Last year I took my inaugural trip on Amtrak from Baltimore to Boston for a vacation. The ride was smooth, comfortable and relatively uncrowded (on the way up anyway). The problem is “medium” distance (5-8 hours) train rides are almost as boring and claustrophobic as long flights – especially if the person in front of you puts her seat back all the way.
The one thing that surprised me about Amtrak was while they had a definite security presence, there was a noticeable lack of screeners, backscanners and strip searches. I arrived a half hour before my train arrived and spent the vast majority of my time in the waiting area playing my 3DS, yet somehow I didn’t feel remotely unsafe.
This year, I made a weekend trip from Baltimore to Harrisburg with a transfer in Philadelphia. Both legs of the Northeast Regional trip were extremely crowded though the Keystone Service trains weren’t as bad. However, I did encounter a somewhat rude conductor on the Regional and had an Amtrak sales woman insult me at the Harrisburg station when I tried to ask her a question (technically, I was re-asking as the first time I asked she simply parroted my question back to me in the form of an “answer”).
If you’re reading this then you are well aware of the various indignities of modern air travel from authoritarian TSA agents, overcrowded planes that rarely leave on time (if at all) and the brusque flight attendants. Not to mention turbulence, lack of leg room and having the tray table stabbing you in the stomach when the person in front of you reclines their seat all the way back while being constantly ribbed in said stomach by the woman next to you doing her Sudoku puzzle – and that’s a good flight.
Whereas with Amtrak, I arrive 30 minutes before departure (rather than 2-3 hours), don’t have to worry about delays in Denver or Chicago (okay, that one does effect the NE corridor as both The Cardinal and Capitol Limited serve Chicago) and can spent the entire ride seated without being hassled with pushy flight attendants demanding I give them $5 for my once complimentary beverage\pretzels. I also don’t have to worry about traffic jams, crazy drivers or speeding tickets (though the recent train derailment in Canada does have me worried).
This doesn’t mean I’ve given up on flying. As big of a headache as post-9/11 travel is, it does have speed on its side for cross country routes, and the unfortunate reality that more cities have airports than train depots (for the record, Shamokin has neither but it used to have a train station).
Right now, I’m working on another “medium length” train ride (southbound this time). I chose it because it was shorter, cheaper and more convenient for me than flying, but mostly because it was cheaper. Unfortunately, the price doubled since last night…
P.S – This is my 195th post!