Pacific Northwest

Amtrak Cascades from Portland to the rebuilt Tukwila Station via Port Defiance

This is Part 3 of my 2018 Pacific Northwest Up-to-Date Trip

I leave the Society Hostel at 11:15 with my luggage and started walking north the few blocks to Union Station. I pass Union Station/NW 5th & Gilsan(2 Photos) and then some northbound trains curving around the curve just north of Union Station/NW 6th & Hoyt(3 Photos).


I get to Union Station-(14 Photos) at about 11:20 and head to the baggage office (which is separate from the regular ticket office). I’ve purchased a multi-city PDX-SEA-VAC ticket for $49. I explain to a very friendly baggage agent that I would like to check by bag to Vancouver after a stop in Seattle. He understands exactly what I’m asking and says my bag will be checked from Portland directly on Train #518, the train I’m crossing the US border on.


Next I’m told to head to the ticket office to ‘check-in’ for my train. Here I’m handed a seat check and am originally told for Seattle to board train cars 7, 8 or 9. I explain I think I’m going to get off at Tukwila, and she says in that case board cars 3 or 4, she writes this on the back of my seat check since only the doors near that car will open. Unlike on previous Amtrak Cascade trips they don’t hand me an exact seat assignment.


I wander around Union Station some more and soon they announce priority boarding, followed by boarding for parties of two or more for Amtrak Cascades Train #504. I head outside, get some rainy photos of a Charger sitting on another trainset, and notice that my train is being pulled by a charger, so no decent photo of it in Tukwila.


I then board the ADA car #3 that has 2 x 1 seating and select a seat in the single 1 row for the novelty. The train isn’t that crowded so I probably would have gotten two seats to myself anyway. At 11:58 we get an announcement that the bistro car is already open and serving, and instructions to line up along the wall towards the lounge car and not form the line into the vestibule of my car #3

At 12:03, 3 minutes late as it stops raining and the sun comes out, with a BNSF freight train passing in the opposite direction, we leave Portland-Union Station.

We leave Portland, and follow trees and bridges on a ride that feels oddly familiar, although I was last here back in 2013. The conductor comes and I explain I want to get off at Tukwila as he scans my ticket, saying “Getting off early, won’t be a problem.” We soon cross the Columbia River bridges.

Almost immediately we enter the Vancouver, WA station, where we arrive at 12:22pm and leave at 12:24pm, 6 minutes late. I notice that a new platform has been built for the Empire Builder across Hill Street from the main station, with a few shelters, looking at Google Earth I notice a third track has also been added along the switch the Empire Builder takes just before entering this station so their isn’t space next to the platform.

We continue north, following the Columbia River’s wide estuary, and then I-5 (briefly running between the lanes of the freeway) before it follows alongside us.

At 1:03 we stop in Keslo-Longview that seems exactly the same, with a volunteer station attendant standing on the platform as when I visited it nearly 7 years ago.

I then head to the bistro car for a light lunch. I due love the Amtrak Cascades menu, compared to the normal AmCafe menu on most routes (the Downeaster has a similar special menu). I order what else but clam chowder, and head into the Lounge Car. As I head into the lounge car we stop for a moment “To get instructions, because some men are working on the tracks ahead” according to a detailed announcement from our conductor. We then head into Centralia where we make a one minute stop at 1:50, leaving 19 minutes late.

I return to my seat as we go through the woods of the Pacific Northwest at 80mph speed. At 2:11 we enter the Centennial Station in Olympia-Lacy where I watch the volunteer opening the electronic gate as our train enters. I also notice bus route 64 waiting to whisk any railroad passengers into Olympia waiting for us at the station, and a big banner on the station for “Champions of the Rails – Volunteers”

We leave the Centennial Station. I keep my eyes glued to the windows, at 2:23 I see a track turning north, just before we cross over I-5, this is the start of Port Defiance Bypass, out of service until PTC is certified (the current route doesn’t have PTC turned on also, after the awful accident on opening day).

Within just a few minutes the ride gets scenic as we start to follow the Southern Pudget Sound.

Next we pass Union Avenue and the Steilacoom Ferry Port where all traffic needs to cross the rail line for the ferries to Anderson, McNiel, and Kentron Islands.

The decent water views continue, as we switch tracks at 2:23 at Pioneer Siding passing the Chambers Bay Golf Course. I’m assume that this will be my last trip on Amtrak Cascades using the old route, and can’t believe all of the scenery that will be skipped when the new route enters service once PTC is enabled. It will save time and improve reliability!

We cross under the twin Tacoma Narrows Bridges continuing north at about 2:39.

We curve around into the single-track tunnel under Point Defiance at 2:41 and head south in wrong direction, continuing to follow Pudget Sound towards Tacoma.

We continue through another short tunnel and into Port Restin and additional water views.

We go around the curves and pass below downtown Tacoma, passing a large BNSF freight yard. BNSF will definitely be happy to get rid of Amtrak once the court of PTC public opinion decides the Port Defiance bypass can be opened.

We arrive into the old Tacoma AmStation at 2:51pm, and depart at 2:53.

At that point it’s the blur of passing the Sounder Stations I’ve visited:

  • 2:58pm – pass Train #504 heading southbound using one of the new ODOT-owned Talgo trainsets with the unique cab cars I still haven’t photographed
  • 3:02 – Puyallup
  • 3:04 – the blur of Sumner station
  • 3:08 – Pass the first Sounder southbound train of the PM rush hour as we go through the large yard.
  • 3:09 – Pass Auburn

I miss the Kent Sounder Station’s time as I get off at Tukwila(33 photos). There I see passengers on the opposite platform waiting for the next Southbound Sounder train.


I get my photo essay, staying on platform 1, including of the new bus loop and parking area. I decide to just purchase an ORCA Day Pass for $8, plus the $5 ORCA card fee since mine didn’t seem to move to Indiana.

The Sounder train I expect to arrive at 3:28pm but it’s clearly running late. At 3:34 I see my King County Transit Rapid Ride F bus and decide to get on. I want to give myself plenty of time to do the new Link Subway.