Saturday, 12 April 2008

The world according to Amtrak.

Do not expect speed. Passenger rail plays second fiddle to freight. Pound for pound, we just aren't worth as much, even after you account for the generous poundage of the average American. The US railways, long the great arteries of this nation continue to ferry all manner of goods across it's vastness. No ramshackle group of weary travellers will get in the way.

Car or coach travel might well be quicker and cheaper. But what Amtrak loses in expedience, it more than makes up for in comfort. The trains are spacious beyond expectation with both café and dining cars. But this is still America. Leave your diet at home and bring your cholesterol busting margarine with you. I know that I have easily gained a few pounds, though Amtrak can't be entirely held to account. The nation is awash with heart attack inducing delights, though the alternatives are not only few, but in many places don't exist if your living out your suitcase and eating out a lot.

So. You have a comfy seat on your train, your fellow passengers are decidedly friendlier than the battle weary folk that brave Britain's railways and you have a journey of anywhere between 8 and 40 hours ahead of you. Good on. Now you just have to worry about amusing yourself. Sometimes, other passengers take care of that for you though.

Amtrak Train Attendant: “Haven't I seen you somewhere before? Were you on this route a couple of weeks ago?”

Passenger (Who is black incidentally): “No I wasn't, but I guess we all look the same.”

Did he just...?

Or, take the train conductor who quite literally appeared as if he had been on the railways since the ground was first broken and the tracks laid in the new west, “The next stop is a designated smoking stop. So, if you would like to disembark from this Empire Builder Service and partake in a fine tobacco product of your choosing, please do so with great enjoyment.”

Are you kidding me? Can you imagine British Rail offering first, a smoking stop, and second, imbuing its passengers to enjoy the finest smoking products available? It's more likely that the train would be late, stop at the station, and promptly break down. And to top it all off, you'll get a £50 fine for smoking within spitting distance of a British Rail sign, which has probably partly fallen down.

It is an interesting and very pleasant (Cathartic? Maybe) experience on Amtrak but it comes into its own if you stay in accommodation, effectively first class. As I write this, I'm waiting for my train to leave Minneapolis, bound for Seattle and my 'bedroom' also has a shower in it. Nice. Tomorrow there is a wine tasting session between lunch and dinner. Double nice.

I did have to wonder however, how it came to be that I was giving financial advice to a steward on board my journey from New York to Chicago. Your asking me? About buying a house and how much you should commit to? Me? Have you seen the news? Don't mistake the fact that I work for a bank as a signal I know anything about banking! God bless her, she was a dear and made me feel very welcome. Your carriage attendant can make a real difference if they are clued up enough, and be warned as not all are.

So, Seattle here we come. A smidgeon under 1,800 miles. The mountain views will go quite nicely with the wine.


Anonymous said...


Rosemary said...

Ahhh, trains.

Can't believe they encouraged you to smoke though - didn't they get my message?!