A new day for rail travel?

Coffee and the paper on the VIA Rail Canadian train (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

Coffee and the paper on the VIA Rail Canadian train (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

Tell me again why it can’t be a more pleasant, even educational experience getting from A to B?

The photo shows a simple coffee break on the VIA Rail Canadian; my reading of the Globe and Mail was somewhat distracted by the spectacular Canadian Rockies scenery going by when I was a guest enroute Jasper, Alberta. Yeah, it’s a pretty staged pic, but I had fun getting the paper and the sugar packet aligned just so….

You don’t need white tablecloths or nice crockery for a quiet, serene travel moment – although it doesn’t hurt – but there’s something about being contentedly alone with your thoughts in the bubble of a train journey. The mechanics of getting from here to there are out of your hands; there’s “nothing to do” but watch the houses, trees, mountains, towns, cows, businesses, lakes, cities, etc. roll right past.

In the U.S., at least, this sort of train travel experience is much less common than it used to be, so as the granddaughter of a railroad man I was intrigued to hear about the Millennial Trains Project – a sort of “new American road trip.”

From their website:

“THE MILLENNIAL TRAINS PROJECT (MTP) is a non-profit organization that leads crowd-funded transcontinental train journeys that empower diverse groups of enterprising and civic-minded Millennials to explore America’s new frontiers.

Over the course of ten days, our journeys provide opportunities for personal development and shared discovery through on-train seminars led by distinguished mentors, workshops with local leaders, and participant-led projects in MTP communities.”

Rarely do I ever wish to be any younger (I’m 52) but wow, maybe I can be an honorary Millennial? The next trip is Los Angeles to Miami in March 2014.

I wouldn’t be able to vegetate reading the paper much on an MTP train, what with the seminars and off-train projects, but I love what they’re doing with this and how some of the stops were not what people expected.

“Everyone’s surprise favorite is Omaha,” writes Robert Reid in his National Geographic Traveler blog post about this “suspended community,” On the Rails With Young Americans.

Will this bring a renewed appreciation of trains and train travel to a generation that has only known grumpy TSA lines at the airport and fitting a Rubik’s Cube of liquids containers into little plastic baggies? I hope so!

Here is Reid’s fun short video about his transcontinental journey (hint: bring a foldable bike.)  Direct link to the video if you can’t see the embed box below….

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