Why do I love train travel so much? Every chance I get, I arrange “adventures” for family and friends that involve the rail, and they cheerfully oblige, at least the first time! Donald and I are traveling home from Minneapolis to Chicago, Chicago to Martinez, CA, now just beginning the climb after Denver into the Rockies. My iPhone says that it is 1º outside, a temperature that I always thought was too cold to snow, but it has been snowing heavily. We are warm, though, and sequestered in our super-roomette (okay, closet!)
People talk to each other on the trains; life slows down. There is time to write, to read, to sleep, to be curious about the rather amazing people riding on the train with us… a “pollinator experience”, I think. We talk over dinner with a steele worker from Reno, an activist from Stockton, a crazy artist from god-knows-where! Once we even dined with friends of one of Donald’s architectural professors from 60 years ago! We are seated with whomever shows up at the same time in the dining car. Amtrak calls it “community style”—we originally thought of it as a kind of enforced intimacy. But we have come to enjoy the socializing, which seldom happens on a plane.
Passing a farm in Colorado on the climb into the Rockies.
Our dining room window looks out onto the sweeping landscape of our country, or, on the Empire Builder, the waves of the Mississippi as we followed it for miles along the Minnesota state line (what happens to the track when it floods?) We view backyards and marshes filled with cat tails, the gorge the Colorado has cut and the miles of corn and soybeans, while engaging in conversation with these people whom we would never know had we not been seated with them. And oddly, everyone is stripped of politics for a couple of days, it seems, wanting to be friendly and to get along—what if we all behaved this way more of the time? What if we all were more tolerant? The world would be different.
Time slows. Here it doesn’t matter if you are an hour late or three, if the freight trains have first dibs on the track. I wish I could transplant this feeling of spaciousness back into my everyday life.
Trains— passenger and rail—use far less energy per passenger than car or air travel: about half as much as cars and one third as much as air travel. Carbon emissions are lower. Train travel also offers a respite from the busy world. For a few days, we are on the lazy, rocking schedule of the train. And in a few days we will arrive home relaxed.