Skip to comments.AN AMTRAK ADVENTURE
Posted on 02/20/2010 8:10:47 AM PST by Willie Green
A couple of weeks ago we took our annual trip on Amtrak with Dave Zweifel, editor emeritus of the Capital Times in Madison.
We usually plan our junket in late January or early February, depending on schedules, etc., but always about the time the winter season seems to be getting a little long.
After considering various options, we decided on a trip to Portland, Ore., and Seattle, Wash., before heading back home. This time we did things a bit differently, combining a flight and travel on Amtrak. Usually we are gone one night on the train, spend one or two nights at our destination and then another night back on the train.
But, this time we opted to fly to Portland, then take the train to Seattle and another one over to Columbus, the Amtrak stop closest to Watertown. We still got out two nights on the train and a chance to see an incredible city.
We departed from Dane County Airport after going through the security screening process, the long lines and the cramped seating on both segments of the trip. It was a good reminder as to why train travel is so enjoyable. ADVERTISEMENT
When we arrived at Portland's airport, the simple solution for getting to our hotel would have been taking the taxicab, but we made a commitment to use Portland's light rail and bus system to the greatest extent possible. Portland is one of the very best communities in the country for mass transit options and we weren't disappointed. The city is filled with bike and walking paths, light rail, electric buses, and other modes of travel, including the cabs. If you're there for a visit there is no need to rent a car, that's for sure.
We did carry-on baggage, and when we left the plane went directly for the baggage claim area. Just outside that area was the waiting light rail train, waiting for us. We purchased a ticket for a couple bucks from a automatic ticketing machine (we did get a little help from a transit employee), and a short time later we were on our way in a modern, quiet, light rail system.
It wasn't totally without a hitch. We got off the light rail about four stops too soon because we forgot the name of the stop. When we got off the large maps at the station weren't quite as helpful as they might have been but still, we quickly had it figured out, and boarded back on the next train. Minutes later we got off the light rail and walked just a block and a half to our hotel. And, all for a couple bucks and no traffic or parking hassles.
We spent the rest of the day walking around in downtown Portland, enjoying the scenes and then settled in for an excellent dinner at RingSide Steakhouse, a Portland landmark. We're not a food critic but the meal was excellent and while it was more expensive than we might expect here in Watertown, it was not out of line for the big city. The dining experience was recommended by a friend of Dave's who lives in Portland on a part-time basis.
The next morning we packed up and got ready for the highlight of the trip. From our hotel we went probably a mile to Portland's Union Station. This time we took the cab because we had a little business to deal with, but the light rail goes right to the station.
Portland's station is an interesting one. It has the old 19th-20th century look. It has a nice little coffee shop which also offers light food items. It also has a first class lounge for sleeping car passengers and best of all, it has a full service restaurant for lunches and dinners. We arrived to early to enjoy a meal there but on our last trip we did have lunch and it was a perfect setting.
Like Seattle, Portland's station is a busy place. Both daily service for the Empire Builder. One leg of the Builder originates in Seattle and the other in Portland. The two segments connect up in the middle of the night in Spokane and then jointly head across America to Minneapolis, to our stop in Columbus and on to Chicago. The stations also have stops on the Coast Starlight, another full-service train which travels between Seattle and Los Angeles. There is also a a large number of commuter trains, called Sounders, which travel along that route.
In addition, The Cascades travel between Eugene, Ore., and Vancouver, Wash., on various schedules but all of these Cascades travel between Portland and Seattle. This is the train we took from Portland to Seattle. We had a special interest in this line because the trains are made by Talgo, the same company that Gov. Jim Doyle contracted with to construct two new trains for the Hiawatha Service between Milwaukee and Chicago. That contract will be extended to four trainsets now that high speed rail will be expanded to include Watertown and Madison.
Although the Hiawatha trains will be much newer than the Cascades in Washington, we were impressed with them. The ride is quiet and smooth, the seats are all leather, overhead bins for luggage are similar to airlines, and the amenities are exceptional.
The individual cars are much shorter than the ones on the Hiawatha, but instead of six cars there are 14 so the overall capacity was higher.
The bistro car is modern and even has three stools right at the bar to sit down and enjoy a beverage and/or sandwich. There were also a couple tables right there and then on the other side of the car were a number of tables and booths for dining, having a beverage, playing board games, etc.
The cars are slightly narrower, hardly noticeable, but that was necessary because of the train's ability to "tilt" when going around curves in the track. That allows for higher speeds than conventional trains, and it's a trademark of the Talgo units. Our route had a top speed of 79 miles per hour but track work along the way slowed those speeds somewhat. The trains are capable of much higher speeds and ultimately that Portland to Seattle segment is being eyed for higher speed trains, probably similar to the 110 miles per hour speeds anticipated on the Madison-Watertown-Milwaukee-Chicago route.
It was an enjoyable ride on the Talgos and we're looking forward to having that kind of service in the future when trains once again stop here.
Next week we'll talk a bit more about the brief stop in Seattle and also our Empire Builder trip home.
I wish we had better passenger rail service here in Houston.
We should be building more systems like these nationwide!
There are too many regulations for investment-based, profit making, free enterprise, transportation innovation.
All public transportation is exactly that; *publicly owned* and government run, tax-payer subsidized.
Not whining about it - beats horses & buggies. i.e. we would have to deal with some really huge, mandatory pooper scoopers.
A trip from my state (Minnesota) to Colorado with my family is 2,000$ round trip on Amtrak. Not to mention that the trip each way is four days with a transfer in Sacramento, CA. That’s eight days of straight travel... for 2000$!
Sorry, it’s bad news. That couple of bucks for light rail transit in Portland, costs the tax payers twice that per passenger, too subsidize it. Amtrak is also bad news. Lets just say Joe Biden, soaked for tax payers out of tens of thousands of dollars, to subsidize his liesurely travel between DC and Rhode Island.
The problem is that liberals have suddenly fallen in love with trains and want a light rail system anywhere there’s more than two or three people.
Trains are great, but they should be 100% free market and road construction should take priority in urban regions.
shes not been on it since, choosing instead to ride the bus, which has proven mostly reliable
Move to Europe where you can enjoy all of this and more. Leave me to my freedom of movement.
That’s my hometown newspaper! Yeah Doyle agreed to buy those Talgo trains but he totally hosed a company here in Milwaukee that makes trains by not even giving them an opportunity to bid on the deal. Also while he was in Spain checking those new toys out, a company in Sheboygan decided to move more than 300 jobs to Louisiana and his admin didn’t even bat an eyelash to try and save them.
I loved every minute of it. Good food and snacks, comfortable bed, cleanliness, friendly stewards and other employees, great views through the picture window while reclining in a comfy chair, a club car.....plus outstanding service from pre-boarding in the station to disembarking in the nation's capital.
Some minor frustrations like waiting on a side rail for a freight train to pass. But you board a train to enjoy yourself and relax.....and you don't sweat the inconsequential unless you're deliberately wanting to.
I love taking the train. Maybe it is my age but the stress of flyer is starting to get to me. I can get work done, enjoy my meal and relax. Most of the major train stations actually have good food to buy before boarding. Biggest problem is traveling by train is often not cheap and sometimes more expensive than flying.
A trip from my state (Minnesota) to Colorado with my family is 2,000$ round trip on Amtrak. Not to mention that the trip each way is four days with a transfer in Sacramento, CA. Thats eight days of straight travel... for 2000$!
Well airline fairs can get pretty outlandish too, if you book your flights on the wrong plane and transfer somewhere in outer Timbuktu.
Instead of booking a transfer in Sacramento, try going from Minneapolis/St Paul to Chicago, and then on to Denver. I'm sure you'll find the fare and travel time much more reasonable.
And check out the various discounts that Amtrak offers as well. Kids often qualify for half-fare. And seniors, students, vets, etc. usually qualify for 10~15% as well.
All you have to do is a little homework and you'll find Amtrak very cost competitive to other methods of transportation.
When we lived on the East Coast, we took the Autotrain to Orlando. You load your car with all you want to bring, ice chest, flats of soda, stroller, etc., then drive to the station south of D.C. They load your car on a car carrier while you watch. There is a kids play area and restaurant while you wait. You board about 4:00 p.m., and the train travels all night with only one stop for refueling halfway there. At 8:00 am you get to Orlando, get your car and drive to Disney. Dinner, snacks, a movie, and breakfast is included. It was cheaper than flying, paying to park, and renting a car, and we got to Disney before 10, but if we flew we would have gotten there after noon.
When rooms at the Wilderness Lodge are more than 300/night, it makes sense to get there early in the day and leave after lunch. If we flew, we would get there in the afternoon, and leave in the early a.m. It’s like getting another day at the hotel. It is also nice to only have to load/unload once each way. If you are flying, you have to get on/off the parking shuttle, get luggage on/off the plane, ($25 per carry on), in and out the rental car, and reverse all that to get home. Also, you can’t bring stuff on the plane easily like flats of drinks and strollers, or you have to spend a half day at the grocery in Orlando. I recommend it to anyone going to Disney from New England, Atlantic coast north of D.C.
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