Great American Rail Journeys – BBC2

Michael Portillo has one of the best jobs ever! He and his little Appleton’s book get to travel and experience America by rail. His obvious enjoyment in presenting the history of his destinations and how they affected modern America is infectious. He is a retired Politian and yet he presents in an informative and often humorous style. I love his obvious British awkwardness but he is definitely game for anything thrown his way.

Last week he was helping make a Boston Crème Pie in the world famous Parker House Hotel where is was first served. He was being put through his paces with the US Coast Guard cadets, he reminded me of Corporal Jones in Dad’s Army. Who could forget his run through the city of Brotherly Love, Philadelphia to the Rocky Theme after trying out American Football at Penn State?

One of the places he visited has given me my next must visit places, Mount Washington in New Hampshire. Definitely one for the ‘Road less travelled’ category in my blog. So I am going to plan a road trip in and out of Boston to tour New England with a special visit to ride on the Mount Washington Cog Railway. What is fascinating is the little steam powered locomotive pushing a single carriage up the mountain. The Cog Railway is 152 years old and you can buy a round trip ticket or a one way to the summit or from the summit. What was so interesting was the explanation of the unpredictable weather and the fact that nearly all weather fronts passing over the contiguous United States has to pass over the 6,000 meter summit of Mount Washington and this causes the massive weather extremes in any season of the year.

I really have to try travelling by Amtrak at least once and investigated how much passes are. It is a bit confusing because although an 8 sector pass is $459 to be used within a calendar year of purchase and in a 15 day period, you still have to make reservations and collect tickets.

This means RESEARCH folks, because even though there are thousands of miles of railway tracks in America, the routes between cities are not that obvious. An example being between Oklahoma City, Oklahoma and Albuquerque, New Mexico which are in two states that I am yet to visit. On a map it is virtually a straight road but by train, Amtrak suggest that you need to travel via Chicago over 36 hours to get between the two cities.

Everytime you get off an Amtrak service it is considered a use of a sector so it is easy to sacrifice a sector unnecessarily because of poor planning. I would love to know who has gained the best value for money using the Amtrak 8 sector pass.

Each major route has a name and these names evoke train travel from a by-gone era. Here is a link to a wiki page of names of Amtrak routes. I mean doesn’t the California Zephyr put an image of a silver engine with bullet shaped carriages being pulled through the forests? There is the Texas Eagle, the Empire Builder and the City of New Orleans amongst others. A wonderful homage to rail history.

Other trains I want to do are in Colorado mainly and include the Pikes Peak Cog Railway and the Silverton to Durango Narrow Gauge Railway.

If not this year then next I will plan a special visit that will be rail based and at the end pick up a car and visit some of the wonderful Canyons and National Parks which I have not experienced.