Ring Out the New; Ring in the Old?
I never dreamed that I would get so involved with passenger trains, either as an ordinary passenger or as an advocate. And I’ve often regretted not keeping a record of my many cross-country trips on Amtrak. It would be fun to know how many miles I’ve accumulated on Amtrak and on VIA Rail trains in Canada.
My best guess for a North American total is a bit over 200,000 miles, including both Amtrak’s long-distance trains and those operated by VIA Rail in Canada. Without doubt, several of Amtrak’s trains—the California Zephyr, the Empire Builder, the Coast Starlight and the Cardinal, among others— have wonderfully scenic routes, but why is it that my fondest memories are of train rides in other countries?
I’ve logged many miles on VIA Rail trains in Canada, including the Toronto-Vancouver train eight or nine times. I’ve taken a VIA train from Winnipeg some 1100 miles due north to the shores of Hudson Bay to see polar bears up close and in the wild.
I’ve criss-crossed Australia by train—east to west, then north to south—and I’ve ridden chartered trains across Russia and Siberia to Mongolia, then south to Beijing.
Almost all of the equipment in Europe and Asia was single level and much of it was old, but a lot of it—coaches and sleepers both—had been refurbished in such a way as to preserve a classic look, perhaps even to appear older than they were in reality.
I was thinking about Amtrak’s need for new equipment, especially for the long-distance trains, and was struck with an off-the-wall idea: what if that new equipment had a classic rather than a modern design.
Good heavens! Do you suppose that’s all it would take to attract more and more passengers for the long-distance trains? New equipment that Amtrak will have to order sooner or later anyway—coaches, sleepers, diners and lounge cars—all with a classic interior design similar to the look that was achieved in the much-loved Pacific Parlour Cars?