I love traveling by train.

I do not love Amtrak.

Granted, this grand, long-planned trip from ABQ to LA and then down to San Diego started with some foul ups that were not Amtrak’s fault. I forgot my Red Sox cap (a major reason for taking this trip is to see them play the Padres); my Uber app did not work so I had to pay for an exorbitant taxi ride from the ABQ airport to the train station; I packed all my food in my checked bag and so was reduced to eating overly salted peanuts for dinner. But the three-hour delay leaving ABQ, that was all on Amtrak,

IMG_7220 (2)_1And of course there was no explanation for the delay (though a passenger near me who had boarded the Southwest Chief at its start, in Chicago, told me one unplanned stop came when they had to put an unruly couple off the train after a “domestic dispute”), and the conductor did not assure me that we would make up some of the time along the way. So, the plan of taking photos as the sun set by NM’s red rocks in the northwest corner of the state—poof, gone. Well, maybe there will be some sunrise photos as we pass through Nevada. (No, California, actually, as you can see here.)

IMG_7259 (2)_1Once on board, I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of room in my coach seat, while less impressed with the beer selection; all the good craft brews were gone, leaving Bud, Bud Light, and Corona. Uh, I’ll take the overprice wine, please. And the sightseeing lounge car seems like it would offer some nice views of the desert southwest—if it weren’t 8:30 and the frickin’ sun hadn’t set an hour ago! But even with the inconveniences, there is something about the sway of the train and the freedom to roam from car to car that would make this a preferred mode of transportation for me, if it were feasible.

IMG_7212 (2)_1And here, in the expanse of the West, it is not. It’s more so in the Northeast, where I rode my first Amtrak train in 1972, going from Hartford to NYC on my way to visit friends on Staten Island. That fueled my love of train travel, I think, along with the ride I took when I was about 4 in upstate NY on a staged “train robbery” at some faux Wild West town (in upstate NY?). Then came the weeks of train travel in Europe on my two trips there. That impressed on me how efficient trains can be, if there is a commitment to them. And even my last European train adventure, documented here, did not dissuade me from thinking that all in all, the rest of the major industrialized nations have it right when it comes to rail travel, and we are barely better than some third world countries.

Of course, we were once the world’s railroad king, with hundreds of thousands of miles of track and opulent private cars for the wealthy. We even had some of the fastest locomotives, though today’s high-speed marvels of Europe, Japan, and China have long shamed us there. By the time Amtrak was founded (which I wrote about here), the nation’s commitment to the car meant our trains had seen their heyday, and Amtrak has to fight repeated Republican attempts to put it out of business.

I understand the ideology that underpins those efforts, while chuckling at the hypocrisy of the train foes. Because the government doesn’t subsidize air and road travel in any way, does it? And I would think the conservatives—hell, anyone—would appreciate the social benefits of train travel. People from all regions and all walks of life meet each other and interact, putting aside political and geographic differences and getting to know each other, even if only in the time it takes to go from one stop to another. In this country especially, where train travel is not exactly convenient, the passengers are also drawn together because they have chosen this more leisurely and at times perhaps more mercurial  mode of travel. I have fond memories of the chats with fellow passengers on the train from New Haven to Montreal, which I took several times. And on European trains, conversations struck up on board could lead to companionship off the train as well (there was this Norwegian chick in Spain traveling with her buddy Jack Daniels… and no, not that kind of companionship).

So, as I sit here in the dark lounge car (a conductor told someone else they couldn’t tell why the lights were off…), I fantasize about what could be if this country ever really committed itself to modern train travel. Ah, haha, how funny you are, Burgan! And while I do love this mode of transportation, indulging in the romance of the past and admiring the technological advancements of the present—everywhere but here, that is—I’m kinda glad I’m flying home.



~ by mburgan on September 4, 2016.

One Response to “Training”

  1. I love train travel in Europe and am hoping to check out what the States have to offer this winter! Hopefully I love it as much as Europe 🙂

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