Always being the adventurous (aka foolish) one, I decided to take the train to Richmond last week. The idea being not only was it less expensive than flying, but I could save a day. If I took the overnight train on Wednesday, I would have Thursday with my friends versus spending Thursday fighting the traffic on I-95. And, I had no desire to drive by myself all night Wednesday on I-95.
The reviews on Amtrak have been mixed at best. But, I’m always willing to give something at least one shot. That “willing to give something at least one shot” was seriously questioned when I entered the train station in Charleston. Crossing the threshold put me into the 1960’s and I am not talking about anything nostalgic. It was old (and not in a Charleston way), it was derelict, and depressing. It was hard to tell if some of the people there were waiting for trains that never came or if they simply lived there.
On the wall was an architectural rendering of the “New” structure that (I assumed) was planned to replace the current one. I noticed there were no dates of when the drawing was done, when the construction was to begin, or if this was just a pipe dream. I will say the employees were friendly and most helpful. Of course when I checked my bags I was told that my train was running 20 minutes late - something to do with a switch problem in Florida. Suddenly the words "mixed at best" and "Amtrak" usually being linked together in any given description ran through my mind.
A well to do couple walked in and I thought the lady was not going to make it to the ticket window. I could tell she was reaching into her Gucci bag for her anti-germ wipes. (I expected her to pull a medical mask and can of Lysol out at any minute.) Watching her was at least entertaining. I so wanted to tell her that I doubted anyone here had anything communicable, Ebola was under control and, contrary to the her first impression, she had not been transported to a station in India filled with untouchables. Her husband seemed nonplussed. As he took a seat, she insisted on standing.
Long story short, my 9:17 train arrived at the station around 10:50. Unlike airports, train depots (at least ones in the south) do not have bars offering the comfort of adult beverages, which is unfortunate. We boarded, found our seats, and were off.
The seats on the train are nicer than those I have had on any recent plane trip. They are probably 50% wider. There is enough leg room in front of each seat to put a small carry on on the floor and still have room for your feet and to stand and easily reach the aisle without crawling over your seat mate. The seats recline far back and there is an extension that one can raise from beneath the front of the seat to support your legs - making it fairly comfortable to sleep.
Best part - when the patron in the seat in front of you decides to recline their seat, it is hardly noticeable. Electrical outlets are available at every seat. And, yes, this is coach.
I did notice with each stop as we moved north, the quality and class of the patrons improved. It wasn’t like I had problems with anyone I was traveling with. Everyone was friendly and very polite. By the time we reached Richmond it was day break and there was a lovely sun rise in the east. The station was clean and more of what I imagined a train station to be – unlike the one in Charleston that I found reminiscent to a Grey Hound Station in a back woods town in Alabama. I felt as if I had emerged from the underworld and had crossed the river Styx.
For $77 dollars and 7 seven hours (scheduled), I was quite pleased and will definitely consider this again. Having traveled on trains in Europe, we are far behind the curve, but it was much better than I expected. A positive is that there are no TSA security lines. A negative is that there are no TSA security lines. Your ticket includes 2 checked bags. There is a “Lounge” car you can walk to where you can purchase snacks, sandwiches, drinks, beer, and wine. On the longer rides there is a “Dining Car” where sit down “A la cart” meals are served.
Yes, I will do this again. It sure beats the traffic and stress of I-95. Of course there are more stories to tell.