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The Perks of Traveling from LAX to PDX by Train

The Coast Starlight’s best days may be behind us, but it’s not too late.

By Margaret Seiler January 21, 2020 Published in the February 2020 issue of Portland Monthly

This view: yet another reason to ditch the I-5 traffic

The beach-hugging track by Santa Barbara and Point Arguello, views of the Diablo and Santa Lucia mountain ranges, Mount Shasta and Oregon’s Cascades, all enjoyed from a reclining seat with ample leg room and a glass of wine in your hand (or from your own private sleeper car), with nary a care about I-5 traffic or mountain pass conditions. It’s no surprise the Coast Starlight between Seattle and LA is on many a travel bucket list. If it’s on yours, it might be time to make that reservation.

With the agency’s focus on its commuter-heavy Northeast Corridor, Amtrak’s long-haul routes in the rest of the country are constantly rumored to be on the chopping block, set to reduce service or even disappear altogether in a future funding cycle. It hasn’t happened yet, but changes are afoot. Amtrak has already ended traditional dining car service on some routes. (The Coast Starlight still has its kitchen, for now.)

With the train taking a scheduled 30 hours in each direction, the practical traveler might opt to take the train only one way, either leaving Portland in the afternoon or leaving Los Angeles in the morning. For the views, it’s better to take the train north, enjoying the coast and a foothills sunset before passing through more urbanized and less-scenic inland areas in the night. (No offense, Oakland.) The sun rises just in time to see Mount Shasta.

For the timing, it’s a tossup. Those infamous 36 hours passengers spent stranded amid snow and fallen trees near Oakridge last February involved a southbound train, but on average northbound trains have more and longer delays. A delay might be less inconvenient at the end of a trip than at the beginning, of course. And trains out of LA, the Coast Starlight’s origin, are more likely to leave on time than ones out of Portland, which might have already been delayed since leaving Seattle.

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