The most underrated way to get from Seattle to Vancouver

Today, I took the least recommended option to get from Seattle to Vancouver - and loved it!

Amtrak, often cited as the pinnacle of inefficiency and the butt of many government budget jokes operates two trains per day between Seattle and Vancouver, departing in the morning and mid-afternoon.

My fare cost $40 for a economy seat from the King St. Station departing at 7:40am and arrived at Vancouver’s Pacific station 4 hours later at 11:40, making it very possible to get to Vancouver by lunchtime.

Now, I was expecting an older, commuter rail style of car, but was pleasantly surprised to find wide seats, free wifi onboard (with no interruptions in connectivity, even transborder) and a cafe car with a huge menu of reasonably priced food and snacks. I compare this to train journeys around Europe of similar length and Amtrak actually came out way ahead.

The real kicker though, was the view. We had 2 and a half hours literally right next to Puget Sound, almost all the way up to Bellingham, so the photo opportunities were stunning and numerous, changing from lonely bays to farming and timberlands to sections of mountains getting into Canada.



I was most fascinated by how the border crossing was handled. The train conductor made an announcement that we’d be entering Canada and that your cell phone, unless you had a “Canadian-based plan” would likely switch to international data roaming. It was a nice touch and the conductors I asked have said there were horror stories in the past of people checking their email and being slapped with a $700 bill. Yikes! (At $20/mb, this would be consuming only 35mb of data - likely more than one email, but with a few attachments and maybe some map activity 35mb is very easy to hit).

The train stations in both cities are relatively close to downtown (two stops on SoundTransit in Seattle - which also goes to the airport, and two stops on Skytrain Expo Line in Vancouver, where you can transfer to the Canada Line to the airport), so if you budget say 10 hours airport to airport, you could easily find yourself flying on a domestic ticket into Seattle, briefly seeing the city centers and flying to Asia via Vancouver on a separate ticket.

If you do find yourself in Vancouver and want to make a quick stop downtown, keep in mind that the Skytrain charges $8 only for trips departing from the airport and considerably less to return ($2.75-$4.00), so while the day pass may seem like a great deal, factor in that once downtown, you may not need it if you don’t stray too far from Granville St.

The one downside was that immigration at arrival took longer than it needed to. Apparently officials clear the train car-by-car, which left us sitting on the train for about 30 minutes. Then, upon exiting, there’s a fairly lengthy queue to get your passport stamped, again about 30 minutes. Given that our train was full, that’s probably the maximum one can expect to wait, but there was no Global Entry line and the station only has 4 counters to process passengers, two of which actually had an official at them. If this was streamlined to cut out over an hour of waiting, then for the price, length of journey and relative comfort of amenities, the train is probably the best option between two beautiful cities in the Pacific Northwest.



What have been your experiences with Amtrak and transborder crossings between other countries?

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