Amtrak has got to be one of the poorest run businesses in the country. Without the billions of annual government subsidies, they would sink like the Titanic. I was immensely disappointed by the Amtrak Cascades Vancouver to Seattle train.
Getting on the train:
Reserved seats: nope, no worries yet, this is how southwest and nearly all commuter trains run.
Assigned seats: yup. uh oh. somehow they have to give a seat to all 180 passengers on the train.
Check-in kiosks: nope, just one giant first-come, first-served line that forms 1.5 hrs before departure (maybe even earlier). This same line takes every passenger through seat assignment, customs, baggage x-ray and finally baggage check. But it doesn't stop there. Once you are on the train, they check your ticket again.
Boarding the train took 1 hour and 15 minutes. While I waited in line, 2 busses bound for Seattle boarded and departed. While I stood in line I also learned that the busses would arrive before me, and do the trip 30 minutes quicker (and cost less).
Mostly the cruise-going set. They carry enough luggage to clothe a small African nation. They are on this vintage 1960s train because they aren't in a hurry, don't value efficiency and have some romantic perception of train travel. They play Uno and wait on the hour-long waiting list to eat in the dining car (not like you have much else to do on the train).
Built in the 60s. 7 passenger cars, 2 dining cars & 1 baggage car. Each set of two seats has a regular 110V plug (important on a 4.5 hr journey). A bit more leg room and seating room than a plane (or a bus) and marginally more comfortable. Apparently the dining car is an experience that people taking trains long for - I ate in the Bistro and enjoyed a soggy microwaved hot dog.
Our train made 3 full-stops outside of stations, twice because of ?traffic?, and another time for passport control (why didn't we do this when we went through customs). The passport control stop was especially painful, as the agents went through the train seat by seat asking everyone the standard 4-5 questions they ask at borders. They did show the movie, Curious George, which is definitely a step below your typical B/C grade airline movie - I think I enjoyed the GPS map more. The view along the trip varied from industrial wasteland to water on both sides with views into the sound. The most scenic portion of the trip by far was south of Bellingham (although I missed the last bit because it was dark out).
So, exactly what niche does the train fill? Clearly not either the inexpensive segment, or the efficient segment (both bus). It does harken back to an era when train travel was profitable, romantic and the fastest way to travel. That time is long gone though. If you do want to experience the train, pick up the the evening train in Bellingham and take it to Seattle. You'll skip the huge line, customs & border control plus you'll get the best vistas and a far shorter wait for the dinner car.