The spouse and I love trains and so whenever we get a chance to go somewhere on one, we’re all over that. We decided that the two-day trip from Seattle to Chicago would best be enjoyed on the Empire Builder. We rented a bedroom and settled in for the trip.
U.S. train travel is pretty straightforward. There are three meals a day included in the price of the bedroom fare, and a lounge car where you can get drinks and snacks the rest of the time. The bedrooms include a big window so you can check out the scenery (or the lack thereof if you’re traveling across North Dakota) and the chance to lay down and nap if the need arises (it did, a lot). The trick is finding ways not to cripple yourself by sitting hour after hour. So every now and then I’d rise from my seat and do some bending and stretching.
Train beds are not that comfortable. They’re just not. Adding in the occasionally rough bits of track and the near constant train whistle announcing it was approaching a crossing, sleeping is kinda difficult. The first night wasn’t that good, but the second night we did better.
The food, however, is quite tasty. I’m consistently amazed that Amtrak manages to feed so many people with such good food. I had their steak the first night and it was equal to anything I might get at one of the big steakhouses. The other curious thing about dining is that you don’t have separate tables, but share with other couples. For someone like me — I’m a true hermit at heart — it requires me to be social while I’m dining. It’s not easy, but I manage to pull it off. The spouse finds it all very amusing.
One lady and her husband were journeying to a conference in Minnesota from California. Right as she’d boarded the train, the fire authorities had ordered their house evacuated. Her son did the honors, but she was terrified that they’d lose their home in the King fire. I pulled up news reports on my iPad for her check out, but given the fire just kept growing (it was 18K acres the morning we were watching the news) it did nothing to make her feel better. I felt so very sorry for her. All we could do was offer our hopes and prayers that she had a house to return to.
Amtrak had recently moved the departure time from Seattle back three hours to accommodate all the freight traffic on this line. Crude oil cars, to be precise. To give you an idea of how many HUNDREDS of them we were seeing, check out the photo to the left. The cars in foreground are part of a huge circle and if you look closely, you’ll see even more of them in the distance.
Unfortunately, leaving that early meant we didn’t get to see the scenery in the Rocky Mountains, one of the main reasons we’d taken the trip. But we did arrive in Chicago a wee bit early, as compared to hours and hours late.
New rail is being laid to handle the freight traffic and, hopefully, will allow the passenger trains on time. Because let’s face it, people really should take precedence over petroleum products any day. My greatest wish is that the U.S. would wise up and support train travel, giving Amtrak the cash needed to upgrade their cars, modernize their support systems. For all the politicians who say that people don’t travel by train, that’s total b.s. (And I suspect they know it.)
Jana is an international & multi-award winning author in several genres including young adult, paranormal romance and urban fantasy.