A few years back, I had to be in Boston for a business meeting. Normally I would have flown across the country, a trip that typically takes about six hours. But for some reason, I decided that I was going to take a train from San Francisco to Boston instead.
Of course, there is no train that goes directly from San Francisco to Boston. But there is one that goes from San Francisco to Chicago, the California Zephyr. It runs daily from Emeryville/San Francisco to Sacramento, Reno, Salt Lake City, across the Rockies to Denver, and through the plains of Nebraska to Chicago.
The trip takes just north of 51 hours, so I booked something called a “roomette,” which is essentially a small, cubicle-sized room that converts to a sleeper at night. The accommodations also included three meals a day in a dining car and priority access to what they called a scenic-view lounge car.
From Chicago To Boston, I booked the Lake Shore Limited. From Chicago, it heads through South Bend, Cleveland, Buffalo, and Albanbefore arriving in Boston 19 hours later.
So I prepared myself for a 70+ hour train adventure. How did it go? Well, overall, it was, um, okay.
The Good Stuff
- The scenery along the California–Nevada border (the Sierra Nevada Mountains) and on the Utah to Denver leg (the Rocky Mountains) was spectacular.
- The other passengers were very friendly. Seating in the dining car was “family-style,” and, as a person traveling alone, I was seated with three other travelers each time. I met some very nice people.
- Most of the passengers along the San Francisco to Chicago leg were vacationers, either old-timers like me, or families traveling with kids.
- Most of the passengers along the Chicago to Boston leg were kids going home for the weekend from college, a number of Amish families for some reason, or business people. Fewer families, fewer oldies than on the other train.
The Bad Stuff
- The scenery between Denver and Chicago is, well, let’s just say that that’s a good time to catch up on the sleep you were unable to get between San Francisco and Denver. And between Chicago and Boston there really isn’t much to look at.
- The train from San Francisco arrived in Chicago 5 1/2 hours late. Fortunately I had a 7-hour layover before my train to Boston was scheduled to leave Chicago.
- The train bound for Boston left Chicago 35 minutes late and arrived in Boston 3 1/2 hours late.
- Trying to sleep in a roomette (a very small, narrow, cramped accommodation) was not great. No, the rocking motion of the train didn’t lull me to sleep. Although, by the second night, when exhaustion set it, I did get a few more hours of sleep than I had gotten the night before.
- Trying to sleep in a regular coach seat on the overnight trip from Chicago to Boston was close to impossible.
- Amtrak’s funding has been cut way back, so most of the train cars are older and, while generally in good repair, could use some sprucing up. (Duct tape holding certain parts together in the sleeping rooms and rest rooms is a dead giveaway.)
Bottom line, taking the train across the country was an experience. But if I ever have to travel from coast to coast again, I think I’ll fly.
Written for this week’s Mindlovemisery’s Menagerie Tale Weaver prompt, where we’re supposed to write about a train journey. Photo credit: Jim Kable.