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Steve's Winter Wonderland Rail Journey

Mt. Adams Talgo

Click here for a slide show of this trip on the 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 around him.

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 on in!"

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 Lounge Representative."

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!

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