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Car-Free & Carefree, Part 2: Amtrak

By Joe Medley

It took me longer to make my first report than I anticipated. I didn't have time to send an early morning report like I had planned. Amtrak ran about two hours behind. Then I had to learn to navigate the Metro (which takes a lot less time than learning to drive). Finally, the most difficult leg of the trip to navigate without a car was the last quarter mile from the Metro station to my Hotel. More about that later.

The day began with a bus ride from the end of my street to Crown Center and a short walk to Union Station.

7:17 AM I thought I was going to send my first post from the Union Station waiting room complete with pictures of the current waiting room and the old North hall where passengers once awaited departure. I didn't get the chance. I arrived about 7:00 and barely had time to get my ticket when they announced boarding for the 314 to St. Louis.

I managed to snap a picture of a model of the Pioneer Zephyr. This vehicle was the first diesel electric locomotive to enter revenue service on a North American railroad. Operating on the Chicago Burlington and Quincy railroad, the Zephyr began hauling passengers between Chicago and Denver in 1939. The Zephyr ushered in a fad for streamlining that eventually influenced the shape of cars and even kitchen appliances. You can tour the actual train at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago.

Boarding was a breeze. I didn't need to check my baggage. I didn't have my personal belongings searched. I wasn't forced to open my belt in front of 150 strangers. And I wasn't fondled by Barney Fife. The best part wasn't the lack of dehumanizing security. The best part was that I could have arrived at 7:15 for a 7:30 departure and would not have been rushed for ticketing and boarding.

7:20 AM The spaciousness of the business class compartment must be seen to be believed. Seated with my arm fully extended in front of me, there is more than a foot between the tips of my fingers and the back of the next chair. The tray table is too far away, if you can believe that. I also get a free drink and a place to plug in my laptop. This cost me $45 one-way. A coach ticket costs $25. Coach seats are smaller than business class seats, but it looks like they have more room than an airline seat.

7:26 AM The conductor just came on the PA system and announced that it is time for visitors to leave the train. So, if I had an elderly parent, or a handicapped friend, I could board the train and help them get settled.

7:40 AM The view out my window so far has alternated between housing and older industrial areas. Another way to put it is that the view has alternated between places to live and places to work. Why don't we have commuter rail in this town?

8:05 AM We've stopped in Lee's Summit. I was surprised at how much open space there was between Independence and Lee's Summit. I thought sprawl had long since gobbled it up. If gas prices keep going up, I know good place to do some real estate speculating.

I only have two complaints about the accommodations. The temperature is too warm and the ride is a bit bumpy. I forgot to take my Dramamine, and I can't find it. All I can do is hope for the best.

Even though I had breakfast already, I decided to buy one of the club car offerings just to try it out. I had an egg and cheese bagel sandwich heated in a microwave. I had assumed there would be only one meal available which would be lunch. The bagel sandwich turned out to be same kind you get at a convenience store. Terrible. I noticed later that I could have a bowl of cold cereal. That's what my breakfast at home is.

10:00 AM The train stopped to allow an oncoming passenger train to pass. The conductor said that six years ago that passenger trains across Missouri were on time most of the time. But in the last six years, freight trains on this route have jumped from six a day to more than 40 a day. I've heard that this can sometimes lead to some terrible delays. Luckily, that is not the case today. We were moving again within ten minutes.

11:00 AM Jefferson City. On the way in, I caught a glimpse of the capitol building which is withing walking distance of the tracks. There are two wonderful Civil War-era buildings next to the tracks. They are of the same general style as those that existing on Kansas City's river front in that period. The yellow building looks very much like the Gillis House Hotel that stood on 1st street in the 1880s.

Between here and Kirkwood sat several towns with numerous structures from the mid 1800's, including Hermann and Washington. I've rarely ever seen that much 19th century architecture in a single day. I've never seen it in Missouri. These buildings are much more appealing to look at than the suburban-style sprawl that lines our highways.

2:30 Arrival. It's two hours later than I expected to arrive in St. Louis. I'm not complaining. I knew when I bought the ticket that Amtrak sometimes had to wait on a siding for an oncoming train to pass. To be fair, sometimes oncoming trains had to wait for Amtrak to pass.

The next leg of the trip showed me that our world isn't just unfriendly to pedestrians. Sometimes it can be downright hostile. More about that in my next post.

2 Comments so far

  1. Adron April 6th, 2008 2:01 am

    Hostile to pedestrians. Yeah, downright murderous is what it is.

    I’ve always been amazed at this insanity ever since I was a mere 13-14 years old and living in the south trying to ride my bike to school. I couldn’t ride in the streets, too dangerous, had no bike paths - what are those? - and heaven forbid I try to walk. 2 miles takes WAY to long to walk. Considering there where no walk signs or signals of any kind either. No pedestrian right of way across the rather massive 4 lane road that sat in between where I lived and the school… it didn’t take much for me to grow a rather strong dislike for automobiles, and especially how much they allow people to become pricks.

    But I’m all better now, having moved to Portland where I, as a pedestrian, actually have human expectations of existence.

  2. Andrew May 12th, 2008 8:52 am

    Since you made that trip on Amtrak, you can enter their photo competition!))

    The winner will receive $1,000. Your photos must have a picture of the new Amtrak logo and their trains. Good luck! http://www.photocompete.com/2008/05/12/picture-our-train-2009-wall-calendar-photo-contest/

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