Canada Pacific Northwest Transit Adventures

Quiet, Sleepy Amtrak Cascades Train #518 to the Frequent Vancouver SkyTrain

This is Part 4 of my 2018 Pacific Northwest Up-to-Date Trip.

I return to King Street Station at 6:12, after getting the 3 new Link Stations, a little early by my standards. I’m feeling a quite tired (my body thinks its 9:12) and my technology is starting to die. I eat the Gyro plate I’ve purchased and wait for boarding instructions to head to Vancouver. At 6:25 they ask us to line up to get our tickets scanned and seat checks that do have seating assignments. I notice I get a window! I then relax on an old fashioned wooden bench, as my camera battery charges across from me in one of the few scarce outlets in King Street Station.

Boarding starts 15 minutes before departure at 6:45pm (my train arrived in Seattle from Portland at 6:39pm, 9 minutes late). I head outside getting some photos of a Charger attached to some Superliner cars (used temporary on Amtrak Cascades because of damage from all the recent accidents) saying “Not In Service” on its sign.

I board my car and take my assigned seat, every row in the car fills up but since it’s going to be a less than half-full train everyone has been assigned two seats to themselves.

We get a friendly announcement from the bistro car that their currently closed, restocking with lots of new food from our stop in Seattle. The bistro car needs a full round-trip of food to and from because customs regulations prohibit it from being restocked in Vancouver.

The train leaves for Vancouver at 7:02, two minutes late and we head into the railroad tunnel under downtown Seattle, were through at 7:06, and get another bistro attendant announcement that “I’m open, done restocking from the commissary.”

We have another conductor who’s very good at keeping us informed about unexpected stops as it’s slow running into Everett due to freight trains. I notice the electric fence in the dark that notifies BNSF (and issues a 48 hour moratorium on passenger trains) when a branch or rock slides down this mudslide prone portion of tracks. We stop in Edmonds at 7:31, 6 minutes late, and I notice additional Sounder platforms before the Amtrak platform area.

We continue north and pass through Mukilteo at 7:55, the only stop we bypass on Sounder North. This station has been rebuilt since I visited with more permanent platforms for the two tracks and even a pedestrian overpass, the train is running full speed. The nightime lights of Pudget sound feel calm on my nice quiet car.

The rest of the ride north is a bit of a blur. I step into the vestibule to call Louise and talk to her for awhile who’s in Honolulu at the moment presenting at a conference. She will take a red-eye to Vancouver in a few days time and meet up with us. I have my laptop and try and do some website work but am too tired.

I get the usual Canadian entry card after we stop in Bellingham and fill one out, it has a place to say your arriving by train, unlike the awkward US customs card where you simply write Amtrak (and the train number) under flight number/vessel name. I fall back asleep again around 9:50, after we cross the Peace Arch without delay into Canada.

At 11:00am, I wake up again and wonder how close we’ve gotten, I see the Millenium Line and that we’re nearly past the VCC/Clark Station and about to arrive in Vancouver. We are just a few minutes late. It’s the usual stop and go, getting switches set to enter Pacific Central.

At 11:06 I see the train wash, people have gotten up to prepare to get off, although we’re told to wait in our seats and that the crew will release us to go through Canadian customs car-by-car. There is one woman in my car who’s phone has been buzzing with a really annoying ring tone almost non-stop since we’ve entered Canada. We then pass the VIA/West Coast Express Maintenance facility.

At 11:09 I see the security guard holding an umbrella opening the gate to let us enter the gated secured paddock for us all to clear Canadian Immigration and customs. We come to a stop on the platform at 11:10 for good.

It’s a bit of a wait for my car (one of the benefits of a business class upgrade is there released to Canadian customs and immigration first, although their car is on the opposite end of the platform from the baggage car which is always at the front of the train northbound into Vancouver), but very shortly I head out to the platform. I get to the baggage car and find my backpack sitting as expected just outside of it. I ask a friendly VIA employee – who seems almost familiar from my previous trips through Pacific Central Station – if he wants to match my bag tags. He says “No it’s on the honor system.”

I head into customs, the line moving relatively briskly and have an amusing conversation with the CBSA agent:

CBSA Agent: “What Brings you to Canada?”
Me: “Skiing at Whistler.”
CBSA Agent: “Are you meeting anyone?”
Me: “Yes, my Dad.”
CBSA Agent: “Is he meeting you at the station?”
Me: “He’s asleep already at our hotel, I’m taking the Skytrain over to the hotel”
CBSA Agent: “Very good, enjoy your stay!” 

I walk out am through customs at 11:21, just 11 minutes after the train’s arrival, not to shabby.

I exit Pacific Central Station and cross Thornton Park to Main Street-Science World(6 Photos). I purchase my first ever Compass Ticket, it’s too late at night to figure out how much money to load onto a permanent compass card, although Compass Tickets I know have a single-use ticket fee. It takes me a few tries since it’s a modern chip and pin machine. My AMEX credit card doesn’t work, but my chip and pin US debit card luckily does, on the second try when I select Credit not Debit and enter my pin number.


I then head up to the platform admiring the new signage with the Evergreen Extension on the Millennium Line now opening. I just miss one SkyTrain but another comes within 5 minutes. Not too many cities can boast of a transit line running that frequent at 11:30 at night.

I get off at Burrard Station (I don’t get any decent photos) as I walk the few ways to the hotel. I pick up the key that my Dad’s left me at the front desk and our in our room at Midnight, with a 5:00am wake-up call, before the 6:00am bus to Whistler.