Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Train 510: Amtrak Cascades

Another day, and another train. In fact, today will bring two trains, and two major journeys. The first starts right here, in downtown Seattle. My hosts in Seattle, who have not taken a moment to rest from spoiling me rotten, have dropped me off for the first departure of the day to Vancouver, BC. Or as Amtrak like to say it, Vancouver Canada. They make sure you get the Canada bit, because not only is there a Vancouver in the USA, it's in Washington state and it's served by train from this station.

Seattle King Street station is a grand old building on the outside, but the ticket hall is a depressing mish mash of strip lighting and plastic chairs. Once I've check in for the train, I move over to the side of the room, and am mortified to look up through a gap between the suspended ceiling and the wall. Above the cheap and dilapidated suspended ceiling is the beautiful original stucco ceiling that once graced the ticket hall. It's still there, waiting to be rediscovered and shared with the people travelling through this station. Parts of it have been hacked away though to provide fixing points for the suspended ceiling. I realise I sound more and more conservative when I comment about architecture on this blog, but I can't help feeling the person who authorised that should be shot.

Oh, and for any of you archetypal gun slinging Americans (the ones we Europeans see on TV all the time), you'll find a very prominent notice next to the check-in desks here. It reads:

No weapons permitted into Canada, including hand guns, automatic weapons, mace, pepper spray, stun guns or flammable materials.

You have been warned. D'em Canucks take d'is peace t'ing seriously.

At around 07.30 boarding begins. The train we're riding on is different from any other that I've been on so far. It's one of a small fleet of 'Talgo' trains, built in Spain and the USA to a European design. They're lower, sleeker and each coach is about half the size of a regular Amtrak carraige. They can also tilt into corners, and are theoretically capable of more than 100mph. They're also quite nifty inside, with comfy seats (only three across in our car), on board films, and both a 'bistro cafe' and 'diner' for snacking and full meals.

If you want to take the journey as well, then be sure to read the timetable carefully. Amtrak list five daily departures from Seattle to Vancouver, BC. However this is the only one that is actually a train - the others are all buses. There simply isn't enough money, government support or equipment to run any more, even though this is one of Amtrak's most popular 'corridors' for service, with more than three million riders annually between Eugene-Springfield, Portland, Seattle and Vancouver. We leave on time, and cross the bridge into Ballard, passing within sight of the restaurant where just twelve hours earlier I had eaten very well indeed. Almost immediately afterwards, the track runs alongside the Puget Sound, and across the calm blue expanse of water, we can just make out the Olympic Mountains.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for this. We will be going on the same train and nice to know what we are in for.