In praise of Amtrak

Supper time on board the Amtrak train from New York to Chicago. Wild rice, trout and a medley of vegetables

The Hudson river (above) was our companion for a good while on the Lake Shore railroad.

Every meal time, we sat with different people. Several asked me about the British health care system. I said: “I bless the National Health Service.”

Socialism has a bad rap in the US but there is nothing to be scared of. It’s simply about society sharing the care of its citizens, especially the vulnerable ones.

This is my first time in the US.

We had flown from the UK to New York.

Going by train from New York to Arizona was initially for green reasons.

It was also more scenic, more convivial, more educational and also allowed more natural adjustment to time differences.

After sleeping on the train, we changed at Chicago. Like New York, it reminded me of European cities.

But the landscape became less familiar after Chicago.

Our conductor on the Southwest Chief gave us hot flannels, a welcome hangover from the days of steam trains.

We sat in the observatory lounge and watched the landscape change.

Agricultural fields of corn (see above), but few houses or people.

You get a lot of land for your money in the Midwest, said one passenger. But, he explained, it suffered from water shortages. There was competition for water between the states and much water went on golf courses.

The conductors had great lines of repartee and wit, such as:

“In a few moments we will be reaching Raton, New Mexico, and time for a brief smoke break. Have a few puffs on that cigarette but don’t wander far from the train or you will become a hitchhiker not a passenger although the good news is – there is another train in 24 hours.”

The landscape changed again after Albuquerque where we stopped for an hour in the intense heat, and an unexpected anti-genocide exhibition,
One Million Bones.

I fell in love with the railroad and big skies, the America of much loved novels.

I felt touched by the people I spent time with hearing something of their stories and why they are travelling: grandchildren, graduation, loss of loved ones.

I also had great chats about food: cinnamon in porridge; beer batter for frying flounders, and lavender and chamomile for restful herbal tea.

I feel sad how people from different countries and cultures can get divided from each other, through the iniquities of a profit-before-people system.

It took us two and half days to reach our destination in Arizona.

It was a privilege.

9 responses to “In praise of Amtrak

  1. dear friend, if anyone is going to evoke honest communication from strangers it is your convivial self. and with maude by your side-an enticing pair of ears indeed! i have had some of the most genuine connections whilst moving-its almost like an in-between land where some of the restrictive social constraints seem to fall away. there is an equalising or levelling that happens, especially if you crash the first class carriage! its great to hear you are having such an enriching time and now time to relax and unwind with your family. x


  2. I remember the big skies of America – they really take your breath away. It was a road trip, not a train trip but the people and the places were magical, weird and sometimes worrying. The highway food culture was quite scary, but the odd privately run motel bucked the trend often enough to keep me healthy! I am very envious of your experience – enjoy every moment.


    • Thanks, Lizzie

      Yes! I am trying to work out why the skies are so big here? How is it possible?

      I am not doing badly with food here.

      A lot of people on the train mentioned the obesity problem in US (I explained the UK also suffers). There seemed to be a lot of (unexpected) health awareness about food.

      There is also a big Wholefoods Market-type store here in Flagstaff called New Frontiers which is a bit of a life-saver.

      And lovely Thai and Indian restaurants…


  3. catharinestott

    Reminds me of 3 weeks I once spent in Oklahoma, and meeting wonderful welcoming convivial people.

    And them big skies.



  4. I LOVE this article Elisabeth. Brings it all to life and brings us all a little of you. Better than any travel books. Keep it coming.


  5. O! Thank you, Gambo. That is very, very encouraging…


  6. I love train travel. We are moving to New York next year. Have train travelled NY-Virginia stopping at Washington and Philadelphia, and St Louis-Chicago, but not east-west. Daughter in St Louis (good food culture – and Monsanto!). Want to do NY-Chicago. Anna from Sustain taking train to Japan later this year. Chicago-London flights less full than NY-London. Want affordable transatlantic eco-ferry.


  7. I want affordable translantic eco-ferry too, please!

    What a wonderful idea.

    Any green entrepreneurs out there?


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