Around the U.S. by Train #3: Crescent (March 2017)

Amtrak Cresent New Orleans Louisiana

The Crescent, which actually starts in New York City, picked us up in DC in the late afternoon and whisked us over the Potomac into the South. The sun set while we were having dinner on the train and by next morning we were making a station stop in Atlanta, Georgia. After that we swept through a series of small Southern towns, including Anniston, Alabama (home of the Anniston Army Depot, the only depot capable of performing maintenance on heavy-tracked combat vehicles) and Birmingham, Alabama (home of the Sloss Furnaces, a National Historic site). As the sun set, we crossed Lake Pontchartrain on what seemed like a very narrow railroad trestle, went past the above ground Greenwood Cemetery, and arrived at Union station in the Big Easy in the early evening – on-time after 1,152 miles on the rails.  There are several Marriott-related hotels in downtown New Orleans, so we tried our taxi driver’s patience as we caromed around looking for the right one.  After that, we opted for a late dinner at the hotel, and called it a day.

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Around the U.S. by Train #2: Capitol Limited (March 2017)

Amtrak Capitol Limited Washington DC

The Capitol Limited left Chicago in early evening for our overnight ride to DC and we had dinner on the train. Daylight had completely evaporated by the time we passed through Southbend, Indiana; Toledo, Ohio was a blur at midnight; and a gloomy, overcast dawn didn’t emerge until we reached Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Snow had started to appear as we approached Chicago but it was thick on the ground in eastern Pennsylvania and western Maryland – this would be the most snow we’d see on the whole trip. We wound our way along the Youghiogheny River, then passed through Martinsburg, West Virgina over to the North Branch of the Potomac River and then followed that to Harpers Ferry, West Virgina – where the Appalachian Trail crosses the Potomac and John Brown made his stand.  From there we paralleled the main Potomac River and the old C&O Canal right in to Washington, DC’s wonderfully restored Union Station for an early afternoon, on-time arrival after 780 rail miles.

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Around the U.S. by Train #1: Southwest Chief (March 2017)

Amtrak Southwest Chief Chicago

Our trip got started with a pleasantly boring flight on Alaska Airlines to Los Angeles International Airport, followed by a taxi ride to Union Station in the heart of downtown. Wayne & Diane wafted in on the Pacific Surfliner around noon, just in time for a nice lunch (from Traxx) in the station’s tree-shaded courtyard.  Then, after a quick walk through Olvera street, we hung-out in the Metropolitan Lounge until our 6:00PM departure on the Southwest Chief.

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Around the U.S. by Train: Overview (March 2017)

Between the buffalo trace and the Interstate Highway System, there were the railroads. The iron rails are what knit the United States into an ocean-to-ocean nation after the Civil War and were the means for long-distance travel until the advent of better roads, cars, and airplanes.  Ambrose’s “Nothing Like It in the World” and Bain’s “Empire Express: Building the First Transcontinental Railroad” are excellent reads on this topic.  The freight railroads are still an integral and essential part of the U.S. economy but passenger rail service has not fared so well.  That reached its zenith in the 1940s, at which time it was possible to access every major city, and a surprising number of remote hamlets, by rail.

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