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Archive for June, 2015

Last time we looked at train travel with Amtrak but now let’s focus on some individual routes.  Chicago is a hub for Amtrak.  The long distance East/West trains originate in that city.  However it is the coastal and commuter runs that make the most money for the corporation.

The trains that run along the West or East coasts, as well as some smaller train routes like the Empire Service between New York and Buffalo and the Hiawatha between Chicago and Milwaukee, make several trips a day back and forth to their destinations.  Since these trains are very profitable for Amtrak, the equipment is more up to date.

Trains from Chicago to New York, Boston or Washington, DC like the Lake Shore Limited or Capitol Limited, are shorter distance trains since the distance between Chicago and the East Coast is shorter than trains going from the Midwest to the West coast. These trains leave Chicago in the evening and the next day, you are at your destination.  Acela Express from Boston
to DC is another popular commuter run in the East..

The Pacific Surfliner has several runs a day from San Diego to just past Los Angeles. This train continues to Seattle but not several times a day. The scenery along the Coast Starlight route is unsurpassed. The dramatic snow-covered peaks of the Cascade Range and Mount Shasta, lush forests, fertile
valleys and long stretches of Pacific Ocean shoreline provide a stunning
backdrop for your journey

In addition to all the Chicago trains, there are several that go north and south out of New York.  The Crescent goes deep into the Carolina’s, Georgia, Alabama and ends in New Orleans. But you can also take the City of New Orleans from Chicago to get to that famed city.  What a great way to travel to Mardi Gras without having to worry about road conditions or weather related flight cancellations.

The older trains are the ones with the most problems, since Amtrak has not updated their equipment in a long time, and they are the long distance Western routes. The scenery is more spectacular but issues can develop.  The staff, while overworked, strive to give the best service possible and you can tell that most of them love their job.

There is a feeling of excitement when boarding the California Zephyr.
The next morning you are in Denver and the scenery becomes vertical.  Some of the areas the train goes through cannot be accessed by cars.  Then late the next evening, Salt Lake City, UT beckons.  If you continue on to California, that overnight is spent traveling through the desert.  Finally on your last morning, you arrive in Reno.  Once again you are vertical through the tunnels and majesty of the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

The scenery on the Empire Builder is also really stunning. While the Mississippi
River and the Badlands of North Dakota have their own beauty, the run between
Glacier National Park and Seattle in the Cascade Mountains is truly awesome.
This track was not built until the late 1800’s. Then in the early 1900s, the
great Western lodges were constructed to bring the wealthy Easterners to the
remote National Parks. The Empire builder is billed as a 1st class train.
Service is consistently good a.

Another favorite train is the Southwest Chief. There is something special about watching the buttes, mesas and the Southwest desert that has a beauty all its own. The crew on this train comes out of LA and I have always found the service and food to be excellent.
I have not been on the Texas Eagle for quite a few years. It goes from Chicago to St Louis, Dallas and finally San Antonio. There it meets up with the Sunset Limited coming from New Orleans and going to LA. One time on the Sunset Limited, I awoke in the middle of the night and looked out. There was a full moon and the huge sand dunes in the Sonora desert looked like we were traveling on a distant planet. The Sunset Limited used to be the only cross country train. However after hurricane Katrina, the New Orleans to Florida run was not resumed.

I love riding the trains. There is something about sitting back and watching the world go by that is very relaxing.  And it is so much more comfortable then driving.  You can get up and walk around the train and the engine keeps chugging along all night to get you to your destination faster than a car.  Always remember, “it is the journey and not the destination.”

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