Yesterday I undertook an unusual (at least for me) excursion: I travelled from Richardson to Oklahoma City via train. My friends Wes and Melanie had shared their experiences of riding Amtrak from DFW to OKC, and I wanted to see for myself what it was like. My daughter goes to school in OKC, so I venture north two or three times a year to visit her. Usually, my visits include attendance at one of her many performances, and this trip is no different. She’ll be singing in a concerto competition tonight. Since her spring break starts tomorrow, I’ll be riding home with her, rather than reprising my train journey. But the purpose of this post is to describe the journey and share some of my thoughts on train travel in general.
The circumstances of the start of my journey were determined by a doctor’s appointment. I saw my cardiologist at 1:00 yesterday, and left her office at about 2:00. Since I didn’t think I would have time to go all the way home, leave my car, and then return to the train station, I had pre-arranged with the folks at church to leave my car in the church parking lot and hitch a ride with one of them to the Galatyn DART rail station. This was done, and Deanna drove me to the Galatyn station, near the Eisemann Performing Arts Center in Richardson. The problem was this: I had never actually BEEN to the Galatyn station. I knew where it was – I had seen it from Central Expressway, of course, but I had never actually boarded a train there. Deanna and I drove around the Galatyn Park area, frantically trying to find the road that would lead us to the platform. I finally decided to get out and hoof it over to the station from the fountain in front of the theater. It’s not a long walk, but it was bitterly cold, blustery, and rainy – so it certainly wasn’t a pleasant walk. I arrived on the platform just as the train pulled away, so I had to wait in the partially-sheltered seating area for the next train to arrive – about 10 minutes, so not too bad.
I have ridden the DART trains many times before as a commuter, but never with a large, rolling suitcase in tow. Pulling the suitcase up the three steep steps into the rail car, then navigating it down the aisle, was an exercise in determination at the expense of grace! Fortunately, I was the only passenger in the entire section of the train at 2:57 in the afternoon. Although I had a book with me, I decided to forego reading for the pleasure of watching the familiar terrain pass me by.
In case you’re reading this from some location other than Dallas, you should know that the weather, which had been warm and sunny for several weeks, took a sharp turn toward the worse yesterday. I’ve already described the cold and wet, but I need to add one more word: gray. Yesterday was an exceedingly gray day. Low, leaden clouds, sodden streets, and swollen waterways gave the landscape an almost claustrophobic feel, as though one had been rolled up in a soggy, heavy blanket. It may seem odd, but I really savor days like this, as long as I can observe them from some place warm and dry. (By the way, the weather has not changed today. I’m watching a soft snow falling on the pavement, cars, and shrubbery outside my motel room. It’s not going to stick, of course. Two days ago, the temperature reached 80 degrees.)
My blissful solitude leaked away as passengers trickled on board at each subsequent stop. The train never filled, however, and there was plenty of room to accommodate me and my oversize suitcase. I watched the progression of buildings and streets gradually thickening as we neared downtown, and then, when the train entered the underground tunnel portion of the journey, I switched my attention to my fellow passengers. A woman across from me applied postage stamps to an imposing stack of bill payments; a student wearing the ubiquitous ear buds napped atop her backpack; a businessman sat engrossed in a paperback thriller. Passengers came and went as we crept through the downtown corridor. I disembarked at the Union station, stepping into a messy downpour.
The next step was to board the TRE – the Trinity Railway Express. This larger, faster train connects Dallas to Fort Worth, with a few stops in the mid-cities along the way. The train cars are more like those belonging to Amtrak – bi-level, with wider aisles and roomier seats. Pairs of seats face each other, and some pairs have small tables set up in between. However, because I had the large suitcase, I positioned myself near the entrance on the lower level, in a single row of seats backed by the stairwell to the upper level. This meant that I did not have a window near me, although I could see across the way through the window in the door. However, at the next stop, the medical center stop, the train filled with a boisterous crowd of hospital personnel, who obviously ride together every day. Instead of dispersing to the available seats, this group stood bunched together in the doorway space in front of me, blocking my view. I pulled out my book, but it was impossible to read while surrounded by their raucous laughter and loud voices. At the next stop, more people boarded and crowded me into the corner of my seat. I gave up any notion of sightseeing, reading, or even comfort, and simply endured this portion of my journey, which lasted for about an hour.
I should mention here that I could have boarded an Amtrak train in Dallas, rather than taking the TRE to Fort Worth. But that would have added about twenty dollars and about five more hours to my journey, as I would have been required to board the train in Dallas at 12:20 – before my doctor’s appointment even began. So even though the TRE experience was not optimal, I think one hour and about two dollars is a much better deal!
Upon arriving in Fort Worth, I was required to visit the Amtrak station to obtain my ticket before I could board the waiting train. Fortunately, a solicitous Amtrak employee saw me struggling to drag my suitcase along the walkway, so he loaded my bag in the luggage compartment then took me to the station on a golf cart. He even waited there so he could take me back to the train! I was very impressed with how helpful and courteous the Amtrak staff members were throughout my journey.
I rode on the “Heartland Express.” The train had an engine and three cars, but as far as I could tell, only one car was in use. The lower level contained restrooms, the baggage area, and a snack bar. Passenger seating was on the upper level. Although I had a ticket with a reserved seat, I was told I could sit anywhere I pleased. There were very few passengers on the train, so it was possible for everyone to have an entire row to him/herself. I chose the very last row. Behind me was an empty space, and then the passageway to the next car. I think the heater/AC was behind me too, because there was a nice, loud white noise coming from the back wall that served to obstruct the sounds of individual conversations as well as dampening the persistent wail of the train’s whistle.
The seats are very comfortable. The center aisle is much wider than that on an airplane, and there are only two seats on either side. The pairs of seats are farther apart than the typical bus or airplane arrangement, so you have much more leg room. Like an airplane, there are tray tables on the backs of the seats and footrests that can be positioned for your personal comfort. It’s easy to get up and walk around when you get tired of sitting, and you don’t have to wear a seat belt, so you can sit sideways and stretch across two seats if you want. There are overhead bins for your personal belongings, and little spotlights that you can position to illuminate your reading material. I enjoyed gazing out the window at the passing countryside, but there are curtains you can pull across the window if you want to take a nap. The seats are adjustable for that purpose, as well.
The four hours went by quickly. I read, studied the scenery, and watched two episodes of Dr. Who on my iPod. I also took a break and went downstairs to the snack shop. It contained facing rows of six seats each, a center aisle, and a counter at one end. They offer packaged sandwiches, chips, candy bars, yogurt, popcorn, and assorted drinks. To my surprise, they offer beer, wine, and liquor too, but I didn’t see anyone purchase any – at least while I was there, although several people remarked upon it. I chatted with the snack room attendant and one of the engineers while enjoying chips and a soda. (Unfortunately (in my opinion), they only serve Pepsi-cola products.)
We arrived in Oklahoma City about 20 minutes early, which seems to be fairly unusual. I talked to an older gentlemen who takes this trip several times a year, and he seemed surprised that we had arrived so quickly. The ever-courteous attendants unloaded my suitcase and directed me to an elevator which lead to a ground-floor waiting area, where I stayed until my daughter arrived to pick me up. All in all, it was a very pleasant and interesting way to travel, and relatively inexpensive as well. I may get hooked on train travel! I definitely hope to plan another, and hopefully longer, train trip in the near future.