Tuesday, November 29, 2005

On November 16th, I boarded an Amtrak train in Philadelphia heading towards Pittsburgh for the NWP Annual Meeting. The train, an hour late to begin with, took seven hours to cross the state. As is usual for me, I bought lots of things to read during the trip, but then spent most of the time staring out the window watching the world go by. A very relaxing way to spend the afternoon, in my book. My love of trains must be based on the fact that I grew up next to a regional rail station in the Mt. Airy neighborhood of Philadelphia. I remember my grandmother having a hard time sleeping when she came to visit as the trains would come and go before 11 at night and after 5 in the morning, but I think the sound was so firmly part of my growing up experience that I actually found it relaxing, a lullaby made from metal rails and, when we were lucky, a tooting horn. "Honk the horn, Honk the horn" we would yell if we were awake and outside when it came by. And every now and then a conductor would oblige.

It's a beautiful ride across the state, as well as an historically important railroad route, the "Pennsy", Pennsylvania Railroad. Doing a little post-train trip reading, on Wikipedia (a favorite source), I learned that at the turn of the century, the PRR was the gold standard railroad. They build most of their steam locomotives themselves as well as several grand railroad stations that we still know today -- Union Station, Washington; 30th Street Station, Philadelphia, etc. The old station house in Pittsburgh still stands, but is now mostly used as an apartment building (you can see it in this phone-photo taken by my colleague Karen). Amtrak now has the ugly part in the back.

Approximately ten minutes outside of Altoona, Pennsylvania, is the famous Horseshoe Curve, a feat of engineering in its time. It was, unfortunately, dark by the time my train reached the curve, but I sat by the window (south side of the train) with my face pressed up against the window and was able to watch as we went through. They didn't announce it on the train though -- I had to ask where it was. I guess they think it's not so interesting these days, but I think they are wrong. Or just depressed as the Feds continue to systematically dismantle the national railroad system. Or something. But, if they had a good PR head about them, I think they should say something, even if it's dark. It's a dramatic effect and fun to watch as you go through and reminds you what went into the construction of these rails in the first place.

I have some not-so-great pictures, including a rainbow and sunset, to share once Deccember comes and I get my new month of free uploads to Flickr. So keep an eye out for those!


Anonymous John said...

Conrail had offices in the old Pittsburgh station at one time, but moved out years ago (long before it was sold). I visited there for a few days when I was new with the road.

I agree that Amtrak should do more to promote the historical aspects of your trip and other areas they cover. I am guessing they lack the resources to do what they have to do, so that can't do the extras.

I wonder if they could contract with some outside company to do some of this. They would provide extras, such as tourist info or whatever and get paid by riders who were interested. Maybe Gray (Grey?) Lines could do this as another source of revenue.

10:32 AM  

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