Columns, Rural Ramblings

Traveling Slow to New Orleans

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photo by Karen Klotz
This Lake Pontchartrain bridge was seen from the sleeper car on the train, which traveled over the lake on the longest railroad bridge in the world.

by Karen Klotz

HARDWICK – April is my favorite time to travel. It’s a great time to escape mud season in Vermont and I don’t have to travel very far to find spring. This year we had the added incentive of visiting our baby granddaughter in New Orleans.

After reading about the carbon emissions from flying, I decided to travel by train to meet my husband in Washington, D.C., where he was already working, then take Amtrak all the way to New Orleans and back. We could then pick up his car in D.C. and drive back to Vermont.

A friend drove me to Montpelier, where I hopped on the Vermonter for a 12-hour ride to D.C. The seats were roomy and reclined well – comparable to first class on a plane. The wi-fi and cell service were spotty until we reached Massachusetts.

We spent a night in D.C. before boarding “The Crescent” for New Orleans. Since I knew the ride would take 26 hours and have an old back injury, I decided to splurge and upgrade to a sleeper car. The sleeper is called a “roomette” with two comfortable seats that fold down into a bed for sleeping. The upper bunk has a slider to pull down the bed at night which can then be pushed up during the day for more head room. The roomette has a toilet that doubles as a seat and a fold-down sink that drains water when it is folded up. Every square inch is utilized, similar to a small camper or tiny house. The bed was reasonably comfortable and I found the motion of the train to be relaxing. All of our meals were included with the cost of the roomette. The meals were tasty and healthy, although I had issues with the fact that they were served in disposable plastic containers.

Driving back from Virginia turned out to be the hardest part of the trip. After being able to walk around on the train, go to the bathroom when we needed to, play cribbage or go to the dining car for a meal, the car felt cramped and uncomfortable. It also was more enjoyable seeing the countryside when we didn’t have to worry about traffic or finding our way.

We’ll continue to travel by train as much as possible, although I do have a few thoughts about Amtrak and travel in general:

Sleeper cars should be more affordable. According to the website trains emit one-quarter the carbon of planes. Congress should discontinue the subsidies for the airline industry and funnel the money into making the sleeper cars more affordable. It is not realistic to expect people to sleep overnight in a coach seat for the sake of decreasing carbon emissions.

Target environmentalists and baby boomers in Amtrak advertising. Baby boomers want to travel, have more time and flexibility, but are concerned about their carbon footprint with flying. Traveling by train provides a great alternative. As part of the sustainability push, change the food packaging to compostable materials.

Stay tuned as we continue to explore low carbon emission travel options. Next trip: back on the Vermonter for a trip to New York City for a weekend in May.

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