Winter 2012

Starting with MAX to the Portland Tramway, a C-Tran bus to Vancouver, Amtrak Cascades to Tacoma, the Tacoma LINK, and SOUNDER to the Central LINK

Greetings from Sounder as I go north from Tacoma, the final portion of day to only Tukwila right now. I was planning to go to the Boeing Museum of Flight and pay the $18 for admission tomorrow anyway but found out it is free the first Thursday of every month and decided to go today on way into Seattle transferring to a bus in Tukwila that I will continue on later into Seattle. I didn’t realize that some of their cars have WiFi until I boarded and whipped out my computer. It even passes the streaming NPR test (streaming blocked on Amtrak Connect in California but worked with the usual streaming break-ups on Amtrak Cascades). Two different hotspots popped up with different car numbers when I boarded the 4:25 train and walked up to one of them to be able to post this.

To my adventures today: this morning I awoke and had an okay bagel at my youth hostel for breakfast before taking the bus (not walking the two miles again), and buying a $5 day pass into downtown Portland. My first stop was Union Station where the baggage office gladly accepted my bag all the way to Seattle putting my reservation number on it (a first) so the office can know why I haven’t picked it up. I have a ticket on the last train north tonight from Tacoma that I won’t use to keep me under the 24 hour rule so I can take the evening train up to Vancouver tomorrow night. I get back on the light rail south to PSU (the last station still unopened) and transferred to the Portland Streetcar for my first stop of the day, riding the Portland Ariel Tram. I go down to the South Waterfront and buy my $4 roundtrip ticket. Everyone using the tram (at 9:00am on a weekday morning) are employees of OHSU (Oregon Health and Science University), who operates it, riding for free. The tramway operators (the two cabins each have an operator stationed in them have OHSU ids). The tram is even closed on Sundays except in Summer when it remains open from 12:00 to 5:00pm for sightseeing purposes. They do produce a brochure for sightseers and even have a recommended place for photography. It also turns out you only pay $4 to go up to the hospital, payable at the Waterfront base location at two multi-meter type kiosks riding down is free. Had I know this previously I would have ridden the bus up to the top with my day pass and ridden the tram only down. I got up to the top and found some observation decks for more photos; there aren’t any roads to access since the stop is on a middle story of a building. I don’t spend that much time before riding back down and taking a walk around the South Waterfront to photograph my remaining streetcar stops (this entire branch to the tramway was closed when I was there in October due to construction), plus the boarding platform for the – trolley, not currently operational. While I am wondering around I get a Robo call from Amtrak informing me that alternate transportation will be provided for some or all of my trip on train #513. I guess there has been a mudslide. On the train I spend some time on Google and find no evidence of a recent mudslide or a service disruption on Amtrak’s website, the only web prescience I end up finding much later is on the Amtrak Cascades Twitter feed from 7:15 this morning:
“Service between Seattle to Vancouver, BC, Canada disrupted until March 3 due to mudslide. Alternate transportation will be provided.” BNSF has a forty-eight hour curfew requirement on mudslides for passenger trains passing through, although freight service often resumes in a number of hours. This is just bad luck. I am tempted to see about delaying my travel until Saturday morning to have train service. The main thing I can’t figure out is if I am on a bus bridge from Seattle just up to Everett (less than an hour) or all the way to Vancouver which will make the border crossing be ten times worse as well (waiting for everyone to clear). We shall see.

The next stop of the day was Vancouver, Washington. To get there I took the streetcar up to the yellow line and connected to C-TRAN bus #4 (free with my TriMet day pass, all zone fare required, many passengers didn’t realize this and only had 2 zone tickets, strangely you can’t just pay a 50 cent step up fee, you have to pay the full fare) for a very quick trip across the Columbia River into Washington State getting there at about 11:50am. From there I took a walk around the industrial railroad yard area (including waiting a good 5 minutes for a freight to pass at a grade crossing) including getting a few photos of the Railway Bridge across the Columbia. My Cascades Train north, #506, using the Mount Rainer trainset pulled in on time at 12:30. I got on my assigned coach, crowded but no one had to double up, had my ticket collected and went straight to the crowded bistro car with a long line to finally try the Amtrak Cascades clam chowder (my receipt is time stamped for 12:48). I start chatting with someone in line and we end up sitting in the lounge car (their separate since the Talgo cars are so short) and ate are lunches together along the Columbia River until after Kelso-Longview before going back to our seats. Then I try and get some photos organized but end up feeling tired and take a nap waking up briefly for Centalia and finally feeling fully away just before Olympia-Lacey.
Here this interesting sequence occurs:
2:14 – pull up alongside train #513 stopped at the Olympia-Lacey Station, it is running an hour an half late, the morning train out of Vancouver, I assume this is due to the mudslide and alternate transportation. ( lists nothing for the train) there is track work going on prohibiting us from passing it before the switch that lets all trains enter along the single side platform. I know this station has platforms to allow boarding (albeit not totally level) along the outside track and I am surprised were not using them.
2:18 – we start backing up, going beyond the switch, the GPS map is saying 38 minutes to Tacoma already. At 2:20 we continue forward again using the switch into the actual station Olympia Station with its depot fully staffed by volunteers arriving at 2:22, (Amtrak’s app thinks we arrived at 2:14 and left at 2:18, the times we stopped alongside the track opposite). We finally leave at 2:24, 15 minutes late and pass a couple of lakes as we continue north.
2:32 – I catch my first glimpse of Pudget Sound that I will be heading along tomorrow in darkness unfortunately, I wanted to be able to spend a full day in Seattle and could of in retrospect by booking and not using a midday TAC-SEA mid-day tomorrow I could have pulled off taking the morning train on Saturday morning, oh well, it would also let me I think be sitting on a train.
I spend the rest of the ride processing more photos. At 2:47 we go under the Tacoma Narrows Bridge and we arrive in Tacoma at 2:59pm, 15 minutes late.

I get off in Tacoma as scheduled get a few photos of the station and see another Amtrak Cascades train come zipping by us not stopping at the station, it is southbound train #507 running on time and does the same type of procedure my train did at Olympia to stop at the station. I then walk over to the Tacoma Link Streetcar and just catch it at Tacoma Dome (a free service) that is having some service disruption of its own and take it to Union Station, now a grand entrance to the federal courthouse. The atrium (and the courtrooms for that matter, for viewers after all, but there is an additional full security screening) and a guard lets me into the spectacular atrium, having to show governmental id. I ask him about photography and am told that it is okay for the artwork (there is some glass on display) but not of any guards (a little hard not to get). He tells me he was about to come outside and yell at me for taking so many pictures from the sidewalk. Photography from a public sidewalk (or any public right of way) is a constitutional right clearly established so the guard would have been outside of his jurisdiction saying anything to me. I wonder through the atrium getting my photo essay including going up to the balcony and downstairs where there is a second entrance/exit and leave the building there walking across the bridge over the new freeway and railroad tracks beyond. I start heading back over towards Freighthouse Square, and finally get a real photo essay of the Tacoma Dome Sounder Station including the Sounder entrance inside the former freight terminus of the Milwaukee Road. I end up on the 4:25 train north I have typed this on.

Update from tonight: I got off the train at Tukwila as planned and couldn’t find the bus route I was looking for to get to the Museum of Flight. I grab my iPhone and learn that I had completely misread the schedule and that it was from the Tukwila International Blvd LINK station, luckily in ten minutes there is a bus there and I take it. I get to the LINK station around 5:40 and decide that knowing of the free hostel dinner at especially (and noticing that the baggage and ticket offices at King Street Station close at 8:00, after the last departures but not arrivals) to skip the museum tonight and maybe go down and pay full admission tomorrow. This means I tap my ORCA card and take my free transfer ride on LINK into downtown Seattle. I get off at King Street station and notice a fleet of buses lined up outside. My fears of buses for a mudslide are confirmed I go in and ask about my bag at the ticket counter and am told to wait at baggage claim for a baggage handler since there all busy unloading Train #516 with announcements that all bags need to be claimed in Seattle before boarding the buses for the journey north. The conveyer belt starts immediately and my backpack is the first bag out. Guess no one bothered to remove it after the last arrival. I walk up to the youth hostel getting there at 6:50, checking in and going straight to the free dinner, getting into some interesting conversations. I debate going on one of the organized outings but am not in the mood and decide to stay in planning the rest of my trip, typing this update.