Trains, Planes, and Automobiles
You’re going on a cross-country trip. Airplane, train, bus, or car? (Or something else entirely — bike? Hot air balloon?)
This year, I visited Union Station for the first time since the last day I commuted home from DC in 2011. This was indeed a nostalgia visit. The station looked mostly the same way it did nearly 15 years ago. Sbarro was still there right near the Metro exit nearest to the Northeast Corridor (NEC) tracks. The great hall and the upstairs shops looked the same. My favorite Indian restaurant was gone, so no mango lassi, unfortunately.
In and out, morning and afternoon, that was my life for a year and a half. I loved the train. In the mornings, I’d get the 715 train out of Baltimore and get the last hour of sleep I didn’t get when I was home. In the evenings, I’d watch out the window or read a book. I read a lot of books those days.
When MARC rolled out the Kawasaki bi-levels, I was in rail heaven. The MARC III cars were one level, 5 seats across — 2 on one side, 3 on the other (anyone familiar with New Jersey Transit is familiar with this configuration). Getting a 3 seater with a buffer seat between me and the other passenger was always the plan in the MARC IIIs. But in the Kawasakis, I didn’t have to. They were just 4 seats across, but you had your own seat, a little more room between you and the person next to you.
And they ran so smoothly.
I always tried to get out of work at the right time to run down Connecticut Avenue to get to Farragut North and get the right Red line train to Union Station to get me there at the right time to get that 5:25 express train home. That was a very popular train and, if I remember correctly, one of the first to get the Kawasaki cars.
The first stop was BWI Rail Station, about 35 minutes from Union Station.
You get on a plane and it taxis away from the terminal and rolls around to its starting point. The pilots throttle up and the plane ambles, then gallops down the runway until it lifts off. That’s what the trip was like. The train leaves Union and ambles up the first interlocking and onto the corridor. Past New York Avenue Metro station and out into Maryland, past the Orange line stations at Cheverly and Landover and just beyond New Carrollton, where the local trains stopped, you’d feel that throttling back.
Then zchooooom … past Seabrook … zchoooooomm … past Bowie State …
Now you’re totally relaxed on the upper level. Small towns, woods, country roads on overpasses, all whirling by. The train tilting gently into the few small curves, then leaning back up straight.
One evening, when the conductor came to get my ticket, I asked how fast we were going on that stretch. “One hundred twenty five miles per hour,” he told me.
zchooooooom by Odenton and its long platform and jam packed parking lot, split by the tracks. A few moments later, the train would throttle back to make BWI Rail Station. A few minutes later, you were there; it was as close to flying as you could get without leaving the ground.
Late night Amtrak trains were the best. I always got a seat and the trains were always quiet, so much so that there wasn’t even much of the usual clackety-clack sound in the Amfleet cars. Those nights were great for sleeping, too (and Amtrak conductors would not let you stay on past your stop) or reading or even pulling down the food tray in front of me and writing. I’d just have to turn on the overhead light because those cars were not as bright as the ones on their commuter cousins. Either way, it was relaxing and peaceful.
I love driving. I’m a roadgeek in addition to being a railfan. I’ve driven tens of thousands of miles over the last 20+ years, but I haven’t been across the country driving, yet. I haven’t been to Breezewood yet (I’ve driven I-78 through the Holland Tunnel a bunch of times. Roadfans will get this, even if you don’t). I haven’t driven the Pacific Coast Highway, yet. There’s a lot of road I want to see.
But now, for a cross country trip, I want to take the train. Just give me a bedroom, a seat in the observation lounge, a notebook, and a computer, and i’m good.