The Lakeshore Limited from Boston to Chicago

Trip Start Jun 13, 2011
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Trip End Jun 26, 2011


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Flag of United States  , Massachusetts
Saturday, June 25, 2011

Departing from Framingham, MA and bidding goodbye to my parents for the summer, I boarded the Lake Shore Limited with some excitement! This is the only part of my cross-country train trip that remained - the Empire Builder was cancelled due to flooding, and I could not re-route through California because so many trains were totally sold out. We need a much more extensive rail system so that these natural disasters don't completely destroy service availability. But I guess Amtrak can point to its sold out trains as proof that people are interested and want to ride - now they just need funding that is somewhere in the ballpark of what we invest in highways every year (it's at least an order of magnitude less these days, according to NARP). I'm also thinking of all of these rural areas where it's hard for people to even access major airports - wouldn't they support rail service? If high-speed intercity lines and slower local lines can share a dedicated passenger rail track, it might make sense. In any case, the Lake Shore Limited was good fun. Here is a list of why it was way more comfortable, fun, and less stressful than the flight I took a few days later:

1. Local boarding: since the train stops in many places, you can actually board it in your hometown if you live on the line, instead of having to go into the city to start your trip. This is not a huge issue for people who live relatively close to major airports, but a lot of folks live hours away from the closest airport, and it's often expensive to fly from a small airport. Instead of taking a huge road trip to an airport, wouldn't it be nicer just to board a local train that takes you to the nearest intercity train?

2.There was less hiking around with my bags. We parked right at the train station in Framingham, and I walked maybe 100 yards to the platform, not like what you have to do in an airport. There are no huge lines like there can be at airports (ticketing, then security, then boarding), no trudging through confusing terminals, and no need to check your bag if it's slightly larger than "the box"!

3. There was no undressing, de-shoeing, or x-raying of anything. I didn't have to put my liquids & gels in plastic baggies, or unpack my laptop, or drink all of my water in a security line. Trains let you travel with dignity and without unexpected delays. No one will confiscate your nail clippers or other cutting implements that accidentally remained in your bags.

4. I could use my electronic devices the whole time, and even charge them while at my seat. Also, the distance between the tray table and my seat was a comfortable one - not the squished discomfort I feel when trying to use a laptop on most planes. There are even tables you can use to spread out your paperwork in the cafe car if you want to get some serious work done (Acela trains have more tables in the regular cars as well).

5. There was a dining car serving delicious hot food, fresh salads and rolls, and wine. I sat at a table with a few other travelers and got to hear their story and add to each others' adventure.

6. I was never confined to my seat or seatbelted for hours - I stretched my legs more and had multiple places to hang out (dining car, cafe car, etc).

7. My body thanked me! I could use the restroom at any time. There was water available from the wall, which made it easy to refill my water bottle. But I also didn't get as parched as I do on airplanes, with their recycled air and what not. I also appreciated not having my ears pop - no compression or decompression on a train.

8. Scenery! We were surrounded by trees most of the time, but I did awake to see the sun rising over Lake Erie in Ohio. There also tend to be interesting industrial areas that you go through in the cities, as well as suburban backyards and urban streets.

9. Sleep! I'm really bad at sleeping on planes - if I can't lean my head back or raise my legs somehow, I usually can't sleep. I slept great on the train, though, even without the sleeping car! The car I was in had quite wide seats with leg-rest sections that folded up from the bottom of the seat. The seats also leaned back so much that my head would never fall forward as I slept, and my neck pillow which just seems to make things worse on the plane worked great. Since I could access my luggage at any time, I was able to get my blanket out of my bag, and there was also pillow service on the train. I find the rumbling motion quite relaxing, actually, almost like a massage chair. So I had a great, deep sleep between Rochester and Toledo at least, and some more snoozes before Chicago.

10. Quiet. Planes are so loud! The train may rumble a little, but it's never as loud as a jet engine. Also, due to some of the points noted above, it seemed to me that little kids were screaming less on the train than on the plane...

All in all, my experience with the trains has been very pleasant and only inconvenient because of the lack of options that the schedules present due to low funding for Amtrak. I'm sure they could improve their efficiency somehow, and I've heard rumors of corruption and everything else. But that's no reason to give up on a rail system. I really believe that developing a better rail system is crucial to our future as a country and as a planet - the book Soil not Oil, which I was reading yesterday, explains from India's perspective why oil-based economies, industrialization, and even carbon trading and off-sets are not the way to sustainability.

 I hope this blog inspires others to replace some plane rides AND car trips with trains. It's at least worth comparison-shopping, and once you've tried it, you just might be hooked. Here's hoping for high-speed rail and a new era of green travel in the USA!
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