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New and traditional ways of exploring the globe, and your own backyard.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Remembering Trackside Scenery

It honestly came as a bit of a surprise to me that Amtrak’s ridership numbers announced this week are actually at an all-time high, with the Albany-Rensselaer station still the 10th busiest in the country.
Yes, the figures have been pretty steady over the years and, yes, have climbed in past years too. So, I shouldn’t be surprised – since I have reported on this in the past too – but I was.
Maybe it’s the high cost of the rides, with a round trip from Albany to New York City going for about $100. (Personally, I usually just drive down to Poughkeepsie and take the Metro-North for about $25 round trip.)
Or, maybe I just did not give enough credit to Amtrak, its green goals, and, especially, all of the train lovers out there.
I should have known better.
It was a little more than a year ago that I took a nearly cross-country train trip and enjoyed the trackside scenery of five states and 1,000 miles aboard the Lake Shore Limited from New York City to Chicago, and then an additional three states on the California Zephyr from Chicago to Denver, Colorado.
All of that for a grand total of 79 hours round trip. By the end, I felt like a 5-year-old child on a sugar high – partly because I wanted off the train after that long but also because it was quite the experience.
While my family purchased two sleeper cars for the four of them, I opted for the cheaper route – as I usually do – and used a regular train seat in coach for the entire trip. I figured, I was still young and I had experienced worse while “suitcasing” through Europe on overnight trains, buses, and ships.
Sleeping in a seat has its advantages and disadvantages. Unfortunately, like a plane or any other form of transportation, if you’re stuck on a car with a baby or annoying family, you likely will not get much sleep. I know I didn’t on the way back until a screaming infant finally got off the train in Osceola, Iowa.
But, you can also meet a lot of interesting people. My family and I played cards with a 20-something guy from Ohio until the wee hours on the Lake Shore Limited. He taught us a game called Magic, not to be confused with the collector’s cards.
I remember the delicious meals in the restaurant car, which to this day still has the best chocolate peanut butter cake I have ever eaten.
I remember sitting in the observation deck and admiring the Glenwood Canyon in Colorado. I also remember someone mooning us as we went by in that canyon near a river as well.
I remember the first time I ever saw the Rockies, just coming into sight in the distance. They really do rise from the plains. And they really are amazing, snow-capped wonders. Even in July.
That last experience alone was worth the ticket, because it’s something that Americans and international train lovers have seen for generations; ever since that golden spike was nailed in 1869 north of Salt Lake City to complete the locomotive Manifest Destiny.
I applaud Amtrak for managing this amazing form of mass transportation that is, unfortunately, vastly underutilized in the United States.
I’m glad I was surprised by this increase in ridership and I hope the American consumers, commuters, tourists, and travelers will continue to surprise me in the future.


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