Direction Can Make a Difference.
People who enjoy travel on long-distance trains can spend a lot time deciding which train to take, but that’s usually where the decision-making ends. That’s OK as far as it goes, but let me suggest that some thought should also be given to which direction you’ll be travelng.
For instance, the eastbound Empire Builder departs Seattle in the late afternoon which means you’ll be passing through the lovely Wenatchee Valley in darkness. But heading west on that train, you go through that beautiful area around breakfast time.
The California Zephyr offers another example. If you want to experience that ride and you live anywhere in or around the Bay Area, I’ll bet you would book the train from Emeryville to Chicago and fly home from there. And, in my opinion, you would be better off starting your trip by flying to Chicago, then taking the westbound Zephyr back home.
I always make that recommendation because one of the really spectacular parts of the Zephyr’s journey is the climb out of Denver heading west. The ride starts at an elevation of one mile (Denver is “the mile-high city”, after all) and continues all the way up to the Moffat Tunnel which is 9200 feet above sea level. To make the climb, the Zephyr goes through a series of sweeping curves, gaining elevation gradually and, all the while, offering spectacular views to passengers.
But why opt for the westbound train? Because it leaves Denver just after 8:00 in the morning to start that climb up and over the Flatirons to the community of Winter Park. But coming from the other direction, the eastbound Zephyr isn’t scheduled to arrive in Denver until 6:38 p.m. and if the train is running late, even if it’s just by a few minutes, or if your traveling in the winter with fewer hours of daylight, you can miss what is without doubt one of the more spectacular two hour train rides anywhere in the world: the 62-mile, two hour ride between Winter Park and Denver.
That’s my advice for today: Give plenty of thought to which long-distance train you want to take, but also think about which direction offers the best sightseeing. Consult an atlas, check the train’s route guide on the Amtrak website, or ask a veteran rail traveler.