Train Travel

When we were growing up in Connecticut, my brother and sister and I distinguished our grandmothers from each other by referring to one by “Grandma in Ohio,” and the other one as “Grandma on the train.” When my grandfather was alive, he and my grandmother would drive from Manhattan to the country, as they referred to Connecticut, every other weekend.  My grandfather kept his treasured 1949 maroon-colored Chrysler New Yorker, with it’s plush velour seats, in a garage in the city all week and took it out for weekend excursions.  It was his pride and joy.

But when Grandpa died, my grandmother, who had never learned to drive, took the hour and a half train ride to visit us.  We would go to our little station in Fairfield, stand out on the platform,  and watch the New Haven Railroad commuter train roll in on a Saturday morning.

After college, when I was an editor for a small publishing house in Westport, Connecticut, I would take the train into New York to oversee projects at the printing company on Varick Street.  I looked forward to the ride into the city, just a little over an hour, the clickety-clack of the wheels along the track, the rocking and jiggling of the cars, the pop of the hole-punch as the conductor punched the tickets, the hiss of the breaks as we pulled into Grand Central.  Some years ago I had the pleasure of taking my granddaughters on their first train ride as we all met in Connecticut and took that same ride into Manhattan, now on the Metro-North.  I loved watching my oldest granddaughter sit on the edge of her seat, nose pressed against the window, watching the world go by.

First Train Ride

The reason I’m writing this today is because I just read in our newspaper this morning that tickets for seats on the first Amtrak trains out of Norfolk go on sale today.  The trains don’t start rolling until December, but advance tickets are already available.  Service from Norfolk to Washington, Philadelphia, New York, and Boston will soon be a reality.

I’m going to wait and see how reliable the train travel is before I hop on a train myself.  My sons took the train from D.C. to Newport News a few years ago to visit us one Christmas, and what should have been a four-hour train trip took nine hours because of numerous problems.  Not very reassuring.  Wish we had good train service like they do in Europe.  But the thought of once again hopping onto a train, listening to the clickety-clack of the wheels along the track, being lulled by the side-to-side rocking of the cars, watching the world go by, seems like a ride I’d like to take again.  Do conductors still punch tickets, or do they now scan them with some high-tech modern device?  Hope they still carry their hole punch.

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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50 Responses to Train Travel

  1. I think I’m about ready for a train between Houston and Dallas. But Texans just love their cars.
    I’m not sure there’s a market. The way you describe it, that it was such a part of your memory growing up. Wish we had one.

    • Coming East says:

      The problem with Texas, Georgette, is that it is so big, and you need your car wherever you go. You don’t need a car in NYC or Boston, so trains that go there are very practical. There’s no place to park anyway.

  2. oldereyes says:

    When I turned eighteen, we used to take the New Haven Railroad from New Haven into Grand Central Station because the drinking age was 18 in NY. Then we’d ride the last train home with all the rest of the partiers. It was like a Fellini movie but there was never any trouble, in spite of all the drinking. Maybe it was the times.

    • Coming East says:

      Good for you, and smart, too, Bud, for taking the train and not driving. I went to high school in Fairfield when the New York drinking age was still 18, and many if the seniors drove over the state line to drink. New York changed their drinking age shortly after that. Good to hear from you, Bud. Thanks for stopping by.

  3. Robin says:

    I love train travel too, and wish I could travel that way more often. There was a time, before the current Republican governor came to office and killed the plan, that Ohio talked of having a light rail service from Cleveland to Cincinnati which would have allowed me to be “Grandma from the train” and visit my granddaughters without having to drive (something I do when I must, but I have driving phobia so it’s not a fun time for me). I, too, wish our train system was more like that of Europe, but it seems our country prefers to keep supporting the car and highway system.

    I love that image of your granddaughter at the train window, and your reminiscences to go with it. 🙂

    • Coming East says:

      Too bad that Cleveland to Cincinnati train never materialized, Robin. I’m like you in that I do not like to drive on the highway or long distances by myself. I do wish train travel were more popular. Trouble is that so many times you need your car when you arrive at your destination.

  4. pattisj says:

    I’ve always thought a train ride through New England in the fall would be delightful. We took the train from Richmond to Orlando with the grandkids once. That was a long haul, plus we chose the overnight trip so the little ones would sleep through a good part of it. We made the mistake of traveling coach. It was cold outside, and at every stop all the doors flew open, the cold wind gushed in along with the travelers. The adults didn’t get much sleep!

    • Coming East says:

      You were very brave, Patti, to take that long train trip to Orlando with grandkids. The train trip through New England in the fall sounds lovely, but we always drive up because we need our car around Boston with the boys. Hope the fall foliage is better than last year up there. We actually had much prettier leaves here in Viriginia than they did up there. Very unusual.

  5. Al says:

    Great slice of Americana here, Susan. When I was a young boy and we lived in upstate New York, my grandparents would come to visit us from their home in North Haven. Of course it was on the New Haven line. Still hold delicious memories of meeting them at the Lackawanna station in Elmira.

  6. There’s something magical about train journeys, especially when steam is involved. I know some young friends who have a ‘nanny choochoo train’ and a ‘nanny up the road’. 🙂

  7. My children and I travel on the train to north China from Shanghai to see my parents. It is an 18 hour train ride. Yes, eighteen hours long! Being “first class” passengers, we usually have two bunk beds to sleep in, my son on the top, me and daughter on the bottom. They are easily entertained with their games and electronic gadgets and sleep at night better than in their own beds!
    Loved the picture of your granddaughter – my kids are just like that!

  8. gaycarboys says:

    I have taken that very train. I remarked on Fairfield as that was the name of the Suburb of Brisbane where I grew up. I also remarked that the leaves were very pretty and I understood from the windows of the train why Americans referred to Autumn as Fall. The countryside was so pretty, almost magical, that a journey twice as long would have been a pleasure.

    • Coming East says:

      Unbelievable, GCB! It gives me goosebumps to think that you, who live in that land down under, once traveled the very same path that I have taken so many times myself. It is, indeed, a small world!

      • gaycarboys says:

        It was that very trip where I took photos from the top of World trade 1 to World trade 2 (or the other way round) that I took the train. we also hired a car and drove through Niagara Falls up to Toronto. We stayed for a while in New Britain CT and Larchmont NY. We went all over by train though and as I said the view of the leaves, then snow, from the train was magical. And the people? They could not have been more helpful. For some reason and Australian accent does something very strange to them. I have only very happy memories of that trip. Indeed I’m looking at some of the photos now. I should scan (yes they were in film as I had refused to go digital at the time) and put them up to see if anything looks familiar:)

      • Coming East says:

        Fall in New England is such a beautiful season, GCB. We drive up to Boston every October to visit our Boston kids and to see the leaves. They change here in Virginia, too, but in our part they aren’t usually quite as colorful. Do you have colorful foliage in autumn as well? I would love to see some of your pictures. You can send them to my email, if you wish.

      • gaycarboys says:

        In sydney we do have leaves fall but there are not sos many deciduous trees. remember our climate is much more middle of the road.. as i type it’s just after midnight on the first day of spring and it’s 8c outside. I’d love to share my photos and perhaps it will give me the impetus to scan them all. I love to share them with you!

      • Coming East says:

        We didn’t have many deciduous trees in San Antonio either, GCB. I went for thirty years without seeing my lovely fall foliage. I cried the first time I saw the fall colors when we moved to Virginia and were able to drive up to New England. As for your photos, scan away!

  9. My daughter and I took a trip from Philly to DC. Other than the people around us, who were in their PJ’s, eating bags of Hershey kisses that they purchased in NY (most likely for thousands of dollars), the trip was great. Our return trip was in the evening and a much better ride!

  10. Amy says:

    Some years ago, I rode a train with a friend of mine from Philly to Boston in the fall when leaves were turning red, gold… Hope you get to ride the train.

    • Coming East says:

      Maybe my girlfriends in Connecticut will think about taking the train to visit me, Amy, now that the train goes all the way to Norfolk. I’d just like to take it to D.C. We don’t need a car once we’re there.

  11. dorannrule says:

    II have heard Amtrak service is very reliable and in fact people I know regularly commute that way from DC to New York. Hope you get to test it out on a mini vacation. Meanwhile, as you may know, I have been following your wonderful blog ever since I started blogging. I suppose you could say I’m addicted, so I’m nominating you for the Addictive Blog Award. See details at . 🙂

  12. winsomebella says:

    When it’s good, train travel is really good. But when it’s bad, it’s really bad. I’ve experienced both but I hope any of your future trips can be classified strictly as good. Love that picture!

    • Coming East says:

      Thanks, Stacia. I’m holding my breath because I know how bad it can be. Unless enough people start taking trains, we will never put the money into train travel that it needs to update the rails and the cars. With air travel so expensive now, it would be so nice to have a real choice.

  13. When we lived in Japan, I rode the trains almost daily to get to work. I love trains. When I visit my daugher in D.C. I love taking the metro. Having had my last train ride about 4 1/2 years ago, from San Diego up to San Juan Capistrano, I miss them. Have looked into travel on one up to see my daughter, but have never done it yet. Trains are incredible and I love travelling on them. Thanks for stirring up several wonderful memories today. DAF

    • Coming East says:

      We use the subway all the time when we go to Boston, DAF, and when we go to November, we will take the Metro, but it’s not quite the same thing. Train travel is a good way to go if youmdontmneed your car when you arrive at your destination. There aren’t too many trips like that.

  14. When I still lived in Philadelphia I used to jump on the train frequently to see a show in New York. I am about a 2 hr. drive from Rockland, ME – a GREAT little town with the Wyeth Center and the Farnsworth Museum. The first weekend in August it is also home to the Maine Lobster Festival. I was able to take the train from Brunswick to Rockland for my first trip to the Lobster Festival a few years back. What a treat to hear that clackety clack going through the countryside of Maine with nearby residents out in their yards cheering and waving to us (it was the “maiden voyage” of the refurbished train line). We were met at our destination by King Neptune the Sea Goddess and a bunch of wild pirates. I loved it!!

  15. Margie says:

    I hope your train service meets your expectations! I think trains are wonderful.
    To my grandchildren, I am Grandma in the Red House.

  16. Lenore Diane says:

    Sweet picture. What a wonderful memory for her, too.
    When I was in 7th grade, I took a train from Atlanta to Washington, DC with the school patrol group. I loved the train ride. Then, in 1985, I took a train from Atlanta to Philadelphia. To say I enjoy trains is an understatement. We’ve taken our boys on a scenic train ride, but we have not traveled by train yet.

    • Coming East says:

      I took the three kids on a train ride from San Diego to Los Angeles back in 1981, LD. It ran along the coast and was beautiful. I’ve heard there is a scenic train ride up in Canada that is gorgeous, but I can’t imagine how expensive it would be.

  17. yen says:

    (sigh) Wish we had a train here in this part of the Philippines. 🙂 I can practically hear the sound of the clickety-clack of the wheels in your post. What a cute pic!

    • Coming East says:

      Where in the Philippines do they have trains, Yen? Have you ever been on one? Train travel “back in the day” used to be quite elegant.

      • yen says:

        Only Manila which is the capital city has an MRT, Susan, and it isn’t even close to what you described.:( It’s like the subway in NY.

        I’m living in Cebu city. My dad would often recount stories about the old train here in Cebu during the time of the Americans who established a colonial government here (1899 – 1920s or so).

        His grandfather had fond memories of those train rides from the countryside to the city where we live now. Now there isn’t any trace of that railroad save for a beam or but nothing more. 😦 But my dad would always point that beam out whenever we’d have the time to go to the province. 🙂

      • Coming East says:

        Interesting history lesson, Yen. Yes, subways, though the are trains, don’t have the same sense of romance as other train travel has. Guess its because most of subway travel is underground!

  18. I love train travel, too…. soon after my husband and I got married we went on the train from Denver to NYC. Amazing trip! And am so excited that we have train service in Portland, Maine, and soon in Freeport too. I’ve only once taken the train to Boston from here, but it was so much better than driving. (p.s. We called my grandmothers NY Grandma, Ohio Grandma, and Baltimore Grandma!)

    • Coming East says:

      I think trains were more reliable a long time ago because more people rode them. We took the train from New York to Ohio once, and I loved it. Now that more people fly, train service has deteriorated. Their schedules have shrunk and the rail lines are in need of repair. I really hope this new service works for us. Love the names you called your grandmas, Julia. We were much alike!

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