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The Carolinian

On October 22nd I took another US train trip. Like my recent journey with MJ on the Coast Starlight down to Los Angeles, this trip on The Carolinian was a day trip to get me to a conference. This time I went with David from Philadelphia to Raleigh for All Things Open, the train left from 30th Street Station in Philadelphia around 9AM. With the exception of a trip up to NYC from Philly back in June, my big Amtrak trips have primarily been in the double-decker trains that included sleeper cars. This one was not, the top class was Business, which we took, and there was a cafe car, but no formal dining car. I did notice that the Business class car seemed to have new seats though, which was a nice change from all the old equipment I’ve experienced this year on other trains.

Business class cabin, our spot for the eight hours to Raleigh

The early portions of the journey traversed familiar stomping grounds for me, with stops in Wilmington, Baltimore and Washington DC. This was also the relatively quick portion of the trip on the high Amtrak traffic northeast corridor, taken with an electric locomotive.

Coming into Baltimore

Washington DC gave us about a half hour pause for passengers and swapping of the locomotive to a diesel one. Having done this route before, David clued me into the fact that we could head to the front of the train to see this. The power shut off in the trains and we hopped off, the electric engine was detatched and within about 15 minutes the diesel engine came rolling down the tracks to take us the rest of the way.

Electric engine detatched!

Plus, while we waited we got our train selfie!

From there, it was on to Virginia, for hours. It was nice to see the changing foliage in Virginia, somehow Philadelphia mostly consisted of green and brown-leaved trees when I was in town, probably caused by an unusually warm autumn that has confused the trees. The train also passed through fields and farms, through the woods and various small towns that had quick train stops. What I didn’t quite expect on this journey was the small towns, especially in southern Virginia, that had very little to show for in their downtowns. What was clearly once thriving, was now a series of boarded up and closed businesses. Of course I’d heard of the demise of the rural downtown, but being big city dweller that I am, seeing it, even from the window of a train, made an impact. A real estate app on my phone also kept alerting me to nearby home prices, which dipped well below an average of $100k in these areas, aside from the notable exception of an 18th century plantation estate that was going for $2.5 million.

Virginia stretched on for hours, with lots of nice things to see!

Lunch fell on this long stretch in Virginia. The cafe car was equipped with a microwave, which all hot food was unceremoniously prepared in. I’ve not generally been impressed with train food even in a formal dining car, and this was a step below that. I enjoyed my cookie though. There were also tables so we didn’t need to bring our meals back to our seats and were able to enjoy a slight change of scenery. I do admit missing the vista-type viewing cars from some of my earlier Amtrak journeys. Still, the company was good and I was able to get a bunch of reading in during my trip. I also probably spent two hours just staring out the window and taking advantage of the relaxation time that a train ride provides over air travel.

The afternoon brought us to the Roanoke River crossing, in North Carolina! The train enters the state near in the northeast and ends in Charlotte, which means that after going distinctly south for most of the journey, the train began making its way west after the stop in Wilson, NC.

Roanoke River crossing, North Carolina

A stop in Selma was next, and shortly after 5PM and slightly behind schedule the train arrived in Raleigh. The conference venue was just a couple blocks from the station, so a quick walk got us there for conference check-in and then off to the pre-conference social. No post-plane de-stress time needed, I was totally relaxed. As such, it was nice to be able to jump right into visiting with my open source brethren. Bonus: I shared the journey on social media so the most common non-work exchange I had at the conference was about how I had taken the train down, and often sharing details about how they could have done the same.

Off the train in Raleigh!

I’ve called 2017 my year of Amtrak, and though a jaunt up to NYC around the holidays with MJ is not out of the question, this was probably my final long-haul trip of the year. It won’t be my last of my lifetime though, I’ve quite enjoyed seeing the country by train this year. Though trains in the US leave something to be desired, especially when it comes to food, it’s a peaceful and comfortable way to travel.

More photos from the trip are here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/pleia2/albums/72157688445502994