A Year On The Ground: Riding the Rails

by Sallie Bingham

Train travel is becoming, rapidly, as comfortable as an old shoe, and it takes the elegance of Union Station in Washington to remind me of the miracle of this way of moving along the ground.

But first, we stand for a long time in freezing drizzle in the Amtrak station in Richmond, modernized to dreariness, although the old photographs on the walls of the waiting room attest to the day when this was a major terminus. In those decades, eighty or more years ago, three train tracks crossed here, bearing engines and their massive loads, human and material, north, south and west. During the War, as my a historical Richmond grandmother called it, a major Union objective was to choke off these rail lines that were carrying supplies to the beleaguered Confederacy. All that is reduced to a shadow, now; only a few travelers wait to board when the train crawls in from Newport News.

The roommate and I are growing particular. The bedroom I reserved, which seemed so well appointed on the leg from Florida to Richmond, now promises to be horribly cramped. We try, at the ticket window in Union Station, to upgrade—in airline lingo—to a bedroom, which has actual beds and a bathroom, but the additional cost would be almost a thousand dollars, out of reach for nearly everyone traveling by rail. These bedrooms remain mostly empty, and it seems to me that Amtrak might reconsider what they are charging.

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