If you’re traveling this week to see loved ones for the holidays, are you going by plane, train, bus, or automobile? (Or bicycle or boat?) If I had my druthers, I’d always choose a train. (Unless I were going somewhere far, and in that case I would choose that beam-me-up-Scotty machine from Star Trek that I’m still waiting for someone to invent so I don’t have to fly.)
I’m such a big fan of trains that one of my fantasy jobs is taking over Amtrak and whipping it into shape so this country can have a proper train service. There’s something about traveling by locomotive that can’t be beat… I’ve had some of my best creative ideas while riding trains, and I’ve met the most interesting people. Once I went all the way to New Orleans from Washington, D.C., and paid for sleeping accommodations. I thought it was the coolest: There were linens in the dining car, polite service, and chocolates on my pillow. I had lunch with an aspiring musician and dinner with an astute Louisiana businessman. I shared tea with a novelist and sipped evening cocktails with a motley crew who otherwise would have never cross each other’s paths, save for their common interest in traveling long-distance by rail. For some reason, trains allow for conversations that you can’t really have on other forms of transportation, at least in my experience.
Given all this, it looks like I should consider moving to Britain: A recent piece in The Economist reports that Britain has 108 steam railways — who knew? — and they’re extremely popular:
In 2011 they carried 7.1m passengers—25% more than four years earlier. Passenger trips on boring ordinary railways went up by 20% in the same period. Some heritage railways are little more than a few men in overalls tinkering with locomotives. But most are semi-professional, backed by trusts and staffed by volunteers. Some 18,500 people volunteer on steam railways, and the number is rising.
Interesting, huh? Frankly, I’ll take any kind of train — steam engine, high-speed…whatever is well-run, clean, and gets me where I want to go. To be able to relax, talk, write, pray, think, eat, drink, and stretch out on an actual bed while never having to leave the precious ground is pretty darn fantastic, if you ask me.
What about you: Do you like trains? Have you ever had an interesting experience traveling by rail? No matter how you’re traveling this week, be safe — and enjoy your holiday time!
Image: Steam engine near the eastern German city of Wernigerode, Matthias Bein / AFP – Getty Images