Things I Learned While Riding the Train


[First, a disclaimer. It would be unfair to judge all train travel or even all Amtrak travel based on my one experience. Different trains, different days, different destinations… I’m certain many people love riding the train. I’m just not one of them. Equally important, I traveled Coach. I’m told First Class is a very different experience.]

I left St. Louis around 8:00 a.m. on a Friday and arrived in Chicage abnout 6 hours later, where I had a four hour layover. We left Chicago around 6:00 p.m.and arrived in Washington D.C. shortly after 2:00 p.m. the following day. About 30 hours travel time.

I flew back to St. Louis. About two hours in the air.

In no particular order, here are some of my observations:

  • Silver Streak was just a movie
  • Train travel is a group activity. Even if you’re travelling alone. Imagine a weekend sleep-over in your basement rec room with 200 strangers.
  • You will encounter many physically challenged people on the train. There were a surprising number of morbidly obese people on my train. People who either could not fit in an airline seat (or would have to pay for two seats.)
  • People who have lots of time on their hands (retired folks like me) ride the train. You will be part of the captive audience they have been looking for.
  • You can’t smoke on the train. Not a problem on a three-hour flight. A much bigger problem if it’s 5 or 10 hours between smoke stops. Think boxcar full of junkies desperate for a fix.
  • Some of the people on your train will have been travelling for a couple of days already and badly in need of a shower.
  • Light sleeper? Snoring keeps you awake? Times 50! I tried recording a few minutes but it didn’t sound like anything you’d recognize as snoring because you have never heard so many people, in a confined space, snoring. Unless you’ve spent the night in a drunk tank.
  • You better love kids. While most parents wouldn’t let there toddlers roam up and down the aisle of an airplane in flight, the train is a different matter.

Someone commented here that Amtrak could help their bottom line by renting cars at every stop. God knows I would have gotton off if I could.

So, what’s my advice to anyone thinking of taking a long (more than an hour) train trip? Go to your local Union Station (or whatever they call it) and sit in the waiting area for an hour. Watch and listen to the people. If you still think you want a romantic train adventure, go for it.