VIA Rail Canadian + Empire Builder loop trip

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Bob Dylan

50+ Year Amtrak Rider
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On Friday afternoon, I walked down to Sunset Park Beach, which was kind of nice - though I didn’t spent that much time as I wanted to get to the Whitecaps game. That was fun - Houston was leading 1-0 most of the way but Vancouver scored twice in the last few minutes (with the winner in stoppage time) to win it. It was a fairly easy walk to/from the stadium - just a straight shot down Davie to Pacific Blvd and the reverse.

On Saturday, I took the short Aquabus ferry ride to Granville Island, and got something to eat. The Public Market was interesting, albeit crowded. Saw a few cheese places, but didn’t see the exact cheese @GAT was referencing at any of them. In any case, I may try to come back during the week when hopefully it will be less crowded. Walked around the rest of the island, which was interested - I did think it may be a more enjoyable experience if they didn’t have cars there, though.

After that, I went back to the hotel and made my way back to the BC Lions game. That was fun, though the game was a blowout (back won 46-14), and the entrance to watch on-field warmups for my club seats was difficult to find (meaning I lost a good chunk of time there). I also got some small cuts on my foot trying to enter my seat from the top. So it could have been better, but still managed to get in a game there.

On Sunday, I spent most of the early day doing laundry, and disposing of my Canadian change in the process since ideally I don’t want to have any left over. I had wanted to go dip my feet in the water, though the cuts made me hold off on that. Nevertheless, in the afternoon I still went for a walk towards Stanley Park along the shoreline - saw English Bay Beach, which looked a bit bigger than Sunset Park Beach, as well as Second Beach, following the Seawall. Saw the large pool next to the beach, as well as the concession stand (which despite Google saying closed at 6, actually seemed to stay open until at least 7). Might want to come back and check out the beach/pool a bit more - also may want to look at bike rentals to see the entire Seawall (seems like a similar length to the loop around Mackinac Island which I’ve done before). Ended up walking all the way back towards my hotel, with a stop at a grocery store and pharmacy.

One thing I still have yet to do is take transit - while the SkyTrain system looks good, I haven’t had to go anywhere where it is the best option to get there. As for the buses, for most of my trips (like up to Stanley Park) I’d have to walk at least half of the distance to/from the bus stops anyway. Guessing they’re more useful for people coming from outside downtown. Also may explain why they’re so big on bikes here, with all the protected bike lanes and bike paths. I do want to make a point of at least riding the SkyTrain - something I have tentatively penciled in for Wednesday when there’s a good chance of rain. Want to try and get the West Coast Express as well out of the old CP station along the Fraser River, though would have to return downtown via another means since it only runs inbound in morning and outbound in the evening. Could get off at the last shared station with SkyTrain and take that back, though I kind of want to do the whole thing (in which case I’d take buses back - doing the last WCE to Mission and the 701 express to SkyTrain in the evening seems like the best way to do that).
We used to love visiting the Granville Farmers Market during the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Season.

Sounds like your plan to see what you can of Vancouver in such a short time is a good one.

This Beautiful City is like New York City,you can never see it all, and it's worth return visits!
 

Larry H.

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In 1971 I think it was we took the CNN across Canada from Toronto to Vancouver, but going from Chicago they still had a station for trains leaving to Toronto from Chicago. Then on the return from Vancouver they also had a rail connection where we met up with the Empire Builder just outside of Seattle. I don't know why they removed the through train from Chicago or if its gone the one to Seattle from Vancouver. It was at the time that the Empire Builder had notices in the cars that in 30 days all passenger service would be turned over to the Government. And thus Amtrak. Oddly for some time Amtrak ran trains pretty much like the old owners, nice lounges, good dining, domes and fan tail cars. Little by little it became a sort of shell of its former existence. I recall those mountains and the U turns over bridges where the engine was on the other side of the river going past the rear where we were. We were in the last car of 22 cars. It was a reasonably full train and lots of young people on board, many in the first class sections and lounges. The food however was so so at best and one of the reasons we decided to return to Chicago on the Empire Builder. That was a good choice still, the diner service was great as was the food. How long that lasted after the Amtrak ran it I don't know. It was running 5 sleepers of which maybe 10 people were in the whole bunch of them.. The weird part was when we decided to go from Vancouver the ticket agent tried three times to get us a bedroom, and each time they said it was sold out.. Finally he told us to go to the connections stop outside of Seattle and tell the conductor you wanted a room, and sure enough he had a train full of empty bedrooms which the railroad was saying were sold out!
 

MccfamschoolMom

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In 1971 I think it was we took the CNN across Canada from Toronto to Vancouver, but going from Chicago they still had a station for trains leaving to Toronto from Chicago. Then on the return from Vancouver they also had a rail connection where we met up with the Empire Builder just outside of Seattle. I don't know why they removed the through train from Chicago or if its gone the one to Seattle from Vancouver. It was at the time that the Empire Builder had notices in the cars that in 30 days all passenger service would be turned over to the Government. And thus Amtrak. Oddly for some time Amtrak ran trains pretty much like the old owners, nice lounges, good dining, domes and fan tail cars. Little by little it became a sort of shell of its former existence. I recall those mountains and the U turns over bridges where the engine was on the other side of the river going past the rear where we were. We were in the last car of 22 cars. It was a reasonably full train and lots of young people on board, many in the first class sections and lounges. The food however was so so at best and one of the reasons we decided to return to Chicago on the Empire Builder. That was a good choice still, the diner service was great as was the food. How long that lasted after the Amtrak ran it I don't know. It was running 5 sleepers of which maybe 10 people were in the whole bunch of them.. The weird part was when we decided to go from Vancouver the ticket agent tried three times to get us a bedroom, and each time they said it was sold out.. Finally he told us to go to the connections stop outside of Seattle and tell the conductor you wanted a room, and sure enough he had a train full of empty bedrooms which the railroad was saying were sold out!
I believe I read somewhere that there were issues with the Port Huron, MI-Sarnia, ON tunnel which the Chicago-Toronto trains used. Hopefully someone else has more details on that.
 

Bob Dylan

50+ Year Amtrak Rider
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Joined
May 31, 2009
Messages
24,886
Location
Austin Texas
In 1971 I think it was we took the CNN across Canada from Toronto to Vancouver, but going from Chicago they still had a station for trains leaving to Toronto from Chicago. Then on the return from Vancouver they also had a rail connection where we met up with the Empire Builder just outside of Seattle. I don't know why they removed the through train from Chicago or if its gone the one to Seattle from Vancouver. It was at the time that the Empire Builder had notices in the cars that in 30 days all passenger service would be turned over to the Government. And thus Amtrak. Oddly for some time Amtrak ran trains pretty much like the old owners, nice lounges, good dining, domes and fan tail cars. Little by little it became a sort of shell of its former existence. I recall those mountains and the U turns over bridges where the engine was on the other side of the river going past the rear where we were. We were in the last car of 22 cars. It was a reasonably full train and lots of young people on board, many in the first class sections and lounges. The food however was so so at best and one of the reasons we decided to return to Chicago on the Empire Builder. That was a good choice still, the diner service was great as was the food. How long that lasted after the Amtrak ran it I don't know. It was running 5 sleepers of which maybe 10 people were in the whole bunch of them.. The weird part was when we decided to go from Vancouver the ticket agent tried three times to get us a bedroom, and each time they said it was sold out.. Finally he told us to go to the connections stop outside of Seattle and tell the conductor you wanted a room, and sure enough he had a train full of empty bedrooms which the railroad was saying were sold out!
The old SP Playbook ( and often Amtraks one thinks), tell them the Trains are "Sold Out" so they can show that nobody's riding when there are Lots of available Rooms, and hence Cut Cars,Staffing and even do a Train off!
 
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I believe I read somewhere that there were issues with the Port Huron, MI-Sarnia, ON tunnel which the Chicago-Toronto trains used. Hopefully someone else has more details on that.
I think it was due to a combination of post-9/11 security procedures making the crossing way too slow and VIA/Amtrak wanting schedules that worked better for their domestic markets.
 
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On Monday, I decided that I wanted to check out the beaches more as well as the large pool at Second Beach. Unfortunately, when I got online that morning, tickets for the pool on both Monday and Tuesday were sold out - Wednesday had availability, but the forecast had shown rain that day, and Thursday I leave for Seattle. However, they did save some tickets for walk-ups, so I figured I’d get lunch, head up towards Second Beach, and see if I could get in. Ended up walking along the seawall the whole way, stopping at Sunset Park Beach and getting lunch at the concession there before making my way to Second Beach.

Once I got to Second Beach, I saw a line had formed by the pool. After inquiring, I found that it was indeed the line for walk-ups to get in. Figured I’d wait - worst case I’d just check out Second Beach itself. Despite the large line, I was able to get in, and stored my belongings using the locker and swam there. It was definitely quite large and pretty nice for a public pool, but as far as pools go I don’t think anything can beat the hot springs at Glenwood Springs (hoping to maybe take the Zephyr back there next summer - would perhaps consider the Rocky Mountaineer, but they seem to only allow a single-night stopover there). Each admission gets a bit over 2 hours at the pool, with 3 sessions offered each day - I took the middle session ending about 5:15.

After that, I checked out Second Beach itself, which had a lot of algae - as did English Bay Beach. At that point I decided to just eat dinner. I went back to Sunset Park Beach and found that had less algae in it, though at that point I wanted to head back to the hotel. Stopped at the grocery store to get some things I had missed the previous night, and finally went back.
 
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Today the main thing I wanted to do was to rent a bike and ride it around the Stanley Park seawall loop. Also, if I had time, I wanted to ride the West Coast Express since that only goes outbound from Vancouver in the evening and I was planning on an early night (or perhaps an early departure for Victoria) on Wednesday.

After getting going a bit later than I hoped and grabbing a quick lunch to eat at my hotel, I decided to head towards a bike rental place close to the Stanley Park seawall loop. I found that Spokes Bicycle Rentals seemed like a good option, and it also seemed easy to get to by bus. I decided to go that way - as it seemed that buses would take credit card payment by tapping, I wouldn’t even have to fuss with change. Was able to do so, which kind of amazed me as a concept (fare payment usually involves exact change or complicated payment schemes), and took the bus close to the rental shop without issue. Went and rented a bike, and set off on the path, which was only a couple blocks away.

Riding a bike around the Seawall loop did not disappoint - I got to see coastal scenery I hadn’t previously, go by the Lions Gate Bridge, and went by Third Beach, which I hadn’t made it to by walking. It looked like it might be better than the other ones, though I didn’t end up stopping as I wasn’t prepared for getting in the water (and wanted to hopefully get back and catch the West Coast Express). Before I knew it, I was passing the familiar grounds of Second Beach, and made it to the part where I would leave the seawall path to head back toward the rental place. Made that loop in a little over an hour, and returned the bike.

Once I had finished returning the bike, it was slightly after 5pm. Quite a bit earlier than I had anticipated - was thinking I may miss the WCE, but in fact I could still make the second-to-last one (instead of the last) if I quickly caught a bus to Waterfront Station. Got on there, and this time the card reader did not like my credit card. After trying a few times and beginning to dig up change, the driver just let me go since I was going to be paying a fare at the train station. Made it there and bought a ticket (with help from some person there, as I was a bit lost trying to find a single ticket as opposed to a monthly pass), and got on the train (which was very similar to what I had seen on the Coaster back in San Diego) with a few minutes to spare, finding a window on the waterfront side.

Once on the train we moved through a large freight rail yard, and eventually saw the waterfront come into view. To my surprise, there were quite a few people on the train - I figured a peak-hours-only commuter service would be underused given the shift to remote work post-pandemic, but it was much more full than I thought. I had purchased a ticket all the way to Mission, but still pondered getting off at Coquitlam so I’d have a straightforward SkyTrain trip back rather than an exurban bus adventure. When we got there I wanted to continue the journey, so exurban bus adventure it was. At that point we approached the Fraser River, and now the interesting scenery was on the opposite side of the train. Since many people had gotten off at that point, I quickly found an open table seat with a power outlet, which was handy to charge my phone for the impending exurban bus adventure. The train continued along the Fraser River until we hit Mission City.

When I had originally contemplated this trip, I was planning to take the last WCE and find something to eat/drink in Mission from 7:35 until the 9:01 route 701 express to SkyTrain. However, that would get me back after 11pm, and as there were no earlier 701s I could catch I opted for a different route suggested by Google Maps. A few minutes after our train arrived there was a BC Transit local route 31 to Abbotsford, which at least one other train passenger ended up taking as well. It strikes me that the WCE should probably run to Abbotsford (having a few times the population of Mission), but since it doesn’t they have this bus transfer set up nicely. Saw a few signs for a VIA Rail station on the route - the Canadian has two stops in this area, one at Mission North going eastbound and one at Abbotsford going westbound. While I get the reason why (using CN in one direction and CP the other), it still seems odd - what do you do if you want to go on a trip and park your car at the station? You’d have to call a cab - Uber didn’t seem to be in this area at all when I checked, and in fact suggested the very transit route I got on.

Eventually took this bus to a transfer station called Borquin Exchange, and used the transfer I got after paying the cash fare on the first bus to board route 1 to Highstreet Mall. This took us to a mall (no surprise), where I was to catch the BC Transit Fraser Valley Express (Route 66) to the Lougheed Town Centre SkyTrain station. The 7:55 bus I was connecting to was the last of the day (after which the only transit option to go back was to go all the way back to Mission City and catch the 701), though we got there with plenty of time to spare. When the 66 showed up, to my surprise it was just a normal city bus and not the large coach bus express routes like this typically use. Used my last Canadian bill (a 5) to pay the fare, and got on the highway for the trip to Lougheed, using the HOV lane. There was one intermediate stop at some kind of transit hub before we reached the SkyTrain.

At the SkyTrain, I began to buy a fare using the Compass machine, but someone left me an unexpired fare they no longer needed that I ended up using, so I was off the hook on fare for the second time today. Looked for the next Expo Line train to Waterfront - to my surprise none of the trains I saw had the line/destination on a display, though the overhead display showed the current train and next ones. Got on the train, and had my first experience with SkyTrain, which was kind of neat (if a bit more bumpy and loud than I’m used to). Google Maps suggested getting off before Waterfront and getting a bus, but I opted to stay on to try the Canada Line transfer. Transferred to the Canada Line, which had newer trains than the Expo Line, and went just a couple stations to Yaletown-Roundhouse which was the nearest station to my hotel. Exited the station with my still-valid fare - for kicks I decided to take out my old San Diego Compass Card to see if Vancouver’s Compass Card system would take It (it recognized It as a card, but didn’t take it).

Walked back to the hotel, finally making it back after that journey. Were I to do it again, I may have got off at Coquitlam, returned by SkyTrain from there, and gotten back sooner. At the same time, I would have missed out on the bus adventure, which reminded me of taking various suburban/exurban routes around Southern California back then. The BC Transit part in particular reminds me of taking Omnitrans in the Inland Empire or perhaps NCTD bus routes around Escondido (outside San Diego), and I’ve taken plenty of express buses in HOV lanes out there). Funny enough, I had taken Omnitrans when going to see an Ontario Reign (minor league affiliate of the LA Kings) hockey game. Guess where the Vancouver Canucks minor league affiliate now plays - Abbotsford! Though that’s far from the only California similarity I’ve noticed here (the weather this time of year, San Francisco-like steep hills, and the housing prices being just a few…) In any case, I figure it’s almost time to go to bed - the forecast calls for rain, so I’m not planning much. May ride SkyTrain more, finish my Canadian charge off on a load of laundry, and figure I’ll either go to bed early to take an early ferry to Victoria or leave here tomorrow and spend a night there.
 
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Yesterday, I was pretty much worn out after the long day of bike and transit riding yesterday. While I considered bolting for Victoria early, I felt too tired to do much of anything, including leaving. I was sore even walking a few blocks to pick up lunch. Since I had taken SkyTrain yesterday, I didn’t feel the need to go out of my way and ride it again, particularly without any particular destination in mind. I did do one last load of laundry, disposing of my remaining Canadian change in the process except for one quarter and a few nickels/dimes.

Aside from laundry, watching TV, eating, and using the pool/hot tub at the hotel, the main thing I did is consider how I was going to get to Victoria the next day. The BC Ferries Connector seemed the most convenient option, but didn’t run as early as I’d like - I had called the Seattle ferry operator and they said they opened for luggage at 9am, and the first Connector wouldn’t arrive until 1:20pm. The seaplane was tempting, but I was a bit wary of the luggage requirements - it seems like mine would fit, but it could go slightly over (in which case luggage goes on a space-available basis) and they they don’t give the exact plane you’re taking if not a Twin Otter (which dictated the allowed dimensions). That leaves the standard ferry from Tsawwassen plus either Uber/Lyft/cab or transit - though BC Transit on the Vancouver Island end only takes cash, which I had just gotten rid of. Dealing with getting small change right before leaving the country+luggage on transit seemed annoying, so I figured I’d just go the Uber/Lyft/cab route. Ended up going to bed early so I could get going early to make it to the island with plenty of time to spare.
 
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Slept until about 4am - couldn’t go back to sleep, so got up at 4:30am. Got all packed up and grabbed a quick breakfast at Tim Hortons - which I was thankful is open 24 hours. Finished everything and was planning to Uber to the ferry terminal to get the 7am ferry. However, after requesting and seeing the estimated wait time increase, I feared that I’d have a good chance of missing the 7am and being stuck waiting until 8. Given that, I opted to take transit as it was much cheaper, would give me the chance to ride more transit (including most of the Canada Line) and would still get me there with plenty of time to make the 8am ferry (which was the original one I was aiming to make).

Walked to the Yaletown-Roundhouse Canada Line station, and this time located the elevator to spare me taking luggage down stairs. Found it, and then got to the fare gates. Tried the credit card that gave me trouble there on Tuesday and it didn’t work - luckily, my other one did. Kind of mad about that - the card that didn’t work has no foreign transaction fees. It has worked most places in Canada, but has stubbornly refused to work at a few places (VIA Rail Canada’s website, Ticketmaster, and TransLink buses/trains). Heard a train coming and didn’t see the elevator so went down the stairs to the platform. Turns out the train was the opposite direction, but ours came shortly. Most of the ride was underground, which surprised me given the “SkyTrain” name, but then again the Chicago L has subway segments. Rode that to Bridgeport where I took the elevators to street level. Was going to buy a Compass Card as a souvenir but it insisted on me adding a pass or value, which I wouldn’t be needing. Saw the exit was labeled “Way out” - something I’m more accustomed seeing on signs from the UK.

At the station, I followed the directions for the 620 Tsawwassen Ferry Express. Tapped on with the working credit card without issue, and found a seat. Had heard that this had luggage racks, but I didn’t see any - it seemed to be a regular articulated bus. Found a single seat and held on to my bag for the duration of the trip. Per the name, it was an express bus with few stops - I noticed a few of them had “Exchange” at the end of the name as on my ride back from Mission/Abbotsford. That seemed a bit strange, but I figure it must be the Canadian name for what we would call a “transit center” in the US. I also saw a highway sign that said “No Sunglasses” - weird. We soon got to the BC Ferries Tsawwassen terminal (boy is that hard to spell).

At the terminal, I found the ferry ticket kiosk and bought a ticket on the 8am ferry to Swartz Bay. Then I asked about checked luggage and was directed to an unmanned area to drop and tag. I weighed my bag only to find it was about a pound over the limit. Frustrated, I transferred items to my backpack until I got it under the 23kg/50lb limit. Given that, I definitely would have had trouble with the seaplane - their limit was 50lb including backpacks, so my luggage would only go on a standby/space-available basis. Got someone to help me with the tagging (it wasn’t obvious how to attach the tag I grabbed), and made my way to the ferry berth. Lots of people were lined up for the Victoria/Swartz Bay ferry. I saw the ferry outside and was wowed by the size - full size trucks were getting off it. I heard an announcement about the sailing being delayed 40min and briefly worried, but immediately after that they announced our ferry was now boarding, so that wasn’t for us.

Got on the ferry, and it did not disappoint. I had been on ferries before, but I’m not sure I’ve been on one this large - perhaps the SS Badger in Ludington, MI (which I took a harbor cruise on last summer, wanting to ride but not really wanting to go to Manitowoc, WI) was close, but this may be bigger. The ferry to Seattle will definitely be smaller - it only handles passengers (no cars). Multiple levels, stores, cafes, an ATM (which I could use to get cash for that BC Transit bus, though I’d probably have to break a 20 somewhere). Looked for a seat, and was a bit disappointed to find no power outlets by most seats - the only ones I saw were desk seats without a view. I probably should get a new phone with a better battery, but given the iPhone release cycle I want to hold out a couple more months. We soon set sail, and I noticed we were going backwards. Wanting to face in the direction of travel, I found another seat and settled in for the journey. Was initially a bit cold (and wishing I had grabbed my jacket out of my suitcase) but the sunshine soon warmed me up.
 
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The "No sunglasses" sign appears before you enter the Massey Tunnel under the Fraser River. It is meant for drivers, so that they can see better as they adjust more quickly to the relative darkness.

Anker has a great pocket charger for less than $20, which obviates the need to find an outlet. It's cylindrical, about the size of a short, fat cigar. It's called the "Powercore 5000" or something like that. It was indispensable for me on my recent three week circle Amtrak voyage.
 
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The ferry ride was uneventful, and pretty fun, particularly as we weaved between islands on our way to Swartz Bay. Arrived on time, and grabbed my bag, which was one of only a few checked bags I saw. Went outside the terminal to see a line of taxis in the left lane as well as a big line of people by a couple double-decker buses. I didn’t see a sign pointing where to wait for taxis and figured it wouldn’t be across a traffic lane, so I walked past the buses. At first I thought they were some kind of private coach/tour service I hadn’t heard of, but they were in fact the BC Transit 70 and 72. I had thought of taking those, but I didn’t have any Canadian cash and wanted to maximize my time in Victoria.

Not seeing any other taxi line, I walked back to the taxis I saw in the left lane and was able to get one to the Victoria Clipper terminal from there. The taxi ride was uneventful - they driver suggested I go to Butchart Gardens, and I told him I had heard of it but wasn’t going to go since it was far from downtown Victoria. He was insistent I had enough time, which was probably true though I probably couldn’t do much else (and I’d have to take a cab both ways after dropping my bag off, something he was probably hoping to provide). There is no Uber/Lyft in Victoria, which I found annoying (though granted, Vancouver was perhaps the last major North American city to get them in 2020). Business practices aside, it’s much more convenient to use an app where you can track your ride rather than calling a cab like it’s 2001. It’s doubly annoying that BC Transit is cash only on top of it - that is supposed to change in the Fall with a new app, but that’s as useful to me now as the Cascades resuming in September is. For a city that attracts tourists, they don’t make it easy to get around.

In the end, I just took the cab to the terminal, dropped my bags off, and just started walking around after that. The route to Victoria was rather nondescript, though I did see a “ThinKMetric” sign informing drivers of the use of metric measurements. Have seen pictures of this sign before, though I was surprised to see it in that place (I’d expect it in the other direction, as US car ferries arrive in Victoria). On the topic of measurements, I saw on the map there was a Mile 0 marker for the Trans-Canada Highway and wanted to see that - it was on the way to the oceanfront which I also wanted to see, so I started walking. As I walked, I went by the BC Parliament building, which I made a note of for later. Once I got to the Mile 0 marker, I got a picture of that - it does seem like they should have converted it to KM 0 when Canada went metric, but I guess they probably leave it as-is for historical reasons. After that I walked towards the water and came upon the Dallas Rd coastal trail, which offered some great views.

Followed it until Clover Point, which was quite a sight itself - it looked like there was a cement walking path by the shore that went further, but I figured I should start heading back as I wanted to check out tea at the Empress and the BC parliament building. On my way back, I decided to walk through Beacon Hill Park to check out the world’s tallest totem pole, which sounds like one of those Mystery Spot type attractions but was actually honoring native World War veterans. Walked through the park towards the main road, and it looked like an interesting park - saw a bunch of tourists on rental bikes and a lot of paths. Got to the main road around Michigan Street, which I appreciated being from Michigan while disliking the abbreviation of Michigan St. (which as a University of Michigan alum makes me think of Michigan State).

Eventually got to the Empress amidst a crowd of tour buses and asked about tea - was told I could get in, but it would be 1:45 (about 35 minutes from then). Decided to wait and gave my mobile number, though my phone was nearly out of battery and stuck on a weak U.S. signal (something that seems to happen near the border, especially when directly across water from the U.S). I eventually got my phone back on a Canadian signal and charged in the hotel while waiting. Tea was an interesting experience - while I don’t usually drink tea (I generally prefer coffee), I do drink it from time to time, most often when I’m getting a medical test that requires a clear liquid diet beforehand (I far prefer straight tea to black coffee). I got what seemed to be their most common option - a tea that the Queen always drank when visiting the hotel. I liked the tea, and ended up finishing the pot. Tea also included some food, which for me would be my lunch. Except for the scone with jam, most of the food was not my cup of tea (excuse the pun), though I ate most of it (save for the desserts at the end that were so overwhelming in taste I couldn’t enjoy the tea). I ended up getting another tea (the rose), though this one I didn’t enjoy much (and the timing set me back as far as having time to see BC parliament. As it got to be after 3, I found my waiter to pay and head for the parliament building.

When I got to the parliament building, it was after 3, so I had missed the guided tour then. The next one was at 3:30 and in French, and the next English one was at 4, which was too late for me given boarding for the Clipper started at 4. However, you could go into the building for a self-guided tour, which I opted to do. As I waited and got to be almost next in line, they decided to have all the people there for the French tour move in front, as it was about to start (and the only French tour of the day). I get why they do that, but given my time constraints that wasn’t great news. I kept waiting and was finally let in a few minutes before I was going to leave. In any case, I was still able to see the things that were seen by the guided tour, just at twice the speed. The building was quite interesting, and it was neat to see where legislators sat - I had thought about doing the California State Capitol tour while on a layover in Sacramento, which I imagine is somewhat similar. I saw some signs for the Parliamentary Dining Room (and had seen a menu out front) and wanted to see that, but it seemed to be closed off to the public. Maybe if I find myself in Victoria again I’ll seek it out (as well as Butchart Gardens, and other things as well).
 
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Ann Arbor, MI
After that, I made my way back to the Clipper terminal, where a line had already formed for US immigration. I first had to grab my stored bag, though (my other bag had been checked). Got in the immigration line, and was handed my boarding pass after a slight delay to print it out (I suspect it wasn’t among the already printed due to me booking through Amtrak). Got that, and then waited in the immigration line. It moved quickly, and I got through after talking to the customs officer. They didn’t ask much beyond what I was doing in Victoria (I did mention I was returning from a long train trip in Canada, though that wasn’t an issue) and if I had anything to declare. Was a bit surprised by the second question since I was under the impression that the customs part of customs and immigration was done in Seattle, but perhaps it’s just redundant checks.

After passing through immigration, got on the boat, with 45 minutes to spare for the 5pm departure. I could have come a lot later and made my boat, but with customs/immigration involved I wasn’t going to take it for granted. Found my seat, and was a bit disappointed to find no outlets with my phone almost dead again. Amtrak seems to do fairly well with this, but as it’s become evident on this trip other carriers don’t. My phone seems to eat through battery particularly bad when near borders, as it keeps shuffling between towers and likes to try and connect to distant US signals. I did find out there was a USB hub near the cafe that I could plug in to charge - which did work, though I couldn’t really use it (the signal was flaky anyway, though).

When I booked this ferry with Amtrak (could you call it an Amboat?), I was given an economy seat, though there are other classes. Asked about those, and decided against upgrading since the outlet situation wasn’t any better and none of the upper window seats were open and I had a middle economy row of 3 seats to myself right by the front window. Left it there and settled in for the 2hr 45min ferry trip to Seattle. A little more than an hour in I went to the cafe and was going to buy something to eat, but they were sold out of nearly everything. Ultimately I decided to just finish my cheese popcorn, though I did buy a drink. Our ride got bumpier as we approached Seattle.

As we approached, they made an announcement that there would be two calls to disembark - first passengers without checked luggage and the passengers with checked luggage. Having luggage, I was afraid that meant I’d be waiting a long time - I had seen a post referencing an hour-long wait for customs. Fortunately, it didn’t take that long. Before I knew it, passengers with luggage were called through customs. Grabbed my bag, and the customs agent wanted to see my passport card and asked if there was anything I wanted to declare - basically the exact same as the pre-boarding check, but carrying my luggage. Why they don’t just do it at one place is beyond me.

Got outside the terminal, and saw a swarm of taxis. Almost every driver was asking the same question - “Are you going to the airport”? Not wanting to give these drivers cherry-picking fares the light of day (or have them begrudgingly take me the 1.5 miles to my hotel), I requested an Uber and quickly got a ride. Though I’m not sure if many people disembarking from this ferry would be going to the airport - with the fairly late arrival, only a small number of flights (mostly red-eye) would even be an option. Though I’d likely take an Uber with luggage anyway, I had looked at transit and was surprised to find few good options despite the trip being basically straight down Alaskan Way - everything involved at least half walking.

Took the Uber to the Embassy Suites Pioneer Square, which is conveniently located right next to King Street Station. Was able to secure a late 1pm checkout, as well as get a late bite to eat at the Zephyr restaurant (perhaps it would be better named Builder, but love the train-themed naming). Also had plenty of time to check out the pool/hot tub before going to bed. Definitely a convenient location for taking the Empire Builder (or any train out of Seattle, really).

All in all, a good day. Definitely a good substitute for the Cascades train - the Cantrail bus would get me there earlier (and is an appropriate name given the situation with the Cascades), but the ferries and Victoria excursion were more interesting. Side point - if one were to do this trip in reverse (Empire Builder to Seattle, then the Victoria+Vancouver ferries, then the Canadian), you’d avoid any chance of random COVID testing as ferries are exempt. That actually had me thinking of going the other direction, though train availability wasn’t as good that way - and I definitely get better scenery going the way I did. Looking forward to another day of fitting in as much tourism and transit as I can tomorrow and the Empire Builder - currently #7 is on time in Montana, so crossing my fingers everything’s fine tomorrow…
 
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Joined
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3,518
Enjoying your trip so much! You have been smart to mix in some rest days with so many busy ones.

It sounds like Victoria probably needs two hotel nights with a full day in between if someone wants to see the Gardens and also go to the Empress for tea?

I’m impressed at how disciplined you were with the tea (You do realize the whole fancy tea routine is just an excuse for those of us with a sweet tooth to get to the scones with jam and all the rich desserts?😁)
 
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Enjoying your trip so much! You have been smart to mix in some rest days with so many busy ones.

It sounds like Victoria probably needs two hotel nights with a full day in between if someone wants to see the Gardens and also go to the Empress for tea?

I’m impressed at how disciplined you were with the tea (You do realize the whole fancy tea routine is just an excuse for those of us with a sweet tooth to get to the scones with jam and all the rich desserts?😁)
I', sad the Bengal Room is no more. There, you could have enjoyed a Pimm's Cup and curry. :)
 

zephyr17

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The routine with Customs is not dissimilar to what they did southbound on the Cascades, with a Preclearance-lite US Immigration inspection in Pacific Central Station and US Customs inspection on US soil at Blaine.

Until very recently, the full Preclearance protocols which allowed extra-territorial enforcement action for US Customs violations on Canadian soil only applied to air travel. So Preclearance-lite was just Immigration inspection where no enforcement action was necessary, they just turned you back if there was a problem.

Full Preclearance authority for land (and I suppose sea, but I only know land for sure) was finally negotiated and agreed to in 2019, so they could do full Customs as well Immigration inspections under the law now. However, COVID put a stop to things. It sounds like they haven't yet implemented it for the Victoria Clipper. I know one of the issues for implementing full Preclearance at Pacific Central Station was the size of the facility. When Cascades service to Canada resumes, theoretically in September, I don't know if they'll switch over to full Preclearance with both Immigration and Customs at Pacific Central Station. I doubt it, though, since no work appears to have been done to the Port of Entry facilities at Pacific Central Station when I was there in March and April.

The Black Ball ferry does the same thing, btw. US Immigration inspection before boarding at Victoria, US Customs inspection at Port Angeles.
 
Joined
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Messages
794
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Ann Arbor, MI
Slept fairly well yesterday and woke up around 7:50, though I had wanted to get up earlier. That still gave me time to grab breakfast at the hotel, though once I got ready It was 8:30, and it was quite busy given that it ended at 9 (even more so than the hotel in Vancouver). Was able to get food and eventually find a place to sit down, though the latter was a bit challenging, After breakfast, I had a somewhat leisurely morning after the busy day yesterday, taking some coffee back to my room and then goingto the pool/hot tub. It was pretty nice, and there was a sun deck there as well as windows with a view of the Seattle Seahawks stadium. This would be a good place to stay if going to a game (as well as taking a train).

After a while, I decided I wanted to get going and pack up. Did so (moving items back to my big bag in the process), and stored the bags in the hotel’s baggage room. Then I headed to the Link Light Rail to head towards Pike Place Market. It was fairly convenient and easy to access via the pedestrian bridge, though I do think having light rail and intercity rail right next to each other (as in San Diego) is preferable. Was initially a bit surprised by the lack of faregates given that the station is underground, but then remembered that Seattle’s system is proof-of-payment. Went to the ticket machine, and it was all out of Orca cards and seemingly had no options for a day pass (Which I wanted to ride the system). Ended up buying a one-way ticket to Westlake, and quickly boarded the train there.

Got off the train heading to Pike Place Market - was initially confused by the Exit ABCD signs with no language explaining what each was, but eventually found a sign showing the right one to Pike Place Market. Exited and found myself at the intersection of 3rd and Pine, which from my reading about Seattle is notoriously described as sketchy. Didn’t see anything bad there, though did notice the police presence. Walked to Pike Place Market, and found it quite crowded. Was also struck by the presence of cars, which made it worse - given the masses of people there, allowing car traffic through there seems utterly stupid. Eventually found a place to get some fish for lunch, and found one of the few seats to sit down and eat. After that went to the original Starbucks - saw the line and decided to head to the Space Needle instead.

To get to the Space Needle, I walked back to Wesflake Center to the Seattle Monorail. After purchasing a round-trip ticket, I went through the gates and waited. The wait was longer than I expected - I had expected trains to be running every couple minutes or something, but it felt more like light rail frequency. Got on the train, and eventually started moving. Got to Seattle Center, and found the Space Needle. Then I went to buy tickets, and was surprised to find that the next available entry time was 3:30pm (about 2 hours from then). I had done the CN Tower and Sears Tower before and just gone up, so this caught me by surprised. For some reason I thought that would be just enough time, bought a ticket,and took the monorail back - immediately having second thoughts that were confirmed by brief research. Figuring I was out the $40, I decided to take a short ride on the South Lake Union Streetcar (or as it is affectionately called, the South Lake Union Trolley or S.L.U.T.) to a Whole Foods to check if they had a drink not distributed in Michigan that I liked. They did have some of their stuff, but not the one I wanted. After that, I figured it was worth just walking back to the Space Needle to see if there was any way I could either get in with enough time to make the train or get a refund. They told me it would be 4:30 before I’d even get up with a 3:30 reservation, but did give me a refund.

After that, I took the monorail back to Westlake and looked into what I would have time to do. Bainbridge ferry was out, as the next one wasn’t until 3 and even taking it immediately back would be uncomfortably close to my train departure. Decided to check out the original Starbucks again - the line was still long, but was less bad. Waited and eventually got in and through by 3:30. After that, I returned to the Link light rail station to go back to my hotel, grab my bags, and head to the train station. I had thought about riding Link Light Rail more, but not seeing an easy way to just purchase a whole-route day pass (the machine at Westlake also had no Orca cards), I just bought a ticket to International District-Chinatown. Got off there, crossed the bridge, got my bags from the hotel, and made my way to King Street Station.
 
Joined
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794
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At King Street Station, I was surprised to find no signage for Empire Builder boarding - a far cry from the large crowd in the Toronto business lounge for the Canadian. Ended up just waiting in the general waiting area until they made a boarding call, with sleeping car passengers first. Had my ticket scanned, got onboard, and struggled to find a spot for my bag - if it ends up buried I’m going to wish I’d packed essentials in the duffel as for the Canadian. Found my roomette, and waited for departure. Was then offered a reservation for the dining car at either 6 or 6:30 - took the latter, as I wanted enough time to see the Puget Sound . Fortunately no 9pm dinner like the Canadian gave me a couple times…

Started rolling out of King Street Station, and then noticed one disappointing thing - my roomette was on the right, and the Puget Sound was on the left. Of course, usually I’d make a beeline for the Sightseer Lounge in this case, but 28 has that, so I ended up opening my door and looking through the window of the empty roomette directly across. I actually had that room, but my room changed when I changed my reservation to get the lower price - it’s booked now, but at least its empty out of SEA. Not having the Sightseer Lounge also meant we had no cafe car - something I was reminded of with the announcement that coach passengers could purchase some grab and go items in the diner. Not sure which train gets the better end of the bargain - we get the better food, but 28 gets the sightseer lounge and cafe car (and from what I’ve heard the Columbia River scenery is probably better than the Puget Sound, or at least longer). However, I didn’t want to have to go all the way to Portland (and I had seen Portland unlike Seattle), so 8 is the train I’m on. In any case, everyone has access to both after we join 28 in Spokane.
 
Joined
Jul 11, 2008
Messages
573
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San Francisco
Slept fairly well yesterday and woke up around 7:50, though I had wanted to get up earlier. That still gave me time to grab breakfast at the hotel, though once I got ready It was 8:30, and it was quite busy given that it ended at 9 (even more so than the hotel in Vancouver). Was able to get food and eventually find a place to sit down, though the latter was a bit challenging, After breakfast, I had a somewhat leisurely morning after the busy day yesterday, taking some coffee back to my room and then goingto the pool/hot tub. It was pretty nice, and there was a sun deck there as well as windows with a view of the Seattle Seahawks stadium. This would be a good place to stay if going to a game (as well as taking a train).

After a while, I decided I wanted to get going and pack up. Did so (moving items back to my big bag in the process), and stored the bags in the hotel’s baggage room. Then I headed to the Link Light Rail to head towards Pike Place Market. It was fairly convenient and easy to access via the pedestrian bridge, though I do think having light rail and intercity rail right next to each other (as in San Diego) is preferable. Was initially a bit surprised by the lack of faregates given that the station is underground, but then remembered that Seattle’s system is proof-of-payment. Went to the ticket machine, and it was all out of Orca cards and seemingly had no options for a day pass (Which I wanted to ride the system). Ended up buying a one-way ticket to Westlake, and quickly boarded the train there.

Got off the train heading to Pike Place Market - was initially confused by the Exit ABCD signs with no language explaining what each was, but eventually found a sign showing the right one to Pike Place Market. Exited and found myself at the intersection of 3rd and Pine, which from my reading about Seattle is notoriously described as sketchy. Didn’t see anything bad there, though did notice the police presence. Walked to Pike Place Market, and found it quite crowded. Was also struck by the presence of cars, which made it worse - given the masses of people there, allowing car traffic through there seems utterly stupid. Eventually found a place to get some fish for lunch, and found one of the few seats to sit down and eat. After that went to the original Starbucks - saw the line and decided to head to the Space Needle instead.

To get to the Space Needle, I walked back to Wesflake Center to the Seattle Monorail. After purchasing a round-trip ticket, I went through the gates and waited. The wait was longer than I expected - I had expected trains to be running every couple minutes or something, but it felt more like light rail frequency. Got on the train, and eventually started moving. Got to Seattle Center, and found the Space Needle. Then I went to buy tickets, and was surprised to find that the next available entry time was 3:30pm (about 2 hours from then). I had done the CN Tower and Sears Tower before and just gone up, so this caught me by surprised. For some reason I thought that would be just enough time, bought a ticket,and took the monorail back - immediately having second thoughts that were confirmed by brief research. Figuring I was out the $40, I decided to take a short ride on the South Lake Union Streetcar (or as it is affectionately called, the South Lake Union Trolley or S.L.U.T.) to a Whole Foods to check if they had a drink not distributed in Michigan that I liked. They did have some of their stuff, but not the one I wanted. After that, I figured it was worth just walking back to the Space Needle to see if there was any way I could either get in with enough time to make the train or get a refund. They told me it would be 4:30 before I’d even get up with a 3:30 reservation, but did give me a refund.

After that, I took the monorail back to Westlake and looked into what I would have time to do. Bainbridge ferry was out, as the next one wasn’t until 3 and even taking it immediately back would be uncomfortably close to my train departure. Decided to check out the original Starbucks again - the line was still long, but was less bad. Waited and eventually got in and through by 3:30. After that, I returned to the Link light rail station to go back to my hotel, grab my bags, and head to the train station. I had thought about riding Link Light Rail more, but not seeing an easy way to just purchase a whole-route day pass (the machine at Westlake also had no Orca cards), I just bought a ticket to International District-Chinatown. Got off there, crossed the bridge, got my bags from the hotel, and made my way to King Street Station.
Just a little trivia. The monorail was built to showcase part of the 1962 Seattle World Fair (Century 21) and the Vancouver Sky Train was built to showcase the 1986 Vancouver World Fair (Expo 86). You rode both on the same trip, as well as both Canadian and USA cross-country trains. Nice accomplishment!
 

zephyr17

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Living in Everett, I obviously usually ride the Seattle section of the Builder, though I have ridden both. Personally, I'd rather have the Sightseer than the diner, but am stuck with the diner.

I also agree the Gorge is more scenic. Much of Stevens Pass is a tree tunnel.
 
Joined
Sep 2, 2011
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794
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Ann Arbor, MI
Looked out the adjacent roomette’s window for the Puget Sound view until we got to Everett, at which point we turned away from the sound and that roomette became occupied. Stayed in my roomette until the 6:30 dinner time, at which point I made my way to the dining car. The first thing I noticed is the relative lack of crowding - I chalked that up to half our train being in Portland, as well as perhaps coach passengers not being allowed in. Sat with someone going to Minneapolis as well as two people going to Washington, DC - they were planning the incredibly tight connection to the Capitol Limited, but just planned to fly to DC if they missed it. While in the diner we went through some long tunnels, which reminded me of the Moffat Tunnel - however, I noticed there wasn’t an instruction to stay in your car like the Moffat. Someone said the reason for the difference had to do with the fumes/ventilation…

I had the shrimp appetizer and steak - was surprised to see the salad and roll are on Amtrak’s menu no more (my last Amtrak LD trip being in 2019). Skipped the dessert since the only option that sounded good had nuts (to which I am allergic, though not to the point where mere traces make me ill), though was pleasantly surprised we got one free alcoholic beverage (don’t recall that was the case until recently, particularly on western trains). Ended up getting one and a Coke, and coming back a little later to buy another drink from the “mini-cafe” that the dining car served as for this portion of the trip. I did ask what time breakfast would start, to which the answer was 6:30am Mountain Time.

Once I got back to my roomette, my SCA asked if I wanted to turn down the bed, which I had her do shortly after. Went downstairs, and found my bag was now wedged way in the back of the luggage rack instead of the front. I was right to have thought I should have put essentials in the duffel - after wrestling with half the contents of the luggage rack, I got my bag out and did that after the fact. Went to the bathroom and brushed my teeth/got ready for bed, and went upstairs to my now made-up roomette.
 
Joined
Sep 2, 2011
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794
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Slept OK last night but not great - there was a lot of noise in Spokane when our train combined. Woke up at 4:15 and had trouble sleeping - went to the bathroom, came back, and went to bed only for my 6am alarm to go off way sooner than anticipated. I’m guessing the time change happened in that interval. Got up early so I could get breakfast and quickly find a spot in the lounge car before Glacier National Park, though it looked like we had fallen behind by over an hour overnight.

Went down to the shower only to find out I was missing something else in my day bag, so I had to get out my big suitcase again (though it was a bit easier this time). Went and took my shower, though it seems they had no shampoo. After that it was 6:40 so breakfast was now being served. Went down there to see I was one of (if not the) first person there. I was a bit surprised after having been put on a waiting list for breakfast around this time on the Canadian - while this is definitely a much smaller train by comparison, I had figured someone else would want to get a head start on it to see Glacier Park.

Had breakfast - ended up getting french toast, bacon, coffee, and orange juice. The French toast was smaller than I expected, so I ended up asking for some sausage as well as the fruit that would have been on my toast had I not asked for it plain (I like fruit, just not on things like that unless it’s a spread). Overheard someone mentioning that 28 was late due to waiting for connecting passengers from the Coast Starlight - perhaps that’s why we were delayed. Also nice to hear they hold the train - might want to do that connection in the future to see the Oregon Starlight scenery and the Portland-specific part of 28. Filled up and then went back to my sleeper to get things to take to the Sightseer Lounge with me for the journey through Glacier Park.
 
Joined
Sep 2, 2011
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794
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Glacier Park had some great scenery to offer, and I was glad that I had viewed it from the lounge car. While perhaps not as good as the Rockies scenery on the California Zephyr or the Canadian, it still was quite neat to see. Also, as seen frequently on the Zephyr, we did see one person moon the train. During this time, we also went by the stop at Essex and the Izaak Walton Inn. I had heard of rail fans staying here, though being out in the middle of nowhere with no connectivity and few transportation options aside from a car (or long hikes/bike rides) is not my cup of tea. The mountain scenery continued until East Glacier Park (alternatively announced as just Glacier Park), at which point everything got very flat. This looked quite simliar to what I saw in Saskatchewan on the Canadian, though given the vast blue sky I see where the term “Big Sky country” came from.

Once we exited Glacier Park, I took that as my cue to go eat lunch in the dining car. Had the hamburger, which was good if a bit basic. I did hear a radio every so often that seemed to say “no defects” - know this has to do with the train, but don’t know exactly what. The rest of the day was fairly monotonous - I ended up just staying in my sleeping car after things flattened out. I was kind of tired from getting up early - had I know we’d be late and breakfast wouldn’t be crowded I’d probably have slept a bit later. Ended up changing my Chicago hotel for tomorrow since I found a good deal on a better looking one. Took a 6pm diner reservation, as that seemed like a happy medium between the 5pm and 7:15pm that were the other options. Decided to go outside for a fresh air break at Havre, MT, and given the heat outside (98 degrees) I almost wished I hadn’t. The track seemed really bumpy today as well, perhaps more so than other Amtrak trains I had taken (though it has been a long time since I’ve bee on many of them). Stayed in my room until dinner, at which point I made my way to the dining car.

In the dining car, I ended up ordering the same meal as before, with a few changes - I decided to try the white chocolate blueberry cheesecake (which was actually good despite cheesecake not being my thing), and I started with wine instead of beer. I had seen that the menu did say dinner rolls were available on requires, but when I asked was told none were loaded on the train. Disappointing, but far from the horror stories of no food being loaded on the train. The email was good (though I did end up getting a beer as well), and as we ate I noticed we were quickly approaching North Dakota. Crossed the state line as I was in the diner, and made our first stop there in Williston, where our train made multiple stops (I thought they said 2, but it seemed like 3). I had heard Williston was an oil boom town in recent years, though not much more than that. After dinner I grabbed some water bottles and went to the lounge car. Even with North Dakota being fairly flat, watching the sun go down in the lounge car was something I had missed last night. Stayed there for a while, and then decided to go back to my room and get ready for bed (after writing this). As I went to bed, we approached Minot, ND, and I recalled when someone at the hostel in Chicago 10 or so years ago said that one of the main things to do in Minot is watch the Empire Builder arrive. I figure tonight I wont set an alarm and will try to have a more leisurely morning in hopes of getting better sleep - the scenery tomorrow may be interesting (as the Mississippi has been on other LD trains for me), though it’s not Glacier National Park.

All in all, a good day, though after riding the Canadian it does sometimes feel underwhelming given the smaller train and lesser scenery/amenities. I figure that’s not fair to Amtrak, as VIA is targeting the tourism market more than point A to B travelers at a generally higher cost. Though at the same point VIA OBS made the point that they served as transportation unlike the Rocky Mountaineer, so there is definitely a spectrum here (with Amtrak on one end, Rocky Mountaineer on the other, and the Canadian somewhere in between). I’ve also noticed the distinct lack of tour groups and lounge car narration (something I have seen before on Amtrak, though perhaps this is mostly on the Zephyr and/or suspended due to staffing constraints). When I had first discussed doing this trip here that was definitely brought up as a reason to do the Empire Builder first - though with the current schedule you get the best scenery in daylight going the way I did, so I guess there are tradeoffs either way.
 
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MccfamschoolMom

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Feb 28, 2020
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Dwight, IL
Defect detectors positioned along the track to check for overheated bearings, dragging equipment, etc.
Some "traintubers" on YouTube apparently travel with a radio tuned to the frequency used for train crew chatter, and the messages from the defect detectors are heard on those radios, too.
 
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