Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Taking the Train

 Flying used to be fun, but the national security scanners and waiting lines and all have just ruined air travel. With the security, you get stuck in the terminal with nowhere to go.  Airlines also charge you for bags and all this garbage. You don't even get a bag of complimentary peanuts or pretzels on the flight anymore. If I never have to deal with an commercial airline flight again, I'll die a happy man.

As such, we decided for vacation this year that we were going to take the train to visit my parents in Tennessee. Ironically, there are no Amtrak lines through East Tennessee, despite the fact that there are all sorts of railroads everywhere. This is why so many ferocious battles were fought in Tennessee during the Civil War. My parents had to come up to Maysville, KY, to pick us up. This is basically the first train stop after Cincinnati.

Union Station-Chicago
California Zephyr
Family Room
We left from a town in Nebraska where my wife is from. We got her parents to take us to the train station in the middle of the night. We went from Nebraska to Chicago on the California Zephyr (truly a great name for a train). Then in Union Station, Chicago, we took the 50 Cardinal to Maysville. For the first trip to Tennessee (actually Kentucky), we were riding in coach class. With a 2 year old, that was a harrowing experience. My daughter simply could not sleep, so she was largely a basket case by the time we got to Maysville.
Amtrak Roomette

I decided to pony up the money on the way back and upgrade to a sleeper berth roomette for the first train and a family car for the second leg. They were somewhat expensive, but well worth it.

With the first class upgrade, the trip back was quite pleasant. We had a porter who would carry bags and reserve us a table in the dining car. Meals in the dining car are all included in the price of the sleeping car ticket. I was quite surprised by that when airlines want to charge you for carrying a bag.

The following three shots are from when we crossed over the Mississippi River, about 2 weeks before the massive flooding. You can tell its quite high:

Each train also had an observation car with also contained a snack bar. Here is a quick video I took to see what it was like:

Overall, I was quite impressed with the professionalism of all the Amtrak people. They wore ties and address us as Mr. and Mrs. They even had out names ready when the train pulled up to Maysville on the return trip and the conductor got off and asked if we the family he had on the schedule for pick-up. The 1-800 number customer service was one of the best I have ever dealt with also. It was no problem to upgrade my seats for the return trip.

If you are going cross country, I highly recommend taking the train. It's greener and cheaper that cars or plains, and the customer service is phenomenal. The only draw backs are that the trains can sometimes be delayed and the pickup times for the central parts of the country or in the middle of the night. Amtrak is far more enjoyable than any other means of cross country transportation I have ever taken.

I would certainly travel by train again.

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