Greyhound or Amtrak, Portland
Union Station is a beautiful old landmark that seems much lonelier than what it used to be when I was a kid. Then, the station was abuzz with people and trains. The trains still do come though and it is a nice alternative for travel between Seattle and Portland or further down the Willamette Valley towards Eugene. Train travel to the East means you need some time to be at your disposal. To the south and California, Amtrak will get you there overnight.
The train station was built in 1896 and is one of the finer railstations in the Western US. It is being surrounded by the trendy flats of the encroaching Pearl district. The station is only a block north of the Greyhound bus station and across the street from the main Post Office - which is rumoured to be a possible location for a future baseball stadium to attempt to appease Portlanders who want to see another major league sports team in the city besides the NBA's Trail Blazers.
Greyhound is another way to get to Portland from various other areas. The main terminal was moved several years ago out of the central downtown location to their newer terminal next door to the Amtrak Union Station. A 'transportation mall' links both stations with the central Downtown area - buses here are free - not Greyhound though ;-/
When we first started planning our trip to the Pacific Northwest, we thought about renting a car to travel from Seattle to Portland, but I quickly changed my mind after looking up the Amtrak website: train tickets from Seattle to Portland only cost $28 per person, which makes it a very cheap and effective way of traveling between the two cities. There are several departures offered each day, and the trip lasts about 3h30. It's supposed to be a scenic ride but to be honest, the weather was so bad that we couldn't see much of anything outside and I ended up watching the featured movie instead. When we got to Portland, we picked up our luggage and only had to walk across the street to reach the Max light rail station (yellow and green lines). Portland's Union Station is located within the free ride zone, so from there it was only a quick, free ride to our hotel located in downtown Portland.
This was my first time traveling by train in the US and I would definitely do it again. We booked our tickets online and I found the Amtrak website very easy to use, the trains were clean and comfortable, and we enjoyed an all-around hassle-free trip.
This last trip to Portland I left on Amtrak. One of their best trains comes through Portland on its way from Seattle to LA.
Highly recommend a trip on the Coast Starlight if possible. But this is the one time you SHOULD pay the extra for the sleeper. This train provides special services for sleeping car passengers. These include a seperate parlour car where they have guides and wine tasting among other things.
Update: March 2008
It might be a good idea to purchase a book of Trimet tickets online since the main ticket office @ Pioneer Courthouse Square is closed weekends, a meteor strike could occur at any time, and water levels are expected to rise as high as 13th or 14th avenues to the west as a consequence of global warming. It is never too early to plan ahead.
N O T E: Bus Malls along 5th & 6th avenues are out of service while track is being laid for a new streetcar line. Temporary bus malls are in service along 3rd & 4th avenues. Merchants along 3rd & 4th are ecstatic at this turn of events; those along 5th & 6th are not.
The Greyhound Depot is a only a block or so south of Union Station on NW 6th Avenue. From there, walk due west one short block along NW Hoyt Street to NW Broadway. Cross at the traffic light. Board southbound #9 Broadway bus at NW Broadway & Hoyt
N O T E: Trimet bus tickets not required while remaining within FARELESS SQUARE boundaries, so none are needed at this point.
Exit at SW 3rd & Alder.
Walk due south to SW Yamhill Street, then right a block and a half to MAX station [M]etro [A]rea e[X]press).
Ticket vending & validation machines nearby. Visa, Master Charge, Discover cards accepted. Pennies & $2 dollar bills not accepted; all other US currencies up to & including $20 USD accepted. Board Red MAX Airport train. Exit at airport.
N O T E: There are two validation (time stamp) machines @ each downtown boarding station. One of the two usually works. Vandals.
To: Union Station/Greyhound Depot.
Purchase & validate Trimet ticket via ticket machines at airport MAX boarding station.
Board Red MAX Beaverton train. Exit @ SW 4th/5th. Walk due east to SW4th, then left 1 block to SW 4th & Alder. Board #9 Broadway bus. Exit in front of Greyhound Depot. Union Station due north.
The Greyhound restroom stank the last time I was there; Union Station or the main post office one block west across Broadway might be a better bet.
Finished in 1896, and significantly remodeled between 1927 and 1930, Portland's Union Station has seen train traffic to and from the City of Roses peak at over 200 trains a day, drop down to a mediocre three per day in the 1980s, and slowly revive through the 1990s and 2000s, thanks to the state of Washington effort to develop the Cascades service. The station was purchased by the Portland Development Commission in the mid 1980s in order to turn the land around the station into a housing development.
Getting Here: Auto Access:
There are two parking spots in front of the station which are reserved for active leaving-off or picking up of passengers.
The majority of the parking spaces that are at the surface lot in front of the station are reserved for Wilf's Restaurant.
There is a parking garage approximately two blocks north of the station main entrance. There is also an area of the street in front of the station and under the Broadway Bridge that has metered parking places.
From the Broadway Bridge cross the Broadway Bridge, turn right onto Lovejoy on the west end of the bridge, turn right onto 9th, and turn right again onto Marshall Street. At the end of the block turn right, and the entrance to the parking garage is an immediate right turn after the intersection.
From the station, go north past the station entrance approximately two blocks and under the west end of the Broadway bridge. The parking structure is then on the left side.
To get to the parking structure from NW Natio Parkway (formerly Front Street) turn left onto NW 9th Avenue from Natio Parkway after going under the Broadway Bridge (a large red bridge). Turn left again at Northrup Street and continue as the road curves. The entrance to the parking structure is on the right side just after the intersection with Marshall.
From Interstate 5 from the north or Interstate 84 you want the Broadway Bridge exit, cross the river at the Broadway Bridge, and follow the Broadway Bridge instructions, above. From Interstate 5 coming north take the Natio Parkway / Front Street exit and use the Natio Parkway instructions.
In the primary photo for this tip, you will see that I am photographing the station from the area of the MAX station. The front door to the station is near the base of the clock tower, but is located at the spot where the half-rotunda meets the main body of the train station. The parking structure is located to the left and behind the station, and is not visible due to the Broadway Bridge.
Getting Here: Public Transit:
There are several public transit routes that serve the station, and the best one depends on where you need to go or are coming from.
From downtown Portland MAX green and yellow lines serve the station. The yellow line crosses the river and goes north on Interstate Avenue. The green line crosses the river and goes past the various hotels near the Lloyd Center and Convention Center. Stations for these two rail transit lines are two blocks south of the station main entrance, on the south side of the Greyhound Bus Station that is south of the station. To get to trains going south into downtown, from the station entrance walk one block south to Irving Street, then one block east to 5th Avenue, then one block south to Hoyt Street. The next block of the sidewalk serves as the passenger platform for trains going south into downtown. For trains going north and east, you just need to walk two blocks south from the station to 6th and Irving, and from there south serves as a platform for trains going north and east.
Please be aware that there are a large number of homeless people that wander through this area. They will ask you for money, but are otherwise harmless.
At one time bus route 77 had a stop directly in front of the station, and was the closest transit stop. However, in 2012 it moved four blocks away, to the south and east.
Bus route 33 to Oregon City also serves this area. The stop for this route is one block south of the station entrance and then one block east at 6th and Irving.
In the primary photo for this tip, you will see that I am photographing the station from the area of the MAX station. The MAX station is almost directly behind me as I took the photo, and you can see the tracks in the foreground. This is 6th Avenue. If you are going east, you need to be at the station I am standing at to take the photo. If you are going south or west, you will need to go to the other MAX station, which is on 5th Avenue, but at the equivalent spot on the next block to the right in the photograph. The front door to the station is near the base of the clock tower, but is located at the spot where the half-rotunda meets the main body of the train station.
Station Hours, Facilities, etc:
Check the "Stations" section of the Amtrak web site (be sure to select Portland, Oregon and not Portland, Maine) for the most recent information on station hours. As of this writing the hours are 5:30 am to 9:25 pm* on weekdays, and 7:30 am to 9:25 pm * on weekends.
* In reality, the station closes at 9:25pm or later if the last train out of Seattle arrives late.
The checked baggage facilities are located on the north side of the station waiting room. Follow the signs. One set of doors is for entering, and the other set of doors is for exiting.
The interior of the station features three waiting rooms: the main waiting room, a side waiting room that also serves as the hallway between the main waiting room and the restroom facilities, and the "Metropolitan Lounge" which is reserved for sleeping car patrons only.
There is a news stand / bookstore / snack shop where the main waiting room joins the smaller side hallway. They have all manner of trinkets and a number of other things, but not a huge selection of any of it. If you want a more substantial meal and it is afternoon or evening, Wilf's is the restaurant at the south side of the station. Direct access between the two has been eliminated.
In the 2nd photograph, you can see what the inside of the main waiting room looks like. The 2nd photograph is looking at the ticket sales counter. To the right of this photograph is the "QuickTrak" machines for scanning your bar code and printing the ticket. To the left of the photograph is the news stand and snack shop, and behind that is the main entrance to the station.
The station was most recently remodeled in 1930, with its extensive interior modifications overseen by famous Portland architect Pietro Belluschi. As should be expected with his works, vast amounts of Italian marble was used throughout the interior, though a restroom modernization project several years ago replaced all of the decorative marble and other such pieces in the restrooms. Decorations on the side walls of the side hallway leading to the restrooms includes various famous Oregon attractions. These are photographs that have been painted onto the walls. Most of these have worn and faded over their many years of display, but they are still great photos of Oregon.
Boarding and detraining at the station is fairly slow as the platforms have had little modification to them since they were paved and had roofs added, which was sometime in the early 1900s. This means that, due to their low level, a step box must be placed at the entrance to every single door on the train. Many other features of modern station platforms have not yet been added either.
So, be very careful as you board and detrain here, and this is also why they insist on making sure that an Amtrak employee opens the door at this station: a step box must be in place before the door is opened.
Photo 1: A look at Union Station from the nearest MAX station, which is at the south side of the Greyhound Bus station (just south of Union Station). Some bus services stop at both Union Station and the Greyhound station.
Photo 2: The waiting room, looking west. The ticket desks are along the far wall. The entrance to the street is to the right and towards the ticket counters. The quicktrak machines are to the right, and beside them the entrance to the large hallway that leads to Amtrak connecting buses and the checked baggage area. Note that the benches are fairly hard wood, and will get uncomfortable after a while. However, the fact is that most of the time, there is no need to show up hugely early for trains here. If I were to turn 90 degrees to the left from where I took this photo, you would see directly into the side hallway.
Photo 3: This is the second waiting room / side hallway. 90 degree to the left are the restrooms. The snack shop / book store / news stand / memorabilia shop is right there in the middle of the back of the photo. Also notice the various photographs of Oregon that have been painted on the wall of this room. In the distance is the main waiting room.
Photo 4: Typical platform and boarding at Portland Union Station. Boarding is slow and somewhat hazardous compared to most other stations on the Cascades Corridor due to the station platform being much lower than is considered standard, or even desirable, today. Each door must have a step box (yellow box) placed at it to provide an extra step, and this adds to the detraining and boarding time required.
Photo 5: Looking towards the platforms in the main waiting room. The door on the right is where boarding for coach passengers happens. The middle door is boarding for 1st class / business class passengers. The door on the left is where arriving passengers enter the station. Due to crowding and station logistics, seat assignments happen on many Amtrak trains to and from Portland. Assignments happen at the desk between the middle doors and right side doors. To the far right, beyond the photograph, is the Metropolitan Lounge, which is open to sleeping car passengers and business class passengers.
Seattle is quite near Portland so if you have a day or two to spare in your itinerary, why not go there? The Amtrak Cascades line has several trains going in either direction of the Seattle-Portland route daily. One-way fare is around $23. Travel time between these two cities is around four hours.
OK, so you decide to use Amtrak, and why not? You have some travel options. You can chose 'coach' travel, or 'business class', and a sleeper for your overnight travel if you wish. I opted for the straightforward 'coach' class. Unlike the British trains, there was ample leg room, with reclining seats, and a foot rest. The allocation of seats is rather different than in Britain. On departure from Portland, you will be allocated a coach. You will have been given a boarding pass, with (for instance) 'SAC' on it (Sacramento). It's then up to you to find a vacant seat, and you place your boarding pass above your own seat. This enables the Conductor to see who is going where on the train!
the Union Station is located near Broadway Avenue and Broadway (river) Bridge.
Seattle's King Street Station is currently under renovation - the clocks on its Italian-style campanile aren't working! We've got to get our acts together, Seattle!
The train departs southbound and passes under the gigantic retractable roof of Safeco Field. It runs along the Boeing Field (you can see the Museum of Flight's newly acquired Concorde), into Kent Valley, and then turns west and stops in Tacoma.
The segment between Tacoma and the next stop, Olympia/Lacey, is the most attractive in terms of scenery, with the waters of Puget Sound always in view. The train first runs along Commencement Bay and, cutting across Point Defiance through a tunnel, runs along Tacoma Narrows, going under the famous suspension bridge. It passes through the bayside town of Steilacoom and turns inland just before the Nisqually delta.
South of Olympia the train enters a broad rural valley. It stops in Centralia and eventually meets the Cowlitz River, which joins the Columbia River at the next stop, Kelso/Longview. After this the train runs along the Columbia - the landscape is that of water, flatland woods, pastures, and wetlands, interspersed with surprising, isolated industrial plants (including the Trojan Nuclear Plant).
The train crosses the Columbia after the next stop, Vancouver WA, and soon arrives at the Union Station in Portland. The Portland station is a classic American train station, with a large marble hall and wooden benches and counters. It is far more attractive than the Seattle station.
Now if you don't want to use the train, why not try the Greyhound Buses? Unfortunately I never had the time to use the Greyhound service, although I did enquire about it in the Portland Depot, which is just opposite the Amtrak station (5th Avenue/Hoyt Street).
If I remember correctly, the fares for both Amtrak and Greyhound were more or less the same.
My primary reason for my latest trip to Portland was to retrace some of the steps of Lewis & Clark. Unfortunately, Messrs. Lewis & Clark never made it to the Portland area and there are no trains nor commercial air service to northwestern Oregon so I was faced with the dilemma of choosing between an expensive rental car and a bus. I am not a big fan of American buses but this was part of a long trip and I wanted to be a bit frugal when I had a chance so I decided to take a bus from Portland to Astoria and back. Excellent decision!! The buses were clean and the ride was very smooth, the drivers and riders were cordial, the scenery was delightful.
I was also able to book bus and train travel on the same website, a very welcome experience.
We traveled to Portland from Chicago on Amtrak's Empire Builder. The train ride out takes 46 hours and is an adventure in its own way. We had a sleeper compartment and enjoyed the trip.
Once you arrive at the Portland Train Station, it is easy to grab a cab or a bus or even to walk to your hotel. It's not for everyone, but if you're looking for something different, give it a try.
Amtrak and Greyhound and the Green Tortoise also stop here, at Union Station, located in NW Portland, just blocks from central downtown. As is pretty typical of bus stations, Union Station isn't the nicest place to hang out. Plenty of city buses drive through here so, should you take Amtrak or whatever here, you can always catch either to exactly where your going or to a place that you can catch a transfer.
Amtrak Cascades offer a convenient way to travel between Seattle and Portland by train. There are three trains per day each way, and together with the long distance Coast Starlight, Amtrak offers four options throughout the day. The trip takes three and half hours, and since it's downtown to downtown it is quite convenient. The fare is very reasonable especially if you book in advance. (Weekend trips tend to get booked up, so you should reserve in advance.)
Amtrak Cascades use comfortable Spanish Targo carriages, with reclining seats, footrests, audio entertainment and movie. With surcharge you can ride in a Business Class, where you get more elbow room and, if you are a solo traveler, a single seat; but the seat itself is the same as for the coach class. There is a snack bar and a dining area (no service) on board.
AMTRAK offers frequent service to Union Station, 800 NW 6th Ave. Within bus or walking distance of downtown.