Mystery Train

I’ve always liked trains. The first one I ever rode was Tweetsie, a steam powered narrow gauge tourist attraction near Blowing Rock, North Carolina. My work on the East Coast gave me the opportunity to ride Amtrak and Metro North lines, and I’ve also ridden trains in Europe. I think that rail travel offers great potential in America to save fuel, reduce traffic, and create a wonderful travel experience.

Tennessee’s main cities are close enough to seriously consider trains. A Nashville/Chattanooga/Atlanta train could attract all kinds of passengers, and going by rail from Nashville to Memphis would transform one of the more boring drives in the state into a pleasant experience. Right now, there’s only one Amtrak train that comes through Tennessee: the City of New Orleans, which goes from Chicago to New Orleans. It stops in Memphis and Newbern, Tennessee.

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It’s one thing to ride a train as a tourist. If you need to count on that mode of transport getting you where you need to go on time, Amtrak–once you get away from the East Coast–is nowhere near being reliable. As a country, we’re going to have to get more serious, and by that I mean spend more money, on train travel to make it really work.

Last weekend, TennesseeWife and I took an Amtrak train from Denver to Glenwood Springs, a roughly 150 mile trip, for a three day excursion. The outbound trip was wonderful: we could see Bald Eagles, Golden Eagles, elk and deer amid stupendous Rocky Mountain scenery as the train rolled along. The legroom, compared to planes, was luxurious, and we could get up and walk around anytime and eat in the dining car.

The trip back was something else. The train was some three hours late. That’s almost a given with Amtrak once you get off the East Coast, so we were willing to cut them some slack. We chugged though the night, sampling a nip or two of Macallan to ward off any chills, and watched the snow fly. Apparently, for very good safety reasons, train crews can spend only so many hours at the throttle. Our crew reached its limit, so the entire train came to a halt in Fraser, Colorado while a new crew was driven from Denver.

We sat there in the falling snow, looking for all the world like the Polar Express. Had it occurred to anyone to have crew waiting there in Fraser? Can you say “Think ahead?”

The crew arrived, the smokers jumped on board, and we got to Denver just after 1:00 AM, thereby missing the last bus to Boulder. TennesseeSon came to get us, and we collapsed into bed sometime beyond 2:00 AM. I felt for the elderly passengers and people with little kids, not to mention the poor souls in Denver who shuffled on the train as it continued toward Chicago.

I can see why the Italians voted for Mussolini.

This blog is part of a much larger website, also entitled Tennessee Guy, that contains travel and cultural information about Tennessee. Visit it here.

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