Until moving to New York, my experience of the American inter-city rail network was pretty much restricted to repeated viewings of Silver Streak with Richard Pryor and Gene Wilder. And memories of a few scenes from Trading Places, on the occasions when I wasn’t wearing down our VHS copy in a bid to pause on the three frames where Jamie Lee Curtis was topless. Obviously.
Despite having now been here for almost 500 days, my knowledge hadn’t moved on at all since becoming a Brit Out Of Water. OK, so I was at least pretty sure that being pursued by a murderous art dealer or all night parties accompanied by men in gorilla suits weren’t part of the usual transportation mix. But other than that, I had no idea what to expect when I booked an Amtrak ticket for a relatively short (two hour) trip upstate.
“Amtrak is just like your Virgin Trains only nicer,” The Special One informed me. “The toilets are much worse than British trains, but otherwise it’s pretty much like a slightly scaled-up version of your system.”
In the end, my train left an hour and a half late having developed mechanical problems on the way from the train yard. Thousands of people thronged the station concourse getting more and more frustrated as trains became progressively more delayed. Once on the train, every single seat was filled with people laden down with Christmas luggage. Having eventually found a seat by a window, the heat from the radiator at my feet made the temperature vaguely reminiscent of Dubai in mid-summer. And then the train proceeded to travel at a snail’s pace most of the way, to ensure that I got to my destination a good two hours late.
I had to check my geography occasionally just to make sure that I wasn’t in the UK after all. Like The Special One said, the US train system has everything that Britain’s does, only more of it…