Riding Amtrak, St. Louis to Dallas, July 16-17, 2008

by Brian Cofer July. 19, 2008 2515 views

I hate flying more than I can describe. So on my latest trip to see my family in Dallas, I thought I'd try the train. I have romantic images from the 1940s of rail travel, and while Amtrak is relatively cheap and pretty comfortable, the trip turned out to be a lot more than I bargained for, as I will describe to you as we go along here.

Let's start on the St. Louis end.

Nevermind the 1940s images of grand railroad depots with vaulted ceilings and huge windows, the St. Louis station is a temporary affair so bad that locals call it Amshack.

The train was actually on time, a hopeful sign. It's said that on Amtrak trains can run hours behind schedule. At 8 p.m. we got on board and left St. Louis.

The sun started to go down as we were leaving. Only 16 more hours and we'll be in Dallas.

After this shot, my autoflash started coming on, so that was it for photography for this evening. The seats were spacious and reclined. Lots of legroom. AC blasting. A snack bar. What could be better. Pretty soon, it was dark and time to go to sleep. That's where my troubles began. The guy two seats up was prone toward profane outbursts, the F-word and everything. I would be on the verge of sleep and this guy would let into a string of expletives. This went on until about 2 a.m. when a conductor came along and told him to knock it off. After that, sleep was fitful with 30 minutes here and 20 minutes there. I was ready to get to Dallas.

I woke up to find the sun rising over soutwest Arkansas between Arkadelphia and Hope. It's hard to take photos when the train is rushing along 60 miles per hour, but I did my best.

After we left Texarkana, the train just crawled all day across East Texas. We constantly stopped on sidings for 30 minutes or more to let freight trains go by. We maintained at about 1 to 2 hours behind schedule. Really, not so bad, and I thought that while this was a fun adventure, I'd probably not ride Amtrak again.

Then we got to Terrell, 25 miles east of Dallas. I could practically see Big D up ahead and we came to a stop. Nobody came to explain or anything. Finally, passengers trickled back to let us know that they were doing track work up ahead and that we would be here for four or five hours. People started getting off the train. Fortunately, the tracks were running alongside U.S. 80, a major highway into Dallas.

I called my mom and she agreed to come out to Terrell and pick me up. I decided to start hoofing it to someplace air conditioned to wait. Just then a school bus pulled up and we bribed the driver into taking us to Union Station in downtown Dallas. So about 10 of us boarded the bus and completed the last leg of a ridiculous adventure.

Here's what I saw as the bus pulled away. Looks like a state trooper has stopped to see what was going on. I don't know whatever became of those poor passengers. They still could be sitting there alongside the tracks for all I know.

No more Amtrak for me.

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