Monday, March 14, 2016

You should take the train

Like my fellow blogger (and fellow user!) M. Strickland of Civic Center, who has often sung the praises of travel by Amtrak, we decided to take the train this weekend to visit my sister in Tahoe, where she's spending the winter with her bf, a couple of dogs, and metric shitloads of snow.  Seriously there is so much fucking snow.

Anyway, I have some advice: take the fucking train.  It is so much better than driving that you will wonder why you ever drove.  We took the California Zephyr from Emeryville to Truckee.  It continues on to Chicago.  Yes, it takes a lot longer than flying, but if you're in no particular hurry it would probably be great.  From here to Tahoe took about 6 hours, so not much more than driving. (It takes about 3 days to get to Chicago - if you leave on Friday morning, you get there Sunday afternoon.)

The regular coach seats are roughly equivalent to first class seats on an airplane.  They're big and wide and there's maybe more legroom than first class.  There's also an observation car (containing, for a time, my daughter, pictured above) and a dining car.  The food is not very good but whatever.

For our trip back Sunday, regular coach was sold out so we pretty much had to buy a private room.  It was kind of expensive but also it was really nice to have our own surprisingly large space.

And it was the only way we could have gotten out of Tahoe on Sunday, where it started blizzarding on Saturday and pretty much never let up.  In fact, we had to stop up on the summit while they plowed the tracks.

In a remarkable bit of bad timing, another long-haul Amtrak train, the Southwest Chief from LA to Chicago, derailed last night in Kansas, about 8 hours after we got off the (completely different and uninvolved) train.  A lot of people got hurt.  Still, it's probably safer than driving.  I'm sure there's numbers out there to back that up but I don't feel like doing the research right now.

I will say this: the whole experience is somewhat bumpier, for lack of a better word, than I expected.  We took the train from Boston to NYC to DC a few years ago but I don't remember it being as bumpy.  It kind of feels like low-grade turbulence on a plane a lot of the time.  And sometimes when it takes turns fast, you can definitely feel the whole thing leaning to one side, which is mildly disconcerting if you're not used to it.

Still, I would enthusiastically recommend.  Unlike air travel, everyone on the train seems pretty chill and relaxed and I didn't have that feeling like I wanted to kill everyone in sight like I do when I fly.  Try taking the train.


Stephen said...

I think it makes great sense in your situation - with someone at the other end to pick you up and take you places. But if I were going up there, cold, how would I get from Truckee to anywhere? I've never been to Tahoe without a lot of driving around from here to there, and that takes a car. I'd still like to take the train sometime, just for the ride.

TK said...

Judging from what I saw at the Truckee train station, you'd take a Lyft. That's what some of the people who got off the train with us were doing. I imagine if you're going to a ski resort and staying onsite, you really wouldn't need a car. Hertz also apparently does car rental drop-off at the train station.

And yeah, I'm already thinking about taking the train somewhere else just for the ride.

Stoney said...

I'm pretty sure there's a bus from Truckee to Squaw.

Civic Center said...

Wow, you managed to travel through the Donner Pass during a blizzard and survive! Congratulations.

GG said...

No-longer-Baby Beyoncé is fucking adorable and that is all.

Greg said...

It is a nice trip for sure. I took the Zephyr from Chicago to Emeryville a few years ago right around this time of year, and it was fun. I opted for the sleeper car and for a long trip it's essential. Taking megabus is a little faster, but with a lot of snow, etc I don't know if I'd want to be stuck on a megabus in snow/traffic. Either way, beats the hell out of driving (which I've done also).

TK said...

Michael - It was touch and go for a while but no one got eaten.

GG - Thanks! You should see her when she's tantruming.

Greg - I would love to do that sometime without a 3-year-old.

Anonymous said...

Very cool...had never thought to even wonder if the Cal Zephyr line would stop around Truckee/Tahoe.

How is the scenery as you get into the Sierra? I guess it was blanketed by snow, when you went through, but do you think the scenery out the window is nice enough to help warrant taking the train?

The overlapping train routes of Amtrak's California Zephyr and the Capitol Corridor train are kind of interesting. The Zephyr goes from Emeryville to Chicago and Capitol Corridor (run by a multi-agency sort of regional consortium and administered by BART, it seems) runs between San Jose and Auburn. Supposedly there has been some discussion of extending Capitol Corridor to run further northeast to Truckee, and further south through Gilroy and Salinas.

If Capitol Corridor ran through Truckee, then it would be an alternate option, and would add additional station stops further south, down to San Jose Diridon. Unfortunately, it seems, to get to Truckee, there's just one single-track tunnel that is also heavily used by Santa Fe freight.

Anyway...a reminder of how poorly integrated our regional mass transit is.

lmc said...

We used to take the Zephyr to Chicago at least once a year - it takes 60 hours, pretty much 3 days. So worth the time, especially when my daughter was little. Trains are the best and the rooms are expensive but especially on the longer trips worth it. It's a great trip summer or winter, different experience for each.

Also love the trip to LA.

(Cute kid!)

TK said...

chestery - The scenery is very nice, as you might imagine. Since it was snowing and cloudy I feel like we probably missed out on a lot of Spectacular Vistas, but it's still good. There were quite a few tunnels, some surprisingly long. Maybe that's the one Santa Fe uses.

lmc - I would love to try that trip, maybe when she gets older. And thanks!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the reassurance on the scenery. Trip by train just vaulted to the top of the list for summer plans, though we'll now be debating if we want to go whole hog for the Zephyr ride to Chicago, or dip our foot in the water with a trip to Portland/Seattle or down to LA/San Diego.

Maybe we'll dip our toes in the water and go to Bakersfield.

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After that ending, TSA will never let you on a plane again.

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