Since my very first train ride in the US, only a few short years ago, I’ve covered thousands of miles of track in nearly every region of the States, and only wish I would’ve found out about trainery much earlier in life. In our all too car-centric world, I wonder how many other true blue Americans have never tried the tracks, let alone even heard of them.
When riding Amtrak short distances, you can expect the ride to be fast and comfortable. All trains have a bar, complete with booze and snacks, and larger trains even have a nicer dining car. Bathrooms exist, but they’re kind of difficult to use as the faucets barely excrete any water and you’re being shaken all over the room as the train sways. And, of course, remember that the little kid in there before you was doing the same.
Beers and snacks are expensive; the competition while trapped on a rolling steel cage isn’t exactly fierce. Many cars have plugs, so you can charge your phone, watch a movie on your laptop or watch the baby in front of you learn the first rule of electricity: don’t lick it.
For longer trips, overnighters, you can rent a room. There are a few types of rooms, but I’ve only ever had the small “roomette” which is basically two chairs that recline into one another to form a bed, and a dropdown celing to complete the top bunk. You get free water, a guy comes around a makes your bed and checks if you want any coffee (also free), and meals ate included with the price of the room. Which is the worst part–Amtrak rooms seem to simply double your fare, and it’s not exactly cheap to ride rails. When it comes to cost, it’s as much or more than flying and way more time consuming, which is why the extra cost for a room appeals to enough people that they often sell out; spend a night sleeping in a chair with a pack of rabid teenagers in front of you and a baby banshee behind you and double your fare for a private room starts to sound really fair.
Aside from the bathrooms, the trains are clean, usually all too well air conditioned and no smoking is allowed on trains. Fear not, though, the conductor will let you know which stops it’s okay to pop off for a smoke and they’re generally frequent enough that you won’t get too fitty, moreso in the east as opposed to the Midwest and Pacific Northwest.
So trains are slow, more expensive than cars or planes, and occassionally uncomfortable overnight, but if you’re the travel loving type, they’re the best way to get around on a motorized vehicle. You can sit back in an all glass observation lounge, sip on a Sam Adams and watch the world go by. Trains are great for downtime, to gather your thoughts, meet new people (instant common ground, you’re both trainskis), and unlike the wretched Interstate, actually get to see the country; trains run through mountain valleys, along great lakes, and through big cities and small towns alike. Geography in motion.
So if you’ve never been and can handle a little relaxation but little actual sleep, get yourself a ticket and ride!