Things We Did: Riding the Rails in NC

Helen P. Gay Rocky Mount Historic Train Station, Rocky Mount, North Carolina. Photo: Frank Whatley.
Helen P. Gay Rocky Mount Historic Train Station, Rocky Mount, North Carolina. Photo: Frank Whatley.

By Kay Whatley

Like many families, ours has spread across the country. With my oldest daughter living all the way on the West Coast, visits are tough. Luckily, she recently made a trip to Boston MA, bringing her that much closer to our NC home.

Time for a visit with her was limited. I needed to get to Boston, and I needed to get there fast!

Option 1: Driving would mean 11-12 hours in the car, a few hundred dollars for gas, and arriving tired from all the driving Since my 12 year old was going to go along, that meant lots of stops for breaks along the way and likely a longer trip. Taking a bus seemed like it would be much the same, with added cost of tickets.

Option 2: Flying would be quick enough. Flights were running a few hundred dollars each. While the timing was right, flights were fairly expensive and we needed 2 tickets.

Option 3: Taking the train. I was new to the idea of taking a long train ride. With multiple stations in Eastern NC, the train was easily accessible and went where we needed it to go. It was about 4-5 hours longer than driving estimates at a total of about 17 hours with travel and stops. The train would be less work than driving. The train would have rest rooms, a snack car, room to stand and stretch or even walk a little, allowed 2 bags for each of us, and there was “WiFi”.

The tickets would be a few hundred dollars, with the 12 year old’s ticket discounted to half price.

I decided to take the train to Boston January 11th and bought the tickets. What follows are a few points on the experiences of two first-time train travelers, based on our limited experience on the trains available from Rocky Mount and Wilson NC stations.

The day of departure, my husband took us to the Rocky Mount train station. When the train arrived, our boarding pass was scanned and we were directed where to sit. Our bags at our feet and legs stretched in ample room, off went our train. (Having flown frequently, I was glad there was no lengthy scanning, body searches, poking, radiation, or general negativity. We arrived. We were checked in. We sat down. The train rolled on.)

Our train car was comfortable, and gave us plenty of leg room. The “wifi” was in the front cars, so we went to the snack car to surf the web for awhile. Through the 700 miles, we watched out the window, snacked, listened to music, and napped. When a group of people left, we spread across empty seats and slept. Changing trains in DC, the wifi was a bit slow we mostly slept.

Advantage to the train over driving the highways was that we could walk around and stretch our legs, even walk from car to car up the train and back,… while still moving and covering the miles. Another advantage was that we could both sleep, since I didn’t need to be watching the road as with driving.

A disadvantage was the limited travel times. Coming back at the end of the weekend, the train brought us home overnight on a school night, getting us home after most of the school day was done.

Seating was much more comfortable on the Palmetto route from NC. On the Northeast Regional train we boarded in DC to head north, the seats had less leg room.

Smokers jumped out at stops to smoke, as the trains were non-smoking only. Before the train pulled out of the station, smokers would return to their seats. At some stops, the smokers were not allowed off the train to smoke, which caused them some discomfort.

Snacks offered in the snack cars included chips, microwaved sandwiches and pizza, and bottled drinks. There was a variety of snacks, though limited to easily prepared fare. Travelers can bring their own snacks, so we packed a few.

Trains stop at different stations depending on the route. The more a traveller knows about the stops in advance, the better a person can plan for things like grabbing souvenirs or a meal. From Wilson station going north, the train stops in Rocky Mount about 20 minutes later but is a brief stop. On the way to DC the train stopped at several NC and VA locations before rolling into Union Station. On the DC to Boston train, there was a long stop (40 minutes) in New York City’s Penn Station.

 

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About Kay Whatley 2204 Articles
Kay Whatley serves as Editor and Reporter with The Grey Area News. Kay is a published author with over 20 years of experience in the publishing industry. Kay Whatley is wife to Frank Whatley, founder of The Grey Area™ newspaper and The Grey Area News online news website.