As I begin to write the fourth part of my train travel across America by Amtrak, I see a front-page New York Times report slamming the Amtrak for “delaying repairs on decrepit tracks” in NY Penn Station.
By putting off repairs that it mistakenly believed were not critical, the Amtrak set the stage for two of the derailments, which were caused by broken tracks on the west side of the station, one of the world’s busiest train stations, the report said.
Despite the Amtrak-bashing story, the Lake Shore experience convinced me that if one really wants to get under the skin of the US, Amtrak is the way to go.
After a day’s stopover in Chicago (Illinois), I was ready to get on the California Zephyr (that’s the train’s name) for a 52-hour journey to San Francisco, covering 3924 kms and traveling through Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, Colorado, Utah, Nevada, and California. The train will run through the plains of Nebraska to Denver (Colorado), through the hearts of the Rockies, and further west through Sierra Nevada to Salt Lake City (Utah) and then through Reno (Nevada) and Sacramento (California) into Emeryville/San Francisco (California).
This is Amtrak’s second longest route in the US after the Texas Eagle.
Train travel has always fascinated me and I’ve ridden high-speed trains in China (Beijing-Shanghai) and Europe (Brussels-Paris) and Australia (Sydney-Brisbane). The train that I took in Australia wasn’t high-speed, though.
The Great Hall of Chicago Union station is an architectural marvel. Originally designed by famed architect Daniel Burnham and completed in 1925 by the Graham, Anderson, Probst and White Firm, the Great Hall is considered to be one of the greatest indoor spaces in the US. The rich history and beauty of the Great Hall has made it a popular location for feature films, including The Untouchables, My Best Friend’s Wedding, Flags of Our Fathers and many others.
The Great Hall went through massive renovations in December 2016. The Burlington Room, Pennsylvania Room, Adams Terrace, and Founders Room are ideal locations for special events, corporate functions, or weddings. The Burlington Room was originally constructed as Women’s Lounge where ladies traveling could wait for the train and enjoy the services of the adjacent beauty parlor and other facilities. Now it’s a flexible event space.
I said ‘goodbye’ to the historic city of Chicago as the train chugged out of Union station at 3.35pm. The train will travel through the Rocky Mountains, Sierra Nevada, Glenwood Canyon and Utah desert and I was waiting to counter the breathtaking landscapes across America.
Soon there was an announcement in the coach class with information on how to set up your meal times. The lounge car has a snack bar on the lower level where you can get less expensive food items and soft/alcoholic drinks.
I walked down to the sightseers’ lounge and looked at the lush scenery outside. The train first stopped at Naperville, a scenic Chicago suburb at 4.05pm. I was awestruck as it crossed the Mississippi, the second longest river in the US, around 6pm. Before sundown, the train stopped at McCook, Princeton and Galesburg–all in the state of Illinois. Then it crossed into the state of Iowa at the Burlington Rail Bridge across the Mississippi river in Burlington.
Soon darkness descends. The rhythm of the train’s wheels as they clatter on the tracks at night reminds me of W.H. Auden’s Night Mail:
This is the night mail crossing the border,
Bringing the cheque and the postal order,
Letters for the rich, letters for the poor,
The shop at the corner, the girl next door…
(To be continued)