Updated: May 21, 2015
Amtrak Train from Portland to Seattle:We have been living in Portland, Oregon for almost 10 years now and had never taken the train up to Seattle. Many times we have driven with our 2 kids up I-5 and battled the traffic that surrounds the Seattle metro area. The drive from Portland to Seattle is about 3 hours and covers roughly 170 miles. For the Christmas Holiday in 2010 we took the chance and booked our train tickets to Seattle. Total cost was about $200 roundtrip for all 4 of us. Keep in mind that you can drive up and back for about $50. So, it's not like we were saving money in the process. What we hoped to accomplish was to introduce our kids to train travel (very prevalent in Europe) and see if it was truly more relaxing for us parents on the train versus in a car.
The one thing I appreciated was how convenient it was to park at Portland Union Station, walk across the parking lot and get on the train. No waiting in security lines like at airports or having to arrive 1 hour early. We pulled in 20 minutes before our train departure, printed out our tickets at a kiosk machine and got our seat assignments. Very smooth and seamless. If you are concerned with safety and security measures and like all the pat downs and x-ray machines at an airport, then perhaps train travel is not for you. I didn't see anything like that at Portland or Seattle stations. Yes, there are security guards and police officers but it's more casual than at airports. We had ordered our Amtrak tickets online and printed out our email with a barcode scan on it. There are kiosks within the train station where you take the email confirmation to and scan it in. Then your tickets are printed out for the trip. Take the tickets to a counter where they do seat assignments and then you are set. We requested a seating area for us 4 that had a table so that the kids could play games, read, color, etc. We departed on a Monday at 12:15PM and the train was maybe half full. The return trip was closer to Christmas day and the train was a bit fuller. The train did arrive about 10 minutes late into Seattle but it was early on the way home. The kids enjoyed the trip a lot. They like the fact that you can get up and walk around - unlike while driving in a car. There is a snack/bistro car where you can get food/drinks and there was room at our table to play games while the train kept moving. The trip is 3 1/2 hours, which is not short - but I arrived fresh into Seattle and was ready for a day in the big city. The Amtrak Cascades website is loaded with details on schedules, ticket costs, station information, on board details of seating and food, and baggage handling procedures. You can view everything online at http://www.amtrakcascades.com/.
Amtrak Cascades - Portland Union Station to King Street Station:The Portland Union Station is located at 800 NW Sixth Avenue, Union Station, Portland, OR 97209. It's near Broadway and NW Irving Street. Parking was reasonable, although I could see the parking lot filling up during the peak days of the holidays. There are hourly rates, but I was forced to purchase 2 days ($18 total). There may be cheaper parking in nearby lots, but I didn't have time to find one. We were running late the day of our departure and arrived with 20 minutes to spare. The train loaded up quickly and off we went. The train makes stops from Portland to Seattle in Vancouver (WA), Kelso/Longview, Centralia, Olympia/Lacey, Tacoma, and Tukwila. The complete Amtrak Cascades line goes from Eugene all the way up to Vancouver, BC (CANADA). The daily departures from PDX to Seattle on Amtrak are at 8:30AM, 12:15PM, 2:50PM, 4:20PM, and 6:15PM. BAGGAGE - You are allowed two pieces of carry-on baggage and there is reasonable room above your seats for carry-on storage or you can put larger bags in a storage area in each car. You can also check 3 pieces of luggage up to 50lbs each. FOOD - The Bistro Car has fresh, local foods which included soups, salads, and sandwiches. We bought some snacks and a few drinks.
The train moved along at a decent speed as we headed north. A few times it actually came to a complete halt at which time an annoucement was made that we had stopped to allow other train traffic to get through on the line. Otherwise the ride was smooth and fairly scenic. My favorite section of the entire trip was along the water as you near the Tacoma Narrows bridge that leads over to Gig Harbor. The views from the train are incredible and it feels like you are right on the water. When we arrived into King Street Station in Seattle, we got off the train and headed out to the taxi area to get a cab to the Sheraton Hotel. The Seattle King Street Station is just north of Qwest Field near 4th Avenue and S. Jackson Street. Overall we had a good time but certainly wish that train travel in the United States will become faster. The trip to Seattle from Portland should really only take about 1 1/2 hours if the trains went faster. Considering you are now seeing trains that go 220-250MPH in Japan and China, we can only hope we get trains that go at least half that speed in the coming years.