Mo & Terry Smedley
We left Hoquiam at 11:45AM, riding a shuttle van to the Amtrak station in Centralia. Our Talgo train to Seattle was right on time, departing Centralia at 1:45PM and arriving into Seattle a few minutes early at 3:50 PM. The Empire Builder (which originates in Seattle) was late pulling out of the coach yard into King Street Station. We departed Seattle just under an hour late, shortly after 5:30 PM. We enjoyed a nice ride up the Sound to Everett, with beautiful late afternoon sun all the way. We had dinner on the Empire Builder as we climbed Stevens Pass, arriving at the 8 mile long Cascade Tunnel at 8:30 PM.
Friday morning we began our climb of the Rockies, passing through Whitefish, West Glacier and waving to the crowd at the Isaak Walton Inn at Essex. There were lots of passengers getting on and off at the three stops in or near Glacier Park. Based on announcements from the train crew, we believe the Empire Builder was sold out all along our route.
As we continued through the plains of Montana, we could see dark clouds looming to the East. We were treated to a surreal light show from the most intense electrical storm I've ever witnessed. Of course in the Coastal Northwest, we rarely see any electrical storms. And when we do, we can only see what is high in the sky because of all the trees. The storm we traveled through near Stanley, North Dakota was incredibly intense. Lightning flashes occurred just seconds apart, frequently touching down within a short distance of the train. Because there were no trees do interrupt the view, we could easily see the bolts of lightning cut through the sky and touch down in a blinding flash of light. The storm stayed at that intensity for over an hour, with lightning discharges every 5 seconds or so! Twice, our train stopped for safety considerations - once because of crosswinds in excess of 60mph, and again a short time later because the lighting activity was just too close for comfort. Quite a show of nature! I'm glad I wasn't driving.
We arrived into Chicago about an hour and a half late - not bad considering we left Seattle about an hour late. We had plenty of time to make our connections to the Lakeshore Limited departing Eastbound at 8PM. The Lakeshore, operating on very congested Norfolk-Southern & CSX tracks, ran into trouble just a few miles from Chicago. We stopped numerous times for opposing freight traffic, and were obviously following a slow-moving freight as our train "rode the yellows" at about 20 MPH for several hours through Indiana. By morning, we were over two hours late into Buffalo, so we elected to get off one stop early at Rochester rather than risk our connection at Syracuse. Not unexpected given the typical arrival times we'd sampled before leaving. In Rochester we saw a couple of interesting markers from the New York Central in the late 1800s.
We made the connection to the Toronto-bound train fine. We passed through Niagara Falls on our way to the border crossing, which was fairly quick - passports definitely help speed this process. Meal service on this train was limited to rather dismal microwave sandwiches. Hopefully we'll be able to find something better when we get to Toronto tonight. We're expecting to arrive about 8:30 PM.
Mo's favorite quote of the day (from the cafe car attendant on the Toronto train):
Attendant: We have everything except
A final note: We always think of Washington as being the greenest state. With our drought-like conditions in the summer, even Western Washington browns out in August and September. As we rolled through rich, green farmlands in Ohio and Western New York, I was struck by how green other parts of the country are!