Tuesday, May 22, 2012

a night on the choochoo

On our recent trip to South Bend we took the train rather than driving or flying. I'm still trying to decide how I felt about the experience. It wasn't a perfect experience, better in some ways than I was expecting while worse in others.

The major downside of the train is that it's a long ride, about 14 hours from Mississippi to Chicago. It's an overnight train which somewhat mitigates this issue (you get on around 7:30pm and arrive at Union Station at 9am), but I found sleeping on the train to be difficult, even in the sleeping car. It was impossible on a coach seat, but that's partly me: I just can't sleep well in a chair, no matter how comfortable, and the mattress in the sleeping car was rather hard.

Of course, that being said, it's also about that long driving.

On the other hand, the train was vastly more comfortable and swanky than a plane at about $200 less than flying. We got 2 free meals, and full meals at that: oven baked chicken with mashed potatoes and steamed veggies, and then cheese crepes with chicken-maple sausage patties for breakfast. We even got cloth napkins! The sleeping car was tiny, but private and comfortable. I also discovered that the train is shockingly quiet and smooth. Even Union Station is much nicer than your average airport. The lounge was particularly lovely, with free soft drinks and comfy chairs to hang out in, and they held our bags for hours free of charge while we explored Greektown (which, incidentally, is all of three blocks from the station).

On top of that, there's no security theater b.s. at the train station. You arrive, you show the conductor your ticket (which can be printed out on your computer at home), and you get on the train. No baggies for 3 oz. of liquids, no nudie scanners, no taking off shoes. Plus, the train conductors seemed much more friendly and accommodating than my general airline experiences have been.

It really is a shame that we don't put more money into our train system, but I'm impressed with what Amtrak has managed with their meager funding.


Anonymous said...

What was the scenery like? I always imagine nicer scenery on trains than on planes.

Spouse of Grimsaburger

sap said...

The scenery was indeed lovely, especially in the upper level cars like the dining car. Our line tracked the Mississippi River for long stretches, and otherwise we saw lots of trees, farmland, and cities. Of course, the overnight nature of the trip meant that often there was nothing but darkness to see out the windows, but in general the scenery is a big plus over planes in my book.