Amtrak trains provide way for students to travel home

Illustration of an Amtrak train against a dark blue background
Sofia Reeves / The Mossy Log

The holiday season is upon us, and besides decorative lights, food and family, this means travel. Many Lewis and Clark students from across the country (and beyond in some cases) traveled home this past Thanksgiving break, and will make the trek again in two weeks for winter break. For most, this may mean a flight, while Oregonians will largely be driving home. As for Washingtonians like us, we have a few choices.

The first, of course, is driving. Driving to Seattle takes about three hours without traffic and requires that you have a car, or that someone from Washington picks you up – in most cases, this means a six-hour driving day for them. Driving to Seattle costs about $30 in gas, depending on the fuel efficiency of your car and where you buy gas. The obvious advantage to driving is the flexibility it lends — it is no problem to leave whenever you want, make whatever stops you please and bring as much baggage as your heart desires.

But what about those of us who do not have cars? Well, planes save Washingtonians neither time nor money, and are the most environmentally impactful mode of transit — almost never the best option.

Amtrak passenger trains, meanwhile, provide a comfortable, affordable and less stressful mode of egress from Portland. In fact, we are presently composing this article as we sit in the padded and patterned coach seats of a northbound train. As is common for the holidays, the train is completely sold out, and while the train car is quite full, it does not feel overcrowded.

The legroom is respectable and the aisle is wide enough to get up and stretch every now and then. Wall outlets also provide a luxury, allowing you to play games on any device without fear of them running out of battery. There is nothing that quite encapsulates the train experience like playing chess on your laptop with a friend (or brand-new friend) sitting next to you.

This trip, we are riding on the Amtrak Cascades. If you happen to get a seat on the Coast Starlight, though, you will have access to a two-story observation carriage with tall windows, spacious seats and great views. Regardless of which train you are on, they all have a snack carriage where you can sit and eat at a table mid-trip.

Furthermore, trains can be the cheapest option if you play your cards right. If you buy tickets early, they can be as cheap as $22 one way (as they were for us). In most cases, this beats cars, and you can bet that it beats planes as well. However, if you delay, ticket prices can spike up to $50. It is best to buy tickets a couple of weeks in advance if you want to travel on a budget. Regardless, tickets are always refundable in the case of an unforeseen event on Amtrak’s part. And for an $8 fee, you can protect your ride to be able to exchange your ticket and get your money back if you decide to change your plans. Personally, we tend to travel without the added insurance, as the situations where it is needed are uncommon, but the option is there if that makes you more comfortable.

Taking the train is a fairly straightforward process and should not be intimidating: Just buy a ticket at Perhaps the most difficult part is getting to the train station. If you have a friend with a car who is willing to drive you, that is great; if not, you still have several options. You could take a Lyft — like we decided to do this time — or save some money and get a little exercise: From campus, take the Pioneer Express, and then walk to the station. The walk from the Pio stop at Portland State University is a pleasant mile and a half stroll along 6th Ave.

We went straight through downtown with no turns, enjoyed looking at the city lit up for the holidays in the dark of the evening and finally arrived at the station with an hour to spare (we recommend you give yourself at least a 30-minute buffer to make sure you do not miss your train). If you prefer not to walk from PSU, you can take the Portland Streetcar or MAX line from 10th and Clay to 9th and Lovejoy. We arrived at the station, and a few chess games later, the train arrived, at which point we joined the long queue of people waiting for the conductors to scan their tickets and were guided onto the train. Along the way, we saw some familiar faces of LC students. Sometimes taking the train to Washington can be a real party.

No matter how you elect to get home, we wish you safe travels and a happy holiday season. Maybe, just maybe, we will see you on the Amtrak.

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