Day eight of the book tour’s West Coast swing was supposed to be a relaxing one. Sleep in, grab a late breakfast in Portland and then hop on the Amtrak Cascades train for the ride up to Seattle. I love the rain option, assuming I have the time to spare. The coastal views are spectacular and it is cheap, especially compared to the flight options. With the added bonus of city center to city center service it was an easy choice. And it mostly worked as expected.
One difference between the Cascades line and the NE Corridor I’m more familiar with on the East coast is that reserved seating on the Cascades is assigned seating. When the ticket is checked at the station a seat is assigned rather than leaving passengers to find their own once on board. The good news is that meant we were guaranteed seats together. The bad news is that we scored seats on the “wrong” side of the train. The left side northbound has better views and we were across the aisle. Not the end of the world, but slightly disappointing, if only for 45 minutes.
Less than a half hour after we departed Portland, before we even managed to cross the Columbia River, we stopped. I assumed a traffic issue on the rails; after all, this section of rail is owned and operated by the freight lines and they typically take priority. As we watched a freight train roll by I thought my assumption confirmed. We started rolling forward a few moments after it passed us.
And then we started to roll backwards. This wasn’t a short, slow roll. We were picking up speed. Something was very, very strange about this ride.
— Seth Miller (@WandrMe) August 24, 2017
As the few folks around us in the seats started laughing about our plight – a seeming return to Portland rather than making the trip to Seattle – the conductor came on to clarify the situation. The engine at the front of the train broke and would not be able to get us to Seattle tonight. Fortunately, however, the Cascades rail sets come with engines at either end. The “return” engine didn’t have the same mechanical fault so it would be driving us to Seattle with one small catch: All the seats were now rolling backwards.
Riding backwards doesn’t really bother me. Switching from forwards to backwards, however, is harder than I expected it to be. It took a decent bit of time to adjust my brain to the fact that this was now the correct way to travel and that we’d be rolling this way for a few hours. And, as an added bonus, the reversal now had our seats on the “right” side of the train for the good views.
Even with the engine swap we rolled into Seattle – backwards – only about 20 minutes late. Not too shabby. I’m not sure that’s really why they have the second engine on the train set, but the redundancy worked out great in our case.
Does Amtrak allow BYOB on the Cascades line?
— Seth Miller (@WandrMe) August 23, 2017
Worth noting that, while we didn’t bring a bottle of wine on board this time it appears that it is tolerated, if not explicitly permitted. The folks across the aisle from us had a few and none of the conductors seemed to care. Also, highly recommended to bring your own food on board if you’re going to want a snack during the 4ish hour trip. The bistro car options are not very impressive.
More from this trip:
- Happily booking a "Standard" airline award ticket
- The Half-Drowned King takes flight
- Backing into Seattle: An Amtrak Cascades Adventure
Never miss another post: Sign up for email alerts and get only the content you want direct to your inbox.