What do you think of when you hear a train whistle or see the safety arms go down across a road, so a train can continue its journey? Do you think of things like the economy, travel, or adventure?
Trains have been part of American history for centuries. We studied about the push to connect the East and West Coasts of the country by rail in history classes. The development of the mighty locomotives encouraged boom towns, because they were a stop along the way; and, in contrast, small towns were bypassed and never recovered, simply by not being part of the trains’ routes. Trains have long had a direct impact on our economy.
So, what do trains do for us?
Trains carry pretty much anything you can imagine:
- 70% of the coal used to power approximately 78% of American homes is moved by rail. According to statistics, in 2018, 44 million carloads were transported.
- Food and agricultural products get to their destinations from farm to grocery counters. Each year, around 1.5 million carloads of food and 1.5 million carloads of grain products are transported by rail.
- The construction industry relies on trains to move materials (lumber, steel, sand, stone, and gravel) to worksites around the country.
- The automotive industry receives parts and raw materials to build cars and trucks by rail. Around 75% of completed cars and trucks are transported from factories to destinations around the country. It’s quite a sight to see a train hauling multi-stacked shiny, new cars down the tracks—carload by carload.
From that box of cereal that ends up on your kitchen table to hazardous materials that must have special safety/security handling—trains haul it all.
Travel by Train
Gloved porters, dining cars with linens, sleeper cars, viewing cars with wide windows to enjoy the scenery go by—all the trappings of the luxurious mystique of traveling by train. That was the train travel of yesterdays. But, never fear, traveling by train is still popular and retains that certain air of luxury.
Did you know that it’s possible to travel cross-country for less than $300? That is, if you travel by rail. Visit Amtrak.com and check out all the options available to see the country from the comfort of a train, along with the amenities that are offered on each trip.
For example . . .
The California Zephyr travels approximately 3,000 miles coast-to-coast over three days for about $232 per person. The trip covers some of the first transcontinental routes and is a great way to see the country up-close.
The Southwest Chief travels from Chicago to Los Angeles via the Santa Fe railroad, along the famous Route 66. The route goes through Navajo country and offers an option to visit the Grand Canyon.
The Empire Builder begins in Chicago and ends in Seattle/Portland. Travelers get to view the Glacier National Park and the mountains of Washington State along the route.
Perhaps this seems a bit out of place, but take a look at some of the entertainment genres that feature trains prominently . . .
- Songs about trains cover almost every type of music you can name. Consider the classic “Folsom Prison Blues” by Johnny Cash, just one of his many songs about trains. Or, “The City of New Orleans” (Arlo Guthrie), “Last Train to Clarksville” (The Monkees), “Peace Train” (Cat Stevens), “Midnight Train to Georgia” (Neil Diamond), “Chattanooga Choo-choo” (Glenn Miller), or “Homeward Bound” (Simon & Garfunkel).
- For movies from suspense to murder to comedy, how about The Taking of Pelham One Two Three, Murder on the Orient Express, or Planes, Trains and Automobiles?
- And, let’s not forget books. Children’s classics such as The Little Engine That Could,Thomas the Train, or The Polar Express (which was also adapted to film). As for thrillers, Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie is a classic.
Our love affair with trains goes way back in our history. It’s nostalgic, adventurous, and a fun way to see the country. Think about a train trip in your future!