Rumors of AMTRAK’s demise are wildly exaggerated. We rode from the West coast to the East coast and back again, from Oakland to Chicago on the California Zephyr, from Chicago to Framingham, Massachusetts and back on the Lakeshore Limited, from Chicago to LA on the Southwest Chief, and from LA to San Jose on the Coast Starlight. Our accommodations were clean and comfortable. We arrived in Massachusetts on time, rested and well fed, and we saw the grand panoply of the North American continent roll by the windows of our Superliner roomette.
Yes, the train was two hours late arriving in Chicago, and an hour late arriving in LA. But we didn’t care. We had sufficient layovers in each city, time enough to take in the sights in Chicago and enjoy a fine meal, good wine and a beer in Burghoff’s classic restaurant, and time for quality people watching in LA.
The stations have improved, for the most part, since my last AMTRAK experience in 1991. Many are refurbished, others warmly gleaming as I remember them. There are a few classic stations still awaiting the appreciative restoration team to put them back in working order.
When we were in Great Britain, we noticed that the non-motorcar infrastructure is still in place and ready for the End of the Age of Oil. I’m happy to report that there is still a healthy passenger rail infrastructure in use in the United States, ready to be upgraded when we finally get over our oil and automobile addiction, and get back to human scaled public transportation.
Riding the train, one has ample opportunity to read, enjoy the gradually changing scenery, think long and complicated thoughts, engage is leisurely conversation, enjoy a meal while taking in the view. It is a uniquely humane form of transportation.
No hassles, no taking off of shoes, no humiliating searches, no treatment as if one is assumed to be a criminal.