If not Mount Rainier, then at least Mount Vernon

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Jim (left) on the most recent of his public transportation adventures

Jim Moore is a person who lives his job. A service planner for Sound Transit, the man will take public transportation anywhere: from Seattle to Anacortes, from Lake Quinalt to Seattle, and even from Seattle to Brewster (near Okanagan).

On Friday, to test the integration of the Sounder commuter train with one of Skagit Transit’s newest bus routes, Jim (and two other Sound Transit employees), completely of their own volition and using their own time and resources, took public transportation to Mount Vernon. I was fortunate to be one of the people invited along.

First, we took the Sounder from King Street Station to Everett. I am an old hand at riding Amtrak to Vancouver, but this was my first time on a Sounder. The ride costs $3.00 (less if you have a bus pass, nothing if you have a Flexpass), and you can actually purchase your ticket from a machine on the platform.

The train was comfortable, with reclining seats, plenty of legroom, outlets for electronic devices, and overhead storage bins. There were also bathrooms, a huge plus in this bus chick’s book. (Miraculously, I didn’t need to use one, so I can’t tell you how clean they were.) We rode in the front car, which is testing a wireless pilot. I did use that, and, as you can see from my hurried Friday afternoon post, it worked fine. But the best part, hands down, was the view. We spent the hour-long ride kicking back, looking out the window, and asking Jim how to get to various rural locations using transit.

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View from the northbound Sounder, somewhere between Seattle and Everett

At Everett Station, we transferred to the Everett Connector (route 90 X), an express bus from Everett to Mount Vernon operated by Skagit Transit. The 90 X is a new route (started on July 10th) and currently runs four times (round-trip) in the morning and four times (round trip) in the evening. The ride to Mount Vernon’s Skagit Station (where you can also catch an Amtrak train, a Greyhound bus, or an Island Transit bus) costs $2.00 and takes about 50 minutes.

In Mount Vernon, we ate dinner at Skagit River Brewery, which is half a block from the train station. Some of my fellow travelers ordered a pitcher of their strong, house-made beer and were kind enough to let me taste it. (It was, indeed, very strong.) I ordered a barbecue “appetizer” that turned out to be large enough to serve sixteen. I barely made a dent (had to save room for dessert, after all) and so packed up the smelly pile of meat to carry on the long trip home.

To save time (and also because we had stayed out later than the last 90 X), we caught the southbound Amtrak right from the Mount Vernon station. The train, which was coming from Vancouver, was crowded by the time we got on, so to keep the group together, we sat in the bar car.

While I drank merlot from a plastic cup and watched the sun set in the spectacular Skagit Valley, I got schooled by Jim and the other transit nerds (“foamers,” as they call themselves) who came along for the ride. As someone who knows a lot about riding public transportation but very little about how it is funded or run, I was completely in awe of their deep understanding of all things transit. They knew about the history of the systems in our region. They knew about land use laws. They knew about the status of all of the transit-related ballot measures. They knew the manufacturer and model of the 90 X. And they knew just about everything there is to know about trains: speed capabilities, safety records, weight regulations, track conditions.

I was glad it was Friday and that I was enjoying the conversation, because there were a few delays (I think to let other trains pass) on the way back. We finally made it to King Street station at about 10:35 (scheduled in at 10:05). I caught the 14 home right outside the station.

Et voila! Seattle to Mount Vernon and back again, with some strong beer, great views, and not-so-great wine in between. Not bad for a car-free Friday night.

Cool stuff I encountered along the way:

• Skagit Transit’s fare boxes. They’ll take bills up to $20 and give you change in the form of a fare card. Nice!
• Internet kiosks in Everett station. They allow free trip planning but charge for general surfing. The paid surfing (usually, I assume by folks waiting for the train) funds the kiosks and their maintenance. Brilliant!
• Chocolate mousse and Snickers pies at Skagit River Brewery. Yum!

Not-so-cool stuff:
• Those trip-planning kiosks I mentioned earlier were out of service when I visited, so I didn’t get to see how well they worked. Actually, I guess I did.
• Amtrak’s self-serve ticketing machine in the Mount Vernon station. It was unreliable and prone to freezing. We barely got our tickets before the train arrived.
• Amtrak’s grouchy staff. Either Amtrak is seriously overworking these people, or they need to consider a different line of work.

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One Response to If not Mount Rainier, then at least Mount Vernon

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