By Scott Baughman
I have to admit, despite the fact that I’m of the younger generation, I don’t think about climate change all that much during my day-to-day routine. Yes, I recycle, and I used to drive a hybrid car. Sometimes I look at the “carbon offsets” of products I buy but not usually. But last month I had an experience that has helped convince me that we can all make a few changes to our travel arrangements that might help take some cars and busses off the roads to cut down on our carbon pollution and could be fun while being productive, too.
I rode on an AmTrak train for the first time last month to attend a work event in Raleigh. Calculating the fares and checking the amount of gasoline I would burn led me to the conclusion that riding the rails would be far more efficient than driving my old internal combustion-powered machine!
Now don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against the internal combustion engine – unlike the German government, apparently, which as of this writing has voted to outlaw such engines in the Rhineland by 2030. But I knew that if I was going to ever have an excuse to ride the train this was as good of one as any and I could save myself some money.
There was a problem, though. My work event was an awards ceremony hosted by one of my day job newspapers North Carolina Lawyers Weekly and the ceremony started on Friday night. The journey to Raleigh via train would take three hours. This meant I’d have to travel over the course of about half of my usual Friday workday.
Now, you know this is a tech column, so you can probably see where this is going. But I’ll lay it all out for you anyway. Could I afford to take the three hours off of work and not be updating my company’s websites or social media feeds for that three hours on the train? Should I just scrap the whole railroad trip plan in general and decide to drive anyway – pushing the speed limit so I wouldn’t be “offline” for such a large amount of time during the last workday of the week? Thanks to AmTrak’s WiFi service, the answer was I wouldn’t have to! That’s right, AmTrak offers WiFi on their trains so you can surf the web, check emails, check Facebook and send out Tweets even while relaxing in the comfortable confines of the passenger cars.
And let me tell you, this thing was so comfortable it may as well have been luxury accommodations, especially if you’ve traveled by air any time recently! The seats were wide – incredibly wide by airline standards. I never once felt the armrests digging into my admittedly larger than I’d like belly. And legroom? I had so much legroom that I could stretch out my legs the entire way between myself and the seat in front of me. Sure, I’m not the tallest guy around. Some people might even call me short at 5’5” but nobody should have a legroom issue on the train, unless you’re in the NBA or something. There was so much room they even had a fold down footrest on the back of the chairs in front of me so I could prop my feet up when I leaned my seat back. The best part is the WiFi is free! Or, as I was so often reminded by the AmTrak staff, it is included in the cost of your ticket.
Know what else is included in the cost of your ticket? Bottled water, tea and coffee – unlimited and always on hand in the lounge car.
Speaking of the lounge car, while it didn’t have great food or anything (it was just a few vending machines with snack bar fare like chips, cookies and Rice Krispies Treats) it did have some nice tables where you could sit and surf the web or work on your laptop while grabbing a snack. Next time I take the afternoon train to Raleigh (because there likely will be a next time, I enjoyed it so much) I plan to eat lunch before I get on the train.
Now, the speed on the free WiFi isn’t what I’d call great. You can’t stream videos or even audio reliably and it’s choppy enough that you might not want to even peruse news clips on CNN.com or elsewhere. But for posting updates to your blog, doing email or browsing social media you’ll be set.
I also enjoyed the fact that customers were not only free to get up and roam around, but they could move freely from car to car during the trip. When I wanted to get up and grab a snack between the Burlington and Cary stations, it was no big deal and I just sauntered up to the lounge car to plunk some quarters into the vending machine.
There were even small tables at the end of each car where some folks were set up playing cards as we rolled East toward the state capitol.
So, if you have a chance to save some gas, money and headache, feel free to traverse our great state via the train. You won’t even be disconnected from the worldwide web!
Until next time, download complete!