It was a bit of a drag getting out of bed at a business-like time to get to the station for the 9.00 am departure of the Sunset Limited with a New Orleans Hurricane based hangover. You need to be there an hour before to check-in baggage, and I don’t like chancing it. As it happened everything went very smoothly, and a really nice chap sorted it all out in a couple of minutes. Better still there was a small lounge, and the usual drill was in play, someone comes to get you and take you to the train. I sipped stewed coffee and chatted with the other passengers until it was time to board. Everyone talks to everyone, it’s not like rail travel as you know it in the UK!
The Sunset Limited is a Superliner bound for LA, a not inconsiderable 1995 mile trip in over 48 hours. I was just on for the first 363 miles and 8 hours to Houston, Texas today.
I’m not going to beat about the bush, this was one of the best train journeys I have ever been on. The best Amtrak kit (a Superliner with full catering), amazing passengers and lovely professional and helpful Amtrak staff. An 8-hour trip seemed to last 8 minutes. What a day!
Good Amtrak staff set the tone, and here onboard everyone was keen to help, and it felt amazing. But the best moment of the day was when I asked my carriage attendant Paul about the dining car. ‘We got a Chef onboard’ he said proudly – my spirit lept!
Paul had his own supply of coffee on the go in the carriage and everything set up. Simple things like fresh pillows were in the roomette for my use during the day. He had time to announce extended stops and explain what was going on to me. This is the Amtrak service that I love.
I had lunch with a Mexican film producer & his wife, who was a rafting guide, and a quick dinner with an amazing US Marine Corp vet heading to San Diego before hopping off. You meet interesting people on trains, and they have time to talk. All thanks to the community seating system. I’ll share some of these stories in my book. But what about the food? Such a difference. Real food cooked by a chef. How many scheduled (regular) dining cars in the world ask the question ‘How would you like your steak cooked?’.
Mine was cooked perfectly to my request. I declined the obligatory ‘A1 sauce’ and enjoyed it with mustard, which the attendant couldn’t understand. He’d never tried mustard. The desert was equally good, cheesecake with strawberries and optional whipped cream.
Returning from a long lunch, a quick nap and some writing, and soon it was dinner time. Then far to soon we arrived in Houston on time at 18.20. I was sad to say goodbye to the attendants, chefs, fireman, and engineers who had all looked after me, answered my questions, and forgave my ‘East Texas’ accent. I’m back on board this train once I have completed my astronaut training, so really looking forward to it. Imagine getting on a train at about 18.30, and being asked what time you want to have a table for a freshly cooked dinner. Time to freshen up and have a drink in the observation lounge and get dressed! This is living ‘on the rails’ and it is what will make me want to return to try all the Amtrak routes west of the Mississipi in the USA. Thank you, Amtrak!