Planes, Trains, and Automobiles

Her first train ride

Some years ago, when my oldest granddaughter was about six, I had the pleasure of taking her on her first train ride.  It lasted a little over an hour, traveling from Fairfield, Connecticut, into Grand Central Station in Manhattan.  As I watched my granddaughter glued to the window watching the scenery flash by, I thought of the countless train trips I had taken through the years, beginning when I was very small and my mother, brother, and I took the train from New York to Ohio to visit my grandparents.  When I was working as an editor for a small publishing house in Westport, Connecticut, I would take the train into New York to oversee the printing at the publishing house on Varick Street.  I visited my brother in California one year and took our three young children on a train ride along the coast from San Diego to Los Angeles to see my uncle.  The scenery was spectacular!

I love those memories of train travel, but they don’t match the reality of today.  A friend from church was telling me about someone she knew who took the train from Newport News to Washington D.C. recently, a trip that should have taken just four hours but ended up taking nine as the train sat on the tracks in the middle of nowhere for awhile when something went amiss.  A couple of years ago, our sons decided to take a train trip from D.C. to Newport News to spend Christmas with us.  We were expecting them to get in about 2:30 in the afternoon.  They arrived at midnight.  No, train travel is not what it used to be.  What a pity.

In a country this large, in a society where families are scattered all over, we need to do a better job of helping people stay connected.  Years ago, starting when I was a young teenager, my parents would put me on a plane in New York, usually the now defunct Eastern Airlines, and I would fly to Ohio to visit my mother’s parents and my cousins.

A DC3, one of the first commercial airliners. Taken at the Ford Museum in Michigan a few weeks ago.

I would get dressed up for the flight, and everyone else who flew dressed in their Sunday best, too.  The flight attendants were always pleasant and served us hot meals shortly after we reached cruising altitude.  Planes were seldom delayed.  It was a pleasant experience, not like today’s air travel.  Last week on the CBS nightly news I heard Scott Pelley say that when taken as a whole over all the years of commercial air travel since the 1950’s, the airlines have never made a profit.  Stunning!

I wish it were easier to travel long distances.  I would gladly take the train from here to Boston or here to Detroit so I could see my kids more often, but I actually want to know I can get there in less than a day and not be left sitting on the tracks for hours.  I’ve heard that train travel is well accomplished in Europe.  I know the countries are smaller, so the distances are not so grand as here, but surely we can do a better job than we are doing now.

We drive up and back to Connecticut and Boston fairly often, a ride of nine and twelve hours respectively.  I enjoy the ride because I’m not the one driving, and now that my husband has bought me an ipad with 3G, the drive will be even more pleasurable.  But I wish it were possible for my husband to be as relaxed on the trip as I am as he sits in comfort on a fast train, watching the scenery rushing by.

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About Coming East

I am a writer, wife, mother, and grandmother who thinks you're never too old until you're dead. My inspiration is Grandma Moses who became a successful artist in her late 70's. If I don't do something pretty soon, though, I'll have to find someone older for inspiration.
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26 Responses to Planes, Trains, and Automobiles

  1. My kids and I love train travel to the North in China. It’s a great way to travel. I have never traveled by train in the U.S., but I had the opportunity to do so in Europe. Loved it, too.
    My negative experience with train travel in China is smoking. Even with a non-smoking train, there is always someone who thinks rules are for someone else.With my super sensitive nose, I can always detect smoke in the bathroom or between compartments. Not a fan of smoking and never will be. Apart from that, things are not too bad.
    I don’t think I will complain about the U.S. rail system. Anything is better than smoking.

    • Coming East says:

      I can’t stand cigarette smoke either, S of S, but I think the ban on smoking in certain places is more strictly enforced here. It would be nice if train travel were more reliable, though.

  2. Robin says:

    I love traveling by train, and still do it occasionally. I haven’t yet been stranded on the tracks for far too many hours, but the trains rarely arrive on time. I wish we had a better rail system, too.

  3. Leah says:

    Great post! When I was young, my family and I traveled from Washington D.C. to Grand Central by train. I remember pulling into that station. Everyone should have the Grand Central experience at least once.

    • Coming East says:

      I agree, Leah! A couple of days after Christmas, we’re going to take the train into Grand Central from Fairfield, Connecticut, with my best friend and her husband to see the Christmas decorations. I still love pulling into that station.

  4. I am a huge fan of trains — have taken one across the US. So much fun, great way to travel!! Great post!

  5. Dor says:

    I do so agree with you about the negatives in our rail systems. There may be a few that are dependable though. A friend of mine takes the train from Charlottesville, VA to New York and she loves every minute of it. I too used to ride the rails when I was a young girl and loved it then. And flying was such a wonderful luxury. No more. A Wonderful post Susan. Thanks so much for sharing.

  6. I can’t count the times I have investigated taking the train and then finally nixed the decision because of time or the station locations just are not that convenient + the cost is the same or greater than flying. Too bad. I wish I had taken the “trenecito” back when things were safer in Mexico. And, I have dreamed of taking the Orient Express…wouldn’t that be a ride?

    • Coming East says:

      I don’t think I’d be brave enough to take the Orient Express, Georgette, but I’d like to take the train that goes from someplace in Canada to Alaska. I bet the scenery would be gorgeous.

  7. I enjoyed this post! My father-in-law worked on the railroad all of his working life and my husband who regularly rode the rail here and there loves trains. But I agree, train and airline travel are definitely not like they used to be. I don’t mind going by car, but it is tiring for the one doing the driving (hubby and I usually share this chore). I used to love flying but after a few bad experiences with that, I hesitate to fly any more. I’d travel by train if it was more reliable; I find it relaxing.

  8. Amy says:

    The convenience of taking train from town to town is the reason we fly to Europe for summer vacation. You can purchase Euro train tickets online. Enjoyed reading your traveling-by-train stories.

  9. E.C. says:

    Trains still run in our area, but it’s for commercial or industrial use. I think folks would travel and visit more often if passenger trains still ran all over the country and were as efficient & dependable as in their hay-day.
    You have some wonderful memories of travel. Thanks for taking us along for a pleasant journey through the past. 🙂

  10. Margie says:

    We lived in England for two years, and while there were trains that would take you just about anywhere, it wasn’t all that easy all the time! For many people the train was the only option for getting about, so people were much more tolerant of erratic service than we are in North America (which has an ‘instant go’ car culture!)

    • Coming East says:

      I don’t like to drive, Margie, so I would love to have the option to take the train when my husband can’t drive me to see the kids. In the spring I’m flying to Detroit to visit my daughter and she and my granddaughters are taking the train to Chicago for a girl’s weekend. Should be a lot of fun.

  11. pattisj says:

    One would think we could do a better job of it. I love traveling by train, but as you noted, it’s not very reliable in the time it takes.

  12. Trains are really expensive where we are. As you say, if only it was easier to travel these long distances to see family! 😦

    • Coming East says:

      Yes, long distance train travel is not cheap, but I would still consider taking the train from Virginia to New York or Boston if I knew I could count on it. I absolutely detest flying, but I do it because we don’t have enough time to spend driving to some places. Of course, if my kids lived closer to me or I to them, it would make it a whole lot easier. 😉

  13. Shary Hover says:

    When I lived in France, I took the train everywhere and it was so easy. Here, it’s just never convenient, so I usually end up driving instead. I wish we had a better system.

    • Coming East says:

      You would think, Shary, that in a country like this, we could do a better job with our train system. I’ve never traveled in Europe, but I’ve heard everybody uses the trains.

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