Great travel isn’t always about the destination.

Often, the very trip itself is the most memorable experience.

This was certainly the case with our recent decision to cross the United States from west to east entirely by rail.

The adventure will be discussed in later posts, but for now, I want to pay tribute to the American long distance train provider, AMTRAK.

Having ridden trains in many parts of the world, I can say without hesitation that AMTRAK services are among the best I’ve encountered.

Albany bridgeFrom the moment we logged onto the web to plan our trip to the day we embarked from our final train in New York City, AMTRAK was highly professional and efficient; always helpful; and more than willing to go the extra mile to make each journey enjoyable.

Trains were modern and comfortable; timetables were reliable; the food and facilities onboard were first class; and the staff were unfailingly helpful.

But, it was a series of novel AMTRAK touches that really opened our eyes and prompted this recommendation.DSCN0170

On our first leg – from the San Francisco Bay to Chicago – we wisely opted for the California Zephyr service, a scenic train that came strongly recommended.

The scenery through State after State was jaw-dropping, but AMTRAK added a special element by helping explain the significance of the railway heritage around us.

DSCN0172Volunteer rangers from the National Park service joined us in the scenic car between Grand Junction and Denver and spoke about the history of the Rocky Mountains rail crossings and other historical, modern, geographical and environmental highlights.

Known as the ’Trails and Rails Program’, this innovative feature added immensly to our understanding of the area’s rail heritage cultural development and general transport history.

The speakers were informative, fascinating and a highlight of the trip. Full marks to AMTRAK and the National Park Service for providing such a great value-added service.DSCN0397

At Chicago, we switched to another scenic train, the Lake Shore Limited, which traces more strikingly beautiful countryside. While awaiting our departure, we were able to take advantage of AMTRAK’s excellent Chicago guest lounge for passengers who had booked a sleeper compartment.

The lounge was particularly appreciated, as our train did not leave until evening and a comfortable seat, free coffee and wifi was an unexpected boon to weary sightseers.

DSCN0399Once onboard the Lake Shore Limited, we were invited to the lounge for wine, cheese and biscuits while meeting other passengers – another nice touch.

After a few wines, we had a comfortable night’s sleep, followed by a rousing breakfast and alighted at Buffalo-Depew to await the Maple Leaf service to Niagara Falls.

After a short interval, we completed our cross-country rail odyssey by catching the Empire Service train to New York City.

It had been our first taste of long distance train travel in the US and, therefore, our initial experience with AMTRAK. As seasoned travellers, it’s fair to say that we cast more than the usual enquiring eye over service providers.

And, based on this initial experience (and I hope there are more – I would dearly love to travel by rail to New Orleans etc) we have no hesitation in recommending AMTRAK.

This time, the journey was certainly as memorable – if not more- than the destination.


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