Before this summer the only time I’d ever taken Amtrak was the year after I graduated from college. I rode a train from Chicago to Indianapolis, and not 30 seconds after pulling out of the Chicago station, we stopped. There was an announcement about some mechanical problem, and there we sat, still within site of our platform.
The trip ended up taking 5 hours, and what I remember about it most, aside from the delay, was that I read “Wuthering Heights” from cover to cover. Which, truly, is the best way to read it.
This summer I’ve ridden Amtrak twice. Once from Boston to New York and now from New York to Washington D.C., and I’ve decided that trains are the way to go. I mean, if you absolutely have to be somewhere fast, then planes are (usually) your best bet. But if you want to enjoy the trip, trains are unbeatable.
First of all, train stations are almost always in the middle of town. I love this. You get out and you are THERE. Airports are like the strip malls of travel. Always located along a highway at some distance from downtown, and they all look more or less the same. Train stations have character. (And Union Station in D.C. is beautiful.)
But it’s the central location of the stations and the fact that along the way you can watch the scenery or read or go online (!) that really appeals; you never have to check your luggage and there is a dining car where you can go to eat. Trains are slower than airplanes (and sadly they do not go to as many cities), but they are faster than cars. Even with a handful of stops on the way to D.C. today, we got here a good 90 minutes faster than we would have in our car. Also, in my car I can’t read, since I’m the one driving.
Even delays are not as annoying on trains. I don’t know why this is. Maybe it’s because I’m not in as much of a hurry on a train. Riding the rails is part of the trip – not just the thing that takes you to the place where the trip or vacation will begin. I love hearing the bell ringing and the clackety clack of the wheels on the tracks. No matter how fancy the cars look inside, the outside sounds are similar to trains of 50-60, even 100 years ago.
So I’m thinking, where else can we go by rail? We already plan to take the Trans-Siberian Railway in a couple of years, but until then, or even thereafter, Amtrak can show us our own country in a way planes just can’t.
Niagara Falls? Salt Lake City? Denver? How much fun would it be to cross the Great Divide by train? A lot, that’s how much.