Canada Pacific Northwest Transit Adventures

Amtrak Cascades up Puget Sound to a $1 Greyhound ride up the Sea-to-Sky Highway

The reason for coming out to the Pacific Northwest is to use up my two already paid for days of skiing on my Mountain Collective Pass at Whistler/Backcomb. The largest ski area in North America! I considered booking a through Amtrak Throughway ticket to Whistler the fares seem to very a bit. I didn’t end up doing this because when I checked Greyhound again a month ahead the fare on the Vancouver to Whistler Route was down $1 CAN the day I checked I booked on the spot and also snagged a $1 CAN fare for my return, the service fees ended up being on each direction ended up being $2.50, plus 30¢ in sales tax. I also booked at least 14 days ahead for my Amtrak Cascades round-trip paying $29 in each direction for my rail journey.

I leave the hostel around 6:20, have a leisurely walk that is longer than I really need early in the morning, down to King Street Station, stopping at a Starbucks for a first breakfast. I get to the wonderfully restored  King Street Station(15 Photos) a little after 7:00am and look around for a QuikTrak Machine. I enter the ticket office and don’t find one. There doesn’t seem to be one anywhere in the restored station! I decide to just go up with my iPhone because there is a bit of a line for the ticket windows.


I then join the line to get a boarding pass and seat assignment. I get up to the conductors and ask if I can have a window seat please to one conductor who scans my iPhone as the other glances at my passport. She says of course. I get handed Car 5, Seat 7 its even on the west, Pudget Sound side of the train. I go out through the gate to the Mount Adams Talgo waiting on the through track (#4)

I board the train and get on. My large rolling suitcase doesn’t fit in the tiny Talgo luggage racks and I find a place at the end of the car. I then sit down start getting annoyed at the loudness of children and families in the car. Amtrak Cascades doesn’t have a quiet car. The window even seems cleaner than normal like the train just got out of the car wash.

We leave on line at 7:39 as we get a long welcome aboard announcement. We leave Seattle in a trench before entering a tunnel beneath downtown that has a plaque for the King Street Radio Project. I notice that the GPS displays on the video monitors get a bit confused losing GPS and map data were out at 7:43 and pass pier 66, a railfan location along Pudget sound with just a low fence between the street and tracks. Soon the street leaves us and we pass a stopped-double stack trains and a train yard that’s endless blocking Pudget Sound. The yard leaves us and were in a trench that’s inland.

  • 7:50 – We go over the first bridge of the day over Salmon Bay.
  • 7:52 – Pass a large Marina, the Olympics are spectacular across Pudget Sound.
  • 7:53 – We finally reach the area of the line that hugs Puget Sound with nothing else between us and the shore.
  • 8:01 – We pass an industrial plant and I see the ferry from Edmonds. We continue north up the sound.

We slow down and pull into Edmonds at 8:03, unannounced; the little green station is still open and bunch of people come outside to board. The Amtrak Cascades safety video starts to play. We get the double toot and leave at 8:06. There is no ferry in port and we pass a park before heading back to the shore. Going up along Pudget Sound I can’t imagine getting to Vancouver, BC any other way such as on a bus up I-5 that I did consider.

  • 8:19 – We reach and bypass Mukilteo, the one Sounder North station Amtrak doesn’t service, it’s a bit under construction since their building a second platform.
  • 8:23 – On a siding we pass a little park with a wooden footbridge to it as we approach Everett.
    11-18-14 11-19-01
  • 8:24 – Start passing the port of Everett as we pass a loaded coal train
  • 8:27 – We go through a tunnel and get the announcement for Everett as we curve away from the coast. We even curve south a tiny bit so the sun is glaring.

We pull into Everett(1 Photo) across from a Sounder train with an Amtrak Cascades locomotive. I get up and try to get a photo before going to the Bristo car for the second breakfast. The breakfast bagel isn’t worth ordering and I immediately wish I had tried the Oatmeal. I hear a passenger aguing a bit with a conductor, apparently the crew mixed up the waterside of the train when handing out seat assignments. I lucked out, boarding late and got a prime seat.

8:40 – We slowly cross the next bridge 37.0 over a bay to leave Everett and head inland through northern Seattle suburbs.

The suburbs slowly shift to more agriculture as I take a nap. I awake when we arrive in Stanwood at 9:02 to an empty platform. I still can’t believe I spent an afternoon visiting every single one of these stations.

  • 9:17 – We take a siding to await the southbound in the fields, it passes at 9:18.

We pull into Mount Vernon at 9:21 at the Skagit Transit Center, it’s a quick stop and we leave at 9:22,

  • 9:25 – Over the Skagit River
  • 9:36 – We get a view of the water as a crew member tells us to keep our eyes open for eagles. We soon see some.
  • The train goes through a few tunnels and emerges again along Pudget Sound.
    12-42-46 12-44-32 12-45-29 12-49-37

The next thing I know were passing the cruise terminal and pulling into Bellingham at 9:50. We leave at 9:51 to pass the grade crossing over the Alaska Marine Highway vehicle staging area. We head north and pass through downtown Bellingham.

  • 10:08 – The conductor announces were coming up to the Peace Arch and entering Canada with a warning about cell phone roaming charges. I appreciate that!
  • 10:30 – We slowly go through White Rock, along its waterfront park that extends to mud flats along the railroad line. The grade crossings to reach the beach are unarmed. The track is much rougher.
    13-26-25 13-29-0613-30-00 13-33-13 13-33-27
  • 10:46 ­– White Rock is spectacular, we now cross a narrow bridge over a bay and curve inland. There is plenty of white snow capped mountains, the skiing will hopefully be good.
    13-39-56 13-40-21 13-44-09 13-47-57
  • 11:06 – We slowly go through the Vancouver suburbs and see a freight yard before stopping under the SkyTrain bridge. The conductor tells us were still 30 minutes away from Downtown Vancouver, what a long time to follow SkyTrain into town.
  • 11:11 – We slowly leave again, and then stop before announcing that were delayed because the swing bridge across the Fraser River has opened. I can’t believe how loud my car is. I’m doing work with headphones.
  • 11:33 – With another double-toot we finally leave to continue over the Fraser River on the low swing bridge.
  • 11:43 – Spruce Control as we slowly enter Vancouver
  • 11:44 – Clearly pass a former platform

We speed up again following a trail and park into Vancouver.
The video monitors say 00:02pm as we reach the VIA maintenance facility and stop again, I think to get a switch set. We soon move again, passing some RDCs and pass the train wash as we switch onto the protected, secure platform at Vancouver’s Pacific Central Station(9 Photos).

The usual number of VIA cars including a skyline car are being stored on their platforms in the station as we enter the fenced platform for Amtrak departures with the security guard visible. West Coast Express also has a few cars. 12:09 is the exact time.
There two ladies ahead of me also taking the bus (ticketed by Amtrak) at 1:00pm to Whistler. I’m fine with 3:00pm to at least get cash fee free from TD bank.
At 12:12 I see the first Business class of the train passengers. I think upgrading might have been worth it for that!
I’m a bit pushy and am the first one out of my car, quickly snap a photo of the locomotive and head into customs. The line moves quite quickly with four desks open. The customs interview is painless (maybe 30 seconds tops) and I’m stepping into Pacific Central Station at 12:25. I did will call for my Greyhound ticket up the Sea-to-Sky highway and go up to the ticket counter. I hand over my passport and get a ticket that’s nearly four feet long (6 different sections, 2 tickets, the itinerary print-out ticket and 3 advert tickets). I’m asked to be back 15 minutes before.

I leave Pacific Central Station and walk-up into Chinatown to stop at a TD Bank. I get some cash and take a walk with my rolling suitcase (the layover feels just too short to deal with baggage storage). I remember a Ramen restaurant I liked by BC Place on Robson Street from my last Vancouver trip, and walk over there for lunch. While I’m getting there I pass the Stadium/Chinatown Station(2 Photos) and see my first SkyTrain fare gates. I also notice signs about the Train2Main, construction at Main Street/Science World (the stop for Pacific Central Station) can only accommodate two cars because of construction and a special shuttle train is running from Waterfront to Commercial/Broadway. My layover on the way back is a full afternoon and I decide I will definitely spend the $2.75 on a SkyTrain ride to investigate the Train2Main.

I head back to Pacific Central Station and enter the bus bays. To get there requires passing a security check. It’s a security guard who checks tickets and selectively checks luggage. I’m not selected. The bus bays are adjacent to Amtrak Cascades fenced in paddock and I immediately notice this:

My Talgo trainset has been wyed! Mt. Adams currently lacks a Cabbage Car and is only running in Pull mode.

At about 2:50 we board the bus, a very old Greyhound bus with blue cloth seats and no wheelchair lift. It’s a nice scenic ride out of Vancouver through downtown and Stanley Park and over the Lions Gate Bridge. I’m on a Whistler Local run (a couple of runs between Vancouver and Whistler are their new express service), this bus is going all the way to Pemberton. Our first stop is in West Vancouver, a signpost by the side of the route like a city bus stop. For Brittanna Beach we pull of the road barely, Squamish is the only place where we loop off the highway and go to the back of a proper small town agency. There were delayed as the driver opens the door of the closed agency to put a box inside. The final stop, Pinecrest Black Tusk stop is similar, we pull off the road that soon becomes dirt to stop by a tiny shack of a bus shelter. This Greyhound ride feels much like taking the bus in the northeast, just regular people almost all white, not only oddballs, minorities and the poor that are the usual riders when I’ve taken buses on transcontinental routes. It’s a totally different experience. I get off in Whistler Village at 5:30 to figure out my ski rental. Soon I’m paying $2.50 for the Whistler/BC Transit Bus out to the HI Whistler that’s in the middle of nowhere in the former Olympic Village.