Monday, October 20, 2008

Ridin' the N.C. rails

I had the absolute pleasure -- and I don't use that term lightly -- to take Amtrak's Piedmont train from Raleigh to Charlotte a little over a week ago. It had been a decade since my last Amtrak experience -- a horrid, 18-hour (each way) affair from Raleigh to Fort Lauderdale.

Needless to say, I was cautiously optimistic about what lay before me. My previous experience coupled with the fluid and flawless rail trips in Europe -- and the horror stories of American train trips that I've heard/read about -- made me suspect that not only would the Piedmont not get to the Queen City in the estimated three hours, but that it may be a dirty, smelly and generally unpleasant trip.

How wrong I was, thankfully.

The Piedmont was scheduled to leave Raleigh at 7 a.m. (Truth be told, if there is a building in Raleigh that could use some aesthetic help, it is the downtown Amtrak depot. It doesn't exhude pleasantness.) It left at -- wha-lah! -- 7 a.m. It got to Cary at the scheduled 7:11; Durham at 7:30; and so on and so on. Yes, it lost a minute or two along the way, but I was in Charlotte at roughly 10:15 -- some six minutes after it was supposed to arrive.

The fact that I had ample leg room (made me not ever want to set foot on a plane again), complimentary snacks and drinks, and plenty of time to sit back and read (or nap), made the experience one that I will gladly recreate in the near future. True, the Piedmont and thus the Carolinian don't exactly wind their way through the Alps or France's wine valleys, but you do get to see parts of North Carolina that most folks never do: N.C. State from the windows of the train; Durham's burgeoning downtown; and towns that look like they were built up around the train, like Kannapolis and Cary.

If there is a downside to traveling the train it is that Charlotte's train station is in a "worse" part of town than Raleigh's.

Is train travel conducive all the time? No; one is still better off probably driving to places such as Orlando or, ahem, Fort Lauderdale. But trips to D.C., Philly, Boston, NYC, Charlotte and Atlanta (and, for that matter, Charleston and Savannah) SHOULD be open to efficient train trips.

This trip did nothing but reinforce my belief that trains should be highly invested in as a critical mass transit option --whether for intra- or intercity travel.


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James C. said...

LOL. I think you've been spammed, Matt.

M. Lail said...

Yeah, how random is that. Weird.