Adding Amtrak to your long-distance transportation mix
Most of us travel long distance by air and passenger car. Perhaps we should consider the train for some of those trips.
Passenger train travel is one of the most efficient methods of transportation (meaning it has a high ‘Passenger miles per gallon gasoline equivalent’), and can beat almost any other mode of long distance transport if it is reasonably full of people; this includes automobiles (though a 50 mpg hybrid or Tesla is a highly efficient mode of transportation; note – I don’t consider non-Tesla electric cars ready for long distance travel due to the current lack of quick charge infrastructure) and modern airplanes such as the Boeing 787. For the last 10 years, trains have enjoyed high and growing utilization sometimes leading to additional train cars being added during high-usage times.
At least twice a year I travel using the Amtrak long distance “Coast Starlight” round-trip from Albany, Oregon to Monterey California and have been doing this for many years. I also travel north occasionally using the Amtrak Cascades service to Portland, Seattle and Vancouver BC. I find it much more relaxing to travel by train than by air or car. You can drive to Albany, park your car for free and get on the train. After that, it’s all about scenery, reading, conversation, eating and sleeping. You won’t die from a moments inattention to the road, or need to rush to the airport, park in expensive long-term parking, submit to security checks and accept cattle-like treatment…
Typically, the train gets you to a station that is downtown, much closer to your destination than an airport.
You can travel on Amtrak in three ways:
– Coach. The seat you get is the size of an airline 1st class seat
– Business Class Typically no-one is seated next to you if you’re traveling alone, and there are a few perks such as a Wifi, pillows, a meal credit and bottled water – also, since business class cost about $40 more per trip, there tend to be less small children in business class if that is important to you.
– Sleeper. Several different bedroom types are available, though the two person ‘Roomette’ is the most cost effective. Next up is the regular bedroom with its’ own bathroom which can sleep up to 3, the family bedroom with berths for 5 and the handicapped bedroom. This option includes meals and ends up costing slightly more than what an airline ticket would cost.
What I like:
Relaxation – there is plenty of time to read a book, write a business plan, look out the window, ponder the meaning of life…
Scenery – trains travel through many of the most beautiful places, along rivers and through mountains; they also travel through some very interesting places, like the back of the old parts of towns for a glimpse of life that we don’t ordinarily see…
Low Altitude and low attitude – Trains travel at a lower altitude, so my if you are sensitive to air travel’s 8000 foot pressure, the train is better. The passengers tend to be relaxed and hanging out, enjoying the ride.
Mobility – you can walk around, stretch your feet by walking the length of the train, get off for a few minutes at station stops, get food and drink in the snack bar or dining car, relax in the observation car, etc.
Conversation – the train is a melting pot, especially the diners’ car where they practice family seating. We have met many fascinating people – including a lead animator for Laika studios and his daughter, going on a vacation to Disneyland after the release of Kubo and the two strings…
Lots of Luggage – you can take two 50 lb bags, two personal items and a folding bike or scooter to get you the last mile (or you can use Lyft or Uber).
Friendly staff – I have found that the Amtrak staff if quite friendly and helpful – from the conductors, to car attendants, to the dining car servers.
What could be better:
You Must have patience – the train is frequently delayed along the way by freight trains and track issues. Riding the train isn’t about getting there exactly on time, it’s about getting there relaxed…
Sleeping in a seat – this can be a challenge, especially if you have someone next to you. I’ve often slept on the semi-circular couches in the observation car instead, going back to my seat in the morning.
Occasional rough ride – the train tracks in the US are maintained for freight and safety, not passenger train comfort, and you can get thrown around in some stretches. This sometimes makes walking to the diner, snack bar or bathroom a challenge. In the sleepers, meals can be ordered and delivered to the bedrooms, obviating the need to trek to the lounge car or diner.
Corvallis has a service called “Corvallis to Amtrak shuttle” – this is a small bus that picks up at several locations around Corvallis and delivers passengers to the Albany station for a $5 fare. The bus waits at the Amtrak station for all the Cascades and Coast Starlight trains and drops off in Corvallis at the same pickup locations. Some people leave their cars in the old Staples parking lot and use the pickup at the nearby bus shelter to get to the Albany station. See corvallistoamtrak.com for more information.
Corvallis has a service called “Corvallis to Amtrak shuttle” – this is a small bus that picks up at several locations around Corvallis and delivers passengers to the Albany station for a $5 fare. The bus waits at the Amtrak station for all the Cascades and Coast Starlight trains and drops off in Corvallis at the same pickup locations. Some people leave their cars in the old Staples parking lot off of Circle Blvd and use the pickup at the nearby bus shelter to get to the Albany station. See corvallistoamtrak.com for more information.
About 5 years ago, there was an Oregon DOT study about train service in Oregon which included routing proposals for a ‘higher speed’ rail system to possibly come through Corvallis (and Monroe, Eugene Airport and Eugene). I was a member of the citizen council that advocated for a Corvallis route to better serve a population likely to use the train. An outcome of the study was that if the route didn’t include Corvallis, that a bus service to the Albany station would be desirable. The current bus service is partially due to that effort. In the end, the decision was made to bypass Corvallis and the Eugene airport and target the current route for rail improvements.