Train Spotting  

I love taking the train.

In the dining car, you can eat with the most interesting and random assortment of folks, at the same table. And, the food is good. You also eat with silverware.

I’ve eaten with a woman who can’t fly due to inner ear issues. I’ve eaten with students because Amtrak gives student discounts, so it makes sense for them. I’ve even eaten with folks from the First Class sleeper cars, now try and do that on a plane. But best of all, are the people who are taking their first ever trip. I love seeing the countryside through their eyes.

I’ve had mostly good experiences and occasionally, I’ve had amazing experiences.

I’ve taken the train to Orlando, Savannah, Cleveland, Chicago, New York and even a commuter train into New York (not Amtrak). I’m hoping to take the train to see friends in Fayetteville this winter and it’s really convenient for Fayetteville since they have a station there. If I wanted to get there faster and fly, I’d need to fly into Raleigh-Durham, about an hour away. I’m also likely to take the train to Pittsburgh for the blogging convention Netroots Nation in August. As you can see, I take the train.

Taking the train for me is cost effective, first and foremost. I rarely pay as much for the train as I would for a flight and then there’s the added bonus of not having to pay additional security taxes and fees. Of course, when your ticket has been issued, if you lose it, as my daughter did on our last trip, you will need to re-purchase that return trip ticket. That was a very expensive lesson to learn for the 15 year old. On the other hand, trust me, she’s never done that again.

Second, it’s safer than driving. Of course, there are those moments when car and train collide, and car always looses. I suppose the accident last week in Michigan is a reminder to all of us that, you can’t race a train:

Early last Thursday afternoon a passing Amtrak train pulverized a car full of young people when the driver decided to circumvent waiting cars at the crossing in an attempt to beat the train. The car occupants included four boys and a girl, ranging in age from 14 to 21.

The driver was 19 and operating the vehicle on a suspended license. It took a mile before the train came to a complete stop. When I saw the initial footage on TV taken by helicopter, I couldn’t tell where the car was.


First of all, he should have known enough not to race an Amtrak train going 65 mph. He should have known if the gates were down, they were down for a reason and no emergency in the world would justify trying to go around them.

And my last reason for train travel:

It’s better for the environment. Train travel is mass transportation. By taking the train, there are fewer cars on the roads or planes in the air. Sure, walking is even better, but who has that kind of time?

All in all, I love taking the train. So, imagine my excitement when I saw this story on MSNBC, I mean, it’s like they’re actually trying to give me another reason to take the train:

It’s all part of the Trails & Rails program, a joint program between the Park Service and Amtrak that operates on 12 trains across the country. Now in its ninth year, it’s designed to showcase the cultural and natural heritage of each local area.

Volunteers get onto the trains and tell stories about what you see. From history to nature to architectural beauty, it’s all right there and explained for everyone who’s interested, again from MSNBC:

Bookended by New York and Montreal, the Adirondack spends much of its route traversing the less-crowded countryside of the Hudson River Valley and eastern Adirondacks. Along the way, riders can experience, not one, but two Trails & Rails programs.

For an easy morning outing, consider tagging along from Croton-Harmon to Hudson, an 80-minute run narrated by volunteers from the Vanderbilt Mansion National Historic Site. Hugging the east bank of the Hudson, the train passes several historic sites, including Bannerman’s Castle, the U.S. Military Academy at West Point (across the river) and Frederick Vanderbilt’s 54-room summer home.

There’s even a program that adds sort of an artist in residency to a section in North Dakota:

Depending on your itinerary, you’ll find yourself following the Mississippi River (think paddlewheelers and grain barges), crossing the northern plains (think Lewis and Clark) or traversing “the crown of the continent” (along the southern edge of Glacier National Park). This year, the program between Minot, N.D., and Shelby, Mont., will also feature artisans provided by the North Dakota Arts Council and special performances by Keith Bear, a Mandan/Hidatsa storyteller and flute player.

I wish more of us Americans would decide to take the time to take the train. There’s so much to see in this expansive country of ours, and apparently the National Park Service and Amtrak are working together to give it to us.

Now, if we can just get people to understand you can’t beat a train with a car; I can dream of for this, right?

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