Do the Locomotive

This guy one row behind me is on his mobile phone and he won’t shut up, but overall, I’m pretty happy to be traveling for my current business trip — this time very briefly to Washington, D.C. — by train. Amtrak, for all its faults, is a far, far better experience than hauling myself out to the airport and suffering through the perfunctory and arbitrary TSA screening processes before getting on an overcrowded airplane. Between New York and Washington, you just can’t beat the train for how easy and how pleasant it is.

More Power to Me

Moreover, these train seats have power outlets, a truly forward thinking feature that makes locomotive travel, in this small way, far more 21st century than the majority of airlines cutting up the sky circa 2005. I’m happily typing this on my laptop, blissfully disregarding battery capacity, and getting a lot done. One day in the future, municipal minds will line the Northeastern rail corridor with 802.11x repeaters the way cities hang Christmas lights along Main Street in December, and passengers will not only have power for their 50 gigahertz laptops, but they’ll have wireless broadband access too.

Right now I’m resigned to queuing up long-delayed replies to patiently waiting emails in my out box until I can get back online and send them, but that’s part of why this is experience is so nice. I’m not tempted to check my email, chat with friends and colleagues via instant messenger, catch up on RSS feeds via my aggregator, wade through links on Rather, I’m just getting a heck of a lot done, undisturbed and undistracted. It feels more solidly productive than I’ve felt sitting at my desk (at home or at work) in a long time, and it almost makes me think that I should take a train ride to D.C. once a week just to get the time to myself.

  1. Maybe I’ll enjoy this too. I’m going to Ireland and Paris in less than two weeks and I have a few flights and one long layover. At least I should have high speed internet in Paris (and a balcony!) 🙂

    Maybe I’ll redesign my website again 😉

  2. I took an Amtrak train from Rochester NY to Chicago a few years ago on July 4th weekend, and my experience was absolutely terrible. Rochester to Chicago is a 10 hour drive, but my train ride actually took 24 hours because we were so badly delayed at every single stop.

    At the end of the trip, people were so pissed off that there was actually a mutiny and passengers took over the food/drink car and were giving out alcohol and snacks for free while the Amtrak employees just huddled in a corner and didn’t say anything. I was offered a free roundtrip pass anywhere in the country I wanted for my ordeal, but I ripped it up in front of them.

    But glad to see your trip was alright!

  3. If you do end up making regular trips to DC, let me know. There is a thriving IA community here, and we’re always looking for an excuse to host a happy hour.

  4. Assuming you went Acela Business right? I’ve enjoyed that trip a few times myself this year. Three hours the other direction to Boston isn’t bad either.

  5. acela is currently out of commission cause of issues with the brakes. i’d be surprised if they did return before the fall, although amtrak is stating mid summer, limited, return.

  6. The east-coast corridor trains are much better than the cross-country ones. I used tot ake the train between NYC and D.C. about once a week and got accustomed to how nice it was to just sit back for 3 hours and answer email. Only once did I get upset because the train’s A/C outlets were runnign at too high a voltage, and 2 hours of having my Powerbook adaptor plugged in made it overheat, ruining it. I took the adaptor to an Apple store in Virginia and they happily replaced it at no cost.

    I’ve also taken the train up to Boston a few times and have no complaints.

    I jsut wish that Amtrak would get its act together an improve cross-country rail travel. As the price of gas goes up, the usage of automobiles for long trips will decrease. Amtrak can only benefit from this trend. I’m hoping that they figure this out before it’s too late.

  7. Yes, the Acela is still out of commission, so I took a plain old regional train. I wish the Amtrak experience outside of Boston/New York/Washington would improve, too, but it’s really not Amtrak’s fault. They are at a perpetual disadvantage being one of many favorite whipping boys of conservative Washington. It’s my opinion that rail travel, as it is in so many other countries, is a part of our national infrastructure that should be robustly funded by public money — certainly with more convinction than it is today in the U.S. of A. But that’s just me.

  8. Try getting that idea past the automotive industry lobby…

    In several parts of the US, GM and other companies actually bought up large sections of railroad and removed them.

  9. Anyone use the Chinatown bus? $20 one way between dc to ny, if you dont mind the smell of the chemical toilet.

  10. I do like trains, too. Compared to Europe and Japan, however, the US train system is laughable. I wish the US had a stronger train culture, and that would certainly go towards improving the state of trains and train service.

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