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Ridin' the rails

Video by Melissa DeMoss.
 
 

Texas from the train. Photo by Melissa DeMoss.
 
Ridin' the rails
By Melissa DeMoss

I have been a fan of trains ever since I was six and traveled on one from Kansas to Ohio. During my college years it was a convenient way to travel between Ohio and West Virginia. I would get off at Fostoria, or Willard, depending on which train I took out of Cumberland, Maryland. I have to admit though, traveling by train is not for those in a hurry. Hands down a plane is much faster. It’s also not for those on a tight schedule because trains are notorious for being late.  If you are anti social or have a low tolerance for your fellow travelers, I suggest you stick to the anonymity of a plane. Going by train is a more relaxed mode of transportation that gives you time to rest, enjoy the scenery, and  visit with the other passengers.

The company that provides train service to Ohio is Amtrak. The nearest boarding station to Carey is in Toledo.  Most passengers travel reserved coach on short trips and it’s very economical especially over a long haul. You can travel from Toledo to Los Angeles one-way for as little as $242.00.  Unless traveling with a companion, you will be seated at random with a stranger. You may want to consider booking a room, if the thought of waking up in the middle of the night with someone you do not know snoring your shoulder bothers you. The observation car is also available if you need a  time out from your seatmate.

When traveling on the train overnight, Coach is not the most comfortable way to go. Reserving a sleeping room is highly recommended. The price of the ticket and room are separate but the room also includes all meals for the duration of the trip and it is considered traveling first class. Before ruling out a room on the train, add up the cost of gas, hotels, meals, snacks, and wear and tear on your car and nerves. You might be surprised to find it’s almost the same or cheaper.

On the first leg of our trip we took the Capitol Limited into Chicago’s Union Station Coach. From Chicago to Tucson we booked a Roomette. First class passengers have a special lounge to wait between trains Inside the lounge there are a couple of computers and wifi for use, complimentary beverages, occasionally some small snacks like muffins, comfortable chairs and a TV or two to watch. Unfortunately the day we departed the computers and wifi were down, the TV was fuzzy, but there was plenty of beverages and room to wait. Within the lounge you can check your luggage, and  to go sightseeing or just check out Union Station. It is especially interesting to sit and watch the commuters running for the Metra between 4-6 every afternoon.

  When it’s time to depart the conductor comes to the lounge, checks your tickets, and passengers are boarded separately from those traveling coach. Red Caps and transportation are available for those who need assistance.

         Once boarded our roomette had two facing seats with a drop down table in between. A small closet was available for clothes and smaller overnight cases, and contained towels and wash clothes for our use. Luggage could be stored on racks located at the entrance of the car or kept within your room. The seats pulled out to form one bed and the top bunk dropped down. A car attendant will prepare your room when you are ready. Blankets, pillows, and linens are also provided. On each coach car there are complimentary beverages such as coffee and juice, a morning paper, and toilets and showers for your use.

On the way to Tucson in my attempt to climb down from the top bunk, my foot slipped and I scraped my ribs as I slid off. They were painful for about three weeks. If you too cannot climb there is an alternative. The larger sleeping rooms feature a longer seat which when pulled out comfortably sleeps two; it also has a bunk that drops down from the top for a third person or two small children. These rooms have their own vanity with a sink, shower and toilet within your car. There are doors in between some of the larger rooms that enable them to be joined together to form a suite if traveling with friends.

One of the biggest difference between trains and planes is that you are allowed to take more items onto the train. Passengers bring food, beverages, laptops, DVD players, cards, board games, musical instruments, craft projects,etc. Just remember to bring headphones. There is no Internet aboard the train or wifi unless you bring your own hot spot, but still there are certain areas of the country where no signal is available. Most cell phones however functioned fine.

If you do choose to eat aboard the train, the dining car attendant will seat you at random with other passengers. This can result in meeting some very interesting people. I have been fortunate to share lunch/dinner with an Associate Producer of the Final Four, a published author, and a young man from Carnegie, Pennsylvania, who frequented my Aunt Molly’s Diary Queen as a young boy. This trip we had lunch with former LA Dodger, third baseman, Dick Gray and his wife. On April 18, 1958, while playing their first home game in Los Angeles against the Giants, he became the first Dodger player to hit a home run in Los Angeles, putting his team  ahead 6-3. His home run helped the Dodgers win their first game in Los Angeles.  If you prefer to eat in your room, or navigating the train is too challenging the car attendant will fetch your food for you.

The downside of train travel is you never know when you might encounter a delay. Freight trains have the track priority. Often a passenger train will sit on a sidetrack waiting for the freighter to pass. Trains are subject to weather delays such as too much snow, water flooding the tracks, accidents, and hazardous spills. We were supposed to leave Tucson, Arizona, at 1:00 am and the train was three hours late leaving Los Angeles due to an electrical problem on one of the cars. On that same trip, we were bussed from Chicago to Toledo because a derailment in Indiana had left hazardous waste on the tracks and the cleanup was still in progress.

For those of you who are still planning your summer outings, you might try a small trip into Chicago. You can do a one-day tip leaving Toledo at 6:16 am arriving in Chicago with plenty of shopping time to spare,  and return at 9:15 p.m The price ranges from $58.00 to $74.00 roundtrip. The early and later the departure the cheaper the fares will be. Reservations can be made online or by calling Amtrak or logging onto http://www.amtrak.com

 

 
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