Taking the A Train

Rex's USA Diary

There and Back Again

To some, the expression 'take the A-Train' might raise hopes of hearing the jazz-band standard used by the Duke Ellington Orchestra in the 1940's. That tune, written by Billy Strayhorn, refers to the then-new A subway service in New York City, so trawl through my Noo Yoik pages to pick up on the 'Big Apple' vibes. We will be taking a different track, but to satisy you muso's, this Take The A Train Wikipedia link lets you play the tune and learn more of its history.

Your trip starts here

One of the plans I had in mind when I came to the USA in 2001 was to experience a great transcontinental train journey.

Over the Christmas - New Year period of 2003 - 2004 I obtained an AMTRAK Rail Pass good for 15 days travel anywhere in the contiguous 48 states of the USA for a mere US$295 which was a real bargain. I reserved seats on a series of trains, my journey beginning and ending at BWI station near Washington DC, but taking in as much of the country as I could. Although I miscalculated and the total travel time went over the limit to 18 days between my first and last train trip, the lady in the ticket office could see I was planning myself a 'There and Back Again' expedition and let me make the reservations. Thanks AMTRAK, waving back at you too!

Friendly wave

While most of the trains had sleeping cars, for my cheap rate I traveled coach class, but hey, that was pretty good! Big wide reclining seats only two-abreast, footrests, individual trays, an observation car with a cafe, a dining car, power outlets for laptops, etc. For baggage I took a small wheelie suitcase which was a little larger than an airline cabin wheelie bag. It had a zip-open compartment that was intended to hold a laptop, but which I filled with toys to help break the monotony - more about toys as we go along.

That's the way I'm heading!

Not that the travel was too monotonous - I had a mix of blizzards, storms, flooding, blown-up train engines, broken tracks, sunbathing, sunburn and lots of walking, plus meeting a possible spy (!) and experiencing a double-FOOSH whammy on my last day. With no appointments to keep, it didn't matter to me when trains arrived or departed - I was there to enjoy the journey as much as the stops along the way.

Off into the night

Travel by train in the USA is definitely under-rated. Carriages are comfortable, security issues are low, stations are commonly closer to town than airports are, costs are less, and people talk to you. Yes, the unexpected happens and trains can be delayed, but do delays never happen with air travel? It seems that the US mind is fixed either on travel by personal vehicle or by air. If you opt to enjoy the journey as well as where you are going to, then train travel makes great sense. In my opinion visitors to the States should really consider 'Taking the A-Train'.

Upper lounge view

Times and prices have rolled on since I made my journey, but Amtrak still hosts some amazing train journeys and their Amtrak Vacations section sure looks tempting! Hope this (2022) link helps your USA travel planning.

Mountains view