{ In Praise of Train Travel }

Since starting my work as a tour guide, I've noticed that there are certain questions or types of questions that pop up pretty frequently. I thought it might be nice to do a series of posts answering some of these questions so that people who can't do tours or people who toured and were afraid to ask questions can still get answers. The question I structured this post around is one I get pretty consistently as an out-of-stater: how do you get to and from Oberlin?

After what seems like a very short time back in Oberlin, I'm back in Niskayuna again, courtesy of the Amtrak Lake Shore Limited. I take the train for almost every trip between Oberlin and my hometown and have done so since the end of my first semester. People are pretty consistently surprised when I tell them I do this. I imagine this is because Amtrak has a reputation for being slow, unreliable, and inconvenient and I won't lie, all of these complaints have elements of truth to them.

Full disclosure: this photo was not taken on the Lake Shore Limited, rather it was taken on a train ride to Tegernsee via the vastly superior train service, Deutsche Bahn. Still, train travel.

When my parents and I drive to and from Oberlin at the beginning and end of the year, it takes less than nine hours. My journey by train has never taken less than 10 and has taken much longer. Once while going to Oberlin at the beginning of the spring semester my train stopped for three hours in the middle of western New York because the lever used to change the course of the tracks had (allegedly) frozen in the wrong position. Just this past week my train got to Elyria nearly two hours late and I had no choice but to stand in the wind and rain until the train finally arrived. I should also mention that this standing and waiting occurred between 4:45 and 6:45 AM because the eastbound train is scheduled to leave Elyria shortly before five. And just in case you were wondering, the westbound train is scheduled to arrive about half an hour earlier, so travel times are not ideal.

But in spite of all that, the train works for me. As I said above, I take the train between Elyria, a small city less than 20 miles from Oberlin, and Schenectady, where the station is about five minutes from my house. That convenience is just one of the perks of living and studying in the Rust Belt - if you're close to a city that used to have a large-ish factory or mill, you're probably close to a train station. Getting to the station in Elyria isn't difficult either. I typically try to carpool with another Oberlin student, ask someone to drive me, or just book a cab.1

This photo was also taken on a DB train (putting those words next to each other is very LA Angels), this time to Nuremberg. In this photo I'm reading Empire Falls, which still gives me a lot of Rust Belt feelings.

But all that aside, traveling by train is far more comfortable and interesting than traveling in any other moving metal box. On a train I can pick my own seat, wander from cabin to cabin, and chill in the dining car. The baggage restrictions aren't as strict as a plane's, so I can bring water and snacks, which make the journey so much more pleasant. I can people-watch and overhear conversations in a variety of languages - I've heard Spanish, French, Pennsylvania Dutch2, Hindi, Chinese, and a variety of other languages I can't name while on the train. If I'm feeling more solitary I can just put on my headphones and read my book. But mostly, I end up staring out the window for long stretches of time, looking out at the varied scenery of my favorite state. I can already picture the train ride back to Oberlin on Saturday night. It will take me along the Mohawk River, past expansive farms and rolling hills and through the rustiest sections of America's former industrial heartland. The view may not always be beautiful, but it's a view that I love and one that never bores me.

Finally, this is one of only a few photos I've ever taken on a train ride from Elyria to Schenectady.

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1Even if I pay $20-30 for a cab, the overall travel price is usually lower than if I bought a plane ticket.

2Not only are Amish allowed to ride trains, but I see them every time I ride the train between Elyria and Schenectady.

{ Responses To This Entry }

I LOVE TRAINS. I wish the train infrastructure in the US were up to par - I'd take a train over a plane any day. God I love trains.

Posted by: Ida on October 21, 2014 7:22 PM

ME TOO. It is a bummer that the train infrastructure in the US isn't as good as it could be. I actually think the trains going down the eastern seaboard are great, I've even been on trains going to and from NYC that arrived early! Pretty sweet. The only problem is... everywhere else. But still, trains!

Posted by: Emily on October 21, 2014 7:29 PM

Oh. THIS is a good post idea, and answering bigger questions you get as a tour guide is a great idea. Do ittttt.

So, to and from home for me = once a year, at the end of the spring semester, at the painfully painfully early hours of pre-7am from the Cleveland airport, which is a terrible time in general, but the first time I did it (well, the second, my first year I flew to Kentucky for a few days and then home), I had plotting to go to the airport the night before on a shuttle that never came and I would sleep at the airport — which didn't happen because the shuttle never came and also apparently there was some rule about checking in and going through security more than some number of hours before the flight was supposed to take off.

I resigned myself to the fact that I would spend whatever amount of money I would have to spend on a cab would have to happen, and spent the evening hanging out with a friend whose room I was crashing in, and over half nachos at Agave, ran into a fellow Harkie and asked him about his summer... which was starting the next morning with a flight from the Cleveland airport at 7am. I happily joined his travel plans to the airport, and it was good. Except for the sleeping approximately three hours before a full day of traveling.

After that experience, the answer was calling a cab. Whew.

(For most of my breaks, I headed to NYC to hang out with my grandmother. I've flown and Greyhounded, but never trained. Actually, I've never trained before and I really want to!)

Posted by: Ma'ayan on October 22, 2014 9:55 AM


Posted by: Ida on October 22, 2014 8:11 PM

Everything WRONG apparently.

I don't know, I guess it's never been a viable option to travel for me. When the tradeoff comes at the expense of spending time at my final location, plane tickets have inevitably won out for maximizing time.

That said: I like the idea of getting somewhere as a part of the adventure, but that's more for vacation rather than purpose-driven travel. (Trains = luxury of time, which is something I don't have lots of, but should prioritize more.)

Posted by: Ma'ayan on October 23, 2014 11:36 AM

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