Choo Choo! First Train Ride

Rather than recap my whole Chicago trip in one post, I will do posts according to subject matter, like my very first train trip! Having always wanted to travel somewhere by train but finding fares much more expensive than flying, I finally got my chance.

I was going to Chicago to meet some friends and checked fares like I always do. Miraculously, it was less expensive than flying, so I booked the trip for me and Ellie, who I decided to bring along to try to cheer up. Who doesn’t want to go on a vacation? Who doesn’t want to take a train trip? Her response was underwhelming, but I was sure that would change.

Unfortunately, our trip left at 11:59 PM from Pittsburgh. Equally unfortunate is the state of Pittsburgh’s Amtrak station. That place is a dump. Having now seen several stations along the way, I would rather have gotten on board in any one of those.

In Pittsburgh, you are greeted by the weirdest parking lot ever. There is a maze of concrete pillars through which you have to wind. God help you if you drive anything larger than a Civic.

The station is tucked under a couple layers of crumbling concrete bridges where the trains go. That station was full of a broad range of passengers from several Mennonites to ladies in stained, white, puffy winter coats and felt hats, one with a large flower. Ellie and I absorbed ourselves in reading and phone activities until it was time to go upstairs to board our train.

After seeing what was in the station, I was extra glad I paid for the sleeper roomette. It was already made into beds when we boarded the train. We brushed our teeth and changed into comfortable sleepwear and tried to go to sleep.

I am not a good sleeper on a good day in my own bed. When traveling, I always worry about bedbugs, and being on a train was no different. Every time I itched, I had to tell myself I was fine. I admit, I checked with a flashlight a couple of times, only to find the typical nothing trying to feast on me. I’m naturally itchy as well as naturally insomnia-plagued. Sleep occurred in spurts between the occasional jostling of the train and loud noises of other passing trains or creaks and clunks from our own. The beds themselves weren’t bad at all, and I’d compare this night’s sleep to any I’ve had in a motel.

Breakfast is included when you are on the sleeper car and began at 6:00 AM. Since our arrival to Chicago was scheduled for 8:45 AM, we had to get our food sooner rather than later and managed to haul our night-owl butts to breakfast by 6:45 AM. I aggravated our waiter by not knowing my car number or who our attendant was. He rolled his eyes at least twice, sighed countless times, and became very snarky, but we eventually figured it out. Still, he ignored us once our food was served and “forgot” my potatoes, so I did something I very rarely do and “forgot” his tip.

Our arrival ended up being delayed for over an hour due to heavy freight train traffic. On the rails, cargo is more important than people. We were arriving much earlier than my friends, so I had no worries.

Most of our trip there was in the dark, and all of our trip back was because of a late departure.

Having been through that stretch of the country by car, I know there isn’t too much to see.

We made the wise decision to spring the extra cash for a sleeper car on the way back too, and I would highly recommend that for anyone considering train travel. Though the couch seats do recline, it is first-come, first-serve seating, and the likelihood of screaming Mennonite babies is increased considerably.

Overall, I really enjoyed the trip and look forward to doing another, longer one. Both of our dining partners raved about the trips out west, so I would really like to do that sometime. It was a different experience with a lot less stress than flying. At least, it is if you get a sleeper car.

 

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