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March 21, 2019 9:26 AM   Subscribe

Ha. As a grad student, I once rode the train - this very train, I think - cross country. I rode from Albuquerque to Chicago, and then took another train from Chicago to Syracuse. The trip through the midwest was stunning in its vistas, and I'm very glad I did it that way - once.

(Chicago to Syracuse was eminently forgettable.)
posted by RedOrGreen at 9:34 AM on March 21, 2019 [2 favorites]

I love traveling by train. I wish we had more of them in the US.

It is fun to consider that my parents, my siblings and I are the first generations of our family tree to have literally flown around the world. Our experience is unique. World travelers have been extremely rare in all of human history, percentage-wise.

I've driven over 500,000 miles over the course of my lifetime, and flown pretty close to that as well. I've taken trains, buses, boats and taxis in around 17 countries...

2 generations ago, this would've been unheard of. Crazy how times change.
posted by Chuffy at 9:45 AM on March 21, 2019 [7 favorites]

We took the train from Pittsburgh to NYC once. It took 8-9 hours. Driving would be faster, and flying much faster, but my god was it nice if you have the luxury of time. Train bathrooms get pretty gross after even 9 hours, but I'll still take it over the TSA shitshow and wedging myself into an airplane toilet. And major bonus that we WALKED from Penn Station to our hotel.

As we speak I am planning a trip from Oregon to Vancouver BC, and I'm sad that this time it really doesn't make sense to spend so much time on the train.
posted by nakedmolerats at 9:45 AM on March 21, 2019 [7 favorites]

Hey! I did this back in 2016. Took the local connector from Grand Rapids to Chicago, then the Empire Builder line from Chicago to Seattle, then caught a bus up to Vancouver, BC.

I loved it. Second and third weeks of September, the cars were half-full so I had a set of seat to myself. Two full days of travel each way and I spent almost every waking minute just looking out the window. It was magnificent.
posted by JohnFromGR at 9:52 AM on March 21, 2019 [5 favorites]

Trains are wonderful and it's a damn shame that it's so expensive to travel by train in much of North America.
posted by asnider at 10:02 AM on March 21, 2019 [18 favorites]

The first time I went to NYC, in the mid-eighties, I went via train overnight from Chicago to NYC. The Big Apple was pretty underwhelming--they were in the middle of a garbage strike, and the relatives who were hosting me were in the middle of struggling through their tax returns--but the trip was great; I saw Three Mile Island and the Horseshoe Curve along the way.
posted by Halloween Jack at 10:20 AM on March 21, 2019 [2 favorites]

I've only traveled by train in the US a few times, but I vividly remember the viewing cars, with the curving windows and all the people looking out - but then sometimes you had it all to yourself and it was really wonderful. You were alone with yourself with the train chugging underneath you and you just had time to look and think.

I was also was really happy to read another article from that same magazine: an article on Rick Steves.
posted by PussKillian at 10:24 AM on March 21, 2019 [2 favorites]

i kinda wanna try it just to get into that bed suspended from the ceiling
posted by numaner at 10:26 AM on March 21, 2019

I love the idea of train travel but it's just so inconvenient that I never do it. The train from Pittsburgh to DC takes either 8 hours or 11 hours depending on the route while I could drive in less than five. You can do the five hour trip on Friday evening after work and get to your hotel before midnight while a weekend by train requires two extra vacation days just for a weekend trip.
posted by octothorpe at 10:31 AM on March 21, 2019

I thought to myself, "Wait... Is the the same writer from the TGI Friday's Endless Appetizers article?" And it was! She's super funny and I was delighted by this article.
posted by merriment at 10:32 AM on March 21, 2019 [6 favorites]

For 20 years I have done most of my travel by train and it's always slightly funny to me to read these articles that are like "guys, did you know there is a long, connected thingy that moves around on rails and will take you places?"
posted by Smearcase at 10:44 AM on March 21, 2019 [9 favorites]

Also not to make myself out as some kind of Buddha figure but I'm kind of relieved that traveling this way (which I didn't do out of any interest or curiosity but rather because I have an awful fear of flying, so again, this is not a comment about how great I am, I promise) has unhooked me from the mentality that it's some primitive ordeal to have it take more than five hours to cross the entire country.
posted by Smearcase at 10:49 AM on March 21, 2019 [9 favorites]

Love this - a very entertaining read.

Contrary to multiple acquaintances’ declarations that I would encounter “some real weirdos” on the train, the first person I met on board my first sleeper car after boarding the train in Penn Station was a man in a sparkly cardigan and leather pants who breezily identified himself as “a prophet,” which is perhaps the world’s second-oldest profession.
posted by motdiem2 at 10:49 AM on March 21, 2019 [13 favorites]

"I thought to myself, "Wait... Is the the same writer from the TGI Friday's Endless Appetizers article?" And it was! She's super funny and I was delighted by this article."

I think I was introduced to Caity Weaver through Dwayne Johnson for President followed shortly by The Gal Gadot Next Door. Everything I've read of hers is a delight - her list of articles on GQ is a great starting point.
posted by komara at 10:56 AM on March 21, 2019 [6 favorites]

I love traveling by train and will chose it over any other form of travel given the choice, time and budget. Every time.

There's so many relaxing and enjoyable benefits, from being able to bring your own food and drink to being able to get up and roam around to the usually incredible views.

If I could ever afford it I'd love to spend an entire month or even more just living on the trains and riding the classic touristy Amtrak routes all over the US and even into Canada and their rail system.

I know they have or had a month-long pass that goes on sale occasionally, but I think I'd rather just do it day by day if cost were no concern. Some (if not many) days I'd get a sleeper cabin. Some days I'd slum it in coach. If there was some place I wanted to stop, I'd stop and grab a hotel room and stay for a while, then get back on the train.

These are all things you can do on a train. You can go to the conductor and tell them you want to get off right here and now at any given stop. If you don't have any checked luggage, heck, you can just get off the train and go.

Heck, I'm pretty sure you can still board any Amtrak train without a ticket if you have the cash to pay your fare. There are many segments of the more touristy, not NE metro Amtrak routes where it is used as a local intercity commuter train and I would see locals hop on for a few stops and just pay for that segment of their route to the conductor.

And one of the things I'd like to do on a fantasy trip like this is invite a lot of people to dinner in the dining car. Perhaps buy tickets to dinner and just randomly hand them out to people who normally wouldn't spring for this upgrade - like I usually wouldn't. Until I figured out it was usually the best meal value on the train.

Because the dining cars on Amtrak long haul trains are kind of an amazing little slice of forgotten Americana, because they do mixed seating. IE, if you're a solo traveler you'll likely be seated with a couple and one other solo traveler at a table for four for the entire dinner. Which is actually really cool and you get to meet new people you'd never meet before.

That and hand out sleeper cabin upgrades to people, couples or families who look like they could use them and appreciate them. You can sometimes get cabin upgrades at bargain prices on the train if you talk to the conductor, and, well, if I was riding the trains for a month or a year I'm sure I'd get to know all of the conductors and land some sweet deals on upgrades, especially if they saw I was doing it for other people just to give them a nice trip. (Disclaimer: I have yet to be able to afford a sleeper cabin ticket!)

The other, crazier part of my rail travel fantasy is buying or leasing a private car and living on it for a year or two. Every night you fall asleep on a rocking train, and every morning it's a new view outside your windows. It's like an oversized luxury RV you don't have to drive or park, or a boat that doesn't sink or burn money.

Amtrak may be a derpy throwback in these days of cheap air travel, but it's our derpy throwback. I wish more people valued our passenger rail network and the opportunity for relaxed, low stress travel that it can provide.
posted by loquacious at 10:57 AM on March 21, 2019 [22 favorites]

Disclaimer: I regularly use the train to get to and from my parents' place (public transit options between NYC and Cape Cod are not great in the off-season), and my uncle managed a railroad-based amusement park when I was a kid and a "dinner cruise" train when I was a teen, so I'm train-sympathetic.

I like trains; they're cheaper than a plane, there's no TSA screening, and you can conceivably show up at the train station 5 minutes before boarding and still get onto the train on time. The current economy class isn't as much of a luxury as the old days, but that is also true of plane travel. Amtrak is trying to cater to the passenger experience as well; they've set up a couple of "quiet cars" on each train where people are discouraged from yakking away on their phones for three hours as they ride. You don't have to strap yourself in when you're sitting in your seat, it's not a big deal if you want to get up and walk around on the train, and the seats are bigger. Sure, it takes you longer (unless we're talking about the Acela); just chalk it up to this being a matter of sometimes the journey itself being just as important as the destination.

I cannot report having seen any "weirdos" on any train - nor prophets - but I probably was one such weirdo once, when I helped a man on a very crowded train who'd gotten separated from his family convey a message to them by hollering it out through the length and breadth of our car ("Attention: Greg from Baltimore would like his family to know he's fine, and he'll just meet you at the info booth when you get off in Philadelphia, would everyone please turn around and pass that message on to the people behind you and we pass it down the car."). I ran into "Greg" in the cafe car an hour later and he told me that someone had somehow passed a "message received" back from his family on to him and he thanked me.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:59 AM on March 21, 2019 [20 favorites]

The quiet car is one of my favorite things in the world.
posted by Smearcase at 11:04 AM on March 21, 2019 [8 favorites]

Trains are the best. I have an eight-hour-each-way train trip coming up and I am very much looking forward to it. I regret only that for this trip I do not have a roomette; Personal Train Nap Pod is the greatest thing, but didn't work out for this particular trip's scheduling.
posted by Stacey at 11:26 AM on March 21, 2019

I’m typing this at Union Station Portland, waiting to board the Amtrak Cascades train to Seattle. I arrrived in Portland on Tuesday via the Coast Starlight from LA. It was my first time taking a long train ride. It was neither fast nor cheap. It was somewhat comfortable for the most part, though the upper bunk in my roommette was kind of like a jail cell cot. I think I got maybe three hours of sleep though it’s the sort of thing you could get used to. I can’t wear earplugs but they would have helped.

I met a bunch of interesting characters. Like, a BUNCH. OF. INTERESTING. CHARACTERS. One guy had traveled over 500,000 miles on trains. He knew every inch of the ride and would let us know if something interesting was coming up. We were a community of strangers all traveling north together for different reasons.

The staff were all pleasant and efficient. The food wasn’t bad. Much better than any airplane food I’ve ever had. My wife helped the waiter explain grits to a guy from England. I’m not sure he fully understood. The train was mostly clean. Nothing was very fancy though there was silverwear and tablecloths in the dining car.

I got to see the entire state of California and a good chunk of Oregon go past my window. I watched the sun come up behind Mt. Shasta and knew Portland was getting closer because Mt. Hood was getting bigger. I saw industry and towns and prisons and went through tunnels and over bridges. I saw herds of deer in fields and porpoises swimming in the ocean. Beaches filled with surfers and strange structures along Vandenburg Air Force base. The train went places only the train goes. We wound around mountains for miles and miles and stopped in little towns in the middle of nowhere.

By the time we got to Portland we were ready to get off the train.

Most of it was lovely. Some of it wasn’t. I’d do it again. I’m really looking forward to the trip to Seattle, which is about ready to board.
posted by bondcliff at 11:30 AM on March 21, 2019 [48 favorites]

"Kansas shares a border with Colorado. I never could have imagined that I would one day say this, and I know many people will be disconcerted by the statement. They will wonder if, this whole time, they have been reading an avant-garde work of science fiction, or perhaps a Mad Lib. “Is magical realism always this scary?” they will ask themselves. Some will claim I am lying. Many will assume I am wrong, demented or a clumsy typist."

I am having some trouble parsing this paragraph. Is it just a really dry joke, like, is it supposed to be funny that the author doesn't know basic geography or is there something else I'm missing?
posted by GoblinHoney at 11:39 AM on March 21, 2019 [3 favorites]

I've been enjoying your tweets about your trip, bondcliff! (Hope that's not creepy.) Especially the videos, though it kind of scared me off taking my own train trip because those hallways look narrow as all get out! My partner usually travels with a wheelchair and we've looked into getting an accessible room, maybe the hallways around them wouldn't be so tiny. I was sad to see that even in the accessible room someone has to climb up top! I'm not sure I'm brave enough (or limber OR small enough, for that matter).

I traveled a lot by train in college, going to college in Grand Rapids, having a brother who went to Kalamazoo College (a train stop just down the way), and traveling to Chicago for things like school events or just kicking around for the day. It was a hell of a lot easier to travel via train during the long winters than to brave the roads. Such happy memories and the man working in the food car was always the same friendly guy for the four years I took the train regularly. I have oddly pleasant memories of their vegetarian sandwich, though I can't imagine why as I'm sure it was perfectly boring.
posted by the thorn bushes have roses at 11:40 AM on March 21, 2019 [3 favorites]

I have trained Chicago-Philadelphia, Minneapolis-Seattle-Oakland-Chicago-Minneapolis, and innumerable tripsfrom RI to Philadelphia. It’s a great way to see the country.

One time, on an early train to Philadelphia in Winter, the sun was coming up on deep falls of powdery snow, and the wind from the train’s passage spread the snow up and around the train like white glowing wings. You won’t get that in a plane.
posted by GenjiandProust at 11:41 AM on March 21, 2019 [1 favorite]

I just came back from a weekend trip to Toronto on Amtrak (it magically transforms into a Canadian line once you've passed the border). This is not the time of year to drive to Toronto, which is the fastest route, and there are no other direct methods to get there from here--the teeny propeller flights that were Rochester airport's only claim to "International" status have long since disappeared. Anyway, aside from getting trapped in Buffalo for nearly an hour on the way back, it was a pleasant enough six hours each way: the chairs are much comfier than an airplane's, there's no TSA (although on this route there were, obviously, customs to deal with), and one doesn't feel packed into a sardine can. Granted, I was joking that I spent more time on the train than in the city...

I'd love to do a cross-country trip in a sleeper at least once, but it is So. Expensive. that I just can't justify it.
posted by thomas j wise at 11:43 AM on March 21, 2019 [1 favorite]

Dear God what I wouldn't give for a quiet car on Lincoln Service
posted by fluttering hellfire at 11:44 AM on March 21, 2019 [1 favorite]

The Kansas/Colorado thing is familiar to all of us who have driven I-70 and get super hype to finally be tf out of Kansas only to realize it's 90 more minutes of Kansas.
posted by fluttering hellfire at 11:46 AM on March 21, 2019 [22 favorites]

The author's quite right that the best views are the ones that have less in them, and I don't doubt they're one-of-a-kind out west, but there's some great scenery even along the more utilitarian Northeast Corridor if you know where to look for it. The route passes through a forest around (I think) the MA-RI border. For a while it feels less like you're riding intercity rail and more like you're heading to some small town tucked away in the woods. And I always stop to watch the views over the water around New London, CT. Even the view of the harbor from the station while you're stopped is pretty nice!

Ever since I moved to Boston, if I'm traveling somewhere on the route, I'll usually go by train. It's neither the cheapest nor the fastest, but it's far and away the least stressful, and makes the whole trip feel more like a trip and less like a chore.
posted by brett at 11:51 AM on March 21, 2019 [4 favorites]

low stress travel that it can provide

This a million times. I know they can run late, but as long as I don't need to get in exactly on time train travel is less stressful even than dealing with my fellow drivers on the hwy. It's my transportation of choice when going home (Wolverine line!). Even just getting to the station is way less of a hassle than the airport. I just hop on the Metra for a shorter and cheaper ride than a cab to the airport. Hell, I probably spend less time on the metra than I would going through security.

Theoretically the plane should be faster, but the last few times I've flown the delays + horrible traffic getting to the airport meant door to door time was about the same. Actually, I think my last flight was so delayed (in perfect weather!) I could technically have taken the train there and back before I finally made it to my parents' house. At least when Amtrak runs late the chairs are comfier. And they have Bell's on the menu.
posted by ghost phoneme at 11:52 AM on March 21, 2019 [3 favorites]

I thought to myself, "Wait... Is the the same writer from the TGI Friday's Endless Appetizers article?" And it was! She's super funny and I was delighted by this article.

I hereby move that National Treasure Caity Weaver hereinafter be added to the Official MetaFilter list of National Treasures.
posted by Rock Steady at 11:53 AM on March 21, 2019 [8 favorites]

I haven't done this cross-country train trip, but I did do a Boston->Philly->Savanna->Palm Beach trip once that was very memorable. I think it's possibly the best way to take a multi-stop tour if all your stops are along an Amtrak route. You could technically make the same trip by air, and it might even be slightly cheaper, but you'd have so much less time to enjoy each stop.
posted by tobascodagama at 12:22 PM on March 21, 2019 [2 favorites]

The Kansas/Colorado thing is familiar to all of us who have driven I-70 and get super hype to finally be tf out of Kansas only to realize it's 90 more minutes of Kansas.

I had a bit of a different experience on Rt. 50 - I crossed the Kansas/Colorado border and then spent the next 45 minutes of driving in a state of unbridled glee because "holy shit that's a tree!...Oh my God another tree!...."
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:26 PM on March 21, 2019 [2 favorites]

Oops! Gabriel Kahane (previously)
posted by hippybear at 12:42 PM on March 21, 2019

I live next to the train tracks, in Houston. Amtrak trains go by every couple days. We glance up to see if this train might have a private car coupled on to the back. Sometimes one goes by, and the elegance of a by-gone era is briefly bestowed upon us. The cars are available for rent, and the impression is that if you have to ask how much it costs, you can't afford it. But the fantasy of riding the rails on our own train car remains.
posted by Midnight Skulker at 12:46 PM on March 21, 2019 [1 favorite]

Yeah, but I dunno. I'd be claustrophobic. One of rail's many charms is the ability to get up and move between cars; but to be trapped in one, however sumptuous, at the end? No thanks.
Now, if it was a caboose, at the end of freight train...
posted by Rash at 12:51 PM on March 21, 2019

Contrarian viewpoint!

Brit here. Yes, I have used Amtrak; it has its good side. Wide, roomy seats for one thing.

But. But. But.

I am currently racking up 400+ miles a week by rail in the UK (my mother's in a nursing home: I'm commuting each weekend; I can't drive there and back in a day these days). And using rail as your main form of long-haul travel gets old fast. Yes, there are toilets and you can get up and walk around and there's at-seat food and beverage service and wifi and air conditioning. Yes, the service I'm riding hits 125mph for several long stretches and covers 200 miles in 3 hours, including about eight station stops. (Yeah, it's horrifyingly slow by European high speed rail standards. I know, I know, I've ridden the Acela, too, and that's almost as fast …)

But. But. But.

At least in a car you can stop, get out, and scream in rage and frustration when your gearbox disintegrates all over the highway. Or you can divert to an aviation museum just off your route, or go find a restaurant with a non-Amtrak-dining-car menu.

A train is a utilitarian, rapid, efficient form of transport (which Amtrak ain't, as witness everyone complaining about how you should never catch a long-distance train in the USA if you've got to be somewhere at a set time less than a week in the future). And as such it gradually tends toward the state of all such utilitarian, rapid, efficient forms of transport. Some shit-for-brains sneaks into the one working toilet and smokes a cigarette, fouling the air and choking everyone else who needs it. The food service is closed because of a staff shortage at an intermediate station or because they ran out of hot water. The beer sells out (or, a special case unique to the UK, is forbidden on certain services at certain times because it'll be carrying a bunch of rowdy soccer fans home from a match where their team lost). The train wifi is patchy in rural areas and in any case it's nanny-filtered for your non-existent children's safety and comfort, not yours.

(I'm not sure where I'm going here, except I've racked up roughly 5000 miles on the rails this year so far, and the romance hasn't just worn off: it's dead and buried at the crossroads with a stake through its heart and a mouthful of garlic.)

Oh yeah: and then there are the tragedy rides. Like the time when, on a Saturday night at just the point where a bunch of drunken partygoers flooded aboard in Durham to catch the train home to Newcastle, 12 minutes up the line, someone ended it all and the police spent the next two hours picking bits of body off the trackside, and the train took three and a half hours to cover that 12 minute stretch because it was going so fast at time of impact that the brakes were damaged. And then everyone transferred to the next out-bound train to the final destination, which ran into a downed overhead cable so that I arrived home nearly 9 hours late on a 3 hour journey.

No. Nothing romantic here. The romantic stuff is like conflating joy-rides in a classic bird like a DC-3 with scheduled airline service. It's a category error. And encouraging the romantic take on main line train services simply provides cover for an unacceptably poor standard of service which is viewed with pity by the rest of the developed world.
posted by cstross at 12:59 PM on March 21, 2019 [7 favorites]

The joys of train travel are something like the "joys" of poverty. They can't be faked or chosen. They are tied to necessity.

For the past 40 years, fear of flying made trains my only alternative. I rode Amtrak all over the country and enjoyed every minute of it.

But now that I've overcome my fear, and become a joyful flier, I can't go back to riding the train, any more than I would want to go back and live in the bohemian squalor of my youth - even though I have many happy memories of those days.
posted by Modest House at 1:02 PM on March 21, 2019 [1 favorite]

I crossed the country twice as a kid (LA-Chicago at 5, and LA-NYC at 11), and I would be deeply sad if those lines stopped to exist before I can take my own kids somewhere fun; the Coast Starlight has long been on my wish list.

Now I take the Northeast corridor trains all the time, and although, yes, technically, it does take longer than flying/driving, it's not that much longer once you factor in security lines or traffic and rest stops. Plus when plane travel goes bad, it's just miserable*. Trains are just more pleasant to exist in than planes or cars.

It's a false decision that Congress if forcing Amtrak to make. Yes, of course Amtrak should be working to build more Northeast corridors, identifying areas of the country where a lot of people are regularly driving the same 2, 3, 4+ hours and would really benefit from frequent, mostly-reliable train service to cut into short plane and long car trips. Yes, those corridors would be expensive to set up, but they would (if planned and supported properly) eventually become profitable. They'd certainly have a lot of other benefits to the environment, to people who otherwise couldn't make the trip due to inability to drive, etc.

But we can still have those nostalgic throwback money-losing trains that criss-cross the beautiful empty places of our country. We can, as a nation, afford both. They're not that expensive, compared to many things we spend tax money on. Funding for the future of rail travel doesn't have to be linked to killing its link to the past. It's not a choice that we should have to make.

*Apart from delays/security lines, ask yourself, where would you rather clean up kid vomit -- on an airplane, in your own car, or on a train with free access to hot running water and your luggage containing everyone's spare clothes. Speaking purely hypothetically. Twice.
posted by puffyn at 1:07 PM on March 21, 2019 [6 favorites]

We've seen a lot of pro- and against-train discussion, but I propose one point upon which we might be able to find universal agreement:

At the very least, riding a train is preferable to riding a bus, if that bus route would be taking you via the section of Interstate 95-North that lies between New York City and New Haven, CT.

(It's only an 80-mile stretch of road and I was once stuck on a bus in that exact part of that highway for four hours.)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:21 PM on March 21, 2019 [4 favorites]

I road the Empire line from Portland to Chicago. I didn't get a sleeper car or anything fancy - just brought mandarins and sausage and nuts. A one hour delay is cute. We were caught behind a freight derailement and disembarked in Havre, MT with no idea how long this would take. A few hours later they loaded us on to buses to bus around the derailment to the train that had been traveling in the opposite direction. I am a train person, in Caity Weaver's terminology (sitting and staring for hours is great, as are weird strangers) but I'm eternally grateful to my seatmate for not initiating conversation during this eternity. I'd do it again a million times over.
posted by decathexis at 1:24 PM on March 21, 2019

No. Nothing romantic here.

Counter-contrarian viewpoint: I have spent a lot of time on trains, have taken most of the routes in the country, have been on some awful rides (Dallas to Chicago, bad weather felled some trees on the tracks in Arkansas, got home about A DAY late.) And yet, I still love it most of the time. I have a trip coming up from San Antonio to LA and am looking dreamily forward to it. Some of the time I'll be bored and some of the time I'll wish I had a real bathroom but for hours at a stretch I'll be looking out the window. There's a moment on that route when I wake up and see the weird landscape of west Texas out the window and my heart skips a beat. So, yes. Yes romantic. Just not always.
posted by Smearcase at 1:24 PM on March 21, 2019 [8 favorites]

Now I want to take the T to South Station Boston and just get on.

Do suggest if you're looking for a long distance ride consider the Canadian train from Montreal to Vancouver, more vistas, less amtrak.
posted by sammyo at 1:27 PM on March 21, 2019 [2 favorites]

Something I have noticed, even Brits who are used to crappy train journeys still think that Eurostar still somehow carries with it the romance of rail travel. Use it a few times and you'll find it isn't. Its unreliable, often under-provisioned and having to go through UK customs is shit any time. I have done Cornwall to Belgium 5 times in the last year, plus a Cornwall to Lille (cstross, I'll raise your 5000 miles), and it gets old pretty fast. Even the sleeper back to Cornwall loses its magic when you are just rolling on into the office with a shuteye deficiency. I would still recommend a sleeper for holiday trips though, tucking in after a 2 hour saunter down the side of the Rhine, than waking up in Salzburg was pretty cool.

I'm writing this on the train you know. Halfway through a five hour trip. Its a new train but its still a yellow lit, metal tube hurtling through the boring dark. For the record I'm expensing Jaffa Cakes.

I agree on the bus thing though. Megabus have started doing a cheap route, Cornwall to London that sounds like being wedged into a nightmare for 7 hours. Its overnight.
posted by biffa at 1:29 PM on March 21, 2019 [3 favorites]

Is it just me or are the images in that article arriving in my browser with the same speed and predictably as an Amtrak train?
posted by marvin at 1:33 PM on March 21, 2019 [2 favorites]

Now I want to take the T to South Station Boston and just get on.

Meetup idea? Everybody takes the same Amtrak train going in the same direction, starting from whatever station is most convenient for them.
posted by tobascodagama at 1:35 PM on March 21, 2019 [10 favorites]

Now I want to take the T to South Station Boston and just get on.

Man, I wish that were possible in any sort of economical way. We're supposed to be taking the plane down to Philly tomorrow, but thanks to the incipient Nor'Easter (lousy Smarch weather...) it looks like we won't be able to get off the ground. Last minute train tickets are almost $800 for two, round trip. Almost double the cost of taking a private airplane there.

So I guess we're driving. At least it's not a holiday weekend.
posted by backseatpilot at 1:40 PM on March 21, 2019

You're willing to drive through a storm that has airplanes grounded? That kind of storm keeps me off the road unless it surprises me mid-trip.
posted by hippybear at 1:46 PM on March 21, 2019 [4 favorites]

We went on a family trip by train in 1969 because my Dad couldn't deal with flying. From Chicago to Denver, the Denver Zephyr, was pretty great. Even younger, I took a train trip with my Mom, I must have been 5 or so, and it was magic.

But, srsly, Kansas and Colorado having a shared border was a shock? When I traveled I learned a lot about the way mountain geography defines everything around it. The distances you gaze on from the train are vast not because of the train, but because the American west, the parts I've seen - Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona - doesn't have tall trees. Too little water. I grew up in the Midwest, with lots of farmland, but still, lots of very tall trees. In New England, the trees are tall, and the pines were prized for being tall and straight - perfect for masts for sailboats. It is a different vista. When I lived in Colorado the view just goes on and on, at least on the East side of the Rockies.

I'd love to cross the Rockies on a train. I70 over the Rockies looks to my eyes like an engineering feat. The Amtrak route is similar but appears to use a different pass.
posted by theora55 at 2:02 PM on March 21, 2019 [1 favorite]

Okay, Amtrak isn’t the Instagram-perfect fantasy of romantic travel. But driving is work and flying means being cramped and stripped (of my dignity, at least) by the TSA. With such a contrast, my preference for the train can seem evangelistic.

Pick your scenic route, find out its delays, and enjoy the journey.
posted by Monochrome at 2:15 PM on March 21, 2019 [2 favorites]

I've ridden from Seattle to Portland and back several times, but never had the opportunity to do a longer trip until last summer when I finally got my chance and grabbed it willingly.   After riding my bike cross the country, I shipped it back to Seattle, and rode the train all the way back from Orlando.  It was an amazing trip, stereotypical train delays and all.

Took the Silver Meteor to Washington DC, the Capitol Limited to Chicago, then caught the Empire Builder to Seattle. Long, slow, and fantastic—and still faster than driving.  How else can you cross the country on routes with names that make you feel like solving a murder mystery with two fellow travelers named Nick and Nora while sipping cocktails?  Traveling by plane just makes me feel like committing a murder, not solving one.

I mostly did it just to say I had—and to finish my list of ways-I've-crossed-the-continent—plane, car, bicycle, and now train, for the record.  Aside from something crazy like walking across, and since fate has cruelly denied me my chance to do so by Zeppelin, I think I'm good.  Crossing by car or plane never really let me wrap my head around how big the U.S. is—and how empty most of it is—until I crossed it via bike and train. The bike got me to understand just exactly what it means when the next town is 70 miles or more distant in a way a car never did, but being on the train let me just relax and watch the terrain in a way nothing else ever has, just kinda sink into the experience. I wouldn't trade the adventure of it for anything. Rolling through towns small and large, passing through Glacier National Park, train swaying gently on the tracks…man I'd love to do it again.

If I can wrangle the time on future trips, I will absolutely opt for the train every chance I get.
posted by los pantalones del muerte at 2:43 PM on March 21, 2019 [8 favorites]

You can, in fact, ride from Vancouver, BC to Eugene, OR. But the thing is, they don't have connections that hook up for both halves of the trip so you end up having to spend something like 18 hours in Seattle if you want to do the trip entirely by rail.
posted by hippybear at 3:03 PM on March 21, 2019

Amtrak anywhere in the NE Corridor is fantastic and so much better than driving or flying. It is downright soothing.
posted by grumpybear69 at 3:05 PM on March 21, 2019 [2 favorites]

Did she remember to pack enough mozzarella sticks?
posted by Ideefixe at 3:40 PM on March 21, 2019 [1 favorite]

Trains are wonderful and it's a damn shame that it's so expensive to travel by train in much of North America.

Hear, hear. I used to take the train before I was able to drive and I did that a lot. But now I am all "it costs $67 and 3+ hours" (if the train is on time, which it probably will not be) to go from where I live to a few hours away, whereas I can fill up the car tank for $20 and even if there's traffic I can still drive there and get there over an hour faster. I just can't justify it for fun and recreation.
posted by jenfullmoon at 4:23 PM on March 21, 2019 [1 favorite]

Quote from the article:

"Contrary to multiple acquaintances’ declarations that I would encounter “some real weirdos” on the train, the first person I met on board my first sleeper car after boarding the train in Penn Station was a man in a sparkly cardigan and leather pants who breezily identified himself as “a prophet,” which is perhaps the world’s second-oldest profession."
posted by jenfullmoon at 4:27 PM on March 21, 2019

I'm starting to ride the train more often, as we just moved from Vermont to the DC area. It's an easy trip to reach gigs up and down the coast.

Generally, I prefer the train to air travel, and I fly a lot (1-4x/month). Avoiding TSA, skipping the bad gamification of boarding, being able to move around, being able to charge my devices, seeing more, etc., all the things people have said.

The biggest downside? Very bad WiFi. If Amtrak had decent internet I'd be quite pleased.
posted by doctornemo at 4:55 PM on March 21, 2019

"Kansas shares a border with Colorado. I never could have imagined that I would one day say this, and I know many people will be disconcerted by the statement. They will wonder if, this whole time, they have been reading an avant-garde work of science fiction, or perhaps a Mad Lib. “Is magical realism always this scary?” they will ask themselves. Some will claim I am lying. Many will assume I am wrong, demented or a clumsy typist."

I am having some trouble parsing this paragraph. Is it just a really dry joke, like, is it supposed to be funny that the author doesn't know basic geography or is there something else I'm missing?

The joke is based on the idea that for many (most?) people Colorado=mountains and Kansas=plains. It's not about geography so much as imaginary landscape.
posted by oneirodynia at 4:58 PM on March 21, 2019 [4 favorites]

A lot of western states were carved up to be part one kind of landscape and part another kind, in order to give them economic diversity. WA and OR are good examples of this, but the west is rife with them, really.
posted by hippybear at 5:02 PM on March 21, 2019 [1 favorite]

Just did LA to Chicago and back for the holiday season. Wasn't my first time, but was the first time for my kids. They enjoyed it more then I expected. Definitely has its ups and downs, but most of those downs (for me) would be fixed by fewer efforts to make us all be social at mealtimes.
posted by davejay at 6:22 PM on March 21, 2019

if that bus route would be taking you via the section of Interstate 95-North that lies between New York City and New Haven, CT.

(It's only an 80-mile stretch of road and I was once stuck on a bus in that exact part of that highway for four hours.)

This is where you need to be a wily, hardened veteran. You take the train up to Boston on Friday evening, you take the bus back on Sunday evening. Any premium is worth skipping the Friday evening traffic out of NYC, which strives to emulate the situation in Zeno's paradox.
posted by praemunire at 9:24 PM on March 21, 2019 [2 favorites]

based on the number of people coming back on the Auto Train trip I did a few summers ago there are quite a few families that go to Disney via train.

The Auto Train is great. Made my trip the Florida Keys so much better.
posted by 922257033c4a0f3cecdbd819a46d626999d1af4a at 9:52 PM on March 21, 2019

I get the Colorado-Kansas thing because my experience of Kansas is being just over the border from Oklahoma and Kansas City, MO, and my experience of Colorado is Denver. It helps to look at a map and realize that, when you cross the border from KS to CO, it's not immediately all mountains and weed.
posted by Halloween Jack at 6:32 AM on March 22, 2019 [2 favorites]

Oh, the Auto Train! Yeah, my family and I did that when I was wee, and that's how we got ourselves to Disney once. We still had to drive from CT down to Virginia, but it still was great for getting ourselves around Florida proper.

Probably the drive we did have to take was a hassle for my parents, but my brother and I were just little kids so it was a grand adventure. I think we spent part of the ride down with my brother helping me run lines for a school play and doing magic tricks for other passengers.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:56 AM on March 22, 2019

When I was a kid, my dad decided to go up to Michigan and meet his girlfriend then drive her back down with all her stuff in a UHaul. So that meant we took The City of New Orleans just like in the song which regularly made me flip out in excitement. Johnny Cash did some special about trains that I watched religiously and sang that song and then I was on the train from the song. Reader it was a high point of my young life.

Sometimes we’d also do a little day trip and take the train up a few stops to one of the small Louisiana towns and grab a hotel room for the night then ride home the next day. What I remember most is the weather was hot so the rails would expand and sometimes we’d just stop and chill on the tracks in the middle of the swamp until it was safe to move forward again.

When I lived in Europe I was delighted at how often I could take trains everywhere or just walk down to the central station and buy a ticket across the country.

I find train noise very soothing and frequently work with one of those 13 hour on a train videos playing in the background.

Anyway yes trains the only civilized way to travel.

And I could buy my own rail car and have Amtrak pull it around? New life goal found.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 7:53 AM on March 22, 2019 [1 favorite]

I love traveling by train. I used to commmute between my college and my hometown on the Wolverine line. Then I moved to New Orleans, and after several years of driving back to the Midwest for the holidays, I decided to get a seat to Chicago on the City of New Orleans.
I was so excited for that trip! So excited that I couldn’t help turning to the person behind me, as we lined up for boarding, to ask if he had ever been on an overnight train (he had, once).
We started talking, and were assigned seats next to each other, and we got married last summer.
posted by Penny Magellan at 9:12 AM on March 22, 2019 [15 favorites]

That's a lovely story, Penny Magellan! I assume the Steve Goodman song City of New Orleans was played at least once during the reception?
posted by tavella at 12:41 PM on March 22, 2019

I recently did Baltimore to Boston, and it was lovely. It took a long time, but the scenery once you get near the ocean is breathtaking, and it was wonderful just sit and read and occasionally look out the window, or get up and grab a (very expensive) beer.
posted by codacorolla at 4:48 PM on March 23, 2019

Ive never ridden the train in America, but would very much like to.
This thread seems incomplete without a link to which tells you how to catch the train to anywhere with tracks.
I’ve used it to catch sleeper trains in Malaysia and Vietnam, bullet trains in China and Japan and normal trains everywhere.
posted by bystander at 7:31 PM on March 23, 2019

The joke is based on the idea that for many (most?) people Colorado=mountains and Kansas=plains. It's not about geography so much as imaginary landscape.

I generally say "basically New Mexico" rather than trying to explain to people from the little squiggly irregular states that I'm not from the Aspen part of CO or the Denver part. There are other parts, too!

(I also can't tell a Stamford accent from a White Plains accent, sue me).

More on topic, I fucking love trains, and part of the reason I ended up on this coast is the trains. I took the train to Iowa and Chicago and Portland, OR as a kid, back when that was still a viable option from [basically NM], and that's no longer really feasible. Here on the bottom end of the NE corridor I never fly unless I'm going South or West. DC to Providence is waaaay slower than flying, but with all the tolls it's about the same as driving, cost-wise, and it's just so damned civilized.
posted by aspersioncast at 1:17 PM on March 24, 2019

That was a delightful read!
The bright hues of the nation’s choropleth population-density maps fade to white in these areas, yet many of the most beautiful habitable parts of the United States, no offense to Boston, are contained within those colorless expanses. Amtrak takes advantage of this circumstance. It is fortunate that its routes were laid during a period of industrious optimism, when everyone assumed the West would soon be made as unbearable as the East; if they had known it would remain beautiful, it would have been difficult to justify the financial investment.
Thank you for posting this, the man of twists and turns!

(And thank you to the various commenters who praised the writing; sometimes I don't bother to click into an article, and I'm so glad you got me to go read this one.)
posted by kristi at 12:35 PM on March 25, 2019 [1 favorite]

I Took Amtrak Instead of Flying and It Made Me Want to Die a Little Bit (Jason Torchinsky, Jalopnik)
posted by box at 2:06 PM on March 25, 2019 [2 favorites]

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