Yesterday was National Train Day. This was a holiday created by Amtrak in 2008. Held on the Saturday. nearest May 10th it was a way for Amtrak to show the benefits of railway travel. May 10th was chosen as it’s the anniversary of the pounding of the Golden Spike in Promontory, Utah, marking the completion of the first transcontinental railroad in the United States.
Growing up in Queens and Long Island, we traveled by subway on school trips and the LIRR on visits to NYC, especially during the Christmas season. Between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, it’s kind of an amazing time to be in NYC. Rockefeller Center, Broadway, Macy’s window displays; so much and so beautiful. It’s the perfect complement to the winter wonderland on a greeting card.
I’ve traveled by commuter rails on various vacations. We’ve stayed on the outskirts and taken public transit into the cities of Toronto, Boston, Washington, DC, and of course, NYC. Those trains are a great convenience, and a great value as well.
As a kid, my family took us to Strasburg, PA to ride the railroad through Amish country. When my kids were young, we took them there also. They loved the trains. I think all kids do. My kids, especially my two boys, were big on the Thomas trains. we had a pretty large set when they were younger.
A few years ago, I took my first long distance train trip from my home in upstate New York to Williamsburg, VA. it was a little nerve-wracking with the packing, the tickets, the layover in Penn Station and all that on top of my regular anxiety. I thought it would be the same as air travel, and I packed similarly with the clear plastic bags, one personal bag, small bottles of liquids, but it was actually very different.
The one thing I was told by the friend I was visiting was to only bring what you can carry yourself. If it’s too heavy or awkward to get in and out of the car at the train station, then it’s too heavy or awkward to bring with you. you have to be able to life your bag over your head and put it in the luggage rack. There was a lower section, but you had to be one of the first onboard to git your bag in there.
One of the most noticeable differences on the train was the bigger seat and huge (by comparison) amount of leg room. The bathrooms were also larger, and didn’t make me feel self-conscious about accidentally knocking the door open while I was using it.
The windows are large enough to see the scenery. My trip seemed to follow the coast line. There was a lot of water on the side until we got past Richmond, and then it filled in with trees and greenery. At one point, we paused in a town where I think we were blocking traffic. You could see the houses lining the street of this quaint, southern village.
From my seat, I could see the Washington Monument and the Capitol Building.
It was so much less stressful than flying. It was almost like driving except I could sleep part of the way. It was quiet for the most part. Sometimes, you could eavesdrop on someone’s conversation and that was entertainment enough. There was working WiFi so I was pretty well set, not to mention my journal writing and note-taking for future trips as well as for travel posts. Like this one.
On a recent retreat that I put together for myself, I started my week at our local Amtrak station. I wasn’t going anywhere, but I had my messenger bag, my kindle, my Father James Martin Together on Retreat book, and my camera. It gave me the illusion of traveling without actually leaving town. It was symbolic for the start of my do-it-myself retreat. I think I will use that technique again this year when the time comes for me to look inward.
The trains give me that solitude without being alone; without the loneliness or aloneness. It’s the opportunity to be by yourself without being by yourself. It’s like a nightlight in a darkened room. It’s a candle in the night.
And with that last cliche, the last train has left the station. Tell me your train stories in the comments below.