Riding the Rails

Next stop: Forever After

They’re calling it The Love Train. Lauren Richey and Scott Miller will get married today at the spot where they met – in a car on the Framingham/Worcester Line of the Massachusetts Bay Commuter Railroad.

Richey, 36, and Miller, 40, will exchange vows on the inbound P556 between Southborough and Wellesley Farms as the train rolls along on its normal schedule. That gives the couple half an hour to get hitched. In Wellesley, the 100 guests will alight – quickly, so as not to hold up the train – and bagpipers and drummers will lead them to the reception nearby at the home of the groom’s parents.

Five years ago, Richey noticed “Bike Man,” as she called him, because he always had a fold-up bicycle on the train. He was mysterious: Sometimes he would already be on the train when Richey boarded in Ashland. Sometimes he would get on at a later stop. Did he have a girlfriend who lived in a different town? Was he a bike messenger?

Then there was The Blonde. “I’d also see a very pretty blonde getting on every morning, nicely dressed,” says Richey, who is a veterinary pathologist. Richey, a brunette, loves short stories, so she wrote one about Bike Man and The Blonde.

Then, one day in May 2005, Bike Man, in his typical jeans and T-shirt, sat down right in front of her. Richey, dressed in business casual, tapped him on the shoulder. “Can I ask you a question? Why do you get on at different stops?”

(Read article here)

Slow train coming

The Zephyr itself is a great hulking piece of machinery. Even when it’s resting on the tracks at Chicago’s Union Station, its nose almost looks as if it’s snorting fumes, taking a breather, impatient to get going. It would be our home for almost two and a half days.

It began in 1949 after the actress Eleanor Parker, who played the baroness in The Sound of Music, swung a bottle of champagne against its shiny stainless-steel shell at San Francisco’s Pier 3 Ferry building. It was cancelled in 1970, then reinstated by Amtrak in 1983.

Air travel and rising labour costs may have caused the break in service nearly 40 years ago, but heightened security at US airports, higher petrol prices and the need for cheaper long-distance travel may keep it choo-chooing through the recession.

The view from the train gives a timely reminder of the agricultural and industrial backbone of this great land. Travelling on the Zephyr is also about being part of this country’s engineering and cultural history. It remains an iconic piece of Americana.

Also known as the Silver Lady, the train takes a dramatic path across the US, even if it clocks up an average speed of just 75km/h; its route is one of the longest and most scenic operated by Amtrak, which upgraded the route to a daily service in 2000.

(Read article here)

Northern California’s Skunk Railroad

Except for the passengers’ high-tech cameras and modern garb, a time traveler from the last century would feel quite at home riding California Western Railroads Skunk Train in the 1990’s.

The view from the restored rail cars is pretty much unchanged: towering trees, deer drinking from the Noyo River, an isolated fisherman’s cabin peeking from the forest. With occasional whistles as it chugs through tunnels, over bridges and past open meadows, the train follows the coastal “Redwood Route” as it has since 1885.

Built as a logging railroad, the Skunk line began that year as a logical vehicle for moving massive redwood logs to Mendocino Coast sawmills from the rugged back country. Steam passenger service was started in 1904, extended to the town of Willits in 1911, and discontinued in 1925 when the self-powered, yellow “Skunk” rail cars were inaugurated. The little trains were quickly nicknamed for their original gas engines, which prompted folks to say, “You can smell ’em before you can see ’em.”

California Western welcomed more “modern” equipment in later years, which rail fans can still ride. The vintage 1925 M-100 motorcar — the only remaining train of its kind in use anywhere today — runs the line year-round, as does the 1935 M-300 motorcar. During the busier summer months, they are joined by three 1950’s diesel-powered engines, and famous Old No. 45, a majestic 1924 Baldwin steam engine, the kind most kids dream of when they think “train.”

Moving at a leisurely pace (29 miles per hour maximum), the trains pull covered cars as well as open observation cars — perfect for capturing photographs of the truly exhilarating journey.

The Skunk Railroad is considered one of the top ten most scenic railroads in America.

You can visit the Skunk Railroad website here

Riding the Rails

Somewhere on the west side of Illinois, the Amish men broke out a deck of Skip-Bo cards and I joined them as the cafe car attendant, using an iPod and a set of portable speakers, broadcast Eckhart Tolle, author of “A New Earth,” discoursing on the virtues of stillness.

“Life gets discombobulating,” the attendant said, calmly. “This helps.”

On both sides of the train window, American scenery unfolded. A dirty layer of ice and snow subdued the still cropland to the distant horizon. At the next table a woman stuck her nose in a novel; a college kid pecked at a laptop. Overlaying all this, a soundtrack: choo-k-choo-k-choo-k-choo-k-choo-k — the metronomic rhythm of an Amtrak train rolling down the line to California, a sound that called to mind an old camera reel moving frames of images along a linear track, telling a story.

The six Amish men were in their mid-20s, and they were returning home to Kolona, Iowa, after a three-week cross-country tour. They had especially liked the Creation Museum, in Petersburg, Ky., and Niagara Falls. As we rolled across white plains, they pointed out which plots grew beans and which grew corn. To my eye, the dormant land revealed few clues.

Around the train car lounged Americans traveling for work and others for family, people for whom train travel is a necessity and those for whom it’s merely quaint, first-time riders and probably even a few “foamers” — the nickname that train workers privately give the buffs who salivate over the sight of a locomotive.

(Read article here)

Texas State Railroad’s new owner plans unique events

The American Heritage Railway, which owns the Silverton-Durango train and the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad, bought the Texas State Railroad a year ago and has brought some unique trains to operate between Rusk and Palestine. Huge crowds showed up to view “Thomas the Tank Engine.”

The two newest ones are the ” Little Engine That Could” and “The Lone Ranger.” The latter, to run on Thursdays, will feature a train robbery that is interrupted by the Lone Ranger. A “Lone Ranger” movie with Johnny Depp as Tonto will be filmed on the railroad in coming months.

The ” Little Engine That Could” will run pretty much all year on Thursdays. On the drawing board is a train featuring Snoopy and Charlie Brown.

(Read article here)

Strangers on a train

As in most cases where people sit cooped up for long periods with little to do, rumours travel quickly on a train. In my experience, they generally start at the back, in, say, the glass-lined sightseeing car that serves as VIA Rail Canada’s caboose. From there they quickly work their way forward, through the fancy sleeper cars and then the less-fancy sleeper cars, to the dining car, to the cafe car and then to the comfort-class car, where, despite the name, passengers are given a pillow and footrest and little else.

When a rumour at last arrives at the conductor, 18 cars and iterations later, it typically goes something like this:

Our train, the Ocean, is stopped here in the middle of nowhere at 7 a.m. because a moose wandered onto an adjacent track and was struck by a fast-moving freight train.

Dying, the moose staggered a bit, and then, in a kind of death lunge, threw itself onto the Ocean’s track, coming to rest antlers-up.

If true, this was significant. Antlers-up is one of the few ways a moose can damage a passenger train, it turns out.

(Read article here)