On May 10, 1869, the New York Times breathlessly reported on an event taking place in an obscure part of the country. A golden spike was driven into the ground at Promontory Point in Utah. The symbolic (it was later replaced by a spike of a more permanent nature) act connected the Union Pacific and Central Pacific lines, completing the transcontinental railroad line across the country. Passengers could travel from Boston to San Francisco by rail.
It was going to forever change the way we traveled. Families could see two oceans on one summer vacation. Businessmen could conduct commerce in St. Louis and Los Angeles in the same week. Lovers could reunite from great distances apart. Travel couldn’t get any better than this.
Henry Ford’s assembly line and affordable motorcar happened, for one thing. Dwight D. Eisenhower and the Interstate Highway System happened, for another. Train travel has declined to the point that it’s survival, except as a novelty, is in danger.
What a shame.
Train travel is a pleasure too few people avail themselves of today. If we may, Gildshire Magazines would like to take a stand against this sad decline in civilized transportation. Here are some great train trips.
- Pacific Surfliner: San Luis Obispo to Santa Barbara: Distance 106 miles, trip duration: 2 Hours, 29 minutes: See some of the truly spectacular Pacific Ocean coastline on this 2.5-hour ride. Ride inland to Santa Maria and reconnect with the coast at Gaviota. Fare: $35.00.
- Napa Valley Wine Train: Round Trip Napa to St. Helena: Distance 36 miles, trip duration: 3 hours: This is the shortest journey on our list, but it may be the most spectacular. The train winds from historic downtown Napa through some of the lushest (and most expensive) real estate in the country. Most trips end after sunset, allowing the passengers to enjoy a glass of wine and witness what the locals call The Golden Hour, through the windows. That’s the hour just before sunset when the hillsides glow with the hues of the coming evening. Fares start at $146 for a gourmet lunch trip.
- Grand Canyon Railway: Round Trip Williams, AZ. to GCNP: Distance 65 miles each way, trip duration 4 hours, 30 minutes plus your time at the Canyon. In less than 70 miles see a vast array of topography, scenery, and climate. Begin in the desert and wind through meadows and forests until the immense scope of the Canyon greets you at the top. Fares begin at $65 and ascend as you add luxury touches to your trip.
- Royal Gorge Railroad: Canon City, CO: Distance about 30 miles each way, trip duration 2 hours, fifteen minutes. There isn’t a State in the Union that has to take a back seat to Colorado, and one of Colorado’s great excursions is the Royal Gorge Railroad. This is a guided tour, complete with music and storytelling. Fares begin at $44.00.
- Alaska “Coastal Classic” Train: Anchorage to Seward: Distance 114 miles. Duration: 4 hours. Vacationers who cruise to Alaska see some of that it has to offer. Vacationers who fly to Alaska and road trip see some of what it has to offer. Bt, only those who travel by train in Alaska get the best of what an Alaska vacation has to offer. This trip through the serene backcountry affords travelers the opportunity to see bald eagles, bears, beluga whales, glacial backdrops and alpine meadows through the Kenai Mountains. Fares start at $105.
- Amtrak’s Empire Builder: Distance 1,733 miles. Duration 46 hours. Now, that’s what we’re talking about! All of these shorter trips were just a warm-up. After you have spent 2-5 hours on a wine, dinner, or scenic cruise, hop aboard an Amtrak train. It will be the rail trip of your lifetime. Get aboard in Chicago and see the northern Plains, the Rocky Mountains, and some of America’s great cities on the way to Seattle. Fares start at $181, if you don’t mind sleeping in your seat (they really are quite comfortable). If you want an actual bed, the fare is $947, but your food is included in that price.