CelticWhisper Rides the Rails (Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Choo-Choo)

Discussion in 'Railways, Highways, Waterways' started by CelticWhisper, Apr 18, 2012.

  1. CelticWhisper

    CelticWhisper Founding Member

    Ah, okay. It was track work outside Harrisburg that caused the inbound (and now outbound) delay. They didn't say anything about it last time but they just made the announcement.

    Also, first bad bit of the trip - assh0le 2 rows up with the incessant chipmunk laugh. That could happen on a plane or bus, too, so it's nothing specific to the train. Might break out the noice-cancelling headphones though. Or just tell him to either STFU or ride on the roof.
  2. CelticWhisper

    CelticWhisper Founding Member

    Hee hee hee hee. Hee hee hee hee. Hee hee hee hee.

    Always 4. Same pitch, duration, volume... Sounds like a goddamn prerecorded laugh-box.

    *sigh* Can I punch him in the spleen? Please?
  3. CelticWhisper

    CelticWhisper Founding Member

    Okay, back in Chi-town waiting for the local train to take me home. I've got some time before I have to jump onboard, so I'll offer some summarizing thoughts:

    -Better than flying. Seriously, I've not had such a relaxing travel experience since...well, it's actually very hard to remember.

    -Slower than flying. I hate that this is so, but we all knew it anyway. If you have to be somewhere fast, flying is still the best way to do that. However, at this point I'm willing to fly in emergencies but that's about all. If I'm traveling for recreation, I would now much rather take the train so that transit can be part of the fun and relaxation of my vacation instead of little pockets of stress and frustration surrounding a period of relaxation.

    -More interesting than flying. You do meet some neat and friendly people (sometimes off-puttingly friendly, but I strongly suspect that's just my own social aversion speaking) and the scenery is far more interesting. There's the novelty of "whoa, I'm 35000 feet high, I can see so much ground!" but that wears off after a flight or three, and you can't actually pick out anything interesting on the ground you're seeing. The exception would be flying over mountains or rivers, but you still get better scenery on the train and you can see all those geographical features up-close and personal. I went by a steel mill in Pittsburgh en route to Philly and it was amazing how huge it was. Took us at least 5, probably 10 minutes to pass by and all the while I could see the nuts and bolts of industry. Then there were the old houses & barns and such we passed from America's colonial yesteryear and stuff like the Horseshoe Curve, which highlights the ingenuity of railroad engineers in how they innovated their way through geographical obstacles when it wasn't possible to just fly over them. It's definitely a more enlightening mode of transportation.

    -It's not perfect. Lisa et al are right: get a sleeper. Failing that, bring your own pillow, bring your own blanket, and get a window seat. You can cradle your head in the pillow and lean against the side of the train car, but it takes some doing to get your legs comfortable enough to sleep. The seats don't lean back far enough (in Coach - Business Class is better in this regard but the tradeoff is no leg rests) and you have to wrestle with the leg & foot rests, and depending on your own physical proportions, this may be far easier said than done. I'm definitely going to sock money away for a room next time I travel. Also, it can be bumpy. That depends on where you go, of course, and what the conditions of the rails are like, but then again roads can be ill-maintained and planes can fly through storm systems, so I don't think there'll ever be any 100%-guaranteed smooth transportation until/unless we get that whole teleportation thing ironed out. And then there's that whole reassembled-you-might-be-a-separate-and-distinct-consciousness thing, so it's probably best to say "no sure things" here.

    -Customer service is definitely great. I was always comfortable talking to Amtrak staff at the stations and on the train without feeling like they had the constant mental undercurrent of suspicion and "R U TERRORISTZ?" that I sometimes feel at airports (again, never had this problem with Southwest staff but have seen & heard of other airline/airport employees being curt, terse, and untrusting. Usually United.). The conductor on the final leg back to Chicago was even cracking jokes about walking along the roof to get to the cafe car and other such things. Said he was working alone that night so he had to keep himself sane. Amtrak PD are helpful as well - I was a little turned around coming back from returning my rental car and the Amtrak cop who asked me if I needed help was at ease and friendly when he pointed me to the rental office.

    -Leave yourself plenty of time to get to the station, to the train, etc. Not because of Checkpoint Charlie, obviously, but because train stations are neat places and have much more character than airports. PHL 30th Street Station was mind-blowing. I'd seen pictures of the Art Deco style lobby, but they don't do it justice. It's huge, the chandeliers are huge, the banners are huge, and it's even got the old-style information boards where the letters are on some sort of tumblers and roll until they spell out the train line & time information. It's like walking into another time & place. Oh, and now they're playing Sinatra while I wait at Ogilvie Station in Chicago. This isn't universally true - Pittsburgh was kinda dingy and boring, more like a bus terminal than a train station - but between the modern and urban Ogilvie, the "modernized" Chicago Union Station with its old-timey holdovers, and the very elegant Philly 30th Street, I've already seen more interesting architecture and atmosphere than I have at O'Hare, Midway, Harrisburg, Philly, Miami Hollywood, Tampa, Ft. Lauderdale, San Antonio, Houston Hobby, Las Vegas, and Portland airports combined. Except for ORD, MDW and maybe Ft. Lauderdale, simply due to the frequency of visits, and Houston Hobby due to having been there most recently, I don't remember a whole lot about any of those airports. TPA had some kind of modern art sculpture with little planes forming a big plane, I think. But that's about all I can recall (okay, Las Vegas had slot machines all over the place. Who knew.) 30th Street Station, on the other hand, I don't think I'll ever forget. I can only imagine what it's like to stand in DC Union Station.

    -Monica47 asked me about WiFi on the train. Business Class does have WiFi, but it's spotty. They do have a coverage map available so you can anticipate when you will and won't have an uplink, and most of the PHL-Pittsburgh trip I did have a stable connection, but there are dead spots. Plan accordingly, and if you're paranoid like me, set up an SSH proxy to a remote box to secure your browsing (and circumvent those pesky web filters).

    -Timing was never a problem. The worst delay I ran into was about 30 mins. due to track work and a bad signal. The old days of Amtrak being uber-behind-schedule are gone.

    I think that's about all I've got for now. Have to pop off to the Metra line soon so I'll wrap it up. In summation, seriously consider rail for your next trip. It's well worth it.
    Doober likes this.
  4. Lisa Simeone

    Lisa Simeone Original Member

    And especially do it before VIPR infests everywhere and/or a false flag attack pops up.
    barbell likes this.
  5. Sunny Goth

    Sunny Goth Original Member Coach

    This has been my experience too.

    Those sleepers are great. Lots of space to put your stuff, chairs that fold out into reasonably comfortable beds, and the food is included in the price of the sleeper. The food is pretty decent too, I really couldn't complain about it. You have to buy your own alcoholic drinks and hot chocolate (weird), but everything else is included.

    Also my experience. When I was boarding for my first train trip I kept waiting for people to try to molest me or my luggage. Didn't happen. No one asked for my ID, and we got a glass of champagne (might be a sleeper thing) to drink while we were getting settled in.

    There are things that happen. Last time I was on the train we hit a boulder. I don't know how big it was, but it did enough damage to the engine that we had to wait for a replacement engine to come. The delay was about two hours. Still, they were so nice about it, I couldn't really complain.

    The length of time is still an issue for me for work trips, but otherwise, I now view the train as a viable means of transport.
  6. CelticWhisper

    CelticWhisper Founding Member

    Oh, also, listening to Ayreon's "The Universal Migrator Vol. 1: The Dream Sequencer" (particularly "My House on Mars" and "2084") on a post-midnight train, surrounded by sleeping people and looking out at the darkened countryside? Haunting. Positively otherworldly.

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