In a day and age when traveling has become little more than a series of indignities, riding the rails can itself feel like a vacation. Amtrak is really the only way to travel.
This weekend was just another reminder of how civilized the world of train travel can be. I was scheduled to return to New York from Rhode Island on Sunday night when my plans were thwarted by a freak cargo train derailment that resulted in the cancellation of every Amtrak trip between New York and Boston. These things happen -- extremely rarely -- so I was withholding judgment, seeing how the folks in the train station would react.
Had I been at an airport, I would have expected mass hysteria. People would have been simultaneously screaming into their cell phones and at ticket agents. Ticket agents would be stonewalling on refunds while offering to re-book passengers on a 10:00 p.m. plane the next day with a connection in Chicago. Baggage would be irretrievable from within the bowels of the mighty airport.
Here's how it actually went down at the train station: After an announcement was made that the 4:44 Acela Express was cancelled, passengers quickly and quietly queued up for the ticket windows, where the smiling Amtrak associates rebooked us for the next convenient departure. Easy as pie.
Only one woman started giving the ticket staff the third degree. Not too bad.
I should disclose that I have long been an Amtrak acolyte, taking it for both short hauls and overnight jaunts. Its exchange policy is liberal and its refund policy generous, meaning plans can stay flexible -- my plans are always flexible, derailment or no.
Sitting on a train is also less claustrophobic than squeezing into a plane; standing up is a thing and middle seats aren't. Amtrak also gets points for accepting cash for snacks when airplanes only take credit. That is called customer service people.
Sure our rail system is still light years away from comparing to those in Europe or Japan, but it ain't half bad. If more people got to know it, there would be more demand and maybe -- sometime decades from now -- the rails would be as awesome as this. Hey, a girl can dream.