Over the years, I have had lots of reasons to travel between Portland and Seattle, and to other places around Washington and Oregon. I will confess right here that most of that travel has been by car. To a certain extent, I have not practiced moving around by public transportation as well as I have preached it. However, a bit of recent practice has got me thinking that leaving the car at home might not be as bad as it once was.

There is no doubting the convenience of the car for getting to places locally at whatever whim you might have at the moment. On the other hand, for the bulk of the trip between the two cities, it sure is nice to let someone else do the driving for you. The only trick to this is simply a bit of advance planning.

The background story is that my car’s starter decided to quit on the night before my trip to Seattle for my 30th high school reunion. The next morning, the local car rental agency called and said they didn’t have a car to rent that morning, even though one was reserved online. While I was muttering about what I was going to find to drive, someone asked if this was the time to suggest that “Mr Transit” might just want to walk his talk and take the train to Seattle. After giving that about 10 minutes of thought, I shed all the excess stuff that I was carrying down to one bag and headed downtown.

I hadn’t been on the train to Seattle in a couple of years, and most of my train recollections revolve around the Coast Starlight of the past. The train, to me, was a slow mode of transport that was frequently too late to be of value. What I found out was that the Amtrak Cascades is really a great little train. The Talgo trrainset that they use is pretty comfortable. The trip is a fast 3.5 hours Portland to Seattle. It’s certainly not my Father’s Amtrak train! This trip made me remember just how efficient this trip can be, even though the train itself was full in both directions.

On my particular trip from Portland to Seattle, we started out at a 20-minute disadvantage, since there was a bridge up to allow a ship to pass on the Willamette River. This was easily made up, though, before we arrived in Seattle.

The one thing that disappointed me at a personal level was an inability to take a decent photo out the window of the train. Now, I guess you can’t expect to do well at 60 mph, but I was hoping for better results than I got. There must be a way to do that. But the fact is that I would have never have had 3.5 hours to contemplate photography or reading or working on my laptop had I been driving. I look at that as time gained rather than as time lost. Furthermore, I arrived without having to deal with 50 miles of Friday rush-hour traffic approaching Seattle.

As far as making transit connections, taking the train connects you with the best of transit on both ends of the connection. Portland’s Union Station is right on the Tri-Met Transit Mall. In Seattle, likewise, it is only a couple of blocks to most of the available transit options from King Street Station. I found a bus on 3rd Avenue that took me directly to my hotel. It was a 45-minute trip, but if I had known I was leaving the car at home, I would have chosen the hotel differently. As it was, I got to two events just fine on the bus, with only one late-night taxi home the entire 3-day trip. A day of fun in Seattle was also done via transit.

By the way, if you ever do the trip on the train, unless you’re really pinching pennies, you might consider springing for the extra $14 for Business Class. I did on the way back just because I was getting sore and tired, and it was totally worth it. If not for the extra big seats, then just for the fact that you don’t have to stand in the endless line in Seattle to check in and get a seat assignment. On the other hand, the trip up was perfectly acceptable in regular coach class. Certainly no issues there with space or legroom, even for a rather large person such as myself.

I am going to be rethinking how I travel around Cascadia from now on. Yes, there are certainly times where you need a car to get around. However, depending upon your destination, it will often be more convenient and less expensive to simply take the train and other public transit to my destination. You might consider trying this yourself next time.