Why Take a Train? Because It’s Fun!

 When I was maybe eight or nine, my dad took me on a plane ride just for fun. It was American Airlines and I think it was a DC-3 because it had a tail wheel. It was a 15-minute hop from brand new Bradley Field (Hartford-Springfield) to Brained Field, which had been Hartford’s only airport and it was outmoded even then.
I can’t imagine anyone taking a commercial airline flight for fun anymore. And therein lies the difference: a perfectly acceptable reason for taking the train is simply because it’s an enjoyable experience.
A lawyer friend of mine is a graduate of USC and is an enthusiastic, involved alumnus. He travels to the West Coast once or twice a year for football games or reunions or other college events. He keeps asking me about my travels by rail and I keep suggesting that he try Amtrak on one of his mainland trips. I’ve even suggested a very modest introductory ride for him.
He had tickets to the USC-Stanford game last year and Instead of flying direct to San Jose, I suggested that a good introduction to the pleasures of train travel would be for him to fly to L.A., then ride up to San Jose on the Coast Starlight. He would have the experience of lunch and dinner on the train, and enjoy some relaxing time in the parlor car. The football game would be the following day, and he could fly back non-stop to Maui from San Jose on Hawaiian Airlines. Jeez … What’s not to like about that?
But he just laughed and shook his head. “But that’ll add a whole day to my trip,” he said.

 Well . . . yeah . . . it would. But, dammit, on the ride up to San Jose from LA, he would run right along the coast, literally within a few hundred feet of the Pacific Ocean. He’d cross the missile range at Vandenberg Air Force base, climb up into the mountains after leaving San Luis Obispo, pass through the famous horseshoe curve, then cross California’s Central Valley, where so much of the nation’s fresh produce comes from. And most of the time he’d be relaxing in the Pacific Parlour Car. Is there a better way to spend ten or twelve hours?


  1. I just heard the Amtrak lowered the senior discount to 10% and raised the eligibility age to 65. GRRR! I just turned 62 two weeks ago. Now it will be no good to me even at 65–I already have NARP and AAA, which are the same 10% off.

  2. When I told people that I’d be taking the California Zephyr this year and I’d be on the train for 2 days, some just shook their heads. Why would I want to do that? Because it’s fun, because I can see a good chunk of the country roll by my window, and because it’s an adventure.

    1. And if you had told them you were going to be taking a cruise, when much of the time there’s nothing out there to see but water, they would ooh and ahh and be envious, right? Makes no sense, does it. Take photos of the canyons in Colorado and of Donner Lake when you cross the Sierras. That’ll shut ‘em up!

      Have a great trip. Let me know how it goes.

  3. Flying can still be fun, if you’re able/willing to shell out big bucks.

    I had the exact same conversation with so many people when it came to my train trip last year. It’s a part of your vacation!!!

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