Bay Area to PDX by Amtrak: A Review

So when I last published about my Amtrak travels, it was regarding the Portland to Seattle run. Last week my wife and I, returning from California after a two week visit, decided to go overnight from Emeryville to Portland via the train’s Coast Starlight route. Here is a tale of that travel.

We arrived at the Emeryville station on a rainy night in the Bay Area with some friends of ours. They hung with us for awhile until the Coast Starlight pulled up. Prior to this, we’d heard that if you were staying overnight in one of the train’s sleeping areas, which we were, you really needed to check your larger suitcases. We did as such and were smart in doing so – the Superliner Roomette we ended up in was a hell of a lot smaller than what it looks like in the picture. We boarded the train, had a brief moment of shock when we got to our cabin and quickly adjusted. I slept in the upper bunk and my wife in the lower.

Now I’ll tell you at this point the Coast Starlight route is unfortunately known for running hours later. Such was the case with our travel – we ended up several hours over our arrival time the next evening. It has to be taken with a grain of salt though – train travel is subject to delays like items on the tracks with have to be moved, freight train traffic and other random oddities.

Food on the Coast Starlight was more of a formal experience than the Cascades route. You are seated at a table and share it with train travelers. The food is tasty but definitely a little more pricey. Our cabin costs luckily covered the meal expenses. We met some interesting people, had great discussions and learned a little more about the Northwest from those on the train.

The scenery, as was to be expected, was amazing. We awoke to the sight of snow falling in forested valleys as we neared Klamath Falls. It really does beat traveling by plane, if you have the time to do so that is. Probably the biggest downer in this regard was that outside of Salem the train struck a downed tree and we had to wait sometime while crews repaired front engine damage.

Would we consider doing Coast Starlight again? Yes, but definitely we would opt for a bigger cabin.

6 Comments so far

  1. Steve (unregistered) on January 11th, 2008 @ 10:29 am

    The family sleepers are the best. There’s only one on each sleeper car, on the lower level. They are the full width of the train car (windows on both sides), and comfortably sleep a family of four (with room for more), and there’s plenty of room to move around during the day.

    The little closets they call sleepers are way to claustrophobic for me.

    One fact about the Coast Starlight that frequently disappoints new riders is that it doesn’t go along the coast except for a brief stretch north of LA.

    Still, the scenery is great, especially that bit through the mountains you mentioned.

  2. Kevin (unregistered) on January 11th, 2008 @ 11:16 am

    When we moved to PDX almost 14 years ago, we made the trip using the family sleepers. We wanted to give the children (ages 9 & 10) a sense that we were really moving a long distance away, something totally lost in plane travel. It was a very memorable (in a good way) trip.

    The only problem was the gentle rocking of the train kept putting Mom & Dad to sleep. :-)

  3. Matt (unregistered) on January 11th, 2008 @ 5:52 pm

    I’m brand new to the area from Sacramento. I took the Coast Starlight up to PDX back in October when I was researching where to move. I don’t like to fly and didn’t feel like driving.

    I rode coach because I was solo. Man, that was hard to do! I spent 15 hours on the train next to a lady with a newborn. It’s better than riding Greyhound but it’s still not a fun experience. If I’d had the cash at the time I’d have taken a sleeper in a heartbeat.

    Coast Starlight was late going up, but it was actually delayed by 6 hours on the way back. They bussed us down to Eugene because of a freight derailment (in Tacoma!). The staff were pretty nice though, the stations are much improved from the old days, and the dining car was a great way to enjoy a meal, especially at sunrise. They will seat you with other people too, so you get to have conversation along the way.

    I’d do it again, but if I had the wife and kids it would have to be in a family sleeper. And it’s not something to take if you’re in a hurry or have an appointment at your destination. I wish there were more passenger rail options like that. European-style trains would be a dream on the west coast.

  4. Dodge Ram (unregistered) on January 11th, 2008 @ 11:09 pm

    Matt did I read your post right?

    Amtrak bussed you from Portland to Eugene because of a freight derailment in Tacoma?

  5. Matt (unregistered) on January 12th, 2008 @ 12:13 pm

    Dodge Ram, you read that right. They had two bus-loads of people from as far north as Seattle and hauled us all to Eugene. I don’t pretend to understand the logic. I think it is similar to having to fly through a hub like Denver or Atlanta when your flight gets rerouted.

  6. Matt (unregistered) on January 12th, 2008 @ 12:25 pm

    Not to hijack Nino’s post, but I thought of something else wrt Amtrak:

    Smokers, if you’re reading this don’t even consider Amtrak. There’s no smoking on the train. Period. If you do it and they catch you they will toss you off at the next station. No refunds and with a train that runs once a day that’s a long wait.

    They will allow you to get off the train for about 3-5 mins to take a puff, but only at designated stops. (On the way up from Sac there were 2… in 15 hours.) Word is if you stray they are harsh like the Donald and will leave you. I’m so glad I don’t smoke!

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