If you read my column two weeks ago, you know I have been riding trains again. Like a lot of folks, I first became interested in trains as a child. Amtrak ran on a track not too far from my house, so I was frequently sitting in the car with my mom at a railroad crossing watching all those passenger cars go past. In high school, one of my friends went on a school trip from Charleston, up the East coast, then all the way to Montreal and back by train. I was so jealous!
After about thirty or forty years of wanting to ride on a train, I finally took my first trip three years ago. My daughter was headed to Alpine to start college and I rode along. After spending a few days helping her get settled, she dropped me off at the Amtrak station in downtown Alpine. The train station there is a throwback to older times with wooden benches and front and back doors open to the breeze. I had lots of time to enjoy the ambience as the train was more than two hours late in arriving. This was lesson number one in train travel, as it turned out—trains are frequently late, especially throughout the middle of the country where tracks are shared with freight trains.
Alpine does not have a loading platform, so the train pulls up across the street one or two cars at a time and the passengers drag their luggage out to the street to board the train. The car attendants set out a big yellow stool to ease the step up in to the car. Luggage is stowed just inside the door and a steep, narrow staircase leads up the coach seats. I was assigned to sit next to a lovely lady traveling with her two sisters from Los Angeles to Marshall, Texas. They provided lesson number two—train travel is inherently a social experience. I was to spend the next 18 hours sitting with these ladies and, thankfully, they were delightful.
The coach seats on most Amtrak trains are wider than the average airplane seat and there is an enormous amount of legroom. On most trains, the seats recline back quite comfortably, there is a fold-up leg rest, and an adjustable foot-rest on the seat back in front of you. There are no seatbelts. Your "carry-ons" can be stowed under the seat in front of you, as on an airplane, or there are overhead compartments. The entire side of the car is lined with large windows, so you will not be peering out that tiny porthole as you do in an airplane. There are one or more bathrooms on the top floor of the coach cars with several more downstairs.
As the train pulled out of Alpine, I learned lesson number three—you see a much different world from a train than from a car or an airplane. Sometimes train tracks run beside a highway, but usually they do not. You see people’s back yards instead of the front yards. You run right through middle of most cities and towns instead of bypassing them the way interstates usually do. You veer away from highways into areas where the only sign of civilization is the narrow set of train tracks upon which you ride. And you plow right through severe weather that would sideline cars and airplanes.
Too be continued next time….meanwhile, if you have questions you want answered about train travel, email me at SpringCreekArtsGuild@gmail.com