Portland with bike and dog! And Amtrak Coast Starlight vs. Amtrak Cascades

So much new! Amtrak Coast Starlight recently started allowing roll-up bike service (previously bikes had to be boxed) and while I’ve heard from lots of people that the Coast Starlight often runs late, I couldn’t pass up a chance to give it a go because all our past trips have been aboard the Amtrak Cascades line. Also, PETS CAN RIDE NOW! Just small pets, but my pet is small! LOOK: Pets are free if you book in the next few days! Otherwise it’s $25. So I packed up bike and dog and headed down to Portland for a weekend recently: Coast Starlight on the way down, Cascades line on the way back up.

Main take-aways about Amtrak Coast Starlight versus Amtrak Cascades:

Amtrak Coast Starlight Amtrak Cascades
Usually runs late Often runs late
Loooooooong train Short and sweet train
No Wi-Fi Patchy Wi-Fi
Observation car! No observation car
Stairs! All one level
Restrooms are down a flight of stairs Restrooms at end of each car
Seatmates are traveling to Los Angeles End of the line is only Portland or Eugene
Tons of legroom, seats recline Bus/airline amount of legroom

My loaded-up Surly Straggler:


All my stuff is in my two big panniers (Swift Industries Roll Top Panniers), Pixie’s in the front basket, Timbuk2 Muttmover Backpack is bungeed atop my rear rack.

How dogs ride
Pixie was required to be in a carrier while moving around the train, but it was OK for her to sit on my lap–though not directly on a seat–so I used the backpack for boarding and walking around the train (to and from observation car, restroom, and cafe).


The long walk from the baggage car
The first thing I noticed as I wheeled my bike halfway to Tacoma to reach the baggage car at the front of the train was that this was a loooooong train. Amtrak Cascades is short with the baggage car at the back, right by station. I’m not sure this is intentional for passengers with bikes, but I’ve always been seated in one of the closest two cars. I upgraded to business class once when it was really cheap, but after having to lug my heavy panniers the length of the Amtrak Cascades train I realized it wasn’t worth it. This train was sooooo much longer than that. I really don’t like carrying my panniers around, but stronger people, or those with lighter panniers, might not think this is worth consideration.


Coast Starlight only offers Wi-Fi in business class. I’m not sure if Cascades’ patchy Wi-Fi is better or worse, though. I always think I’ll get tons of stuff done aboard the train and spend most the time frustrated at the Internet connection. I’ll admit it was relaxing leaving my laptop off, but it might keep me from using the Coast Starlight unless I’m going farther than Portland.

Observation car
Look at all those windows!


Amtrak Cascades has additional seating in the cafe and dining cars, but I’ve only once scored a seat. This observation car was huge with plenty of available seating.

Double decker!
It’s like a real train! There are stairs! Very narrow stairs. And the restrooms are all downstairs so you don’t get to stay up top once you’re up. There’s some seating downstairs, but it looked pretty dark and lonely.


Really reclining seats
There is tons of legroom because the seats almost fully recline. There are sleeper cars, too, and were I traveling all the way to Los Angeles with the kids (which I think would be fun, but exhausting), I’d want to splurge on one of those, but a lot of long-distance passengers opted to ride in the cheap seats. It was neat sitting with people embarking on such a big trip. The woman next to me was on her way to LA and said they wouldn’t arrive until 9pm the following night (or probably later considering we were over an hour late to Portland).


One last thing
One cool thing about having the baggage car at the front of the train is that there’s a great view out the back. The view of one’s bike hanging in the dark baggage car at the back of Amtrak Cascades is cool in a different way, but this view is out-of-a-train-movie cool, right?


The weekend itself was really fun and I’ll try to write it up soon(ish), but in the meantime, all my photos are here: Portland with Pixie – October 21-23, 2016 – 269 photos

4 thoughts on “Portland with bike and dog! And Amtrak Coast Starlight vs. Amtrak Cascades

  1. I took the Coast Starlight with my bike back from a ride in California last year. The business class WiFi is nothing to write home about — it’s just a Verizon “Mi-Fi” device sitting on the back wall of the car inside a plastic bubble. Same sort of thing you’d get by tethering your phone. Same lack of coverage you’d expect with your phone as well (which is actually quite a lot).

    Having boxed up a bike twice on the Coast Starlight (and had to bring a pedal wrench the entire trip), it’s great to hear this is no longer needed!

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