The Iron Horse

Despite the unpopularity of long distance train travel, I love traveling by train. Maybe it’s how I get caught up in the American west. Maybe it’s because my dad always talks about living with the train tracks right behind his house in Queens, NY.  Maybe it’s those few times I traveled via train back and forth to Mary Washington.  Maybe it’s because Overhills had its own train station and to me it evokes visions of the wealthy 1920s travelers getting off at the passenger station marked Overhills with trunks in tow.  No matter the reason, it feels truly American to me (maybe it should feel European, but I’ve never been to Europe.)  Someday I want to travel cross-country by train. 

There is something classically romantic & nostalgic about train travel.  Maybe it’s because train travel traverses so many generations.  The Iron Horse recalls images of great American progress (also a complicated issue for another time) and the great American west and tales of Jesse James.  People took the train to escape to the ocean beaches and the countryside, to get out of the city for a while.  Movies set in the 1940s have done a clever job of portraying soldiers leaving and arriving from war.  A train ride served as more reliable than car travel and prior to planes.  Trains could be wonderful for mass transit and the environment, if done right.

After a recent work trip by train, I am happy to report another pleasant experience with Amtrak. Normally I fly or drive my own car.  However, a drive alone that extends beyond 4 hours leaves me tired and lonely, so driving was not an option.  If I want to fly, I still have to drive 75 minutes to the airport and then go through the whole process of flying and I’d still have to rent a car to get where I was going.  Instead, I chose to travel by Amtrak.  I could catch the train right in town and then ride up to Washington D.C. with the freedom of relaxing, reading, writing, doing whatever I needed to do on the train.  Granted, I still had to rent a car to get to Middleburg, but the peaceful train ride that didn’t require the use my own car for anything, was very nice.

Traveling by Amtrak is a new experience. I had done so before, but not in a few years.  I had been dying to take the train somewhere.  The benefits of Amtrak are clear: the seats are way more comfortable than a plane with lounging room and leg room. The train cars are not nearly as stuffy as planes and you can get up and walk around, go to the dining car, etc.   Depending on how close to your travel date, you book your train ticket, it can be more expensive. However, if it depends on flying with all of the added costs of gas, parking, etc vs. driving with the gas prices now vs. taking the train, the train is more affordable.  And depending on your destination, it may be a longer trek, but it’s a stress free, comfortable, longer trip. My only downside was spilling coffee on myself, but that was entirely my own fault, not the train’s fault.

Traveling by train is also very environmentally friendly.  I wish that the USA were designed for train travel.   It is also an excellent way to see a good slice of America.  Typically trains travel through towns, for obvious reasons.  Here in these southern towns, the train sometimes travels the middle of Main Street.  You’ll travel by farmland, quarries, industrial areas, and large sections of nothing but natural landscape.  Some towns still seem to value their train stop with pretty, maintained passenger stations.  Others have since gone by the wayside.  Main streets that face the train tracks show what the town was, whether thriving at some point or always a small, two-horse town.  Of course, passing these dying and defunct industries like mills and factories is a sad view of past American lifestyles. 

Take the train somewhere; I guarantee you’ll have an enjoyable ride and get lost in the view of America.