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Amtrak Transcontinental

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Thought I’d divide my spring break vacation into two posts, the first focused on my Amtrak experience.

The first leg of my vacation was between the Twin Cities and Portland OR. The train left MSP shortly before midnight (about an hour behind schedule) and arrived in PDX around 10am. Two nights of sleeping in train seats one step up from airplane seating but a few steps below “used couch in the basement rec room” in terms of comfort.

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There’s not much to see between the Twin Cities and North Dakota, but once you get into Montana the terrain gets hilly. It was only due to poor timing that we approached the Rocky Mountains at the same time that the sun was setting, so our view was rather short-lived.

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The train decoupled in Spokane, splitting between one train heading to Seattle and the other to Portland. We awoke Sunday morning having already passed through the Cascades and traveling west along the edge of the Columbia River. Pretty views of big hills and the occasional waterfall.

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The regional train service between Portland and Seattle was the best of the three routes; comfy leather seats, ceiling-mounted television sets and clean bathrooms! Not to mention the trip was shorter than it would have been driving on I-5, and a round-trip costs less than a tank of gas… no wonder so many people were aboard this train.


The third leg was between Seattle and the Twin Cities. We got to see the Cascades and awoke on Friday morning to the snowy Rockies. Beautiful scenery. We passed through a 7-mile tunnel, noted as the second-longest or third-longest in the western hemisphere. Also passed a stone obelisk marking the continental divide and a town that claims to be the geographical center of North America.

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Most of the stops along the way were in small cities — Havre MT, Monit ND, and a slew of towns that barely register on the map. Lots of dirt roads, dive bars, pickup trucks, buffet-style restaurants, single-story houses with barking dogs penned up in chain-link fenced yards, et cetera.

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Overall, I’m glad I took the opportunity to travel by train, but it was kind of a one-time experience. I traveled by Amtrak because I had the free time and wanted to see the countryside. Now that I’ve seen it, next time I head that way I’m just going to fly, even if it costs more. I would have rather spent more time in Portland or Seattle than in a train car.

If I had to take train overnight again I would definitely fork over the extra dough for one of their sleeper cars so I could have an actual bed to sleep in. Trying to sleep semi-upright in a chair with inadequate cushioning is an exercise in futility. Not to mention the constant disruption from coughing hags, cell phones going off, crying infants, constant bumps on the rails, et cetera.

Oh and forget about dining on the train – meals in the dining car start at $20 ($25 for dinner), and a beer in the lounge is $5.25 (for a can of Bud Light). Fortunately you can bring your own food on board, so be sure to stock up at the local grocery store before boarding. Station stops usually only last 5-10 minutes, not long enough to head into town and grab food somewhere. So come prepared!



Written by camcarlson

April 7, 2013 at 9:20 PM

Posted in Travel

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