Taking that Train Ride
This weekend we finally took that train ride I’d had on my “To Do” list for a couple of years. We all had a great time, and I think we’ll definitely do it again sometime. Its such an easy and relaxing experience – I highly recommend it.
We are located near the Amtrak line that runs from Chicago to New Orleans – the song-inspiring ‘City of New Orleans’ line. This train just runs once per day, in each direction, so obviously there’s not a lot of flexibility in the schedule. But, the connection times between Jackson and New Orleans are pretty decent.
On arriving at the station, the general lack of regulation is a little disconcerting to most first-time rider adults. Compared to say, air travel, its all just so relaxed. We weren’t the only ones looking around going ‘uh am I doing this right?’ ‘Where is the TSA agent?’ Ha ha. No one even checks your ID. You can bring as much liquid as you want on there. I saw a soft-sided cooler or two. They sort of generally assign seats (when the train is busy) but you can sit pretty much wherever no one else is already sitting. And you can move around as much as you want.
Besides all that, the seats are approximately 300% larger than an airplane seat. They have electrical outlets everywhere, even in the restroom. (? for shaving I guess ?) The seats recline pretty far, and when not reclined, there’s plenty of room for a kid to play in the floor.
Want a change of scenery? There’s a dining car, a snack bar, and our favorite, the observation car. You can go straight from your seat up to that observation car and sit there for the entire trip. Its sort of like a rolling lounge. The more social groups from the train were found hanging out here, as well as some couples playing dominos.
The snacks for sale are fairly pricey – in the range of $3 for a gatorade – so wise train passengers bring their own. I even saw some bringing their own alcohol, although you may need to be discreet about consuming it in public. The official rules say you can only drink your own alcohol in the sleeping cars. Still, the lack of regulation is just so luxurious.
Ransom’s favorite part was reportedly, the doors between the cars. Push that button and they open with a real ‘woosh’ so obviously a kid favorite. He fabricated several excuses to move around on the train – potty breaks, snack breaks, etc – which was pretty amusing. He would’ve gladly run up and down the train for the entire trip, but that’s actually not so fun for adults so we kept it to a minimum.
The trip from Jackson to New Orleans is scheduled for about 4 hours, although we made it in closer to 3 each time. By car the trip is more like 2.5 hours, so there is some delay. I don’t think the trains go much faster than 40 or 50mph. But they also don’t stop at red lights.
The only downside is, as with any mode of transportation I guess, there is a risk of delay. Our train was actually nearly 5 hours late leaving on Saturday. We were able to find that out first thing in the morning, so we didn’t have to sit at the station that entire time or anything. But, it did throw a wrench in an already tight trip schedule. In our case, the delay was at departure from Chicago, so it may have been weather related. Obviously a train has to deal with hundreds of miles of weather conditions, so it may be wiser to travel by train in the summer. And, I’ve also heard reports of mechanical delays that can take many hours to resolve. Its not like there are extra trains nearby that can be used in case of a breakdown, especially mid-route.
On our return, the train left right on time from New Orleans and arrived back to Jackson about 45 minutes ahead of schedule.
So, if you live near an Amtrak line, you should definitely check your options for trips. Its obviously great for kids, but it could also make for a pretty awesome ‘girls weekend’ or something like that. Next time I’ll follow up with what we actually did in our approximately 20 hours in New Orleans. Happy Monday folks!