Tag Archives: locomotives

Diversify?

A friend recently responded to a Facebook post asking, “Are you diversifying? @trainguys coming soon??” I chuckled and then gave it some serious thought. First, let me say my love of aviation has not diminished. Like any good first romance, I can’t let it go. However, my love of trains is close second. This hidden love is becoming so evident that a friend described me, in great detail, as a hobo. Hey! I resemble that remark!

I recently returned from another journey “on the rails”; my second one this year. (See our blog “No plain (plane) experience for me”). In an effort to compare experiences between VIA Rail Canada and the US passenger rail system, the same friend and I set out on Amtrak this time.

When I was younger I remember seeing the Amtrak commercial “California Zephyr”.  I was intrigued and beguiled. The woman announcer’s voice beckoned to me. Thank goodness for YouTube because I was able to find that commercial and was once again lured to the rails (click to watch). The naming of trains by Amtrak evokes a sense of adventure and harkens back to the days of old when “riding the rails” was an experience. It was, and still is, about the experience for me.

The experience aboard the California Zephyr from Chicago to Sacramento was just OK. The crew were pleasant, food was tasty, and we departed and arrived on time. However, a few things were amiss. It was in the details. Even though the crew were pleasant, they didn’t carry themselves with pride. Average age appeared to be in the mid 50s. Most appeared not be be quite together in their style and how they wore their uniforms (stains, wrinkles, too big or too small uniform pieces). Hairstyles weren’t current or maintained. Underneath the pleasantness was a definite tone. And the coaches themselves were in need of a deep cleaning with emphasis placed on details (rips, tears, stains, repainting, lighting, etc.).

In Sacramento a connection was made to Amtrak’s Coast Starlight. And in an instant it all changed…for the better. As we learned, the Coast Starlight is Amtrak’s premier train. And most expensive. Why? More than likely it has to do with experiencing some of the most beautiful vistas. Amazing outcroppings of rocks. Raging river rapids. Full moons (yes, we were mooned a few times). Soaring forests. And snow-capped mountains. The service provided by the crew was exceptional. They all worked well together to provide an extraordinary experience. They were considerate, funny, thoughtful, and resourceful. They were willing to share personal tidbits and stories which made them even more enjoyable. Our cabin attendant and the Pacific Parlour car attendant were the standouts of this wonderful crew. Letters of commendation to Amtrak about these two is definitely in order.

Because the Coast Starlight is considered Amtrak’s premier train, the train was in better condition. The lighting, restrooms and shower facilities, and common areas were well-kept and the majority of the coaches had been renovated. The highlight of this train was the Pacific Parlour car. Built in 1956 for the Santa Fe El Capitan, this coach offered swiveling lounge chairs, private dining, wine tasting, a stand-up bar, and a movie theater. That’s right, a movie theater! There are only five of these special coaches left in existence and you can only find them on the Coast Starlight.

The experience on the Coast Starlight more than made up for any shortcomings of the California Zephyr.

So, back to the question first asked: will we diversify? I’ll never say never. I remind myself and you to remember: life is about the journey; it’s a quest for different experiences. Shake it up. Diversify when you can. By air or by train, we like a good adventure.

SLy

No plain (plane) experience for me

It was no plain (plane) experience for this airline guy. In fact it was an amazing experience! Even though I’m an aviation geek, I have a very strong love of trains and train travel too. I know, I know how can this be? Just know that you get to a certain point in life where you stop asking why and just go for it.

My other “fascination” with transporting people started when I was in 5th grade. Back in the day, Palm Beach County Florida safety patrols would make an annual pilgrimage to Washington DC to see the government in action. Transportation was via Amtrak. I remember my trip quite vividly: the sound of the train, the swaying back and forth, big comfy seats, flushing the toilet and watching stuff drop to the tracks below (ewww!). Every since then I’ve been hooked. I’ll let you in on one of my bucket list item: to be at the controls of a speeding locomotive. Crazy, yet true.

So, what does an aviation geek do to satisfy the train geek in himself? Thanks to a good friend and an invitation to join that friend, he takes an excursion via the rails!

What a pleasure it was to ride VIA Rail Canada from Toronto to Vancouver. “The Canadian” is the flagship train route in their system. To put it simply: it was an amazing experience.

In 4 days aboard the train I met many wonderful, interesting, and fascinating people. There was the young couple who were actors/singers/dancers. They were wrapping up a Broadway touring gig and  were heading out for some R&R and downtime around sightseeing and visiting friends. There was the retired older couple who were in the process of moving to the west coast to be near their children and grandkids. There was the politically astute and enlightened composer and graphic design artist couple that were returning to Vancouver to visit friends and their old neighborhood. There was another retired couple who had moved to Canada from England to be near their children and grandchildren. And then there was the couple traveling with their delightful twin autistic sons.

The staff working the train were a senior bunch. The average seniority was about 30 years. They had seen it all! Most of them were engaging, talkative and seemed to still enjoy their jobs. Most of them.

Being mostly disconnected from the Internet, twitter and Facebook updates, and my life had a profound effect. Being on the train allowed me to reconnect with people, learn about others, enjoy the spectacular views, learn more about myself, and ponder the experiences of life. Too many times we’re caught up in our own lives to realize that there’s a whole world out there full of interesting, thoughtful,  kind people; beauty that can take your breath away, and conversations to be had. Too often it’s “easier” to tweet, text or email than it is to have face-to-face conversations with others. It’s a behavior that has to be practiced, utilized, be reminded of.

I can only guess that this experience is very similar to what air travel used to be like during the Golden Era. Relaxed Atmosphere. No overcrowding. It was all about the journey/experience. Polite, considerate fellow travelers.

I’m so intrigued by this experience that I now want to experience travel via train again very soon but this time on Amtrak. The last time was a long time ago and I’d like to see how it compares.  I hear they’ve improved quite a bit. A good friend, who lives in Washington DC and travels often to NYC, regularly takes Amtrak’s Acela. He prefers this experience over the hustle and bustle of air travel on this route; says it’s more civilized.

Maybe train travel will become the “it” way to travel for those looking for an experience as oppose to just getting from A to B.

If you have any questions about my experience please contact me. Otherwise enjoy the pics!

Sylvester

Union Station - Toronto

Train #1 Toronto - Vancouver

Observation car "dome"

1950's observation car (last car of the train)

Jasper, Alberta

Abandoned station - Hornepayne, Ontario

 

It's not safe on the tracks!

 

 

Big wheels keep on turning...

VIA Rail Canada

 

 

One day...