ODOT / Amtrak Cascades announces launch of AmtrakOregon.com

Press Release from Amtrak Oregon Cascades rail –

February 8, 2022

For more information, contact Michelle Godfrey, 503-986-3903

SALEM, Ore. — We are thrilled to announce the launch of AmtrakOregon.com!  The website was developed by ODOT and D2 Creative to provide Oregon visitors and residents with inspiration for exploring the state using Amtrak Cascades.

As more locals and visitors use the train, Amtrak Cascades can add frequency and destinations to serve more people. For Oregon, that means fewer cars on the road, less congestion and fewer greenhouse gas emissions. It also means we can provide a clean and convenient transportation option for more Oregonians to connect to jobs, schools, family, friends and essential services.

The new website will educate travelers about the services, amenities, and ease of riding Amtrak Cascades while showcasing the beauty of Oregon. It engenders Oregonians’ spirit of exploration by promoting hidden gems throughout the state that are accessible by train.

Quintessentially Northwest, Amtrak Cascades has friendly conductors, comfortable accommodations, local food options and stunning scenery to view end-to-end. It’s more than just a way to get there—it’s a destination in itself!

“From design to launch, our new site celebrates the spirit of Oregon,” said Michelle Godfrey, ODOT’s Education & Outreach Coordinator. “Amtrak Cascades riders view the train as an enjoyable part of their getaway. This site gives them inspiration and resources to make travel in Oregon, and on the train, unforgettable. Working with D2 Creative, we at ODOT look forward to welcoming more riders on board to explore Oregon via Amtrak Cascades.”

Riders can take the Cascades to sample local cuisine, attend sports and cultural events, visit the many landmarks and destinations along the way and find one-of-a-kind adventures available only in the Pacific Northwest.

We invite you to visit the new site and experience the beauty of Oregon and how Amtrak Cascades can be part of your next adventure, whether that be a day trip, weekend, or longer, at AmtrakOregon.com.

Amtrak Pacific Parlor Cars removed, then sold: The end of an era

Posted 9/25/2018

The wonderful classic Pacific Parlor Cars that gave sleeper car passengers on Amtrak’s Coast Starlight a comfy vintage lounge with a bar, buffet and downstairs movie theater were removed last year to ‘save money’.  The cars hail from the 1940’s.

Casprail has learned that the cars will never be coming back.  They have been sold.  Apparently the sale happened quickly as the cars were coveted for conversion to private use.

Amtrak Parlor car

Amtrak Parlor car

The train-riding public has lost a treasure and Amtrak is experiencing death by 1000 cuts…

Chief Advocate, Larry Plotkin



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…

Crossing the Benicia Bridge

Crossing the Benicia Bridge

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.

Crossing the Benicia Bridge in Business class car

Larry enjoys the ride

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.

Chugging down the bayfront

Chugging down the bayfront

Amtrak Dining Car Menu Vegetarian Options reviewed

The Amtrak dining car provides a very nice place to have a meal and meet interesting people (who sit with you family style and start off as strangers, but usually end up as friends – sometimes even exchanging contacts).

For years the Amtrak menu remained the same – you always knew what was going to be on it.  You knew that the morning Omelet might change a few contents and cheese type, and the pasta special might change, but that was about the extent of the excitement.

As a vegetarian (who occasionally eats kosher fish), I was quite familiar with that menu (especially since I’ve ridden the Starlight over 20 times in the 10 years…).  For breakfast, the scrambled eggs, the omelet or the continental.  For lunch, the black bean burger or a salad.  For dinner, the Salmon, pasta special or a salad.  Then the menu changed and became more creative – with meals inspired by known chefs…

For the 1st new menu, the kosher fish options were gone and the pasta had shrimp…  but there was a very nice Asian noodle bowl.  There was something on the menu called the ‘Healthy and flavor forward specialties’ – but when I ordered that I got another Asian noodle bowl…  The breakfast veggie options and the lunch black bean burger and salad entree were still available.

For the current menu, the breakfast and lunch options are retained and the salad is a ‘romaine and goat cheese salad’.  For dinner, a kosher fish (Salmon) option is added back into the menu as well as a butternut squash risotto and vegetarian pasta entree.

Review: The Omelets are quite variable in content amount and the potatoes are usually ‘shriveled’, but OK with copious ketchup packets.  The continental breakfast is consistently decent. I like the black bean veggie burger and the Salmon is quite passable. I haven’t tried the pasta on the latest menu, but the Veggie Asian noodle bowl on the last menu was quite good.

Of the deserts, the pecan tart tops my list –

I am happy that Amtrak is mixing up their menu options (yearly?) to keep the train menu interesting.   I also appreciate that the servers are always happy to bring me  hot water to fill my portable french press ☕😃

Amtrak new dining car menu, the menu was introduced Dec 2017

Amtrak new dining car menu, the menu was introduced Dec 2017

Amtrak new dining car menu - back, the menu was introduced Dec 2017

Amtrak new dining car menu – back, the menu was introduced Dec 2017

Riding the Royal Gorge Route is fun, tasty and beautiful

My wife and I visited our daughter in Colorado Springs, CO over labor day weekend.  Knowing that I’m a train buff, my wife and daughter surprised me with a trip on the scenic Royal Gorge Route train.   The Royal Gorge Route Railroad is a heritage railroad located in Cañon City, Colorado. The railroad transits the Royal Gorge on a 2-hour scenic and historic train ride along what is considered to be the most famed portion of the former Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad. The 1950s-era train departs the Santa Fe Depot in Cañon City several times daily.

The Royal Gorge Station and gift shop

The Royal Gorge Station and gift shop

Larry at the Royal Gorge train station waiting to board.

Larry at the Royal Gorge train station waiting to board.

For our ride we included an optional local beer-tasting flight, and we ordered some snacks made right in the kitchen on the train (all their food is proudly prepared on the train).  Wine and dinner rides are available as well as a murder mystery dinner ride.

Larry and Joni in their comfortable seat in 1950's era passenger car.

Larry and Joni in their comfortable seat in 1950’s era passenger car.

We spent much of the trip in their open-air car marveling at the cliffs and river rafters who waved at us – one even decided to ‘moon’ us, the point of which was lost on me…  We passed under the famous ‘bridge to nowhere’, built as a bet between two Texans and the cable car and zip-liners several hundred feet above us.

Larry on Royal Gorge train in open-air car as rafters enjoy the Arkansas river

Larry on Royal Gorge train in open-air car as rafters enjoy the Arkansas river

Royal Gorge Bridge from open-air train car

Royal Gorge Bridge from open-air train car

The Royal Gorge Bridge from train

The Royal Gorge Bridge from train

Next time you are in Colorado, I highly recommend a ride on the Royal Gorge Route.  Along with the great scenery, good food and fun ride, the ride, food and souvenir coffee mug, beer glass and T-shirts I bought were reasonably priced 🙂

Casprail Chief Advocate, Larry

Amtrak Business Class is a very nice option

I traveled to California from Oregon in November 2016 in Coach – It was the normal Amtrak Coast Starlight experience: a comfortable seat and a random neighbor who joined me in the night somewhere around Sacramento or Davis.  On this trip I noticed that there was a new ‘business class’ car on the train between the observation car and the diner – it was quiet, clean and enticing, but I hadn’t noticed it as an option on the Amtrak website…

On my next trip to California I determined to travel in Business Class.  This upgrade cost me about $45 per direction (and as little as a $20 difference) and came with a $6 meal credit, free bottled water, a pillow, wifi, and a pretty good bet that I would have two seats to stretch out on at ‘bedtime’.  We had our own friendly car attendant, Gingi (an almost 20 year Amtrak veteran who I’ve seen on this train on many trips) and the car was nice and clean, and the business class passengers where pretty quiet.

Larry with business class car attendant Gingi, who took great care of us

Larry with business class car attendant Gingi, who took great care of us

I highly recommend business class for a pleasant journey with more amenities, more room and cleaner surroundings and bathrooms.

This is where Amtrak hides the business class option on their reservations page:




This example is only $20 difference!

Happy traveling,

Chief Advocate

The benefits of a late train


Mt. Shasta in the sunshine, peak covered in clouds

I recently took my favorite train ride, the Coast Starlight from Albany, OR to Salinas, CA (and bus to Monterey) and back.  I traveled alone, so instead of purchasing a roomette with my wife, I purchased a coach seat for the round-trip.  This is the first trip I’ve taken that had ‘business class’ car on the train, which turned out to be an almost empty, quiet and clean standard passenger car positioned between the observation car and the diner car.

The trip southward was actually ahead of schedule at many of the stops, allowing for longer fresh air breaks.  I slept on one of the semi-circular couches in the observation car with my earplugs, eyeshade and blow-up pillows.  The conductor woke me at 7:30am.  I made some french-press Sumatra dark roast with hot water from the snack bar and had breakfast in the diner.  It was a quite pleasant on-time trip.

Now for the benefits of running late…

For the trip home, the Starlight normally stops in Salinas about 6:45pm…  The train was running an hour late – first of all, that meant I could have dinner at Olivia’s!  Olivia’s is a small authentic  Mexican restaurant about a block from the station.  I left my bags with the station master and headed out for a Negra Modelo and a great Chile Relleno dinner – yumm!

The train picked us up at about 7:45pm and we were on our way.  For one reason or another the train lost more time during the night so we were about 3 hours behind at sunrise.  I wasn’t in any rush and this mean’t I’d get to see Northern California in the daylight!  20170207_092828We usually hit Dunsmuir and Shasta in the dark, but on this trip we got to see the rivers, mountains, lakes and landscapes in the light – it was magnificent.  20170207_102133I had breakfast in the diner with three new friends, discussing trains and politics, while enjoying the astounding views.20170207_114341

We pulled into Albany a couple of hours late, but I really enjoyed the scenery we would have otherwise missed in the dark –

Larry, Chief Advocate

Amtrak Dining Car, one of the last bastions of ‘The Melting Pot’, under attack

Congress is at it again…

It occurred to me on our last Coast Starlight trip from Albany, OR to Salinas, CA that the Amtrak dining car is one of the last bastions of the vaunted American melting pot.

Gone is the army draft, that threw together people from all walks of life and forced them to work together for a common purpose.  Gone is school integration.  Gone, is pretty much anything that forces the diverse population of America to interact, and see each other as complex people, not stereotypes.

The Amtrak dining car is still here, but maybe not for long.  Congress can’t pass a transportation bill, but they can decide that Amtrak doesn’t need dining cars on long distance trains.

Breakfast table on the way back to Oregon.

Breakfast table on the way back to Oregon.

The dining car practices ‘family seating’ and you never know who you will be sitting with.  We have had the most interesting conversations with folks we met in the dining car, and have found all kinds of connections.   On our last trip we sat with a couple who on first blush seemed very different from us, and talked about careers, children, grandchild, and of course; transportation.   It turns out that we had a lot in common, and exchanged contacts – no an uncommon occurrence on the train.

It is too bad there are not more opportunities that force us to meet people we wouldn’t normally interact with – it seems like the American melting pot is danger, and one more promoter of it is being lost.

Write your legislators today and demand that Congress leave our dining cars alone…  They are hurting the great American melting pot!

Larry Plotkin, Chief Advocate, Casprail.org

Casprail urges FRA to consider Corvallis route for EIS

Casprail contacted Congressman Peter DeFazio’s office to obtain the names of contacts at the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) to urge consideration of the Corvallis passenger rail route for an Environment Impact Study.

Kathy Dedrick, Congressman’s DeFazio’s chief of staff provided two contacts at the FRA:  Corey Hill and Douglas Gascon.

I wrote to Corey and Douglas asking them to reconsider the Oregon Passenger Rail leadership councils’ recommendation to use a more eastern route that by-passes Monroe and Corvallis.

Corvallis rail route

I will post any replies that I receive on this site.

My thanks to Kathy Dedrick for her quick reply to my inquiry.

Larry Plotkin, Chief Advocate, Casprail.org

Coast Starlight ride has deteriorated over last two years


On September 5th we rode the Coast Starlight from Albany, OR to Salinas, CA for my mother’s 90th birthday celebration, it was our first full bedroom trip, and our first Coast Starlight trip in over a year.  I am sorry to report that the ‘ride’ (smoothness) has significantly deteriorated in that time.  Even on the long straight areas in Northern California, the train pitched and rolled making walking between the cars, or getting to a restroom a challenge.

As the rails that Amtrak uses are increasingly utilized by freight (as the economy improves and as oil transport by train increases), the track condition deteriorates and becomes less suitable for passenger rail use.  Not only that, but delays due to freight sidelines and broken rails significantly delayed our trips – we were over 4 hours late arriving home due to track issues and freight sidelines.

At Klamath Falls Train Stop

At Klamath Falls Train Stop

The service on the train, besides cost-cutting measures mandated by a rabidly anti-train congress, has NOT deteriorated.  Our room steward on the trip south, Lorna, was fantastic and we enjoyed attentive and friendly service.  Also, the food was very nice in the dining car – although they frequently ran out of entrees, and after two days, a little more variety would be appreciated.

One minor disappointment was the discontinuation of the sleeper car Champagne upon boarding, (probably a $1 a bottle savings…) and the free wine and cheese tasting – but I guess Congress needs their pound of flesh from Amtrak to feel good about themselves.

If the United States is serious about passenger rail (hmmm… doubtful), then we would likely double track our chosen routes – one track for freight and one for passenger trains.

What do you think is the right path forward to get our rails improved??  Please leave your responses below –

Thanks, Larry