Last time, I began a description of what it is like to go on an Amtrak adventure. I am writing this because once people hear that I have been on some train trips, they tell me it is something they have always wanted to do and start asking questions about how it works. I would love to see more people riding passenger trains because the better the ridership, the more assurance there is that we will continue to have passenger trains available. As ridership has dropped, routes have been eliminated. I would like to see those routes restored, so the more riders, the better!
Now, picking up where I left off last time: You will not go hungry on the train. Most trains have a dining car where you can have breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The dining car tables seat four, and all seats are filled. Unless you are with your own party of four, you will be seated with people you do not know. The tables are small booths, so it is nearly impossible to spend an entire meal without conversing with your table mates at least a little. For the most part, the food in the dining cars has been excellent with dinner menus ranging from huge Angus burgers to grilled salmon and steak. Sometimes it is difficult to get things customized, like leaving off a biscuit or changing from sausage to bacon, for example. Sometimes the service is excellent, sometimes it is deplorable, but it is almost always leisurely. On some routes, sleeper car passengers have access to a special lounge car where downright gourmet meals are presented with outstanding service. Dining car meals cost about the same as similar meals at a moderately-priced restaurant.
For snacks or casual meals, all trains have some sort of snack bar located in the lounge car. The snack bars sell microwaveable sandwiches and pizzas, candy, popcorn, drinks (including beer, wine, and minibottles of liquor), excellent coffee, and snacks of all kinds. Thankfully, they usually have small packets of various over-the-counter medications as well, in case you forgot such things. The prices are generally in line with what you would pay for similar items at a convenience store. You may take your snacks back to your seat or use one of the booth-style tables located elsewhere on the lounge car.
Many passengers bring coolers and snack bags on the train. This practice saves money and is generally much healthier than relying upon the snack bar. Two grandmothers sitting across the aisle from me from Los Angeles to San Francisco brought sandwiches, fruit, and a bottle of wine with two plastic wine glasses. They had quite a picnic! You should know that Amtrak has no sense of humor about misbehaving passengers, so if the grannies had brought TWO bottles of wine, I expect they would have found themselves ejected from the train unexpectedly early in their trip. Instead, they shared the one bottle and then took a nap.
Speaking of napping, the coach seats are generally quite comfortable for sleeping. Think of taking a nap in your recliner at home and you have the idea. Although trains are much quieter than airplanes and the passengers are generally low-key, I found a pair of earplugs to be very helpful, but I am a light sleeper. An eye mask will help as will one of those doughnut-shaped inflatable neck pillows. On overnight trips, the speaker system and lights will be turned down and car attendants pass out pillows and blankets. I bring my own travel blanket, but the pillows are nice to put behind your back.
To be continued next time….meanwhile, if you have questions you want answered about train travel, email me at SpringCreekArtsGuild@gmail.com