Amtrak Cascades to Portland
My friend Andy and I had to get up very early on Saturday to make the 7:30 train. We arrived at King Street Station around 6:45 and wandered around gawking at the newly rebuilt doors and retouched plaster moulding - the restoration project is well under way, with some of the columns already marble clad once again, and harsh temporary lights where chandeliers will soon be replaced. I peeked around the edge of the false ceiling in the main lobby - the second story will probably be uncovered soon.
We avoided the ticketing line and picked up our tickets from the QuikTrak machines - $45 round trip for each of us (paid earlier), even booked only a couple of weeks in advance. $90 for two is a bit more than fuel for the truck, but certainly worth it when considering maintenance. We were first in line for seat assignments, and ended up in car 8 - nearly at the head of the train.
From the look of the crowd lined up to board, the train was fairly full. We overheard a conductor discussing this - every seat was sold. This is normal for a Saturday morning, people headed down for the weekend take this train to get the maximum amount of time in Portland. Unlike a trip to Vancouver, this run sells the dining car seats as well - and still fills up.
The train left exactly on time, and we sat back. Short stops in Tukwila and Tacoma, and no slowdowns until a couple of holds for freight traffic close to Kelso/Longview, and one more near Vancouver, WA. This happens less every year - and work is planned to eliminate both of these bottlenecks. We pulled into Portland about twenty minutes late.
We hopped on a bus for the few short blocks on the transit mall to downtown, and got on a Red Line MAX light rail train to go see the airport extension. It's pretty nice to go at highway speed along I-205 - apparently the light rail originally went faster, but there were complaints because people were speeding to keep up with it. Whatever. It was a nice ride, overall - I had never been past Gateway Station east of town, and the tight loop to get on the freeway alignment was probably the tightest rail turn I've ever been on.
Back in town, we hopped off in the Rose Quarter and walked down the floating pedestrian path along the Willamette. It's amazing to me how well Portland has connected their path network - we even saw an intersection where a bike path has its own lights, based on a special bicycle sensor in the trail. I need to take my bike on the train next time and ride around town.
We walked back across the Steel Bridge and were heading toward the pedestrian crossing at Union Station when we saw a train that looked like it was heading for the bridge - so we hurried back toward the bridge to see if it was. I'm glad we did, too! The Coast Starlight crossed the bridge from the other direction while we watched.
The rest of the afternoon was spent getting food and going to Powell's over in the Pearl District. The redevelopment of that area is beautiful - condos over shops make for an extremely pedestrian-friendly area. Powell's and Whole Foods are only a block apart, and the streetcar takes people right downtown.
We took the 6:15 Cascades train back to Seattle and got in a bit before 10. The entire trip from the U-district to Portland was done with public transportation. Assuming we didn't have bus passes for King County Metro (which we did), the trip would have cost $45 for Amtrak tickets , $2.50 for the two Metro runs, and $3.75 for a TriMet all day pass - a total of $51.25. The Amtrak tickets at the time we purchased them were normally $60, but we used the Portland Big Deal 25% discount. My employer-provided FlexPass and Andy's UPass both provide a 15% discount, but the Portland Big Deal was better.
Comparing $51.25*2 people to the standard 40.5c/mile IRS vehicle reimbursement rate - we saved about $40 (not counting travel in Portland), while retaining over 7 hours of nap/reading time.