THE MICHIGAN DAILY
Saturday, July 30, 1977
Amtrak: Tales of the rails
By LANI JORDAN
IF YOU'RE IMPATIENT, don't take
By rail, my trip is long and inevitably
made taner by uapredic able delays and
predictable inelficiencies on the part of
Amtrak. The hairs drag by; sometimes it
seems you've been on the train since
time beg'in and wil grow old and die in
your seat without ever reaching your
But despi'e the delavs, the endlessness
of it, the sleeping cramped in a seat
wearing the same grimy clothes for three
days, the train is the ideal mode of trans-
portation for inexpensive, "get close to
the good al' U.S.A." travel.
Most of my friends thought I was out
of my mind when I decided to make the
2500-mile trek to California by Amtrak.
"Why don't you fly? The train trip is so
long," they said.
A number of regular Ann Arbor-Chica-
go Amtrakers warned how tedious even
tray in front of each cramped seat. These
short runs feature the Amcafe, serving
both alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks,
sandwiches and other snack-bar fare.
Contrary to what I'd been told, the prices
were not exhorbitant-as long as I didn't
make a habit of buying every meal.
AS I SAT in Chicago's Union Station
with its numerous shops and televised
schedules, appearing more like an air-
port terminal than my idea of an aging
stone train depot, I wondered if I'd made
a mistake. Eight hours to Kansas City
and then 34 more to Barstow, I'd never
But as I walked out the loading gate to
the "Lone Star" and boarded the Hi-Rise
car which would take me to Kansas City,
I instantly changed my mind. Instead of
the small, cramped seats and impersonal
atmosphere of the "St. Clair" which had
brought me from Ann Arbor to the Windy
City, I was greeted by a friendly steward
who helped me with my luggage and di-
rected me up the winding staircase to
These two obviously knew more about
trains than the average passenger. Each
time we passed through a small town my
ears were bombarded with railroad
terms, train anecdotes and lots of laugh-
"WHO ARE TIIESE TWO?" I thought.
They are really strange.
Finally, when I couldn't stand it any
more, I made some innane comment to
one of them-just to get the conversation
started, you know.
Two train engineers from Ohio taking
the train to Houston where they would at-
tend a model train convention. It was
From Joplin, Illinois to Kansas City-
six hours--we talked about trains, engi-
neering and everything to do with trains.
"Amtrak isn't making any money be-
cause people are in too much of a hurry,"
said Don Stull of Cleveland. "and if you'-
re in' a hurry to get somewhere, you don't
take the train."
His travelling companion, Don Spiedel
of Lorain, Ohio, explained that the rea-
son rail service is so poor in the east is
that when Penn Central went bankrupt
they let the tracks deteriorate leaving
them in barely usable condition.
TRAIN TRAVEL has a special quality
-hometowniness. After spending more
than two days on a train, with the same
group of people surrounding you most of
the time, I began to feel I was living in
a little community on rails. For the most
part, I found train travellers much
friendlier than those on planes, where
you're hardly in the air and you're there,
and of a much better caliber than many
of the people I've met on buses.
'It didn't seem to matter what train I
was on or if I tried to keep to myself,
within an hour after boarding I became
part of a 'group' and spent much of my
time with the group for the entire trip.'
We would eat together, play cards, walk
from the front of the train to the back
and back again (a very long, energy-
consuming process) and just sit in the
club car talking and looking out the win-
dow. In 24 hours of nothing to do but sit
or just a paper chase?
the entire train to prove that, yes, all the
other cars are exactly like the one we
are riding in.)
It was tons of fun, the whole trip was
coming off without a hitch and I was
having a great time-almost. Every
trip must have its unfortunate moment,
I suppose. I wouldn't want to be deprived.
Somewhere in Colorado a man in his
mid-twenties boarded the train and chose
the two seats across the aisle from me.
The instant he sat down, I wished he
"HI SWEETIE, where are you going?"
he asked me less than two seconds after
taking his seat. "Got any dope?"
"California and no," I stuck my nose
back into my book,
Five minutes later I looked up and
my 'friend' across the aisle had placed
his shirt over my lap, unzipped his pants,
and was physically entertaining himself.
I averted my eyes, inched closer to the
window and tried to read.
"Should I call the , conductor?" I
thought. I was not horrified, only furious.
How dare this creep make me feel like
a prisoner in my own seat! Then again,
if I called the conductor it would turn in-
that short trip was. "I don't know how
you'll stand it all the way to the west
coast," one helpful person said.
UNDAUNTED, .I PURCHASED Am-
trak's U.S.A. Railpass and planned out a
route which would take me to Chicago,
Kansas City, Barstow, California; San
Bernardino, Los Angeles, San Diego and
For $365, 1 got 21 days of unlimited tra-
vel. Amtrak also offers its U.S.A. Rail-
pass for 14 days (at $250) and 30 days
(at $450). During the winter season--Oc-
tober 15 to May 15-cost of a Railpass is
even lower but even with the higher price
buying a Railpass saved me almost $75.
Theoretically, a Railpass can save a tra-
veller even more-if he opts to do nothing
but ride trains for the entire 21-day per-
In spite of the thought of 34 hours on a
train (the Kansas City to Barstow part of
my trip), I looked forward to it. It had
been years since j'd been across country
any other way except by plane. And even
my last trip by car had been when I
was too young to appreciate what I was
UNFORTUNATELY, the trip from Ann
Arbor to Chicago almost took the wind
out of my sails. The train was nearly a
half hour late arriving in Ann Arbor and
by the time we reached Chicago we were
more than an hour and a half late. This
was nothing unusual for that particular
route, I was told, the trains always ran
late. Normally the trip takes five hours,
but at times we crawled along so slowly
I was certain I could walk to Chicago
The trains which run between Detroit
and Chicago are commuter trains with
interiors resembling those of most air-
planes, right down to -the collapsible
the second level of the double-decker car.
Hi-Rise coaches, I was later told by an
engineer, are a novelty limited to the
wide open spaces of the western routes.
The two-story cars are too tall to pass be-
neath the low wires and bridges in the
east and thus are seen only west of the
THE INTERIOR of a Hi-Rise coach is
spacious and pleasant. The lower-level
features a number of shelves for on-
board luggage (in contrast to the incon-
venient overhead racks of commuter
coaches), two restrooms with attached
lounges rather than the Porta-John like
cubicles on most trains and a sleeping and talk, you c
room for the car's steward, who sees to people.
the comfort of his passengers throughout THE PEOPI
the 44 hours from Chicago to Los Ange- and most inte
les. . Better than e
On the upper level, roomy reclining table in the din
seats with a pull-up bottom portion made the Mississippi
an almost flat, comfortable bed-particu- ing through a
larly since 1 had a double seat to myself Colorado ande
the entire trip. Passengers in these an electrical s1
coacles also are provided with pillows, sas prairie. Th
There are, of course, sleeping cars and engineers, Dav
compartments available for a higher to New York C
fare (Railpass holders may pay the dif- nia, who shari
ference between a normal ticket and the wine with me
room price and be accommodates in one all the kids in
of the tiny cubicles). fect.), the 26-
AS THE LONE STAR pulled out of Chi- man who told
cago and crawled through the train yard, plete with hitc
I saw the two men across the aisle in- analysis, black
tently peering out their window making -immensely b
comments on each and every engine, I picked up in
coach and boxcar we passed. Or Kris, the
"Boy, you sure don't see those any kids, including
more," one excited voice said. threw a couple
"I haven't seen one of those in years," window when
the other voice added. "They stopped pretzels, andC
running them years ago." club car. (Twc
I continued to eavesdrop, fascinated. not be comfort.
an really learn a lot about
LE were great, the best
resting part of the trip.
sting at a linen covered
ing car as we passed over
4 River, better than pass-
two-mile long tunnel in
even better than watching
torm on the table-flat Kan-
ere were, besides the two
ve and Wayne on their way
City from Berkley, Califor-
ed a goatskin bag full of
(and passed out balloons to
our car for that circus ef-
year-old Los Angeles wo-
me her life story-com-
hiking, marriage, divorce,
eyes, lovers and ex-lovers
etter than the cheap novel
young mother with five
a baby-who just about
e of her offspring out the
they spilled Dominoes,
Coke across a table in the
o of her little boys would
ed until I led them through
to a scene. I didn't call the conductor.
I tried looking out the window but his
grinning reflection leered at me. "I can't
take this," I thought, got up and went to
the club car to get a drink.
WHEN I RETURNED he was asleep.
Relief.. . but not for long. Soon he woke
up and began the instant replay.
I promptly ,went to the dining car.
When I returned he was gone.
Other than that "little incident," the
trip was nearly perfect. If you've got the
time, the train is the way to go. Even if
you don't think you have time, try it. It
only takes a little reworking of your tra-
vel-attitudes and the trip itself becomes
Keep busy. It does no good to sit "with
your eyes glued to your watch-"only 27
more hours until I get there." Sleep.
Read. Write. Stare out the window at the
empty river beds of Arizona. Hang out in
the club car. It's great . . . a party on
I'd do it again, and I will do it again
. except not to Chicago. The train back
to Ann Arbor was 45 minutes late.
Lani Jordan is a Daily Night Editor