Rethinking train journeys: Traveling the old fashioned way

Dec 29, 2011, 6 a.m.

With long lines at the airport security checkpoints and frequent airport delays, air travel today is anything but glamorous. In fact, it's not unusual to spend more time in the airport than on the plane when traveling to your destination. North American train travel, once the only way to travel across the continent, has been regaining popularity and its easy to see why. Cross country train travel is slow-paced, relaxing and offers travelers a view of the passing countryside that you don't get at 40,000 feet in the air.

About American and Canadian Rail Service

America's passenger rail operator, Amtrak, is owned and operated by the US government. The Amtrak system covers more than 21,000 miles and reaches 500 destinations in 46 US states and three Canadian provinces. You can reach all of the contiguous United States by rail, except for Wyoming and South Dakota. Primary Amtrak routes travel along the Atlantic coast from Portland, Maine to Miami, as well as from Washington DC to San Francisco via Chicago, Denver and Salt Lake City; and from New Orleans to Los Angeles via San Antonio, Texas.

In Canada, Via Rail is the primary passenger rail operator. This government-run train company has more than 8300 miles of track and runs 480 trains to eight provinces (all except Newfoundland, Prince Edward Island and Labrador.) The service runs all the way from Halifax to Vancouver, but the majority of the trains travel within the Quebec City to Windsor corridor.

Most North American trains are equipped with a restaurant or snack service, as well as a lounge car. Today's trains also offer wireless Internet access and plug-ins for lap top computers. All Via Rail trains are non-smoking.

Saving Money Riding the Rails

Traveling by train doesn't have to be expensive. Both Amtrak and Via Rail offer a plethora of discount train travel. Amtrak gives discounts to students, AAA members, those age 62 and older, veterans and active military personnel and their families. There are also 15, 30 and 45-day Amtrak rail passes that give travelers unlimited rail passage within the specified time period. Via Rail extends discounts to travelers age 60 and older, and students between ages 12 and 25.

Cabins for Comfort

Of course, traveling for days across the country sitting in a chair can get uncomfortable. For this reason, long-distance trains are equipped with a variety of sleeping compartments. Amtrak offers a choice of accommodations. Among these are:

  • Roomette - A small cabin with two bunk beds that convert to lounge chairs during the day
  • Superliner Bedroom - A cabin with two bunk-style beds, a recliner and an in-cabin washroom, designed to accommodate two persons
  • Superliner Bedroom Suite - Two adjacent superliner bedroom cabins that are connected to accommodate four persons with four beds and two washrooms.
  • Family Suite - A cabin with two bunk-style beds that convert to lounge chairs during the day and two child-size bunk beds. Designed to accommodate two adults and up to two children

Travelers reserving a sleeping compartment pay the standard rail fare plus the charge for the compartment.

If you haven't traveled by train in the United States, or if you haven't traveled by train recently, it's time to get out of the airport and enjoy the pleasures of riding the rails again. You'll be surprised at what you see.

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