In celebration of Amtrak’s 50th anniversary, we revisit a vintage, coast-to-coast railroad adventure across the United States’ Deep South…
Back in 2003 (can it really be that long ago?) we embarked on our first railroad journey across America. Amtrak was undergoing a bit of a resurgence – thanks to 9/11 many Americans had developed a fear of flying and were taking the train instead. We travelled on the Sunset Limited Superliner service from Orlando to Los Angeles – at the time, the longest inter-city rail journey on the network (2,764 miles in three and a half days, passing through eight states and five time zones). The article I wrote is still there in the Guardian’s web archive (note, they spelt my name incorrectly) and though I’m happy to share it (see link below), it needs a bit of an update.
The Sunset Limited, now starts in New Orleans, takes two days, and no longer passes through Jacksonville in Florida, Alabama or Mississippi – though to be fair we slept through most of that leg of the original journey. The Covid era has brought in ‘enhanced cleaning’ and compulsory face masks; the dining car menus seems to have gone a bit fast food (no chicken pot pie) and the sleeper accommodation has been upgraded (though the standard ‘roomette’ is still anything but roomy). But the actual experience won’t have changed much since we travelled through the Deep South all those years ago. Rail travel USA is all about the people on board, the landscapes, the rhythm of the train as it passes from one state to another – Dave Young’s picture story (shot in transit and featured here) still has resonance.
For those who get to the end of my vintage Guardian article, it is true, there was a next time: later, we travelled on the California Zephyr (from Chicago to San Francisco) which has now taken over as the longest rail journey in the USA. For more info check out Amtrak.