The View From the Observation Car

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I enjoy train travel. There, I said it for all the world to see.

For some reason there is a lot of complaining and ill-will directed toward train travel and especially Amtrak, the only nation-wide rail passenger service in the United States. I just completed a 2,000 mile round trip train journey from Albuquerque to St. Louis and it was an enjoyable experience. This was a trip for a family reunion and I had a nice long visit with family and friends — some from forty years ago.

One important point needs to be made….I had a roomette in a sleeper car. Sleeper car accomodations are, for me, the way to go on any long train trip. This is for several reasons: You get to stretch out and actually attempt to sleep in a bed. Secondly, you have a place to keep your stuff reasonably secured. Thirdly, your dining car meals are included in the price of the sleeper…and the food is 100 times better than anything airlines are serving. You still have to pay for alcohol. Fourthly, there is an attendant assigned to each sleeper car who takes care of your routine needs and keeps the coffee pot going and ice available. Introduce yourself by name and consider a tip for exceptional service. The attendant makes your bed at night and converts it into seats during the day. Fifthly,  on this trip I get to sleep through Kansas…the best way to go through Kansas in my opinion. On the shorter leg of my journey, from Kansas City to St. Louis, I used business class — which means I had a little more space and wi-fi as well as free coffee in the adjoining cafe section.  I’m getting a little robust in my old age…some would call it portly…and I’m considering a larger compartment on my next trip at least in one direction. Americans are not as small as they used to be and two large-sized adults in a roomette is pretty tight.

Cost is a factor but when I compared the round-trip sleeper costs to a round-trip airline ticket with reasonable departures and arrivals and only one out-of-the-way layover (Denver or Houston) the train was about $130 dollars more expensive. That was worth the cost to me. Of course time is a factor as well. If you have to be somewhere in a hurry, don’t take the train. The horrendous stories about late train arrivals are not as common as one would think. We got into St. Louis five minutes early and were back into Albuquerque about thirty minutes late. The delay was caused by a stalled truck on the tracks in Kansas. I left Albuquerque on a Tuesday and returned from St. Louis on a Friday. Sleeper car accomodations fluctuate in cost based on season and demand and there could be a very significant difference from one day to another. It pays to be flexible and schedule your trip for days when the costs are lower. That’s not always possible but it works well for retirees or for people with sufficient time and flexibility.

I enjoy the dining car experience because the food is good and because Amtrak practices open seating, which means that you will be placed at a table with other travellers. Don’t expect to eat alone…you will have company and often an interesting conversation. On this trip I met an interesting lady from Hawaii (also going to St. Louis), two published writers, a man who seems to have personal communication with the Lord…who gives him stock tips, and a fellow train buff on his way to Minneapolis. On other trips I’ve enjoyed the dining company of park rangers, film producers, bee keepers, and a man on his way to Osawatamie. The standard menu is pretty good but there are often meal specials like braised pork shanks with mesquite BBQ sauce, mashed potatoes, a roll, dessert, and iced tea. That was a lunch special and included in the sleeper price.

So…what about the view from the observation car? I’ll post some pictures but you really don’t have to be in the observation car to watch the scenery go by. There is a small snack bar on the lower level for drinks and light snacks or sandwiches. Since I enjoy photography I take a bunch of pictures. Here are some from the trip….It was monsoon season in New Mexico when I left so the clouds were often as interesting as the landscape.It was less cloudy on the way back.

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One doesn’t always see the most scenic side of towns or cities along the way but there are some interesting sights like prisoners in an exercise yard, a nice park pavilion, agricultural operations and a few interesting old houses along the way. Coming back on the return trip it was somewhat comforting to recognize the familiar mountain profiles and the far-off horizons of New Mexico.

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