My old San Diego State classmate Mark Orwoll wrote a story on overnight trains for Town and Country, lamenting that even in Europe, this mode of travel that started in the 1860s perhaps finally disappearing.

And with the annual efforts to cut Amtrak’s long-distance routes, it’s been on the terminal list in the US for a half century.

Still it survives and it’s worth taking. Today, most people have never been on a train, much less slept on one in a compartment, with your own bed, watching the world go by.

I’ve taken three of Amtrak’s long-distance, overnight routes: the Southwest Chief twice from Los Angeles to Santa Fe, NM; the Empire Builder from Chicago to Seattle, with a stopover at Glacier National Park; and the Coast Starlight, from LA to Seattle.

It’s a truly different experience in travel. Slowing down, a bit, and even escaping. When I took the trips, I had a rather high-stress job, so I enjoyed escaping into my roomette, a compartment with two facing-chairs in the day, and two beds (bunk style) at night. Food in the dining car (nothing fancy) is included. I wasn’t much on talking with people, since my high-stress job included lots of talking with people.

Technology even improveds the experience. At night, when there’s no scenery, DVDs played on the laptop or movies downloaded to the cell phone pass the time. If I was driving, I’d be sleeping in a hotel; this way, I’m still moving through the night.

Check out my Via Amtrak category for my trips through the years and don’t miss Mark’s story. I hope I can get to Spain sometime and take it, if it’s still around.


  1. My wife and I took the overnight from San Diego/LA to Santa Fe a couple of years ago. It was without question the worst travel experience of our lives. There were two engine breakdowns requiring long waits for replacements and then there was the seemingly constant delays on side tracks while trains with preferred right-of-way passed by (even commuter trains near Albuquerque). We were three hours late arriving in Santa Fe. Never again.

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