This past Wednesday, Mercedes and I made the trip up north to spend Thanksgiving with her family, here in New York City. We took the Amtrak Northeast Regional—from Washington Union to New York Penn. It was the worst train ride in my history of using rail transit…and that includes the time a 10:30pm Sinchang-bound Seoul Metro Line 1 Rapid train I got on at Seoul Station decided it would become a Seodongtan-bound train at Byeongjeom, a mere 2 stops from where I was supposed to get off at Seojeong-ri. There was a fatality on the tracks between Baltimore and Wilmington and Amtrak held us at Baltimore Penn for 64 minutes without even telling us why. We didn’t find out there was a fatality until we passed the scene near Wilmington. This debacle adds to my poor perception of Amtrak in the East. Every day, when I’m at Washington Union waiting for the MARC Commuter home, the afternoon Amtrak to Richmond-Staples Mill is always over an hour late. I’ve long resigned to the fact that they don’t know what the hell they’re doing. This pales in comparison to my only other Amtrak experience in the Pacific Northwest. That brings me to this week’s moment in the Flashback Friday series: Amtrak Cascades.
How I first came across this moment? My final Air Force assignment was Osan Air Base in South Korea. Though I had a report no later date of June 12, 2012, the Air Force set my port call as June 4 at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. I arrived in Seattle early in the early afternoon on May 31, having driven from Portland. I was in the midst of a 4-day, 3-night excursion that would take me from Portland to Seattle to Vancouver back to Seattle before getting on the flight to Osan via Yokota Air Base. I only had a few hours to burn in the city and I used those getting from the rental car center at the airport, eating a late lunch, and touring CenturyLink Field and the Seattle Mariners team store before heading to Vancouver. As opposed to taking the quick flight up to Vancouver, I decided to take advantage of the passenger rail service between the two major Pacific Northwest cities: Amtrak Cascades. Once I boarded the train, I found it to be a fantastic decision. The experience was perhaps the crown jewel of that very short trip.
What it meant to me then? The primary reason for my taking of the 3 ½-hour Cascades train ride up to Vancouver instead of a 40-minute Air Canada flight was that I wanted to see the views along the Puget Sound region. With daylight savings time in effect and me being on Pacific time zone clock, it meant that I could also see the sun set across the scene as well. That’s why I took the 6pm train leaving out of Seattle King Street. The onboard look, feel, and amenities were unlike anything I experienced on the Acela Express or Northeast Regional…the only other Amtrak trains I had rode to that point. The seats were comfortable, the WiFi was very strong, and the food selection was more than I expected. Even the livery of the staff and the train itself was a cut above what I had experienced on other Amtrak trains. As we traveled north from Seattle to Edmonds to Everett to Stanwood to Mount Vernon to Bellingham, the scenic views became even more amazing. This was magnified as the sun set on the Pacific Northwest. By the time we arrived at Pacific Central Station in Vancouver, I was sold on the fact that I would only travel by rail between Vancouver and Seattle…no exceptions.
What it means to me now? It’s been 4 ½ years since that initial ride on Cascades. I’ve traveled to Vancouver via Seattle twice more since then and true to my word, I’ve taken the early evening Amtrak up. For my money—all $63 of it for the business class seat—there is no better way to make the trek between both cities. Actually, I take that back…maybe a chartered flight would be better but I haven’t experienced that yet.