National Train Day Tripping

Morning #9 Bus to Union Station

I boarded, the bus appeared to be about 2-3 minutes late, which was odd.  It wasn’t tracking with the transit tracker system and just showed the scheduled arrival time instead.  Kind of par for the course since I’m going to get on a train that leaves on time.

The last stop before the bridge a lady boarded with her dog.  Mind you not a service dog but just the pet.  News to anyone that drags their pet around with them everywhere.  Keep in mind, we humans are odd like that and place emotions, thoughts, and ideals on animals that they have no knowledge or thought of to have.  On that note an animal isn’t promised a service to ride.  Your animal is NOT allowed on transit.  Just because you think he doesn’t bite or what doesn’t mean squat, so please when riding transit step out of your little dog universe and realize you’ll be around a lot of people.  They’re not really allowed in Target, or a million other places.  They’re also not allowed in places that serve food.  People, please realize that Portland is no being progressive, nor intelligent about the lackluster standards around where you can bring you animal.  People worry about stupid things like guns, more dog attacks have occurred in this city than gun attacks.  So seriously, think about this and keep it in context.  Portlanders’ are spoiled about pet ownership.

When this rider boarded she got a polite lesson about the fact her regular dog can’t just board transit.  I love seeing driver’s take charge of their jobs and not be the standard lump of a human sitting in the seat.  It is contagious and makes me have pride in what the driver is doing.

When we arrived at PSU one rider walked up, didn’t notify the driver, and got off to retrieve his bike.  The rider paused for a moment before jumping in front of the bus which almost gave the driver time, if he had not been noting who was going where he might have hit the guy.  Fortunately for the cyclist the driver had been paying attention.  He gave the guy a friendly scolding (yeah, it does seem possibly to get a friendly scolding) about notifying the operator so they wouldn’t accidentally take off, with the guy stepping in front of the bus.  The cyclist seemed to understand, but hey, it is early and people tend to be a bit dense on an early Saturday morning.

Amtrak Cascades #500

Arrived at Union Station.  There was a bustle of activity for National Train Day already.  In the station stood one of the Great Northern’s Empire Builder cars and beyond that the Cascades #500 stood ready for departure already.  It must have had a good run from Eugene to get here that early.  I didn’t see steam engine #4449 yet.  It theoretically is supposed to be here today.  A boys choir was also singing in the station and tables where being setup in the side wing.  As always, for #500 there was a huge line of people already standing, getting their ticket seat assignment from the conductor & assistant.

As the clock ticked toward departure time and the ticketed passengers where given seating assignments, I did my normal non-line standing sit in a seat routine.  I just wait until the last minute, stand up and grab a seat assignment, and then sit down, then wait again before boarding.  This whole routine of standing up while waiting to get on the train is asinine and I sure wish Amtrak would modernize the process.  Even though, on a day like this it doesn’t bother me in the remote, I get to ride on a train and that is what I’m here for.

When I headed out to the train I did see the #4449, the Empire Builder car, and also two Union Pacific cars.  Looks like the day should be a blast for Union Station.

Within 2-3 minutes I had joined a conversation with a couple of people heading to Centralia.  They where en route for a family meetup.  We talked about the old Pionneer that run from Denver to Portland, and joined the train that heads to Chicago once it arrives in Denver.  It was a split train kind of like the Empire Builder.

The train smoothly rolled out of Union Station toward Seattle.  Passing through the north pearl really made me ponder what the area would look like in a few years.  Post recession and a few years back into solid growth the area is planned to really boom.  The local economy and business demand downtown will however dictate how that really goes.  Beautiful area and I’m sure it will get even better after a bit of clean up and such of the industrial warehouse area.  We rolled into Vancouver and I had to bid farewell for this route of my trip.  As always the crew rocked (Even Ray, who wasn’t technically being crew, just heading down line), Amtrak even amid my Union complaints, has a very jovial crew on the Cascades and I am always stoked to board one of the trains bound along this corridor!

OMG, WTF, The Bike Just Left Without Me!!!!

Ok, it wasn’t my bike, but a guy with a bike on the Amtrak Train was standing waiting to get his bike off of the baggage car and the train up and left!  I was shocked, but not too surprised.  The crew of the train had been having a bit of an issue with seating and was continuing to have some communication issues.  This though, really baffled me, someone had obviously and SERIOUSLY dropped the ball for this customer.  After writing the above blurb about the great Cascades Crews I was really kind of bummed to see this happen for this guy.  Fortunately he seemed calm and collected, unlike some customers who just freak out about things like this.  Staying calm will get things done a lot faster than freaking out about it.  Hopefully they toss the bike onto a south bound train and get it back to the station ASAP.  Totally unacceptable but hopefully it can be rectified with some calm and collected, quick communication.  Get that guy back on his bike and hopefully keep him a happy customer.

Downtown Vancouver

Father met me at the train station in Vancouver.  Upon arrival he was standing talking with a guy he just met named Ben.  We both chatted a bit and I passed around some of my Transit Sleuth Business Cards (always trying to get new readers, so hey, pass the word around – always good to expand the transit & transport conversation).

At this juncture we headed to downtown to grab some breakfast at Dulins in downtown Vancouver.  It is located at the cross streets of McLoughlin and Main.  We had a tasty breakfast where I met a Carolina southerner named Duane.  He jams in a band called Lincoln’s Beard, so check that out.  Interesting music, so it’s worth the time, so go now, right now, and go check it out.

Amtrak Cascades #501

After a solid breakfast and chat with the station attendant about the lost bike, we boarded the #501 south bound to PDX.  The train was almost on time, only 4 minutes behind.  The bike, just to give readers a bit of closure, was going to be turned up route.  What had happened was rooted in the seating fiasco that had started in Portland.  No one had told the station attendant that there was a bike to retrieve, so he had not gone to retrieve a bike.  Go figure, again, this is a management problem.  Being the consultant I am I see this issue for exactly what it is.  Amtrak management screws up by not providing the tools and means to communicate that the employees need.  The Union fails to allow the employees to do these things, for rather idiotic reasoning.  So what Amtrak and the union ends up with is a demoralized employee, a frustrated crew, and a perturbed passenger and a misplaced bike.  If m
anagement would and could do their job, the politicians would shut up and get out of the way, and the union would stop demanding absurd stupid working conditions (I’ll elaborate later) the employees could be proud and run a train exponentially better.  Overall I’m having a blast on National Train Day, just seeing and running about, however I just have to point out this goof up.

We pulled into Portland in short order and on time.  Which means we had zero delays and also where able to run full all the way into the station.  Usually it takes a solid 20 minutes to get through the yard and into the station, but today we rolled right through at full allowed speed.  I believe we did it in about 13-14 minutes flat.

Father and I then walked about Old Town/Chinatown and checked out various places, picked up a real sugar imported Coca-Cola at Floyd’s Coffee Shop.  Walked back to the station while enjoying our real sugar beverages and I saw him off on the north bound #506 (I didn’t see Erik, where were ya?).  I walked about and visited the TriMet, AORTA/NARP Booth, and did some chatting.  Then I headed back out for my home bound journey.  I took the scenic route from the station;  #77, MAX Red Line, #75, and then #9 back home.  All in all, a great National Train Day.

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11 Comments

  1. I was there!!!!

    Well I wish I had as pleasant of a trip but we had a major snafu leaving Portland that I was actually quite forgiving of Amtrak (more so than I think is deserving)…

    The 506 originated as some other train down in Eugene so there were some passengers who were already assigned seats on the 506 before anyone in Portland was assigned. So my group (myself, Carter, my sister and her fiancee) get in line – we’re about the sixth or seventh group – so we can get our seat and a group of four so we can sit together. For the most part – no problem…until we get to our car.

    There’s people there.

    I ask them if they’re in the right car…they ask me the same thing…I insist as they do that we’re in car 6. So they show me their seat check and sure enough…they are identical.

    So I sprint back to the station to have a chat with the Conductor. (A couple hundred feet, by the way, car 6 was at the other end of the platform so I had to run from car 6 to the engine.) Conductor seems confused…talks with the Assistant Conductor…radios for a Red Cap. After a few minutes he gives me a new assignment for the seats across from them. So I go back to Car 6…

    Turns out those seats are taken too – there’s a group of 12 people from down south in all of those seats. Another sprint back to the Conductor (now I’m getting my exercise). Again he seems confused and now a little irritated. Red Cap comes over…Conductor asks the Red Cap to investigate and I told him that there was a group of 12… He continues on with checking in other passengers. At this point I’m getting a little irritated because if I don’t get my seating as a group of four despite having checked in early and ran back and forth I will make him separate a group or bump me to business class for free.

    He finally gives me a seat assignment in the other end of Car 6. I head back and finally I have a good assignment. Apparently a few other folks were in the same situation but they just picked out other seats. So once underway the Conductor had to pull some people, move some others…

    Meanwhile two ladies spread out in the seats across from us and the Conductor warns them that it’s a sold-out train and they will either move or will have people joining them. They decide to sit kitty-corner from each other. At Vancouver two folks tried to sit there but the ladies felt that "two" meant "four" (two tickets = four seats). They fortunately found other seats and either "Sold Out" meant a few seats left, or some people just sat in the Bistro for their trip.

    Seating arrangements aside (I can’t see why Amtrak can’t do seat assignments like the airlines, even if it’s just for the corridor trains only!) the train was up on time, no other problems, no delays. Crew was…well…don’t really have much comment for them, they weren’t particularly friendly or helpful but I don’t have anything negative to say other than the lack of urgency in fixing the seat assignment problem. No apology or anything.

    Spent a day in Tacoma (will have a YouTube video on that shortly) and came back on the 509. Sat in a train with people who felt the need to shout everything, their phones and beepers and whatever else they had going off at full volume the entire time… Same trainset and same crew but at least we had no problems finding a seat. Into Portland again on-time with no delay…in fact going over the Columbia Draw there was a sailboat on one side and a tug on the other side and I think the bridgetender held them up for us!

    Back to National Train Day…lots to do, Carter was happy and we got a neat tour of the Mt. Hood car by a NRHS member (I wish I remembered his name!) who recognized me since I had ridden his speeder each of the last two years for the Holiday Express! We chatted a little bit and his speeder is down but he hopes to fix it soon. Real nice guy and a pleasure to have seen again. Carter got to play on the locomotive simulator at the Operation Lifesaver booth and even enjoyed the clowns a little bit (usually he is very skittish but he was in a pretty good mood today). I didn’t spend any money at the 4449 or 700 booths today but bought Carter a shirt from the store inside the station.

    I was a little disappointed in two things:

    1. Crowd Control. There were a lot of people packed in a little space with little area to move. Needs to be improved. It also doesn’t help that you had the Train Day folks co-mingling with people just trying to get on an Amtrak train and they should have been kept separate.

    2. Lack of railroad exhibits. Last year Amtrak had a pair of Superliner coaches and apparently a Talgo set was on display (but not when I was there, which was a two hour period). This year it was just the 4449 (why not the 700 or any other nearby locomotives, diesel or freight?), the Mt. Hood, and a caboose. Amtrak should have had the Empire Builder trainset on display since it was sitting there the entire time. I’m not sure why the Union Pacific cars were in town but it would have been neat to see them (I’m assuming their visit was purely coincidential.) It wasn’t as though this was thrown together at the last minute (like last year). I’m glad the 4449 was out and about but the 4449 isn’t necessarily going to translate into "Let’s ride Amtrak!" Amtrak is a far cry from the Coast Daylight of 1939.

    One other complaint, this one about TriMet and their booth. My soon to be brother-in-law was chatting with a TriMet customer service rep about WES and a concern that WES causes some major traffic backups near Lombard and Beaverton-Hillsdale/Farmington where he works. The TriMet rep was of course trying to encourage him to get out of his car (well, my sister actually picks him up and drops him off, she works in Milwaukie) and then she suggested biking to work.

    Wait a second…not that biking to work is a bad idea (well, he is a very large guy…he probably isn’t ready to be on a bike just yet) but what about…oh, let me see…THE BUS?!!! I immediately pointed out that he could ride a bus from his apartment up near Walker/158th to Beaverton TC where it would be a short walk to his work, OR he could transfer to the 54 (a shorter walk) or the 88 (across the street) to work?

    He immediately said that when he was working downtown one day MAX was broken and he asked a TriMet CSR how to get to downtown on a bus. The CSR shrugged and said "I don’t know". When he finally found the bus, he arrived very early and actually considered using the bus more often because once on the bus he was surprised at how well it worked.

    While I can’t expect a TriMet employee to know EVERY bus like the back of their hand, it seems that two TriMet employees who literally don’t know anything about the bus system is a problem…it would be as if I knew nothing about five of the six states that we serve. "Do you serve Salt Lake City? I don’t know!" I’d be fired for that level of incompetence.

    TriMet’s CSRs need to be fully aware of the total transit system – INCLUDING BUSES! – and be prepared to assist a customer even if it means a bus routing. They should always have a system map and a timetable book at hand (or a laptop computer with the transit planner) and be ready to identify bus routings to encourage transit.

    Certainly, Amtrak’s employees don’t tell people "why don’t you consider Greyhound?". Union Station’s ticket sellers may not know the Northeast Corridor but they should still be able to sell you a ticket on the NEC upon request, and they do have a national timetable available (heck, I could have picked one up myself today). I also got a Pierce Transit timetable book today. But I can’t get a TriMet timetable book as easily…

    Reply

  2. That’s not the first time I’ve seen TriMet do that. I even give people suggestions for bus routes, and I don’t work for them (as everyone knows).

    I gave suggestions for the #27 recently for christ’s sake, which I of course followed up with "you should also move this side of 82nd REALLY soon" which the individual I was speaking to stated they intended to.

    But yeah, TriMet should be able to provide more information and ideas about routes at an event like that. I know WES, MAX, and Streetcar garner tons more attention, but they also are only one part of an otherwise massive system. Simply put, I agree, they should totally know the routes and such.

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  3. I missed Erik too. I checked out the transit riders union meeting which was at 11 at the other end of the downtown area.

    "but not when I was there, which was a two hour period"

    Well, to have a trainset available for viewing, they actually have to have one available. My understanding is that they used the one that lays over there and, I believe, cleaned it and whatever beforehand. I think you mentioned on railroad.net that you were there towards the start and my guess is that it was too soon.

    Regarding the Empire Builder, if its on time and they can get it cleaned pretty quick, it would work perfect since its there from about 10-4. Especially since the long distance trains are what could use the ridership and to show how spacious even coach seats are (the opposite of being in a cramped Greyhound seat), and since Portland gets the observation car and not the diner.

    "a laptop computer with the transit planner"

    They actually had that at the WES opening. And it could also show off the in-house-built interactive map and Transit Tracker. Or they could build a locked-down kiosk that people could try out themselves. (I think they used to have one of the old DOS-based trip planner kiosks in the Union Station entryway next to the schedule rack; they could put new ones out like Free Geek does with Internet terminals using basic computers wherever network access can be found)

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  4. The Empire Builder was certainly available. Yes, it would have had to been cleaned, but this was a one-day-a-year special opportunity for free advertising. It wasn’t that big of a deal to git-r-done!!! And it has every type of Superliner car, save for a Diner, so it would have been an excellent trainset to use to show off.

    There was also a Talgo trainset that was available and didn’t leave until the early afternoon hours. Again, would have been easy to get cleaned up and ready for display. And there was even a Superliner car that had been set out by mechanical on the north side of the crosswalk at Union Station that could have been used!

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  5. Yeah, they’ve had plenty of time to get that single Superliner car ready too, that thing has been there FOREVER!!! Ugh, not sure what it is doing.

    When you bring up those points technically if they had their act REALLY together, like a company that really wanted to impress – TriMet included…

    They should have had the Empire Builder ready, the Talgo set on display, and hell they could have had the WES Train in the station! There’s PLENTY of track for all that stuff, and TriMet could have really shown off what’s up. In addition to that a little more advertising and they could have had bus trips to downtown doing extra trips to get people to and from parking, and to put a final touch on things…

    They should have had one of the new light rail vehicles on display on the new track siding right there by the station!!

    Overall it was fun, but yeah, it could have been more. Seems to be the way of America these days.

    Reply

  6. I am very very impressed by the quality of the blog posts on your blog, between you and me, lots of other blog ‘authors’ just seem to churn out content, thats why this blog is a nice refreshing change,

    Leadership Styles

    Reply

  7. Amtrak (and TriMet) is a great example of how mediocre we are in comparison with the rest of the industrialized world with respect to transportation.

    In Europe, train turns are measured in minutes – not hours (or in some cases at Amtrak – DAYS!) Station dwell time is sometimes counted in seconds – minutes is an exception (and typically only at end terminals). The system is built to appease riders, not politicians or developers.

    Amtrak is a shining example of a system that has outlived its usefulness. The Cascades is a good system, but the Empire Builder and (more so) the Coast Starlight – what are their purposes?

    TriMet is another example…is TriMet serving the people they need to serve? Who makes the decisions and why? Clearly ridership was not the only rationale to cut routes (else TriMet would have terminated service to Boring on the worst performing line). How are decisions made for the Streetcar – clearly it isn’t ridership or demand…

    Getting back to Train Day…yes, it was fun…but Portland has so much more potential for celebrating our rail system. I’d personally like to see BNSF and UP and the City get together and offer a public train ride from Union Station, along the BNSF mainline through Willbridge and East St. Johns to the Rivergate Lead, out the Lead to Terminal 4 (interchange from BNSF to UP), then on the St. Johns branch back down to Mocks Bottom, through Albina Yard, and back to Union Station across the Steel Bridge.

    Makes a nice big loop around some of Portland’s biggest industrial areas and several scenic areas, is a loop that doesn’t require turning a train, uses track that could easily accomodate a passenger train on a weekend… If Portland International Airport could do it (the PDX Air Expo last year – running shuttle buses on the perimeter road open to the public)…it can happen on the rails!

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  8. "a Superliner car that had been set out"

    Well, maybe its too broken down for (or safety/other protocol doesn’t allow) passengers to enter that car. I thought that broken cars usually get attached to a 14 and hauled up to the maintenance base in Seattle.

    "or in some cases at Amtrak – DAYS!"

    Well, part of that’s because some trains only leave every couple days. Next one leaves too soon (especially if the train is late getting in) and now its not needed for 2-3 days.

    "Clearly ridership was not the only rationale to cut routes"

    No, it wasn’t. Alternate transportation and necessity was/is also a criteria. Line 152 got spared because it serves some institutions for disabled persons, and Line 84 did because its the only service out there. And they’re clear about that: http://www.trimet.org/openhouse/cutcriteria.htm

    Lastly, regarding the excursion train, just try to find the funding and insurance.

    Reply

  9. The excursion train insurance and such should be easy if we can just get Amtrak involved with their "special laws", UP involved for some premium excursion cars, etc.

    As for "Well, part of that’s because some trains only leave every couple days."…

    There isn’t technically an Amtrak train or piece of equipment that doesn’t get turned and moving in some direction on some route at LEAST once a day if not multiple times. If there is something that takes days to turn, which I don’t actually know of any, it should be canceled and assigned to something useful ASAP.

    As for the routes, I’m actually pretty content with the cuts. I’m starting to think they should cut a few more and work up an actual efficient method to serve some of the lesser ridden routes.

    Reply

  10. The Sunset takes less than 24 hrs to turn. They only have limited sets of trains is why it is only a couple days per week. They don’t really have good ridership on the route either.

    Reply

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