Transit-Oriented America, Part 1: Eight Thousand Miles

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My wife and I were married last month in Brooklyn. For our honeymoon, we wanted to see as many great American cities as we could. In 19 days of travel, we visited Chicago, Seattle, Portland (Ore.), San Francisco, Los Angeles and New Orleans (and also stopped briefly in Cleveland, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, Houston, Atlanta, Washington, Baltimore and Philadelphia).

How could two people as obsessed as we are with minimizing our transportation carbon footprints possibly justify taking so many flights for leisure travel? We didn’t take any flights. We also didn’t rent any cars or even set foot in a single taxi. We learned that thanks to the magic of transit-oriented hotel development (often inadvertent), it is entirely possible to travel this great country from sea to shining sea without any of those carbon-belching modes of travel — and still have a fantastic time.

Our intercity travel consisted of 33 miles on Metro-North (because we couldn’t allow ourselves to depart for such a historic trip from Penn Station), 48 miles on CalTrain, and 7,840 miles on our underfunded national railroad, Amtrak. To travel about in town, we rented bikes in Portland but mostly used an amazing variety of light rail, bus and subway transportation, including trips on Chicago’s El, Portland’s TriMet light rail, San Francisco’s Muni and BART and New Orleans’ streetcars. All of which worked perfectly well for our purposes.

Despite the large number of transit providers, it was Amtrak that did the heavy lifting and made our vacation possible. Amtrak employees are painfully aware of the railroad’s reputation as habitually late. They desperately wanted to provide an on-time, high quality service, but were demoralized when the trains ran late and frustrated because it was almost always for reasons beyond their control.

We took six Amtrak trains more or less through the entire length of their routes: The Lake Shore Limited, the Empire Builder, the Cascades, the Coast Starlight, the Sunset Limited and the Crescent. All of these trains left their departure stations on time to the minute. It wasn’t until we got moving that delays occured, and these were caused by chronic underinvestment in rail infrastructure that has left many lines with just a single track. The lines are owned by freight railroads, which Amtrak pays for the rights use. The freight railroads are in increasingly intense competition with one another for customers, and have a habit of having passenger trains wait at a siding while freight trains roll through. Despite this, the Empire Builder managed to travel 2,206 miles from Chicago to Seattle and still arrive 38 minutes ahead of schedule. If our national government invested in rail improvements just a fraction of the billions of dollars it spends annually on highway maintenance and widening, Amtrak would run on time and more people would ride it.

As gasoline prices have gone up and congestion at airports has increased, Amtrak has had record ridership for multiple years in a row, despite being starved by the Bush administration, which wanted to disband the railroad, and the Republican-led Congress. Many threats remain. On the day we rode rode the Sunset Limited across Texas, a Republican congressman from Texas introduced legislation that would have eliminated the Sunset Limited. (It was defeated with the help of our region’s congressional delegation by a vote of 299-130.)

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But the trains are still running and we had the time of our lives on this trip. Even if its running late, and even if they’ve replaced the chefs in the dining car with microwave ovens, there remains something inherently enjoyable and relaxing about riding on a train across vast distances. You have time to yourself to sit and watch the world roll by, completely stress free, and sleeping in a real honest-to-God bed while rolling along through the undulating darkness is just incomparable to anything else experienced in travel. Now with the addition of laptop computers, you can watch a DVD or play tetris to pass the time, but I prefer to leave the screen off and look out the window.

This is the first part of a five-part series on our travels to run this week. Parts two and three will focus on the cities we visited, with brief updates on their struggles for livable streets. Part four will describe in greater detail the trains we rode and the sights we saw. Part five will compare the cities to one another in terms of livable streets, pedestrian-friendly development and intermodal transportation.

The great American poet Robert Hunter has written that he and the other members of the Grateful Dead had the greatest time of their lives aboard a train across Canada that carried themselves, Janice Joplin, The Band and many other musicians. That’s high praise from people who spent their lives rocking out. The trip inspired Hunter to write some lines that became the motto for our honeymoon:

No big hurry
What do you say
Might as well travel
The elegant way

UPDATE: Here are the other entries in this series:

  • This is really cool! I’m looking forward to reading your installments. But in addition to the Streetsblog posts, I wonder if you can somehow get more publicity for your trip in an effort to promote train travel. You should write Amtrak about it. Maybe they can use your story in promotional material.

    I’d also be interested in learning about how much the Amtrak ticket(s) cost, if you’re comfortable sharing that information, and whether the trains were generally full or not.

  • alex

    Thanks for the first of what is sure to be a great series of stories. My girlfriend and I have recently started using Amtrak instead flying for many east coast trips. Perhaps one of the biggest oversights by the Amtrak folks is the fact that bikes must be packaged if boarding a train in NYC. However, Amtrak service throughout the Pacific Nrothwest, California, and the Midwest are capable of accommodating bikes in the form of a bike rack located in a luggage car. According to their schedule.time-table, not one Amtrak train leaving Penn Station this year will have a bike rack in the luggage car.
    Once Amtrak solves this problem, they can count on at least two more riders for virtually every trip out of the city.
    In the meantime, it is not feasible to use a bike for transportation to and from a train if one has to somehow carry a large box for “packaging” the bike.
    Here is how we found out about this inadequacy the hard way.

  • Robert van Wormer

    Hello–

    I’m really delighted to see your article on a car-free grand tour of American cities. Yes, Amtrak should appreciate this, I think they have a place on their web-site for traveller’s comments. Train travel is one of the best-kept secrets in this country!

    -RvW

  • t

    I like taking the train, but it is very expensive, at least in the Northeast. A round-trip ticket from NYC to Boston is over $160. As a comparison, one can fly on JetBlue for about the same amount, depending on the time of day. On more than one occasion, I’ve seen fares to Boston for about $49. I know flying comes with a huge environmental cost, but it’s hard to pass up fares that are about $50 – $60 cheaper than taking the train.

    Obviously taking the train from the center of the city is veyr convenient, but with the ability to take the subway to JFK and the T from Logan Airport into Boston, the convenience of flying just about equals the convenience of taking the train. Obviously delays are a bigger factor with flying, but not always.

    I know there are many reasons why train fares are what they are, but the price still needs to be such that it convinces people to get out of their cars or off of planes and onto a train.

  • Hilary

    Amtrak also makes it possible to take great camping vacations without a car or flying. We took a great trip to Glacier Park, Montanta. Amtrak station is at the entrance. Just walk in — to the back country or to the hike-in chalets.So many of our great parks and train systems were designed together.

  • This is great! Your comments about the allure of train travel are spot on, and it’s exciting to see you had a great trip despite Amtrak overdose 🙂 I’m really looking forward to the next posts.

  • alex

    t,

    The fare to Boston is high because of the demand. Fares to most other locations are comparable to airfare, if not cheaper. For example, a typical flight to Burlington, VT (as priced on orbitz.com) a few minutes ago was $184 (airport fees included). Meanwhile, Amtrak was $88. Granted there is a difference travel time – flying is about twice as fast after one considers security and traffic. But, as Aaron described, there is a certain feeling of relaxation when travelling by train. Plus, for those of us who work nearly exclusively on our laptops, there is very little time lost when travelling by plane, versus flying.
    As another example, my girlfriend and I will be going to Savannah, GA in November. Rather than take an evening flight and stay in a hotel, we will be taking an overnight train from NYP and will enjoy the comfort of a sleeper train. Even with the sleeper train, the overall travel costs are just about the same when one considers flight+hotel price.

  • Maharbbal

    Which you the best of luck with your wedding.

    Besides, it was really fun to read you, I realize what a cultural gap separate the two sides of the Atlantic: riding a train is absolutely normal here even for fairly long dross-border trips. On the other hand there are so many passenger trains there ain’t no more room for the one carrying merchandise. As a result everything transits through trucks and highways, so even more CO2.

    Life ain’t perfect… but a newly wed man may be tough to convince.

  • Hilary

    Someone please explain why the train routes with most demand (and competition) are the most expensive — the opposite of the air and bus industries.

  • Ethel Dick

    Blessings upon you!! How I wish there were thousands more like you who find, by accident or design, the joys of traveling by rail. My husband and I are enthusiastic rail travelers and have been for many years. From the late sixties by rail to Seattle, the year the Space Needle was constructed, to recent rail conventions (the National Railway Historic Society) we have enjoyed every trip although the changes noted over the years due to the problems you menioned make rail travel a little less luxurious than it once was.

    Imagine, if you can, every dining car experience was comparable to dining in a fine restaurant. Snowy white table linens, fine china with the name of the line inscribed on it, real glassware, and meals cooked to perfection by the chef in his well-designed, efficient kitchen. Imagine dining in a dome car as you pass through incomparable scenery such as can be found on the California Zephyr as it traverses Colorado and Utah. I’m glad you rode the Empire Builder as it shows what can be done to upgrade Amtrak’s equipment to make rail travel a pleasure.

    Your comments about the delays due to various causes are correct. Those of us who enjoy and appreciate train travel need to make our voices heard to Congress to ensure that Amtrak gets the funding it needs to survive. The administration is doing its best to eliminate transcontinental rail service, trying to dump it on the states which presently have trains passing through. It has been our experience that there are many travelers who, through no fault of their own, are unaware of the causes of delays and cutbacks in service.

    Tourists from other countries enjoy seeing our country at ground level but often wonder why passenger service is given such short shrift. Once upon a time the freight trains were off on a siding while the express passenger train forged ahead. Would that those days could return!

    I am looking forward to the rest of your series.

  • ddartley

    Definitely going circulate this widely, particularly among my electeds.

    Bravo on the travel choices and the wedding.

  • Ian Turner

    Hilary —

    Passenger rail, of course, is not a competitive industry in the united states. But the answer to your question is, as I understand it, that Amtrak has minimum service levels to out-of-the-way places as a legislative requirement; they are required to serve locations that don’t justify the cost. The result is that more popular routes subsidize the less popular ones. Amtrak can get away with charging higher fares on those routes because it can still fill the seats, whereas on less popular routes it must run the trains (by fiat), and having done would charge lower rates to fill the seats.

  • galvo

    a family member that travel frequently from Albany to nyc via amtrack had nothing but expleticrs to use when the word amtrack comes up. it is very common if not daily that the trips are delayed not 5 or 15 minutes but 4 hours on this section of travel. the prices on amtrack compared to the china town buses, make it a tough economical comparision $25 rt vrs 190 rt. the china town buses you can get a bike on. th refusal of amtrack to carry bikes al natural, is the gap in the intercontinental bicycle infrastructure. i may be tempted to pay the high prices of amtrack if i could roll my bike on and secure it in a bike car.

  • Steve

    I’m happy to subsidize the lesser-traveled routes with my business trips to Delaware and Washington. Despite occasional delays the Acela service is definitely superior to flying to those locations in terms of being on time and the ability to work en route. Those who can do so should pass along the higher cost of train vs. plane travel on this rationale. Another selling point for Amtrak’s “green pitch” suggested above.

  • mork

    http://www.amtrak.com/servlet/ContentServer?pagename=Amtrak/am2Copy/Hot_Deals_Page&c=am2Copy&cid=1081442673918&ssid=295

    Offered jointly by Amtrak and VIA Rail Canada, the North America Rail Pass provides you with 30 consecutive travel days with unlimited rides and stopovers throughout the United States and Canada. VIA Rail Canada is Canada’s premier passenger rail provider.

    Pass Highlights

    * Travel for 30 consecutive days
    * More than 28,000 miles and more than 900 destinations

    Cost

    *
    Peak: $999.00 — US ($899.10 with senior, student and child discount)
    *
    Off-Peak: $709.00 — US ($638.10 with senior, student and child discount)

    Travel Periods

    *
    Peak: May 25, 2007 – October 15, 2007
    *
    Off-Peak: October 16, 2007 – May 22, 2008

    Accommodations

    The pass entitles you to Coach Class travel, but you may upgrade to Business Class or Sleeping Car accommodations for an additional charge.

  • Bill

    Just took Amtrak’s Maple Leaf from Niagara Falls, Ontario to Penn Station on Friday. Upstate New York on a clear sunny day can’t be beat for scenery. For most of the trip you’re paralleling the Erie Canal (both abandoned and modern sections), Mohawk River, and Hudson River. The train was sold out, I believe. Many passengers were on their way to other desitnations, not just New York. One Canadian couple transferred at Buffalo/Depew to the Lake Shore Limited on the way to California.

  • Eric

    Aaron, congratulations on the wedding. Sounds like a great way to spend a honeymoon.

    Dorothy Gaiter and John Brecher, who write the wine column for The Wall Street Journal and SmartMoney, are big fans of train travel. They’ve written frequently about traveling by train in a private sleeper car while enjoying fine bottles of wine and champagne. Googling their names and “train” might elicit some good train travel stories.

  • jojo

    Americans’ expectations for mobility and speed are imcompatible with the current state of rail travel. Both need to change. For now, everybody who rides Amtrak must understand the concept of throwing time out the window. Relax, you’re on the train.

  • @alex

    galvo (comment #13) –

    I take the train regularly between Albany and NYC, and while there is truth in the trains with 4 hour delays, those of us who are not going beyond Albany-Rensselaer are actually very lucky and I rarely experience delays of more than 15 minutes. Service between Albany and NYC is double-tracked (there is a small section undergoing repair this summer) and trains that originate or end in Albany, without going any farther, probably have better on-time rates than the Northeast Corridor trains between DC and Boston.

    Trains that go beyond Albany have to run on single-tracked lines, and suffer delays much like that experienced on other long-haul Amtrak service, are rarely on-time and are often several hours delayed. This is true even for service originating in NYC, since they use the same equipment in both directions, and a train arriving four hours late may cause a delayed departure.

    The trick is to only take trains that have no snack car. In 2005, Amtrak suspended snack car service on trains operating between NYC and Albany – trains going farther do have snack car service. I miss being able to get a beer on the train, but if you take one of these trains, you will depart on time and arrive no more than 10-15 minutes late (or early).

  • Hilary

    Thanks, Ian, for the explanation, but I remain perplexed. I think train travel is as competitive as buses, and both compete against air in many markets. Yet bus travel is far cheaper on the busy routes. And where buses have to compete against the upstart (e.g. Chinatown) companies, they’ve driven the prices down to rock bottom. The major bus companies (out of NYC) compete by guaranteeing a seat to anyone who buys a ticket. They will roll out another bus if needed. (Can’t say the same for a recent Greyhound experience in Charlottesville, VA., where customers who had purchased tickets for a 1:00 bus had to wait hours for the bus to show up to know whether there would be a seat available! There weren’t enough, which meant many people had to wait til 6:00 — with the same uncertainty! Unbelievably third world service.)

  • psycholist

    I was a semi-regular traveller to Boston from NYC via Amtrak. While it’s more comfortable to travel by train it’s also more expensive and less reliable. One of those options you can deal with – two is not worth it. I switched to the Chinatown bus and had a much more pleasant experience. There were minimal traffic problems and nothing stops them – during a blizzard they were the only way out of Boston. We drove behind a snow plow to NYC. Fung Wah!

  • Gosh, thanks for the support everyone. Glad to see there are so many rail veterans out there.

    Ianqui, our rail fare for two people for the Amtrak trains was $1,138.78 or $569.39 per person. This includes a 10% discount we got as members of the National Association of Railroad Passengers. Everyone who travels at all regularly via Amtrak should be a member of NARP. It’s $35 for a year and besides a 10% discount on rail fare, you get the satisfaction of supporting an organization that advocates for increased passenger rail service in this country. (Or at least fights effots to decrease that service.)

    We also spent eight nights on the rails, so we bought sleeper roommettes. This had a cost attached to it, but it also saved us from paying for eight nights of hotel rooms that we would have had to pay for if we flew, so I think the cost is negligible.

    Hilary, I think the cost discrepancy you are noticing has something to do with the right-of-way costs. Amtrak either owns it owns tracks and pays to maintain them, or pays for the rights to run trains over tracks owned by other companies or organizations (like the MTA, which owns the rails Amtrak uses between New Rochelle and New Haven and the Bronx and Poughkeepsie). Maintenance of I-95 is paid for by the tax money you pay the to the Federal government, with aid from gasoline taxes and the states. Fung Wah does pay a fraction of the costs to maintain I-95 through gasoline taxes and tolls. I don’t know what this fraction is, but it is way less than what Amtrak pays as a percentage for maintenance-of-way. Any policy wonks out there with better information on this?

    Speaking of buses, an outfit called MegaBus is running buses from the sidewalk outside Chicago’s Union Station to other rail terminals. The bus company undercuts Amtrak’s ticket prices while paying nothing for the maintenance of Union Station’s waiting rooms, even though that’s where MegaBus passengers wait for the bus to show up. One might call that capitalism, but a better description would be that of a parasite.

  • MrManhattan

    One seemingly little known fact is that you can transfer frequent flyer miles from some airline programs to Amtrak.

    I transferred from Continental, and I’m sure you can use American Express Rewards miles as well. I’m not sure about the others.

  • Steve Strauss

    If you are interested in improving Amtrak service in New York State I urge you to join the Empire State Passengers Association, the statewide advocacy organization for intercity passenger rail service. Take a look at our website at http://www.esparail.org. We are loosely affiliated with the National Association of Railroad Passengers and their website is http://www.narprail.org. NARP members are entitled to a 10% discount on most Amtrak fares if you purchase your ticket 3 days in advance of travel. The discount is not valid on weekday Accela trips.

    The Pataki Administration went out of their way to fight with Amtrak in NYS and an on-going lawsuit between NYSDOT and Amtrak is preventing almost any forward movement with respect to train service and issues in the state. Join ESPA and help us win the service enhancements that the citizens of Illinois, North Carolina and the Pacific Northwest are enjoying.

  • nimby pimby

    pre-reading for portland…
    http://www.cato.org/pubs/pas/pa-596.pdf

  • Frquenttrvlr

    I don’t think you can transfer miles from American Express, but you can from Diners Club Rewards as well as from Midwest Airlines.

  • Paul

    Hilary-

    Because supply is set by a monopoly provider, there is no competition and limited room for increasing supply on rail travel along the eastern corridor. Therefore, if supply is (relatively) fixed, increasing demand increases price.

    Aaron –

    I personally love the train, and I will look forward to reading more of your travels. Sounds like a fun trip. However, there is a fundamental problem with rail travel in the US – namely, the country is not densely populated enough to warrant cross country rail travel. Yes, we have issues with rail ownership, and there are certainly many ways to improve Amtrak. But this problem of low population density does not allow cross country rail to operate well in the US. It’s the same fundamentals as subways. You must have a certain population density to support frequent subway service with many stops. You can’t have a subway in the suburbs because people are too spread. Rail across the US is like a subway in the suburbs.

  • jb

    Aaron,

    Just curious how the entire cross-country and return trip cost you only $569 per person. I recently priced a RT NYP-Chicago Union Station trip (Lake Shore Limited) and the roomette (not even a sleeper) was an extra $400 each way….thanks.

  • Robert Stacy

    Aaron,

    Good for you and the new Mrs. We (Me, my Wife, and two grandchildren) have had a wonderful time traveling w/Amtrak. Just before Katrina wiped out the New Orleans/Jacksonville leg of the Sunset Limited, we took the Sunset Limited r/t to Oceanside, CA via Los Angeles. Wonderful, and this was just before the downsizing of the food service.(Was sorry to see this development but food is still good.) We had a delux bedroom (two sleeping rooms together to form a suite). Then last year we went cross coungtry again beginning in Florence, SC through Washington DC,on to Chicago and on to Los Angeles on the Southwest Chief. Again, wonderful. This time we had a family bedroom.

    Sure there were some delays but we were generally on time arrivng at our destinations. AND, the delays were not a problem. We were on the train and enjoying every minute.

    It would be a real shame to cut these long distance trains. What a National Treasure that may be going away if we can’t support it.

  • Biobob

    I think the biggest thing that hurts trains is travel time to anything outside the Northeast. I would really like to take a train trip for my travel to Ohio from NYC. First there is no direct route to where I want to go, but I can get around that.

    The problem is the 19 hour travel time that costs more than a airline ticket actually. I can fly in a little over an hour for less. Even adding in airport times we are looking at maybe 3 hours travel time total. I am not going to count delays because both systems deal with these.

    That’s the main issue. The system needs upgrades, but it needs more riders to get those upgrades. It won’t get more riders until upgrades are done, and even then that’s no guarantee.

  • Jason A

    If anyone is ever in Southern California, I can’t say enough great things about Amtrak’s “Pacific Sunliner” route. I was pleasantly surprised that a region defined by it’s notorious auto reputation supported such a cheap, quick and scenic way to get from LA to San Diego — and all points in between.

  • Hilary

    I have travelled long distance in one of Amtrak’s private cabins and in a regular seat, and am happy to report that you will NOT feel deprived by sleeping in a seat. They’re big, soft and reclining, with adjustable leg rests, tables and space between the two seats. The sound of the train is comforting and the windows are huge. The conductor even comes around with fluffy starched pillows and blankets. What a contrast with the leg we did by air!

  • Hilary

    Oh, here’s a tip! Bookmark the Amtrak site and periodically check on their “Hot Deals” — you’ll find odd ball segments at big discounts that you can then build the rest of your vacation around!

    Also, there’s a 20% discount for Student Advantage members…

  • Nimby pimby – I haven’t read the entire Cato report on Portland, but the executive summary includes value judgments as if they were indisputable. Like this one: “Planners made housing unaffordable to force more people to live in multifamily housing or in homes on tiny lots.”

    You’re talking to a bunch of New Yorkers here. What’s wrong with multifamily housing or homes on tiny lots? Saving money on heating and cooling? Getting to know your neighbors?

    Not everyone prefers multifamily housing – of course. But many people do. And that type of value statement shouldn’t be presented as a knock against Portland. Forced into a gulag? O.K., that’d be fair, but forced into something that people might prefer anyway I think hints at an underlying bias on the author’s part.

    Paul – I actually don’t think that housing density has a tremendous impact on a service like Amtrak. There’s no huge need to be within walking distance of a train station when you’re going to travel more than 500 miles away. Amtrak has a lot of suburban stops like Glenview, Ill., New Carrollton, Md., or Croton-Harmon, N.Y., where people can drive to the station. Better, a public policy that encourages people to drive 5 to 20 miles to a train than 700 miles to the final destination.

    jb – I was counting rail fare only, not roomette accomodations. The roomettes, while not free, saved us from having to buy hotel rooms, so that washed out to a non-expense as far as I’m concerned.

  • Stu Nicholson

    Excellent story and congratulations as newlyweds!

    Lots going on at the state level with regard to planning for more and better passenger rail service. Check out what we’re doing in Ohio at http://www.ohiohub.org .

  • Dave

    Aaron,

    I think population density does have more to do with rail travel than you think. People are more likely to take the train for medium distances instead of driving if having a car at their destination is unnecessary (or better, a nuisance). This is part of the reason why (NY) Penn Station is by far the busiest station in the Amtrak system.

    Though not strictly population density, another related factor is distance between densely popular areas. Countries like Germany and Japan with many denseley populated and relatively close (by American standard) population centers are perfect for passenger rail. Here, it’s unlikely that taking a train from the West Coast to the Midwest is ever going to compete with air travel as far as cost and time (barring a carbon tax, of course). That said, there are plenty of US cities that would make excellent targets for increased rail travel (the Northeast Corridor cities, California, Vancouver-Seattle-Portland, Chicago and a bunch of cities around it, most notably Minneapolis, Houston-Dallas-Austin, Chicago-New York might even be realistic, although that’s already beginning to push it)

  • Dave

    Speaking of California, for those that are interested: http://www.cahighspeedrail.ca.gov/

  • alex

    I’ll add to Jason A’s comment about trains in San Diego. I recently travelled back to my homestate and was extremely pleased to take the Coaster train service from North San Diego County into downtown SD. I recall horrendous traffic on the 5 and 8 into and out of SD during my high school and college years. I am stoked to see SD county moving forward with their train service. Plus, the BRT in the downtown area was excellent and took me effortlessly from the train station to the Padres game. No driving necessary.

  • bobby

    Actually freight railroads don’t compete against each other that much – all the mergers have led to abandoment of almost any lines close together. But they do compete against trucks, and with oil prices high, and a shortage of drivers rail business is booming. So it’s not suprising they give priority to the more profitable service, even though the law gives Amtrak priority.

    Take a look at the monthly management reports on Amtrak’s website (Amtrak.com>Inside Amtrak>Other reports) and you can see results by railroad. BNSF and CN are trying, but clearly UP and NS just don’t care.

  • AC in LNK

    Great writing! I got so screwed around by the airlines in 2005 on one trip that I said to myself in Toronto Canada, “there’s got to be a different way”. I find Amtrak to be peaceful, fun, adventerous, friendly, and stress free. It’s so simple for me in Lincoln NE to board, takes 5 minutes to get to the station from my house, get onboard, go to sleep and wake up to the aroma of the dining car. I’ll take a train over a fricken plane anytime, any day and anywhere, too bad we have let the rail infrastructure fall apart. USA used to be the greatest passenger rail infrastructure in the world, now its one of the worst, and flyin’ and drivin’ sucks!

  • Rob

    I haven’t read the second installment yet, but it sounds like you had a good time. You are right. Many of the times our trains are late, it is because of freight trains.

    I’m a sleeping car attendant on the Crescent. I hate having to say “We’re waiting here for a north bound freight train”. I hope that the attendants on your trips (especially on the Crescent)treated you well and that you’ll come back and ride again.
    Rob A.
    Sleeping car attendant
    2010 / 1910

  • Terry Cummings

    I enjoyed this article very much. I and my best friend are taking a train trip from Pittsburgh to Chicago on the Capitol Limited, then will take the Empire Builder to Seattle. After spending a day in Seattle we are off on the Coast Starlight to Sacramento (to visit the California State Railroad Museum) then on to Simi Valley to conclude the trip. I have taken the California Zypher from Chicago to Oakland and the Southwest Chief from Chicago to Los Angeles (and the return trip) so now I will have taken the three major Chicago – West Coast routes. Someday I would like to take a train from Chicago to Texas or New Orleans. I have traveled the East Coast to Florida numerous times including the AutoTrain. I think train travel is grand.

  • Dave H.

    ‘”Solutions to our current problems have to be found, not imposed from previous centuries. High-speed rail is just a polished version of 19th century technology,” said William Garrison, co-author of “Tomorrow’s Transportation” and a retired civil engineering professor at the University of California at Berkeley.’

    http://ap.google.com/article/ALeqM5hPp5hvBKhiO1W5qP1obrGVE9vWVw

    This seems like the new tactic: everything progressive is nineteenth-century, therefore bad. I bet this guy uses electricity – so nineteenth-century, believes in democracy as a form of government – so eighteenth century, reads and writes use phonetic characters – so 9th century -or-so B.C.!

  • Paul P Eyres

    Thanks I really enjoyed reading about the AMTRAK journeys. Here in UK I love rail travel and hope one day to do the journey from Chicago to Omaha Nebraska to visit family rather than take a plane.I see the dining car and meals look superb. Any advice would be much appreciated, my e-mail is paul.eyres@jobcentreplus.gsi.gov.uk

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Transit-Oriented America, Part 3: Three More Cities

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Part 3 in a series on rail and transit-only travel across the United States focuses on the final three cities of our journey. Part 2 looked at the first three and Part 1 presented an overview of our travel.  San Francisco Fully restored streetcars, cable cars, buses with and without pantographs, submerged and at-grade light rail, a […]
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Court: Don’t Spend Billions on Outdated Travel Forecasts

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Cross-posted from City Observatory.  Last week, the Washington Post reported that the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., has ordered new ridership projections for the proposed Purple Line light rail line, which will connect a series of Maryland suburbs. Like any multi-billion dollar project that serves a densely settled metropolitan area—and this one connects some […]