Saturday, April 22, 2006

Train 49: Welcome on board

After just a few cross border trips on Amtrak's Adirondack, Vermonter and Maple Leaf, this easily takes the biscuit as the biggest train I've been on in this country. I'm sure that will change in the next few days, but the excitement is still fresh. I'm seated at the back of the train in one of the four coach carraiges. They're very similar to the other north-eastern 'Amfleet' trains I've ridden in, built in the seventies when Amtrak knew that they were going to soon feel the pressure from the ever popular and ever more affordable airlines. So the carraiges seemed to have been designed with the very intention of luring airline passengers. They're finished on the outside with a silver corrugated steel or aluminium, with small windows punched along each side. Their cross section curves in at the top and bottom, so inside the slight curvature of the body reminds you of being in an aeroplane.

But that's the end of the comparison, because this is much more comfortable than flying. The seats in coach class are comparable with an airline's business class (and to think the fares are comparable with Greyhound...). The seats recline further than on other short distance trains, and there's a hard wearing footrest which folds up to help you get as close to horizontal as you need to be for a good night's rest. The seat in front will, of course, recline towards you, but that's hardly a problem because when I'm sitting in my seat, I can't even touch it with an outstretched hand.

When you board and Amtrak train and the conductor takes your ticket, you will have a small slip of paper with a three letter code for your destination station stuck in the rail of the luggage rack above your head. After some guess work and cross reference to my timetable, I'm guessing everyone around me will be getting off at Utica, Syracuse and Buffalo, all before midnight, hopefully giving me the chance to expand across two seats later on.

And indeed, most people are using this Friday train to go home for the weekend, or to visit family after a long week at work. Next to me is a gentleman who works for the quality control department in a bank, and who is going home after four days in New York City. We talk a little about my trip, and he points out landmarks as we rush past in the suddenly dark night (such as Palatine Bridge, the place of the Lifesaver Mints factory).

We arrive at Utica quite quickly, and we bid each other farewell. Another friendly conversation and acquaintance has been made for me by the train.

As Syracuse, Rochester and Buffalo-Depew stations pass us by, the occupants of the train change, and after Syracuse the lights are dimmed and PA announcements cease. I decide to give the sleeping in Amtrak coach class experience a try.


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