Scott here and greetings from the Amtrak Auto Train, overnight bound from Sanford, FL to Lorton, VA and the DC suburbs…

A post from a train? Why not? Wi Fi works well here, so far. My family had planned a Christmas vacation together for sometime now. Yeah, went into debt a little on this one but everyone had a good time – minus the rented minivan that wasn’t because the rental place ran out of rental vans. And somehow catching Covid midway through the trip so I spent the last two days barricaded in a bedroom. Hope Disney enjoyed the $$$ I wasn’t able to actually use.

Airports may have seen record business over the holiday break, people flying everywhere. Our extended party came from three different directions, two of those groups flying. My third group opted for the Auto Train – a non stop trek from VA to FL (and then back) where the only way you make the train is to bring along a vehicle. But no rental needed. 

I love trains, have since I was a kid. I used to wear this engineer’s hat from the Strasburg Rail Road in Lancaster County, wore that everywhere as a youngster. My parents probably thought I’d lose all my hair because of always wearing that hat. My hearing is bad but my hair is fine, loved that engineer’s cap.

Kudos to the Amtrak Auto Train folks. Amtrak sometimes gets a bad rap and in some cases it may be deserved. Some of their trains are rather run down but some train cars are being replaced. The food in the lounge car – yeah, ridiculously expensive, but have you been to an airport lately? You want HOW MUCH for that compressed sandwich on a plane? Or a simple little bag of snacks? 

Long distance trains all have dining cars where they serve meals that actually aren’t bad. And if you get a sleeper room (instead of regular coach) your dinner is included. You pay for it, oh yeah, but for someone now getting over Covid it’s great to have a tiny room all to myself without wearing a mask in coach for the next 17 hours. I HATE masks.

One advantage of trains over planes – watching the world flow by outside the window. From 30,000 feet everything is miniscule. Here I can see the countryside of Florida, then Georgia, then South and North Carolina and finally Virginia tomorrow morning. And I’m not the guy driving. 

Sometime soon the train line that goes across Pennsylvania will be doubled. Called The Pennsylvanian, this train runs from Philly to Pittsburgh through Harrisburg but also nearby via Lewistown and Tyrone. Right now it’s just one train one way, meaning you have only one shot to catch the train each day. In the near future that will become two trains each way each day, more options. 

Don’t want to drive to the City of Brotherly Love (oh brother) for a sports game or to visit? Take the train – the fare is inexpensive and gets you there rather quickly. Same to Pittsburgh. Two train options each day? Sounds great and way less costly than those hops from State College Airport. Patience is a virtue. 

High speed trains? Well….they sound good for dedicated lines (San Francisco to Los Angeles, for example) but the production cost is BOOM. All new special rail lines needed. They’re working in Japan and Europe where there’s an established audience for train trips, not so much here or at least not yet. 

The most famous American train rider is probably President Joe Biden, who has taken Amtrak between his home in Delaware to DC for decades. Interesting how this guy just never wants to stay in the nation’s capital. In three years as President he has gone home to Delaware a LOT – a New York Post story claims that for calendar year 2023 he spent 37% of his time actually in Delaware. On YOUR dime in this case. 

Before you start howling – President Donald Trump spent far too much time (and using our money) flying Air Force One to his Mar-a-Lago estate in south Florida during his tenure. Must be nice to be able to do whatever you want and never have to pay for it. It’s no wonder the country now has an overwhelming $34 trillion Federal debt. A President willing to stay in the White House (which is LOADED with amenities you paid for) or only occasionally taking the short helicopter ride to the Camp David retreat in northern MD would be a refreshing change.

It’s a new year and one that will be tumultuous. Perhaps 2024 is a year to try new things like…new presidential candidates? And new ways to get to destinations, like trains. Just a thought as we all prepare for the figurative armageddon to come. Let’s not make that literal.

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