All Aboard Amtrak

Tuesday morning, our family embarked on a three-day “Mystery Adventure Trip.”

On Monday, Dave and I told our boys that we would be going on a trip and that they should be ready at 8:30 a.m. Tuesday. We gave in to telling them on Monday night that we would be traveling by train but did not disclose our destination until Tuesday morning, when they learned we were headed to New York City for a whirlwind tour.

I have traveled by commuter train or light rail a few times but never by full-fledged passenger train over a long distance. The trip from Durham to NYC was supposed to take about 11 hours, just a little longer than it would take to drive. It cost less than four flights and not much more than traveling by car, considering the high cost of gas and the expense of parking a car in the city for two nights.

We brought plenty of food for lunch and snacks, plus the train had a cafe car with pizza and burgers, sandwiches and snacks. We packed books, card games, Legos and iPods, and I brought my iPad and Dave his Macbook. We borrowed a friend’s “MiFi” station so we had a good wireless internet connection the entire trip. We also had plenty of power thanks to two outlets next to each pair of seats.

If you are looking for the fastest way to a far-away destination, nothing beats air travel. But as one who really dislikes flying and doesn’t mind long road trips, I found the train to be an enjoyable experience. Boarding and disembarking were much easier and faster. We could sit where we wanted and walk around freely the entire trip. The seats were wider and had more leg room. The view was better than anything from a plane or a car. We could use electronic devices the entire time. Instead of dealing with the stress of driving I-95 through Richmond, Washington, Philadelphia and then New York in August heat, I could sit back and relax.

The onboard experience was fine; the problem was the travel time, which was extended by several hours each way due to various station delays and speed restrictions because of the weather. Unfortunately, it seems like this is the rule for long-distance train travel. Amtrak suffers from huge infrastructure problems. The company is a government entity (make your own joke here). Amtrak also uses tracks owned and maintained by freight railroad companies, resulting in regional squabbles and numerous en-route delays that could be avoided by a dedicated passenger rail system.

I am becoming a fan of public transportation, especially train, and really wish we had a better rail system in the United States. I realize that the U.S. system is an international laughingstock, decades behind Europe and China. Still, if you are fortunate enough to live in a part of the country where train travel is a viable option for a medium-length trip or your daily commute, I’d encourage you to give it a try.

Oh yes, the New York experience: In one day, we did the NBC Studio Tour; went to the “Top of the Rock” (Rockefeller building); enjoyed NY-style pizza for lunch; did a fantastic hop-on, hop-off bus tour of downtown NYC; ate dinner at Carnegie Deli and dessert (cheesecake, of course) at Junior’s; and took in “Mary Poppins” on Broadway. We rode in taxicabs and pedicabs. And we crashed at a wonderful Holiday Inn near Central Park.

Would anyone else wish to comment on their experience with train travel?

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2 thoughts on “All Aboard Amtrak

  1. Emily Williams says:

    I think your 'Mystery Trip' is a fantastic idea! I look forward to hearing more.

    As for train travel, my most positive train experience in the US is between Bellingham, WA (no snickering, Dave) and Vancouver, BC. The journey is scenic and just long enough to feel relaxed and know that you are traveling to another country, and short enough to not suffer from much of the interference that you mention in your longer trip.

    But the best train travel I've experienced was in England and Switzerland. Clean, on-time trains with stations that are convenient and easy to figure out.

  2. Emily Williams says:

    I think your ‘Mystery Trip’ is a fantastic idea! I look forward to hearing more.

    As for train travel, my most positive train experience in the US is between Bellingham, WA (no snickering, Dave) and Vancouver, BC. The journey is scenic and just long enough to feel relaxed and know that you are traveling to another country, and short enough to not suffer from much of the interference that you mention in your longer trip.

    But the best train travel I’ve experienced was in England and Switzerland. Clean, on-time trains with stations that are convenient and easy to figure out.

  3. moneyandshit.com says:

    Good post. I learn something new and challenging on blogs I stumbleupon every day.
    It’s always helpful to read articles from other writers and use a little something from their sites.

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