The Amtrak Coast Starlight — almost perfect
Regular IBIT readers know I’m a big fan of rail travel. Well, maybe equal parts rail travel fan and air travel hater, but if you fly these days in anything but Business or First Class, you know why.
My favorite Amtrak rail ride is the Coast Starlight, which runs between Seattle and Los Angeles. Beautifully scenic, peaceful, de-stressing. And no need to deal with the nightmare that is LAX. Almost the perfect cross-country train.
So what makes the Coast Starlight fall just short of perfection? For me, it’s because the route itself falls short — at both ends.
Down here in Southern California, if you want to travel to San Diego, you have to change trains in Los Angeles to the Pacific Surfliner.
The Surfliner is a lovely little inter-city commuter with some spectacular coastal views of its own. If the train were any closer to the surf passing through San Clemente, you might have dolphins in your window. But why not just continue the Coast Starlight all the way down to San Diego?
At the opposite end of the route, things get worse.
Just a few hours north of Seattle is beautiful British Columbia and its gorgeous provincial capital, Vancouver.
Does Amtrak have a train running to Vancouver? Yes. But if you’re on the Coast Starlight, you can’t take it.
The Amtrak Cascades runs from Eugene, OR through Washington state and across the Canadian border. But it doesn’t connect with the Coast Starlight. If you arrive in Seattle on the Starlight with plans to continue north to Vancouver, you will be taken off your train and put on a bus.
Seriously, Amtrak…a bus?
My friend, fellow rail travel enthusiast and IBIT guest columnist Walt Baranger points out that on the East Coast, Amtrak has a train, the Maple Leaf, that runs from New York City’s Penn Station north across the border to Toronto. The only train change involved is if you decide to extend your Canadian rail trip to Niagara Falls.
Why can’t this be done on the West Coast?
I’ve put that question to Amtrak. I’ll let you know the answer when — or if — I get one.