Please, share your stories of long train journeys...

When I was 18, a buddy and I took a train from Washinton State to Pittsburgh. I believe it was a 3-day trip w/ a train change in Chicago.

Somewhere outside of Grand Forks, ND, in the middle of the night, our train hit a car that was stuck on the tracks (he’d gone off the road to try to go around a roadblock and his car bottomed out on the tracks). The elderly owner of the car was next to his car trying to fix the situation when the train hit the car and then the car hit him - killing him and throwing his body about fifty feet to a nearby embankment.

We were in the tenth or eleventh car and by the time the train stopped, our car was right alongside the accident. It was pitch black outside and we watched as the conductor went outside w/ a flashlight. He searched around a bit before his light fell on the dead man’s face. I’ll never forget that image.

We ended up having to stay at the accident for six hours or so until it became daylight and the scene could be properly investigated. We missed our train in Chicago so Amtrak put us up in a nice downtown hotel and gave us money to spend on food and cabs until we could get the next train the following day.

After the accident, we ended up meeting a lot of really great people on the train. It became a bit of a “community” atmosphere after going through such a crazy event.

As far as the train ride itself, we did not have sleeper cars and wished we did. The seats were really difficult to sleep in. The lounge/observation car was pretty cool. It had great big windows you could sit and look out at the passing scenery.

I’ve done a lot of overnight journeys around Asia. The most memorable was from Bangkok to Chiang Mai, which was a 16-hour journey.

We set off from Hualamphong station on a second-class sleeper, no aircon. Despite the name, it is seriously luxurious, or at least the aircon version would be: each passenger has a wide armchair-like seat, facing their companion. The arrangement was 1 seat, aisle, 1 seat, and it was a wide train too. My girlfriend and I sat opposite each other, lounging around on our comfy seats, watching the scenery, then reading books and playing cards as it got dark, and some friendly old ladies with delicacies on a cart came round: fried noodles and nuts and fruit and coconut drinks.

As night fell, an immaculately-dressed gentleman came by and motioned for us to stand up. He then flipped the seats around and reassembled them as bunk beds. I had the top bunk, and there being no aircon, made do under a light sheet with a small electric fan that buzzed past me every minute or so. I slept fitfully, and as the sun began to rise, the temperature in my bunk became unbearable, so I got up and had a wander.

I found that the door to the outside world at the end of the carriage was jammed completely open - presumably due to the heat - so I went down the steps outside the train until I was on the bottom one, and sat down on it, cross-legged, with the track whizzing below me just inches away.

There I stayed in the warm breeze, watching a huge pink sun come up over the paddies and verdant green jungles of northern Thailand. It was a mesmerising and atmospheric experience that I can recall vividly in great detail, many years later.

Eventually I went back in, and the gent came back and turned our bunks back into seats, taking away our bedding, then the old ladies came back with breakfast - sweet sticky rice and mango - and juice. Then monks came through the carriage and blessed us all. It was a wonderful experience.

Oh my, there’s a service VIA doesn’t offer!

Well, since SWMBO is from N. O., that might be a good deal. But just for grins, I went to Amtrak’s site and looked at a ticket from Houston to Los Angeles, and there isn’t one. They want to bus me up to Longview, TX, then a train to somewhere in Illinois, then another bus ride and eventually a train from KC, MO to Los Angeles.

No, thanks.

Ooops. I was booking on the wrong day. Houston to Los Angeles runs MWF. My bad.

Not exactly a train trip, but I took a decent bus journey back from Oklahoma when the army released me back in 2000. The bus left Ft. Sill at around 10:30 on a Wednesday night. Arrived in OKC at sometime near midnight. As I was standing near a vending machine, a guy in a trenchcoat offered to sell me weed. That’s the only time in my 33 years I have been offered drugs. Needless to say, the offer was turned-down. I had the foresight to have bought me some Nyquil, and after consuming a decent part of the bottle, slept for quite a while after boarding the transfer bus, and didn’t wake up until the next morning somewhere in central Arkansas. The bus continued thru Little Rock, Memphis, dipped into MS, and headed down to Birmingham, where I witnessed a crazy guy walking up and down the sidewalk, talking to himself. After that, it was thru Atlanta, and eventually into Augusta, where I finished my journey at around 3 AM on Saturday morning, for a grand total of around 52 1/2 hours or so. I enjoy seeing the country and meeting people, so it was cool. It would be a good bit better now with wireless internet and MP3’s.

I had to take the train from Halifax to Toronto during the Air Canada strike in 1998 (all Air Canada flights were grounded in late Aug/early Sept that year, but VIA was kind enough to let anyone with a plane ticket trade it in for a train ticket along the same route… since I had to get back to TO in time for my uni classes to start, I took them up on that offer).

The trip is about 26 hours from beginning to end, including a couple of hours in Montreal to swap to a different train. The train basically left Halifax and arrived in Toronto at the same time my flight would have, except for the extra day in between departure and arrival.

Best. Trip. EVER.

Well, except for the part where I got a terrible neck ache from trying to actually sleep in the terrible seats provided. Other than that, I basically spent most of the trip between Hali and Mtl playing cards and singing songs in the smoking car with a bunch of other university kids who were headed back to classes, and a couple of 20-something backpackers who were exploring Canada. From Mtl to Toronto, I sat next to retired schoolteacher who entertained me with all sorts of stories about her early years teaching in a one-room rural school in Northern Ontario. It was certainly quicker to fly between the two cities, but the train turned out to be a hundred times more entertaining.

I also rode the Polar Bear Express up to Moosonee with my folks when I was 12 years old. I remember very little about the trip, except for the barely edible and incredibly salty burger I was served in the dining car.

Spoons, I hope your dad made it out to Union Station during Nuit Blanche this year. They did an installation complete with train sounds and recorded conversations and shifting lights… it would’ve been an awesome experience for an old-schooler like him.

In August of '08 I went on a trip to Spain, taking the train from city to city. The longest ride was from Seville to Barcelona, 11 hours. I didn’t want to waste an entire day just sitting on a train, so I decided to book a room on the overnight train.

I got my own little room, with bathroom and shower, and meals. The room was very contemporary and perfectly designed, with a convenient place for everything. The bathroom was like the ones in airplanes, plus a shower. I had never eaten on a train, and was expecting something like airline food. To my surprise, the dining car was like a little restaurant, with waiters and a chef. The food was amazing, both for dinner and breakfast. And the chef could even fix things that weren’t on the menu.

The trip cost $300, which isn’t bad since it replaced having to stay in a hotel that night. And I was able to arrive in Barcelona at 9 am, rested, fed and showered, adding a day to my stay in that city.

That trip sounds like absolute bliss!

Trains are the best mode of long-distance travel, for sure.

I’ve done Amtrak’s Auto Train from northern VA down to Florida, which was my first train journey, and I hated it, but I think that was because I was 14 years old and on a family vacation and was bound and determined not to like it*. I did realize that it beat the hell out of driving.

I’ve gone from Philly to Cleveland and back a handful of times, a trip my family generally drives every year. The train was great, particularly when I went just with my mom. We’re both the type of people who are quite content to just sit and read or watch the scenery go by, and on one trip we met the most delightfully odd Italian guy. He was seated across the aisle from us, and had a paper grocery sack with him. It was, apparently, full of food, and for the entire ~13 trip, the guy was eating. He seriously had an entire loaf of bread, big hunks of sausage and salami and other portable meats, cheeses, fresh fruit, even a bottle of wine. At one point he offered to share with my mother and I, saying (and I swear this is true) that “fine food is only fine in the company of fine women,” which made my fifty-something mother just about die laughing, and 15-year-old me turned bright red.

Of course, on one of those return trips from Ohio, our train was delayed because of track problems or something, and so instead of getting in around 10 PM or whenever we were supposed to, we got in at 2 AM - and my father, who was supposed to pick us up at the train station, had apparently fallen asleep at home. We had to call him three times to wake him, and then obviously wait for him to get there. Luckily, 30th Street Station is one of those great big stations that dates back to the glory days of rail travel; I still think there’s a certain poetry to those places during their barely-used hours. I haven’t been there in years but last time I did they still had one of those analog signs that goes clackclackclack as it updates, which for some reason I find absolutely delightful.

This past summer, I found a really cheap round-trip train ticket to go from Albuquerque to go visit my sister in LA. It’s about a 16 hour trip. I spent most of it in the lounge car with a bunch of college kids who were headed home for the summer, who’d been on since Chicago (about 24 hours by the time I boarded). Particularly out west, the train goes through pretty much nothing but podunk little towns - it came up that this trip, from Chicago out to LA - used to be glamorous and exciting and high adventure, and towns like Gallup and Winslow used to be the next frontier. Even though I didn’t sleep much, I still felt fairly fresh in the morning when we got to LA, and part of that was the just the ability to go to the restroom, change, wash my face, etc, before even getting there. And oh, the sunset, as you’re rumbling through the Arizona desert, in the observation car…amazing.

One fun thing is that, in every Amtrak trip I’ve taken, I don’t think I’ve ever met a snack car attendant who was under the age of, say, 60. It seemed like they’ve all been working for railroads for easily twice the time I’ve been alive, and if you take the time to chat with them, they seem more than willing to tell some young punk like myself about when rail travel was classy - none of this buying a Cup of Noodles for dinner, but everyone ate in the dining car, with a white tablecloth and polished candlesticks, as the desert rolled by…

Yeah, there’s something fantastic about rail travel. It might not be as glamorous as it once was, but it’s still great.

*In my defense, it wasn’t so much a family vacation as “your sister wants to look at all these schools in the deep south (for unfathomable reasons). You have to come.”

No, sadly; Dad wouldn’t have gone. He’s kind of housebound nowadays, unless somebody takes him someplace. I’ll be in Toronto soon though, and will take him to the station again. We’ll have coffee, and listen to the announcements, and watch the people come and go (well, I will, and I will describe the scene to him), and he’ll be happy just to be there. If I’m lucky, he’ll remind me of some more stories of our train travels that I can post here.

The OP asked for our stories of long train journeys, but I also have a couple of train stories that my Dad related to me from his own childhood. I think one of them might be of historical interest. Would it be OK if I posted it?


Yes, please!

Well, I was working on the one I was thinking of, but it kind of got away from me. This one’s shorter, and should be historically interesting too.

Dad grew up in Belleville, Ontario; and if you’ve ever been there, you know that across the street from the trim limestone train station is a seedy-looking hotel and a slightly-better looking convenience store. Both have been there for years–long enough that my Dad remembers them as a child anyway.

When World War II started in 1939, Canadian troops were mobilized and sent to Europe. From across Canada, they made their way by train to Halifax, Nova Scotia, where they boarded ships for the trip to Britain. A good number of troops went through Belleville on the train. Troop trains usually stopped in Belleville to take on water and coal, and Dad (who was perhaps 10 or 11) and his friends were ready.

They would gather on the platform and greet the soldiers on the train. Train windows could open in those days, and if they weren’t already, the soldiers would open them to hear what the kids were saying. The soldiers couldn’t get off the train, but Dad and his friends weren’t shy about letting the soldiers know that there was a store across the street, and that it had icy cold Cokes for sale, and they would be happy to run across the street if a soldier wanted a cold drink. I don’t know what was made available to the soldiers on the train, but I don’t think it was much, because Dad and his friends did a roaring business with the troop trains.

A Coke cost five cents, and while most soldiers had nickels, it wasn’t unusual for a soldier to have a dime or even a quarter. But the kids were honest and brought back a Coke and the change. Usually, the soldier told the kid to keep the change, which could represent a tidy sum if it came from a quarter. But even the soldier who didn’t tip the full amount of change from a quarter would hand over at least a nickel or two. Depending on the amount of time it took to water and coal the train, a fast-moving kid could make at least three or sometimes more trips across the street to the store.

Dad has no idea how many troop trains he met, or how many runs to the convenience store he made for soldiers. But he does remember never being shy of pocket money as long as the troop trains went through town.

Okay, I’ll keep working on the other story and try not to let it get out of control. :slight_smile:

Do it. Trust me, my dad died summer before last, and I would love the chance to do something that simple again … You never klnow when you will finally lose the chance.

Interesting thread. I spent about 2 months altogether travelling on trains in China in the 1980’s. A lot of 3 day + trips. The first one, I bought a ticket good for use within 5 days between Liuzhou and Xi’an - a trip of about 4 entire days back then. I did about 3 days, jumped off for a break in Chengdu, hooked up with some tibetan truck drivers and set off for Lhasa - but that’s another story with no trains. :slight_smile: Oh ya, the cost for that first ticket was about $5. The food was about as basic as one would expect from communist China in the 1980’s.

I generally travelled “hard sleeper” class. Open cars with cubicles of 3 bunks a side and 6 to a cubicle with no doors. There were fold down seats in the corridor. You would take the upper bunk (the cheapest option), if you wanted to sleep. And there were times when I wanted nothing more than to read and hypnotically sleep for about 16 hours a day. The middle bunk was for sleeping and some socializing with the other passengers. The lower bunk was the “community” bunk. You would wake up at 6:00 and and crowd of locals have tea, cigs and loud gossip while sitting on your bunk.

[old geezer] Way back then, the average Chinese was not allowed to travel, never interacted with foreigners that spoke Chinese, and were never outside of the old communist neighborhood watch system. We would have some rip roaring political discussions, that at the time, would have landed the local Chinese in hot water if not jail. On more than one occaision, the train workers would douse the lights to silence the forbidden political discussions we would be having. [/old geezer]

Shit, nowadays, China is building a whole network of ultra fast trains that cut down some of these travel times to hours. Heck, Shanghai has a maglev that is the fastest 8 minutes to nowhere you’ve ever been on.

The Chengdu to Kunming train went through a sheer metric buttload of tunnels. It’s a really mountainous area. Trains would stop at a few areas with non-Han Chinese minority groups. The local minorities would be wearing their traditional homespun clothes. I really really really wanted to just hop off the train and hang for a few days but it was totally forbidden back then. Hell, I would still like to do that today.

I still occaisionally take the overnight train from Shanghai to Beijing.

I’ll have to think for a killer story to share.

Yes, it’s one of my best memories of Spain.

I have a couple of stories here.

Juarez to Mexico City back in my younger days. Bought a ticket for the sit-up seats. I believe that was close to 32 hours. The Federales came through during the night asking people what they had in their bags up on the racks. One started feeling around my bag, and someone said it belonged to the gringo, and the cop stopped. He did ask me for dinero. I pretended not to understand Spanish, and he went on his way. There was another American on the train who had spent a lot of time in Mexico. He had a private compartment, but we would talk on the platform during the many stops, and he expressed surprised I was asked for money. Said they usually left foreigners alone.

Took the train back to Juarez, too. My final destination on that trip was Nicaragua, and I flew there from Mexico City. Then later flew back to Mexico City. Met another American on the train back to Juarez who had also been to Nicaragua. This was in the early Sandinista days, and he and his father had driven a bus, a literal bus, full of supplies all the way from California to Nicaragua. He had some interesting stories about passing through Guatemala at that time. But he and his father had had a falling out, and he was returning to the US alone. The train ride was on New Year’s Eve, so we had a little party. At one stop, already well lit, he asked the conductor where a good place was to buy some booze. So he went off to buy it, and when he returned, he was so drunk he imagined the train was starting off – which it wasn’t, it wa sstanding stock still. He panicked and started running for it, tripped anf fell and twisted his ankle. The next morning, New Year’s Day, he woke up wondering what the hell happened to his ankle.

Otherwise, not many long train trips, and they’ve all been uneventful. Overnighters from Beijing to Shanghai, Bangkok to Malaysia, Bangkok to northern Thailand. One overnighter from Bern to Brussels that was full, and I had to sleep in the hallway. (I had a train pass that guaranteed me passage, but tough luck if it was full.) An all-day trip from Zurich to Vienna that was stunningly gorgeous; that one passed through the breadth of Liechtenstein.

And I took the train from Vienna up into Czechoslovakia, as it was still known then, with Brno my destination. I recall the border crossing took forever. First we stopped on the Austrian side, and the officials did a quick check and passed us through. Then on the Communist side, the officials made an extremely thorough check. Inspected behind all of the seats inside the train. nspecting the underside of each carriage. Walking along the top inspecting up there. We passengers were standing around inside the hallways looking out of the train. A young girl was standing near me, leaning out the window. An armed Czech soldier outside suddenly, I have no idea from where, suddenly produced a flower and presented it to her with a flourish, and we all clapped.

While hitching around in Europe, I met a fellow traveller. He had a train pass and no budget for hotels or hostels. So he used the trains as his hotel. He’d spend a day or two in northern Europe, staying up through the night into the next day, then hop a train for southern Europe, repeatedly criss-crossing the continent in this manner.

Back in 1997, I drove up to Niagara Falls, Ontario from New Orleans with a friend who was moving up there. I had gone with the promise that he’d either put me on a plane or train to get me back home in a few days.

On August 31, 1997 (more on that date later), I got on an Amtrak train in Buffalo, NY with $50.00, a change of clothes in a backpack, and a pack of Player’s cigarettes I’d bought in Canada.

I didn’t quite understand the amount of time it would take to get back to New Orleans by train, especially with a 10 hour layover in Chicago.

The trip from New York to Chicago went pretty quick, or maybe I slept most of the way. I think the train left Buffalo around midnight to arrive in Chicago in the morning.

When I got to Chicago, I bought a crossword puzzle book and a pizza, which used up half of the $50 I had. I spent the next 9 hours doing puzzles, walking around the train station, and I even ventured out into the streets of Chicago around the train station.

By the time 8:00 pm rolled around and it was time to get onto the next train, I was completely out of money. That’s about when I found out that the train was delayed. That’s also about the time that I noticed everyone huddled around the TV monitors watching CNN and found out the Princess Diana had been killed (which is why I can easily look up the date that all of this occurred on).

At this point, I started looking at timetables and thinking about where my next meal was going to come from. It was going to be at least 19 hours before I would get home. I didn’t know when the train was going to leave and the only credit card I had was a Shell gas card. I considered leaving the station to try to find a Shell station to stock up on junk food, but since nobody could tell me when the train was going to leave, I didn’t want to get stuck in Chicago for another night.

The train finally came into the station and headed to New Orleans around 1 am. This was going to put me at over 24 hours with nothing to eat.

I was talking to a teenager at some point at the beginning of the trip and mentioned that I had been to Canada. I remembered that I had a couple of Canadian bills folded up in my wallet and showed them to him. He had never seen foreign currency before, so I told him that I was broke and offered to sell him the Canadian $5 for $3.00 American (not a real good deal back then). He gave me the $3.00 which got me a burger and a coke. About 12 hours later, I was searching for change in the (empty) observation car under the seats and in the cushions. I managed to scrape up a couple of dollars to get a pack of cookies and a cup of coffee. That held me over for the rest of the trip.

There was this really strange guy on the train who worked for Amtrak and was taking a vacation. I guess he got to travel for free on the train. He walked up and down the train the whole trip, so I kept seeing him and got into a few lengthy conversations with him. He was disgusted with the filthiness of the train and kept expressing his embarrassment at how poorly the crew was maintaining things. He spent several hours with a roll of paper towels that he was wetting in a sink, scrubbing down various surfaces in the observation car.

The smoking car was either above or below the dining car (double-decker). It was a plain stainless-steel room with rows of plastic seating bolted to the floor and a bunch of large ashtrays. There were two older women sitting in there, each with a carton of Dorals and apparently no lighter, since they were literally chain smoking the whole time. They talked and talked like they’d been best friends all their lives. During the 19 hour trip, I don’t think they ever left the smoking car. Every time I went down there, they were in the same seats, same positions, chain smoking and talking. I happened to be down there when the train stopped in Brookhaven, Mississippi and one of the ladies got off. They said their goodbyes and that it was nice meeting each other.