My First Amtrak Experience

One of the things I’ve always wanted to do was ride across the United States via the rails. I thought it would be great to ride the Amtrak train, take in a few stops along the way, and really get to spend time watching the country go by without having to worry about driving, stopping, or refueling. As part of my honeymoon extravaganza to New Orleans, my wife and I decided to take the train from Tucson, Arizona to New Orleans, Louisiana.

The Sunset Limited

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Old railway equipment on display at the Tucson station

We boarded in Tucson after hearing the train had been delayed by two hours. The conductor told us we’d be able to make up the time and to not worry. You queue up and are assigned a colored ticket with the three-letter code for the station you are getting off at to place above the chair where you will be sitting (this acts as your placeholder so no one else takes your seat). There was confusion, as our seats were already taken by an older woman and her nephew. After some haggling and negotiating of space by the passengers, we were able to settle things out amicably for all (with no help from the crew, mind you).

First, a general overview of the experience: It’s hard. We bought the coach tickets, which include two reclining chairs with tons of leg room but no bed. Thus, we had to sleep in the chairs. I slept some of the time with the aid of my neck pillow and blanket, but overall, my knees and back acted up too much for me to get a restful slumber. If you bring your own pillow and blanket and are good with sleeping in a chair, you’ll do fine in coach (sleepers are a bit pricey). The ride itself is pretty smooth and I didn’t get any motion sickness (although my wife did say she felt like she was still swaying hours after she deboarded the train). If you’re one for a few hours or stops, you’ll be fine. I wouldn’t recommend going the full 38 hours like we did without stopping along the way. Which leads me to another point: It wasn’t 38 hours; it was a few hours longer.

We hit a delay in Western Louisiana near Lake Charles. Turns out the bridge, upon closing again after a boat passed underneath, did not line up the tracks correctly, and needed emergency repairs. This added several hours to our trip, unfortunately, and the lack of updates were frustrating to many of the passengers. We didn’t get into New Orleans until after midnight, exhausted and in need of sleep.

Train Neighbor

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The Sunset Limited at a stop in Houston

Other than that, we had quite the experience with the woman sitting in front of us. She was very loud and on the phone pretty much the entire trip, save for the few hours she was sleeping. She also had two phones, so as she was talking on one, the other would ring and beep with messages. She alternating which one she charged as she spoke to her family about what was happening, her budget for the train (she had 13 dollars and the liquor was seven dollars for a small bottle and she thought that was too much, that she had to save the money to maybe buy herself a small side of bacon and a biscuit for breakfast the next day), and just about everything you could think of. She also cursed frequently, causing the poor woman with her nephew incredible discomfort. Around 9:30 PM, another passenger asked her to stop talking and the respect others’ wills to sleep. She did no such thing and continued her business. A conductor came by and told her that she had to talk in the lounge car if she wanted to. She went to sleep shortly thereafter.

He marathon calling began anew at 6:30 AM, where she loudly proclaimed (abridged version here):

“They had this woman talking loudly, cussing up a storm, being in everyone’s business, but not me. I’m behaving myself, yes sir.”

And

“I paid for this seat and I have the right to sit her. I ain’t moving to another car when I’ve paid for this seat, that isn’t right.”

Clearly, many things were lost on her. Maybe I was delirious from exhaustion, but I found the whole thing very funny. (Un)Fortunately, she left us in Houston, and a great ease befell the entire train car. It’s pretty amazing how much one person can stress out an entire train.

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