Take the (Night) Train Redux

By Jerri-Lynn Scofield, who has worked as a securities lawyer and a derivatives trader. She is currently writing a book about textile artisans.

Earlier this year, I posted about the growing movement by European environmentalists to eschew airplanes and take the train (see Take the (Night) Train).

When I found myself in High Point, North Carolina recently and needed to get back to New York City, I decided to check out Amtrak’s services.

I found two trains ply that route daily: one direct and overnight, one via Raliegh-Durham, The cost, $150, for a same-day purchase was reasonable, and competitive with the one-way last- minute airfare of $149.

So I booked a ticket, and set my alarm to wake up in time to catch the 3:16 Crescent service: “Convenient Daily Trips from the Big Apple to the Big Easy.” My Mom – whom I was visiting –   warned me this train was notorious for running late.

I was able to monitor the train’s progress on-line and at the time I should have left for the station, it was indeed running about 40 minutes late, so I pushed back my departure time from her home accordingly.

By the time I reached the station, via a fifteen minute car service journey, the train was delayed about an hour. Constructed in 1907, the High Point train station is pleasant: clean, with comfortable seating, but offers few amenities. No ATM, no wifi, vending machines but no place to get real food nor even a cup of coffee. (This in contrast to other rail stations I passed through earlier this summer, in Gdansk and Warsaw; and Carcassonne, Toulouse, and Barcelona. Less charming, but with more services; in these cities, train travel is clearly a mainstream rather than niche activity.)

Amtrak opens the station an hour before trains are due to depart. When I arrived, three other men, each travelling solo, were waiting for the train. One was wasted – not drunk – but belligerent and fixing for a fight. He tried to bully me; the station attendant, a 30-something woman shut that effort down. She was calm but firm, and knew exactly how to defuse rather than escalate the situation.

The bully’s jeans were sagging, giving us a full view of his shocking ultramarine underpants. He wasn’t bothered by this. He swayed and stumbled and tried to find another sparring partner with one of the two other men, who ignored him.

I struck up a conversation with the third man, whom I learned was North Carolina born and bred and headed back to Washington, D.C. When I mentioned I was travelling to New York, he seemed to shed some of his 78 years. He told me he’d spent the best years of his life there, training as a mortician and then working in the city morgue.

The attendant was keeping an eye on the progress of our train, now scheduled to arrive about an hour late. About ten minutes before it was expected, she led us through the station, towards the tracks. She unlocked the elevator and we then waited on a platform. The man in ultramarine underpants was behaving in an increasingly crazy pants manner, trying again to trigger a fight. His attempts to intimidate were undercut by his periodic need to hoist his jeans back into position.

The attendant once again defused the situation, while the ex-mortician and I continued our conversation. The train arrived.

Even with the delay, I’d spent less time waiting for the train than I would have wasted before a typical flight.  And the wait was not nearly as exasperating, despite the antics of the man in the ultramarine underpants.

That it was so much less annoying was that there was no CNN blaring in the background, no obligation to participate in ludicrous security theater. And the manner of the Amtrak attendant: calm,  helpful, welcoming, professional. Not flustered. Someone doing her job, who solved problems, and didn’t see them as enemies or  targets to be berated.

How about the train?  It was nearly full, this being the wee hours of the Thursday before Labor Day weekend. The conductor led me to a seat and offered to place my small bag in the overhead rack. Unlike the scrum upon boarding an airplane, there was no need to jostle with other passengers for overhead space.

I settled back into a wide, comfortable leather seat, which was easily fifty percent larger than a standard economy seat on a plane, if not twice as large. Better still, the seat reclined to a comfortable angle, and a small skirt allowed me to elevate my feet. The seat resembled the TV recliners I remember from my childhood: Amtrak’s version of the Barcolounger. I pulled out my neck pillow, swathed myself in a lightweight wrap I always port on my travels, and fell asleep.

To wake up about halfway through the journey, as we passed through Washington D.C. For some reason, the train wasn’t accepting new passengers from D.C. to NYC. That didn’t make sense to me, as I’d think there would be a large number of potential riders there.  I know that other countries also run train services with limited stops; I know little about train scheduling, so there’s undoubtedly a reason. What was odd with the Amtrak situation is that one could get off, but not on, this train.

As we approached Wilmington, I became hungry. The train had two options: one car where one could purchase prepackaged items, and fast food, and a proper dining car. I opted for the latter.

The car had proper tables, napery, and metal cutlery. I sat down and the attendant shooed me into another place, to shar a table with a couple, even though there were plenty of empty seats. I really wanted something simple, but the hot dog was only a children’s option. Alas, I’d probably missed the best meal of the day: breakfast. Not really hungry for any of the ;lunch options – salad, black bean and corn veggie burger, natural Angus burger, baked chilaquiles – I chose steamed mussels, although I’ll concede that was probably the riskiest choice.

They arrived shortly thereafter, mussels with a splodgy white roll. Memo to Amtrak: if you’re going to serve mussels, how about moules frites? These weren’t particularly good, nor were they exactly bad, either. A bit rubbery. Not as good as the pierogi I’d eaten on a Gdansk-Warsaw train in July. I was hungry, and I gobbled them down.

The beverages, unfortunately, were served in plastic cups, but beer and wine were also offered, along with the standard soft drinks. I asked for water and some was poured from a jug – no need to swig from a plastic bottle. I then finished with the dessert of the day, a uniquely American gloppy concoction: a chocolate turtle cake. And a coffee, in a paper cup. Requested fresh milk for that; wish granted. A more than adequate lunch and certainly better than the airplane food one would get on an American carrier in cattle class.

Made my way back to my seat, and started to chat with a nearby passenger, Dennis, about my lunch. He was travelling with his wife; they were in the restaurant business. He reminisced about how good the food was on this same route, when it was part of the Penn Central network, as recently as the sixties.

A complaint: it was very noisy. The train blows its whistle, often. I wonder whether that’s really necessary.

We pulled into Penn Station – about an hour late. We’d embarked about an hour late, and never made up any time. But I knew the train was delayed before I left for the train station.

A conductor helped retrieve my bag and we disembarked, right in the middle of the city, and I caught the subway back to my Brooklyn home. Unlike an airplane journey, there was no need to brave car traffic to get back home.

Although the scheduled journey time was 10 1/2 hours – compared to the 1 1/2 hrs of a direct flight – by the time one factors in additional time to get to and from the airport, and to complete the security circuit, plus a margin of error for delays, especially with La Guardia currently being such a mess – the actual extra time spent travelling door to door was actually much less. Certainly no more than the time I spent sleeping.

I’ve often taken the train for short US journeys, to and from NY to Philly, Boston, DC. But although I’ve made plenty of long train journeys, both in Europe and Asia, this was my first in the United States (see Take the (Night) Train).

Would I do it again? Certainly. Especially for a pleasure trip, where arriving an hour or two late doesn’t matter very much.

It certainly ain’t the Shinkaisen – as I’ve written before, if I lived or spent more time in Japan, I doubt whether I’d ever take a domestic flight ever again.

Yet it’s a much less fraught experience than flying – and better for the climate as well.

Leaf Peeping

One final thought.

Fall foliage season has already started in Alaska.

I’ve traversed, via road, several of the routes sketched in this Afar article, 14 Fall Foliage Train Rides to Book Right Now

Next time I’m tempted to go leaf peeping, I’ll take the train.

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39 comments

  1. carl

    One Amtrak train you might consider is the California Zephyr, which goes from Oakland to the East Coast. I got off last October in Chicago and spent the weekend before flying back home to Texas. An incredibly scenic train trip through the mountain ranges of the western US. Ps. I thought the mussels on the Zephyr were actually not bad. And they sold a decent IPA.

    Reply
      1. Elizabeth

        I recently took the Calif. Zephyr to SFO from the midwest. The food is actually very good (I had the steamed mussels also – not bad), and the scenery is terrific. Coming home, the train was 3 hrs. late which was a bit of concern since I had another connection to make. It’s a very different travel experience than flying (more positive), and one doesn’t have to put up with the security theater, plus one meets friendly, interesting people. I really wish the govt. would stop stripping away improvements on the cross country trains (all the money goes into the Acela).

        Thanks Jeri-Lynn for an interesting travel diary!

        Reply
      2. Krystyn Walentka

        Thirded.

        I have over 20,000 miles logged on Amtrak. The Zephyr and Coast Starlight are both very great rides. The empire Builder in my opinion has degraded over the years.

        I also too the trip you did Lynn, the Crescent. Sounds like they updated the seats. But the trains are always crowded.

        I have many photos from my train travels. Maybe I will set up a showcase…

        Reply
    1. ex-PFC Chuck

      Can’t speak for the CA Zephyr but last year I took the Empire Builder on its final major leg, from St. Paul to Glenview,IL, just short of Chicago. Lunch in the dining car was pathetic. Mercifully I don’t remember what I had.

      Reply
    2. Larry Taylor

      > … the California Zephyr, which goes from Oakland to the East Coast.

      Actually, the eastern terminus of the Zephyr is Chicago. Wife and I took it, west-bound, in 1993, the summer when the entire US Mid-West was saturated by flooding. We ended up running 12 hours late for most of the journey, such that landscape features that were supposed to be magnificent viewing when passed / crossed at the normally scheduled time went by unremarked in the dark while the vast boring bits that we were supposed to sleep through persisted hour after hour during the day. This delightful trip culminated in arrival at the chic, cosmopolitan Oakland station at 3 a.m. Fortunately, our friends from Berkeley came to collect us without a word of complaint (and we didn’t get mugged in the meantime whilst we were waiting for them).

      Reply
    1. Jerri-Lynn Scofield Post author

      Thanks for sharing that detail: NC’s commentariat is the best! I knew someone would probably know why the train squawked so much. Now I know too.

      Reply
      1. Stillfeelinthebern

        My friend’s husband is an engineer. Their greatest problem is people going out on the tracks. Many tracks are readily accessible. Like near a local college where the kids play chicken. They work diligently with the school to try and keep the kids off the tracks.

        Then there are the suicides. It deeply affects the people driving the train.

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        1. Anon

          Yes, pedestrians, as much as autos, induce interminable horn blasts as the train (freight or passenger) passes through my town. The homeless population uses the railroad right-of-way for encampments and some wander too near the tracks often with a passing train. As you can imagine, the train MUST stop and investigate if a collision occurs. Sometimes it takes hours before the train can move on after a fatality.

          The Coast Starlight runs from LA to Seattle on the West Coast. Portions of the track from LA to San Luis Obispo, CA are perched immediately adjacent to the Pacific Ocean. Stunningly scenic, indeed. See: Photos https://www.tripadvisor.com/Attraction_Review-g28926-d219566-Reviews-Amtrak_Coast_Starlight-California.html#photos;aggregationId=&albumid=101&filter=7

          Reply
    2. Synoia

      There is a waiver from the FRA Rules where cities can apply and get an exemption from the Horn Blowing rules. I believe the crossings have to be compliant to a set of specifications (which I don’t know).

      Reply
    3. Janie

      Grade crossings: one more problem more advanced countries have solved. Pedestrians are hit regularly in the Willamette Valley. The tracks are busy, and most crossings are at grade level.

      Reply
  2. ambrit

    Oh yes. There is still a vestige of the glory days of American rail.
    Phyllis can remember being about five or six and taking a train trip with her mother from New Orleans to Chicago. This would have been around 1949 or 1950. That this trip left such vivid memories in her child’s mind is testament to the essentially ‘magical’ nature of railroading.
    America can have this level of service again, but only after short air trips are curtailed.
    Perhaps rail travel can be promoted as a pro-social form of “austerity?”

    Reply
    1. Janie

      Like Phyllis and from about 1945 on, I vividly remember childhood train travel. Mother and I went from Oklahoma City to Memphis and New Orleans to visit family regularly. The dining car, the berths, the depots, the staff and fellow travelers – I always felt so grown-up.

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    2. Michael Fiorillo

      Rode the (pre-Amtrak) Santa Fe Super Chief in the late ’60’s from Chicago to Los Angeles, and I still remember the peach melba served in the legit white tablecloth dining car, and the magic of the domed observation car while traveling through New Mexico… there’s nothing like train travel.

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      1. barefoot charley

        We took family sleepers to the closest depot to my dad’s home town in western Kansas, got awakened and ejected from rocking splendor into 4am darkness, but gathered up by grandad and driven into sunrise as glowing coyote eyes vanished from the hills around our empty road. Way to go.

        Reply
  3. Oh

    The man in the ultramarine underpants was probably hired by the airlines to further discourage train travel. The airlines have introduced another class in addition to the existing cattle car class. It’s the sardine class.

    If you had taken the airline, you’d have been further delayed with no notification of the ETD. What’s more, after the already stressful “security check” by the wonderful TSA, you might be lucky enough to have your carry on rifled by a random check, like what happens on flights from Mexico CIty.

    Yes, the Shinkansen, TGV and the fast trains in Spain puts our airplane and train travel to shame.

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  4. DJG

    I agree with Carl about the California Zephyr. I have done roundtrip Chicago/Emeryville twice. A memorable two-day trip. The Sierra Nevada are a highlight–wonderfully beautiful as the train snakes along mountainsides up to Reno.

    As to being shooed to sit with others: That’s a train tradition. I have heard astounding things at meals. Everything from a woman who told me that the first time she visited Chicago was at age 22 to meet her father for the first time to the woman at Denver who told me that tarot cards “are not of God” (what fun! religion over the sandwiches).

    And I recall a breakfast on the Great Lakes Limited that ended with a woman mentioning to me that her husband, seated at her side, was an Olympian. Track and field 1948. They were elderly by the time of the breakfast and probably had had more than enough of flying.

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  5. John Zelnicker

    I also remember train trips from my childhood. We lived in New York after the war, but my parents were natives of Mobile, so we made annual trips to see the family until we moved back in 1955. We would take the Southern Crescent from NY to Mobile and fly back. Hopefully recent efforts to re-establish Mobile as a stop on the Southern Crescent will come to fruition.

    One particular incident I remember was when I was sleeping in the upper berth, my mother in the lower berth, and my father on the floor. I dropped out of my berth to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night and my landing spot was very unfortunate.

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  6. Bill Smith

    I’ve been on most of that route a number of times. The train is usually late. But more relaxing. I just leave plenty of time to get there before meetings. Food isn’t that good. Usually easy to do work if I get the window seat with the window to my right. I have a heavy piece of cardboard that spans the gap between the little fold out table and the window ledge that creates a much larger workspace.

    I also try to get a seat towards the back so I am not so close to the engine which seems to knock down the noise from the whistle.

    Reply
  7. Calypso Facto

    I was recently in Quebec for several weeks and the day before I was due to fly back to Portland OR, I developed a bad case of vertigo and after a panicked visit to the dr elected to take the train from Montreal to Oregon. I elected to take the Canadian Via Rail from Montreal -> Vancouver BC. Within Quebec Via Rail service is pretty great – multiple trains a day, good breakfast with a gratis wine/spirits cart, usable wifi. I took several trips between Quebec City and Montreal before heading west. These trains do not seem to have berths and are mostly for business and tourist travel, and they’re great.

    Once on the larger leg of the trip, from Toronto -> Vancouver, the train had berths and sleeper, dining and viewing cars. I had a berth, and the sleeping conditions were great. There was a dining car, with a vegan option at each meal, and the meals were entirely passable. The trains were old but in better condition than the Amtrak trains I’ve taken on the Cascades line (which seemed newer but kind of lower quality). Once to BC I switched to Amtrak at the train station after going through minimal passport checks.

    Total journey time was about 6 days, which was entirely too much already with a case of intermittent vertigo, but I have some spectacular video from the scenery. I would prefer to take the train to flying, but the trans-Canada leg was full of retired railway enthusiasts who regaled me with a lot of horror stories about riding Amtrak (lots of stories of trains with no toilets or no water for 5-10 hr journeys).

    Reply
    1. Jerri-Lynn Scofield Post author

      The only Canadian train I’ve taken went from Winnipeg to Churchill. Rode those rails in 2003, with my Mom, as a break in a cross-Canada road trip, where we started in Vancouver and ended in NYC, and our route included Newfoundland and Labrador. Which as those of you who know Canadian geography realise, is not exactly the most direct route. Had a wonderful time, but lots of driving, and I did it all. (Incidentally, strictly speaking, we didn’t ride the rails, as we paid our fares.)

      Reply
  8. KFritz

    Re: train whistles

    I surmise that they are backup warning, in case gates and lights at grade crossings malfunction. Here in Hanford CA (San Joaquin Valley), this seems a very good idea. Caltrain/Amtrak lines operate on BNSF tracks, and the gates at our downtown crossings regularly go haywire. As a pedestrian, I personally witnessed a closed gate ‘accidentally’ raise and immediately lower again with a freight train in sight approximately 1/2 mile away.. Freights are often a mile long, and stop even slower than passenger trains. So, I consider the horns a necessary evil.

    BNSF is owned by Berkshire Hathaway, and I suspect that the equipment predates Buffett’s 2009 purchase. They do regular track maintenance that looks at least adequate, but the signals for the local San Joaquin freight line, which crosses the BNSF tracks–also in downtown–seem to function better

    Reply
  9. Kris

    We took the Empire Builder from Chicago to the Edmonds, WA ferry terminal and back this summer rather than drive (or fly). While we would consider it again, there are some things to keep in mind. The trip lasts over 44 hrs, so we decided to choose one of the sleeper compartment options. The larger compartment has a wider top berth, an advantage as the smaller sleeper (roomette) top berth makes one afraid to turn over at night. However, what was touted as an advantage in the larger compartment turned out to be the opposite: each compartment has its own toilet/shower, meaning a stall the size of the toilet with a handheld shower above it. The elderly couple next to us was traveling with extended family in the smaller compartments, who all came to use the toilet in their compartment. Unfortunately, the septic system in the car broke down, backing up all the toilets, leading to a terrible stink and to the gentleman in the compartment next to us using choice words to describe his experience of taking a shower “while standing in feces!” I kid you not. On the return journey we downgraded to the smaller sleeper, whose car had at least 4 toilets for all, and had a much better experience. On the plus side, we had meals with an amazing variety of folks from all political stripes/walks of life and had the best car attendants imaginable. The food was acceptable and the views were awe-inspiring – you’ll never see these places from a highway.

    Reply
  10. Alex Cox

    Amtrak out west is wonderful, if you aren’t in a hurry. On longer routes such as the Coast Starlight the traveller might want to consider a sleeping car, which is very comfortable – the fare includes all meals in the dining car (and if you are lucky a wine tasting in the view car as you transit the Vandenberg missile launching sites and view the Pacific).

    Arizona Slim, perhaps you never need to go to LA but the Tucson-LA train runs three times a week, at night, and is very convenient. City centre to city centre.

    Drunkenness is a perennial problem on the long-haul trains, but not as bad as what you can look forward to flying on EasyJet or RyanAir.

    Unfortunately routes are constantly being cut back (there are no more trains to Vegas or Phoenix) and I don’t imagine the US will ever have fast rail: the skill sets aren’t there, and the security issues would mean long delays for metal detectors and TSA-style checks.

    Reply
  11. rtah100

    I took several long-distance sleepers in the US to compare to Europe in the 2000’s. Some of the trips were pure sightseeing for the thrill of the train but I also used to fly RTW a lot and I would have missing US sectors under the ticketing rules to cover and I would fill in by train rather than buy more flights.

    Boston-Chicago-Santa Fe
    Boston to Chicago was nothing special although I seem to remember the train going through the place where RV manufacture is concentrated. Elmer? Chicago-Santa Fe (the Chief?) was fantastic for the sheer scale of the journey – the farms on the prairies, crossing the great wide Mississippi on a rail bridge, the empty plains and sagebrush country, climbing the Rockies – and also how *slow* US trains are. It crawled up the Rockies at walking pace, slower than the jack rabbits it disturbed. It was like being back in the days of British steam, when trains had to be double-banked to get over the (modest) hills in Devon!

    I travelled with my now-wife but it was a close-run thing because it turns out I can sleep in a train and she cannot. 72h of insomnia trapped in a small cabin is a test of any relationship. We liked our sleeper cabin, although I had to have the smaller top bunk because she is claustrophobic, and we do not have any issues with the plumbing. I remember we stopped at the big bookshop in Cambridge before we left and bought a dozen books each for the journey.

    The biggest challenge was the dining car. We did not want to be forced to share a table for the convenience of the staff (in the UK, you only share restaurant car tables if there are no free seats or you want to – and I often want to, the conversation is always good, but we just wanted each other’s company on that trip). The food was also the worst of American food (although not as horrifying as the microwaveable monstrosities such as the hot dogs from the buffet / shop).

    Seattle – LA (Coast Starlight)
    This was a fantastic trip. When I rode the train, I remember it having two dining cars. One was a promotional car for the produce of the Pacific Coast. Some genuinely good food and wine and no nonsense about the seating. Why can the rest of the Amtrak sleeper service dining not be like this? Plus the station in LA is a lovely building.

    Chicago – Oakland
    I took this for a work trip. You can get a LOT of work done in an Amtrak sleeper by yourself. It was really interesting going along such a famous route, the Donner pass etc, and seeing the relationship of California to the Sierras (water! the train follows river routes where it can).

    How does it compare to travelling in Europe and Asia? Well, the trains make stately progress (and, because they are broad gauge, they are huge!), the staff are more alive than airline staff (but not immune from surliness) and view is grand. It’s still an inferior product though, with a bumpy ride (jointed rail rather than continuously welded) and the sonic clichés of horn-blowing and clanging level crossings. These are still some of my most memorable journeys, perhaps because they took so long that much of them was in daylight rather than asleep.

    For comparison, the memorable sleeper trains I have taken outside the US have been:

    China (about 20 years ago) – I treated myself to a solo berth soft class for which you get air conditioned, soft pillowed luxury suitable for Party chairman. I have also travelled rural hard class, with triple bunk bed dorm carriages with no privacy. Even in the cheap seats, there is free boiling water for pot noodle and tea, at least. This was before Chinese high speed rail so even the fanciest T-class trains travelled at no more than c. 90mph.

    Russia – second class sleeper from St Petersburg to Moscow in 1994; first class sleeper from Moscow to Tallinn c. 2004. Lovely samovars at the end of the corridor for a morning cup of tea. Fantastic broad gauge rolling stock. Dark wood and heavy velvet furnishing. The first trip, I had to pass as a Russian student I obtained the ticket for about £5, possibly less, rather than the official Intourist rate of (say) £500. I played cards and drank with a Russian family despite not speaking much Russian. The trains travelled pretty fast during the night because this was the flagship service of the Russian Railway. There is now a high speed train but I think the sleeper still survives. When I rode it, there were several services each night and the stations at each end were dramatic, ill-lit places and some of the people n them seemed equally shadowy.

    Spain – Malaga to Barcelona, a thrilling ride up the gorge outside Malaga, where there is just room for train track and river (and a via ferrata for people to cling to the cliffs) and then the most luxurious journey ever with a proper shower room and separate toilet. Great food and wine and the whole thing was cheap too. The service has been abolished now that the AVE serves Malaga and Barcelona.

    France / Italy: Paris – Milan, again, a good train (but rather tired), great dining car atmosphere. Abolished in favour of the high speed train, even though the Italians have not built their half yet!

    Japan – Nagoya to Shimonoseki, lovely train, old but in beautiful condition. I was leaving Japan on the ferry to Korea from Shimonoseki. I came down the mountains on a local service from Hakuba where I had been skiing and I caught the train in the middle of the night, the only person on the platform, which is the right way to catch a sleeper. I think it took me to the ferry terminal but there may have been a connection. The attendants gave out yukata and slippers. I am not sure I was supposed to take the yukata but it was a great souvenir and I still wear it. It has a pattern of wheel cross-sections (like an I-beam). These services have been abolished as the shinkansen has been extended and budgets cut.

    PS: we have a lot of level crossings in the UK but trains rarely sound their horn at them. I think we feel less duty of care to trespassers on the track because the average speed of our trains is so much faster than in the USA. Trespassers get pulped, no ifs, no buts, so don’t do it. There is a handful of deaths each year but these are usually faulty equipment, suicides or thrill seekers, e.g. train surfing.

    Reply
  12. lordkoos

    I love traveling by rail, and have done so in the US, Canada, China, Thailand and Malaysia. My first train ride as a child sold me on the experience, as when I was around 7 years old my family took the Milwaukee Road Hiawatha passenger train from eastern WA to Chicago. This was in the late 50s and train travel still was somewhat elegant. I have also taken the Empire builder from East to West, bu that was decades ago.

    Probably the best food I’ve had on a train was in China — an excellent bowl of noodles and broth. By far the best food in a train station was in Thailand, in fact the best fish cakes we had during out 7 months while in Thailand were at the Bangkok depot.

    With any kind of travel I find that ear plugs and a sleep mask are your best friends.

    Reply
  13. jessica

    Oddly enough, although the Shinkansen is excellent, a huge number of Japanese fly domestically, even between cities that have Shinkansen service. Not sure why, though one reason may be that some of the Shinkansen stations are distant from the city center.
    The high-speed train I took from Beijing to Shanghai was impressively smooth – you hardly felt the movement at all. The train (mag-lev I think) out to the Shanghai airport when I left was so exceptionally smooth, but in places where it passed closer to buildings, you could really feel how fast we were going. That train is faster than normal high-speed trains.

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  14. voteforno6

    I haven’t ridden on trains in the U.S., but I did take a couple of short train trips in France recently. The trains there do certainly seem to be part of the normal means of transportation for many people there, and the bigger stations did have quite a few amenities, even while retaining the older architecture (at least in the case of the Gare de Lyon).

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  15. Winston Smith

    I deeply regret not doing an overnight sleeper train trip with our son when he was young enough to be in wonder of such an experience. I did not do many myself but the memories are priceless-unlike air travel which is better forgotten.

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  16. curlydan

    Thanks for your description of this train ride. I only ride the bullet trains when I visit China with my wife who knows the languages, but I do enjoy the greatly reduced security theatre there, too.

    Here is some mood music for the (night) train…Philip Glass’s “Night Train” from Einstein on the Beach:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q0SkpR-1StE

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  17. Cal2

    The effect on us of riding dozens of AMTRAK trains on long trips is that discovering most people are wonderful, even those might be suspicious of in other settings, and that The National Institution is pathetic, dangerous and moribund. It seems that people become unified when sharing awkward situations, such as AMTRAK, versus say, first class air travel which alienates.

    Free landgrant mile square checkerboards of acreage on either side of the tracks for railroads, led to regulation through the Interstate Commerce Commission which meant high quality competing passenger trains showcasing the different railroads personalities.

    Air travel, railroad consolidation, corporate greed and the dissolution of the I.C.C. in exchange for abandonment of passenger service by private carriers,led to a stillborn AMTRAK. Best thing for it, besides proper funding, on par with highways, would be for railroads to give priority to passenger trains over containers of chinacrap or grain, which now get priority while passenger trains sit on sidings.

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  18. Phil in KC

    The Missouri River Runner serves as the Amtrak connection between Kansas City and St. Louis. It parallels the Missouri River as it crosses the state, true to its name. A ticket is $29.00, and the entire trip from the Union Station in KC to the terminus in St. Louis is about 5-6 hours, versus 4-5 hours by car (depends on final destination in St. Louis, traffic conditions, and your skill at passing slow-moving vehicles). When you consider the alternative, namely driving on Interstate 70 and dodging construction, big rigs and trailers, navigating through St. Louis traffic, and other aggravations, the train is my first choice. The ticket cost is only about $5.00-$7.00 more than the cost of gasoline. More important to me is arriving relaxed and composed. I wish I could travel more places by rail. I wish other people would travel more by rail, too. Amtrak needs some love in the midwest.

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  19. andreww

    I took the same route as Jerri-Lynn to Charlotte, NC this August 2, to my brother’s daughter’s wedding. Another brother was flying at the same time from Albany, another from LGA.

    The Crescent, round trip $250 (senior white dude I am), left Penn Station exactly on time, 2PM, and was full. Three quarters of the clientele were people not white, mostly African Americans with great Southern accents. The woman next to me was from Jamaica, a home health aide for a 30-year retired marine veteran (female) who had ALS. My seat-mate just had her hours cut to 20 per week from 40 and her pay cut to $10 from $12. She had no training how to aide a person with ALS. The Marine Corps contracted through an agency which paid the worker. I took her to dinner; we sat with a husband and wife, classy retired people from Queens, African American, who loved the train and made several trips a year to see southern family. We asked the waitress if she had a drop-off point where her crew switched out to another. No, she said, she stayed on for three days, back and forth to New Orleans. She said she was tired. Yeah, said the man a the table, but you meet a lot of interesting people, and we all cracked up laughing.

    The train takes 30 hours New York City – New Orleans, 12 hours to Charlotte. I left at 2PM, arrived 2 hours late at 4AM; Uber was waiting, local police were at the station. It rained most of the trip. My Albany traveling brother was stuck in Baltimore. I passed him via text, and joked “only 8 more hours for me.” He got to Charlotte at 2AM. My LaGuardia brother was at the airport, delayed for hours, and his flight was finally cancelled. He was rescheduled for next day 8AM, but that flight was cancelled as well. He never made the wedding.

    AMTRAK is the vehicle of choice for many mid-South African Americans, anecdotally, of course, but empirical. The train stayed full to Charlotte. The cynic in me says that’s why there is so little service on the system outside the Northeast corridor. Wikipedia all the stops the Crescent makes and you’ll see the name of city after city with solid associations with so much history of Black folk, slavery and war. Just leaving DC and passing through Manassas, Richmond, Fredericksburg (dead Irish Fighting 69th-ers). And yes, High Point. (No Montgomery!)

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