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News / Business / Clark County Business

Is Amtrak Cascades a new commuter option from Vancouver into Portland?

Addition of two round trips adds morning stop at train station in Vancouver

By William Seekamp, Columbian staff writer
Published: December 21, 2023, 6:07am
3 Photos
Passenger Peter Ngugi of Tacoma checks out the view while riding the stretch from the Vancouver train station toward Portland on Wednesday morning. Amtrak Cascades added two new round trips between Portland and Seattle last week.
Passenger Peter Ngugi of Tacoma checks out the view while riding the stretch from the Vancouver train station toward Portland on Wednesday morning. Amtrak Cascades added two new round trips between Portland and Seattle last week. (Amanda Cowan/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

The 65,000 Clark County residents who commute into Oregon each day for work have nearly all had to choose between their vehicles or C-Tran buses as their conveyance — until now.

With Amtrak Cascades’ new morning trip from Seattle to Portland, which stops in Vancouver at 8:51 a.m., commuting by train is now theoretically possible. The one-way ticket costs $5.

Why now?

Amtrak Cascades earlier this month added two new round trips between Portland and Seattle for a total of six round trips a day. The earliest train departs Seattle at 5:52 a.m., stops in Vancouver at 8:51 a.m. and terminates in Portland at 9:17 a.m.

A Columbian reader asked us if these schedule changes make Amtrak a viable alternative for commuters.

It’s worth noting that Amtrak provides inter-city passenger service, not commuter service within metropolitan areas, so the changes weren’t made expressly for Vancouverites looking to beat traffic.

Although the Vancouver station is the third busiest on the Cascades route, Amtrak has not experienced strong travel demand between Portland and Vancouver.

Union Station and then?

The train from Vancouver arrives at Portland’s Union Station on the fringe of Portland’s Pearl District. If your destination is in downtown Portland, you can walk or rent a Biketown bike outside of Union Station.

If you need to go farther, several modes of public transit stop nearby — a handful of bus lines, the MAX Green and Yellow lines, as well as the Portland Streetcar. The Green Line going south to the city center stops near Union Station at 9:22 a.m. The Tri-Met Line 9 headed to Clackamas Town Center stops at 9:26 a.m. The Yellow Line going north to the Expo Center stops at 9:20 a.m.

Is it faster?

It’s slightly faster to take the 8:51 a.m. Amtrak train from the Vancouver station to Union Station than it is to drive that distance at the same time of day. But when considering other factors — commuting to the Vancouver station, getting to the final destination, etc. — driving usually comes out ahead.

In the evening, trains going north depart Union Station at 5:55 p.m. and 7:25 p.m. Both arrive in Vancouver 16 minutes later. The same trip by car can take 30 minutes to an hour during the evening rush.

What are the pros?

Tickets between Vancouver and Portland are relatively cheap, typically $5 each way, and parking is free at the Vancouver Amtrak station. Additionally, Amtrak is easy to navigate, you can usually get a row to yourself and trains come equipped with Wi-Fi.

What are the cons?

There aren’t a lot of situations where it would make sense to take Amtrak. For it to be worth the trade-offs, you’d have to be someone who takes the Interstate 5 Bridge to commute to downtown Portland and pays for parking — and who has a flexible enough job to start after 9:30 a.m.

If you’re looking to ditch your car on the way to downtown Portland, C-Tran is probably easier and cheaper with Route 105 and 105X providing frequent service for $2.50 per ride.

The verdict

So is it practical or worthwhile to commute via Amtrak? Probably not for most people. But is it fun? Absolutely.

Community Funded Journalism logo

This story was made possible by Community Funded Journalism, a project from The Columbian and the Local Media Foundation. Top donors include the Ed and Dollie Lynch Fund, Patricia, David and Jacob Nierenberg, Connie and Lee Kearney, Steve and Jan Oliva, The Cowlitz Tribal Foundation and the Mason E. Nolan Charitable Fund. The Columbian controls all content. For more information, visit columbian.com/cfj.

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Columbian staff writer