Why We Travel By Train

Amtrak ain’t this grand, but it’s a lot better than flying! Photo via the Library of Congress.

We’re headed up to Northern California, Oregon and Washington to promote our new book Making It: Radical Home Ec for a Post-Consumer World. And, with the exception of the San Francisco to Seattle leg, we’re traveling by train. Why do this when it’s more expensive, time consuming and probably makes our dear publisher Rodale think we’re crazy?

One word: dignity. With train travel:

  • No porno-scanners or groping, i.e., no unconstitutional searches.
  • I can carry my multi-tool.
  • Leg room.
  • If I don’t like where I’m sitting I can move.
  • I can relax, sit at a table, read, work and write.

I could rant about the superiority of rail travel at length but Archdruid John Michal Greer sums it up better than I can in a blog post, “Too Much Energy?” No more flightmares for the Root Simple team!

See a list of our appearances here

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  1. My dad is the general manager of a railroad up in central CA so we are a very pro-train family. When I was in middle school my dad managed a railroad that ran an old fashioned “dinner train” in Indianapolis. It was a train that took you out for a multi-course dinner and a 3 hour train ride. The train was made up of a restored galley (kitchen) car and several restored art deco style dining cars from the 1930s. It was all kinds of fabulous.

    Enjoy your trip!

  2. we’re taking the train from Vancouver BC to Portland this month for our 5 year anniversary. It was actually cheaper than any flights to other places that we looked into. We’re excited about it!

  3. Right on, Root People. We are huge fans of Amtrak and take the train every year on holiday.

    Some of our best stories have to do with Amtrak delays (13 hours @ Seattle’s King Street Station sitting on a wooden bench) and Bolshevik-era equipment. Re the latter, who could forget watching train employees using a sledge hammer to break the ice that had frozen shut a passenger door? Have fun…we always do.

  4. My now-husband and I were in a long-distance Canada-US relationship for 4 years before getting married, and once I discovered the train, there was no going back – less energy, leg room, amenities, great scenery, no airport hassles, and a lot less expensive (business class upgrades were $26, which was fabulous and absolutely worth it for a 12 hour ride).

  5. Trains are slow and never on time. Amtrak isn’t profitable because of their outdated business model, so they have to suck on the government teat for handouts while they limp along into irrelevancy.

    This is America, not socialist Europe. I’ll drive my SUV, thanks.

    • You call our countries socialist because we actually do seem to give a damn?!

      I’d hate to be the one to bring this to you, but the US has quite lost its appeal & good image to Europeans, and reading comments like that does not help your case at all. Over here we are trying to make cities more and more car unfriendly, we pay high taxes for fuel (which equals less driving), most people have smaller cars (again, less fuel), and of course, we walk, bike, and -indeed- use trains a lot more… Oh how silly of us!

      PS. socialism is still better than capitalism in a format that extremely unsustainable

  6. To a certain extent, go with Red Icculus – although my vehicle of choice is a ’79 VW westfalia (camper). And that won’t go anywhere very fast! Since I’m not near a train access that goes where I want to go, it ends up being BUS for me and that is not a welcome scenerio as I get older and more arthritic. NO leg room, no amenities, no comfort. So I stay home a lot. . .

  7. Now if we can encourage Amtrak to add a connection from SF to Seattle, that would be great!

  8. Amtrak does have a connection between SF and Seattle but it didn’t fit into our schedule. We’ll be taking that train (the Coast Starlight) from Portland to SF.

    As to driving, I just plain don’t like driving long distances. As to subsidies, see Greer’s post.

  9. Your post hit it right. For us it’s about dignity. After seeing a few of the videos of kids getting upset with the pat downs, we refuse to fly. We had thought about going to Disneyworld, but no longer. We can find fun things to do that don’t include a pat down first.

  10. CLANK- You’re right- They aren’t profitable because of unnecessary governmental regulation like CAFE standards. The government punishes the wealth producers in our economy.

    Bailouts are part of the liberal progressive trap- to get everyone to rely on the government as their savior for every problem after the government put them in that predicament from regulation in the first place.

  11. I would have enjoyed our 2 day Amtrak trip a lot more if the lounge car hadn’t been staked out by evangelicals trying to preach to us 🙁 It made everything feel a lot more cramped.

  12. I was just on that train! Airfares between LA and San Jose were too expensive so I braved the 10hr trip with a 4 and a 5yr old. It was AWESOME. Union Station has been all fixed up, and the train was clean and quiet and all the travelers are friendly and chatty. There’s wifi in the snack observation car. Take advantage of the smoking/fresh air breaks to stretch your legs on the platform.
    Ocean on one side, rolling oak-y hills on the other and the wildflowers are in full bloom right now. Saw jackrabbits and lots of hawks and turkey vultures. If it weren’t for the little ones I would’ve spent the whole 10 hrs gazing out the window.
    And…it ran on time. Perfect time.

    I carried my pocket knife, my parents were able to escort us all the way to the doorway of the train and could’ve gotten on the train with us to get us settled in. There were no body scanners, no restrictions on water bottles, and there was SO MUCH ROOM. Also a lot lighter on the carbon emissions than a car or plane.

  13. It’s too bad you can’t take the bay area to Seattle leg, waking up in Oregon surrounded by nothing but endless views of green trees is my favorite part of a socal to portland/seattle amtrak trip. 🙂 Sadly every single one of my trips ends up with delays, but I believe this is because freight trains are prioritized on the tracks, which inevitably leads to passenger train schedules getting off track (pun not intended!). Taking the train is a much more personable experience though.. people are so friendly and you have great conversations, especially when they have you share a table with strangers for dinner reservations. You guys would definitely be interesting folks to talk to!

  14. My wifes birthday is coming up soon. Can anyone recommend a decent train trip from LA? Does the train go out to the Grand Canyon? I also want to avoid the body scanners and government sex fiends.

  15. I dont think NYC would be half of what it is if not for the trains. LIRR amtrak and MTA trains get all of us to work. Additionally, the phone and commercial internet infrastructute between CT and NJ is all run on Amtrak’s route. Cant speak for the west coast but theyre huge here in the east.

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