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A railway vacation to remember

June 11, 2015
Westfield Republican

Last week, son Tim and I visited our long-time friends, Sally and Dick.

While the couple provided the coffee, Tim and I supplied the donuts, the ideal combination for a morning of catching up.

The purpose of the get together was to hear about Sally and Dick's latest adventure.

Last year, the couple had decided to try something different, a train trip up the east coast. They went into the experience to indulge Sally's longtime fascination with railroads.

That trip was so unexpectedly delightful, the couple quickly made plans for a second, more ambitious journey for this year's vacation. This time, they planned for three weeks of adventure.

As we settled down with our coffee mugs and donuts, Sally took out her maps and photos.

She pointed out the Amtrak route they had followed, leaving Southwest Florida, traveling to Washington, DC, then on to New York and Chicago.

As they headed west toward their next stop, Portland, Oregon, the huge picture window in their roomette framed magnificent views of the mountains, lakes and rivers of the northern states along the way.

From Portland, Sally and Dicks' "magic carpet" train took them to the San Francisco area where they visited with relatives for a few days.

When it was time to head for home, they traveled along the southern tier of states aboard Amtrak's famous Zephyr.

Now that they're back home, Sally and Dick eagerly share their enthusiasm for rail travel.

They explained that traveling together in their private roomette, they had all the conveniences of a cozy, though small, moving hotel room.

Another plus for such travel is having comfortable bunks tucked into the room, too, making for pleasant over-nighting.

However, there was one drawback of the railroad scene Sally and Dick learned early in their travels.

Punctuality isn't widely valued, they reported. "If the train arrives within an hour or so of when it's expected, it's considered on time," Sally said with a laugh. She added that the most important thing to pack for such travel is a good supply of patience.

Since talking with our pals about their train travel experiences, I've been curious about the popularity of such adventures.

From reports I read, I found that in Europe, travel by train is "almost considered a rite of passage for young backpackers," but such journeys are just beginning to gain popularity here.

Travel magazines point out one of the main reasons for the growing interest in train travel is the difference in fares. For instance, the train fare from New York to Montreal round trip is $134. But the plane fare for the same trip is $294.

Train passengers also enjoy less hassle on arrival (30 minutes before departure as opposed to 2 hours for plane passengers) and those traveling by train can take as much as 200 pounds of luggage plus personal items for free, far different from the luggage picture in plane travel.

There's a long-time railroad joke that emphasizes the best reason of all to go by train rather than plane.

A large two-engined train was crossing America. After they had gone some distance, one of the engines broke down. "No problem," the engineer thought, and carried on at half power. Farther down the line, the second engine broke down, and the train slowed to a dead stop. The engineer decided he should inform the passengers, so he made the following announcement.

"Ladies and gentlemen, I have some good news and some bad news. The bad news is that both engines have failed, and we will be stuck here for some time."

"The good news is that you decided to take the train and not fly."



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