Traveling by train from Seattle to Vancouver, BC.
October 28, 2008 10:31 AM   Subscribe

Traveling by train from Seattle to Vancouver, BC.

I'm planning a weekend getaway across the border from Seattle to Vancouver BC and looking to travel by rail via Amtrak. Why does the Seattle-Vancouver BC route only offer train trips once per day?

Is this only temporary?
Why the odd hours?
Have any of you traveled to BC via Amtrak?
What was your experience?
posted by bamassippi to Travel & Transportation (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
"Why does the Seattle-Vancouver BC route only offer train trips once per day?"

No traffic. To be fair, driving and flying are both quicker than the train. It's a catch 22, no trips until traffic builds, no traffic until the daily trips are increased.
posted by Keith Talent at 11:02 AM on October 28, 2008

As far as I'm aware [and this came from a via rail employee a few years ago] the seattle-vancouver portion of amtrak's network is, in fact, a bus.
on actually checking things before I post, there is a train, the 510 Cascades, and it takes just a little bit longer than the bus.

[I recommend a ferry if you don't get better answers here. Ferries are also cool modes of transport.]
posted by Acari at 11:08 AM on October 28, 2008

I live in Sea. (since '67). Since the breakdown of U.S. passenger rail service, this is what we have had for service to Van. It's been this way for many many years. Like other aspects of transportation in this part of the U.S. (as opposed to the Atlantic seaboard cities), cars and gasoline actually have been and still are cheaper than the mismanaged railroads. Many people go 2 or 3 to a car to Vancouve, and that makes it very very cheap. When traveling at slightly off-peak, getting there and thru the border is quite speedy.

So... if you want to spend a whole day there, but not sleep in a $250 hotel, there really is no alternative to driving, esp. if there is more than one in your car.

Another reason why the U.S. is falling. No huge, beautiful, and efficient rail system. Imagine: 7 trains a day to Vancouver, each on a hi-speed dedicated roadbed. Wow. That would be like living in China... and who would want that!!!
posted by yazi at 11:13 AM on October 28, 2008 [3 favorites]

Part of the problem has been mudslides along the track. It runs along the water, which can be beautiful, but mudslides + poor maintenance + buses running instead of trains for most of the winter = no demand.

It's so easy to drive to BC that that's what people do. And there are cheap hopper flights.

And I'm not aware of a direct ferry from Seattle to Vancouver, BC. There are ferries to Vancouver ISLAND, which is not the same as Vancouver, BC. You could theoretically go from seattle to Vancouver Island and then to Vancouver, but damn, rent a car at that point.

Or, go Greyhound.
posted by micawber at 12:55 PM on October 28, 2008

As to the odd hours, I cannot speak for that particular trip, but bear in mind that whatever journey you take, it is often part of a longer routing for the train. If you take the train from Vancouver to Edmonton in either direction, you spend most of your time in the Rockies at night and unable to see the quite spectacular scenery. When you consider this trip as one-third of the route of The Canadian (which runs from Vancouver to Toronto), it begins to make more sense to schedule the arrivals in larger centres during hours the most convenient for staffing large stations and for passengers getting to hotels and whatnot.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 1:20 PM on October 28, 2008

I've had two different sets of friends book through Amtrak to go from Seattle to Vancouver. One set actually got a train, the other set got the bus. As folks upthread have said, it depends on the time of day/year which you get. It took about the same amount of time for each, but the folks who ended up on the actual train did say it was quite a pretty route.

And I'm not aware of a direct ferry from Seattle to Vancouver, BC.

Yeah, there isn't. If you are looking for alternatives to the train, this bus might be cheaper.
posted by Nelsormensch at 1:33 PM on October 28, 2008

^ When booking your trip via Amtrak it will give you several options, one being the train, the others being buses. If the train is full, or not running, the only available option will be the bus, and it will say just that. Time of day/year has nothing to do with it (aside from the fact that there's only one train a day).
posted by bizwank at 1:59 PM on October 28, 2008

I take that trip at least once a month from the Bellingham station which is about half way between the two points, and I have to say that the train is an excellent way to go if you can get the times to work out for you. Unlike driving or, god help you, busing, the train doesn't stop at the border at all. Instead it goes straight through to Vancouver and you go through customs there. It usually only takes me somewhere between 10 to 15 minutes to be processed through. The station is next to a Skytrain stop which can take you downtown to catch a bus or to other areas of Vancouver with no problem. In my experience it is often faster than taking a car, and easier especially since parking in Vancouver is a bit of a nightmare. Plus the view is pleasant and you can buy a beer in the club car. On the way back in to the US, you do have to stop at the border for a cursory check of documentation, but this doesn't take long since you've already had your bags processed and your documents checked by the customs agent at the station before you board the train.
Incidentally, soon they should be expanding the route to having two trains a day in preparation for expected added traffic for the 2010 Olympics in BC.
posted by mr.grum at 2:19 PM on October 28, 2008

I lived in Seattle for 13 years and took the train to Vancouver with my spouse about a dozen times, at various times of the year. We were never placed on a bus (which can happen due to mudslides, etc.), but I remember one trip home that was stupidly slow. It took 6 hours or something like that. Other than that one ride, though, our trips were on schedule (or at least close), relaxing and fun; these particular journeys to Vancouver were a special-occasion kind of thing for us, and not having to concern ourselves with driving was a bonus. We always indulged in the offerings of the meal car on the trip up, too -- for us it was a full breakfast accompanied by a Bloody Mary or Mimosa. And as someone mentioned above, the views along the route to Vancouver are quite spectacular. (IIRC, the trains going back to Seattle ran at 6pm; traveling in the evening, you won't see much on the way home, especially this time of year. )

The last time we took such a trip was about 4 years ago, so not sure if much has changed since then.
posted by lovermont at 2:25 PM on October 28, 2008

Oh, I should also say that you almost always get to the Vancouver station within 15 minutes of the scheduled time. It's also been the same coming back, at least it is as far as the Bellingham stop except for two occasions; one when a freight train derailed holding up all the trains on the line and the other when the train hit a guy trying to get his bike off the tracks. Compared to the several occasions where I had to wait hours to cross the border in a Greyhound due to a passenger having a problem with the customs agents, or the sometimes mile long lines at the border for cars, it's a safer bet for planning a schedule or meeting people if that's something you were hoping to do.
posted by mr.grum at 2:31 PM on October 28, 2008

i've wondered that for awhile too since when i've taken the train it's seemed like there were enough passengers to justify more trains. i really enjoy taking the train to vancouver, though, more than driving. it goes along the water and is lovely. you can get 50% off with the coupon in
posted by groovinkim at 1:18 PM on November 25, 2008

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