It may not rank up there with the legendary Orient Express. But the Lilac Express is about to make history.
Five-hundred Seattle-area residents recently jumped at the chance to ride a daylight train to Spokane on May 17, watch the Lilac Festival Armed Forces Torchlight Parade, then take a scenic, leisurely ride home the next day along the Columbia Gorge and Puget Sound.
Claire Nolan of Seattle’s Alki Tours said the Lilac Express filled less than two weeks after her company began advertising on a Seattle “big band” radio station.
Now her company is scrambling to arrange more Spokane hotel accommodations so they can add another car - 88 more seats.
The $269 fare includes round-trip passage aboard an Amtrak Superliner, shuttle service to Leavenworth for lunch, hotel transfers, one night’s deluxe lodging, bleacher seats at the parade, and three meals.
What makes this ride unusual is that Amtrak typically crosses Washington state at night. The eastbound Empire Builder leaves Seattle at 4:50 p.m. to begin its eight-hour journey; the westbound Empire Builder leaves Spokane for Seattle and Portland at 2:40 and 2:55 a.m. respectively.
The last time regular daylight service between Spokane and Seattle ran was during Expo ‘74.
Nolan said those who signed up for the Lilac Express include rail buffs, seniors and “a lot of young people who used to live in Spokane and went to the Torchlight Parade for years, and are excited about going back to see it.”
This year’s train trip is the first one to Spokane that Alki Tours has sponsored. Based on its success, Nolan predicts the Lilac Express will become an annual event.