comes to a complete stop, to get some pictures. It is the Mt. Rainier Trainset with a Cascades painted cabbage leading the train in but a regular Amtrak P42 for motive power. I’m the only passenger getting on, the stops is so quick that I’m handing the assistant conductor my ticket as the conductor says the “all aboard,” as in the train is leaving, not boarding as the Rocky Mountaineer wants you to believe “all aboard” means.
5:04 – we leave 25 minutes late. The train leaves this town passing freight cars and a creek with a moderate amount of water before following I-5. I don’t receive a seat check, the train doesn’t seem to be using them, told to sit anywhere.
5:10 – we start following the wide Columbia River interrupted by bridges and trees in places. Soon were actually running in the median of I-5, it is on each side of us.
5:20 – we have left this arrangement and speed through some more towns and fields with no river for the moment. I see another man in a Talgo shirt for operations so I guess they accompany every run.
5:23 – go over the quite wide Lewis River.
5:25 – start seeing houses, towns and mounds of dirt as we slow down along a canal.
5:28 – we’ve slowed down enough to go through a grade crossing with audible bells and soon go very slowly to a stop. An announcement is made that we have come to a red signal waiting for a northbound train. Its the Coast Starlight led by a Cascades F59PHI and then a standard P40. We slowly leave almost immediately regaining full speed through the trees.
5:37 – pass another freight and switch back to the correct track. Using right hand running I see water again in the evening light as we pass an intermodal freight. The wide Columbia pokes in and out of view and then we run through a yard slowing down. Vancouver announcement three doors to open and we go through it’s large yard and stop at its station surrounded by yards at 5:44. I haven’t decided if I’m going to bus it up to visit. Just 15minutes to Portland as we go over the Columbia River and the two branches of it’s approaching estuary and then speed through an open cut before crossing the Willamette and then a large freight yard and refinery and then pass more industry. Eugene customers are told no restrooms while more water is taken on and we start seeing houses slowing down along the Willamette.
6:00 see the platforms and the Mt Olympus set I rode earlier. I get off the train and make my way to the bridge across the southern half of the station to get the first of many photos of Portland’s Union Station. I then walked over to my youth hostel that was completely unsocial, I meet no one, only taking to people I knew previously from staying in Seattle.