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Naked bike riders on the Tilikum Bridge

When we last left our intrepid duo, they had arrived at PDX with a comfortable half hour cushion to catch the return Cascades train to Seattle. Comfortable is a relative term, since by 7PM it was about 90 degrees inside Union Station. No air conditioning but wind tunnel ceiling fans really helped. And since this was the first day of the heat dome the stone and masonry structure had managed to keep things 10-15 degrees cooler than outside.

The station seemed strangely crowded for a Cascades 7:30 train to Seattle. And by crowded, I mean 75% of the seating in use plus people sitting on the floor (marble?) to try and cool off. Amtrak provided free pint size bottles of water which were quickly gone, but there was a plumbed in water cooler across from the gift shop/cafe that I used to refill my water bottle several times. Regular water fountains were shut down due to Covid, but the bathrooms were well maintained and they seemed to have some method of keeping the street campers out of the building.

Our departure time came and went with the station screens continuing to claim, “on time”. About 8PM my son checked the Amtrak website and it said that Cascades service was delayed 40 minutes. OK, 10 minutes and we’re on an air conditioned train headed home… or not. There was a dearth of information from Amtrak personnel about what was going on but we realized the crowd was from the scheduled 4PM Coast Starlight listed on the station screens as “delayed”.

About 9PM there was an announcement that the Starlight would be arriving in 20 minutes. Cascades passengers were supposed to go to the ticket desk for an announcement. Someone behind the counter spoke but even the people in front couldn’t understand what was said.

Eventually we were all instructed to cue up in line with Starlight ticket passengers at the front of the line and Cascade to the back. They would fit as many as they could on the train and the remainder would have to wait for the (now 2 hours late) Cascades with no info on where/when it might show up. Major confusion ensued since it was almost impossible to understand the announcement over the ad hoc PA system.

Another hour goes by and people abandon the line. We finally find out that the Starlight is stuck south of the Steel Bridge coming into Portland. Of course the Cascades is stuck behind it. We eventually are told the locking pins for the bridge failed to engage because of the heat and a repair crew had to be dispatched. Evidently SDOT was ahead of the game on this one.

Although it had nothing to do with us we were told a passenger train in Centralia had failed due to the heat and was waiting for a tow by a BNSF freight locomotive. Begs the question, why are BNSF locomotives able to operate in the same conditions? Maybe because they have to go everywhere and are coupled in units dependent on the demand.

Finally the Starlight rolls into Union Station at 10:15 PM and we are told everyone will have a seat on the train (Starlight & Cascades). We board the air conditioned train and it’s heaven. Evidently someone had gotten permission, or decided to beg forgiveness, and ignored the 50% capacity mandate. The train was full. Maybe every 5th row there was only one person on one side of the isle but it was a packed full train. We soon learned overhearing conversations of people around us that the Starlight was already several hours late before the issue in Portland. These people arrived in Seattle a full 6 hours behind schedule.

Everyone was on board but the train sat for another 15 minutes. Then the Cascades rolled through without stopping. Best guess is during the delay they bused all the Portland passengers to Union Station. That saved those passengers a couple of hours and got the faster Cascades in front of the Starlight. At this point I didn’t really care since we were not going to make last bus back to our car at Mercer Island P&R.

We were on the upper deck of the Superliner so it’s a shame it was already dark and we couldn’t enjoy the view. The Superliner was 1st class compared to the school bus coach seating we had on Cascades and the ride quality was silky smooth. I’ve ridden on the upper deck of Sounder coaches and they seem to amplify the track imperfections. Whatever they’ve done with the Superliner it was the reverse. Very comfortable seats and a plush ride. Of course it’s slower but not much slower.

Everyone was ticked off about the train being so late. A couple near us was on the phone with their hotel in DT Seattle asking how they would get from King Street Station to their destination in the wee hours of the morning. I think it was a fairly high end hotel and they arranged taxi service.

The strangest thing was in Centralia. It had been announced that the Starlight was going to make limited stops and everyone should be down at the station level prior to the train’s arrival. A young couple traveling with a child of ~8 started unloading all their stuff after the train had stopped. They got half way down the stairs before the train started moving again. The discussion with the conductor revealed they were booked through to Seattle but because the train was so late they wanted to get off… in Centralia with no plan??? They ended up getting off at Olympia. I have no idea why. Anybody?

We finally roll into King Street Station a little after 1AM. My son had loaded and figured out the Uber app and for a mere $30 we are transported back to our “free” parking on Mercer Island. Next time we drive to the T-Dome. The full train arriving resulted in a beehive of activity at that hour. Uber/Lift/taxis and private vehicles were in and out like a well choreographed ballet.

The Uber driver was excellent and we finally got in my son’s “vintage” Crown Vic for the final leg. It was an adventure an I’m glad we did it. Thanks to all who have commented but especially to Glenn who raised the possibility of a transit trip to Tillamook.

5 Replies to “I Shall Return”

  1. I guess if it were me I’d have stuck with Centralia. The hotels aren’t too far from the station. There is nothing anywhere near the Olympia station, except new suburban housing.

    Maybe someone came from Seattle to pick them up?

    The Steel Bridge in Portland is owned by Union Pacific, so don’t expect much when it comes to proactive actions.

    Was the Cascades train you got one of the Talgo trains or one with the old standard coaches?

    1. That’s a good question. I thought all the Cascades trains used the Talgo tilting technology to be able to cruise just that little bit faster than the regular Amtrak coaches. The car we were in was definitely old. There was rust on the ventilation grills and you could tell much of the interior had multiple coats of paint brushed on. It was about as plush as a school bus. I think if you play the game right you can get business class for only about $10 more each way.

      1. The “school bus” feeling of those Horizon cars is because they were ordered by Amtrak in 1988 from Bombardier for Midwest/East coast corridor service. Those cars were the same model used by commuter rail systems for ages. Well, at least when I was a kid (1960 time frame) hanging out railfanning on the NYCRR Harlem line,.. they were quite modern back then.

        In June 2020, the Talgo VI series trainsets were retired. Probably because of the NTSB report on the Dupont derailment. The Horizon cars seem to fill in everywhere.

        Seimens trainsets will replace them in 2024, apparently.

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