There was a time when trains traveled the length and breadth of the United States. These were the likes of Superchief, Broadway Limited, 20th Century Limited, Sunset Limited, North Coast Limited, California Zephyr, City of Los Angeles, Daylight and so many more. The hey-day for American trains was from 1945 through 1960. This was a period when American railroads put into service new and streamlined lightweight equipment. The trains were the finest on rails.
By the end of the 1960s people were doing more cross-country travel by automobile and aircraft and trains had lost much of their business. Trains were becoming shabby and were not well maintained. Finally, in 1971 the government took over U.S. passenger train service — calling it AMTRAK.
They had to use and try and fix some of the old equipment left to them by the various railroads. For many years train travel was not the best in the United States. Equipment was often breaking down and the rails were often in a state of disrepair.
Over the years the government has funded a fairly decent amount of newer rail car equipment as well as engines and today train travel is quite nice again. Trains that are currently running make for a very nice “land cruise” experience.
We do not yet have much in the way of high-speed trains with the exception of the Northeast Corridor from Washington, D.C. to New York and Boston. These are known as Acela trains and have special rail cars and electric engines and travel at 125 mph over some of the track. You can travel from Washington, D.C. to New York in two hours, 50 minutes. The standard trains in America can move at only 79 mph top speed.
Our current “name trains” mostly carry Superliner equipment that give passengers a very comfortable ride, very nice coach cars, lounge cars, dining cars and the Pullmans contain private rooms of various sizes with some providing private showers and toilets. Food in the diners is often cooked to order now, which makes it even better.
I can’t remember a more pleasant experience than sitting in a train diner looking out at the fast-moving scenery and eating a fine meal. I hope to do it again sometime soon.
Where can you travel on AMTRAK? Up and down the Pacific Coast from San Diego to Seattle for instance. Take the Starlight out of Los Angeles and go to Seattle. This journey will take two days and one night on the train. The Starlight is one of AMTRAK’s best trains with the finest equipment they own. Be aware that first class on trains today is quite expensive, but the experience is worth the money in my opinion.
After a couple days in Seattle and the surrounding area, board the Empire Builder and travel through the northern Rockies to Minneapolis and ending in Chicago. From there you can continue on to New York or return to the West on the Southwest Chief, which stops in Flagstaff.
If you wish, you can book a train tour that can take you back to the golden era of luxury train travel with dining cars set with fine linen and crystal and observation cars offering panoramic views. Train tours roll through some of the world’s most spectacular landscapes.
On some of the itineraries passengers stay onboard the train overnight. You settle into your private room, which is comfortable and elegantly outfitted. While you sleep the train moves on to the next stop.
Other train tours travel only during daylight hours and stop late in the day to disembark passengers, which are checked into hotels for overnight stays.
The next day, passengers re-board the train and continue their journey.
Classic train vacations include the Canadian Rockies on the Rocky Mountaineer, Glacier National Park on AMTRAK, Mexico’s Copper Canyon, the Royal Scotsman in Scotland, and the Blue Train in South Africa.
Alaska has some great rail adventures, which are operated by several cruise lines as well as the Alaska Railroad. You can board a cruise ship in either Seattle or Vancouver for a week’s cruise through the Inland Passage or even further north to Anchorage, the board a train to travel through the wild country of Alaska to national parks where you can view nature up close.
How much are train tours? First class train tours typically range from $80 to $350 per day. Deluxe train tours range from $200 to $650 per day.
Overseas you can book China to Russia by private train: Trans Mongolian Adventures, China and Tibet, The Roof of the World, and the Trans-Siberian Express are examples of the rail trips available.
The British Isles are good for rail trips and train tours as well, as is Europe in general.
A good train specialist travel agent can assist you as well as going to the Internet and finding many train adventures available. There are literally hundreds of train tours operating this year.
It’s also a lot of fun to plan a train trip through the U.S. and Canada. Soon, I want to take the Starlight up the Pacific Coast to Seattle and Vancouver, then board the VIA Rail Canadian and cross Canada to Toronto. It takes four days.
The Canadian has been totally refurbished and I understand it is like new again.
You travel through the Canadian Rockies on through the prairie to Toronto. You can then train home on U.S. trains. This would really be a land cruise. You could have your private room with shower and toilet and relax and view the scenery. You could dine on the fine food in the diners. Leave the driving to the train engineers. What a way to see the country.
For additional information contact AMTRAK at 1-800-THE TRAIN or call 1-800-478-4881 and request a complete list of rail tours from the International Railway Traveler.
Another agency specializing in rail travel is Accent On Travel at 1-800-347-0645.
After one train vacation, you will want to plan another. All aboard!