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Northern California & Oregon to Seattle by train

March 4, 2017 Saturday – Amtrak Coast Starlight train from northern California through Oregon to Seattle

Sign: Union Pacific Railway: Chemult, Oregon. Elev 4,764 ft

Sign: Union Pacific Railway: Chemult, Oregon. Elev 4,764 ft

There is no rush to get up this morning, since our arrival in Seattle is scheduled for 8:12PM this evening. I get up around 7:30AM and then go for breakfast a bit later. We make a quick stop in Klamath Falls at 9:15AM – Upper Klamath Lake still has some ice on the surface as the train winds its way around the shoreline.

There is some light snow falling as we stop in Chemult, Oregon at 10:40AM – the same spot it was snowing on the way down. Needless to say, there is still quite a bit of snow on the ground in this high elevation area. The train stops to pick up some passengers and then starts the descent through the pine forest. As the Sun comes out, it’s beautiful country, but I’m glad to be inside with my slippers on.

At 11:23AM we are at Cascade Summit, the highest point on the railroad as it crosses the Cascade Mountains at an elevation of 4,852 feet or 1,479 metres. There is lots of snow on the side of the tracks and on the trees, and it’s lightly snowing as we enter the summit tunnel. The snow gets deeper as we descend, and the train becomes very quiet as it goes through the deep snow. By my count, there are 18 tunnels in this stretch of track.

After leaving Albany, the rain starts falling. There is lots of primary industry in this area, especially lumber mills. The train is running about a half hour late, not that it matters to me. We pass by Willamette Falls and Abernethy Island as the train runs down the shoreline of the Willamette River towards Portland. My sleeping car is pretty quiet after leaving Portland, so obviously a lot of people got off here. Portland has a big and busy rail yard. Union Pacific and Burlington Northern Santa Fe both operate out of this yard.

As we leave Portland, Oregon and cross the Columbia River into Vancouver, Washington, the conductor announces that we will be delayed because of a swing span being opened and having several freight trains waiting ahead of us. In the mean time, they are serving an early dinner starting at 5PM. I send a Facebook message with a virtual wave to my friends who live in Scappoose, across the Columbia River from where I am on the train north of Portland (in Washington State).

After a short stop, the train engineer really barrels out of Tacoma station, obviously wanting to make time to the Seattle King Street station and the end of the line. We were about 35 minutes late earlier in the day, and I don’t think he gained or lost much time despite several delays mainly caused by freight traffic. It is sprinkling a bit of rain as I head out of the Seattle King Street train station after our arrival, walking the six blocks to my hotel, the Best Western at Pioneer Square. It is an older hotel, but well-run, and very convenient to the train station.

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Seattle to Los Angeles by train

Feb 16, 2017 Thursday – Seattle to Sacramento by train

I wake up at 6:30AM this morning, having had a good sleep at the hotel. I go down for some breakfast and the essential coffee. It is then time to leave for the train station. There are patches of blue sky and no rain, so instead of taking a taxi, I slowly walk the six blocks, pulling my big bag on wheels.

Looking into my Roomette aboard the Seattle to Sacramento Coast Starlight

Looking into my Roomette aboard the Seattle to Sacramento Coast Starlight

The King Street Union Station in Seattle is beautiful inside, with marble walls and classic high ceilings. The old-style wooden high-backed bench seats hearken back to previous eras. I go to the ticket booth to check-in and the agent explains that if I need stuff out of my big bag, then I will have to take it aboard with me instead of checking it through to LA. Next time, I will know to take a smaller bag, since there is no assistance with bag handling when boarding the train.

This is certainly slow travel, since our check-in consists of showing our tickets to the agent, and then they hand write a paper ticket with our car number and room number on it. No ticket scans and no security checks. The Homeland Security Police presence inside the station bring me back to the current reality, although they appear to be pretty bored, having little to do.

9:30AM – Leave Seattle, WA. There is a Sounder commuter train unloading passengers on the opposite track to ours as we leave. It’s so refreshing to see rail transport being actively used here in Washington State, unlike Vancouver Island, where rail transport is being neglected.

Tacoma Narrows bridge at sunset

Tacoma Narrows bridge at sunset

10:30AM – Tacoma, WA – we stop to board a few passengers before leaving for the most scenic stretch along the Puget Sound to Olympia. The Roomette on the opposite side of the isle is being used by George, our car attendant, so I scoot over there to shoot video and photos, since he said he doesn’t mind. We also briefly stop in Olympia to take on a few more passengers, and then the train goes inland through rural areas.

12:00 Noon – Centralia, WA – we stop for a few minutes to detrain some passengers, and then carry on our way. Lunch is served in the dining car in three seatings: 12:00, 12:30 and 13:00. I skip the first seating, since there is a rush of passengers. The rivers in this area are muddy and swollen with the rain and snow we recently had over the last month or so.

12:20PM – Longview-Kelso, WA – The rain starts as we travel south, crossing rivers and streams with the I-5 freeway beside us. I’m so happy to not be driving…just sitting here in my Roomette with my slippers on, fully relaxed as I watch the drivers on the freeway drive through the rain. I go to the dining car at 12:30PM and have turkey medallions – a very nice hot lunch!

1:50PM – Portland, OR – We stop in Portland for about a half hour, where passengers get on and off. It is also where passengers can get off to stretch their legs, get some fresh air, and to have a smoke (outside the terminal). I stay onboard, since it is raining quite hard.

I receive a voicemail from Amtrak stating that I should get off at Sacramento to be transferred to LA to connect with my train to Tucson, since they are expecting delays further down the track to LA. They have refunded a portion of my ticket in compensation. I check with my car attendant, and he can’t see why that is necessary since the train isn’t currently running late. He suggests I check with the next conductor before arriving in Sacramento, but I should be prepared to get off the train in Sacramento at 6:35AM.

Red barn and green field at sunset near Tangent, Oreon

Red barn and green field at sunset near Tangent, Oregon

3:50PM – Salem, OR – Quick stop. Willamette University Bearcats female football players practicing. Lots of farming is going on in the Willamette Valley between Salem and Albany.

4:35PM – Albany, OR – Quick stop. Big rail yard.

The conductor comes by to find out what I was told about getting off in Sacramento. He confirms there is flooding near Chico, California, which will slow the train down, and there is also track work being done on the California coast section, so the train will likely be quite late. He confirms I should get off in Sacramento, and tells me I will be on a bus from Sacramento to Stockton, then a fast train from Stockton to Bakersfield, and finally another bus from Bakersfield to LA, driving down the Central Valley. I will arrive in LA at 4:15PM, and my train to Tucson leaves at 10PM.

6:10PM I go for dinner at the second seating, I am seated with a couple who boarded in Tacoma. They are heading to LA and then getting on a cruise ship in San Pedro, the Port of Los Angeles, for a short 6 day cruise down the coast of Mexico.

8:00PM – It’s pitch black outside, but I see quite a bit of snow flashing by and snowflakes falling outside the window. We haven’t had cellular reception for quite awhile, which is to be expected in this area, according to the conductor. The train has slowed down to perhaps 10-15 mph and now it has stopped. Our conductor announces that the train will stop because an outside sensor is detecting that something is dragging below the train. He goes outside to investigate – in the dark and snow, and with a serious drop in slope beside the roadbed. After 10 minutes the train starts moving again after he reports nothing found.

8:33PM – I thought the train has stopped again, but it’s just become very quiet riding through the snow.

9:05PM – Chemult, OR – more passengers board the train.

10PM – Time for bed…my first night aboard a train in my own Roomette.

Feb 17, 2017 Friday – Sacramento to Los Angeles by bus and train

Sacramento Valley Station in the rain

Sacramento Valley Station in the rain

My day starts early at 5AM when I wake up in my Roomette and look outside at the dark. The dining car doesn’t open before our arrival in Sacramento, so no breakfast for those of us de-traing here. I say goodbye to my cabin attendant and shlep my bags into the terminal. I check into the ticket booth, and am issued new Amtrak tickets for both today’s bus-train-bus segments, this evening’s train to Tucson, and my return trip back to Seattle. I sit with one of my fellow passengers, who tells me by his calculations our train averaged 43 mph from Seattle to Sacramento.

The Amtrak bus leaves the station an hour after our arrival and takes about an hour \to transfer us to the Stockton station. We wait an hour before boarding the San Joaquin commuter train to Bakersfield. The train leaves at 9:25AM and arrives in Bakersfield at 1:49PM. Along the way, we pass huge fields of almond trees in bloom, and even some orange bushes. The fields are either flooded or are so wet that there is no way they can be worked. The train slows because of high winds in the valley. I go to the snack bar on board and have a hot panini for lunch.

We then take another Amtrak bus from Bakersfield to Union Station in Los Angeles. This proves to be a real endurance contest, since it is raining so hard. The US Weather Service is sending out warnings to stay away from the areas we are driving through! This was supposed to be a 2 hour and 20 minute trip according to the ticket, but ends up taking over four hours. I find it to be very stressful, not only because of the extremely hazardous driving conditions. We are stopped at least twice from entering LA because of mud slides, washouts, or MVAs causing roads to be closed. Apparently, the major interstate freeway I-5 was closed in both directions today!

Traxx restaurant in LA's Union Station

Traxx restaurant in LA’s Union Station

I find the Metropolitan Lounge in Union Station; sit down to relax and have a coffee and snacks. I need some time to unwind a bit, and to recover from the stress of the last segment of our journey today. I leave my big bag in the lounge and have a nice dinner with a new friend I met on the train at the Traxx restaurant in the station.

I then return to the lounge, retrieve my bags, and get a red cap to take me to the train. They are ready to board passengers, so I quickly get settled into my Roomette. I have a shower before we depart the station, since it’s so much easier than when the train is rocking and rolling. Our cabin attendant tells me this train has no Wi-fi aboard, and the route the train takes means the cellular coverage cuts out as soon as the train clears the LA area.

10:00PM – The train leaves the station on time and slowly proceeds eastward through Los Angeles, but by 11:00PM it comes to a complete stop for about 15 minutes before proceeding slowly again. I have a feeling the operating staff are watching out for debris on the tracks, since this rainstorm has washed out many roads and gullies are full of mud and rocks. No doubt they are being careful to avoid derailment, because it is still raining, but just not as hard as this afternoon. The train starts and stops several times before I go to bed around 11:30PM.