Coast Starlight

Origin City: Los Angeles, CA | Destination City: Portland, OR | Track Length: 1,377 mi (2,216 km) | Duration of Trip: 29.25 hours
Dates Traveled: 12.10.12 – 12.11.12

Coast Starlight Poster. Image Credit: flickr.com

The Coast Starlight runs the length of the West Coast, linking some of the nation’s greatest cities from its southern terminal in Los Angeles all the way north to Seattle. With views of the Pacific Ocean coastline to views of snow-capped Mount Shasta and thick pines forests of the Pacific Northwest, Coast Starlight continues to be one of the most scenic train rides Amtrak offers.

But though scenic, this long-distance train is notorious for running behind schedule, in part because unlike the Northeast, in the the west, Amtrak rides on railroad track primarily owned by freight companies, which have the right-of-way and can delay Amtrak passenger trains hours at a time. On the upside though, America’s rail freight system is the best in the world.

Coast Starlight Route. Image Credit: vacationsbyrail.com

The day that I left Los Angeles on the Coast Starlight train was likely the most beautiful day of my trip to L.A.—sunny and clear blue skies in the low 70s after days of fog and rain-—and this made it hard to leave, especially after seeing Portland’s forecast for rainy and chilly weather in the lower 40s. Still, the views along the way were fantastic, particularly along the coast-hugging tracks; the Coast Starlight is said to be America’s–if not the world’s–longest coastline-hugging train.

I didn’t book a sleeper for this 29 hour (turned nearly 30 hours due to a few delays; usually the train can be delayed for hours) train ride. The seats are fairly comfortable though so it speaks more to my inability to sleep upright in a chair than it does for the comfort level of Amtrak’s passenger seats. In the end though, it didn’t make a big difference either way since I spent the majority of my time in the sightseer lounge car.

Starting with the sandy shores with Pacific Ocean vistas, the train wound its way northwards past sand dunes, tall eucalyptus tree farms, the valleys of strawberry farm fields, and finally up into the steep mountain ranges of the Cascades. At daybreak, I awoke to the gorgeous profile of Mount Shasta as we began to cross over from California to Oregon. At Klamath Falls, a volunteer docent came aboard and she narrated our ride from that point to Eugene, OR; she pointed the various peaks–Mt. McLoughlin, Mt. Scott (which sits in front of Crater Lake), Mt. Thielson–as well as the history, wildlife, and plant life of the areas we traversed. It was a beautiful ride.

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