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Amtrak: Record ridership and now Wi-Fi, too

The Cascades line has more passengers than ever and free — at least for now — wireless Internet service.

No longer will passengers aboard Amtrak Cascades receive the dreaded 'Address Not Found' message.

No longer will passengers aboard Amtrak Cascades receive the dreaded 'Address Not Found' message. Sue Frause

As a frequent traveler aboard Amtrak's Cascades line between Everett and Vancouver, B.C., I’m not surprised that ridership reached an all-time high in 2010. On several occasions last year, I wasn’t able to get a ticket in Business Class, my preferred way to travel. I quickly learned to book early to avoid disappointment — and having to make the trip across the border by car.

According to the Washington State Department of Transportation, 2010 ridership on Amtrak Cascades totaled 838,251 passengers. That was an increase of 10 percent, or 76,641 passengers, over 2009. Contributing to the growth was service to Vancouver, which was in high demand. More than 138,000 riders traveled to and from Vancouver in 2010.

A second daily train was added in August 2009, which provided more service, especially popular during the 2010 Winter Olympic Games. The second train is scheduled to remain in service through at least October of this year.

Amtrak Cascades is a route that operates three daily round trips between Portland and Seattle; one daily round trip between Seattle and Vancouver, B.C.; one daily round trip between Portland and Vancouver B.C.; and daily service between Seattle and Eugene, OR, via Portland.

The growth in ridership is good news for rail lovers. According to Washington State Transportation Secretary Paula Hammond, long-term plans include improving rail infrastructure, reducing freight and passenger train congestion, and expanding Amtrak Cascades service. With Washington state receiving $782 million in federal funds for high-speed rail in 2010, WSDOT is investing the money in Amtrak Cascades, increasing its frequency and reliability.

I’m most happy about the recent addition of Wi-Fi service on all Amtrak Cascades trains, effective Jan. 31. Travelers between Vancouver, B.C., and Eugene will now be able to connect to the Internet. WSDOT says that Wi-Fi service has been the amenity most requested by passengers. Although it will be free of charge during the introductory period, the no-charge policy will be reviewed “based on customer demand and system performance.” Hopefully, they’ll follow the lead of Sound Transit, which provides free Wi-Fi on select Sounder express routes and Sounder cars. State ferries have Wi-Fi service, but you must sign up and pay through Boingo.

The Wi-Fi service aboard Amtrak Cascades is provided jointly by Amtrak and WSDOT, part of a long-term project to refurbish all the trains to “like-new condition,” extending their service life to approximately 2029. New leather seating has been installed, along with updated interiors. Still on the to-do list: upgrading both the audio and video systems and rehabbing the bistro and lounge cars. Hopefully, the food offerings will be improved, too.

Amtrak Cascades is the second train in the Amtrak fleet to install a full-train Wi-Fi network. It was launched in 2010 on all 20 trains that make up Atmrak’s Acela Express service in the Northeast.

Sue Frause is a Whidbey Island freelance writer and photographer. You can reach her at sue@suefrause.com.


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