Sunday, March 29, 2015

The Great American Train Chase and Scavenger Hunt

The real title is just the Great American Train Chase and I will explain the scavenger hunt, shortly. Back when I started riding Amtrak a lot, I would hang out at the station. That was back in the late 1970's. I picked-up on one of these nights, a national timetable for Amtrak. I thought that it would be nice, to travel from coast to coast on Amtrak. But, my mind did not stop there. How about hitting all four corners of the country? Or how about seeing how any trains I could take in the course of (let['s say) two weeks.

Wait a minute! If I tried that, all I would have to do is make it to the Northeast Corridor. I could take a train to the next stop and board the next one north and so on, riding the Corridor for two weeks. OK! Let's make is to have to hit the four corners of the country, in this travel. I gave it the railfan title of the Great American Train Chase. And make it a competition. It could become a promotion stunt for Amtrak. However, how would we verify that someone took the trains and hit the four corners? That was where the scavenger hunt came in.

As I said, that was a long time ago, before home computers and internet. The idea got shoved into the back of the mind for a few decades. A back in 2010, I was planning my trip to Boston, from Hamlet. I discovered that a through train to Boston was not possible. I had to go to Washington and connect to another train, one that went overnight to Boston. On that vacation, I decided to fly to Boston, take public transit and rent a car for a day for certain parts of the vacation.

That led me to looking at the possibilities of an out an back, train watching trip to Boston. Go to Washington, transferring to the overnight, and spend the day watching, returning on the overnight to Washington and transferring to home. Three days without getting a hotel room! I did more planning and saw that I could see the Matapan High Speed Line, ride the Green Line and get pictures, see the Blue line change from third rail to overhead at the Airport Station, watching North Station Commuter at North Station, and watching South Station Commuter. Long day but I thought is worthwhile or at least fun. I set it up and did it. I re-planned it, and found that I could change a few things and add riding commuter rail out of both South Station and North Station and hit the other targets as well. That will be a future trip.

This could be the basis of a TV game show called the American Train Chase. There would be a series of out and back trips with targets to photograph or video. The targets are railfan points such as commuter rail, light rail, or monorail. I did lay out a few, just for fun. I would love to try them someday.

 OK! I did plan out around the country, making the six corners: Boston, MA, Chicago IL, Seattle WA, San Diego, CA, New Orleans, LA, and Miami, FL. It would take 15 days if timed right. There would even be a few targets hit, while hitting he corners. Just for fun, I tried hitting all six corners and seeing all targets in my list. Now that would be a trip, taking at least 51 day.

Next the American Train Chase rules:

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Comfortable Train Travel

What should you take and what should you do on a comfortable train trip? Four devises carried, will add comfort to the trip. Of course, the phone. This keeps you in contact with friends, family, and business. If the train is running late, you can call ahead to let your hotel reservation know or family that will meet you. The smart phone will give you other information. If you use Google Maps, you can see where the train is at, as it locates you on the map through GPS. Downloading the Amtrak App, will allow you to chart the ontimeness of your train.

The tablet will give you these same advantages, except for the call. The wider screen will make map watching more comfortable. With WiFi, we can watch videos, either downloaded or hosted on our devise. Earbuds and Noise Cancelling headphones are required for this. Many Amtrak trains have free WiFi but a WiFi card that uses 4G will be nice to have. Unfortunately, most cable and satellite apps will not be as useful on these trips as they have limits on what can be watched while away from home network. You can still stream from Blockbuster and other rental apps, including Netflix. However, Amazon is limited. Amazon streaming video is not supported on Android devises, even if you go though the website. You still can stream music, however.

Your laptop computer is your best friend. Here you can stream video from all the major carriers including Amazon video. This gives you a place to work if that is wanted.

Beyond this media, other things will make the trip comfortable. A blanket if the trip is long along with a pillow. Of course taking a sweater or using your jacket or coat, during colder time, can be substituted for either blanket of pillow.

Cameras and camcorders will make trip interesting as you record what goes by. On many trips the scenery is as interesting as any video you could have, particular through historic areas, mountain vistas and waterways.

On many trips outside the NE, train trips are friendly, much friendlier than flying, You can even talk with the next person, without seeming odd. In the lounge and cafe car you can sit with fellow riders that you haven't met before. Many diners use community seating, where they will seat you with someone you just or not yet met. On my first trip on train, I went to the diner. The host said "two" and I said "I am not with him." The host said "do you have anything against him?" and we set together and we talked. On another trip, I had a roomette, alone. Even before leaving the station I began a conversation with someone in the next room. We ended up have our dinner together and some time in the lounge.

So you board the train, take a seat, and the conductor views you ticket (in the old days he would punch a hole in it). If it is an early train you can now go to the cafe car or the diner and get breakfast. In the cafe it is most frozen and then microwaved, but still acceptable, they do have fresh good coffee. You can now go back and sight see from your seat or stay in the lounge. Before you know it you have been traveling more than an hour. If it is later you can have dinner instead. Overnight would mean sleeping. So when you board, how long the trip, will make all the difference in what you do.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Riding the Train, cont.

That excursion to Atlanta included a trip to Washington on Amtrak. This was done to compare the experience. At the time there was on round trip from my home in Williamsburg and Boston. That was the old Colonial. I then started taking Amtrak when I could.

When I started this discussion, I intended to begin with a discussion of train verses any other transit form. It was summarized as that each should not be compete with other but complement and support the others. We should be looking to a balanced and useful system. This discussion would move to where do we take trains and planes. Than I would move to what makes up a good train trip.

As  railfan, I am more prone to train travel that the average person. To be honest, I find train travel to be more comfortable for a longer ride than airlines, by about 3:1. However, this is not absolute. The thing about train travel is that there is more leg room per passenger. Besides that, movement, or train walking is not discouraged. But the main element that determines the length of a comfortable are other factors than length.

An overnighter for a train, is nice. You sleep on the train and arrive in the morning. Much of the trip is while sleeping. I don't sleep well while traveling but it is still better.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Riding the Train.

My first ride on a train was when I was in preschool. Our church took a excursion to the beach, Buckroe Beach in Hampton, VA. We left from Broad Street Station in Richmond. I learned later that C&O RR would do these special trains and take the car up the trolley tracks to the beach and leave it for the day. In the 1970's, while in college, I began model railroading and, as a offshoot, train watching. After college I took my first steam excursion. I went from there to New England and took my first ride on Amtrak. In the south, my riding experience were for weekend trips to parents but not much more (the occasional weekend trip by rail was done). When I move to Boston, MA in the mid 1980's I became experienced in commuter rail. I was the first station stop on the purple line (called that because on T maps it was designated by the purple lines.)

While in college, my parents lived in northern Virginia. One evening, while traveling home from school (Va Tech) I had cut over the mountain and was heading north of Charlottesvlle. To my surprise I saw the Southern Crescent, heading south to Atlanta. I finished school in 1975 and rumor began that Southern would not longer be running the Crescent but turning the operation over to Amtrak. In 1978, I decided to ride the Cescent from Washington to Atlanta. This was my first chase, out and back.

Before and since that trip, I had chances to watch, including the Piedmont that was the daylight version of Crescent, running between Washington and Atlanta. They also ran locals, between division points. The local would leave Washington and take on a container or piggyback in Alexandria before heading south to Lynchburg, dropping the freight at Monroe.

Piedmont in Alexandria, VA
Local in Alexandria