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I was on Cascades 504 yesterday, PDX-SEA.  Instead of the usual Stand in Line for 30 Minutes to get a boarding pass they now issue a car assignment at the ticket counter, board 30 minutes before departure and grab a seat.  Much more pleasant and efficient.  Does anyone know if this is an experiment or permanent?  Waiting for that seat assignment was one of the worst experiences of riding Cascades.

14 Replies to “Cascades boarding changes?”

  1. Sounds like a very logical and needed improvement. Amtrak still assigns car numbers but the customers get to choose their seats within that car–first come, first served.

  2. They’ve always done seat assignments for business class at the ticket counter, so if that’s what you did rather than coach then that explains that.

    If you don’t want to stand in line for a seat assignment then just show up 10 minutes before departure. There aren’t any lines then. You might not get the seat you want but if you’d rather not wait in line you don’t have to.

    Cutoff time is officially 5 minutes before departure but thanks to Metro 8 I’ve once shown up 30 seconds before departure and still gotten on.

    1. I was in coach. I thanked the agent for the change in procedure. If only there was a way that people could get a seat assignment when they bought the ticket. It would be a first in the transportation industry. Airlines don’t and can’t…um wait…Sorry, they already do that.

      Somehow tens of thousands of passengers at Penn Station manage to show up at gates with their tickets, stand in line if there is one, get on the train and find a seat. Is there something about the Cascades that makes it different? If it’s platform lengths, then doing what they are doing now, except assign the car when you buy the ticket. If that is not technically possible then a screen that tells passengers what car they should board, station-by-station, would make the whole process so much better.

      1. Indian Railways has managed to assign seats when reserved tickets are sold for something like two decades now.

        Works very well, even at 2 minute-dwell stops.

        So, maybe we’ll (almost) catch up to India, with only a 20+ year lag.

      2. Penn Station’s gate style boarding is still terrible. The rest of the world, including in California, lets people show up at the platform at their own pace, their train arrives, and they board.

        Japan’s bullet trains have both reserved seating and unreserved open seating in coach as well as 1st class. You can pick your seat from the ticket machine. The car and seat assignment printed on the ticket.

        When you book sleeping accommodation on Amtrak’s long distance trains you are assigned a car and a room.

  3. No problem to assign seats when booking in Europe either. Many rail operators in fact allow you to chose the exact seat you want based on a schematic drawing of the cars.

      1. So what? We have plenty of differing trainsets here in Europe. You’ll just need to either know the schedule beforehand, or only allow reserving seats that exist in all configuration. The latter is very common in Germany as ICE trainsets have slightly different configuration between order batches and after major overhauls.

      2. On my last trip I was assigned a seat that didn’t exist. The conductor just said take any open seat.

        In Europe, where the trains can be split mid-journey, it’s important to be seated in the right car. On the Cascades trains passengers are assigned seats based on their destinations so that only 2 doors have to be opened at the intermediate stops (Business Class and the closest Coach door). I think all Cascades stations need a step stool on the platform to assist boarding which is why Amtrak limits the number of doors that are opened at the intermediate stations.

      3. The Empire Builder is also split at Spokane. But there’s a difference between choosing the correct car and being assigned a seat. Still, I don’t see the big deal about waiting for seat assignments. What’s the difference between waiting for a seat assignment vs waiting for the gate to open? Just that you may be able to sit down during the latter if there’s still a bench open?

      4. “So what? We have plenty of differing trainsets here in Europe. You’ll just need to either know the schedule beforehand, or only allow reserving seats that exist in all configuration.”

        Which is why I argue against letting the passenger assign themselves their own seats. More unneeded mental gymnastics for them and extra CPU cycles for no real benefit.

        We’re definitely different than Europe in one respect:
        All the WSDOT trainsets were ordered with the ability to turn (almost) all the seats facing forward in the direction of travel. Peculiar to US. However the ODOT trainsets force 1/2 the passengers to sit backwards.

        Depending on the station, the number of Coach doors opened will vary, but since the ‘legacy’ stations still have low platforms (including KSS, and Portland), dwell time is kept at a minimum by concentrating passengers by destination to a few cars.

        People in this region still need more hand-holding than the rest of the country. We’re just not as used to train travel as they are back east, and certainly nowhere near the level of acceptance as in Europe.

        Maybe WSDOT feels the need to answer that ‘customer service’ approach for half the passengers that don’t understand how to take the train.

        Not all are as savvy as the riders on this board.

        Upgrade all the stations to modern (almost) level boarding, and you solve the ‘which car?’ issue. If you can solve that problem for KSS and Portland, then you can have your dream of wandering the platforms there, and Everett.

        While we’re at it, … we could institute daytime service over the mountains,.. and stops in Ellensburg… Yakima….

        Great idea for an Initiative/Referendum like they did in California in 1990, creating the ‘Amtrak California’ corridor systems there.

        But have we got the balls to do that?

  4. I’ve experienced this new procedure three times in the past couple weeks now, and it was nice to be able to pick my seat (it is too cumbersome to request a seat that faces forward, reclines — some don’t, and doesn’t face another person staring back at you the whole trip; even though those are all reasonable, simple expectations for a seat). However, the major downside is that you’re not certain to be able to sit by the people you are traveling with. They do ask people not to sit at the table seats unless you’re with a large group, but I don’t actually think this small change in boarding is an overall improvement. What is needed is online seat assignment for the major stops (Seattle, Portland, and Vancouver, BC…maybe Tacoma and Vancouver, WA).

    I commented to the conductor “this is new” when he handed me a ticket with just a car number on it, and he acknowledged that it is something they are trying out. So to answer this post’s question…I think it is temporary with the possibility of it becoming permanent.

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