Seattle to Portland transit options
April 16, 2023 6:23 PM   Subscribe

What's the best way to get from Seattle to Portland and back in one day, on a weekday, if I want to avoid renting a car?

I'm looking at Amtrak and Flixbus, which both have scheduled service that fits my requirements. Are there any other options? (Assume flying is not an option because it's $300.)

I'm making this trip for a time-sensitive appointment, so I can't really handle any delays. I've been burned by totally bananas Amtrak delays (on other routes) in the past. A 1-hour delay here would put me at risk of missing my appointment.

How reliably on-time is the Seattle -> Portland leg of Amtrak? What about Flixbus? (I don't care about delays on Portland -> Seattle leg.)
posted by cnidaria to Travel & Transportation around Portland, OR (10 answers total)
Best answer: I have done this Amtrak trip a couple times (in both directions.) the Washington State Department of Transporation has this page on on-time performance of the Cascades route. It’s… not great.

If you do roll the dice on Amtrak, definitely ensure that you are booking a ticket on a Cascades route. The Coast Starlight also runs this route but the entire route is Seattle-Los Angeles (or vice versa) and that on-time performance is dismal. Delays of several hours are not uncommon.
posted by rhymedirective at 7:11 PM on April 16 [7 favorites]

Best answer: The Seattle > Portland leg should be relatively safe because it’s the start of the run. Going North tends to be dicier because any delays earlier in the run propagate. I’ve had the bus be an hour+ delayed because of traffic, so that’s not a sure thing either.

That said, I would plan for a backup if possible (plan to leave on an earlier route than you otherwise need to, in case something runs late).
posted by momus_window at 7:23 PM on April 16

Response by poster: I just checked, and it's 195 miles from my apartment to where I'm going. I need to do a round-trip.

I think my personal bike limit in a day is a century, and that's on the flat. But seriously, I wanna meet the person who can hit 400 miles in a day! And my hat's off to even the folks who do the STP bike ride one-way, that's a haul. <3
posted by cnidaria at 8:02 PM on April 16 [1 favorite]

To the best of my knowledge, STP is usually done in two days, by most bikers. Such as it is, a flight — as short as it is, relative to the time spent in an airport — is perhaps your safest bet for avoiding delays. Outcomes from using rail or highway are subject to the whims of Amtrak or vehicular traffic jams.
posted by They sucked his brains out! at 9:45 PM on April 16 [1 favorite]

Mod note: A couple deleted. OP is not asking about biking.
posted by taz (staff) at 10:17 PM on April 16 [2 favorites]

I’ve taken the Cascade run to Portland many time pre-Covid. I’ve driven, and I’ve taken the bus. The big advantage of the train is that it doesn’t get stuck in traffic on I-5. The big advantage to the bus is that the road doesn’t wash out (track washouts on the SEA-PDX route are not uncommon).
Personally, I love the train, but I’ve never taken it with a time constraint. Should be relatively on time if you take an early morning train.
posted by dbmcd at 8:58 AM on April 17 [1 favorite]

I've taken Amtrak to Portland from Seattle a few times, and I've never had significant delays. is a site dedicated to the Amtrak Cascades; they may have more information.
posted by spinifex23 at 9:38 AM on April 17

Best answer: Here's this year's data on the 503 Cascades train (the first one of the day). It's bad. I'd be uncomfortable with any less than 3-4 hours of buffer time on arrival, not including getting from the train station to an appointment.

The other trains (11, 517, 505, 507) are not better. I quite like the train and have taken this exact route before. But it's just not reliable.
posted by davidest at 10:17 AM on April 17 [1 favorite]

Could you take a flight for the time-sensitive trip down, and take the cheaper train back up? That's the option I'd be looking into in your situation.
posted by dorey_oh at 12:19 PM on April 17 [3 favorites]

I'd do a flight down, you can leave quite early! Then either MAXTrain it from the PDX Airport (depending on your appointment location) or grab a cab or rideshare then take the train back. Although, I have a feeling roundtrip airfare might actually be cheaper?
posted by amanda at 4:29 PM on April 17

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