Two years ago I decided I wanted a new experience so I decided to take Amtrak from Erie, Pa to Denver, Co. My son and his family live in Colorado and I could have flown but the idea of taking a train cross country sounded exciting.
We left Erie, Pa at 1:50 am and arrived at Union Station in Chicago, Il at approximately 9:45 am. I was so happy to get off the train from Erie. When you’ve never ridden on a train long distance the bumps and what seems like jumps can feel a bit alarming, especially when you can’t see outside because it’s dark. I also rode coach but I was lucky to have 2 seats to myself the entire trip to Chicago. When I walked outside, this was my view- A photo of Union Station.
I had a 6-hour layover in Chicago, which was relaxing. Union Station is quite large and has quite a few restaurants along with shops on the top floor. It was also a very nice day, the temps were in the low 70’s when I walked outside. At 3 pm it was time to board my next train- The California Zephyr which is a double decker train. Here is a photo of the observation car, which was a great place to see the many wheat and corn fields we passed along the way! Did I mention we passed corn fields? All kidding aside, it was a great place to read, listen to your music and meet others. I met so many interesting people on the train. We were also warned when leaving Union Station that we would feel the train begin to sway. I thought they meant it would ONLY sway when leaving. Because the train is a double decker it swayed the entire time. I think I was sea sick (excuse me, I meant I felt motion sickness) for almost an hour until my body acclimated.
We did not stop often and most of our stops with regards to scenery were absent. However, when we had half hour break in Burlington I snapped this photo.
I believe it was 95 degrees outside on this particular day in April. During breaks, it’s easy to meet more people. I met one man and we were talking about trains versus planes. He was a businessman and I asked him why he didn’t fly anymore? He confided in me that he had not flown since 1979. He was waiting to board a DC-10 and took a bump back allowing another passenger to board. That flight crashed on take off and there were no survivors. He told me that fate was on his side that day but he was never able to fly again. He spoke to many of the people prior to that flight taking off and it forever changed his perspective on flying. I met so many people who told me so many interesting stories on the train. If you ever want to write an interesting book, take many trips across the country on Amtrak, your pages will fill up quickly with stories.
One of the Pros of taking Amtrak
The meals were phenomenal! I had a sleeper car from Chicago to Denver and your meals were included- breakfast, lunch and dinner. You had to make reservations and they would seat you with other passengers. Each table sat 4 people. I was a bit uncomfortable with this at first but I realized the others were too, so we ended up chatting a lot and after a few glasses of wine, giggling too.
Pros from my Amtrak Trip:
- Excellent food
- You’re able to roam freely and meet many people
- I had a room (albeit small) to escape to for privacy and sleep on the Zephyr
- We crossed the Mississippi River- that was a cool site to see, considering the majority of the sights are fields, did I mention that already?
- Most of the people are extremely friendly and want to share stories with you, so if you enjoy listening to others- this makes the journey that much more fun
Cons traveling Amtrak Cross Country
- It’s a very bumpy ride and many times the train must change tracks because freight trains take precedence. The freight train tracks are not smooth at all.
- Sleeping car rooms are expensive and very small. It’s hard to fit one suitcase in your room.
- The beds are not comfortable.
- If you do have a sleeping car room you have access to a public shower and restroom within your designated car- When I went in to take a shower at 6 am on my morning of arrival to Denver the shower had at least 20 dirty towels on the floor and water had not drained. There must have been at least a 1/2 of water. Needless to say, I did not shower, I washed up at a sink.
- Carry light baggage. I didn’t realize I would have to tote my heavy bags from the train to the terminal in Chicago, and up 2 very narrow flights of stairs in order to get to my sleeping car. It’s a LONG walk from the train to the entrance of Union Station.
- No wifi! So make sure to load movies to view offline, music and anything else it is you like to do on your phone or PC.
- Can’t make calls from your phone as well.
- The interior, including the seats, are not the cleanest. The porters have very little time to do major cleaning due to the train schedules.
- My most critical complaint- Our rail system is in desperate need of repairs. It was quite obvious with all the changing of tracks and certain noises that the tracks themselves, are very old.
Would I consider taking Amtrak again? Probably not unless I had a lot of time to do so. My trip one way was 31 hours. When you travel for that amount of time a sleeping car room is almost a necessity but they are costly. Plan on paying approximately 400.00 more round trip if you do not ride coach the entire trip.
Once I arrived in Colorado, I was in awe! Estes Park, Co
Photo Images on page: All rights reserved- Lisa Gallagher; Article-Amtrak Image provided by Google Images- Geno Daily