This post is part of our series ranking the top 25 bygone products and trends we'd like to see return.
There's something romantic about train travel. Is it the memories of the model train running on tracks around the Christmas tree, the luminous artwork in "The Polar Express"? The clips from old movies of the rich and fashionable strolling down the platform, carrying luggage in a gloved hand?
Maybe it's the names of the trains. The Silver Meteor which has run from New York to Miami since 1939. then there's The Cascades, The Adirondacker, The Heartland Flyer.
The sound of the wheels on the tracks, the blur as the country slides by outside the window of the dining car, has universal appeal. Train trinkets abound: On May 9th, there were 90,081 listings under "trains" on eBay, 12,109 under "railroad," with more bids than one might expect in the current economy.
But train travel is more than just a novelty. It is econ-friendly, for starters. Then there are more sights accessible by rail in the U.S. than most of us might assume - including the Grand Canyon, Niagara Falls, Yellowstone Park, and Disney World. The last full service railroad in the U.S. is the Alaska Railroad (http//alaskarailroad.com/arrc53.html) which offers special events including a beer train.
An Amtrak North America Railpass allows unlimited stops to over 900 destinations in both the U.S. AND Canada and is valid for up to 30 consecutive days. As gas prices rise and air travel gets more arduous, this may be just the ticket.
Think of all the forms of transportation Americans once depended upon. Which would you like to see return?If the idea of overnight travel by train intrigues you - and especially if you're traveling with children, it just might - you can take a virtual tour of Amtrak sleeper service options (which include meals - and sometimes an in-room toilet and shower) for two to four people.
Travel by rail was at its peak in the 19th and early 20th centuries and it's just possible that it can make a comeback. Can Amtrak Travel Green? It's their position that train travel contributes less greenhouse gasses "per passenger mile" than either car or train travel? It isn't clear how close to full the train has to be for the calculation to work out that way.
What is clear is that there's lots of information available, including J. David Ingles' book, "Guide to North American Railroad Hot Spots (Railroad Reference Series), John Pitt's, "USA by Rail - 6th Bradt," and Karen Ivory's, "Eight Great American Rail Journeys - A Travel Guide." There are also companies, like North American Rail Specialists, that advise about rail tour options and know which hotels are closest to the railroad stations.