Stephen Rees's blog

Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

Amtrak live blog

Train 513 was 15 minutes late leaving Pacific Central this morning. But that was OK, since, if it had been on time, I would have been in  the washroom. I have been watching the Cascades for some years but this is my first time on the Talgo. And I have to say that I am very favourably impressed. Free wifi, for instance, is something you do not get in most airports – and certainly not on planes. The coach class seat I am currently occupying offers more knee room and greater seat space – and is leather. I have more room than the equivalent accommodation in economy on Air Canada – or United.

We did, of course, have to get up at what my sister calls “stupid o’clock” to get the trolleybus to Pacific Central. The passenger information system was out at that stop – but the  bus mercifully on time, since before 6am there is only 20 minute service. It would have annoyed me greatly if the whole trip had gone sideways due to someone “running sharp”. There was no line up at the station, where ticketing and preliminary customs and baggage scanning takes place. My companion was grumbling that in our haste to get on board we had neglected to pick up coffee. She thought I was going off the take pictures. I was – but the dining car was open before departure to I returned to our seats with a cardboard tray not just with coffee but a choice of oatmeal or yogurt “parfait” (fruit and granola). About $12 US.

It takes about an hour to get to the Peace Arch, where the train is stopped and everyone has to turn off their electronic devices. US border staff board the train and interview passengers in their seats – using their outdoor voices. I get to know where the people in this car come from – the “old geezers” across the  aisle come from Camberwell, South London.

I cannot fathom why – given that the train does not stop between Pacific Central and the border why all the formalities cannot be conducted in Vancouver – or even while the train is moving, as used to be the case in Europe. Of course there now borders are largely meaningless: NAFTA is not at all the same thing as the EU Customs Union.

The gadget that allows me to transfer data from my camera is in the bottom of my bag – in the rack above my head. But Amtrak Connect is not exactly speedy, and there are warnings about not overloading the connection. Bellingham 8:49. So I think I will wait to illustrate this piece until I get to the hotel. (See next post) Anyway the train windows are far from pristine and have reflections so I have stuffed the camera in the seat pocket for now.

There is also cell phone coverage on board. Irritatingly WIND mobile send me a message welcoming me to the US. While we were still in White Rock! WIND coverage in Greater Vancouver seems not to extend very far south!

At Bellingham passengers have been kept off the platform until the train stopped. 60 people are joining the train here so all the seats are going to be used. Amtrak seems to be doing well at capacity utilization on this route.

Everett  10:19 – seventeen minutes behind schedule – extra delay since leaving Vancouver would be the maintenance of way check just before this stop

The wifi connection can be a bit spotty and has to be reset every so often. Having a connection at all is remarkable – having a free one even better, so I am not complaining. On the other foot, the position of the power outlet means that every so often I have to put the big white box back into the wall by my left foot, where inevitably it has either fallen out or I have nudged it out.

There are screens up by the ceiling and aircraft type controls and a ear phone jack in the seat arm. They do not seem to be functioning. I do not miss seat back entertainment. But I do have an idea that I think Amtrak should consider. The view from  the train is necessarily sideways. But a camera on the nose of the leading “cabbage” (unpowered control cab converted from a loco – we are being pushed from the rear) with a feed to each car – no sound needed – would be nice, to see where we are going.

Written by Stephen Rees

May 12, 2011 at 8:55 am

Posted in Railway, Transportation

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