It's a fact that train travel in the US is nowhere near the efficiency, speed, and comforts of their European and Asian counterparts. But what Amtrak lacks, it makes up for with 4 days of magnificent views offered through 4 route choices across the USA. If you're one not to be deterred by RV-like accommodations for breathtaking views, the Amtrak journey could be a trip for you.
So when I came across this article about Amtrak replacing its aging fleet of trains, I'll admit, I kinda got excited! My daughters and I had made the epic 4-day Amtrak ride across America (from New York to Los Angeles) once, and saw its massive potential if only its aging fleet were refreshed. So I was immediately hopeful that Amtrak might be upgrading its giant cross-country trains, and lure us back for another trek.
The views you see on the train are magnificent at times, and exceeded our expectations.
Of course there are stretches of nothingness, but that in itself is quite a sight for a city family like us.
The comfort and condition of the train however, was a big miss given that we paid over $2000 dollars for private suites. I couldn't help but fantasize if this were France's TGV or Japan's Bullet Train, how fast and luxuriously we'd be speeding across the country. Instead, we were on an aged fleet of cars with dated interiors.
Our double suite from Chicago to Los Angeles
The train tracks are old and very rickety between Chicago and California (which is 2.5 days of travel) because the track's primary use is for those mile-long cargo trains carrying what looks like the weight and length of the entire Empire State Building! So if you are a light sleeper, forget about aiming for a full sleep, and fight for the bottom bunk as it'll sway a little bit less than the top.
Room for two from New York to Chicago
However, all this doesn't take away from the fact that my daughters and I still had a very memorable time, and do not regret taking the trip one bit. As I've never driven across the country, we took in views that we had never seen before except through pictures.
The changing scenery from one coast of the US to the other, is one of the most magnificent and diverse natural landscapes you'll ever see ("America the Beautiful: 10 Stunning Landscapes in the USA"). As the USA (and Canada) is one of only two countries in the world that span an entire continental land mass, one can travel 3000 miles freely from one edge of the continent to the other without the technicalities and logistics of crossing country borders.
So this is why news of a refreshed fleet of Amtrak cars is wonderful news. The potential is very much there, and massive as a tourism draw in my opinion. Aside from the criticism, the three bright spots were the dining car, observation car, and onboard staff.
The dining car was on the upper level, reservations only, and with large windows for a sunny interior and unobstructed views. Our waiter was great - jovial, polite, and attentive. Actually the entire staff onboard was great - friendly, always asking how they could help, and all with the vibe that they were having fun too.
Normally the kitchen would be open with an executive chef directing the team, but due to the pandemic there were only pre-made meals available to us like on an airplane.
However, we were served and waited on, just like at a restaurant. That in itself, while on a train traveling 50mph, with the views, was unforgettable.
But to keep expectations real for you, the Amtrak marketing pictures of well-dressed couples, wining and dining on these trains was nowhere to be seen. Still, the enjoyment of dining on a train seemed like it was shared across all the other diners, and that put a smile to my face to see.
When we finally arrived in Los Angeles, we were tired. Unbelievable that we had travelled so far on a train, across the entire US. Yes, it was slightly more draining than camping since you're inside and not moving much, and sleeping was not comfortable. However, in hindsight, we were really happy we did it. I hope the new trains will one day replace the cross-country trains, and that more emphasis be placed on improving overall conditions. I think more families should give it a shot, because there is some quality bonding time to be had on these trips.
Thanks for reading.