I began my love affair with train travel when I was only 4 years old. My parents took me on Southern Pacific’s new Daylight Limited streamliner from Los Angeles to San Francisco. We departed at 8:15 a.m. and arrived in the City by the Bay at 6 p.m. The train was painted in colors of orange, red and black. It was all matching, light-weight equipment and the train sparkled everywhere it traveled. People would line the roadways and stare at the new speedster as it passed by.
In these early days of my life I would sit on a small suitcase on top of the seat when traveling by train so as to be at eye level with the windows. I wanted to see every passing bit of the scenery. We made several stops on our way to San Francisco and my parents would take me outside the train and we could walk a bit while new passengers boarded.
After the first train trip, I couldn’t wait to take another. The train was ultra modern inside with plush rubber foam seats, automatic doors that opened when one walked between the cars, a wonderful diner with silver service and white table cloths, and one of the best features was the round-end observation car where we could sit and enjoy a different perspective of the scenery. Good service was everywhere.
This was the start of my becoming a train buff. I am even today interested in what is going on with Amtrak, Via Rail Canada and railroads around the world.
As you are probably aware, rail travel in the United States is once again quite nice as Amtrak uses newer equipment and many of the bi-level cars on long distance trains.
Overseas, especially in Europe, high-speed rail is quite common with trains operating at 150 MPH to 300 MPH on some stretches. The Japanese and French pioneered these fast services some years ago. Germany and some other European countries have more recently joined the high-speed act with ultra modern trains. On some sectors, high-speed rail is servicing more passengers than the airlines.
One segment is the 386-mile run between London and Edinburgh, Scotland. The train takes only four hours running from downtown London to downtown Edinburgh where it would take more time if one flew the same route counting getting to and from the airports, airport waiting time, etc. I took this service two years ago and was amazed at how smooth the track was and by the onboard service. You can purchase meals, snacks, beverages, newspapers and magazines that are on carts going through your rail car pushed by a service representative. It is all very convenient.
High-speed trains will come into use in the coming years here at home. It is very expensive to build tracks that can handle high-speed trains, plus there are the rights-of-way that must be purchased and cleared.
One high-speed project in California will run from San Diego, through Los Angeles and on to San Francisco/Oakland. It is estimated running time will be around three hours from LA to San Francisco. That will be less time than it currently takes by air, counting in airport time and getting to and from the airports.
Other high-speed projects are going to happen in Florida and Illinois.
So, rail travel in the United States is slowly coming back into vogue. A friend of mine recently told me he was afraid to fly and did I think he might enjoy a train trip. I responded with a loud, “YES!” I told him and his wife I would help them plan a “land cruise.” That is really what most train travel is today ... a cruise. You have a chance to spend quality time with your spouse and family without the hassle of tending to the car, stopping for rest breaks, buying gas, careful driving and the rest. Taking a train is carefree.
Purchase your tickets, board the train, find your accommodations, get seated and enjoy the passing scenery. Meals in the dining car are often memorable. You order and then enjoy the meal as well as the passing scenery. What can be nicer?
Accommodations are varied in most trains. If you are only going to be traveling during daylight hours, coach is the way to go with two by two seating. The chairs are usually comfortable with plenty of legroom and there is a pull-down tray-table attached to the back of the seat in front of you, just as the airlines provide. There is a car attendant to assist you with whatever you might want during your travel.
If you are traveling on a long-haul train, take Pullman space providing you with a bed and private room. During the day the room will have chairs, perhaps a couch and some rooms offer private bathrooms. Having a private room on a train is costly and you could end up flying first class for about the same fare in some cases. However, on the train you can enjoy the scenery from a ground level perspective rather than at 30,000 feet.
All long-haul trains are equipped with coach and private room cars. Every passenger can enjoy dining car services as well as the coffee shops and most observation cars.
Where can you travel to by train these days? Many places actually. There are transcontinental services from Los Angeles through the Arizona deserts to the Midwest and East, along with service from San Francisco east and Seattle east. Most end up in Chicago where you change trains to points east and south.
The Sunset Limited operates from Los Angeles through Arizona to New Orleans with connecting services to Chicago and major areas of the east and south.
One of the best Amtrak trains these days is the Coast Starlight that begins in Los Angeles and winds its way up the Pacific Coast to the Bay Area and continues north through Oregon and Washington to Portland and Seattle.
From Seattle you can train to Vancouver, Canada for some wonderful sightseeing then, board Rail Canada’s streamlined and deluxe Canadian, which will take you through the famed Canadian Rockies for stops in Banff and Lake Louise, Jasper and so much more. You could even continue on to beautiful Toronto.
In the fall, passenger traffic is often down for specific routes and rail fares are sometimes offered at special discounted prices. Family fares are usually available as well.
Should you go as far as Toronto, you could continue on to Montreal, then head south to Boston and New York for sightseeing. From New York you could go to either Florida or Chicago and head home. What a glorious way to see the North American continent! And, by rail you are really seeing it.
It’s best to pack light so you won’t be bothered with a lot of luggage. I can also recommend that you plan to spend time in different cities along the way. Break up the train experience with one or two nights in different locations. It’s also nice to rent automobiles at various stops to really see the areas. With proper advance planning, you can have one heck of a good time on your land cruise.
A travel agent can assist you with making plans or you can do it yourself with proper research. The planning is sometimes as much fun as the actual trip.
Take plenty of cash and credit cards. Pack your cell phone charger along with all your other needs. A camera is a must.
You can call Amtrak for information and reservations at 1-800-USA-RAIL.