The Family

The Family

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Riding the Rails

It was an experience, that's for sure.

While I can't say we won't do it again, it's not something I'm ready to repeat anytime soon.

Last Thursday we took an overnight train trip to Washington DC. We also took the return trip home by train Sunday night.

I hadn't given train travel much thought before this trip. I've seen advertisements for trips through the Canadian Rockies and would love to someday do that, but it had never occurred to me that train travel would be an option from getting from one place to another.

Here are my thoughts about traveling the rails based on our first and only experience.

1. Cost of Tickets - One of the pluses to traveling by train is that it cost less than a flight. This could be the result of me deciding last minute to take this trip, but it was less expensive than flying, and quite possibly driving, for us.
2. Mobility - Unlike a plane or a car, you aren't as confined on a train. There is a lot of seat space and ample leg room. You can walk throughout the train the entire time and can sit in the snack bar or at a table in the dining car.
3. Luggage - You can bring up to two bags per person, and there's plenty of overhead storage. You can also access your luggage easily throughout the ride.
4. No Long Security Lines - We began the trip leaving from a small station, and there was only one other person boarding. Even though the train was an hour behind schedule, it was not a hassle. We talked to the other passenger and the folks at the train depot, and when it was time to board we just walked on the train. I don't even think we had reached our seats when it began moving. On the way home we left from Union Station. It was a crowded place, but we still didn't have to go through any security lines. We had to wait briefly in a line to board the train, but as soon as everyone was on it took off.
5. Conversations - I don't know why, but the fellow passengers seem more friendly on a train. I've noticed that most people, myself included, don't like to strike up conversations on a plane. It seems the opposite for train travelers. I think that might be part of the allure. I actually think it made for a more pleasant trip! We talked to several retired couples that had been riding the rails for weeks. They would get off and stay at one destination a few days and then would get on another line to head somewhere else.

1. Cost of Meals - While the ticket prices for coach seats were reasonable, the meals and snack prices were not. I think they know they can charge outrageous prices because there aren't other options. Of course you could eat before boarding the train or bring your own snacks.  My biggest complaint is that we were charged a gourmet-meal price for Denny's quality food.
2. Rude Employees - While those collecting tickets and the men wandering throughout the cars were friendly, the people serving the meals were not. When asking questions about dinner reservations or when actually ordering in the dining car, the employees acted as if we were a nuisance and were bothering them.  One of the employees got mad because I threw away a wet diaper in the trash can near the snack room. I could understand if it was a diaper full of poop, but she expected me to go to the back of the train to see if the restroom was unoccupied in order to throw it away.
3. Noise - There's mainly two kinds of sounds you can expect on a train. The first comes from the train itself. I was thinking that there would be a steady, relaxing lull. While there are moments when this happens, the train itself produces a lot of rackety sounds. At about 2 am on the ride to DC the metal bar above my head was making a loud, clanking sound. It's interesting that I didn't notice the noise anytime before then or the next morning at all, but at 2 am, it sounded like the most annoying sound I'd ever heard. You should also expect noise from the other passengers while on board a train. People are boarding at all hours of the night, and they aren't quiet about it. On the ride back from DC there was a drunk guy flirting with two girls sitting in front of us. There was also a man next to us with some serious sleep apnea issues. Not only could we hear him snoring, but he was audibly choking and gasping for breath throughout the night. Needless to say, I did not sleep well. Jack did ok. He had a harder time getting to sleep on the train ride to DC, but slept a solid 11 hours on the ride back. Mattie couldn't get comfortable on both rides, which meant I had a hard time getting comfortable as well. She woke up a few times, and I had to let her play with the apps on my phone to keep her from crying. Riding in coach with a two year old is not the brightest idea I've ever had.

The final thing about the train ride, the time, was not a plus or con in my opinion. It was a 16-hour ride that didn't feel like it took that long. Both air and car travel are quicker, but they don't feel that way. I think because most of the time was spent during the overnight hours sleeping, or trying to sleep in my case, that the time passed quickly.

If we were to travel by train again, it would be worth the extra cost to get a sleeper car. Even though they are tiny, they are private. The noise from the train itself and the rough ride would still be somewhat of an issue, but I would guess those in the sleeper section were more well-rested than those of us in coach.

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