Making Tracks

Kathy and I have been traveling by train with some frequency in recent years.  Kathy’s first long-distance train ride was 13 years ago when our oldest granddaughter was born.  The delivery had been difficult (to put it mildly) and grandma’s presence was required for a few weeks.  Upon her return, she waxed euphoric over the wonders of train travel.

I had ridden commuter trains for awhile, but my first Amtrak ride took place a couple of years later, when we attended the Association for Baha’i Studies conference in Calgary.  We rode the Capitol Limited from Washington, D.C. to Chicago, and from there took the Empire Builder out to Shelby, Montana, where we rented a car for the drive up to Calgary.  (If you’re ever there, we recommend the O’Haire Manor Motel, a nice place and, if things haven’t changed, the only place in Shelby you can have a rental car delivered to you.)  The return trip featured the same two trains.  But this voyage wasn’t so smooth as Kathy’s previous; the train was late getting to Chicago, the Empire Builder broke down on the way back and was horribly late getting back to Chicago, and I learned that although like Kathy I do enjoy riding trains, unlike Kathy I can’t sleep very well in a coach seat.

For awhile, I thought maybe I was train-incompatible, because nearly every time I boarded a train, something happened to delay it, the people around us were strange, or something alarming happened.  On one trip, a woman who had spent three days on trains with her three young children had to get off with the help of paramedics when two of the kids got very sick.  I hope everything turned out okay for her and her family.

This past weekend, we took another trip to Chicago via the Capitol Limited, this time to visit my parents.  On the return trip, we spent the extra money for a sleeper, which made the trip even more enjoyable because it was quiet and I was able to actually sleep.  We met several nice people in the dining car along the way, including a couple traveling east to help their son’s family move to a new home and a teacher who had some very definite opinions on the test-driven paradigm of present-day education.  (Hint: He seriously didn’t like it.)

One interesting thing about train travel is that many of one’s fellow-passengers are veteran rail riders.  Amtrak ridership has increased significantly since 2001 and the increased hassle of traveling by air, but convenience and the relatively lower cost aren’t the only reasons people go by train.  Many truly love this form of transport, and it’s not hard to see why.  You don’t have to drive, you can get up and move around, you can see the country, and (if you’re a people person) you can meet lots of interesting characters.

There are downsides, to be sure, but that’s true of any form of travel.  For us, the pluses outweigh the minuses.

So long as I don’t put a hex on the train, anyway . . .

Header image courtesy of tiverylucky at