Trains and cities and observations

I am on the Coast Starlight, Amtrak’s service from Seattle to Los Angeles. This train features the Pacific Parlour Car (yes, that is PARLOUR with a U), a lounge car for sleeper passengers featuring a bar, some dining tables, and some cool swivel armchairs for looking out the windows. These carriages are originals from the 1950s, restored and brought back into service for just the Coast Starlight. There is also an afternoon wine and cheese tasting (which I hadn’t known about before boarding, so was pleasantly surprised. My previous Amtrak experience was short commuter journeys on the East Coast). This journey really puts European rail travel into true, crummy perspective. Even the so-called “First Class” on the Eurostar is nothing like this good (and the basic class Eurostar “dining car” - which involves being sold some microwave noodles – wouldn’t be so annoying if the tickets weren’t actually more than I paid for this trip, which includes a bed and all meals).

Travelling by train often involves seeing the oldest parts of a city, the historic core where the main station was built. Seattle’s King St station made me wonder – were there other big stations too at some point? (the name “King St” - as opposed to “Union Station” or even just “Seattle Station” suggests a need to differentiate it by location from other stations in the same city). The station itself is undergoing restoration, which is part-way through now. There is an opportunity to peek up where some ceiling panels have been removed and see the original ceiling, another 15’ or so above. This beautiful plaster moulded ceiling was covered in a 1967 “facelift” which involved a lower suspended ceiling and fluorescent lights. Fortunately the original was not erased, so it is possible for it to be brought back. It is a great shame – an urban tragedy – that the same could not be said for New York’s Penn Station, where a beautiful original was obliterated to build a concrete cavern with the soul and charm of a multistorey carpark in a bad neighbourhood.