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The Train Life


SOMEWHERE IN MONTANA – Everything is more interesting on a train: sleeping, showering, eating, and even just getting from one place to another all feel different as you move down the railroad.

Some people traveling on AMTRAK spend their entire trip in the Coach cabins, which are large, spacious and well lit, with wide, plush seats and abundant legroom. It takes nearly 48 hours to make the journey all the way from Chicago to Portland; from Minneapolis, where I joined the Empire Builder; it’s about 24 hours to Whitefish, where I’ll get off tonight.

The folks at AMTRAK were kind enough to book me into one of the sleeper cars, where I can stretch out, take a shower, and enjoy free meal service in the adjacent diner car. I’m in what the company calls a “Roomette” – a cabin about six-and-a-half feet long and three-and-a-half feet wide. During the daytime, these small cabins are surprisingly roomy, with two large facing seats and a work table in between. At night, the two seats fold down to form a bed, and a second one can be lowered from the ceiling.

Sleeping on a moving train, just like taking a shower or getting dressed on the train, takes some getting used to. As it rolls down the tracks, the train sways gently back and forth, hitting some small bumpy patches along the way. At first, these unexpected movements can make simple tasks difficult; once you get used to it though, sleeping, eating, showering and other activities start to come more naturally.

The most surprising element so far has been the food. Unlike airline food, which is seldom fit to eat, the meals served aboard AMTRAK are hot, delicious and generously portioned. In the dining car, we eat at proper booths and tables, and order drinks, entrees and desserts off an a la carte menu. Today for lunch I chose Chile Verde, a spicy roasted pork dish served with green salsa over a bed of rice. A nicely chilled chocolate-raspberry tort finished the meal off right.

Airlines, take note: when it comes to food service, AMTRAK has you beat, hands down.

Brian Jewell

Brian Jewell is the executive editor of The Group Travel Leader. In more than a decade of travel journalism he has visited 48 states and 25 foreign countries.