Why I Take the Train.

If you have never  been on a long-distance train, I’ll acknowledge you might have a hard time understanding how anyone could justify taking three days to cross the country when it can be done in only six hours by plane. 

And I’m guessing much of that hesitancy is because you have an image of spending 25 or 30 hours in the Amtrak version of an airline’s economy seat. The fact is, Amtrak seats, especially in coach, are big, comfortable and with plenty of leg room.

Amtrak’s Train #14, the northbound Coast Starlight, passing through the famous horseshoe curve north of San Luis Obispo, California.

On a plane, there’s nothing to see most of the time, even if you have a window seat. But on a train, there’s something to see almost all the time: farms and fields, rivers and streams; mountains and valleys; small towns and big cities.

When it comes to mealtime, Amtrak features community dining, which means when you go into the dining car for meals, you’ll be seated with other passengers at a table-for-four. In all honesty, I look forward to every meal because you just never know who’s going to be coming to dinner.

For example, there was an Irish couple touring the U.S. by train—she the CEO of a health care company, he a well-known published poet. (Amazon has several of his books.)

Another time, a History professor from Yale, whose special field of study was the development of the American West, joined our table for breakfast one morning just as the Southwest Chief was departing Dodge City, Kansas.

But probably the most unusual dinner companion I’ve had in an Amtrak dining car was a man returning from two weeks in Vienna where he had been repairing and restoring the huge pipe organ in St. Stephen’s cathedral . . . one of a handful of people in the world qualified for such a task.

I love going to bed on the train. In my berth, I listen to podcasts and to accumulated broadcasts of “Wait! Wait! Don’t Tell Me!” And I drift off to sleep listening to Hawaiian music and watching America passing by right outside my bedroom window.

Here’s the point to take away from all this: The plane can take you to where your vacation begins, but a long-distance train is part of your vacation experience.