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Author Topic: Amtrak's UGLIEST Routes
amtraxmaniac
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Well, we all like to talk about which routes are most picturesque. How about which routes are the most dull or, worse...UGLIEST? Here's my top 4 list:
1. The Sunset Limited- hundreds and hundreds of miles of dirt and SOME cacti. Yes its the Southwest, but if your expecting the vibrant colors and rock formations you get on the Chief, you'll be sadly disappointed. Once you hit Texas-how many hours upon hours can you take of FLAT GREEN OPEN creeping at about 35 mph before you go insane?!?!? Sadly, this route does not begin to get scenic until you get to bayou country...if your EXTREMELY lucky, its during daylight hours.

2. The San Joaquin-similar to the midwest-if you've seen one farm, you've seen them all. The rought gets somewhat intriguing as you reach Martinez and emerge along side San Pablo-SF Bay.

3. A VERY LATE Lakeshore Limited- I had to put this one in here based on personal experience-the Eastbound LSL was 7 hours late, so I missed Hudson River Valley during daylight hours and in the middle of winter in white-out conditions, how much can you really see, right?

4. Any Western LD train EAST of the Rockies. It seems to me that for all three trains (SWC, CZ, EB)that once the terrain flattens, so does your interest in the scenery (or lack thereof). I always wait until day 3 on the SWC or CZ to nap during the daytime.

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Patrick

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Gilbert B Norman
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Patrick, I must disagree with regards to the Sunset. Although I have never ridden Sunset West during the Amtrak era, I have covered the route "bumper to bumper" on the SP pre A-Day. I found it interesting how once West of about Alpine, the terrain changes from farmland to the mesa and cacti of West Texas. Simply to be 100' below sea level near Indio is an experience for those of us not "native" to SoCal.

Other routes to which the "If you've seen one---, you've seen 'em all" applies not only to the Empire Builder (not the case whatever with the North Coast Limited) but also to either Southeastern route (ACL or SAL). I continue to wonder why any road serving the route invested a dime in sightseeing rail cars; Amtrak wisely reassigned Sightseer Lounges away from the Auto Train and converted five Superliner Diners to replace them.

The experience you noted aboard #48 Lake Shore is now the "norm" and has been the case since the schedule was set back to a 10PM Chicago departure.

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yukon11
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I have not been on Amtrak trains other than those in the western states...so hard to comment.

I would nominate the stretch from Central Navada to Grand Junction, Colorado, especially from Salt Lake City to the Colorado border, along the Zephyr route.

I actually enjoyed the high plains across Montana back when I rode the Empire Builder. It was especially rewarding going west of Browning toward Glacier Park..and admire the abrupt, dramatic change in scenery as you get near the park. I once drove from Central Montana, along Highway 2 which runs along the EB route, late at night heading west to Glacier. It was kind of eerie and spooky. I much preferred the Empire Builder for traveling across Montana.

Richard

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smitty195
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I hate to say it, but one of the ugliest is when the Coast Starlight detours via Tehachapi. The Loop itself is okay, but other than those few minutes, the rest of it just plain boring. It's like the San Joaquin route with double the boredom.
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wayne72145
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I must agree with Mr Norman---I liked the Sunset Limited very much in October. I find it my second favorite route, the CZ being first. I have traveded the Empire Builder the most and it grows on me, the first trip wasn't too exciting but the more I travel it, the more I like it. I find the Silever Star in Florida most boring. Nothings seems to change all day.
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George Harris
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The northeast corridor. I can only speak of south of New York. There are some nice areas, but for the most part my impression was of decrepit and trashed urbanization.

Lines that are completely "treed in" come a close second. That seems to apply to a lot of the southeast, but htis is releived by nice countrysides otherwise.

The San Joquin route through the heavily agricultural Central Valley I like. Yes, this country still is productive in a lot of places.

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PullmanCo
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It all depends on the person.

I happen to very much enjoy the CZ in the morning on the Nebraska/Iowa racetrack. or approaching Denver.

I felt the same as a child about the UP City of Saint Louis working east in the evening from Denver towards my grandparents.

Thanks for the gratuitous insult.

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rresor
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Well, let me start by saying that "ugliest routes" is necessarily subjective. That having been said, I have to say I snorted at yukon11's nomination of central Nevada (which he misspelled) through Grand junction. Apparently he slept through the climb over Soldier Summit, which I have hi-railed and which is one of the most spectacular pieces of railroad in North America.

If you can really describe a ride over Tehachapi as "a few minutes of scenery in an otherwise boring trip", stick to flying (or take the Greyhound).

West Texas is pretty desolate but I found it interesting. Eastern Montana and North Dakoka on the eastbound Empire BUilder were for me the nadir of Amtrak scenery. As Mr. Norman notes, the former NP is much more interesting.

Other than that one route, I've found pretty much every train trip I've ever taken holds *something* of interest.

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Ocala Mike
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I agree with George Harris. The NEC between NY and DC is a vast wasteland of urban blight, complete with gangbanger graffiti and industrial garbage. Wake me up when we get to Virginia.

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Ocala Mike

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palmland
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I have not taken a train that I didn't find some redeeming features outside the window. The great plains are awe inspiring, and the small towns in the south make up for the pine trees. While maybe not picturesque, the urban blight in the NEC is fascinating in a perverse sort of way and the approach to the many large terminals is always interesting.

While a book always accompanies me a trip, I find very few pages are read on a train trip. Not so for any airline flight.

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train lady
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For the most part I agree with Palmland.I must admit I did get somewhat bored in Texas after seeing miles of sand and brush. The train was late so we didn't get to see El Paso and some of the other parts of the country I was hoping for. The route between DC and NYC can be interesting on and off thought it does remind me of the New Jersey turnpike which I think is the most boring piece of real estate in the country.
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PullmanCo
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Thanks, RResor, on reminding me about Soldier Summit. When you feel the Diesels running while you're in the diner ... when your drink glass demonstrates the grade ... when the snow is on the ground and truckers on I-70 are chaining, and you're steadily doing 25-30 MPH up that hill...

... yeah, that's scenic [Smile]

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sojourner
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Interesting question, though hard to say answer. Not only is it subjective, as has been pointed out, but it also depends on direction and time of year (and day, if train is late) because of the light situation and tree situation--i.e., some routes best time to travel is when it's fairly light to see a lot but trees still don't have leaves, e.g., April?

Also, some people are speaking of stretches rather than entire routes--for example, while I agree there is a stretch in Nevada that is to me one of the ugliest places in the USA (Elko seemed that way to me from the train, though I know others here say it's perfectly nice in spots I don't see from the train!), this is coming on what is arguably the most beautiful train ride in the USA--so the ugly part is just a small section of the Zephyr!

I agree that the NE corridor from NYC to DC is pretty ugly but it has a few pretty spots (crossing water in MD for example, & the view of the boathouses & museum in Philadelphia) and fun spots (Ironbound out of NYC by Newark, "Trenton Makes, the World Takes," row houses in Baltimore, and while I find Chester PA industrial section quite ugly not to mention scary looking at night when the flames are shooting, I guess I find it interesting too!) and it is also pretty short (when you are used to LD travel). But I would not condemn the whole NE corridor; I think the trip from NYC to Boston is reasonably attractive, esp west of New Haven almost to Providence.

I also agree that the trips to the SE are pretty tame, starting out from NYC in NE corridor and seeing little of beauty in VA and NC southbound because I usually do it in winter. However, on return, the area around Langley VA is attractive. And there are a few nice spots in NC on the Charleston route (Silver Meteor) and in FL--Winter Park, orange groves, Okeechobee swamp (I think it is). And I have never been south of Atlanta on the Crescent; but I hope to do that this March, so we'll see.

I also find the Sunset Ltd eastbound pretty dull the second day, and I did that in summer. But I hear westbound is better. And I did like the first day, esp Salton Sea and all those wind farms near Palm Springs, the time I took it all the way from LA to San Antonio. Plus it was fun to stop in El Paso, even if not so attractive--but eastbound after that, W Texas do go on and on!!! I also think the TX Eagle is fairly dull, at least when I've taken it (both times northbound, once in summer & once in winter), though it's fun going around the Gateway Arch in St Louis, and interesting to see downtown Dallas. Would have liked to see more of Arkansas but mainly it was dark even in summer. So, anyway, the time I went all the way from LA to Chicago, it was not the greatest route . . . though I did enjoy seeing all these things for the first time, plus the middle of night stopover in San Antonio, when I took a taxi to the Menger and saw the Alamo in the dark!

The Lakeshore Ltd from Chicago to Albany is fairly dull to me (though the stretch from Albany to NYC is beautiful, I do that all the time on other trains). I have taken it several times eastbound with the 10 o'clock departure and not been unduly late, though, Mr Norman. I do find the stretch west of about Utica through Ohio pretty ugly (except for the one area when you actually see the Lakeshore around Sandusky, but it's often dark! and Toledo bridge is fun), and once you get into Indiana the farmland is OK, but it gets horribly ugly in the industrial area of IN (Hammond/Gary) as one approaches Chicago, although it's actually kinda interesting too (and South Bend looks nice enough).

I did not mind the San Joaquins when I took it, Antraxmania. I don't know that I'd like to do it all the time, but for me (and friend I was with, not even a train person) there were some very pretty spots just after leaving Emeryville, and the farmland was quite interesting, plus I enjoy going through California and seeing the names of places I've heard of--in this case, often in Steinbeck novels. (I did not like the bus ride from Hanford to San Luis Obispo, but the terrain was pretty neat brown desert but with some cool plants and mountains--I just didn't like the bus!)

So far, I have never been on the City of New Orleans, the Heartland Flyer, the Downeaster, or the more local trains through Michigan, NC, or Missouri, or the part of the VA trains east of Richmond, or the little part of the Ethan Allen E of Ft Edward (I think it breaks off there?), or the Vermonter north of Springfield--so I cannot say about them. I hope to take the City of New Orleans southbound in the next few months.

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RRRICH
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In my opinion, the "ugliest" AMTRAK routes are the SE routes (DC to Florida -- all you see are trees), and the Lake Shore Ltd between Albany & Buffalo -- again, most of what you see are trees, and there are surprisingly few "river views" along the Erie Canal/Mohawk Valley, as I found out last summer.

I think the scenery on the Sunset West is kind of "spectacular" -- not "ugly" or boring at all.

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Henry Kisor
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From an amateur photographer's point of view, the most gorgeous lines are "The Hill" over the Sierra Nevada and the Front Range-to-Glenwood-Springs pull, both on Nos. 5/6.

Most surprising: On Nos. 7/8 the High Plains of North Dakota and eastern Montana can offer a bleak, sere, lonely beauty in the winter.

Ugliest: The industrial backsides of the cities almost all the way along the Lake Shore Limited route from Chicago to Albany, especially in winter.

Most unexciting: The Southwest Chief all the way from Chicago to L.A. It's not ugly, but it's not breathtaking, either.

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Railroad Bill
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Having not yet ridden the Texas Eagle (Sunset Limited) or San Jaoquins (Both coming up in May and June 09) I am hoping the discouraging remarks on those two trains are, as you say, "subjective".
I have found the CZ, SWC and EB to be a nice cross section of America that is interesting and scenic for nearly the entire route.
I was disappointed in the CONO except for the ride into New Orleans. Of course, like the Lake Shore, most of it is in the dark southbound.

I would agree that the Corridor between DC and NYP is not that "scenic", but does represent the territory that trains follow in that the junkyards and rough areas of town seem to be associated with urban rr settings. As a midwesterner, we enjoyed the ride through New Jersey as just another piece of Americana
All in all, my vote is 95% of Amtrak scenery is interesting--. Have never picked up a book yet to read while on the train. Would not want to miss a thing.
Merry Christmas
Railroad Bill

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Judy McFarland
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Ugliest routes:
1. my side of the train when the "good" view is on the other side
2. any route running so late that it is dark through the scenic parts
3. (my favorite) walking through coaches in the early AM on the way to the diner - it always looks like there has been a gas attack. Bodies everywhere, serious "bedhead", an obstacle course of arms & legs & other body parts as you try to navigate the aisle. Runner up - bathroom lines in the sleepers consisting of various states of undress.

Oh - you meant the scenery OUTSIDE. . . . .

In that case, nothing is really ugly. Bring binoculars & you can always find something interesting.

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My new "default" station (EKH) has no baggage service or QuikTrak machine, but the parking is free! And the NY Central RR Museum is just across the tracks (but not open at Amtrak train times. . ..)

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Railroad Bob
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"Gas attack" is a pretty accurate description, Judy! Sounds like you've been on a few overnight Amtrak trains. But my vote for absolute unflinching and blinding blandness is the SWC slow creep between Raton and Las Vegas, NM. I have tried to learn to love it, but I just can't. It is a not particularly fast, interminable transverse of rolling meadow-like country with long horizons and not many visuals to break it up. Maybe a cow is a high point out here.

But I vote YES on the wonders of West Texas along the Sunset Route as have others, and I love the industrial approaches to big cities; my favorite being the Surfliner run from about DT Junction into LA Union Station. On a clear day, you'll see the (sometimes) snow-capped San Gabriels, giving way to the worldgrade skyline of LA, while threading through dog food factories, toxic waste incinerators, the Farmer John hotdog factory, LA River and some of the edgiest graffitos in the country. All in all- it's a dynamic and interesting entry into a great US city, as only a railroad incursion can provide...

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railrev
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Just about every city and, thus, every train route has its ugly side. But as many have pointed out, there is something beautiful in just about every route and something for everyone, even those like Railroad Bob who enjoy the industrial areas.
For me it is seeing things from the train that you cannot see any other way and the things that happen "spontaneously" along the way, things you never expected to see.
I've seen ugly sites along the way, and have also seen areas that weren't especially scenic. But I bought the ticket to take the ride and get where I was going, not be constantly entertained along the way.
Better stick to the Disneyland RR if you want constant scenice views and entertainment.

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Railrev
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rresor
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Amen, RailRev! After all, how scenic are most highway trips? How scenic are the locations in which most of us live? I'm not lucky enough to have a view of the Yosemite Valley from my living room.

There is something enjoyable in every train trip. I have many memories from more than 50 years of riding trains: the smell of an orange juice plant at Winter Haven, FL when I opened the vestibule Dutch door; a grapefruit tree heavy with fruit in the backyard of a VERY modest house in Gainesville; orange groves between Winter Haven and Okeechobee. And those are all from the "ugly" Southeast routes.

On the NEC, there are nice views of Chesapeake Bay, especially in winter, between Newark, DE and Perryville. There is the crossing of the Susquehanna at Perryville, and the Bush and Gunpowder Rivers farther south. It ain't all factories.

On the Lake Shore, sure there are trips through gritty urban areas, but there is also lots of pretty, rolling, green farmland. Same for the Zephyr west of Chicago. I actually LIKE the Midwest.

If you're one of those who calls everything between the Appalachians and the Sierra Nevada "the flyover states", I feel very sorry for you. Just fly, and don't bother us with any more postings about boring train travel.

I spent two decades as a railroad consultant, traveling literally *everywhere* in the Lower 48, and I can tell you there are scenic highlights in *every* state (although North Dakota can be tough...).

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Railroad Bob
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quote:
Originally posted by rresor:On the Lake Shore, sure there are trips through gritty urban areas, but there is also lots of pretty, rolling, green farmland. Same for the Zephyr west of Chicago. I actually LIKE the Midwest.
[/QB]

The "granger" railroads have always been some of my most pleasant places to ride a passenger train over. It was hard to beat sailing through the Spoon River (Illinois) country on the old ATSF, as spring corn was just beginning to come of age, fat robins were bouncing along the furrows and the smell and look of new birth was in the air. It transfixed me as a kid, eating lunch on the old El Capitan with my mom, barreling along at what was probably 90-100 (in those days) with Chicago in the far distance. The essence of true American railroading, IMO.
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