Monday, May 24, 2010

Weekender By Rail

I took the train from Durham NC to Charlotte NC and back for a quick overnight this past weekend to meet up with friends who live there, one of whom is celebrating the success of his second liver transplant (at Duke University in Durham.) 

I vividly recall mental snapshots from my first trip on a train, Ashton ID to Driggs ID along the Grand Tetons (Teton Valley Line,) as a first or second grade field trip.  Growing up at the base of those incredible peaks, they weren’t the draw though, it was the train trip  In fact, I don’t recall any other field trips. The line has been abandoned for some time now.

I’ve taken a few other train trips during my lifetime, as novelties though vs. transportation, e.g. Spokane WA to Whitefish  MT to ski what everyone still calls Big Mountain (cool dome cars,) Seattle WA to Vancouver BC and the Great Smokey Mountain Railroad both to sightsee and Boston MA to Stamford CT to view two states my ancestors settled before doing the same in the Intermountain West.

This time, the trip was for “transportation.”  Here’s my take:

  • At slightly less than three hours, it is within 15 minutes give or take of what the trip would take by air (counting terminal time) or car.

 

  • Making arrangements was very simple online.  Printing boarding passes via bar code at the station was instantaneous and far easier than those kiosks the airlines use.  The cost was about $21 one way, $29 the other (business class,)  so about the cost of a tank of gas and much less than air.

 

  • Terminal in Durham is a spectacular and well done adaptive reuse of a beautiful brick, turn of the century (1800’s) tobacco warehouse.  Terminals along the way were interesting with the exception of  Charlotte which is the ‘70’s bus station style.

 

  • Everything  was on time, the stops extremely quick and efficient and the scenery was the big surprise.  The vast majority, beautiful North Carolina piedmont forests and countryside.

 

  • Where there were buildings or homes they were all very well kept (one messy back lot for a business in Burlington and one or two boarded up homes in Kannapolis.

 

  • Only one place where I saw illegal dumping.    Overall very free of litter compared to roadsides, few if any billboards.

 

  • I got a feel for small places for which I had only seen road signs before e.g., Mebane, Elon including the University holding graduation, UNC-Greensboro etc.

 

  • The cars were clean and modern like airplane cabins.  Reading lights.  Much more leg room, foot stools, reclining seats, tray tables, isles seemed wider, clean airline style restrooms but roomier.

 

  • Free self serve coffee on the way down with some vending machines.  Snack bar and dining car on the way back.  Cart service and free New York Times newspaper in business class as well as early boarding.

So, same amount of time, no hassles, no lines, plenty of time to read or just sightsee and daydream.  Parking at the terminal so quick in and out for departure and arrival back in Durham.

Departure and arrival times were convenience, both in the morning.  The State Department of Transportation is adding a mid-day train next week (June 5th.)  NCDOT subsidizes the service, as they do of course for the roadways, State-owned but private North Carolina Railroad Company owns and maintains the tracks and Amtrak operates the trains.

My days of driving that portion of I-85 may be over forever.

1 comment:

Randal said...

I've been wanting to do that trip for a long time. Did you stay over night? Visit any galleries or the Mint? Eat any place special (and cheap)? Was everything within walking distance from the station? My wife had a photo juried into a gallery there a few months ago, and we should have gone then.