I'm riding the Zephyr for the trip back from BlogHer08 and have been reading an article Maria sent by Ben Jervey of the NY Post, RUN OUT ON A RAIL
THIS WOULD BE THE TIME FOR TRAINS, IF TRAINS RAN ON TIME
Ask around onboard almost any Amtrak train, and you’ll get a pretty short list of reasons why people ride the rails. In the café car, chugging along one of the country’s oldest routes, I counted four types of passengers. There are thrifty ones looking to save a few bucks on plane tickets. There are those who are scared of flying, a group that has no doubt grown in recent years. There are the zealots - without exception, older men - who describe themselves with charming lack of inhibition as "rail junkies," "railroad nuts," "train buffs," or, my personal favorite, "railfans." The rest - indeed the majority - say they"re here for "the experience." Good thing for Amtrak, that romantic notion of the rails is alive and well. Naturally, it’s something the beleaguered rail company promotes to death. The experience is an important sell; nobody ever mentions reliability or practicality.
Jervey is right about riding the Zephyr for the experience: the views have a spectacul beauty of almost mystical quality, and the Zephyr is the way to enjoy them, much more so than driving through the same part of the country. I have driven trough much of the area and one gets to enjoy the views much better in the train.
You might save money over plane fare if you ride in a seat, not in a sleeping compartment. For a two-and-a-half day trip you will need a bed to sleep, so there is no saving.
As for the three other kinds of passengers, the "experience" ones outnumber all the others. While most of them are Americans, you will also find a good number of Brits, several South Americans, and an Australian couple or two.
While Jervey makes a long list of Amtrak grievances, the main problem is that freight trains have priority over passenger trains. That is the main cause of delays in all the routes Amtrak serves, and, as I mentioned on this post, the logistics for passenger rail travel in America are much different than for rail travel in Europe .
That said, I recommend that everyone take the Zephyr from San Francisco to Denver. It is a journey of wonderous beauty.
Here's a photo I took right now, just outside of Reno,