Western Trips

Western Trips

Friday, September 14, 2012

Amtrak's Coast Starlight

When you're planning a western trip or an extended vacation, here is an opportunity to see the west coast of the U.S. in a very unique and fun way. This is also a way to enjoy a relaxing vacation without the traffic hassles. See the California, Oregon and Washington state scenery while enjoying the views from a comfortable chair. It's a vacation that truly gives you the opportunity to unwind.

Out of all the Amtrak routes spread across the United States, the train name that many refer to as Amtrak's signature train is the "Coast Starlight". The Coast Starlight operates daily service between Los Angeles California and Seattle Washington in both directions.

mount shasta california
Mount Shasta from Coast Starlight
Here is a route that runs through some of the most beautiful scenery found anywhere in the country. A blending of the picturesque California coast with the towering green mountains of the Pacific northwest. Amtrak's Coast Starlight service might be the most popular of it's routes and with a very good on time record. The other train which Amtrak operates along the California coast is the Pacific Surfliner. This route goes from San Diego up to Santa Barbara. The Pacific Surfliner daily schedule is as follows. The train departs Santa Barbara at 6:43 AM and arrives in Old Town San Diego at 12:17 PM. The northbound daily segment leaves San Diego Old Town at 9:30 AM and arrives Santa Barbara at 3 PM.

klammath falls oregon
Klammath Falls Oregon Amtrak Station
The total scheduled time for the entire trip between Los Angeles and Seattle is about 35 hours and the total mileage is 1,377. It should be noted that the Amtrak Coast Starlight is the very first train that ran the entire west coast route from L.A. to Seattle. Prior to the Coast Starlight, the route up to Seattle was handled by the Southern Pacific Railroad via the inland San Joaquin Valley to Portland and then to Seattle via the Great Northern Railway.At the same time, the Southern Pacific ran sleeper car service between Los Angeles and San Francisco. It wasn't until the start of Amtrak in 1971 that the entire Los Angeles to Seattle route was serviced with one named train.

Amtrak's Coast Starlight also offers something very unique, not found on any of it's other routes. This is the Pacific Parlour Car. The Pacific Parlour Car are  restored and refurbished two deck rail cars once owned by the Atchison Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad. These rail cars were built in 1956 for ATSF's "El Capitan" service. The Parlour Car was first put into service on the Coast Starlight in 1995 on an experimental basis and became so popular and actually raised ridership that it became a permanent part of this particular Amtrak route.

amtrak coast starlight
Coast Starlight at one of it's stops
The upper level of the Parlour Car contains both four person booths and a lounge area with both sofa seating and eight upholstered parlor chairs. The upper level seats a total of forty people plus some standing room at the bar. The lower levels is a nineteen seat movie theater. Again, these highly popular Parlour Cars are found only on the Coast Starlight trains and are available for use by sleeper car passengers only.

The Amtrak Coast Starlight departs Los Angeles' Union Station at 10:25 AM each morning and is scheduled to arrive in Seattle Washington the next day at 8:45 PM.

The scenery along the Coast Starlight route is some of the best found anywhere in the country. The high snow covered peaks of Mount Shasta and the Cascade Range, thick green forests, fertile valleys and long portions of the Pacific Ocean shoreline set this route apart from all others. The route follows about 100 miles of the Pacific shoreline and is the longest ocean view train ride in the U.S.

upper klammath lake
Upper Klammath Lake Oregon
The Coast Starlight connects some of the greatest cities on the west coast. For those riding the Coast Starlight, the route and schedule lets you enjoy the trip up the California coast with daylight stops in such paces as Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo and Salinas. The train reaches Oakland's Jack London Square about 9:40PM. Daylight next occurs in far northern California just south of the Oregon border. The daylight hours then lets you enjoy such stops in Oregon as Klammath Falls, Eugene, Salem and Portland. Popular sights along that portion include Upper Klammath Lake and the Cascade Mountains as the Amtrak route goes up and over that beautiful range.

After a stop in Portland Oregon, Amtrak's Coast Starlight continues north crossing the historic and very scenic Columbia River. Stops on the way to Seattle include Vancouver Washington, Longview, Olympia and Tacoma. The train's schedules arrival in Seattle is 8:45PM. Amtrak thruway bus service is available from Seattle to Vancouver British Columbia.

cascade mountains
Beautiful lake in the Cascade Range
The Amtrak Coast Starlight offers three meals per day served in the dining car. The food served is quite good and are included in the room charge for those passengers riding in the bedrooms and roomettes of the sleeper cars. Coach passengers can purchase meals and beverages in addition to their fare. The Coast Starlight had a reputation for running late on a somewhat regular basis. The late running Coast Starlight suffered passenger ridership declines as a result. The Union Pacific Railroad handles all traffic on this route and received a lot of the blame by railroad enthusiasts. They accused the Union Pacific of putting priority on their freight trains and the railroad answered that delays were attributed to track repair projects. Whatever the problem was, that situation fortunately has changed and the Union Pacific has given priority to the passenger trains. As an example of the improvement, the Amtrak Coast Starlight reported an 86 percent on time rate in 2008. The trip in 2012 that I took arrived in Oakland about 20 minutes late but arrived in Portland Oregon about 5 minutes early. Anyone familiar with train travel would agree that this would be considered as running on time.

Here are links to two additional articles with photos you'll enjoy.  On our Trips Into History site is the Amtrak Southwest Chief and on Western Trips, the famous old Atchison Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad's Super Chief.

I would highly recommend the Amtrak Coast Starlight to anyone looking for a different and fun way to experience the west coast of the U.S. It's the perfect western trip to unwind, meet people and simply enjoy scenic travel without hassles.

(Photos are from author's private collection)

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for sharing. I just bought my ticket to Seattle by train. Who doesn't love Amtrak!?


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