Day 9: Mar. 5, 2004
Riding the Rails



The National Post Office Museum is just across the street from Union Station. I reached the station with some extra time so I walked on over. In hindsight, I probably could have seen at least part of the museum but, although I had parked my duffel, I was still carrying a fairly large backpack and thought the getting through security and downstairs to the exhibits might put me at risk of missing the train. So I settled for a stroll through the gorgeous lobby. The 1914 building served as the city's post office until 1986.

Rather than heading directly back to the station, I made my way across Columbus Circle to get a better view of the statue that gives it its name. I also grabbed pictures of the double sized replica of the Liberty Bell called the Freedom Bell and one-half of the row of arches that run across the entire front of Union Station.

DC's Union Station opened in 1907 and is still going strong today. The bustling station makes a sharp contrast to the Union Terminal waiting at the end of te trip In Cincinnati. The Cincinnati building is a beautiful building in its own right but, although it's a quarter century newer, it is surviving as a museum with railroad passenger service confined to one small corner. Union Station is filled with restaurants and stores and brings together Amtrak, Maryland Transit Administration, Virginia Rail Express, and Washington's Metrorail.

Unlike your coach class airplane seat, the seats in a train coach are easy to get in and out of, wide enough to sit in, and actually have leg room. The overhead storage is, in fact, overhead and will easily hold luggage larger than a medium sized purse and so will the area under the seat in front of you. The foot rest is adjustable and there is a black knob on the armrest just below the release button for the reclining back. The knob operates a popup leg rest that's like a small version of the one on your Barcalounger at home. What's the catch? Time. An airplane can connect these cities in an hour and a half. Amtrak takes 13 hours. Of course, it seems that trains tend to be more on time than planes although tonight the Cardinal was a weather related hour late getting into Cincinnati. At the front end of this trip, my three and a half hour flight to Jacksonville actually took a little over nine hours.

There are no free in seat meals on the train. Obtaining food and drink requires a walk to a dining car and you have to pay for it. Neither offers five star food or service but the airlines get the higher marks in both categories. Now, replace that plastic & Formica self service "dinette" with an old fashioned linen & silverware dining car and the ranking might be different.

Even though there was some very nice scenery to be seen before darkness set in, a moving train is not the best platform for photography. In addition to some nice Virginia countryside, the route passes by some picturesque stations and right through the center of several smaller towns. You can't do that in a 737.

A 3:00 AM pickup is a lot to ask and when the previously mentioned one hour slip turns that into a middle of the night wait the favor really grows in value. Similar names and good looking buildings are just about the only similarities between Cincinnati's Union Terminal and DC's Union Station. No food court or movie theaters in the Cincinnati version. But Chris was there with a cup of coffee in her hand and a smile on her face. A much appreciated smile.

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