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A small comment to Jack M. Turner's article, Circling America by Rail

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A small comment to Jack M. Turner's article, Circling America by Rail
Posted by Helge Espe on Saturday, June 12, 2021 9:21 AM

Jack M. Turner's article about his US railpass trip in 1976, reminds me of my own similar experience. In 1984 I embarked on a 2 months' Round the World backpack trip which also took me to the US for the first time. 

Landing in Seattle from Tokyo with no flight ticket segment Seattle to New York, the Immigration officer was sceptical to let me into the US, however, when I could produce a pre-bought US railpass which would cover the missing distance I was accepted!

I remember the pass cost 150 USD and lasted for 14 days unlimited. My journey started with the Empire Builder to Chicago, then the California Zephyr to Oakland, the Coast Starlight to Los Angeles, the Sunset Limited to New Orleans, and finally the Crescent to New York. Altogeher 7 out of 13 consecutive nights were spent in coach class, but in comparision with European Inter Rail standards, this was luxury!

The trip added up to about 8.360 miles, 1000 miles less than Jack, but more than enough to give a fantastic first and lasting impression of the country and its railroads.

Helge Espe

Fjellhamar, Norway

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Posted by TheFlyingScotsman on Monday, June 14, 2021 4:46 PM

I haven't read that article form 1976 but reading Helge's article made me think I should post my experiences form '88.

I was planning to do a year's work travel in Australia but a friend of mine had jusct come back from visiting friends in Berkeley CA and was raving about it and that got me thiking - I had always read about the trans continental trains in the US but never dreamed that I could cross the US like that. TBH I really didn't know much about trains in the US beyond the odd documentary like Great Railway Journeys with Ludovic Kennedy. Anyway as my friend was desperate to go back the following summer and have me as his wingman I cut a deal. I would go but we would cross from NY to California by train if it was affordable. At that time there was only one Travel Agent (remember them) in Scotland that handled Amtrak bookings and even back then it was in real-time with reservations and tickets printed on the spot. So I called these guys up and they said thet there was a promo ticket for £160 - I think - which was only a week's pay for me at that time. It was called All Aboard Amtrak and for this you got 5 journeys. Sleepers were extra, naturally but a pitance. The agent could see that for the travel dates we had it was going to be difficult to make the trip because the trains were so busy and so rather than go by say Broadway and Zephyr the only way was by Cardinal via DC from NY and then on to Portland on the Empire Builder (or so we thought!) Then Coast Starlight to Oakland. We then had 2 trips we could take and book those when we were in the US. The run on the Cardinal was good but for that we tried to book sleepers on the train but no luck so it wasn't the most comfortable night but a good laugh in the bar with some sociable servicemen. Into Chicago on time and not much to do for a few hours we did the Sears Tower and what have you killing time until the Empire Builder was boarding. Now remember we are on a hyper tight budget and planned to get food for the next long leg to Portland somewhere in the station before we went. When we tried to book in to the Empire builder there were no reservations in our name and the guy was looking at our printouts couldn't understand it and went into the back-offfice thyen after a few minutes re-appeared and said you guys are going to have to run like the wind to track whatever because we were infact out on the Zephyr to Salt Lake City where it split into the Zephyr Desert Wind and Pioneer (us) on to Portland. We did run like the wind and caught it with a few minutes to spare but no food. The sleeping car attendant - a guy called Ronnie - was real old school and as soon as we were on was giving us snack packs and saying just shout if we needed more and we're thinking could this last with a couple of meals for the next 50 or so hours. Next thing he's back wanting to know what time to book us for dinner. Nah we say and tell him the story. Laughing he tells us all our meals are free in 1st class - we couldn't believe our luck!! We had a fabulous trip - over the Rockies and up the Columbia River to Portland. Great food. Drunk at night and a nice comfy bed to sleep it off in. Ahhhh.

Then copy paste down on the Starlight to Oakland.

Back then the steaks were real sirloin and cooked on the train as were the eggs for breakfast. The food was really nice, although whe i took my wife on the Southwest Chief in 2009 the food and the service was utterly horrible. Never again. The contrast couldn't have been starker.

After that we came in as far as Glenwood Springs and did some Colorado type stuff and back.

I don't know the mileage but a hell of a trip for the money looking back on it.

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Posted by daveklepper on Tuesday, June 15, 2021 2:45 AM

Living in the UK you have  a choice of main-line steam trips nearly every weekend and more preserved operating steam locomotives (including all of various gauges) than the entire rest of the World.

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Posted by TheFlyingScotsman on Tuesday, June 15, 2021 4:15 PM

I have heard that about us having more operating steam locomotives in preservation that everyone else put together, Dave.

Certainly there are many, many of them.

I used to live adjacent to the Severn Valley Railway - on purpose if you like - many years ago so I would hear and see steam trains every day for 7 months of the year and for 4 of the remaining 5 on Saturdays and Sundays. I worked on a number of them and even drove a couple.

Where I live now there are maybe 20 mainline trips a year through here and you can catch them on both sides of town normally. Also when locomotives are outshopped at Crewe they are brought down here and beyond as past of the certification for running on the mainline. Those are my favourites because about 200 yards from my house they are slowed to a walking pace and then accelerated uphill under full load as part of this process, so you get to hear them driven as they would have been back in the day waddling as the frame bends under the strain. In normal service I would say a little is held back in deference to the horrifying maintenance bills. Interestingly it isn't always the biggest and baddest that sound the best.

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