Tag Archives: trains

On Travel By Train

I have taken three long train rides in my life. I define “long” as being “overnight.” The first long train ride was from Los Angeles to Salt Lake City. The second was from Salt Lake City to Los Angeles. The third, many years later, was from Oxnard, California to Seattle, Washington. None of these train rides involved any particularly luxury: no berth in a sleeper car, for instance. I have taken the train many times between Washington, D.C. and New York City. I have also taken the train from Washington, D.C. to Boston. Those were not what I would consider “long” train rides.

Of all of the modes of travel we have at our disposal, I think trains have the potential of being the best. The coach cars that I sat in on the long train rides were more luxurious than First Class on airlines I’ve flown on. The train to Seattle had a dining car which I took advantage of (I was traveling alone) and which was more comfortable and had better service than any flight I have ever taken. This alone makes trains, for me, at least, a more comfortable means of travel than airplanes.

Trains haven’t done too well, but I think it is because everyone is in such a hurry to get where they are going. Trains force you to slow down a bit. They can travel fast, but not as fast as airplanes. They are better for seeing places, whether it is towns, cities, or open country. Airplanes pass miles overhead and the land below is nothing more than an abstraction, often obscured by clouds. Plane rides feel long because there is often no feeling of forward motion. On a train, you can always tell how quickly you are moving just by looking out the window.

Trains would be a good way of getting people to slow the pace of life a bit. What’s the big hurry anyway?

The main problem with trains, it seems to me, is their infrastructure is outdated. If the infrastructure could be improved, if the technology could be upgraded, if the computing power we had could be put to use normalizing scheduled and making train travel more predictable and reliable, I think they’d give the airlines a run for their money. I don’t think the airlines would like this one bit.

I would love to see a network of high-speed trains that crisscross the country. I would much rather hop on a high-speed train to Los Angeles if I had to travel for work. I could work on the train more comfortably than I could on a plane. I could see more of the country along the way. There is something soothing about the rhythmic clack-clack, clack-clack of the train rolling along the track.

Trains also have great names. At least they used to. Airplanes are anonymously bland in comparison. At best, when listening to air traffic control, you get something like “Cactus 519,” Trains have names like the “Afternoon Twin Cities Zephyr”, the “Katy Flyer”, the “Lone Star”, and the “Meteor”. “I’m taking the Meteor to San Francisco,” sounds so much better than, “I’m flying Southwest to the Bay Area.”

The names alone should put the airlines out of business.

Three-train Thursday

At Mt. Vernon Square, this afternoon, where I transfer to the Green Line, I let two Green Line trains pass because they were bursting at the seams. I finally got on the third train to come by. It meant a total of about 15 minute delay, but I was engrossed in The Reagan Diaries and didn’t really notice the passing time. (Packed trains were probably a result of back-to-school, plus residual fallout from a problem on the Red Line.)

When I got home, I had mail from Amtrak. As a “Select” member, they sent me two free upgrade coupons, a free “companion” coupon, and a free day’s access to Club Acela coupon. Next time I take the Acela up to NYC, I’ll be sure to make use of one or more those coupons. The rest of the mail was junk.

Still too tired (lazy) to cut the grass, but I’ve decided to do it Sunday morning, so I’m no longer stressing about it. Going to spend the evening reading, and maybe squeeze in a little writing too.

Back to work

I was up at about 7:30 AM and headed for the train station at 8:15, after saying goodbye to Jen (Jason had already left). They are coming down to D.C. on Friday so I will see them soon.

I had to wait for 3 crowded #4 trains before I could squeeze on, but I got to Penn Station by 9 AM, and upgraded my Acela ticket to first class, once again. The train ride home was quick and quiet and I headed straight into the office when I got in.

Celebrity Train Riders

Sitting directly in front of me in First Class on the Acela to New York today was Gilmore Girls Lauren Graham (a.k.a. Lorelai Gilmore). Having lived in L.A. for so long, I was used to this sort of thing and remained calm, even though I knew that he11o_sunshine would be excited about it.

It was the first time I was ever in First Class on a train with a celebrity, however.

Acela First Class lounge

I was able to use one of my free upgrade to upgrade to Acela First Class. I’ve ridden Acela First Class once before, last year and it’s actually pretty nice. Those who’ve ridden the Acela train know that the entire train is business class, and very nice. The advantage of First Class is (a) a free meal and (b) free alcohol. The seats are a little nicer and there are single seats in parts of the first class car which have a little more room. The ride is just under 3 hours and I plan on watching episodes of The Office, and perhaps doing a little reading.

The First Class lounge is nice because you can board the train first, there are comfortable places to sit, free, wireless Internet, and of course, free soft drinks and snacks. It’s also well-air conditioned, which is nice considering it’s close to 90 here today.

Friday night on Saturday morning

If it wasn’t clear from my perfectly coherent post last night, we did not end up going to the Whitney museum. I left work around 2 PM and was first in line to board the sold-out 3 PM Acela to New York City. I sat in the Quiet Car, as usual. This time, I have no idea if it was really quiet or not. From the moment I sat down, until the train ducked under the Hudson River, I watched the first 7 episodes of Scrubs Season 3 on DVD. It made the 2 hours and 50 minutes fly by.

Jen, Jason and I met outside crowded Penn Station.

And just as an aside here, Penn Station was really crowded. Perhaps it was because for some people it’s a 3-day weekend. But whatever the reason, during the middle of the weekend rush hour commute, in the midst of a massive pedestrian intersection in the bowels of Penn Station is not the appropriate place for that young woman to be standing perfectly still, talking on her cell phone. That’s just wrong!

It was decided to skip the Whitney and to find a bar at which we could watch the Yankee game. We took the subway partway and then a cab the rest of the way to Jen and Jason’s place. We stopped there for 5 minutes and then headed down to Molly’s, a bar on the corner. We managed to get a good table, and proceeded to spend the next several hours there, eating, drinking, laughing, and watching the Yankee game. (Jen and I were also trying to figure out if this bar was, perhaps, the Bar that barmaidblog works at.) We left the bar in the 8th inning and watched the rest of the game from Jen and Jason’s apartment.

I watching a couple of episodes of Scrubs before I went to sleep (around midnight). I was up this morning before 8 AM and spent the time reading more of Andy Rooney’s Out of My Mind.

Aside from the Yankee game at 4 PM this afternoon, I am told we are going to some candy shop that Jen wants to visit. We also have dinner reservations at what is supposed to be a great BBQ place in Harlem. And tomorrow morning we are having brunch with Jon and Hollie.

That’s all for now. I need to shower. Jason is making breakfast and I am hungry!

How fast does Acela go: results

I’m not sure I trust the results of my little experiment. I was getting “weak” satellite signals. In any event, the “peak” speed on my GPS read 120 MPH. It didn’t seem like we were going 120 MPH, but then again, how would I really know

How fast does Acela go: an experiment

I frequently take the high-speed Acela train between Washington, D.C. and New York. The train makes the trip in 2 hours and 50 minutes, and I’ve frequently wondered what speeds the train reaches. It’s easy to calculate the average speed, assuming a distance of 200 miles: just over 70 MPH. But I want to know it’s peak speed.

As it happens, I’m bringing my handheld GPS with me to NYC this weekend and I figured that provided an opportunity to get an answer to the question. Sicne the GPS can track ground speed, I can use that to track the trip and capture not only our average speed, but our maximum speed.

Once the experiment is complete, I’ll post the results.

More Metro Woes

With the extreme heat, the D.C. Metro is running less frequent trains, at slower speeds. During rush hour today, after I left work, this was pretty obvious. The platform at Pentagon City was packed. The Yellow line train that came was pretty full, too, and not only that but one of the cars (the one that stopped in front of me) was out of service. So it was a crowded ride.

I switched to the Green line at Gallery Place, instead of Mt. Vernon and when the Green line came, it was also packed and it also had a car out of service. So it was an unusually crowded ride for the D.C. Metro (but par for the New York Subway). It’ll probably be like that tomorrow, too, but I won’t be catching the train until late tomorrow because of the softball game.

Still, I don’t mind these rare annoyances, compared to the commute I used to have in L.A.

Metro woes

After the gym tonight, I climbed onboard the Yellow Line as usual for the quick trip to Mount Vernon Square where I waited to transfer to the Green Line. And then something strange happened:

Not one, but three Green Line trains came through the station and they were all packed solid. There was no chance to get on. Not only that, but two of the three trains were 8-car trains, the first time I’ve ever seen that on the Green Line.

Finally, after about 30 minutes total, a Green Line train came through that had standing room and I was able to get on board.

But seriously, what was going on with the Metro this evening? Are they now doing longer trains at less frequent intervals, or what?

Back to work

I caught the 10 AM Acela back to DC this morning. It was nice because the train was not too crowded. I sat in the quiet car, as usual, and this time, I was a little annoyed.

Read about the annoying lady seated in front of me

Back home

I got back home from New York at around 3 PM. The train was almost empty and there was a library like silence in the quiet car that made it a very pleasant ride back home. I finished up I. Asimov on the way back and will start in on In Memory Yet Green later this afternoon. About the only wrinkle in the trip home was that I got a cab driver who had no idea where he was going and from Union Station, took me to Silver Spring before I noticed his error and had to redirect him to my house.

When I got home I put some batteries in the handheld GPS unit that Norm and Vicky got me for my birthday and established my house as a waypoint. I spent a little time looking up what I needed to order to get detailed maps but I’m a little confused because the maps that I need don’t seem to be orderable on the website. I’ll check BestBuy tomorrow and if they don’t have them, I’ll just call Garmin directly and find out what I need.

Over the last couple of days, I’ve developed an annoying pimple right on the upper right corner of my lip. It was irritating me all the way home today and I’m hoping it will soon be gone.

Otherwise, it’s very pleasant out right now. I’ve got some laundry running, but I think I’m going to sit outside for a while and do some reading.