As I write this post it is Tuesday evening, I think, and I am in one of the concourses at Miami International. I get to spent the night here or nearby due to some scheduling quirks as I make my way back to Key West. If all goes well, I’ll board the dog bus again on Wednesday and be back home by 5:00pm. But this post is about my travels today, and my first train ride since I was in kindergarten.
It was a long day and I got to sample three different rail systems starting at 8:00 in the morning and ending around 7:00 in the evening. It was interesting and a lot more pleasant then I thought it would be. Here are the gory details.
My first adventure was with SunRail. This system travels from north east of Orlando all the way to through the city and comes just short of the Orlando airport. It’s a brand new system and it’s still all shiny and clean. The stations are situated in strategic places through out the route, the trains are clean, quiet, and comfortable. The fares are cheap. To make the full run one way costs $4. If any of you have ever drove down Interstate 4 you know this is a bargain.
However, the trains were not crowded. There were enough commuters to be sure but there were many empty seats. Mass transit has not caught on in Orlando quite yet. The ride from one end to the Amtrak station took less than an hour. It was on time and there are enough trains running one should be able to catch one all day in either direction.
Next up was Amtrak. I’ve heard a lot about Amtrak, mostly bad so I tried to keep an open mind about how this was going to work out. In the end, I was pleasantly surprised. The station in Orlando is modern and clean on the outside, but a bit run down inside. They still have old wooden benches and there are no places to plugin your electronic devices. But no matter, it was comfortable enough.
Around 10:00 I boarded the Silver Meteor for the run south. I had two choices. I could take the later train which would put me in West Palm Beach in 3 1/2 hours, or take the earlier train which ran over to Tampa first, then down the middle of the state. This one took 6 hours, and since I was in no real hurry, I took the longer ride.
I made my reservation using the Amtrak App. It’s real easy to use and allowed me to track and make changes. And here is the really nifty part. Originally, I had booked the longer train. But the day before I was to go, it looked unlikely I would get to the SunRail on time to get to the Amtrak on time. So I changed the booking to the later, but shorter train. When I left in the morning, I was able to get there in time and I changed my booking back to the original. In both cases, there was no extra charge. No fees, no nothing. Just make the changes. See how many airlines will do that for you!
The train itself was pretty comfortable. Nice big seats with plenty of leg room. You could lean it back and sleep easily. Beside the seat was a couple of power outlets so you could charge stuff, or run an old computer with a dead battery. The train was reasonably quiet. You could hold a conversation with someone or make a phone call without too much background noise. The train boasted free wifi, but I was unable to pick up the signal. I used my hotspot which worked well except for a few miles down the middle of the state.
There were only two beefs I had with Amtrak. One, the ac was on freezing. Even the conductors were complaining about how cold it was. And b, there was no dining car, just a snack car and the prices were even worse than you would find at the airport. I went hungry until I got to Miami. Not worth the cost.
Beyond that, the ride was quite nice. I could do a little computer work, take a nap, and just watch Florida go by. Cost for the trip, $32.00.
Finally, I arrived in West Palm. The reason I got off at West Palm is because there is a central station where you can pick up Amtrak, Greyhound, or the TriRail, another commuter line like said SunRail.
TriRail is a carbon copy of SunRail. Same type of trains, same kiosks for getting tickets, same style stations. This one was way more crowded and it runs from West Palm all the way to Miami airport. Again, a comfortable ride although the leg room was tight. It took about 2 hours to make the run and cost $6.70.
So now, here I am in Miami. Probably won’t get any sleep tonight but at least I’ll be home on Wednesday. This was a good trip for me. I got some stuff done, got two books published, cleared my head a little, and learned a lot about mass transit. I will definitely be using the rail systems again. I rather enjoyed just sitting there looking out the window, even if the views were nothing special. The staff for all the rail lines was very polite, very helpful, and made the trip more better. There were no crowds, no long lines to get through security, hell, the seats didn’t even have seatbelts. You could get up and walk around, and have plenty of room to stretch.
In fact, about the only thing the airlines have over the rail system is time. If you are in a hurry, take the plane. If you want to travel, take the train.
I will definitely be taking more train rides in the future. It was well worth the cost and time.