Review of my train trip back home 

Amtrak Coast Starlight and Amtrak Cascades. 

September 2004

San Luis Obispo, CA. to Bellingham, WA.

It's a bit tedious, but I enjoyed the conversations with passengers. 

Tank cars crossing above street near downtown San Luis Obispo.  Passenger train uses same tracks.  I didn't get any pictures of that fantastic grade north of town.  Forgot to bring my camera to the observation car.


One passenger, in the observation car, said, "as soon as I learned the train would be 6 hours late, I took off my watch."  Removing watch is a way to relax and enjoy the sociability of the train as well as the scenery.

I enjoyed the trip, but I am seldom in a hurry, being a "life in the slow lane" type of guy.  People say the plane is no where near as friendly. 

The hardest part is trying to sleep in coach.  About all I could do was catnap.  Sleeper compartments are expensive so I opted for coach. 

It would be nice if there was more than one train per day.  Then I could ride till evening, get off in some town along the way for a motel and then continue next day.  That doesn't work when there is only one schedule per day.

One feels more rested after the bike trip than after "all night and day" on a train.

Changing trains in Portland, rather than Seattle, good idea.

Going all the way to Bellingham, one must change to another train  (the Amtrak Cascades)  since The Coast Starlight only goes as far as Seattle.

There is a second night layover between trains.  I decided to make the change in Portland, Oregon, rather than Seattle.  One can switch to the Cascades at any stop from Eugene Oregon north (that is as far south as the Cascades train goes). 

Usually Seattle is the recommended change point, but the train is often late.  That means getting into Seattle, possibly past midnight, and having to get to a hotel.  Portland means getting accommodations at a reasonable hour, even if the train is late. 

Also hotels in Seattle can be well over $100!  In more mellow Portland, it wasn't hard to find a motel for around $60.  I walked a bit south of the main downtown core.

Seattle pays the price for being a "world class city." 

My train was due into Portland around 3 pm, but was actually closer to 9 pm.  There was still time to find a motel.  That night was a good rest. I felt sorry for other passengers getting into Seattle after midnight. 

The Portland plan worked. 

Always ask oneself questions like, "what if the train is late?" when making plans.  I sometimes call that "cushion time;" meaning padding my plans with extra hours just in case I need them. 

Next day the Amtrak Cascades left Portland, around noon and got into Bellingham that evening. It was on time.  The Cascades seems to be on time more often than trains going longer distances. 

Boxing bicycle

Bringing one's bike on the train means having to put it into a box for the Coast Starlight that comes north from California.

Having shipped my bike by train many times, I basically know the system.  Amtrak provided the box (around $15 extra charge).  A boxed bike can be checked as luggage, Usually no extra charge, except for buying the box. 

I had to remove the peddles and turn the handlebar sideways to fit the bike into the box.  Then it just rolls right into the box. 

Panniers and stuff had to be removed from bike and either shipped in another box, or brought on board as carry on.  Sometimes one has to scrounge up a box for the other things, somewhere in town.

No tools at the train station, I knew this already.  Before getting there, I dropped into a bike shop in downtown San Luis Obispo and had them loosen things up.  Peddles can really be stuck on tight after a long trip. 

After my visit to the bike shop, I carefully peddled the last few miles to train depot with loosened peddles and handlebars.  It wasn't hard to remove these things, with simple crescent and allan wrenches, after they had been pre loosened. 

Getting to the train early means an easy time having things ready and rolling bike into the box.  It all went smoothly, but that became a mute point with the train running around 2 1/2 hours late.

Waiting for train

Depot staff knew it was going to be late, so I felt comfortable leaving station, rather than just sitting in the depot twiddling my thumbs.  I headed for the YMCA, and relaxed in a sauna for a while.  A Y member can use the "AWAY" card at participating YMCA's in USA and Canada. 

After that, I was back to the Depot for the train.  As trip progressed, the train kept getting later.  A medical emergency held things up in Sacramento.  Glad it wasn't in my car.  Didn't find out about it till next day. I wondered why the train just seemed to sit in Sacramento for so long. 

Why the delays?

That year, there was lots of construction on the track between Klamath Falls and Eugene, Oregon.  That much delay is not normal, now that the construction is finished.

Sometimes we would have to wait for a freight train to pass in areas where there was single (rather than two way) track. Usually the freights wait for the passenger train, but when the passenger train is late it throws everything off.  Delays have a cascading effect. 

More "double track" would really help, but that is expensive. Also, of course, more than one train a day would help for not having to be on train all night. 

Still, it was an enjoyable time socializing with fellow passengers.  Just took some patience, like removing one's watch.

Reader Comment

Bob. Great web site!  I rode the coast in 2002 and also returned by train because I had a great fear of putting my bike on the airplane.  On that trip the Coast Starlight broke down in Eugene and we had a three hour wait.  (Your comments about patience while travelling in this mode are right on.)  While we were waiting I asked the conductor where my bike was. He opened a compartment on the side of a car and there sat my bike, in its box, all by itself.  Truly first class travel for a touring bike. 

Last June I rode from Darrington WA to Ogden Utah. Highway 20 across the northern edge of the state is one tough ride, I called it the "Pass A Day Route".  I rode east to Missoula and then straight south into Utah and nothing beats SE Idaho for solitude.  Several nights I had the entire campground to myself and on some of the roads I would spend hours riding on the center line.  I'm itching for another trip but don't know when I will have the time or the funds so for now I will sate the urge by web surfing. Thanks for your site! 


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