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Travelogue of
Van den Bossche Peter

Date: Fri, 8 Nov 1996 18:50:19 +0100
From: (Van den Bossche Peter)
Subject: helo

I am pleased to join this list. Please allow me this message to present myself and my previous involvements with American railroading. I am an electrical engineer from Belgium and have always been a keen railroad fan. Trains have been my favourite means of travel, and for that reason I have used them on most of my trips to America too! I have the chance to be able to combine business trips with some fun travel too, so I take the opportunity to go a bit round the country!

My first visit to the USA dates back to February 1994. I had to attend a business meeting in Orlando, Florida. The meeting was scheduled in a hotel inside the airport for ease of travel. But I chose to travel in style: fly from Brussels to New York, and the next morning board the "Silver Star" to Orlando. The heritage roomette was quite different from an European sleeping car. The fact that you sleep with your feet in the direction of travel was a nice surprise; you actually sleep better on a train this way. The train was delayed for 2 hours due to a snow storm in New Jersey, but otherwise this first Amtrak ride was a nice experience. After the meeting, I took the "Sunset Limited" to New Orleans. The Superliner coach seat was more ample than most business class airline seats! There was a good atmosphere on the train, most people (including myself) actually travelling to the Big Easy to attend the Mardi Gras! A few more serious-looking transcontinental travellers completed the patronage on this well-loaded train. The Mardi gras atmosphere still reigned on the "City of New Orleans" to Chicago. The older consist still offered confortable coach accomodation; the dome cars were particularly impressive. From Chicago I took the "Capitol Limited" to Washington DC. At that time, it was still operated with Heritage equipment; I lived once again in a roomette. Finally, a Northeast Corridor train took me back to New York.

These experiences with American trains being very positive, I chose the same way of transport for a conference in Anaheim, California, in december 1994. Fly once again to New York, there the (still with thru sleepers) "Broadway Limited" (roomette) to Chicago, further the "Desert Wind" (economy bedroom) to Los Angeles and finally a "San Diegan" to Anaheim. I used, of course, a USA railpass which proves good value for aliens to use Amtrak. Sleeping car supplements are extra, but in appraising their value one should take into account that all meals are included! Then they become cheap compared to Europe. For example, the supplement (on top of a first-class ticket) for a single sleeping room on a premier overnight service in Europe (such as Brussels-Vienna, a distance of about 800 miles) amounts to nearly $200; you get as meals only a small tray breakfast with it!. If you share the room with two, supplement (per person) is about halved, the same room can also be used by three passengers holding second-class tickets and paying a supplement of about $70. If you are travelling alone and opt for a shared room, you may be put in with a stranger, which is also not the case in US. After the conference, I used an extra day in Anaheim to travel to San Diego and back, and then further north to San Francisco using the "Coast Starlight". I spend a few days there, and went on north to Seattle using the same train (perhaps even the same consist!). From Seattle, back east on the "Empire Builder". This was a real fun train, loaded with young Seattleites going to ski in Montana. The buffet car was the heart of the action. When the train reached Spokane, all beer had gone, and on the short stretch thru Idaho all hard liquor went the same way! Most of those people got off at Whitefish, but I stayed on the train until Essex, Montana, where I spend a magnificent two days in the famous Izaak Walton Inn. I found out that morning that long walks out in the cold with snowshoes were a good way to get rid of my hangover! After two days at Essex I was ready to catch the morning "Empire Builder" to Chicago. The train arrived five hours late however. This gave me the opportunity to enjoy a hearthy and healthy breakfast at the Inn, but made me afraid of getting my connection at Chicago, where I had two hours or so to change on the "Lake Shore Limited". The train managed however to gradually regain its schedule and arrived in Chicago only half an hour late! I did the stretch Essex-Chicago in an economy bedroom; for some reason the supplement I had to pay for this was higher than for the stretch Chicago-Los Angeles, even if the latter includes two nights on the train. For my last leg from Chicago to New York I took the slumbercoach experience. These coaches are very efficiently laid out as to utilisation of space, but may be less advised for claustrophobics! I had a nice sleep on it anyhow.

The following two trips I made to US (in August and October 1995) were done by car. I like to drive in the US too (in rural areas, on small roads, not in the big cities and their traffic jams of course), and I noticed the ubiquity of (freight) railroads: nearly every small town has its railroad connection, which seems, looking to the "shine" on the rails, reasonably used. A pity many of this places cannot be reached by train, except perhaps by an experienced 'hobo'...

My next trip to North America will be early 1997 (Jan-Feb). I will combine a business meeting in the San Francisco area with meeting friends in Montreal, Canada, all by train... My plan will clock me up another 9500 miles. This is my (provisional) schedule:

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