Monday, December 17, 2012

All Aboard!

Awaiting the train at Montpelier Junction

A scene out the window

Coming into White River Junction

Writing Christmas cards aboard

This past weekend we made good on a long held desire to travel by train. Our trip was somewhat short;  from central Vermont down to western Massachusetts, but it was thrilling regardless.

Numerous times  we have investigated the option of travelling by train, and most often the compromises involved have been too much to deal with,  be it cost, time or logistics, so we end up choosing to go by car or plane. In this case the variables worked well enough and we went for it.

Kind of like riding a bike, from a distance others see effort and complication, but up close it is frequently an intimate and immediate pleasure. The train was something like this as well. Beyond the challenge of cost and timetables there are the less obvious benefits of comfortable and safe travelling, a greatly diminished carbon footprint,  and a relaxing period of time to do as you please-- all combined with the adventure of seeing the world through the distinct view of a train window. These qualities are somewhat less tangible yet taken together add up to something pretty special and worth taking into account.

Southbound travellers embarking after we'd gotten off in Brattleboro

A happy reunion with Dan and Addie

The first portion of the trip followed very familiar routes that I've either driven or cycled and it was really fun to see familiar locations from a new perspective. To travel through Vermont by train you might get the impression that all of the state is made of up rustic old farms and beautiful pasture.

There was something magic about the train arriving. From the "toot toot" as I heard the train approaching the station, my heart started to race. How fun to ride a train! It is a connection that reaches deep into our history and yet is a vital and promising answer to many of our present day ailments.  As we rode, I imagined life when this was the predominate form of travel and how good that must have been. Like the bicycle, it accelerates your journey, but not so much that your natural human accommodation can't keep up. You experience the transformation of time and distance at a pace that feels intuitively right.

After a weekend spent with friends we were driven back to the station in Brattleboro and made our way home. It was a slushy, snowy evening and it would have been a slow and unpleasant drive home. I noted this as we sat comfortably and safely in the warm passenger car headed north. With wifi available and the freedom to move about I settled in for easy trip home.

 The ride home Sunday night

The train continuing North from Montpelier in the snowy dark

Of course, riding in a train, a subway, an airplane or a bus is all similar in the sense that you are foremost moving from one place to another, and there is a similarity across these modes of transport on some level, but my overall sense of ease was notable aboard the train. Perhaps it just feels safe in comparison to the others, maybe its knowing it is a markedly more sustainable means of travel--I'm not sure. But I do know I'm going to be angling for more train trips in the future.

(My understanding is there will be a time in the not-distant future when bicycles will again be allowed aboard the trains. Amtrak is working on a national system of cars that can store the bikes and on updating their booking systems to include this option. I will celebrate that day when these two forms of travel are again linked.)