A Travellerspoint blog

Cascades to Vancouver

View North America 2022 Train Trip on Bob Brink's travel map.

October 23, 2022

I needed to get up early to catch my 7:45 train, but certainly not at 3:30. I managed to get a little more sleep but finally gave up. I never sleep well before an early flight, and I guess this applies to early trains as well. My first four trains had all been in the afternoon or evening, so I had not yet tested that concept, and this will be the only test since my train from Vancouver was scheduled for 3:00 pm. I hope to have more opportunities in the future to test this.

Although I had the option of several departure times to Vancouver, my reservation was for the only train of the day. All the other departures were for buses. In fact, I was lucky to even have a train ticket since Amtrak had only reinstated its train to Vancouver in late September. In the past Amtrak had run three or four trains each day between Seattle and Vancouver, but those were cancelled at the start of the pandemic.

I have not discussed my planning for this trip, but since this was the day for my only international train, perhaps this is a good place to provide some details. Cross-border trains had been a big issue when I began my trip planning; I wanted my train travel to be a full circle, all by train, with no flights.

I had started my train trip planning by contacting an agency that specializes in train travel. I had a great chat with an agent who took all the details of my trip, especially my desire to not fly into the US, and after several minutes said it was best to get back to me with a quote. I never heard back from him. I then tried the Amtrak travel branch. Again, I had a great chat, gave all my details including the no flights to the US stipulation, and again he said he would contact me with a quote. I was ghosted a second time.

I finally decided to just do everything myself. I then discovered the issues that my two agents had encountered and perhaps convinced them that I was not worth the effort. I had read marvelous reviews about the Montreal to New York and Seattle to Vancouver trains but did not know that they were not in operation. Amtrak had to cancel the cross-border train at the start of the pandemic since travel between the US and Canada was restricted. Then when the border reopened, they did not have the equipment nor the staff to restart those trains. That explained why my agents could not get me everything that I wanted. It does not explain why they did not tell me.

In addition to the cross-border train issues, I had quickly established some other things I had to work into my planning. The Ocean from Halifax only runs 3 times a week. I could not get my preferred sleeper roomette on the Canadian leaving from Toronto to Vancouver; they were only available going the other way, from Vancouver to Toronto. And the Canadian only runs twice a week, so 3 or 4 days in between departures. Lastly, the connection in Buffalo between the New York bound train from Toronto and the Chicago bound train from New York was several hours.

I guess this was too complicated for the guys at the travel agencies. I had to work in some compromises such as my flight to Chicago, skipping a stop in Utah, and assuming I would have to take the bus from Seattle.

I did all my reservations on the Amtrak and Via Rail websites. I booked the four main train rides right away and left the day trains (or bus), from Montreal and Seattle, for later. There are several trains each day from Montreal to Toronto and four buses each day from Seattle to Vancouver.

When word came that Amtrak was restarting the Vancouver train service, I began a daily check of train seats for October 23, but still no train would come up, only the buses. On September 6 the train finally appeared, and I tried to book it. But the system would not let me finish. After the shortcomings of the travel agents, I was similarly not impressed with Amtrak reservations. They had a phone number, but it was a computerized system that just sent me back into the on-line system. I sent through a request for help, but nothing came. I rebooted my computer and finished the booking. Amtrak tech support replied on October 2 with a “sorry to be taking longer than expected” email. That “longer” was almost a month.

Back to my travels, I needed to pack, including the things that I had washed and were not quite dry. I finished my room coffee and headed out. It was a quick walk to the station, much faster than my round about trip when I got here. It was still dark and damp but at least it was not raining. I was joined by a couple who left the hotel at the same time and were obviously headed to the station as well.

My ticket specified that I was taking the Amtrak Cascades train, but unlike my previous two named Amtrak trains, this one was for a route that includes several trains and buses and goes from Eugene, Oregon to Vancouver, B.C. But no train goes the entire route. This particular train only goes between Seattle and Vancouver.

The King Street Station serves three different Amtrak routes, the Coast Starlight that brought me from Emeryville two days before, this one I was leaving on, and the Empire Builder which goes to Chicago. The station was opened in 1906 and served the Great Northern Railway and Northern Pacific Railways. Over the years, the station had suffered from lack of use and funds. There had been poor attempts at modernization. Fortunately, the station was restored about ten years ago at which time many of its features were uncovered, including the beautiful ceiling.


There were two lines, one for business class and another for coach. They were checking passports. Business class passengers could go right to desk. The rest of us had to wait. It took us about five minutes longer.


We were called to the platform to board. The conductor told us the train was going left. It is funny how disorienting it can be when you are in the middle of the train and try to understand which way the train is going. My preferred side of the train was left. I had two coaches to choose from, so stayed with the left theme and went that way. Some seats were facing forward and some backwards. I wanted forward but more so wanted window on the left, so sat down in the first empty place. I ended up having both seats to myself. As I had found on the Via Train to Toronto, train seats in coach are quite comfortable, on par with business class seats on planes (what I imagine anyway, since I never get to sit in them).


We left on time, at first down the road that I had been on the day before.

The train went along the water for most of the route with the with the occasional inland shift. Sometimes it seemed we were almost in the water.

It was not a perfect day since the mountains were mostly covered in clouds, but the water was quite nice.


I had a pocket full of US change so decided to go to the café car and get a coffee. I had been in the US for 8 days without drinking a Starbucks coffee, even in its Seattle birthplace. But Amtrak served Starbucks. There was only one employee, so service was slow. Everyone was paying with their cards and the person in front wondered if they even took cash. But they did, so I got my coffee and got rid of the change.


We crossed the border into Canada. They had told everyone at the last stop that the next one would require the border formalities. But for now, we just enjoyed the view. The tide was out. There were lots of people walking along the sand, many with their dogs.

We approached the Fraser River. I took a photo of the Skybridge that carries the local transit trains, SkyTrain.
We crossed over on a different bridge a few minutes later.

We made good time until Burnaby, which is about 15 minutes from the train station. We then sat for a long time. We were told that there was some issue with the signals, needed to change tracks, and that someone had to come to help us do that. I was texting a friend in Vancouver. He asked what time I was arriving. We were almost at the station, but I could not tell him. I had read that train passengers should not make big plans for the time of their scheduled arrivals since trains are often late. I thought that applied to cross country trains, not just getting in from the suburbs. He told me to text him after we arrived. We ended up an hour late.

When the train finally did arrive at Pacific Central Station, the business class passengers were allowed to go first to Canadian immigration. I was still not convinced that it was worth it to upgrade, especially after I went through in about 5 minutes. I put down my passport and explained my train trip to the agent. She asked me how it was and sent me on my way.

The station is just east of False Creek. The first big structure is Science World with a big ball which hosts a giant OMNIMAX Theatre. It was built as part of the 1986 World’s Fair. Just beyond is BC Place Stadium, home to Vancouver’s soccer and football teams (using North American definitions of the two). It was my landmark to help me find my downtown hotel.

I took some photos of the Terry Fox Memorial. I assume all my readers know who he was. If not, please stop reading this and google him.

I texted my friend, Chris, who owns a house in Pouch Cove but spends most of his time far away working as an engineer (not the train kind). At the present time he is working in the mountains of BC during the week and living in Vancouver on the weekends. A few weeks ago he was back in Pouch Cove when Zoe and I met him on our morning walk. In fact, Zoe saw him and took off running to see him, going as fast as her old man (me) could keep up (she was on a leash). When I had told him about my trip, he mentioned that he would be in Vancouver the same day that I would arrive.

Chris suggested lunch. He had previously suggested some urban hiking as well. We started walking. I took some photos.


And we kept on walking. I was getting hungry and was starting to wonder when we might stop. Chris had a specific Korean restaurant in mind. He had fallen in love with the cuisine ever since he visited his daughter while she was working there.

We finally arrived. It was quite busy even though it was now mid-afternoon. Chris suggested one of the soup dishes. I chose the squid and bulgogi and some dumplings. The food was fantastic.


It was sizzling.

We continued with our walk after lunch. It was a beautiful Sunday afternoon. The streets were busy. We stopped at the “A-maze-ing Laughter” sculpture. The sculpture is composed of 14 statues and was created as part of the Vancouver International Biennale in 2009 and portrays the artist in a state of hysterical laughter.


Chris took my photo. I was not hysterical.

We worked our way down to English Bay.
There I said goodbye to my friend and continued my walk along False Creek towards my hotel.

I stopped at a supermarket near my hotel to buy some fruit and yoghurt. I made a point of picking up a plastic spoon for the yoghurt, but when I got back to my room I found that the cashier had not put my spoon into the shopping bag that I had to buy to carry my things. I now had a thick Greek yoghurt and no spoon. I did not want to go back to the store, so went down and asked at the front desk and was sent to their sports bar/restaurant. It was busy. It was loud. But I needed a spoon so stood in line with the patrons. When my turn came, I told the nice hostess that I just wanted a spoon, not a table. She told me to wait until she had seated some people and came back with a spoon for me. She did not want it back.

The yoghurt and fruit became my supper. After my big lunch, which had finished after 3, and a long walk I was tired and decided to just stay in. I had 4 nights on a train coming up, so enjoyed my quiet hotel room and soft bed.

Posted by Bob Brink 16:11 Archived in Canada Tagged trains amtrak via_rail

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Quite the booking system! Really happy that it worked out for you.

by Tony Turco

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