Amtrak Cascades Service discussion

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Cascades 519 handles checked baggage to Seattle from Vancouver. However, Vancouver is unusual in that you cannot check it early because the baggage must be with you during the US Immigration inspection immediately prior to boarding, plus the station is not staffed by Amtrak personnel. Baggage check is done trainside by the Amtrak train crew after US Immigration.

However, VIA's baggage room will day check your luggage and hold it for a fee ($10 CAD per piece, IIRC). You will have to reclaim all your luggage from VIA and have it with you before lining up for check in and US Immigration inspection (one line, you check in, then proceed through US inspection). You should know check in closes 15 minutes before departure so US Immigration inspection can be completed before scheduled departure. At VAC, you should really arrive no later than 45 minutes before departure and preferably an hour (I always shoot for 4:30 myself). You will probably have to line up to retrieve your day checked bags from VIA, too. During cruise season you won't be the only one doing it.

There isn't much in the way of food in the immediate area of Pacific Central Station, there's an A&W on the other side of Main Street by the Main Street/Science World Skytrain station (there used to be one in station, but it closed). In any case, you really cannot bring dinner onboard, unless dinner is crackers and mozzarella sticks. Most freshly prepared food will not be allowed past US inspection and they'll make you toss it. If you try to hide it and get caught, you'll be in for a possible fine and a note on your passport record that will get likely you pulled into secondary inspections every time you enter the US for a long, long time. Most commercially packaged snacks are okay (not meat products, though).

I don't have the current Cascades menu. It is the National cafe menu with some additional items. The Ivar's Clam Chowder is one they always have, and that's great.

VIA waives the day check charges to hold baggage for 519 for those arriving on the Canadian in Sleeper Plus or Prestige classes, BTW.
Thanks Zephyr. I would have never thought about bringing food across the border. Being from Detroit, we often had dinner in Windsor, Ontario and brought our leftovers home. Never had any issues, but we won't tempt fate. 🤭 Maybe we'll have breakfast at the Pan Pacific, have them hold our luggage, wander around the area and then claim our luggage and take a taxi to the train station.
 
Being from Detroit, we often had dinner in Windsor, Ontario and brought our leftovers home.
Betcha you didn't declare the leftovers 😉

I am a frequent border crosser myself, both on the Cascades and in my own car. The inspection process on the Cascades is much more similar to an airport inspection than crossing in a car and can be more intrusive/intense than the officer at the booth at a highway crossing generally is. If you are carrying a bag of take out, you will be told to toss it.

Personally, I don't push the food rules at all (which are the same for any mode). The details are quite complex should you want to get into them (avocados are apparently okay, oranges are not), but a simple rule of thumb is packaged products are okay except meat, not commercially packaged, no.

I am a NEXUS member, and NEXUS members are expected to know and abide by ALL the rules without being asked or prompted. That is the "trust" part of "trusted traveler". I am anxious to protect my NEXUS card, it is just too damned handy. There are few quicker ways to have a NEXUS membership revoked than to violate the food/ag rules.

When in doubt, declare.
 
I prefer riding facing forward, but on a shorter run it’s not a big deal. In Europe, it’s par for the course and nobody thinks anything of it.
I prefer it myself, but can deal with riding backwards. I have a good friend who gets motion sick riding backwards, though. Not everyone can just shrug it off.
 
And for the same reason safer in a collision/derailment involving sudden deceleration too.
By coincidence I was sitting facing rear in the only time I've ever been on a train that was in a crossing accident. It was the most comfortable emergency stop that I've ever experienced.
 
Betcha you didn't declare the leftovers 😉

I am a frequent border crosser myself, both on the Cascades and in my own car. The inspection process on the Cascades is much more similar to an airport inspection than crossing in a car and can be more intrusive/intense than the officer at the booth at a highway crossing generally is. If you are carrying a bag of take out, you will be told to toss it.

Personally, I don't push the food rules at all (which are the same for any mode). The details are quite complex should you want to get into them (avocados are apparently okay, oranges are not), but a simple rule of thumb is packaged products are okay except meat, not commercially packaged, no.

I am a NEXUS member, and NEXUS members are expected to know and abide by ALL the rules without being asked or prompted. That is the "trust" part of "trusted traveler". I am anxious to protect my NEXUS card, it is just too damned handy. There are few quicker ways to have a NEXUS membership revoked than to violate the food/ag rules.

When in doubt, declare.
I've been inspected for contraband food while driving across the border into Montana at backwater crossings. I suspect it gave the agents something to do. I had read the rules, so had no problem.
 
By coincidence I was sitting facing rear in the only time I've ever been on a train that was in a crossing accident. It was the most comfortable emergency stop that I've ever experienced.
IIRC, USAF transports have rear-facing seats for this reason.
Also, so do most airlines for their Flight Attendant seats…
 
So, here we have a shortage of Coaches. Yet Amtrak is trying to fill coaches on the NEC with very low fares. The logic does not compute.
I've been checking and it looks as though the additional cars mentioned above have been added, because coach space is available on some trains each day. Some trains are even going for fares less than the top bucket. Business Class still is squeezed.
 
I think it’s a matter of equipment position. Certain NEC runs leave WAS or NYP at inconvenient times to balance equipment and better serve peak runs. To me it makes a lot of sense to sell cheaper fares on some of these runs as some of the trains are effectively deadheads anyway. I can tell you anecdotally the NEC has been very busy lately given the time of year. It’s like SEPTA offering off peak fares to try and lure people onto runs that support the big rush hour traffic.
 
Noob to the boards here, but grew up in Central Illinois & frequently took Amtrak to Chicago - are the Horizon cars on the Cascades the same we had in the midwest for years and years? I ask because when we had large school groups, the conductor (or car attendant) would let us flip the seats around in pairs of 4, wasn't sure if these Horizon cars are like that or not. Was sorta hoping to be on a Talgo train - booked on 517 in May to Portland from Van, figured it would make a scenic day instead of sitting in traffic enroute to SeaTac on FlixBus, then dealing with the airport.

I also assume Nexus doesn't do anything special for us in Van on departure, either?

Fare to Portland was QUITE cheap - only $51. Was expecting it to be a lot more. If we are in the older Horizon cars, then I'm definitely glad I didn't splurge on 'business class'.
 
I think it’s a matter of equipment position. Certain NEC runs leave WAS or NYP at inconvenient times to balance equipment and better serve peak runs. To me it makes a lot of sense to sell cheaper fares on some of these runs as some of the trains are effectively deadheads anyway. I can tell you anecdotally the NEC has been very busy lately given the time of year. It’s like SEPTA offering off peak fares to try and lure people onto runs that support the big rush hour traffic.
This is likely to lead to a thread split, but...

Amtrak is also trying to drive up ridership, I suspect. There was one train ride I was on last year from...I forget if it was WAS-BAL or BWI-WAS (I think it was the former)...where Amtrak's fares were lower than MARC. I've seen the same thing on the Virginia trains a few weeks out, and VA has an explicit goal of pushing up ridership.

Also, though Amtrak didn't explicitly say it, this special coincides with the addition of an additional off-hour round-trip WAS-NYP: Northbound, 180 has been moved about an hour later (from 0430 to 0525) and 170 added at 0405; while southbound, 177 was added at 2205 (this latter bit was a glaring schedule issue - previously, the last SB Regional was 175, at 1940). They also seem to have slipped another Acela or two into the mix (last I checked I didn't think that Acelas were running after 175, but one might have; but 2175 (2105 out of NYP) and 2150 (0500 out of WAS) are also both back. There are still a few Regionals missing, but I don't have the energy to figure out what's still "missing" vs 2019/2020.

They're still down three Acelas (plus the non-stop, of course) vs the late 2019/early 2020 schedule:
-NB, the 1000/1100 trains have been replaced by a 1030; 1300 is completely gone; and the 1700/1800 trains have been replaced by one at 1730.
-SB, they're running an 0530 out of NYP (the previous earliest SB Acela was [generally] 0600) and there's a "missing number" here; 0800 is missing, as are 1200 and 1900.
 
Noob to the boards here, but grew up in Central Illinois & frequently took Amtrak to Chicago - are the Horizon cars on the Cascades the same we had in the midwest for years and years? I ask because when we had large school groups, the conductor (or car attendant) would let us flip the seats around in pairs of 4, wasn't sure if these Horizon cars are like that or not. Was sorta hoping to be on a Talgo train - booked on 517 in May to Portland from Van, figured it would make a scenic day instead of sitting in traffic enroute to SeaTac on FlixBus, then dealing with the airport.
1. Yep, same cars.
2. Seats are turnable (most Amtrak seats are, which the NTSB is not entirely happy about). They usually require a crew member to operate them, though, and conductors usually frown on people trying it DIY. Usually they are set up in push-pull service, like the Cascades, with half one direction, half the other and the crew doesn't turn them at terminals.
3. The remaining ODOT Talgo(s) are on the 500/505 pair last I looked. Doubt they'll show up on either the 516-519 or 517-518 Vancouver trains, ever.
4. NEXUS doesn't do anything for you in Vancouver, except not having to drag out your passport. I recall someone saying somewhere, they'll let you use the shorter BC check in/US inspection line with it, but I've never tried it.
 
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zeph, thanks! A friend that drives UP trains along this sector said the same, and the scenery isn't all that south of Seattle (could be because he works that section?). Was hoping for checked luggage, but I guess these consists don't have a bag car (unless cafe/baggage horizons still exist). Happy to throw some money at Amtrak and enjoy the ride!
 
On Tuesday night at 2215 PDT, almost everything on PDX>SEA for next Sunday, March 26th is sold out. The only openings from PDX to SEA are $206 roomettes on Train 14 and the highest buckets coach and business class on clean-up Train 508. SEA to PDX still has openings in coach on all trains, but business class is sold out on all trains.
 
Spring break and religious holidays traffic fills up all the "new" capacity for Sunday, March 26th:

Here's the PDX to SEA line-up as of Wednesday night:
0800 FB $69
0820 AT SO/SO
1020 FB $69
1045 GL $54
1200 AT SO/SO
1230 FB $69
1500 FB $59
1505 AT SO/SO
1556 AT SO/--/$206
1845 FB $44
1925 AT $66/$87
2250 GL $39

And here's PDX to SPK:
0800 FB $107 via Seattle
0820 AT SO/SO/SO chng at Seattle
0950 GL $73 chng at Pasco
1645 AT $76/--/$395

Amtrak @ 1505 through to VAC. As of Wednesday night, the only through bus PDX>VAC with space available was the 1500 Flix trip.

AT = Amtrak Coach/Business/Sleeper, FB = Flixbus includes service charge rounded,
GL = Greyhound Lines includes service charge rounded.
SO = Sold Out.
 
I looked at a trip on the Zephyr from BRL to GSC on Tuesday, and it was around $700 for my granddaughter and myself. Wednesday morning, it was $903! What happened? I had looked at several dates on Tuesday, and they'd all been the same. When I looked at the jump on Wednesday, I checked all the dates again, and they were all $903. What happened?
 
I looked at a trip on the Zephyr from BRL to GSC on Tuesday, and it was around $700 for my granddaughter and myself. Wednesday morning, it was $903! What happened? I had looked at several dates on Tuesday, and they'd all been the same. When I looked at the jump on Wednesday, I checked all the dates again, and they were all $903. What happened?
"Supply and Demand!"
 
I looked at a trip on the Zephyr from BRL to GSC on Tuesday, and it was around $700 for my granddaughter and myself. Wednesday morning, it was $903! What happened? I had looked at several dates on Tuesday, and they'd all been the same. When I looked at the jump on Wednesday, I checked all the dates again, and they were all $903. What happened?
Somebody bought the last roomette that last roomette remaining in the lower bucket's inventory, so it rolled up to the next higher bucket with open inventory. Possibly Amtrak's yield managers reallocated inventory among the buckets. The first is somewhat more likely, but the second is possible, especially since it appeared to happen to multiple dates simultaneously.

In any case, bucket jumps are routine. Just goes to show if you see a price you like, grab it. It may well disappear at any moment, as you have seen.
 
Spring break and most religious holidays are over, but Amtrak space is still tight for Sunday, April 23rd:

Here's the PDX to SEA line-up as of Wednesday night:
0800 FB $29
0820 AT $66/SO
1020 FB $29
1045 GL $34
1200 AT SO/SO
1230 FB $29
1500 FB $44
1505 AT SO/SO
1556 AT SO/--/$206
1845 FB $49
1925 AT $59/SO
2250 GL $34

And here's PDX to SPK:
0800 FB $81 via Seattle
0820 AT $212/SO/$281 chng at Seattle
0950 GL $73 chng at Pasco
1645 AT $50/--/$202

As of Wednesday night, the only Amtrak itinerary PDX>VAC with space available was the 0820 rail/bus trip.

AT = Amtrak Coach/Business/Sleeper, FB = Flixbus includes service charge rounded,
GL = Greyhound Lines includes service charge rounded.
SO = Sold Out.
 
Sunday, April 30th - space for Business Class still not adequate.

Here's the PDX to SEA line-up as of Wednesday night:
0800 FB $39
0820 AT $37/$87
1020 FB $29
1045 GL $29
1200 AT $66/SO
1230 FB $29
1500 FB $29
1505 AT $66/SO
1556 AT SO/--/$224
1845 FB $29
1925 AT $59/$80
2325 GL $29

And here's PDX to SPK:
0800 FB $61 via Seattle
0820 AT $105/SO/$297 chng at Seattle
0950 GL $73 chng at Pasco
1645 AT $50/--/$227

As a bonus, here's CTL to SPK:
0135 GL $79 chng at Seattle
0952 AT $94/$121/$248 chng at Seattle
1143 AT $97/--/$398 chng at Portland
1308 AT $101/$103/$280 chng at Portland

AT = Amtrak Coach/Business/Sleeper, FB = Flixbus includes service charge rounded,
GL = Greyhound Lines includes service charge rounded.
SO = Sold Out.
 
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