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The Southwest Chief from LA to Chicago

LA Union Station has a relaxed feel in the late afternoon, sunshine beams through the high windows and passengers seem in no particular hurry here. Check-in for the Southwest Chief, or ‘The Chief’, is simple but made slightly harder by an Amtrak employee who isn’t very happy about life today. We get there in the end, but I’m pleased I spotted she had mistagged my bag. I always do a physical check, and today it paid off. With this done I headed upstairs to the lounge, which was small but still just had enough seats. The manager told me I […]

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The New Mexico Rail Runner

I’m on the rails in the US today, but not with Amtrak, as I’m on the New Mexico Rail Runner which is run independently by Rio Metro. Several times each day their trains connect Albuquerque with Santa Fe and all stops in between. It’s a 60-mile ride that takes less than 2 hours. Waiting for the 09.35 train, passengers mill about in the pre-sunshine cold of the desert morning until the doors of the duplex carriages open 20 minutes before our departure. They are talkative, friendly and really interesting. Onboard the train is clean and comfortable, laid out over two decks […]

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The Sunset Limited from Houston to Los Angeles

Amtrak

Back on the rails this evening. The first challenge is finding the Amtrak station in Houston. Lots of local residents don’t even know that Houston actually has an Amtrak station, or that its possible to reach LA or New Orleans from here by rail. For a wealthy city, the station is tiny. Fortunately, my cab driver has sat-nav. When I tell him its 37 hours to LA, he looks at me like I’m a mad man. I’ve got used to watching ‘Wheel of Fortune’ on the television in the Amtrak lounge before catching trains at this time of the day. […]

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The Sunset Limited from New Orleans to Houston

Matthew Woodward on the rails

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 […]

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The City of New Orleans

Chicago Union is a wonderful place to be, and although it’s busy, it’s big enough to still feel graceful and calm. The great hall has wooden bench seats and a sign ‘To the Trains’. Checking my bag in takes a couple of minutes, and I’m quickly seated in the refurbished Metropolitan Lounge until the train is called about 40 minutes before departure. A short walk to platform 18, where I’m greeted by a Superliner, a train made up of the Amtrak double-deck carriages. Mine tonight is 5900, where I’m greeted by Lala, who shows me upstairs to my roomette, number […]

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The Lakeshore Limited from NYC to Chicago

Penn Station isn’t the nicest place on earth, but it didn’t take long to find the baggage drop off and the haven of the nearby Club Acela Lounge, which is open to sleeper passengers. The staff here seemed friendly but stretched. One really nice touch here is that an Amtrak agent escorts you from the lounge down to the right track ahead of it being announced in the station, so that you are first on the train and avoid the stampede of coach passengers. The Lakeshore has to navigate through some old tunnels under the Hudson River, and for this […]

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How to Speedy Board an Iron Ore Truck

I decided to have a meditative session in the bath at HQ the other night. I don’t take baths very often – but please don’t think I’m unclean, I’m just more of a shower person. Too many memories of all the dirt from communal baths at boarding school. Anyway, I’m lucky now in that my new home has an enormous freestanding bath underneath a big window in the roof, and it’s so dark in these parts that you can stargaze from the tub. No telescope is required. So I lit the scented candles, poured in the Tibetan bath salts and […]

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Ice Cold in Nouadhibou

Let’s be honest, the Mauritania iron ore train isn’t going to be everyone’s idea of fun. I wonder what will I make of it, and will I be tough enough? I’ll soon find out. I sometimes grumble about the temperature of the carriage or the state of the toilets, but on this train, there are no facilities at all. I understand that there is, in fact, a solitary passenger carriage, but I shall be doing as the locals do, and occupying an iron ore truck. After 700 km sat on top of a pile of rubble in the baking sun […]

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The Trans-Caucasus Express from Tbilisi to Baku

I have given this train a bit of a grand name. To me it is the essence of crossing the Caucasus on the main line, the route which transports the oil from the Caspian Sea to the Black Sea. But to the strict timetable enthusiast, this is of course train number 37, the night service between Tbilisi in Georgia and Baku in Azerbaijan. I should probably also apologise for going a bit ‘jazzy’ with my main image for this post. The thing is that all Soviet derived locomotives begin to look the same after a while, so I felt I should […]

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From Yerevan to Tbilisi on the South Caucasus Railway

My arrival at Yerevan station is textbook. The taxi driver charges me 600 Dram for the trip, about £1.10. I give him a 400 Dram tip, and he seems very happy, shaking my hand and waving goodbye. “Armnenia good?” he asks me. I tell him “Armenia good, good, good”, as I think his English (far better than my Armenian or even Russian) is very limited. He smiles and leaves me to it. It’s a short stroll into the station, where I find a large and very peaceful Soviet designed hall that reminds me of a Moscow metro station. I can […]

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