Get the Most from Your First Train Ride.

The California Zephyr arrives at Galesburg, Illinois.

Probably the best advice I can give anyone who is about to take their first long-distance trains ride is to say “Lighten Up! Don’t expect everything to be perfect. You’re having an experience.”

For instance, maybe something will go wrong. It will probably be something relatively minor—maybe the lavatory on the upper level of your Superliner sleeping car stops working. How big a problem is that . . . really? There are three lavatories on the lower level functioning perfectly.

Maybe the train is running late. That’s not a big deal. Many years ago, I was having lunch in the Empire Builder’s dining car with a British gentlemen who was seeing the U.S. by train. A conductor came through the car and stopped briefly at our table.

“I’m sorry to inform you,” he said, “that there’s a freight train up ahead that’s broken a wheel. The crew is working on it, but it’s going to take a while. We’re estimating we’ll be four hours late into Seattle.”

The man from England beamed. “Jolly good!” he said. “Then we really are getting our money’s worth, aren’t we!”

Here’s the thing: a long-distance train ride is an interesting experience. So pay attention to what’s going on around you. 

We arrive on time at Havre, Montana, at just after 12:00 noon, but we’re still sitting in the station a 12:30. Why is that? So find a conductor and ask!

Buy a scanner so you can listen in on the conversations between the conductors and the engineer or between the engineer and the dispatchers.  

And—You knew this was coming, right?—buy a copy of my book, All Aboard. 

I promise you it will increase your understanding of how it all works and that, in turn, it will mean you’ll get far more enjoyment of your train ride.