Steve's Winter Wonderland Rail Journey
Mt. Adams Talgo
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Friday, 1:43 P.M. (Pacific Time), 01/24/97, Portland, Oregon
I used 3 methods to wake me up in the morning to make sure I got down to
the train station on time. The Talgo only runs once each day from Seattle
to Portland and I certainly didn't want to miss it! I had my pager alarm
set, the alarm clock in the hotel room, and told the front desk to give
me a wake up call at 6:00 A.M. All 3 methods did work, but I almost
would have been in trouble if I had relied on the hotel alarm clock. One
time before I saw that the alarm was already set for 6 so I just left it.
However, the previous person had set the alarm for 6 P.M. either on purpose
or by accident. I made sure it was set to 6 A.M., but I still felt
something was wrong. I studied it for a minute and realized that the
current time on the clock was 1:15 P.M. and not 1:15 A.M.! Evidently,
someone had set the A.M. and P.M. on the clock in reverse. I fixed that
setting and it worked as planned.
I checked out of the Pioneer Square Hotel at 6:30 A.M. and took a taxi
to the King Street Amtrak Station. Once again, the disappointment of
the taxi driver is obvious. When a taxi driver sees someone leaving a
hotel with luggage, I'm sure the first thought to his mind is a nice
fat fare to the airport which is practically an hour drive out of the
city. Unfortunate for him, I was just heading just around the corner.
He knew his way and the fare was exactly $3 as I expected. I handed him
a $5 bill and told him to keep the change. I heard him report in that
he was available downtown. Also to his disappointment, the dispatcher
replied that a lot of the units were downtown and it would be a while
before he'd have a passenger for the driver. As a side note: With a
map of Pioneer Square, it is a fairly easy walk between the station and
the hotel. However, I have find that roller suitcases don't last very
long if you pull them many blocks on public cement sidewalks. I've gone
through my share of suitcase wheels and it is literally a "drag" once a
wheel is broken! The savings of not having to buy a new suitcase every
trip is worth the $5 cab fare. I now have a "computer" rolling suitcase
that has heavy duty wheels, but this suitcase cost much more than a
regular one and I don't want to take a chance on ruining those wheels even
if they are heavy duty.
The King Street Amtrak Station opens at 6 A.M. every morning. There is
a stand inside called "The Sitting Duck" that sells sundries, newspapers,
magazines, coffee and other beverages. I think they also sell some hot
pastries. There are also several machines from which you can buy coffee,
beverages and all sorts of other food items. I wanted some Apple Juice,
but I didn't see any machine that would change a dollar bill. Several
would take dollar bills, but not the one with the Apple Juice. I've seen
some vending machines that will change a dollar bill without requiring you
to purchase anything. None of these machines appeared to have that function.
Bring change with you if you want something from these machines when you are
in Seattle! I did find I had 60 cents on me so I was in luck. I didn't see
any other passengers in the station when I first arrived, but they slowly
started to dribble in.
I went to the ticket counter, gave them my reservation number and they
printed out my ticket. A little humorous item: When I went to sign the
ticket, the pen had no point. Really no point. There was no ink refill
inside the pen at all! The ticket agent was frustrated because this was
the second time this had happened in 2 days. Do people really steal the
inside from pens? I guess someone determined to steal would have to just
settle for the inside since the rest of the pen was chained to the counter.
In the Seattle station there are 3 doors that lead to the loading platform.
Unlike many other stations that I am familiar with, they are very strict in
not allowing passengers onto the platform until it is time to board. They
usually keep the waiting room doors locked. Also, the Conductors often
collect passenger tickets and issue boarding passes right in the waiting
room before the passengers even board the train. On a previous trip to
Seattle I found one of the doors unlocked and I went out to the platform
and took several pictures of the Princess Cruise Train. An Amtrak staff
member saw me a courtiously told me that passengers were not allowed on
the platform prior to boarding and then escoted me back to the waiting
room, locking the doors behind me after I went in.
At each door there is a sign that has to be changed by hand to indicate
which train will be boarding at what time through each door. This is
pretty similar to what airlines do at the boarding counter. I was
impressed that they seem to keep all the signs up to date in Seattle and
continually change them for each train. In many stations I have seen
all variable information removed from these signs so that the agents don't
have to change them. I think a sign is almost useless if all it tells
you is the name and number of the trains that goes through the station.
Sometimes the time is posted, but it is only the time that the train would
be in the station if it was on schedule. This is the way the boards are
used in Denver, San Bernardino and Fullerton. If station agents could keep
the latest departure and arrival status of every train up to date in the
old days when there were a lot of trains through the station all day, why
can't they keep the boards up to date when so few trains are running?
Maybe Amtrak feels there are so few people that need this information that
it is no longer worth the bother. Those who are interested can just ask
the agent or call 1-800-USA-RAIL. In the old days, there were so many
people in the station that posting the status on the board would be the
only reasonable way to keep everyone informed. Most of the larger stations
like Los Angeles and Chicago have gone electronic. I guess there are
enough people in those stations to still use display boards to keep everyone
informed. The bottom line is that I was pretty impressed that the agents
in the Seattle station kept their manual signs right up to date.
I parked myself right next to the door that said "Train 753, Mt.Adams,
Portland and intermediate cities." I wandered around and read some of the
posted information about the Talgo train. I also had the latest issue
of "Trains" magazine which had an article on the Northwest Corridor Talgo,
including the Mt. Adams.
At 7:30 A.M. they announced that another Talgo train, the Mt. Baker
International, would not be operating. It also has to go north out of
Seattle just like the Empire Builder and I'm sure was cancelled for the
same reason: track problems north of Seattle. Instead, Amtrak boarded
those passengers onto charter buses.
At about 7:45 A.M. an instant mini-line formed right in front of me at
Door #1. The people in the line waved to me and another person sitting
near me that we should get to the front of the line. That was polite of
them. I asked if there had been an announcement, of which I already knew
there had been none. They said: "No, but there will be one any moment."
I guess they've done this before! I went to the second spot in the line
and sure enough, the Mt. Adams was announced!
In the Seattle's Amtrak staff organized way, they boarded the train based
on destination. Everyone going to Portland would go into cars 8 and 9
while everyone not going that far would be boarded into cars 6 and 7. I
suppose there is something to say for organization, but this seemed to
result in fairly empty cars 6 and 7 and overly crowded cars 8 and 9. None
of the cars were really crowded, but cars 6 and 7 had many empty rows
while cars 8 and 9 had at least one person in every pair of seats.
I found a seat right in the middle of a big window on the west side of
the train. From my figuring, that side should have a good view of Puget
Sound and the Columbia River along the route. I was right about that
and was rewarded with some great scenery along the route. I placed my
backpack at my feet, my coat overhead, and my suitcase in a luggage rack
at the end of the car. There was plenty of room for luggage. I don't
require a lot of leg room, but if I did, there was plenty of room on the
overhead rack for my backpack. There was even room up there for my entire
suitcase if I wanted to lift it over my head!
There was plenty of room for everyone boarding the train. People traveling
togehter were able to stay together. There was even a group of 6 gals and
they were able to all sit together at the 2 sets of 4 facing seats at the
front of the train. Most other seats on the train faced forward. I think
the seats can be reversed, but I didn't check. The reason I assume this is
the case is that the train is equiped with several television sets. Some of
the TV sets were set up where the passengers could see them while other TV
sets were facing the back of the heads of people! Thus, I can only assume
the seats can reverse and face the other way, but I'm not sure.
Just my luck that a man with obvious psychological problems boarded the
train and decided to sit next to me. Thus, I was just about the only
person sharing a pair of seats in my car and it was with someone with
significant mental problems. The person looked like a throw-back to the
1970s. He talked non-stop to everyone with whom he made eye contact on
the train. Much of what he said was very personal information about
himself that made others uncomfortable to listen to. Then, with anyone
complaining, he started apologizing to everyone telling them he needed to
take his medicine and explaining that he would calm down as soon as he
had his medicine. He eventually did calm down. Whenever the Conductor
came by, he would promise not to disturb the other passengers and he would
sometimes ask the Conductor for permission to get up and go to the snack
bar. I never saw a critical word from any Conductor or passenger towards
this person. To the contrary, the Conductors were very supportive often
saying things to him like: "You're doing fine. You are doing just O.K."
At one point when he wasn't in the seat next to me, the Conductor came by
and asked if he was bothering me and if I wanted him to be moved. For
some reason I started to feel like this person's guardian. I told the
Conducter that he wasn't bothering me and it would be O.K. for him to
remain in that seat. Actually I would prefer to sit alone, but this person
wasn't bothering me much more than having any talkative person next to me
that wants to discuss issues for which I have no interest.
I hadn't eaten in the morning so I went down to the Cafe Car. The
Car Attendant was very entertaining. They had the largest Danish that
I had seen in my entire life for $2! I purchased one and ate it along
with some coffee at the bar seat in the Cafe Car. The Cafe Car Attendant
used me as a reference several times as people came into the car to
order something to eat. I gave my rave reviews of the danish each time.
It was definitely huge and tasted great, well worth the $2! Sometimes
Car Attendants will microwave a Danish too long and hermetically seal
the plastic rap onto the Danish. Not this Car Attendant, he heated it
just the right amount.
There was excellent music playing in the Cafe Car too! This wasn't official
music but was provided by the Car Attendant using his own CD player and
speakers. He mentioned that he sometimes has to shut it off when he has a
Crew Chief that doesn't like the "unofficial" music being played.
While I was there, I purchased a purple Talgo hat. Other than that, all
they had unique to the train was a white Talgo hat. The Cafe Car Attendant
told me they were changing the promotional merchandise for the train and he
didn't have any more of the T-shirts.
My seat mate was sitting at the last chair at the Cafe Bar talking up his
usual storm and still trying to locate his medication. A group of 6 ladies
walked into the Cafe Bar and purchased 6 Bloody Marys. The youngest of them
had just turned 21 last Thursday. They were all young and quite attractive.
The Cafe Car Attendant was pretty good at flirting with them. One gal in
the group was old enough to be my mother, but she didn't appear to be a
chaparone or anything like that. After purchasing their Bloody Marys in the
"to go" line, they all sat down in some corner seating for 6 people and had
their drinks right in the Cafe Car.
After I finished my breakfast, I went further to the rear of the train to
see what else I could find. Only then did I discover that the other half
of the lounge car was for full sit-down dinner service! I could have had
a full cooked to order Breakfast. The Stuart greeted me and asked if I
wanted to be seated for Breakfast. I was sorry to decline and asked if
she would mind if I took a few photos. After getting permission, I took a
couple of photos of the full-service dining area. I then started to head
forward on the train on the way back to my seat.
Directly ahead of the Cafe Car was a special section which I believe was
actually part of the Cafe Car, but I'm not sure. The seats were a different
color, appeared to have a lot more leg room and there were even single seats
all by themselves. I asked the Cafe Car Attendant what this area was used
for. He said they placed handicapped travelers in that area because it had
ramp level access and a handicapped restroom. That made sense, but seeing
how few handicapped riders the train has, it would make sense if they would
also turn this section into a "Custom Class" part of the train. The seating
in this section was definitely the best of the whole train, but this section
appears to go just about totally unused except when the train is boarded by
a handicap person.
I took several pictures of the scenery along the Talgo route. I imagine
this is the same area I passed on the Coast Starlight last night, but it
was too dark to see anything. I have only been along this area three times
before by train. I went by it on my first trip on Amtrak in the family
room with my kids. I was probably too fascinated by all of the scenery
and too busy entertaining my kids to have taken many photographs of this
stretch. Then, I was on this segment both north and south with my wife
last June. I'm not sure why I didn't notice the beauty of the scenery at
that time. Maybe it is just the huge picture windows of the Talgo that
really draw ones attention to the scenery. With the Puget Sound and then
the Columbia River off to the west of the train for much of the journey,
this has to be one of the more scenic journeys in America.
I've been on trains with great expanses of boring scenery that could use
a movie but didn't have one. Then there is the Mt. Adams Talgo from
Seattle to Portland. It has a movie, but who needs it with such great
scenery out the window? I mostly looked out the window while keeping
my ears on the movie and an occassional glance to one of two TV monitors
ahead of me.
The movie "Jack" was played on the train starting in Tacoma. My wife
took the kids to see that movie, so I missed that one in the theaters. Guess
I was just lucky. Usually the movies they play on airlines I've already seen
or I didn't see it because I wasn't interested in it. They sold headsets for
$3 each, but you were allowed to keep them for future trips. I was pretty
sure that my headset for my railroad scanner would work for them movie,
but I wasn't sure, so I purchased a headset for $3. I can always use an
extra headset, especially for just $3! The movie started and the headsets
for my scanner did work on the Talgo. When the man returned that was
sitting next to me, I told him he could borrow the headsets that I purchased
for the movie. He kept saying he wanted headsets but wasn't sure he could
afford them. I figured it was worth my while to loan them to him if it might
keep him occupied for a couple of hours. As it turned out, he fell asleep
and slept through the entire movie! That was a relief to me and everyone
The movie finished about an hour before our final destination of Portland,
Oregon. My seatmate awoke and vanished to some part of the train unknown.
One thing I forgot to mention was that everytime he left his seat, he left
something behind that looked like a dayplanner. Each time he left, he asked
me to open it and read it. He said it was the story of his life. I did
open it one time but had great difficulty making heads or tails of it! It
looked like a cross between a planning calendar and notes of ones activities.
I saw very few sentences that completed a thought or made any sense at all.
After one quick glance, I closed it up and put it back on his seat. I used
the excuse that I was watching the movie so that I didn't have to contend
with his continued insistence that I read his private journal.
More humor. The 6 gals at the front of our car became a bit intoxicated
with all those Bloody Marys. Their discussion shifted to sexual experiences
and performance of their husbands. They discussed this quite loudly
including many re-enactments! When they all got up and headed off to the
Cafe Bar for another round of drinks, the entire car errupted into laughter
and discussion of the escapades of those gals!
We arrived into Portland and I tried to wait for the train to completely
empty out. I wanted to take some photos of an empty Talgo Coach Car. My
efforts were delayed because a couple of those gals at the front of the
train were waiting for the remaining gals to return from the bar. Eventually
enough people got out of my way so I could take a couple of photos.
On our way into the Portland station I noticed the Empire Builder still
sitting there. This time, however, it looked like there were more
Sleeping Cars, but I couldn't be sure. I took a number of photos of the
Talgo train and then started to head through restricted area toward the
back of the Talgo outside which I knew would get me close to the Sleeping
Cars on the Empire Builder.
I did get to the end of the Talgo after going through an Amtrak only
parking lot, more restricted area, and then some other railroad property.
I wasn't quite close enough to examine the numbers on the Sleeping Cars.
All I wanted to know is if one of the Sleeping Cars was the 0831 car. I
already knew the 0830 car was there. If the 0831 car was in Portland,
then I would have an excellent case that they should put me in that
Sleeper since I was holding a valid ticket for a Sleeping Room in that car.
Unfortunately, there were a lot of service personnel on the platform and
there were several mounted police officers going up and down in that area.
I had no idea if the mounted police had anything to do with the station
at all, but I didn't want to take a chance. Thus, I headed back to the
station carrying my backpack and dragging along my rolling luggage.
There was a tremendous bank of phones in the station and I used a calling
card to catch some messages that I was not able to return while I was on
the Talgo. Then I found a "Parcel Check" area that would store my bags for
$1.50 until I returned later to pick them up. I hung onto my backpack but
checked in my rolling suitcase.
I went exploring around the station. I could not find a way to get anywhere
near the Empire Builder Sleeping Cars without delving deep into restricted
territory while surrounded by lots of Amtrak maintenance staff wearing hard
hats and goggles. I'd stick out like a sore thumb!
Since I had almost 5 hours before the Empire Builder would begin boarding,
I decided to explore the rest of the Portland Station. In my explorations,
I saw a sign that said "Metropolitan Lounge". I must have glanced away for
a few seconds as the next sign I saw just said "Lounge". I follwed the
signs to the "Lounge" and ended up at a place that said "Access to the
Restaurant and Lounge is from outside the station." That wasn't what I was
looking for. Metropolitan Lounges are only open to First Class Sleeping Car
passengers. I wasn't looking for a lounge open to the general public. I
retraced my steps.
I found the "Lounge" sign where I had taken my detour. I looked around
fairly confident I had seen a sign that said "Metropolitan Lounge". Then
I saw it! It was in a little alcove that I had passed when I went all the
way to the station doors that led out to the tracks. I had paused there
briefly wondering if I should risk trying to mingle with the workers on
the platform and make my way down the the Sleeping Cars. The "Metropolitan
Lounge" was as effectively hidden fromt he public as you can get! You have
to almost go to the platform were passengers are not allowed before you
find the sign leading the way.
I walked to the door of the "Metropolitan Lounge", but it was locked.
I tried pulling on the door handle, but it was definitely locked. After
I stepped back, I heard a bunch of buzzes like the buzz that comes from
remotely operated door openers. Then, I saw a doorbell to the side.
That seemed the logical thing to do! Ring the doorbell to get into the
"Metropolitan Lounge." I approached the doorbell, but the door suddenly
openned before I got to the doorbell. The man at the door inquired:
"Sleeping Car Passenger?" I said: "Yes." Then he said: "Well come right
The place was absolutely magnificent! The atmosphere and service was the
epitome of everything that Amtrak is suppose to be! The decor looked like
it had been revitalized to that of the period of the stations founding
over 100 years ago. Everything was immaculate. The person in charge of
the Metropolitan Lounge was Frank Lohr III whose title was "Metropolitan
He showed me where they had about 5 flavors of freshly brewed specialty
coffee plus a refrigerator full of free beverages. Frank showed me the
facilities of the Metropolitan Lounge including comfortable chairs and
end tables everywhere, a color TV with headline news, telephones that can
be used with a credit card on almost every end table, and a great view of
the trains coming and going at the platform!
I explained about my ticket, that the Conductor had told me that I could
use the Seattle to Chicago ticket from Portland. He told me he would
take my ticket and take care of everything. This was much better than the
response I got from Amtrak Vacations or the type of response I often get
from a Ticket Desk which is to explain why what I want to do can't be done.
Frank looked up my itinerary on the computer and said: "It looks like
there is something already here." My heart sank. I thought the jig was up.
I thought he found the stupid coach reservation that Amtrak Vacations had
made for me between Portland and Spokane for yesterday. But no. What he
found was the answer to my prayers! Someone had completely fixed my
record on the computer. From what I could tell, I didn't even have to have
purchased my Talgo ticket from Seattle to Portland. If I knew the right
words to say, I think they could have printed one out that was just waiting
in the computer for me to pick up!
What the computer showed was my ticket from Los Angeles to Seattle, then
a trip from Seattle to Portland in the morning, and then a change from
Car 0831 to Standard (Economy) Sleeping Room #4 on through Sleeping Car
2830 of the Empire Builder all the way from Portland to Chicago! I don't
know who did this, but whoever did the change had done the exact fix that
I was trying to get Amtrak Vacations to do. I suspect it was the Conductor
on the Coast Starlight from yesterday that made these changed arrangements
for me. I told him what I was going to do and he said it was fine. I just
wish he had told me he was making all the arrangements for me in the
computer to make it "official"!
Since the computer had the new itinerary for me and the manifest for
Sleeping Car 2830 had me down for bedroom number 4 all the way from
Portland to Chicago, all they did was take a magic marker and write
the change onto my ticket! On top of the excellent impression from the
Metropolitan Lounge, I was extremely pleased with how my reservation
turned out. Needless to say, I spent a very happy afternoon in the
Metropolitan Lounge in Portland!
Once I got my ticket squared away, I went over to the Parcel Check area
and rescued by suitcase. Sleeping Car passengers can leave their luggage
in the Metropolitan Lounge area for free and have access to it at all times.
I discovered that Amtrak set up a computer work area in the corner of the
Metropolitan Lounge. It is an area with enough room for two people to work
on their notebook computers. The area is like a standard office cubicle
surrounded by 4 foot partitions. I brought my luggage and backpack into
the computer area and set up my laptop computer. Much of this review was
written in the time I spent in that area from 1 P.M. to almost 5 P.M.
There are both electric outlets and phone lines to use your credit card
to make modem calls from this area, though I did not use my modem at that
point. I was just thoroughly impressed with the Metropolitan Lounge in
Portland, much more so than the one in Chicago. If you have a Sleeping
Car and you are spending any time in Portland, be sure to stop by the
Metropolitan Lounge. You may have to ask someone for directions, but it
is well worth the visit!
- Train Route: Mt. Adams
- Train Number: 753
- Direction: South
- My Route: Seattle, Washington - Portland, Oregon
- Accommodation: Reserved Coach
- Metropolitan Lounge Representative: Frank Lohr III
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