Travel by Train - an Underrated Travel ExperienceAug 01, 2018 08:22PM ● By Meg Ochs
Coast Starlight Train, Photo Courtesy of Amtrak
Trains have a special place in American history. Travel has a special place in my heart and combining the two is easier than one might think. At first glance, traveling by train seems illogical—that may be what makes it so special, however.
The thing about travel is that most of us are doing it wrong. Traveling can teach us so much about ourselves, about others, about the world and all of its inherent joys. In our constant desire to get things done quickly we often end up treating something that should be an indulgence, as a chore. We rush too much and plan too often. When every minute of every vacation is scheduled, in the same way many of our daily lives are, things fly by so fast we do not often appreciate the moment. This is one of the reasons traveling by train is so special.
Time slows down.
I have been fortunate to travel quite often by way of Amtrak. My last train ride with Amtrak was nearly a month long. In the past, I have found myself onboard the Crescent, Downeaster, Cardinal, Pennsylvanian and the Capital Corridor trains, just to name a few of the trains in Amtrak’s fleet. Here in the Reno Tahoe region, travelers can hope aboard my favorite train, the Washoe Zephyr, and head west toward The Bay, or east toward Salt Lake and beyond.
Taken at face value, traveling by way of passenger rail today seems relatively absurd. Passenger rails typically travel slower than cars, give right of way to commercial and private rail on the track, and there are not nearly as many direct routing options as travelers have by air. Why then would someone choose this method of travel when there are seemingly better options? For me, there are many reasons I have become fond of Amtrak. Its convenience, while a little less obvious than an airplane in terms of speed, is far less subtle when one compares prices and comfort. The train is much more affordable than the average airline ticket and it’s almost impossible to measure how much roomier it is. The coach seats fully recline, are far wider than an airplane seat, and have their own tray tables and outlets. Passengers can also choose to get a sleeper car which offers additional comforts such as a bed, closet and private restroom. If time is not a concern, these added perks could be well worth it for the seasoned or price conscious traveler.
Additionally, one of my favorite things about the train, that some may find displeasing, is its movement patterns. The train swings and rocks with regularity. I find it oddly comforting while seated, and an interesting challenge while roaming about. The ability to move freely among the
entire train, at will, is another perk that airplanes can’t claim. My favorite place to go on the train is the viewing car. Many of Amtrak’s trains have a viewing cabin that offers floor to ceiling windows so you can sit back, relax and marvel at the beautiful American Landscape.
Typically, when I travel, food is of extreme importance. On Amtrak, dining is just as much of a priority, but the experience is unlike any other. The dining car on the train takes me back to a time I was never experienced other than through stories from older generations, and visual representations on film. The experience of eating in a rail car, and the joy of dining with complete strangers, allows me to overlook the fairly mediocre meals.
The casual, relaxed atmosphere on board the train, where everything slows down, always causes me to reflect. I certainly must not be the only one. The staff aboard nearly every Amtrak train I have ever ridden are always friendly, warm and have a calm and peaceful attitude that is typically not seen on airlines. This in and of itself may be worth it to many travelers.
Ironically, the American West was made possible by the locomotive, but now, in the millennium, trains have become less visible and vital. Trains seem like an underutilized resource, as they have huge potential for both industrial purposes as well as commercial travel. In an age where we are constantly pulled in a thousand directions, the train takes us back in time to when things were slower and more simplified. If you ever find yourself looking to capture both a little bit of life perspective and a great piece of American history, hop aboard an Amtrak train and get rolling.