A Rail Treat

So, as I mentioned, I just returned from a month-long trip, and on the way back, I ended up taking Amtrak, because it was half the price of any airfare I could get (I was trying to book my travel less than 6 days in advance).

I’ve been on short train jaunts before — the Empire Builder between MN & WI, and whatever that train is which goes from LA to Long Beach — but this was my first experience traveling the rails for an extended distance. The train I was on is called a “SuperLiner”, and on this route, this particular train is known as the Southwest Chief.

Overall, it’s a great way to travel. Pros include: Much wider seats and tons of legroom (akin to first class on an airline); the ability to get up and move around whenever you want; numerous bathrooms so you usually don’t have to wait very long, like you often do on a plane; a lounge car which has plenty of room to view the scenery, and tables to sit and visit with friends or play games on; a diner car which serves breakfast, lunch & dinner; a snack car which offers cheaper and quicker alternatives for about 15 hours every day; and occasional stops where you can depart the train for a few minutes to stretch, run around, enjoy the sun, smoke, or whatever. Cons: While the seats are comfortable to sit in (and this is coming from a large man), they’re still not very comfy to sleep in — they don’t recline far enough (only slightly more than a typical airplane seat) for that; while there are various rooms (sleeper cars) available, they’re cost-prohibitive —for my trip, the most expensive room would have added over $1100 to my bill; the train actually averages a fairly slow speed —I think top speed on the Southwest Chief is somewhere around 80 mph, and there were many times we were going very slow, or when we just stopped for extended periods; also, trains lurch around a fair amount, so you have to brace yourself when walking around — although it’s still preferable to airplane turbulence, in my opinion.

Another thing I love is that coming in on the train to LA, I get deposited at Union Station, where it’s easy to hop the subway and be transported quickly and cheaply to Hollywood. Sure beats having to pay $25-$30 for a shared ride van home from LAX, which includes waiting a half hour for the van to actually leave the airport, and then suffering through a trip home that can take as long as an hour and a half! Comparatively, the subway from Union Station leaves regularly, takes a fraction of the time to arrive, and only costs a buck-fifty for the trip!

One thing occurred to me while enjoying the ease and comfort afforded me on this train trek: I would love to see America’s railway infrastructure upgraded. We should not only have more trains operating in this country, with the more popular routes doing limited stops so they make better time, but we should also have high speed rail in the US. Can you imagine traveling from New York to Los Angeles in 12 hours, without leaving the ground? I just came across this interesting article, which talks more about our need for an improved rail service:

Personally, I’ve just about had it with the airlines, and all of the B.S. that we have to deal with — the inconvenience and degradation at the hands of the TSA, the 2-hours of waiting at the airport before your flight, the extra cost of checking luggage, the cramped seats, the horrible or non-existent service aboard the planes, the lack of meals, etc., etc., etc. I know I’m not alone in that. Maybe we can get Barack Obama to set the wheels in motion, so to speak, on getting the kind of high speed passenger railway system in the United States that we deserve to have, the kind that we need.  It will take a huge investment, but it’s an investment in the future, and one that will pay off both monetarily and in the improved well-being of anyone who needs to travel between cities.For now, though, at least we have Amtrak, and I’ll definitely use it again. However, the next time I do a long trip, I think I’m gonna splurge on a sleeper car. 😉

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