The romance of the train is almost forgotten in these days of hectic lifestyles and ultra fast travel. Americans, in particular, don’t often think of traveling by rail when it comes to planning a vacation. It’s a shame because railroads have deep roots in America’s history and made a huge impact on the country’s westward growth. But, travel by train is so much more than a history lesson. It’s also a wonderful way to relax and enjoy the countryside in comfort. In fact, Amtrak offers a variety of vacation options that bring back the romance of train travel in comfortable style.
It’s Part of Our Past
The history of the railroad in the United States dates back to the early 1800s. In 1825, inventor John Stevens built a test track around his New Jersey summer home and ran a locomotive around it. Seeing the potential, the Baltimore and Ohio incorporated in 1827. It was not the first railroad, but the first common carrier, designated to transport people and freight. Others, including the Camden and Amboy, followed. Railroad building boomed from the 1830s through the 1860s, with railroads outpacing the use of and eventually replacing water canal transport.
Passenger transport in the early years was far from comfortable. The first Union Pacific passenger trains rarely traveled faster than 20 miles per hour. Passengers sat on wooden benches and heat was provided by wood stoves. Meals were eaten at station house dining halls. Traffic control errors resulted in occasional train wrecks. Passenger service changed dramatically when George Pullman invented luxury sleeping cars in 1865. Pullman’s name became famous nationwide after the Lincoln assassination because he donated one of sleepers to house the dead president’s coffin for its historic trip back to Springfield, Illinois. The next step up in luxury train travel was the Overland Limited, a Union Pacific train inaugurated in 1890. It made the trip between Omaha, Nebraska, and San Francisco, California, in just 71 hours, an astonishing rate of speed at the time. Passenger train travel peaked in 1921, but as automobiles became more affordable, ridership fell.
Streamliner passenger trains were introduced in the 1930s. More lightweight with amenities like impeccable service and glamorous furnishings, Streamliners were the forefathers of today’s passenger trains.
During World War II, passenger train travel soared again, as a direct result of tire and gasoline rationing. A record of 98 billion passenger miles was reached in 1944. After the war, railroad travel steadily declined.
Getting Away on the Train
Traveling by train is a great way to leave the driving to someone else and admire the scenery in comfort. Vacation ideas include trips to America’s national parks, coast-to-coast adventures, American heritage tours and entertainment destination trips.
Amtrak’s Escorted Rail Journeys combine the enjoyment of rail travel with the ease of a planned itinerary. An Amtrak escort travels with the group and local guides take passengers to attractions, providing historical context and local flavor.
The American Heritage Escorted tour is one for the history books. The first stop is New York City, where passengers are welcomed with wine and cheese. The next stop is Philadelphia, the “City of Brotherly Love,” and considered the birthplace of American Independence. The last stop is Washington. Passengers are treated to sightseeing tours in all three cities.
The National Parks of the Southwest Escorted tour is a guided tour to some of America’s most celebrated national parks. The tour begins in Albuquerque and heads south to Arizona. The trip to the south rim of the Grand Canyon is unforgettable. Heading north, stops include Utah’s Zion National Park and Bryce Canyon National Park. On a decidedly different note, the tour ends in Las Vegas. A Northern National Parks tour is also available with stops in Glacier National Park and Yellowstone. The trip begins in Seattle and includes a tour and boat cruise at Glacier National Park. The tour spends two days at Yellowstone, travels through Grand Teton National Park and stops for a night in lovely Jackson Hole, Wyoming. A city tour and finale dinner in Salt Lake City ends the trip.
I Want to Be Alone
If traveling with a tour group is not for you, consider one of Amtrak’s independent rail journeys. Vibrant cities and national parks are still on the agenda, but you travel at your own pace.
The America’s Heartland journey begins in Chicago. Take a trolley tour and discover why the Windy City is a Midwestern gem. Ride the tram to the top of Street Louis’s Arch, if you dare and tour the Alamo. The trip also includes a trip to the Sixth Floor Museum in Dallas’s infamous Dealey Plaza.
By Rail and By Sail
One of Amtrak’s most popular vacation options is the “Rail and Sail Vacation.” Take the train to a port city and depart on a relaxing cruise. A fully planned itinerary and tour escort means that you don’t have to do anything but enjoy the trip.
The “Alaska Cruise with 1 Night in Seattle” includes a tour of Seattle and admission to the Space Needle. After that, enjoy a Celebrity Cruise to Alaska, where you spend eight days and seven nights cruising along the Alaskan coast.
If a warmer climate seems more appealing, the “Bahamas and Florida 7-Day Rail and Sail Vacation” may be more your style. The trip starts with a two-night stay in New York City, including a sightseeing tour and dinner at a well-known restaurant and it’s off to Florida and the Bahamas on Norwegian Cruise Lines.