Introduction to Amtrak

Community Highlights North America Introduction to Amtrak

We arrived at New York Penn Station with a 15 day USA rail pass, tummies full of $1 pizza, some emergency vino, and very little knowledge or understanding of the US railway (why don't the people of America get the train.... Ever?!) Let's find out...

Looks pretty impressive!

We found two seats next to each other with great window views, parked our bags, and prepared for the interstate trip. 30 mins into the journey New York City which had dwarfed us for days became a dot, the skyscrapers and taxis were replaced by lakes and fishing boats.

For us, this is the perfect way travel. This epic vast land, carefully dissected by little lines of a map can't be skipped with a 5 hour flight from NYC to LA. No way! A 2 week train ride spanning 10 states, with 8 city stops, through lakes, mountains, desert and many many odd 'American as Apple Pie' towns. Sounds perfect for two travellers who would both like the option of window gazing, afternoon naps, and perhaps having a beer or wine along the way (sorry Route 66, but this was the deal breaker).


We had read about the dining car, the cafe and the option to buy a Amtrak sleeper Pack (pillow, blanket, ear plugs, eye mask) perfect for the traveller who opted for Coach (sleeping in your seat). Although, these seats are very disimillar to the overcrowded claustrophobic trains we are used to in the UK; more like the first class beds we are forced to pass, on our way through to economy on a BA flight.. They recline almost horizontal and have what feels like acres of legroom. Cushty. Off we went to purchase the 'sleeper pack' from the cafe carriage, only to be told they didn't have any left. After Chiara's unimpressed reaction, the over friendly train conductor offered us the alternative... Four crisp linen white tablecloths, which he promised would keep us warm. Deal.

An attendant came round and took reservations for our evening meal in the dining car, and we spent the next few hours glued to the windows, the promise of free wifi long broken, and the novelty of these super trains still very high. At dinner, we were Initially sat with an older couple, but they soon retired to bed, (you could stay in a sleeper bedroom for $500+) and we were left with a single carnation between us, a glass of wine each, complimentary salads, bread rolls and surprisingly nice train food - again we couldn't believe more people didn't travel this way.


Another over friendly attendant overheard our conversation and offered his two cents on the topic, and most American's favourite opener, "Are you guys from England or Australia?! Love your accents". (We think Michael's northerness throws them a bit). He told us "The only people who travel Amtrak are old people, and guys who are your age and have too many babies to afford flights." Trains just aren't a big deal in America, they're slow, the tracks are ancient, and freight takes priority over passengers, resulting in lots of delays. For us, with no agenda, and a curiosity to see more than your average tourist, it was ideal. We met passengers who had never been to their neighbouring towns, and every proud citizen had a suggestion for us, as foreigners in this huge country. We met many interesting folk on our many long journeys, some crazier than others we were soon to find out.

Back at our seats and cocooned in white table cloths, we watched the landscape fade to black, read a little, and lights out til Chicago. Sleep was easier than expected, although without ear plugs we were awoken by a great snorer firing up his engines around 3am much to Michael's extreme annoyance. But, with the sweet sounds of Yo La Tengo and our shiny new electronic wonder appliance (dual headphone adapter) we dozed off til dawn with the train rocking and night horn becoming slightly therapeutic.

Pleasantly trouble free, we loved the first taste of our chosen cross country transport, and much to the astonished faces of people we met we were excited for our next few very long journeys.


Stepping bleary eyed into the unexpected heat of Chicago - the lack of wifi had meant a slight lack of research... The Windy City?
What's all that about?
It can't be windier than Yorkshire surely?

This featured blog entry was written by chiaramichael from the blog 111 Days.
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By chiaramichael

Posted Tue, Sep 24, 2013 | USA | Comments