Slow and Scenic…Traveling Amtrak’s Coast Starlight

In response to enthusiasm shared with friends about last month’s travels with  mom aboard Amtrak’s Coast Starlight, I’m frequently asked, “Was it on time?”

It seems almost everyone has heard a story of someone grossly inconvenienced by a late arriving train.

While it is true that scheduled station stops do tend to be more approximate than precise, I wasn’t bothered. Adherence to the timetable was “in the ballpark.”

There are any number of reasons for why a passenger train may lose time between stations, but there are times when the train just stops, which can be confusing if you don’t know that track is controlled by the freight companies, and their priority directs passenger trains into a siding to wait for the freight trains to pass.

Between Los Angeles and Portland, our final destination, we gave way to freight trains fewer than a half-dozen times. Time is lost, but then in open stretches the Coast Starlight made up much of the time.

There is one question almost everyone asks. “Isn’t train travel awfully slow?” A look of grave concern crosses their expression and it’s clear they aren’t sold on my assertion that traveling by train is as much the vacation experience as the end-point and destination.

Most of us spend more time than we’d like running from one event to the next only to arrive with little conscious appreciation for how we got there!

I do acknowledge that it is a privilege to have the time for leisure travel, and a train isn’t practical for everyone. But unless time is a serious factor, I think it’s worth considering.

We answered questions about sleeping quarters by describing Amtrak’s Business Class, which we found very accommodating.  Seating in a dedicated car allowed for fewer disturbances and greater overall flexibility. We found the reclining seats more than adequate for sleeping, and although it was a 30-hour trip, we didn’t feel the need for a roomette or sleeping car.

Once all pertinent concerns and questions are answered the Coast Starlight is an easy “sell” because of the mesmerizing scenery.

I previously shared some of the beautiful California coastline from my Amtrak window seat HERE and HERE, but this trip we extended north, well beyond our previous destination of Oakland, crossing the California border into Oregon.

It was growing dark as we pulled into Oakland, and not long before we settled into our sleeping positions. From 10PM until 7:00AM all station announcements are silenced and our car attendant reminded everyone that it was time to be courteously quiet. The lights were dimmed sufficiently and it was a pleasure listening to the hum of the rails.

An early sunrise revealed a beautiful view of Mt. Shasta, second only to Mt. Rainier among the tallest volcanoes in the Cascade Range, and we could see the cone of the volcano for about an hour as we traveled north.

Soon we had crossed the state line and the Coast Starlight from Klamath Falls to Eugene is known as one of the most beautiful and scenic sections.

Slow?

I guess that’s true, but perhaps I’d best describe it as relaxing.

Slow is probably subjective anyway, don’t you think?

All 22 inches of him!

Do you think a tortoise is slow?

He knows how to take advantage of a quiet morning bath, but when Darwin wants to escape his confines he appears to be motorized. He can move faster than you’d think!

Have I perhaps influenced you? Not to be a Sulcata Tortoise “parent,” but to perhaps consider the “breathe lighter” benefits of train travel?

I’d be interested in your thoughts, or perhaps previous experience. Do share!

 

Additional links if interested:

Amtrak’s Coast Starlight: America’s most beautiful train ride?

Enjoy Stunning Views on the Coast Starlight–Video

 

32 thoughts on “Slow and Scenic…Traveling Amtrak’s Coast Starlight

  1. restlessjo

    It’s a room with a moving view. I don’t understand how anyone can not love train travel, Debbie. I don’t do much of it because it’s relatively expensive here, and doesn’t always take me to places I want to go, but with views like that, I’d never get off the train. 🙂 🙂 Glad you enjoyed the trip.

    Reply
    1. Debra Post author

      I love the description,”room with a moving view.” That’s so perfect! It was a special time and my mom is still talking about it. That made it worth it right there. 🙂

      Reply
    1. Debra Post author

      The trip to B.C. is definitely one I would like to take, Jim. We’d like to come back to Oregon and spend a little more time, though. I feel like I just had a tease. 🙂 I was on the train almost as long as I spent off! Maybe slightly more. LOL!

      Reply
  2. nrhatch

    I loved taking the auto train up to get mom and return to Florida. On the way up, I slept in a recliner. On the way back, I got a sleeping compartment so mom would have convenient access to the bathroom. The meals were great and it’s a very relaxing way to travel. BUT . . . I felt like I missed all the scenery we passed under cover of darkness.

    Reply
    1. Debra Post author

      I chose taking the train to Portland for the same reason, Nancy, to make it easier for my mother. I was sure it would be enjoyable, but I struggled a little bit committing to so much time. I was so glad that I did, however. Because the train left Los Angeles at 10 am and Portland at 3pm I did at least have different “blackout” times and I saw some areas on the return trip that I missed coming up! I think it would be fun to take the same trip in winter. I’m sure that would also be entirely different. The pace is nice, however, isn’t it?

      Reply
  3. thefolia

    Yes, the train ride would be the experience of the trip. I bet my kiddos would like it all too much that we may be asked to leave. I can’t imagine us being courteously quiet during the hours of 10pm-7am unless I happen to get the little one down before that. Happy you enjoy the adventure.

    Reply
    1. Debra Post author

      LOL! I do not know how families make it work, Cristina, but there were many on the train. The Business Car kind of sheltered me from some of that activity. I think that most probably have a little private roomette, which with children, is probably almost a necessity. I hope you’re doing well with what’s left of summer. I’m sure you’re gearing up for school to begin, and your world is going to speed up! Slow isn’t always possible when you have children. What am I saying? It’s almost never possible. LOL!

      Reply
    1. Debra Post author

      You could decide to go either north or south from your home! Both directions are very scenic but quite different from each other, as you can imagine.LA to Oakland will continue to be well traveled route for us, but now I have my sights on taking the train to Seattle. I really think that would be a leisurely adventure. Let me know if you decide to give the Coast Starlight a go! 🙂

      Reply
  4. Slow Happy Living

    CFL and I did a steam rail excursion from Portland to Bend, OR and back recently. That was REALLY slow. And it was something I’d wanted to do since I was a child. I wouldn’t have given up a moment of it.

    Reply
    1. Debra Post author

      What an amazing experience that had to be, Lori. I know that Jay and I would love to experience steam rail. I hadn’t actually thought of investigating that option, so thank you for the suggestion! I do hope you’re doing well and enjoying your summer!

      Reply
    1. Debra Post author

      You’ve mentioned some of your concerns about travel and I can tell you that from the things you’ve shared I think you’d be quite comfortable on a train for at least an overnight. All amenities are close and surprisingly private. There was a woman in one compartment with her companion dog. Whether he was a licensed therapy pet or not I don’t know. Maybe the cats stay home as guardians, but if you want to keep them close, It’s worth investigating? LOL!

      Reply
    1. Debra Post author

      You’ve definitely hit on one major reason I enjoyed the train! I was accompanying my mom to a family wedding in Portland and our first thought was that we’d drive and make a stop in the Sacramento area to see other family members. But the more I thought about the drive the greater my concern that we’d just be exhausted. We could have flown, but even that sounded like more than we wanted to take on. So the train just fit our needs perfectly. Driving was once a pleasure, but not so much anymore! I’m eager to decide on a future destination and plan for that trip. 🙂 Thanks so much for stopping by and sharing your thoughts. 🙂

      Reply
  5. Cathy

    Lovely to hear about your trip Debra. I used to travel by train a lot as a student, and loved seeing bits of the countryside that remain hidden from roads and motorways. It always seemed a bit of an adventure too, which I have rarely felt with other forms of travel!

    Reply
    1. Debra Post author

      Friends and family who have enjoyed European train travel are quick to tell me that our American system doesn’t compare. I’m not always clear on what is better, but I don’t happen to be a very critical traveler. I simply enjoy the pace and the scenery, and thought the food and other amenities was just fine. I’m not picky! LOL! Anytime I can spend a day or two with few decisions to make and little personal stress, it’s a good thing. I agree with you that it is so delightful to go through cities and towns and see areas otherwise hidden to me. I enjoyed the way people, sometimes in their own backyards, would wave at passengers on the train. I always waved back! 🙂

      Reply
  6. lifeonthecutoff

    What wondrous views, Debra. I love the sound of trains; the clickely-clackety of the wheels on the rails and the sound of the horn. Your trip sounds soothing and restful and seems to have been just the right choice for you and your mom.
    Business class seats sound perfect and would be a good choice for us. Tom is so tall a sleeper has never been an option, but, business class . . . hmmmm? We both enjoyed a day trip up to Galena, IL some years ago. It’s a trip we’ve taken by car, but, the scenery and vistas one is afforded by train are so “worth it”. We did stop once for at least 20 minutes. Having lived in town with a coffee shop that become my second home I saw, first hand, many trains stopping. There was a Railroad Club that met over the coffee shop. We always knew something special was coming through when there were extra cars and tripods set up along the tracks.:)

    Reply
  7. Amy

    We enjoyed so much of the train trips in Europe. I’d love to take this relaxing train trip in the near future.
    Thank you for sharing with us, Debra! 🙂

    Reply
  8. Christine L.

    How wonderful! My husband and I have taken the Coast Starlight three times in the past, and we are planning another trip next year. All those photos brought back some great memories.

    (The only time we had a serious delay was once, outside of Oxnard, when some drunken genius decided to try and “beat the train” on his bike, and wound up sprawled on his back on the gravel next to the tracks. He turned out to be FINE – but we had to sit there, stewing, for a couple of HOURS, so the police could do their investigation! Grr!)

    Reply
  9. Born To Organize

    I’ve traveled by train many times, including the Coast Starlight. We took our boys to San Diego and back by rail and my husband and I crossed the country (California to Chicago, then on to Boston). I also traveled with a Eurorail pass throughout Europe many, many years ago. I love the slower pace, the incredible views and the ease of travel. It’s not about getting there when you ride the train. The hardest part for me, and this may have improved, is the food choices. I’m a vegetarian and found little to eat. I’m glad you enjoyed your journey.

    Reply
  10. clinock

    I crossed Canada 5 times by train in the ’70s. It was the cheapest way to make that trip back then if you brought your own food and slept sitting up in the regular coach. It was mostly younger people and always a party for 4 days….time went fast. Now it’s luxury travel. It sounds as if maybe the states have more possibilities for routes and pricing. I still think it’s the best way to travel if you travel for travel’s sake.

    Reply
  11. 2e0mca

    I’ve never had the pleasure of riding the American Railroads so I read your report with interest and enjoyed your photos very much Debra. As I am now retired I’m intending to get back to longer train journeys in the UK. However – the pace is somewhat faster over here and the trains more frequent. Freight has to fit in with passenger services rather than the other way around.

    Perhaps Robert Louis Stevenson’s From a Railway Carriage to commemorate your trip…
    Faster than fairies, faster than witches,
    Bridges and houses, hedges and ditches;
    And charging along like troops in a battle
    All through the meadows the horses and cattle:
    All of the sights of the hill and the plain
    Fly as thick as driving rain;
    And ever again, in the wink of an eye,
    Painted stations whistle by.
    Here is a child who clambers and scrambles,
    All by himself and gathering brambles;
    Here is a tramp who stands and gazes;
    And here is the green for stringing the daisies!
    Here is a cart runaway in the road
    Lumping along with man and load;
    And here is a mill, and there is a river:
    Each a glimpse and gone forever!

    Reply
  12. roughwighting

    Oh yes, you convinced me! I’ve been more prone to take Amtrak now that I live in the East Coast. When I lived in the SF bay area, I never really considered it, but now that trip from Oakland to Oregon is on my bucket list. Thank you. Just two weeks ago I took the Amtrak Acela from Boston to Philadelphia. SO MUCH easier and better than flying, even though it takes a bit more time. However, the movement of the train still gets me into motion sickness. I have to work on that before I take a longer train ride.

    Reply

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