I have done much of this trip before, riding from Bellingham down to Olympia, so had seen many of the views. New, though, was crossing the border, and riding the train from the dark into the sun rise.
Travellers need an ESTA and an I-94. The wikipedia page on visa requirements for UK citizens suggests an ESTA is needed if arriving by air or cruise ship, but you will be asked if you have one before being allowed to head to customs.
The train was due to leave at 6:35, so I (as suggested on the ticket) got to the station at 5:30, to go through customs. With the train less than half full, that was arguably too early, and the whole thing was a breeze. First Amtrak staff check your ticket, then a second line check your passport and ask if you have an ESTA. Then it is on – and this is before you get on the train – to US immigration, who do the usual checks. I wasn’t asked anywhere near as many questions as last time I crossed by land. But then, last time I wasn’t sure how long I was staying and had no ticket out. This time, although casual, one of the early questions was “what are you doing in the US?” and in reply, I said I was there for 6 days to do some running. Although that was more info than asked for, possibly my having said as much meant he didn’t feel the need to ask for more.
I didn’t have to show any proof of my flight out of the US, nor did he ask about it. I did need my wits about me when it came to the I-94, though. It is only $6, and you can just pay that at the time. The website suggests you pay cash, but crossing via car, card payments were taken, and maybe the same is true here. You can, however, apply for a provisional I-94, paying online, and I’d done that. But he either didn’t check, or missed any automatic “wait! This person has paid!” notification. No harm done, I just said I had paid online, and showed my confirmation. Without the latter, though, I might have had to pay again. Plus when I said I had paid online, they assumed I meant the ESTA, poor confused tourist.
It was easy, anyway. The train stops at the border for another check. There are warnings that you must be in your seat and not wearing headphones. Pay attention! There are enough officers that if they want to ask questions, they could, but on my carriage at least, they checked passports and moved on.
The train rolled down the coast, right next to it much of the time. The sun rose just a little way into the journey, which was lovely. The views are at their best early on and when moving around Seattle, but it is a journey you could pass by staring out of the window.
I even took better pictures as the time went by. The weather was entertaining. Bright and clear in Canada, thick fog once we were in the US, then that cleared, only to return a little later. So there might have been great views early on, too, though I am fairly sure the fog was sitting over farmland.
It is a lovely way to travel. If you want just to head to Seattle, Bolt Bus are cheaper, but I only paid $33, and that’s a pretty good bargain for a relaxed ride through the US countryside, and the best way to get to intermediate stops.