OTOL Pacific Northwest RailFest 2010 LITE
July 18-23, 2010
Photos by Lynn Hammond, Eric Minton, Jishnu Mukerji, and John Corbett.
Chapter 6.11: Dinner at Duke's Chowder House
Duke's was recommended by Mark. Since he works in the neighborhood, he was able to go there a couple of times and talk with management long before our arrival in town to ensure they could handle our large group. They did have a diverse menu, and in the end handled our group very well.
Chapter 6.12: Seattle Streetcar, South Lake Union Line, Fairview to Westlake Center
One portion of the group who had been served first and thus finished first also left first. They caught a streetcar at 8:29 PM (the exact scheduled time on our itinerary) and got back to Westlake Center ten minutes later. The rest of us were on the next streetcar at 8:44 PM. Mark rode with us one stop along the lake and then switched to a bus to go home. At 8:54 we had arrived at Westlake, and there we broke up for the night to go to our respective hotels.
Chapter 6.13: End of Wednesday's activities
That ended another exciting day, but now rest was in order as we had an early start on tap for Thursday.
Chapter 7: Thursday, July 22, 2010
A very long day included Amtrak travel to the last element of our three city tour, Vancouver, as well as riding that city's transit system.
Chapter 7.1: Amtrak train #510, Cascades, Seattle, WA to Vancouver, BC
This was by far our earliest meeting time of the Fest, necessitated by a 7:40 AM Amtrak departure to Vancouver. Now familiar with the first-come-first-served nature of getting seating assignments, most of us dragged ourselves out of bed to get to King Street Station an hour before departure.
There were 13 of us together this morning, namely John, Jishnu, Rick, Grace, Alan, Steve, Piotr, Mark, Lynn, Mike, Evan, Eric, and me. Mark would be riding with us to Bellingham, while the rest of us were headed to Vancouver. We were scattered around the train once more, with some in one of two Business Class cars, and others in Coach Class.
Train #510 departed from Seattle on time at 7:40 AM. We moved through the tunnel and came out next to the Puget Sound waterfront. Immediately to our left was what is left of the George Benson Waterfront Streetcar line, now reduced to just buses.
We made Edmonds on time at 8:07 AM, and left Everett on time at 8:31 AM. Everett features a very large "S" curve, more like the curve of a drain pipe as trains headed north end up facing almost due south when they stop at the Everett station. Just past the station, the Stevens Pass line used by the Empire Builder continues south before turning east, and the Cascades line turns sharply to the left to face north to head towards Vancouver.
We passed through the town of Marysville at 8:50 AM. It doesn't have a train station, but the town looks like it's large enough to support a stop. The next scheduled station stop is Stanwood, the newest one having just opened in November of 2009. We were still right on time when we left there at 9:03 AM. Fifteen minutes later, we were leaving our next stop, Mt. Vernon, still on schedule.
We pulled into Bellingham, the last US stop, at 9:44 AM, five minutes early. We said goodbye to Mark, who some of us would see again on Friday evening. Our train departed at 9:49 AM, remaining right on time.
Approximately half an hour later, we passed the Peace Arch, symbolizing the highway international border crossing. Our train remained at speed as we continued into Canada. Soon we were passing the city of White Rock, BC, itself a suburb of Vancouver.
As with the approach to any city, as we got closer the suburbs became more built up. Eventually the track carrying our train ran next to one of the SkyTrain lines, though the latter remained elevated while we were on the surface.
Once we got to the platform, a gate was closed behind our train, making the fenced-in platform "sterile". All checked luggage was taken off the train and placed on the platform to be claimed as people walked by. Then each car in turn, starting with Business Class, was given permission to detrain and be processed by the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA).
Chapter 7.2: In Vancouver
Everyone made it okay through the CBSA check, but the process did take a little longer than expected since we had been in different cars. Originally we were to go our separate ways, have lunch, and reconvene at Waterfront Station at 2:00 PM. Since it was already close to 12:30, it was agreed to postpone the start of our official activities until 3:30 PM.
The South Coast British Columbia Transportation Authority, better known as TransLink, would be our host agency in the Vancouver area. TransLink consists of several divisions. The bus subsidiary is known as Coast Mountain Bus Company (CMBC). The rapid transit, our main reason for being there, is SkyTrain. TransLink also administers the West Coast Express, a commuter rail line that runs between Vancouver and suburban Mission. (We would not be able to ride West Coast Express because it operates strictly on a rush hour schedule in the direction of the flow.) CMBC in turn also operates a ferry across Burrard Inlet called SeaBus, which connects all the other modes at Waterfront Station with Lonsdale Quay. There, it meets another group of CMBC bus routes serving North Vancouver.
Around 3 PM, the participants started showing up at Waterfront Station. We had parked ourselves on the platform used by the Expo Line and the Millennium Line. Watching the action we were awed at how short the headways were, and how quickly they turned the trains on a tail track to head in the opposite direction.
I went up into the station lobby to meet other participants as they arrived, and I directed them down to join the rest of the group. When all 12 of us were together at the underground platform, we prepared to board the next train. We departed at 3:20 PM.
Chapter 7.3: TransLink SkyTrain Expo Line, Waterfront to King George
During the downtime getting to our hotels, many of us had already ridden parts of the SkyTrain system. This however was our first official group trip, a 39 minute run through the cities of Vancouver, Burnaby, New Westminster, and Surrey to the final stop at King George. It was by far the longest segment we would ride that day.
The Expo Line was the first line built, and it opened in segments between 1986 and 1994. It wasn't however named the Expo Line until 2002, when the Millennium Line opened.
It was a nice trip, predominantly on elevated tracks once we had passed the several underground stations in the Dunsmuir Tunnel in downtown Vancouver. The big feature of the ride to Surrey is crossing over the Fraser River on SkyBridge, the world's longest cable supported transit-only bridge.
We noticed that SkyTrain's general operating scheme calls for operators to change ends and turn the trains on tail tracks beyond the endpoint stations. So after arriving at King George at 3:59 PM, we had to leave the train, go downstairs, and then return upstairs to the opposite platform for the inbound train.
Chapter 7.4: TransLink SkyTrain Expo Line, King George to Columbia
We are not exactly the fastest moving bunch of people, but we still managed to be aboard the inbound train and out of King George at 4:04 PM, just five minutes after we had arrived. This trip took us back to New Westminster, where we would change trains at the Columbia station (the last station before the Expo Line and Millennium Line diverge. We arrived there at 4:14 PM. And here too we had to go downstairs and come up again.
Chapter 7.5: TransLink SkyTrain Millennium Line, Columbia to VCC/Clark
The first train to come was one headed for King George (where we had just been), so we had to wait a little longer. Still, our layover was just six minutes at Columbia, as we were on our way at 4:20 PM. The Millennium Line, despite its name, did not open at the turn of the century. It opened in several increments between early 2002 and early 2006.
Early in its planning, the line was supposed to have a branch to Coquitlam. The branch was never built, although provisions for the connection to it were incorporated into the Lougheed Town Centre station. Current plans call for the Coquitlam route to be known as the Evergreen Line. The Evergreen Line, set to open in 2014, will most likely run interlined with the Millennium Line towards VCC/Clark and eventually beyond.
At 4:48 PM our train arrived at the VCC/Clark station. Yet another station with side platforms, we once again had to walk to the other side. The only difference was that since this station sits in a rail yard, we had to go upstairs first and then down again.
Chapter 7.6: TransLink SkyTrain Millennium Line, VCC/Clark to Commercial/Broadway
Four minutes after we had arrived, we were on our way east from VCC/Clark on what would be the shortest of our SkyTrain trips. It would take just two minutes to go one stop to Commercial/Broadway.
Commercial/Broadway is the merging of two station stops on different lines (connected since the Millennium Line opened). The lower station on this part of the Millennium Line (located in a trench) was called Commercial Drive, and the station on the elevated Expo Line (also shared with the Millennium Line) was called Broadway. Elevators, escalators, and walkways connect the two. We could have remained aboard the same train to return to downtown Vancouver, but making this transfer would save us a lot of time.
Chapter 7.7: TransLink SkyTrain Millennium Line, Commercial/Broadway to Waterfront
It took us just three minutes to walk over the walkway to the elevated platform, and a minute later, the next train came. There is no way of knowing whether this inbound train had come from VCC/Clark or King George, as both lines only show Waterfront as their destination in this direction. We departed from Commercial/Broadway at 4:58 PM. Nine minutes later we were arriving at Waterfront Station.
The original plan was to ride the SkyTrain Expo Line and Millennium Line on Thursday, and then do the Canada Line on Friday afternoon, leaving Friday morning for sightseeing. A few members of the group proposed earlier in our travels that we ride the Canada Line on Thursday evening after finishing the other two lines, thus giving us more sightseeing time on Friday. I was certainly in agreement, and after presenting the concept to the rest, we agreed to keep on going and ride the entire SkyTrain system on Thursday's DayPass.
Chapter 7.8: TransLink SkyTrain Canada Line, Waterfront to Vancouver International Airport
The Canada Line, while it shares Waterfront Station, is not physically connected with the other two lines. So we therefore went up into the station and then down another set of escalators to get to the Canada Line platform.
The platform was crowded, as it was the height of the rush hour. A lot of people were waiting with us. Like the previous SkyTrain lines, the Waterfront station had a center island platform. However, even though it was the rush hour, trains on this line were only using one track and turning within the station. Inbound trains switch to the outbound track south of, or before arriving at Waterfront. Trains alternate between the two endpoints, namely the Vancouver International Airport and Richmond-Brighouse.
Seating appeared to be at a premium as crush loads prevailed. We let one Airport-bound train leave because we all never would have fit inside comfortably. Then a Richmond-bound train came in and left in the same condition. We noticed that outbound commuters at intermediate stops would board inbound trains and ride the wrong way to Waterfront, just so that could get seats for the outbound trip.
We got on a train headed for the airport at 5:20 PM, and crowded in. There would not be much to see anyhow, initially, as this line was built primarily under Cambie Street in a subway most of the way through Vancouver.
The tracks come to the surface around 64th Avenue, cross the North Arm Bridge over the Fraser River, and then remain elevated. After the Bridgeport station, the line splits into the two branches. We would be visiting the Airport first.
Our trip remained on time. Many of us were standing for almost the entire 25 minute trip. Most of the crowd had detrained by the time we reached Bridgeport.
Before the airport station, the line goes down to one track. The station has just one platform on one side of the train. So there was no cross platform transfer or mad dash on stairways and elevators to make the next train; it was clear that the train we had arrived on had to be the next inbound train. We got to the airport station at 5:45 PM, and the same equipment left going inbound at 5:47 PM.
Chapter 7.9: TransLink SkyTrain Canada Line, Vancouver International Airport to Bridgeport
After our two minute turnaround, we were now headed back to Bridgeport to transfer to the other branch and our dinner stop. We got to Bridgeport (already in the city of Richmond) five minutes later at 5:52 PM. Finally, we had an island platform to make our transfer easier. Weary after many more strenuous transfers, this was a welcome amenity.
Chapter 7.10: TransLink SkyTrain Canada Line, Bridgeport to Richmond-Brighouse
A train headed to the airport came first, so we refrained from boarding it. The second train to arrive was headed for our destination, Richmond-Brighouse. All told, our dwell at Bridgeport was just six minutes. We left there at 5:58 PM, and headed further into the city of Richmond. The line runs over No. 3 Road.
Approaching the final station stop, just like the Airport branch, the line goes down to one track. Thus there is only one side platform making use of the station quite simple. There is a tail track beyond the station, and being late in the rush hour, this equipment was going out of service. Waiting passengers were told not to board this train, and we would have done the same had this not been dinnertime. We left the station and walked across No. 3 Road to this neighborhood's largest regional shopping mall, Richmond Centre.
Chapter 7.11: Dinner at Richmond Centre
This mall has a huge food court, so we certainly had our choice of delicacies. After dining at several adjacent tables, we called it a day. Feeling the fatigue from what was a very long day some opted to begin walking back towards SkyTrain before the rest. However, when everyone else was done, we met up with the first group. We all ended up boarding the next SkyTrain at the same time.
Chapter 7.12: TransLink SkyTrain Canada Line, Richmond-Brighouse to Waterfront
Our final official ride together on SkyTrain started when we left Richmond-Brighouse at 7:00 PM. A few got off at Bridgeport to go to their nearby hotels. We finally disbanded at Waterfront Station as everyone continued in different directions to their respective accommodations. We said goodbye to Rick, who would be remaining in Vancouver a couple more days before heading home by rail.
Chapter 7.13: End of Thursday's activities
A day that saw us catch a very early Amtrak train and then ride the entire Vancouver system in the late afternoon had come to a close. However we now had the night and most of the next day to ourselves.
Mark's plan, meanwhile, was to return from Bellingham to Seattle Thursday evening on Train #517, but upon hearing that train was severely delayed, he opted for a Greyhound bus instead.
Chapter 8: Friday, July 23, 2010
Friday we left open for sightseeing at one's own pace. Those continuing their travels home would meet in the afternoon in advance of our trips, and depart from Vancouver. Most in the group later returned on Amtrak back to Seattle for one more evening.
Chapter 8.1: In Vancouver
The Fest participants were pretty much on our own most of Friday, until we met again later on at Pacific Central Station. Previously during the planning process, there were thoughts of visiting the Capilano Suspension Bridge and/or the Grouse Mountain Skyride. However both of these would require a trip on the SeaBus plus a bus ride from Lonsdale Quay to the attraction. Therefore nobody was comfortable going that far from downtown given we had connections to make later in the day.
Instead we remained closer to downtown, doing things like taking a round trip just on the SeaBus, or visiting the downtown observatory at Vancouver Lookout.
Around 2 PM the remaining 11 people started arriving at Pacific Central Station. Some of us had a snack in McDonald's while waiting for the others. Admittedly my snack was a ploy to get rid of remaining Canadian currency before leaving the country.
Grace and Alan said their farewells to the group, as they would be taking the Canadian later that evening. Thwarted last summer (after our SoCal Fest) from doing so due to a strike, they looked forward to their three nights (parts of four days) on the rails across Canada to Toronto, followed by a return to New York on Amtrak's Maple Leaf.
When boarding was announced for the Cascades train, we went through the US Customs & Border Protection (CBP) pre-clearance. The same exact facilities are used, only they are staffed by US CBP agents. Again our group made it through with flying colors, and we then went and boarded our train. Again it was in the fenced in track and platform area to preserve integrity of the border inspection. The nine of us were split up among the two Business Class cars, and a few were in Coach Class.
Chapter 8.2: Amtrak train #517, Cascades, Vancouver, BC to Seattle, WA
This train had the same exact consist as we had on #510 coming up, only the P-42 engine was up front now. Likewise the Business Class cars were ahead of the food service and Coach Class cars.
Our train did not leave at 5:45 PM as advertised. We did not begin moving out of the station until about 6:00, and then we paused a few more times in the yard (which may be routine). We were moving at speed by 6:04 PM.
We were joined by an unexpected tenth person for part of our trip. Dave Amero is a friend of Eric's. The two had met at a fireworks display in Hawaii when Eric lived there and Dave was visiting. Dave is a licensed pyrotechnician in Canada, lives in the Vancouver area, and is also a railfan. He knew Eric was coming along with our group, so he had set up a welcoming display of flares and an "Aloha, Eric" sign when Train #510 was arriving into Vancouver the previous day. A few on the correct side of the train had seen it but didn't know what to make of it at the time.
Dave managed to get a ticket from Vancouver to Bellingham on Train #517, so he joined us for the trip. Initially he was sitting in one of the Coach Class cars with Eric, but he came up to Business Class and introduced himself to the rest of us. During our travels through the suburbs east and south of the city, he pointed out some interesting rail-related sites.
Approaching the border crossing, everyone had to return to their seats. In Blaine, WA, where a secondary check of the train and passengers is done, Dave asked the agents if he could be let off there. After the inspection his request was granted, so we never saw him again. From Blaine he was able to walk back over the border into White Rock, BC, and take a bus home.
After Dave left us in Blaine, we were back down to nine people. The border stop had been fairly quick, but we did not make up any time we had lost getting out of the Vancouver station. We got to our first stop in Bellingham at 8:00 PM, and left at 8:04 PM (24 minutes late). A lot of passengers got on here. About half an hour late we departed from our Mt. Vernon station stop. Stanwood came at 8:49 PM, and we still were 24 minutes down.
It was 9:08 PM when we passed through the town of Marysville, not a station stop. Next at 9:24 PM came Everett, which was. Being past the evening rush hour, there were several Sounder consists on sidings just before we came to that station.
Edmonds came next at 9:49 PM, and when we departed at 9:51 we were now 27 minutes off the advertised. Padding as usual improved our timekeeping a bit. We arrived at Seattle's King Street Station at 10:18 PM, just 13 minutes late. With our Seattle arrival, the OTOL PNW Fest Lite was officially over!
Chapter 8.3: End of Friday's activities
Being so late and with plans for Saturday, we were eager to get to our hotels and get some sleep. Unfortunately those relying on taxicabs had a long wait for one despite it being a daily train arrival time. Mark greeted us at the station once more to say hello and goodbye, and he gave Piotr and me rides to our respective hotels.
Chapter 9: Saturday, July 24, 2010
On Saturday, some had morning trains to catch out of Seattle. Eric and Evan would be going south to California on the Coast Starlight. Jishnu and Steve would be taking the same train as far as Portland, and then the Portland section of the Empire Builder eastward. John would be flying east on Saturday.
On the other hand, Piotr, Lynn, Mike, and I would be leaving Seattle later on Saturday to catch the Seattle section of the Empire Builder, so we had time to sleep later and sightsee. From my hotel I walked three blocks to Seattle Center, and used the Monorail as transit to get from there to Westlake Center. The red Monorail was running today, so life was good! I then went onward to King Street Station to drop my luggage. My free time in Seattle included visiting the Pike Place Market, lunch at Westlake Center, and a lot of walking in between. Both places were extremely crowded on a summer Saturday.
Chapter 10: Conclusion
Without a doubt, we will be back to the Pacific Northwest again! Portland has a promising transit future. The Portland Streetcar is currently undergoing an expansion that will result in the line running in a full loop along both sides of the Willamette River. We have unfinished business with the Willamette Shore Trolley, although it ultimately may be replaced by another extension of the Portland Streetcar. There are plans for MAX to extend north to Vancouver, WA and south to Milwaukie, OR, and there has been talk of another WES-like service connecting with MAX in Hillsboro.
In Seattle, the Seattle Streetcar will have its second line, the First Hill Line, up and running in a few years. The Central LINK is under construction to the University of Washington, and long range plans will bring it further north to Northgate Mall by 2020. It may be extended south from the airport as well. Sounder, meanwhile, will soon extend beyond Tacoma to Lakewood, while the light rail will have an East LINK serving suburbs along I-90.
And in Vancouver, hopefully someday reverse peak service will be instituted on the West Coast Express. SkyTrain in several years will have the Evergreen Line in service, as well as some planned extensions to the existing lines.
But for now, our first group visit to the Pacific Northwest was over. It was another fun time for everyone involved. Of course the only bright side about it ending was being able to look forward to more of these events. Some of us met again later the same summer and in January of 2011 to ride the rails in the New York City area. Our future holds more train riding again this summer!