Taking the Train to New York: The Only Way to Fly


8:30 Toronto

The trip started so much easier than a plane flight; An easy subway ride to Union station, climb into a huge leather seat in Business class (all of 25 bucks more than regular;then gliding along the shore of lake Ontario among the new Condos on the shore. the car is half full, and we have our own little cafeteria and dining area. It is an Amtrak train with Via rail staff, who switch at the border.


11:30 Niagara Falls, Canada

Approaching the border, they close the bar for two hours to allow for customs. Will they let me in? Am I in their computer? We know what they think of enviros at Homeland Security, and I have written some not nice things about FEMA and even mentioned Michael Chertoff by name. I am nervous.

12:15 Niagara Falls , New York

That was intense. We all had to grab our bags and get off the train, and go into the tiny little amtrak station and wait to get a brief interview, and then back on to the train. Everyone was very nice except for one guard who went to intimidation school and wouldn't let me go to the bathroom. But they let me in!

1:00 Buffalo

I hit the dining car for a bite and find that it makes airplane food look like haute cuisine. I remember a trip out west when i was a teenager; they were plucking chickens on the train for dinner. Here they nuke tired sandwiches; I ordered a soup which came in such a heavy duty container it could have derailed the train if put on the
tracks. Lesson for next trip: bring lunch. But what can you bring? The form they give you when you cross the border says no fruit, no meat, do I dare to eat a peach?


2:45 Somewhere between Buffalo and Rochester

I strike up a conversation with the guy in front of me, who seems to have an endless supply of interesting environmental books. It turns out he is Michael Egan, an "environmental Historian" and professor at McMaster University on his way to Washington to meet Barry Commoner. It's his third trip in six months, always takes the train. He notes that it is a great place to get a lot of work and reading done without distraction (except for me).


3:00 Toto, we're not in condos anymore

On the Canadian side, we were sandwiched between the water and the highway; very pretty and cranes and condos everywhere ,giving way to the vineyards and orchards of Niagara. It is so different on the American side, running past abandoned buildings and junked cars, very tired places that remind me of Paul Simon's My Little Town. Infrastructure everywhere, buildings, canals, bridges, factories, assets on the ground that are just going to waste.


Rochester, New York

8:00 Schenectady

An hour behind schedule and it is getting boring. It isn't very social, everyone is in their own world, perhaps the iPod and Blackberry has forever changed train travel as well. I tried to listen to Barbara Kingsolver but couldn't get into it ; however Steve Martin's autobiography made four hours fly by.

Lessons for next trip: all three volumes of Lord of the Rings, and a notebook computer instead of my Treo.

9:00 Hudson NY

They switched to an electric engine and we are bombing down the Hudson River, it almost feels like Europe. It still isn't a party, but people are chatting.

As for me, my day job is reading and writing, and I can do that as easily on the train as I can at my desk (although a high speed internet connection would be nice, and I dread my bill for checking email on my Treo)

I had asked the engineer how much fuel he was using and he answered "I don't know, a couple of hundred gallons." So I cannot do an exact comparison of fuel per passenger, but suspect it was a lot less. It was also a third the price of flying, not even including getting to and from the airport, and relatively trouble free, and the Amtrak and Via people were all nice, cooperative and friendly. I look forward to repeating the experience.

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