Click-idy-clack on the Railroad Track

“I like trains. I like their rhythm, and I like the freedom of being suspended between two places, all anxieties of purpose taken care of: for this moment I know where I am going.” 

― Anna Funder

I became enamored with train travel as a schoolboy when once, on a field trip, my elementary class took a ride on a train from Union Station in D.C. to Pennsylvania Station in Baltimore and back. It was almost twenty-five years later that I had my second train ride, when we took our sons to Disneyland on the Amtrak.

It was another ten years before my next ride, when the wife and I trained to San Francisco and back for a long weekend.

Then earlier this year we took a ride aboard the Napa Wine Train. First Class accomodations in the Dome Vista car, Michelin-star level meal, top-shelf wine service (including the complimentary glass of champagne upon boarding) and great views of many of the most prominent vineyards in America for three and a half hours.

I’d forgotten how I liked the feel of the train, the soothing rhythm of the to-and-fro motion of the cars swaying and the hypnotic click-idy-clack sound of the wheels on the track.

If you’re in a plane, you’re packed into a seat like a sardine in a tin, sitting ckeek-to-jowl with flesh-pressing unnatural (and unwanted) physical intimacy with a stranger, breathing stale, recirculated air. And you can’t see anything at fifteen thousand feet above the Earth, up in the clouds, while paying outrageous ticket prices and fee add-ons (while always threatened with delays and cancellations) just to travel.

And, in a car, you can’t get out of your seat at anytime and stretch your legs, visit the toilet, or have a drink (or two without worrying about a sobriety checkpoint) or experience the utter relaxed feeling of not worrying about traffic and having to watch the road or worrying about keeping on schedule if there is a traffic problem ahead with no alternate route available.

When you travel by train, you have spacious seating and can just sit back and watch the scenery out the window or outside on the observation deck, have a meal, enjoy a drink or two, read a book, take a stroll, visit the toilet or take a nap in about the same time it takes by car and for a hellavalot cheaper than a plane.

And since that rediscovery I’ve taken the oldest two grandsons on train trips to Hanford (just to see a movie there) and Sacramento (to see the Train Museum and take a cruise along the American River.)

What fun each trip has been, and I’m now a dedicated train lover; it’s now my travel mode of choice.

[Naturally, when the topic arises in a discussion, others assume I must be eager for the partially in-progress development of California’s Bullet Train. No I’m not. In fact, I’m totally against it for a host of reasons, including that the projected ticket price from SF to LA via the Central Valley would rival that of a plane ticket and that the cost of construction would be better spent up-grading the existing Amtrak. And then there’s the fact they they are building it with 25 year-old technology which Japan and Europe’s bullet train systems are already replacing. And the fact that it would not be able to meet the original speed claims as they keep adding more stops, essentially making it only somewhat faster than Amtrak, which currently is about as fast as driving a car directly.

But my real objection is that such speeds, upwards of two hundred miles per hour – if they can actually realize them – would make the surrounding scenery pass in a blur and also negate what train travel is all about – the opportunity to kick-back, relax, enjoy the amenities, and slow life down for a spell. Life is too rushed and hectic as it is without taking away the last bastion of relaxing travel (other than taking a cruise, which we’ve done and need to do again.)]

I need to plan another train trip (or two – one for me and the wife, another for the grandboys who keep pleading to go somewhere again.)

Maybe the next time you’re stopped at a crossing, waiting as a train passes in front of you, look at the smiling faces in the windows as it click-idy-clacks by – you might just see mine!

– Bill


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