Trains in America? Amtrak to LA!

December 31, 2005, [MD]

I always loved trains, and I have taken my share of them, whether it’s the beautiful and comfortable intercity from my homecity Hamar to Oslo, the Norwegian capital, or doing the transsiberian from Moscow down to Beijing. In China I spent a lot of time on trains, and they are awesome; the train stations look like airports, with different waiting halls depending on which train you are taking, and the trains commonly carry over a 1000 people in sleepers; small moving villages.

But the US is not a country that one associates with trains; not anymore. Certainly, the great West was conquered by the laying of the railway (in which about 16,000 Chinese workers gave their lives), but today one flies, drives or if really wretched takes the Greyhound. However, there are still passenger trains going, and when we were planning our trip from Tucson to LA, we found a night train that was only 35\$ one way (no student discount). Amazing. So we jumped on. The ticket was reserved online, and purchased at the station. (Nobody in Tucson knew that there was a train station in the city, let alone where it was - very different from Europe where the train station often defines the center of a city). We all lines up at the door, and had our tickets and IDs checked, and they did look through somebody’s luggage - there was an impressive array of security personell there. There was also a list of forbidden items, which included such things as small scissors and knives. Strange. Then again; in China they have X-ray scanners at all train stations (but I have never seen anyone not getting through with their assorted bags of rubble).

The train was surprisingly comfortable, a double-decker with large seats that could slide out and provide a comfortable sleep. The personell was also very courteous and professional; quite unlike the Greyhound staff I usually encounter. Butterfly went straight to sleep, while I watched to episodes of Feichang Nusheng (a Chinese soap opera), and then drifted into dreamland as well. I woke up quite early, and looked out the window. To me, taking the train in the US was so foreign, that I frequently forgot that I was in the US at all; especially when we arrived at some station in a small town around 5 o’clock, and there was a long line of huddled individuals, with disheveled clothes and big bags waiting on the unpaved platform in front of the train - I could have sworn I was in China!

We made our way into the dining car, and although the it was slightly expensive (of course), and not very vegan friendly (I had some fruit), it is always nice having a good meal while hills are rolling past. We also met a nice retired professor from Alabama, and a high school student from Los Angeles.

Finally, we rolled lazily into LA; the greatest irony of it all: Arriving by train into the car-mecca of the world. The whole trip took about 10 hours, because of long waits at the different stations, and frequent stopping to let goods trains pass (I think they have single-track most of the way). But it was an altogether pleasant and cheap way of travelling, and I encourage more people to explore their options.

Stian, in Claremont, CA

Stian Håklev December 31, 2005 Toronto, Canada
comments powered by Disqus