A few weeks ago I attended a forestry conference in Tacoma and instead of driving up I hopped Amtrak Cascades. Price wise the $50 round trip ticket came to about $10 less than I would spend for fuel for the same trip. Once I added in the wear and tear on the vehicle and the insurance it ended up being a screaming deal. On top of the price benefit I also enjoyed my ride by catching up with social media, taking a few photographs, and chatting with a friend who photographed my train. It was quite relaxing actually.
My northbound trip departed on a Thursday afternoon at 2:45 PM. We stayed pretty much on schedule until we began meeting southbounds just north of Kelso. First was a late 513, then 2 more freight trains until we started to slow north of Winlock. Since I am a railfan I understood we left CP 72 on an approach medium and when we slowed further at the approach signal to Napavine South I knew we were going to stop. Sure enough the conductor came on and informed us we were stopping at Napavine South thanks to “a Union Pacific local”. Great, LIC-55 was working the mill at Napavine.
We waited. And, we waited. After about 10 minutes a southbound UP manifest roared by at track speed on main 1. A couple of minutes later we crossed over to 1 to get by the local. Sure enough LIC-55 had finished their work, left their cars at Napavine, and were headed down to Chehalis Jct. to run around their train. We roared by their light power move at a good 79 mph.
The remainder of the northbound trip was uneventful. We met one more southbound before our 15 minute last arrival into Tacoma.
My southbound trip departed Tacoma Saturday afternoon at 3:03 PM. The fun part about catching 507 at Tacoma is the fact that 506 does their station stop about 10 minutes before hand so you have a chance to see another train before you hop on. We departed on time and ran main 2 all the way to Ruston. South of Nelson Bennett we really rolled slowing only for the slow orders through the various communities. My observation of this part of the trip is if you are a Cascade engineer you have to not be afraid of using the brakes. Our hogger on the southbound trip was sure using them in advance of speed changes. In fact as we slowed from 70 to 40 at West Tacoma (bridge 14) he smoked ’em good enough I could smell hot brake shoes in the train!
Passing the Tacoma Narrows bridge between Nelson Bennett and Titlow.
South of Steilacoom we started to slow again. Looking at ATCS the only other train around was a northbound out of Centralia so I didn’t think we were crossing over at Nisqually. Just before we stopped on the overpass over I-5 the conductor informed us there were signal issues and we’d be taking switches in hand. Seconds later he and the assistant conductor raced to the front of the train with their radios blaring instructions from the dispatcher to pass the stop indication at Nisqually. We messed around Nisqually for 10 minutes hand lining switches and getting everyone back aboard. Of course south of Nisqually we had and additional 2 miles of restricted speed until we came across a clear signal.
Near Plumb we met a northbound UP stack train at speed. We used both the CP 31 and CP 32 crossovers around the Olympia-Lacey depot to get us on the correct side for our station work. Nothing like using a 50 mph crossover!
Thanks to our delay at Nisqually we crossed over to 2 at Wabash then waited 3 or 4 minutes for 516 to finish their station stop at Centralia. Had we been on time it would have been a much smoother meet. We returned back to 1 at Centralia South and were once again back up to speed all the way to Ostrander where we crossed over to main 2 for our Kelso station work and to pass a train working at Longview. The Starlight waited for us Longview Jct. South.
The rest of the trip into Vancouver was uneventful. We did crossover at the 10mph crossover in Vancouver. I’ll say that really seems slow when compared to smoothly blowing through the CP 31/32 crossovers at 50! Our arrival time was about 20 minutes behind.
I really had a great trip. The onboard crews were fabulous, friendly, and informative. Despite the fact they do that job day in and day out they made everyone feel like they were important and valuable. After all they could be quite cynical about repeating the same things over and over every day. The e-ticket system was awesome. I purchased my tickets online and they automatically synched to the Amtrak app on my phone. I show the AC my phone and they scanned the bar code right there. Simple with no wasted paper. The onboard wi-fi never really worked for me. It was so slow that using my 3G service was much more reliable. There were of course places without 3G service but that was hardly Amtrak’s issue. No matter I used my phone when I had signal and enjoyed looking out the window the rest of the time.