Transportation Review: Amtrak Coast Starlight to Los Angeles

Review of The Amtrak Coast Starlight Train

by Mariese Bernardo

Oakland to Los Angeles

[this train ride happened because I have to go to Dinah Shore tomorrow in Palm Springs]

[I wrote this on the train b/c there was no internet and I had to write SOMETHING so I wrote this in a Text Edit document. You’ll see.]

It’s 8:21 PM on Wednesday March 30th and I’ve been sitting on this train since 10:35am, when we left Emeryville, which is, I think, either part of or next to Oakland. At that time the sun was bright, the weather was temperate, my pores were clear and my body contained a healthy mix of vitamins & minerals.

Were we ever so young?

Now it’s 8:25 PM on Wednesday March 30th and some woman just announced that our ETA for Los Angeles is 12:30 AM. 12:30 AM. 14 hours!

How the hell can a trip from San Fran to LA take 14 hours, you may ask? That’s the issue I want to focus on in today’s Transportation Review of the Amtrak Coast Starlight.

“Coast Starlight” sounds magical, like a glittery ocean cometbeam of transportational excellence. However — unlike magic or Harry Potter or unicorns, the Coast Starlight kinda blows.

I feel some kind of deep patriotic affection, possibly enabled by Monopoly or educational computer games, for the American Railroad System, and therefore feel terrible about having to register this negative review. Christ on a Cracker holy mother of all that is unholy and inhuman GET ME OFF OF THE DEATH TRAIN.

“I feel some kind of deep patriotic affection, possibly enabled by Monopoly or educational computer games, for the American Railroad System, and therefore feel terrible about having to register this negative review.”

Around noon, when I was younger and still had color in my cheeks and battery power in my cellphone, I was playfully chatting bcw, “I think we’re five hours away from LA” (because that’s what my phone’s gps told me) and she replied, “That’s soooo funny because I’m 5 hours from LA too! And yet I’ve been sitting in a chair in San Francisco this whole time while you crawl steadily southward!”

I’m wearing her shirt. Will she ever get this shirt back? Will I ever see her again? Will I ever touch another human again? Will I ever breathe actual oxygen again? Will I ever see the internet again? Riding this train is like the Janet Jackson song “Again,” but without the falling in love.

Let me explain how I got here: although a projected 10-hour trip time seemed ridiculous, the website promised onboard wi-fi and the price was right — about $55. So I figured with wi-fi and leg room, today would be just be like any other day where I sit in a chair and work on Autostraddle. Totally worth it.

Yeah no. There’s no wi-fi unless you’re in the “Parlor Car,” which is where I think Prince William is getting married.

Not too long ago (really, who knows at this point) we sat in Bakersfield, California, which I think is just outside of Whothefuckeversville, for 30 minutes or so waiting for another “crew” to arrive.

They’re always making these announcements that were endearing at first and now make me homicidal. Sometimes it’s mean, like telling us that the Parlor Fucking Car is having a wine and cheese tasting. They have internet, they have wine and cheese, the bar is open ’til 11, Susan Powter will teach the Parlor Car yoga at 6am, French Cooking commences at 3 after we make our own Petit Fours, I really like your canopy bed, let’s read Charles Dickens, etc etc

“It’s Mike here from the dining car! Just want to let you know I’m about to take my dinner break, folks, so if you want some dehydrated genetically modified corn in a salmon shape (or whatever, I don’t remember, maybe he said “chicken”), get it now or I’ll see you after dinner!”

I think they’re supposed to sound friendly, but disembodied voices can’t be friendly.

Anyhow! in Bakersfield she said we were delayed waiting for someone who “knew the territory” to come conduct the train. What I can’t even. This is so confusing.

I could’ve gotten to Los Angeles faster on rollerblades, including the amount of time it’d take to go buy rollerblades, inevitably crash into a tree on rollerblades, go to the hospital, take vicodin and recover from the vicodin. Do they still make rollerblades or was that a 90s thing.

I had this sort of concept of trains as an inherently superior form of transportation. Where’d I get that idea from? Movies? The past? Some kind of Rockwellian nostalgia for grandparents and children looking at autumn leaves rolling by while a benevolent conductor in a gay outfit hops around offering sandwiches and silverware?

I took a lot of trains as a child and teenager and even as an adult, the latter mostly because i have an irrational fear of Al Quaeda and an irrational loathing of air travel and driving for a long time makes my fibro flare up (THOUGH THAT’S NOTHING COMPARED TO HOW I FEEL RIGHT NOW).

I’ve always enjoyed train travel, in fact, ’cause I can read which I can’t do in a car but I don’t need to worry about the hassle of air-travel and its various security measures.

Back in my FAR FAR AWAY YOUTH IN 2005, when Krista and I transferred from the Greyhound we’d taken from Portland to Denver onto the Amtrak that’d take us from Denver to Chicago — it felt downright FANCY. The chairs were so luxurious, the passengers had bathed, the bathrooms were accessible! Then there was that train I took from New York to Chicago in ’04 where I got drunk from Sutter Home with that Isreali girl and we talked in Hebrew and then somehow I ended up making out with this guy Ian in the bathroom or something, I don’t know, it was Sutter Home, we were the only youths on the train.

Anyhow back to me, here, now. I used to be sitting further up but the kid across from me, also upset about the lack of wi-fi, decided to call everyone in the entire state of California to talk about things like Vegas hotels and there being no wi-fi, really loudly, while I was trying to read “Whipping Girl” on my kindle. So now I’ve relocated to the back. My phone is nearly dead, and so is my will to live.

Things I’ve done so far:

1. Read 51% of Julia Serano’s Whipping Girl in order to heighten my consciousness re: trans misogyny etc, have a lot of feelings

2. Finished Michelle Tea’s Rent Girl (it was good)

3. Took an hour partial-nap, woke up unsatisfied

4. Wrote in my journal for about one minute, ran out of stuff to say, realized my personal life is actually really great right now

5. Tried to find some writing project I could pick up on my hard drive, realized everything I’ve written post-2006 is in google docs, got depressed looking at how much shit i’ve written that’ll never see the light of day

6. Found a random episode of Transgeneration on my itunes, watched it

7. Watched three 45-minute shows of “Download: The True Story of the Internet,” learned about the invention of google, facebook, amazon, ebay, the story of the dot-com bubble bursting, etc.

8. Inspired by these episodes, wrote a fierce email in text-edit to my designer & web developer about how I’m gonna flip out if they don’t make progress on one of my 15 brilliant money-making ideas this month, and by “flip out” I mean “be broke”

9. Erased the fierce email

10. Experienced 25-30 minutes of solid existential crisis, paranoia, despair, anger w/r/t the Autostraddle Situation

11. Wrote out a plan with “objectives” and “action steps” for one of my 15 brilliant ideas, fantasized about how this might inspire everyone to take action steps

12. G-chatted on my phone with bcw, sent emails on my phone and g-chatted Jess R, who said she flew from NYC to LA in 5 hours, which was great, got a text from Laneia about whiskey I’ll probably never actually drink, realized circa wheneverago that my phone was gonna die and I hadn’t brought a charger

13. Played Trivia Machine until the trial expired

14. Tried to write something about bisexuality, realized maybe I’d already written it, couldn’t check internet to verify

15. Consumed one (1) “cheeseburger” like product which was prepared in a microwave and served in a plastic bag for like 9 dollars, added extra mayo & ketchup, it was terrible

16. Organized all of our Dropbox folders and the folders on my computer

17. Ate pretzels and half a bag of m’n’ms, cost like $15

18. Talked to bcw on the telephone, had to whisper, the reception kept going in and out

In conclusion, I recommend that if you want to get from Point A to Point B, you select ANY form of transportation besides this one. If you want to get from Point A to Point B in the amount of time it’d take you to drive from Point A to Point B four times, then The Coast Starlight is for you.

Everyone I communicated with today was like “why didn’t you take a plane?” and I was like, “why WOULD i take a plane?” Air travel is invasive and complicated and expensive and terrible, surely we could all stand to slow down and actually look at where we’re going sometimes, right?

Fuck you, train. I WAS TRYING TO BE CHILL. [I should have just read about it on yelp.]

19. Wrote this

20. Made these cats:


Photography © jmberman1 2009

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Riese is the 41-year-old Co-Founder of as well as an award-winning writer, video-maker, LGBTQ+ Marketing consultant and aspiring cyber-performance artist who grew up in Michigan, lost her mind in New York and now lives in Los Angeles. Her work has appeared in nine books, magazines including Marie Claire and Curve, and all over the web including Nylon, Queerty, Nerve, Bitch, Emily Books and Jezebel. She had a very popular personal blog once upon a time, and then she recapped The L Word, and then she had the idea to make this place, and now here we all are! In 2016, she was nominated for a GLAAD Award for Outstanding Digital Journalism. She's Jewish and has a cute dog named Carol. Follow her on twitter and instagram.

Riese has written 3212 articles for us.


  1. I got excited that you were in Bakersfield for a minute because I am in Bakersfield all of the time. And even though it’s a terrible place and Laneia hates it, I enjoy the notion of close proximity.

  2. This brought back memories of a train trip from Ann Arbor to Louisiana for Mardi Gras. OMG the horror. I think it took a month to get there. I remember smoking hash (!) in the bathroom, and coffee that was like instant Sanka (sp?), the rest I’ve blocked out. Other countries know HOW TO DO TRAINS why can’t we? Also, whatever happened to hash, does anyone know? I also have feelings that this post is reminding me how old I am.

  3. Really though, I’m glad you made it out on the other side safely. I also hope that you are not taking this awful train back home at the end of Dinah. I mean, maybe you really should invest in some rollerblades. I think I might have some you can have. What I mean is I enjoyed this.

  4. YES. Agree with all of the above. I’d rather bum rides on Craisglist than take the Coast Starlight.

    I’d suggest taking a Greyhound over Amtrak, but the Greyhound along that particular route tends to cater mostly to convicts getting out of jail. Flying is the most reasonable option. If you don’t mind hopping a CalTrain to the San Jose airport, it’s dirt cheap to fly south.

    • right exactly — the west coast greyhound trip from Oregon to Denver was one of the most shocking harrowing travel experiences of my life — nothing like the Greyhounds I’ve taken on the east coast and midwest

  5. My only long haul train ride was in China. It was fun, but not how I imagined (i.e. not like Murder on the Orient Express).

    Think of it this way though: at least you didn’t have to endure squat toilets on a moving train.

  6. I took the Coast Starlight between Olympia, WA and San Francisco a couple times as a kid. It would always seem so exciting before we left, but by the time we got to San Francisco I’d be ready to kiss the ground.

    Especially the time my brother developed strep throat on the train. That was fun.


  7. I take the Lakshore Limited that runs Chicago- New York/Boston train fairly frequently to travel between Michigan and school on the East Coast, and to be fair, it’s not terrible. Granted, It takes much less than 18 hours to drive to New York and there’s no reason why a train that’s in New York State by 9am should take until 6pm to reach NYC, but that’s ok. The view’s pretty, the people can be interesting/old/drunk, and I’ve gotten over clogged pores.

    • yeah I’ve taken the Chicago/New York or Detroit/Chicago train several times and it was always a-ok

  8. This is one of those posts where every line is more wonderful than the next. LOVE.

    Also, how hard can it be to put wireless on a train? I mean, even *buses* have wireless now, Amtrak, I don’t know why this is so difficult for you.

  9. I grew up in the LA area and now live in Berkeley and am used to traveling back and forth frequently to visit with friends and family. Was just in LA a couple of weeks ago. Its hard to imagine a train will ever compete with jumping into your hybrid, plugging the ipod into the sound system of the car, setting the cruise control on 75 and getting to LA in about 5 and half hours. If I drive down with a girlfriend, its pretty much a blur of good conversation, lots of coffee and a lot of laughing…..I start climbing down the grapevine into LA and it seemed like we just started.

    I’d opt for a bullet train if it was available flying down the central valley but I am not holding my breath. These days big transportation projects have a very poor completion record…..

  10. I was once on a train for 20 hours in Sweden, and I didn’t understand any of the announcements, because they were in Swedish. All I know is that we were stopped at one station for six hours, apparently due to “cold.” I don’t know… you’d think they would be prepared for cold in northern Sweden in the middle of January. I guess not.

  11. I was booked for an overnight (something like 30 hour) train ride from Prague to Brussels costing about $250. The day before I was supposed to leave my friend was like “Um… you know you can fly that in an hour and a half for $75.” Though I was briefly taken in by the idea of getting tipsy and having a romantic 20’s era train car adventure, I’m really glad I made the switch. I suspect my “adventure” would have been more like you’re nightmare.

  12. OMG, I literally LOLed like five times at this post.

    I’m confused, the Coast Starlight doesn’t go through Bakersfield, does it? I thought that was the San Joaquin.

    • perhaps that’s why it took 14 hours — i read something about the route being different than usual for service or something

      • how do trains have different routes? why do they need people that know the area? isn’t the whole point that they just go forward?

        • i was gonna say exactly this. aren’t they on rails??? FIXED rails? isn’t it sort of a stop/go situation? i guess there are switches. possibly cows. maybe they need people who know where the high-density-cow-areas are.

  13. If you drive from Madrid to Barcelona it takes 7 hours. If you take a train, it takes 3.

    If you drive from Philadelphia to Montreal it takes 8 hours. If you take a train, it takes 15.

    North America needs to get their shit together.

  14. This train was on a detour, due to track work between LA and San Jose not it’s normal route. I Rather take Amtrak over Greyhound any day. Amtrak is planning to have wi-fi all trains in future. I ‘ve eaten on Coast Starlight the food is fine. i wish people like this quit bashing Amtrak. Amtrak 90% of time provide good service. She should of taken the San Joaquins and got there faster.

    • yeah I’d still rather take Amtrak than Greyhound.

      You probably ate in the dining car, which I couldn’t afford.

      They’ve been saying that they’ll add wi-fi to the whole train for like three years.

      I took the Coast Starlight instead of the San Joaquin because it said there was wi-fi on the Coast Starlight. So finding out that there wasn’t (I wasn’t the only one disappointed by this, I felt like my whole car was going to revolt) was kinda irritating

    • I don’t think it’s just Riese; once I took the train from Portland, OR to LA and it ended up taking almost 40 hours, plus there was all this confusion and we all had to be bussed everywhere and we only made it as far as Glendale or something and my grandpa had to come from Pasadena to pick us up. Then I had to get back on the train and come back, and that time we ended up being stuck in our seats for 8 hours in Sacramento. My mom ended up with a pinched nerve from so much sitting… whooops

      That being said, I have taken Amtrak multiple times from Portland to Seattle and that journey is pretty reliable. But if it’s the Coast Starlight, it’s always HOURS late.

      In conclusion, I’m not one to be all EUROPE IS BETTER THAN THE US because whatever I like a lot of things about the US but man, train travel… if it says 8:07 it’s there at 8:07, ya know?

  15. Riese, this may be one of the funniest posts ever. I love your writing, but like emilu said above, in this piece each line was more awesome than the one before it. I couldn’t stop smiling!

    I’m sorry you had to endure 14 hours on the coast starlight–do you have to repeat this insanity to get home after Dinah?

    • Yes, actually, I’d already bought a return ticket for this same route — which, btw, cost $106 for some reason, but I just changed it just now to a bus/train combo that will take less time and won’t tease me about wifi

  16. god this sounds tragical. I lived just outside Fresno once (which is my only experience with this train, and I have no recollection of how long it took but I remember reading half of an enormous book), so that cat macro was pretty great.

  17. ..forgot to add earlier…this was hilarious….Planes and trains kind of knock me out and I tend to sleep the whole way…so i am sorry you had a bad trip but it did make for a hilarious post….

  18. Riese,
    I’m so sorry you endured this hell. I’m also sorry that I laughed so hysterically at you enduring said hell! :)
    I hope you don’t have to repeat said hell after Dinah!!

  19. Oh the adventures of taking trains and buses…

    I have to get to San Jose from Santa Barbara several times a year (because I like going home) and these are things I learned:

    1. Amtrak buses are nicer than greyhound buses
    2. It’s worth it to split the trip between a train and a bus, because the train takes forever but there’s more room/electrical outlets.
    3. No matter what you do, the fact that the whole thing is going to be 3-4 hours longer than it would take to drive will cause you to be clawing the windows by hour 6, when you are still 2 hours away from home sitting next to some stranger on a bus and therefore unable to move or fall asleep on a friendly shoulder


    • I wish I could not fall asleep when I’m sleeping next to strangers on buses and the like. I always wake up drooling on some strange dude’s shoulder. It’s a little embarrassing.

  20. I took the train once when I was 10. My sister (who is 14 years older than me) thought it would be fun to fly from Kansas Ciy to Dallas and then take the train back. The airconditioning in our train car went out as we pulled out of the station and then we spent what seemed like my entire childhood crawling towards KC in a shiny convection oven. Did I mention it was August? IT WAS AUGUST. I haven’t taken a train since and my sister and I do not speak of that trip.

  21. This article is great. Last time I took the train was this past fall, when I went to visit my girlfriend’s house. The train’s departure was delayed about 1-2 hours because they had to clean the train, apparently. And then the conductor was new to the job, and so he messed up and overshot the platform of the station I was getting off at by a hundred feet or so, and this meant I had to disembark onto a field of REALLY CHUNKY gravel, in the dark. And then walk across it. But my girlfriend had pizza waiting for me at her place, so I was happy.

    And then the return train was about 1-2 hours late, too, so we ended up playing Settlers of Catan on her couch at something like 7 in the morning to pass the time.

    So I guess the point of this comment is that Amtrak is usually late.

  22. This was the f*cking funniest thing I’ve read all year. Thanks for making the best of an atrocious situation so that more happiness could be had in the world.

  23. I was on a train for 14 hours once, it was going from Winnipeg to VANCOUVER. Holy shit. You must’ve spent a lot of time at the station, I feel so bad for you.

  24. I’m glad we’re talking about long Amtrak trips right now. Last week, I woke up at 5:30 AM so I could take a 7 hour train home and actually get there during the day. It was late to the station, and then there was an hour and a half delay while they had to get rid of a car. I was getting pretty mad, so I decided to forget about getting work done and just watch Pretty Little Liars on my computer. Watching TV or movies is the easiest way to kill time on a train, because by the time you’ve watched an episode, an hour is gone.

    While I have generally enjoyed trains for being chill and giving me time to just sit and read, seven hours gives me a lot of time to get really bored and frustrated. The best part is that a plane could take me the same place in a ONE hour trip, but I’m like, morally opposed to airports. They were always very complicated and annoying with all the fuss about going through security stuff and not being able to bring your shampoo because it could be an explosive or whatever, but the body scanner thing is just too much. (If there is a memo I didn’t get about not being angry about body scanners anymore, let me know, but I think airports will always be annoying.)

    • Yeah I share your feelings about air travel, it’s a hassle and alway does end up costing more than you think with checking bags, getting a car to the airport (I haven’t had a car since I was like 21), etc. I don’t think all that hassle is worth it for a plane ride that’s taking me anywhere I could drive/train

  25. Apparently I can’t read your articles in coffee shops. I think I laughed like ten times. The lady next to me is staring.

    But yeah, CA rail service SUCKS. We don’t have enough track, and the cargo trains get precedence, so the passenger schedules are really erratic and nutty and STUPID. High speed rail is vaguely a possibility (we even voted a bond measure for it, back in 2008– Prop 1A!) but with the budget the way it is it’s pretty much dying a slow death. If we did have HSR, you could have gotten from SF to LA in less than 3 hours. 2 hours and 40 minutes, actually. Safer, faster, greener, cheaper. La la la. I should have realized HSR was impossible and spent that summer canvassing against Prop 8 instead…. ):

  26. Jeez, grow a pair, you little twit! Your train was detouring–it wasn’t on the regular route. That’s why it took longer, and that’s why it had to wait for crews who were qualified on the detour route.

    I’m delighted to read that you won’t be riding Amtrak again. It’s so much more pleasant on the train when we don’t have to deal with ignorant little shits like you.

    • omg mike from the dining car? you should probably take your break soon. you sounded way nicer over the intercom.

      • No, not Mike from the dining car. Just a regular passenger who gets tired of whining little bitches who disturb everyone else on the train.

        • Because waiting till she got off the train to post a humorous account of her experiences was severely disturbing other passengers around her? It’s not like she jumped right up on her seat and started bawling and clawing her hair out for fourteen hours straight.

          Now please excuse me while I log on to Yelp and start chastising every reviewer who gave the ice cream parlor down the street less than 3 stars. Damn troublemakers.

    • I like how on the internet people are allowed to have opinions, but I learned in AP English not to use ad hominem attacks. Language like “twit” and “ignorant little shits” is not nice.

  27. those cats are HILAR. i’m sorry you had to go through all of this but i feel like it was worth it for the lulz.

    i’m from nz but i took the coast starlight from seattle to portland a couple years ago. i had no idea the trip was actually only a couple hours by car because it took A MILLION YEARS on the train. it was crazy late (which is weird, right, because doesn’t it START from seattle?) and i was forced to join a strange-smelling elderly man for “lasagne” in the dining car, because apparently a table to myself was too big of an ask. it burned my tongue and did not require me to chew at all. 0/10, amtrak.

    • Well, if there’s only one train for the route and they’re waiting for it to arrive, that could be why it was late coming in to Seattle.

  28. Q:
    “I had this sort of concept of trains as an inherently superior form of transportation. Where’d I get that idea from?”

    “here’s to our last drink of fossil fuels
    let us vow to get off of this sauce
    shoo away the swarms of commuter planes
    and find that train ticket we lost
    cuz once upon a time the line followed the river
    and peeked into all the backyards
    and the laundry was waving
    the graffiti was teasing us
    from brick walls and bridges
    we were rolling over ridges
    through valleys
    under stars
    I dream of touring like Duke Ellington
    in my own railroad car
    I dream of waiting on the tall blonde wooden benches
    in a grand station aglow with grace
    and then standing out on the platform
    and feeling the air on my face”

  29. What made you think wifi was available to coach passengers? The Amtrak website clearly states that on the Coast Starlight it is a “sleeping car amenity”.

    • i don’t see “sleeping car amenity” but yes, there’s one tiny corner of the website where it says “parlour car only” but obviously i wasn’t the only person who didn’t feel obliged to comb through the website when it said right there on the coast starlight page “Wi-Fi is available on this trip” and when you click “learn more about wifi” it says stuff about wi-fi but no further discussion of the parlour car being exclusive.

      the night before i called amtrak to verify that there would be wi-fi but i was put on hold for an hour before i gave up and sent them an email asking about the wi-fi to ensure that i would have it. by the time they responded to my email, i was already on the train (i saw it on my phone) and i’d also asked about power outlets and she said in the email that there were no power outlets available in coach, but when i got there there were two power outlets next to every coach seat, which was awesome, so.

  30. Omg, people are so angry that you weren’t 100% satisfied with your Amtrak experience!

  31. What is “the Autostraddle Situation”? Knowing that it is severe enough to cause you “existential crisis, paranoia, despair, anger” is totally making me have feelings of existential crisis, paranoia, despair, anger.

    Whisky Tango Foxtrot, over?

  32. I only once took a train in europe, (paris to venice) and it took one night. But I was in the bathroom as the train went under a tunnel, and I was stuck for what felt like forever.

  33. I take the Vermonter regularly. I could take the faster bus, but I feel (usually) safer on the train. I also appreciate elbow room and bathrooms.

    Last trip though — train ride from hell. The train was FOUR HOURS LATE in Winter, and my station stop is outside. The train was late because its engine had broken down. Once it arrived, we continuously lost power/heat and worried about stalling on the tracks. Once it seemed like we were making time, the train then ran over someone. D:

  34. I took a train from Ann Arbor to Grand Junction, CO once. It took…ready? 54 HOURS. I tried to capitalize numbers. Whatever.

    All I had was a CD player, not a computer that played CDs or anything. Like a round thing that you put a disc in and had to have batteries to operate and ONE CD. It was Trainwreck by Boys Night Out which is the most depressing thing in the entire world. All I ate the entire time was a hotdog and a bag of ruffles which cost all of my money.

    Fuck trains.

  35. LMAO, ur posts are alway’s hilarious! To the person who asked if hash was still around, it is, just not as popular with the younger generation. Awww…the innocence of the 80’s.

  36. i hear in europe they have trains that are fast.

    for instance france’s tgv aka train à grande vitesse aka really fast train.

    really, the name means “really fast train”. how can the coast starlight train compete?

  37. I once took Amtrak from far eastern Montana (basically North Dakota) to Portland (Oregon, not Maine) when I was 12 or 13. It was a traumatic experience and took several days. I have refused to use Amtrak since.

  38. LOL at anyone taking the train on the west coast. Seriously, if you don’t live in the Northeast Corridor don’t even bother with Amtrak. It’s not made for you. As a native New Yorker with family in the DC area though, Acela is the shit. Especially when you consider the alternative involves the godforsaken Jersey Turnpike. I wish they hadn’t killed the limited stop trains, though, I remember getting to DC in like 3 hours (!) once, as opposed to the close to 5 it generally takes–if you’re smart/lucky enough to avoid rush hour traffic.

    It’s a shame but the oil/auto industry basically killed passenger rail in the US through a series of bullshit moves back in the day. I saw a PBS documentary on suburban sprawl that detailed all of this, and it was depressing as hell. If you want to know why Europe owns us when it comes to rail travel, blame Big Oil and the interstate boondoggle. Suburban sprawl in the US and a lack of initiative at the federal level means we will never have a decent system like in Europe.

    • I wondered if the intrastate thing was probably a big issue with American rail travel. I know here in the Great White North our rail system is obvs slower than Europe, etc, but our rail travel within province is generally not bad (granted my experience lies mostly within Ontario so is probably a bad comparison for the rest of the country). But our provinces are also gigantic, and there’s only 12 of them, so you can go a long ways without having to cross a provincial border. And we have the cross Canada line that was put in way-back-when when we could just bring in Asian workers and not worry about anybody getting killed because hey, we only wanted them to build stuff anyways, if they got killed it guaranteed they wouldn’t stick around! /Canadian Heritage Minute. (There are exactly three people who will get that. They are all Canadians.)

    • I take a train that shares a track with Acela…oh my goodness cling on to something when it comes past. It is terrifying!

  39. It’s not Amtraks fault the train is always late-blame the Union Pacific which owns the track (and most of whose roadbed was build courtesy of taxpayers back in the 1800s who gave the UP the land in return for running passenger trains and carrying govt freight at reduced rates, both conditions of which they have weaseled out of). They either don’t give the passenger trains the right of way or don’t maintain the tracks.

    The Coast Starlight does not go through Bakersfield.

    And while the journey is slow, you get to look at unparalleled scenery–better than you can get from a car or bus or by flying. And, while it owuld be nice if the UP ran the train on time, the point of a train is to put your cares away and enjoy the scenery. You also get to meet a lot of interesting people.

  40. dear riese, when i used to take amtrak to go visit you in new york city it would take me 12 hours which is insane for a montreal-nyc trip. but then i would get there and alex would make me tea and we would play scattergories and everything would be perfect. i’m glad you had something like that waiting for you at the end of your hellish train ride, though i’m sure it was a little more exciting than tea. love, emily.

  41. There is something wrong with this world when the leader of the lesbian revolution known as has to take the damn train to a lesbian event. I mean it. Someone please pay for her flight next year. You heard me Dinah Shore Gods!!

    To anyone who thinks Riese’s complaining is annoying… you try to do what she does and what she has already done for our community. Seriously, just try it. I’d really like to see you try.

    Love you Riese! Have fun!

  42. I love EVERYTHING about this post.

    I just got back from 4 months of living in Prague for business/adventure. And decided that as I traveled around eastern Europe it would somehow be more romantic and adventurous to do it by train like I’d seen in the movies.

    The movies are full of shit.

    First of all I paid extra for first class. I get on a dirty, ancient, communist era train. While I had no illusions of having internet I had hoped for at least a power outlet. No dice. A reclining seat? Uh uh. Cleanliness? Nope. Toilet paper in the bathrooms? Of course not. (good thing I travel prepared)

    So I ask the guy that comes by to check my ticket.

    “Is this the first class car?”
    “What’s the difference between first class and the rest of the cars?”
    He shrugs his shoulders, “There’s usually fewer people in first class”.

    I read between the lines, what he meant was “The suckers buy first class tickets.”

    Then he leaves. And I realize there’s not just fewer people on my car. There’s no one on my car. NO ONE. It’s getting darker and darker and were stopping at creepier and creepier train stations.

    All I can think about is some horror movie I saw where Thora Birch and her friends were being murdered one by one on some train going through Eastern Europe. And this is when I am now trying to remind myself that there’s nothing to worry about — The movies are full of shit. It’s not helping.

    Essentially, I’ve paid EXTRA to be murdered in the VIP section all by myself.

    Obviously I survived, but the moral of the story: Trains blow.

    The End

  43. The only long-haul train I’ve ever taken has been then Indian-Pacific ie. one side of Australia to the other. It takes like 3 days, there is not a tree in sight for 1000kms and an old guy taught me about dinosaurs. I was 12, I think I probably had a great time.

  44. travel, what even are you? i took the bus to new york two weeks ago, but first i had to chase it through chinatown. the lights didn’t work (couldn’t read), i don’t have an ipod, everyone was on the phone, and on the way out of philly we hit a car. WE HIT A FUCKING CAR. THAT HAPPENS. everyone started yelling in chinese. i immediately began drinking champagne concealed by a wool hat. i am going to stop trying to save money by cutting corners on travel.

  45. Riese, can we please please rollerblade from Oakland to LA? I promise I’ll take care of you when you invariably hit a tree.

    • Aaaaaand by invariably I mean inevitably. Sorry, I’m trying to learn math and write this at the same time, and variables are taking over my brain. Rollerblading would make it better.

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