When I was a little girl our family travelled across the country by train. We’d split two rooms or squish into the family room on a sleeper car and watch the country, from California through to Delaware, zip past. My memory is dotted with little moments from our train trips. A stop in Albuquerque where we bought some turquoise jewelry. An evening spent in the first class lounge of Union Station in Chicago. Playing cards at convertible table/bed. I was so in love with train travel as a kid that I once proudly announced I wanted to grow up and work as an attendant in the food car (my ambitions in life were not very high at age 3).
It was a love. My godfather use to collect model trains. In the woods of his Northern California home he constructed line after line of working trains. I spent hours watching the trains. In our home we had our own model trains we’d set up under Christmas trees or in the basement. Trains were an ingrained part of our lives.
In Colorado, once you’re outside of Denver, the idea of commuter rail is foreign. You don’t take the train on trips and you don’t take it to work. Trains are simply a nuisance. They’re something that makes you late to wherever you’re going after you have to wait 15 minutes for a freight train to pass. It’s a different train culture.
Having grown up utilizing commuter trains, to this day I still prefer train travel. I’d rather take the 18-hour coach-ride from Washington, DC to Vermont than get on a plane. It’s easier. Less time waiting in line. More time seeing the country through the window.
Chicago has become a mishmash of my two train worlds. It’s a hub for all trains. When you take the train across country you’re likely going to stop in Chicago. But you don’t just see hundreds upon hundreds of commuter rail systems converging. You also see hundreds upon hundreds of freight trains. They sometimes even share the same tracks.