So, here I am pulling out of the Portland, Oregon Union Station on the #516 Cascades Train heading north towards my final destination of Bellingham, Washington. I can’t wait to share with you my thoughts on train travel in today’s busy hustle and bustle world.
I am scheduled to attend a training conference for the Northwest Christian Speakers Bureau tomorrow and Saturday. At the suggestion of the coordinator for the conference, I decided to take the train. I have traveled by train before. But it was when I was in high school and it was in Germany and Austria, not the U.S.A. I was very excited to give this a try rather than brave the traffic and roads of I-5 north in the November rain by myself.
My son dropped me off at Union Station an hour before my train was scheduled to depart. If you have any thoughts that train travel is just like air travel only on the ground. I am here to say, it is quite different. My first impression upon entering the station was how quaint and historical it felt. Being a “lover of all things history” and especially old buildings and landmarks, I was taken aback by how little this building must have changed over the past 100 years. The ceiling especially is stunning. I can almost see the ladies of 1907, swishing by in their long travel skirts holding the hands of their children. Round ornate hat boxes and leather gilded trunks are now replaced with backpacks and oversized Coach bags, but the feeling is still the same. People going somewhere.
After confirming my business class tickets and checking my weekend bag, I found a seat on the long oak carved benches to await our departure. I love to people watch and the Union Station did not disappoint. Several mature women were traveling alone and I wondered where they were going. To visit their grandkids maybe? A few families were hurrying by; children wide-eyed at the adventure about to unfold. I also noticed that the Amtrak station personnel were very polite and accessible to anyone and everyone that even appeared that they might not know where they were going or what to do next. They graciously answered questions and guided people on their way.
Soon our train number was called and I followed the directions of the attendants and made my way out to the platform. To my left was a beautiful red colored train. Sleek and shiny. On my right, the more traditional grey Amtrak double-decker train that I see buzzing by the tracks by our town. I asked an attendant which was my train and she directed me to the one on my left. It’s the sleek and shiny train. How nice! I found Car 1 and climbed aboard to locate my seat number 5. So far, so good. I am impressed.
While waiting for us to leave the station, I immediately note a big difference in train vs plane travel. The Business class car is so quiet. There is a slight background noise of air flow generators, but other than that, it is just quiet. Quiet like a library. My seat looks like it was plucked from the first class airline. I put my carry-on bag down and proceed to settle in. No constricting seatbelts to fuss with. All around me people are quietly adjusting their belongings and preparing to depart. I see mostly businessmen with a few other eclectic varieties thrown in. I wonder if anyone else here is also going to the same conference? I double-check one more time to be sure I’m on the right train, breath a sign of thankfulness and relax. I notice that right between my seat and one the next to me (which by the way is a good foot away), is an electrical plug-in to allow me to set up my laptop during the journey, or charge my phone if needed. I also note that the overhead monitor reminds that there is free wi-fi for my use during travel. Thank you very much Amtrak. The sign also encourages everyone to “please silence their phones” and if needed, they should “step into the closed off section between the cars to make or accept calls”. Nice! I peruse the Emergency Procedure manual in the seat pocket in front of me and determine that I would indeed be able to locate an exit if needed.
Then as if by magic, the beautiful sliding glass doors at the end of the car quietly close and the train slowly begins to pull from the station. An attendant appears through the glass doors and checks everyone’s tickets, and we’re finally off.
The train car is very comfortable, well lit, with beautiful big panoramic windows that look out on the passing world. One thing I remembered about train travel from years ago, is that you get to see things from a very different perspective from the train as opposed to the highway or the air. I love to see the back sides of buildings and look in at the passing business windows as we whiz by.
Now before, you get to thinking that all is well. We stop. The announcer comes on and informs us that we must sit here and wait for a delayed train #513 coming from the north. We have to wait for it to pass before we can continue. We sit. We wait. I wonder how much this will affect my final arrival time and if the person picking me up will wait? Not to worry…
Finally we’re off again. The buildings fly by and soon give way to some trees and foliage before we cross over the mighty Columbia River and enter Vancouver. At this point, Car One is pretty much only ¼ full of passengers. There are quite a few empty seats, including the one next to me. I wonder if our stop in Vancouver will bring more passengers to our little Car One family. I glance out the window to notice an airliner flying low overhead coming in to land in Portland, but before I can give thought to where it might have come from, we’re off again.
Now that we are leaving the metro areas, the train speed picks up and I quickly remember another thing from my long-ago travels on the European trains. You must look at the far distance or horizon line when gazing out the windows to avoid succumbing to motion sickness brought on by the gentle rocking and rolling motion of the train combined with blurring speed of things as they pass by. Take note or suffer the consequences.
I am now very settling in and quite proud of myself, that I indeed followed the advice of the event coordinator and booked my travel by train. I pull out my laptop, plug it in, easily connect to the wi-fi and begin to write this little blog.
As with all travel, I know you might be wondering about meals and restrooms facilities. For supper, I made my way two cars away to the Bistro, where I was able to look through a menu of fresh prepared sandwiches and a few hot entrée’s. They also have a variety of beverages including some Pacific Northwest brews as well as wine, soda, coffee and tea. My turkey sandwich was very good. You can eat in the lounge car at a table, or take your food back to your seat in the cute little carrying box provided. Our car also had a recycling receptacle for getting rid of paper, plastic and trash after I was done.
When the need arose, I walked to the back of our car to access the restroom facilities. Again, I was pleasantly surprised. The room was completely wheel chair accessible which made it quite large. It was clean and well lit. Again, a huge difference from air plane facilities, and I didn’t have to stand in line. Each car that I saw, had its own restroom facility.
By now, the sun was setting and we were approaching the Seattle area. The train travels parallel to I-5 North during most of its journey, and I could easily see the rain soaking bumper-to-bumper traffic backed up on the roads as we whizzed by. I sigh! What a relief that I wasn’t out there trying to navigate that mess. I settle back in my seat to read a book that I had downloaded a while back on my Kindle, and hadn’t had time to read.
We pull into Bellingham just a few minutes later than the original scheduled time. I meet up with my wonderful hostess, Christie, and head out for our weekend of fellowship, training and Bible Study. I am relaxed and ready to go. Much different than I’m sure I would have felt had I just made a 6+ hour drive in my car.
Weekend was fantastic, and now I’m sitting in my Business Class car on the #513 train heading south back to Portland. It is early in the morning and I get an opportunity to see the beautiful scenery that I missed upon arriving in the Bellingham area a few days ago. I love being able to see the bay and the shoreline as we go. I also love how many people are “out and about” with their families enjoying the crisp fall morning. Many people pause as the passenger train whizzes by, stopping for a moment in their fun to wave at us. What is it about waving at trains that makes us smile? It brings back memories of childhood. Fathers stand along the tracks holding tightly to their kid’s hands as the excitement they feel at seeing the train is reflected on their shiny little faces. One child had his hands tight over his ears and his eyes squeezed shut, not enjoying the experience as much as his father who as trying to calm his fears. Train travel!
My journey home was quick, quiet and gave me a much needed moment to reflect on my very full weekend. All too soon, we pulled into Union Station in Portland. As I walked towards the station, I could see my whole family there to meet me. My husband, my son, my daughter, and my 5-year old grandson. My journey was now complete.
I will be looking for future opportunities to take advantage of the beauty and ease of train travel. Thank you Cascades Amtrak…I will be back.