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Ambused 2015

Getting Ambused from Klamath Falls, Oregon to Pasco, Washington

A passengers' account of what happens when your train gets behind schedule and there are guaranteed connections at stake.

By Patti and Roberta 2015

Thursday, September 29th, 2015

My sister and I were two of the 11 passengers to score the free bus ride to Pasco after de-training the Coast Starlight in Klamath Falls due to the earlier delay in Dunsmuir.
This happens occasionally (maybe too occasionally) on the northbound Coast Starlight when the train is delayed enough to not make the connection in Portland to the eastbound #28 Empire Builder.
So, after reluctantly leaving behind our cozy compartment on the Starlight, we boarded the bus for the 9-hour ride to Pasco, WA, where we would intercept the Empire Builder on its way to Spokane.
After we were all aboard the bus, it was obvious the bus driver was prepared for the onslaught of grumbling from the passengers, and some of them really delivered.  He apologized for the change in plans and calmly explained we would be making a couple of meal stops along the way, and to be sure to save our meal receipts, as he was confident that Amtrak would reimburse us for the extra expense.  In the meantime, he made available a large help-yourself snack basket containing items that were instantly recognizable as the same sealed snack packs Amtrak offers their Business Class passengers.  Each pack contained potato chips, assorted nuts, a cookie, and a sweet.  I wondered ahead what restaurants we would be stopping at.  Since there were only 11 of us on the bus, we each got a row practically to ourselves so there was plenty of room to stretch out.
The bus route took us straight up Oregon Highway 97, for a while paralleling the Amtrak tracks. I kept craning my neck to see if I could catch a glimpse of our train and wondering what our former comrades aboard were up to. About an hour into it, the driver announced we would be making a stop at the Chemult Amtrak station, to check for any passengers de-training there that had forgotten to get off earlier with us at Klamath Falls.  As we pulled in to the Chemult station, 11 heads bobbed up and down, searching the platform for any more lucky ones that might be joining us.  It was obvious the Starlight had long come and gone, even the parking lot was drained of cars, and there were no more takers for the bus. 
We continued on, past farm fields and the rolling hills of dry eastern Oregon, making two 20-minute meal stops each at the towns of LaPine (at a McDonald's) and Biggs Junction (at a Subway).  After our meal stop at Biggs Junction, we left Highway 97 and joined eastbound Interstate 84, which closely parallels the south side of the gorgeous Columbia River.  From the bus we could see north across the river to the Washington State side and the BNSF and Amtrak tracks that parallel the river on that side.  We saw several BNSF freights on their way to and from the port of Seattle loaded with coal from the Dakotas.  This is also the route that BNSF uses to haul B-737 aircraft fuselages to the Boeing plant in Washington from their manufacturer in Wichita, KS.
After about 80 miles of paralleling the river, we left I-84 and crossed over the river into Washington State at Umatilla, on I-82, just as the sun was setting in the west, and continued on into the Tri-Cities area.  We pulled into the Pasco Amtrak station close to 9 pm.  The Amtrak station agent there informed us that our Empire Builder was still about an hour away, which prompted another round of eye-rolling from some of the passengers.  I felt empathy toward the bus driver and the agent, and part of me wanted to remind ourselves that it was the UP freight train in Dunsmuir that had done it.  It wasn't directly Amtrak's fault, but I thought it best to just listen to them vent as needed. 
Through it all, I was impressed with the bus driver's patience and professionalism in dealing with an unfortunate situation.  He had to have known from the get-go he would be inheriting an unhappy group.  He not only was able to placate us, he regaled us with humorous stories about his job and got us laughing enough to take the edge off.  He had rightfully earned a good tip by the time we got to Pasco.
As for my sister and I, we were all set to wait for the Empire Builder with the rest of our fellow passengers, which would have had us to our Spokane destination by midnight or so.  But as a surprise, my sister's husband in Spokane must have assumed by now we had had enough train and bus, and he called to say he was already on his way by car from Spokane to pick us up!  (I suspect the real reason was that he was missing her, as she had already been gone from home a week.) 
So although I was looking forward to getting to our destination and some good sleep, I was a little melancholy that our train adventure was ending. My sister rides the Coast Starlight round-trip regularly between Los Angeles and Spokane, and she says she gets to partake of the free bus ride more often than she deserves, but this Amtrak bus re-route was my first. At first, I had been a little miffed because I had always wanted to take the Empire Builder along the north shore of the Columbia River from Portland.  But, after all was done, I realized I did get to travel alongside and see the river after all, it was just from a different perspective - and different mode of transport, that's all.


Click here for a Google map of our route to Pasco.
Last updated November 3rd, 2015