Winter 2012

An Epic 7 hour Adventure by Bus and Train to Vancouver because of mudslide, a Stalled Truck on the Tracks (that bottomed out), and Stuck Waiting for a Freight Train to go Through US Customs Due to a Shift Change

Greetings from Amtrak Cascades Train #516 as we slowly enter Vancouver, BC on a trip that has turned into an epic 7-hour adventure (3 hours late) just to get there by both train and bus. The main delays occurring in Mount Vernon where a tuck had staffed and grounded on a grade crossing and then near the Peace Arch when we were stuck waiting for a southbound train on a single track to clear US customs delayed due to a shift change (there is just a single track). I should note that I have still not cleared Canadian Immigration and Customs. This will happen after we arrive in Pacific Central Station and I have no idea how long that will take.

This trip began last night at about 6:30pm when I wondered down to King Street Station to board a bus up to Everett. The landslides happened 48 hours ago so the line is still under a curfew in letting passenger trains run by. I see a train on the platform looking like its heading north and there is no mention of reclaiming checked luggage. One bus leaves completely full and I get on the second bus which is half-full, my backpack that I haven’t checked going underneath. There is some confusion as a passenger originating in Seattle because I board and then a customer service representative tells me I need to go into the station and get by ticket collected in exchange for a seat check. On the check I am told to go to cars 5, 6 or 7. Luckily their not bothering with individual seat assignments. We take an uneventful ride up the freeway to Everett where the train hasn’t arrived yet, crowded around the electric gate that leads across the Sounder track and to the platform. The train soon arrives and I know by comparing a car number it is the same train I saw in Seattle. We wait for an empty baggage cart to go out (our checked baggage is allowed to ride through the mudslide) and retrieve the luggage for Everett before we can board, I find two seats to myself (everyone does but most are taken) and we leave on time. The ride is uneventful through rainy Stanwood.

We get the announcement for Mount Vernon for an arrival a few minutes late and are told that there is a truck blocking the tracks north of the station and that the truck will need to be removed and then the tracks will have to be inspected. The plan is to pull up to discharge in the station before backing up out of it onto a siding since there is a northbound freight waiting to go through. It’s going to be a long night and I am already wishing I did not have a non-refundable youth hostel reservation (maybe I’ll get to Vancouver so late I don’t need a bed).
8:31 we stop two blocks before the station and start pulling up at 8:34. We arrive at 8:38 and then go backwards as planned to the siding south of the station. I wonder up to the café car and buy some sabre humus and pretzels as a snack. Sabre is based in New York City (there customer service has a 718 area code) but I have never seen their products on a regular Amtrak café car. Go Amtrak Cascades! It is the perfect snack.
At 9:40 it is announced emergency snack packs are available in the lounge car. They consist of three crackers and cheese spread, two shortbread cookies with jam in the middle and some fruit snacks I haven’t opened. There is also a bottle of water.
10:13 – a freight train passes and we almost all start clapping conductor says “That is the best sound he’s heard all night.”
10:18 – pass Mt Vernon again
10:50 – stop in Bellingham
11:19 stop somewhere in Grinder to wait for a freight train to go by
12:10 still stopped and open the Amtrak app it says a 2:30am arrival into Vancouver. I go up to the Lounge car and find our crew of six! there sitting with no passengers. I show them the time and say that we’re stuck waiting for a freight train to clear US customs on a single track railroad. The trouble is customs is undergoing a shift change so no one is there to screen the train. Once the screening can begin the train must go through an X-ray machine at 5mph. He also tells me that the shift supervisor of the agents at Pacific Central Station have been calling about are arrive (they’ve heard 2:30am), not wanting their officials to just be sitting around.
12:30 the freight were waiting for starts coming by very slowly I assume it’s going through the said X-ray machine
12:43 the two toots of the horn mean we can precede then Blane and a portion of the boarder crossing.
12:46 We’ve entered Canada my phone is still giving me AT&T
12:52 go through White Rock, now on AT&T E full service
12:53 the old blane station
1:03 finally on rodgers and get the free text warning me of the high data rates
I doze off
1:24 see the Sky Bridge, all service ended I think as we slow down
1:35 see an empty Skytrain for VCC-Clark but think I’ll miss the last one from
1:48 announcement for ten minutes to Vancouver and the coundctor announces the and that all the luggage must be unloaded before we can get off as we pass VCC-Clark Skytrain station, and I hit post!
1:59 passing Greyhound as I pack up
By the way during the day today (or yesterday) I spent most of it visiting the Museum of Flight that I enjoyed quite a lot.