Boing Boing science editor Maggie live-tweets a cross-country train adventure

Our Maggie Koerth-Baker is on a train adventure across the USA. She's tweeting the ride. Everything about this is awesome. Here's a storify collection of most of her tweets.

(thanks, Chris!).


  1. I really love riding on a train more than any form of travel…for a few hours.  When it comes to the point where I can say, “I could have been there two days ago!” I usually start to thinking I made a mistake.  This is especially true if the seat is making my back ache terribly and there’s another 12 hours to go.

    But yeah, for the first few hours I quite like it.  

    1. I agree. Not my favorite way to travel any great distance, but you really do tend to meet a lot of people, even in the station. European train stations are a treat.

  2. I love taking the train so much.. Dont like who I’m sitting next to? Move to the next car if I want, excellent food to boot, and its even included if you get a sleeper. The service is also rather enjoyable, and no incompetent TSA agents ruining your day is even nicer.

    (For the record I haven’t been further than DC by train but hey, its still 12 hours.)

      1. ;-)

        Was in D.C. a couple of years ago. When the morning news said that I should expect delays because of intensified security checks (TSA-like) that day, I decided to take the bus to NY instead — faster, cheaper and no intrusive searches.

        (BTW: never quite figured out why Amtrak checks tickets _before_ you go to the platform and why you have to check bags. All the disadvantages of train travel and flying in one single package! Yay!)

  3. I’ve taken Amtrak long-haul trains so often that I’ve got a few free trips in rewards points already, and I’ve “friended” crew members of trains I take often on Facebook.  I’ve ridden ALMOST all the routes on the system at this point (just missing bits of the Midwest and northern New England)  I’ve only taken the Empire Builder once, but I did it the whole Chicago to Seattle route in one go. Absolutely amazing route, probably my second-favorite after the California Zephyr.

    And no, I’m not a train nut… although at this point I’ve got enough random knowledge stashed away from riding them so often that I’m almost indistinguishable from one.  I’m a freelance photographer and frequent traveler, and I’m 28, so about half the age of the average traveler (sans gutterpunks, who are awesome to chat with). I typically fly about 2x as often as I take the train, but I take the train about once a month. If I’m not in a hurry and a client isn’t paying, and I’m going between two cities on one line, I’ll almost always take the train. (I have a semi-regular “commute” between Portland, San Francisco, and Los Angeles, all served by the Coast Starlight).

    It’s not for everyone, but if you’ve got the time, it’s fantastic. I find I get as much or more work done on the train than I do at my office, so leaving a day early for a gig is easily justifiable.  I also like how most Amtrak stations are in the dead-center of cities, so no expensive cab rides from the airport, which tend to be far outside of the urban zone. I also don’t own a car and hate driving (or really being in one) so the more I can walk/bike or take transit the happier I am.

    I’ve taken a whole lot of trains in Europe as well, but that’s a completely different discussion. European trains tend to be extremely practical and efficient, and the fact that Amtrak’s long-haul trains basically aren’t (most long-haul routes have one train or LESS per day) actually makes it more attractive to me.

  4. Lots of us do the big cross country drive, as a rite of passage. Having done that AND several long Amtrak trips, I heartily recommend the latter.

    1. I did the cross-country Greyhound ride. Does that count?

      (Nothing better than changing buses at 2am! $600 for a 60-day US-wide pass, pity they don’t have that anymore.)

  5. I’ll add my voice to the chorus: two summers ago I took the California Zephyr out the West Coast and the Empire Builder back home, and it was a life-changing experience.  For those with the option to take a long vacation (students, retirees…), Amtrak’s USA Rail Pass is a great deal on great way to see the country.

  6. Ha! Young kids today. I did something like this back in 2005. While working on a year out in Canada I snapped up the (now discontinued) North America Rail Pass and spent a month traveling Montréal > Chicago > Denver > SF > Seattle > Vancouver > Edmonton > Winnipeg > Churchill > Winnipeg > Toronto > Montréal (feed the cats, clean clothes) > Halifax > Montréal. Almost 19,000km for $709 (maybe less, I think I was able to get a student discount too).

    What with it being 2005, I didn’t have Twitter and and I didn’t have a smartphone, so I blogged about the trip using friend’s computers and internet cafés in the various intermediate stops. The blog is still alive to this day, albeit in semi-illegible backwards blog style, at:

    Photos here:
    Itinerary here:

  7. I’d been wanting to do a train trip for some time, but after the last couple days of reading Maggie’s tweets it has been sealed. Trying to decided exactly when and where, but it is going to happen in the next two months even if it is just Minneapolis to Chicago.

  8. I just did a round trip from Portland, OR to Boston, MA and back. Had a sleeper on both the Empire Builder and Lakeshore Limited. It was expensive but possibly the most relaxation I’ve had in the past 10 years. Had the time to finish both Reamde and Zero History, many interesting conversations and good people watching. I will never fly again if the train is an option. The trip East:
    I’ll have the return written up in a week or so.

  9. “The service is also rather enjoyable, and no incompetent TSA agents ruining your day is even nicer.”

    You haven’t ridden the train enough or kept up with the news.

    They can do trains.  They have *done* trains.  Even “inspected” people getting *off* trains at their endpoint apparently looking for those planning to go back in time and blow things up retroactively.

    Their mandate is *transportation* not just airplanes.  Please keep that in mind and peruse their webpages for their plans.

  10. Sounds like a great trip!  Thankful for the tweets.  My train experiences have been decidedly less pleasant.  For example, six hour delay before an Empire Builder departure from Minneapolis/St. Paul heading west.  Also a three hour delay heading back to Minneapolis from Chicago. I’d love to ride through the Rockies, but I don’t think I could stand the time it takes to do it from Minnesota. Maybe a ride on the California Zepher from Denver to Grand Junction, Colorado would quench that thirst.

  11. In 2009 I took a train trip from my home in Vancouver straight to Halifax, and recorded the experience on a time-lapse camara. Reading through this post inspired me to go back and finish editing the footage…

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