Monday, October 16, 2006

Musing: All Aboard?

AmtrakIn the past 70 days, I have traveled over 3,800 miles on Amtrak. With names like Coast Starlight, Empire Builder, State House, Keystone, Crescent and Sunset Limited you get a picture of grand and glorious -- almost epic -- travel. Add to that the lore -- the “romance” -- of rail travel and you can almost find yourself booking a ride. Can’t you? Well, I can honestly recommend it. Not totally glowingly, but truthfully. On the plus side, there is something special about taking a train trip. Maybe not ten trips in ten weeks like I have done, but once in a while for sure. You board the train, find your seat, check out your fellow passengers and settle down in quite comfortable seats that are much, much bigger and roomier than any plane or car. If you are smart, you book yourself in a Sleeperette -- or better yet a Bedroom -- and have a private space to make your own, a big picture window to enjoy the view and a conscientious attendant to make your trip even more comfortable. Any time you want, you can get up and walk the length of the train, sit in the view lounge to be immersed in the scenery or stop by the cafe car to get a snack and a beverage. At meal times you can go to the dining car and enjoy your food in the company of generally pleasant strangers with whom you have been randomly seated.

What could be better? Well, I can think of a couple of things. First, the train cars show signs of age and wear, bordering on bring shabby in spots. Second, the food is pretty mediocre, almost entirely pre-prepared, and the menu is very limited. Third, the ride can be pretty jostling, owing to the fact that Amtrak uses rails that are designed for freight not passengers. All in all, I still think it’s a good alternative to flying and driving. For the life of me, I can’t understand why Amtrak doesn’t do more to promote it’s service. In these days of flying hassles and high gas prices, I think more people would give it a try. With a little more revenue, Amtrak could easily fix what’s “not so good” and make the train routes worthy of their names.

No comments: