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 roxanne1652
Joined: 5/31/2005
Msg: 1
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I am planning a 30-day train trip across the USA and don't know a @#$%&*! thing about it.

But, that's what I do.

Has anyone traveled by train? And can you tell me anything about it?

(You can pretend that I'm really stupid because, about this, I really, really am!)

Thanks!
Rox
 CMonster
Joined: 12/4/2004
Msg: 2
Train travel
Posted: 8/17/2010 1:58:25 PM
Thirty days? Heaven help you if you're riding coach.
 roxanne1652
Joined: 5/31/2005
Msg: 3
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Train travel
Posted: 8/17/2010 4:51:42 PM
And that informed me . . . ????

Edit alert! Let's pretend that I'm not stupid, but uninformed. And not shy about asking for input.

I know absolutely nothing about traveling via train. But I am incredibly adaptable and game for any adventure (hence this trip).

Looking for tips, stories, advice . . . .

Thanks
Rx
 arwen52
Joined: 3/13/2008
Msg: 4
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Train travel
Posted: 8/19/2010 8:40:40 AM
I've traveled very little by train in the U.S. but I'll tell what little I know.

Years ago I took the train from Oakland, CA, to Seattle, WA. It was a very scenic ride and the staff was nice. I then took the train from Seattle, WA, to Minneapolis, MN, where I stopped overnight to visit a friend. The intention was to continue to Chicago the next day. I cannot recommend the Seattle-Minneapolis-Chicago route. The most scenic part of the trip, between Seattle and Glacier National Park, takes place overnight, when you can't see a thing. During the daytime you are traveling across flat, featureless, uninteresting territory. The crew on that train was the most sullen group of people I've ever been stuck with. Of course, that was some time ago. When I went to catch the train to Chicago after spending the night with my friend, the train was over 3 hours late and I had to rent a car to finish my trip because I had to catch a plane.

The train from St. Louis to Chicago is often late - up to six hours late. I wondered why Amtrak is often so terribly late and learned what the problem is. Amtrak does not own the tracks. They are owned by the freight train companies. There is one set of tracks. You cannot have two trains going in opposite directions on the tracks at the same time. Amtrak is given a particular time on the tracks. If they miss that time, they have to wait for the next window of opportunity, which can be hours. So, don't take the train if you need to arrive on time.

I do not agree that traveling by coach is like taking a bus in a third world country but I *would* recommend a sleeper. Some trains have special cars for viewing the scenery. The seats are individual, the windows are large, and the seats face out. I can't remember what they call them. Trains are much more comfortable than buses. You can get up and walk around. Take reading material. Take some snacks, too, or buy the meal plan. The food is so-so and a bit expensive.

Some people are big train travel enthusiasts. Perhaps you can find a group online that can recommend particularly nice routes to take. Or maybe there's a book in the travel section of the library or the bookstore about traveling the U.S. by train. I googled "travel the U.S. by train" and found some interesting links.

Good luck.
 roxanne1652
Joined: 5/31/2005
Msg: 5
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Posted: 8/19/2010 11:38:54 PM
Thank you so much for your advice. I live in NC and am going to visit my old college roommate in OR, so when I was contemplating the trip there it occurred to me to go by train, as there is a large part of the US I have never seen. I'm glad you told me about the night travel past Glacier National Park . . . now I will plan to get off the train and stay overnight there.

Really . . . if you can think of anything else, I appreciate it.

Rox
 arwen52
Joined: 3/13/2008
Msg: 6
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Train travel
Posted: 8/23/2010 11:26:06 PM
Make sure you check for yourself because I took that train a number of years ago and it's possible that the schedules have changed. I thought it was really backwards, though, that in both directions the train went through the most scenic part of the trip at night. And as I said, problems with being late are chronic, at least with some of the trains. Ask about that.
 Kekun
Joined: 9/16/2007
Msg: 7
Train travel
Posted: 8/25/2010 10:25:10 AM
Trains are very slow in USA (and Canada too), very costly and unpractical, always passing trough dilapidated industrial areas as the passenger car tracks are the same as the freight car tracks. Not the best "scenery" nor speed. If you could afford, I would recommend you take Greyhound instead and you hop from one place to another. It's gonna be long but better scenery and more latitude.

I took train only twice in USA, and both time it was longer than by car or bus... Once from Columbus to Montréal one way, and once from Montréal to NYC. It was late both time, 5 hours for NYC and 8 to 12 hours for Columbus, I can't remember well. That was before 9-11 paranoia, so the custom procedure was relatively quick at the time, hence couldn't be in cause for delay (30 minutes max at the time for checking the entire train).

Buses are the way to go for budget travellers in USA.
 railrunner
Joined: 6/28/2009
Msg: 8
Train travel
Posted: 8/30/2010 7:13:49 PM
Amtrak does not own the trackage they operate on, except for some in New England, for the Crashela, errr, Acela.

This means, coal freights (With each hopper in a 100+ car train carrying 100 tons of coal PLUS the car weight), chew up the track quite easily, making for a rough ride here and there. When you go out West, through the Rockies, this is especially apparant.

On that topic, if you take the Southwest Chief, do not expect to be on time. Amtrak uses P42 type diesels on that train (As most others nowadays), and routinely have to shut them down on Raton pass during the summer due to overheating of the diesel generator. Funny, GM-EMD produced F7 type diesels in the late '40s, and the Santa Fe Railway could run those diesels with HEAVIER trains, up the same grade, without stopping!

This brings me to my next point: Amtrak is a notorious low-baller in equipment. Some trains use these ungodly cars called 'Amfleet' coaches, or 'Amcans' as us railfans call them. Shaped like the midsection of an airplane fuselage, I have been aboard these disasters from the 1970s, and it truly is like being in a land-based airliner body. Get a sleeper room if you can. No such thing as a Amfleet sleeper car, they only made them in coach and diner configuration. If you're lucky, Amtrak will have 'Heritage Fleet' sleepers on your train (Assuming Eastern half of USA - Western half uses double deck 'Superliners'); Heritage Fleet are the old style streamline cars from the 1950s, when US rail travel was a joy.

As far as I know, Amtrak still includes meal tickets with sleeper rooms. They generally have real good food in the dining car. Still have yet to find better pancakes for breakfast elsewhere!

So far as routes, the Empire Builder is quite scenic, and the Southwest Chief is pretty too throughout the route. Keep in mind that as stated above, Amtrak does not own the trackage, so the freight companies do the dispatching and usually allow their freight trains to take priority over Amtrak.

Amtrak is a shell of what US rail passenger service once was. Don't expect too much.
 roxanne1652
Joined: 5/31/2005
Msg: 9
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Posted: 9/4/2010 4:50:37 PM
Thank all of you so much for your input, especially you arwen52. Per your advice, I googled and bought "USA by Rail". I also called AMTRAK in the evening last week (gotta sing her praises! Her name is Yvonne.) and we spoke for at least two hours.

She advised me to bring a blanket and pillow (the guidebook advised to bring a pillowcase and ask for two complimentary pillows to stuff in it). She was so very, very upfront about everything . . . she said that the seats are very comfortable and when I asked her about the sleeping cars (in a hypothetical world) from Boston to Chicago, she quoted a $400+ price. For the money, I will step off and rent a car and a motel room.

I am wrapping my head around the difference between a "trip" and a "vacation". God knows I have been on way too many "trips" lately . . . funerals, nursing homes and all sorts of other duty-calls . . . . I so owe myself a vacation.

I am in no hurry about anything on this vacation, so a late train isn't a problem. Eerily, for all my faults, I've never experienced road-rage.

My plan for this adventure is the same as always: small bag of clothes, big bag of food . . . as the food disappears, souvenirs fill the suitcase. I've been stockpiling . . . pouches of tuna and salmon, dried fruit, nuts, juice boxes, peanut butter . . . oh, the list goes on.

And to those who scoff??? Nah, nah, na-na, nah! I'll send you a postcard!

If there is any interest, I'll keep y'all posted.
 karma1160
Joined: 6/10/2008
Msg: 10
Train travel
Posted: 1/6/2011 10:44:00 PM
Train travel is best in Europe, I love trains. The us routes do not compare, plus they are a lot more commotion. In Europe everything is done on your honor system.
Which means you buy your ticket, when the train stops you get on. It takes maybe 8 minutes to load everyone, then they randomly come around and ask you for your ticket. If you don't have one it will cost you twice the amount otherwise you get off at the next stop.
I traveled from Amsterdam to different destinations in Germany along the Rhine.
It was very nice. We stayed in Heidleberg for 4 days just cause we liked it.
Then we took the Midnight express form Frankfurt to Prague. This was the best sleep I have ever had in my life.
 Molly Maude
Joined: 9/11/2008
Msg: 11
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Train travel
Posted: 1/16/2011 1:25:41 PM
I love to travel by train ... I, too, have noticed that they plan the trips so that it's dark thru some of the prettiest scenery ... sleeping in the chair is sometimes ok, sometimes not! I've had very good luck in that frequently there are so few travelers that I can pull out the extensions, making the chairs into fairly wide cushions and sleep on two of them ... of course, if you're stuck with a fellow traveler next to you, you can't do that ...

the sleeping berths are really very nice and, when purchased, they include MEALS ... I've found the entire experience to be comfortable, restful and interesting ...

one of my most recent trips was when I took a Starlight from California, up toward Seattle ... then back home again about a week later ... I only booked one way trips in case I was having a grand time and wanted to stay longer, which undoubtedly cost me more $$s ... but was fun ...

I met a Scotsman who was bicycling around the world at breakfast one morning ... he had agreed with himself that it was in his (and his bicycle's) best interests to box up the bike and take a train over this particularly steep part of his adventure ...

meals are served in a delightful dining car, linen tablecloths, china, silver, etc. very reasonably ...

trips on trains are NOTHING like trips on buses ... other than both ways you reach your destination!
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