Arrived at Seattle's shabby King Street Station at 6:30 for a 7:30 departure to Portland. Since I already had my ticket, and it has been a while since I had taken Amtrak, I waited around to see when we could begin checking in.
One of the interesting things about Amtrak is how much of their business is patterned after the airlines. The tickets are printed on an ATB printer, with reserved seats, business class, and everything. There's even a frequent traveller program, or you can get miles on Alaska Airlines. The only question was when to check in. I waited around a bit and saw an agent start to checking in passengers for the northbound train to Vancover BC. The agent said someone wiould be around soon, so a line started forming at the ajoining counter. I got on it and waited. About 7AM the conductor came out and began handing out seat assignments. Although the staff were friendly, I was not asked whether I wanted a window or an aisle. I was given a window seat in the first car of the train.
At 7:15, boarding commencecd and was fairly orderly. We were assigned seats by car and seat number, I found my seat quickly and settled in. The train is one of the new "Talgo" style trains which are sleek and comfortable on the inside.
The Airline similarities continue in the interior decor. There are aircraft-style seats which recline, a tray table and footrest, plus video screens in the ceiling with the rail equivielent of "Airshow", a facility for audio, and even a safety card. The cabin was clean, but no staff were in existence to help with boarding. We left on-time at 7:30 and once underway, there was even a safety video.
Once underway I headed for the Bistro car for breakfast. I had a breakfast bagel, orange juice and coffee for about $5.25-very reasonable. Once I returned to my seat, we were just about to pull into Tacoma where the train filled up completely. Once underway, a film was shown (Thomas and the Magic Railroad - pass). You could either use your own headphones off your Walkman for free, or you could buy a set for $4 which are yours to keep. I mostly read, looked out my window or listened to the 5 channel audio which was not extensive, but adequate.
The total trip was a little under 3 1/2 hours averaging about 80mph. The ride was remarkably smooth for a train, but you still had to brace yourself on the seatbacks as you moved through the car. We pulled into Portlan's Union Station about 7 minutes early. I only had a carry-on and so was out the door right away.
The next evening I made the return trip to Seattle at 6:15. Portland's Union Station has been impecibly restored with the large old wooden benches, ornate ceilings and wall murals of northwest scenes. The conductor came out and started checking people in 30 minutes before departure, with boarding at 6 PM and by 6:15 we were on our way.
The return trip was about the same as the trip down. I went back to the Bistro for dinner and had a bowl of Ivar's clam chowder (local delicacy), plus a smoked ham and cheese sandwich on black molasses bread plus a northwest Microbrew for $11.50. A little on the pricy side, but the food was all high quality and very good. I can't remember the film on the return journey but it was about high school cheerleaders attending a competition. I decided not to watch and kept reading.
We pulled into King Street Station at 9:45, right on time, and was quickly out the door.
Impressions: Very pleasant. The day trip was scenic, the food was good, if a little pricy for dinner, and the staff are frendly and helpful. The movies are a great idea. I'd do it again if the need arose.
The customer isn't a moron, she is your wife -David Ogilvy