This week, the Modern Explorer traveled up to Norman, Oklahoma from Austin, Texas on the Amtrak train. The total Austin to Norman journey took 9 hours (plus a 2 hour layover in Fort Worth).
In Europe, passenger trains are used heavily, and money is spent to make them attractive and comfortable. In the U.S., the passenger trains are allocated just enough money to keep them from derailing too often.
In the U.S., the rails are actually owned by freight railroad companies like Union Pacific and Burlington Northern Santa Fe, and Amtrak's passenger service is just a customer seeking to use the finite and limited space on the rails. Amtrak publishes schedule and intercity timetables, but actual travel times are at the mercy of the dispatchers and freight traffic of the railroads.
When you ride on the Amtrak, you can make your trip smoother by keeping a few principles and best practices in mind:
- For one thing, it’s great if you can just remind the other passengers about where your body begins and point out other boundaries when they touch, push, or lean on them too hard.
- Keep in mind that the smells around another passenger, however, cannot be addressed in conversation because, by the rules of ettiquette of interstate travel, smell is not real.
- And if you do really smell something that you don’t like, how can you say it’s bad, when we know there is so much variation in individual tastes. Yes, something might be fermenting in someone else’s jacket, but then cheese and beer are also fermented items that many people love.
- If you get hungry, down in the cafe car or snack bar, there are three battered microwaves ready to melt the cheese on your choice of either pizza, cheese quesadillas, mexican pizza, or pizza tacos.
- (If the Amtrak employee on duty in the snack bar car is crying, just politely pretend not to notice and enjoy the scenery out the window until he or she sniffles and says “what do YOU want?”)
If you wondered where all the rusted tractors, broken above ground pools, and depressed Shetland ponies have gone, you will find them out the windows of the Amtrak Texas Eagle. You mind find yourself whistling the tune from the classic holiday song “Rusting in a Western Wonderland.”
To get a sense for the speed of Amtrak travel, the Modern Explorer used a Garmin watch as we chugged along, and it looks like we traveled at an average speed of about 40 miles an hour, with max speeds of almost 80 miles per hour mixed with occasional periods stopped and waiting for southbound traffic to clear the rails.