North American Trains

We traveled to Canada and back to Texas and had a good holiday season.  Our truck and trailer were OK when we returned to the southern warmth, and we are now journeying through bits of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama, on our way to Florida.   No more details, since I am resolved to minimize the “travelogue” stuff –unless something dramatic or funny happens.

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Taylor,TX - not a huge station

Taylor,TX – not a huge station

We went to Canada and back by train, and that’s what this posting is about.   If you don’t like trains, or are  bored by them, don’t read any further.

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Texas Eagle arriving at Taylor, TX

Texas Eagle arriving at Taylor, TX

Why did I write it?

–some folk did not know that the USA and Canada still have some long-distance passenger trains.  Even my well-travelled cousin Robert expressed surprise.

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Texas Eagle at Taylor,TX - Ready to roll to Chicago

Texas Eagle at Taylor,TX – Ready to roll to Chicago

–an amazing number of people in North America have never travelled on a train, except perhaps an urban “underground”;

–a lot of people really like trains, and can be illogical about them.

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Texas Eagle at Fort Worth,TX

Texas Eagle at Fort Worth,TX

OK — cars are convenient.  But driven for thousands of miles, cars  turn into prisons … ones without any toilet facilities.   All driving is hazardous and irksome, and exceptionally so in winter, when mountains can pose an impassable barrier.  Busy people fly, enduring endless security checks and line-ups. Then they sit in yoga-like positions trapped in a cigar tube.  Winter flying is just like driving.  “Whadya mean, Chicago is closed?”   This is all before your luggage goes elsewhere.  Even in the  “good old days”, they still lost the bags!

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Dallas-Fort Worth Commuter Train

Dallas-Fort Worth Commuter Train

Buses are not part of my “cultural heritage”.  They are my transportation of last resort, and I still think nasty thoughts about school buses.

Dallas has "light rail" local trains

Dallas has “light rail” local trains

Most travel is little or no fun, but increasingly I look at the “hassle-factor”, and when friends ask, incredulously, why we take the  Amtrak train to come home from Texas, I point out that we start ten minutes from Taylor, Texas, and travel to Fergus, Ontario, twenty minutes from home.

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We take the Bluewater between Chicago and the Canadian border

We take the Bluewater between Chicago and the Canadian border

If we fly, the beginning and end of the journey needs expensive and tedious taxis or mini-buses.   In fact we would need to wake up at 3.a.m. and arrive home after midnight.  Two plane changes and three pat-downs for Elaine –because the metal in her knees always excites the security alarms.

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Crew change in Battle Creek, MI

Crew change in Battle Creek, MI

The key to acceptable long-distance train travel is a “sleeper”, and we spring for the private cabin rather than the cheaper bunks along the corridors.  Not always appreciated is that Amtrak sleeper fare includes all meals, and use of the executive lounge at large stations like Chicago.   I am not going to detail what facilities you get, since Amtrak (and Via Rail in Canada) have web-sites that show you all the details.

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Union Pacific freight at Taylor,TX

Union Pacific freight at Taylor,TX

North American trains travel relatively slowly, usually on single tracks shared with enormous freight trains.  Lots of stops in sidings to deal with “meets” when something comes the other way.  But what does it matter?  The sleeper cabins have a sofa for a snooze, the observation lounge has a view and a bar, and you share tables with often-interesting characters in the dining car.  Having nothing to do for a couple of days has its points.  I appreciate that we can get to the station just a few minutes before departure and then relax.

Museum Piece in Temple, TX

Museum Piece in Temple, TX

As an editorial comment, the Canadian trans-continental train has better food and accommodation, but most of the Amtrak trains are two-story “super-liners”, and are OK.  The US East Coast has different trains, which often go faster, but we have not been on these as yet.

The Bluewater is a single level "regular train"

The Bluewater is a single level “regular train”

Regrettably the direct Chicago-Toronto train has ceased, so there is a minor hassle getting over the border and into the other country’s train.  It all needs a bit of planning, but it has worked well for us.  You still have to plan when you travel by air or road, but such plans go awry more often.

Coming into St. Louis over the Mississippi

Coming into St. Louis over the Mississippi

People ask “how much does it cost?”.    The key here is to factor in all the charges and taxes, plus the ground transportation at both ends, not forgetting hotels and meals if needed.  We find the train comparable, but the real question is how much is it worth to extend your life?  Start by removing some of the anger and frustration when you travel.

Texas Eagle at Fort Worth,TX

Texas Eagle at Fort Worth,TX

One final point:  we do get to see the country as we pass through it.  It varies from beautiful to ugly, but even the ugly bits are sometimes interesting.  Then, as night falls in Texarkana, Texas, we enjoy our steak dinner, and settle down to sleep through Arkansas.  When we awake, the dawn brightens over the Mississippi as we coast into St. Louis, Missouri … and a good breakfast!   The other way we go to dinner and sleep after St. Louis, and wake up in Texas.

Maybe my next entry in this blog will be of more general interest … I will try!

Minimal input from Elaine this time, who is not as interested in trains, but sure hates those airport pat-downs!

John

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2 Responses to North American Trains

  1. Vi says:

    Hi ,Thanks for the train ride. I like trains.I haven’t been on one in 27 years.It is a real holiday when I don’t have to drive.Maybe you could post a pic of your cabin sometime. I am gonna post a pic of the orchids. they are a beauty right now.Hope all is well and you have a swell time at Disney.All is well here and I will send an e-mail soon.. Love Vi

  2. Sian says:

    Thank you for your lovely train post…. I’ve been lucky enough to take a long distance train twice (first, a wonderful trip at age 7 on the trans-Canada train, Vancouver to Montreal, as part of the family move from Seattle back to Britain; and second, with the family back in North America again, for a grade 12 band trip, Ottawa to Edmonton and back, oh my, never did there breathe a braver high school music teacher!). Such a good way to see the land. You make me long for more train rides! Happy travels, you both!

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