Little Rock native Michael Hibblen writes in the San Jose Mercury News about the impracticality of long-distance train travel in the U.S.
When I explained my vacation plans to co-workers and friends, most gave me the same strange look. I was going to visit parents and friends in my hometown of Little Rock, Ark. But rather than fly directly there, I flew from Fort Lauderdale to San Antonio, just so I could ride Amtrak's Texas Eagle for 16 hours up to Little Rock.
I would have loved to have taken Amtrak from South Florida to Arkansas, but that would have required nearly three days of traveling. That's one of the key limitations of long distance rail travel within the United States. A limited number of routes means you often have to go well out of your way.
For me, the trip would have required going up to Washington, D.C., taking another train over to Chicago and then a third south to Little Rock. Even for someone who loves riding trains, that 68-hour trip, including two layovers, was way too long and would have eaten up too big a chunk of my limited vacation time.
But by flying to San Antonio, I could begin my train ride the following morning at the southernmost point for Amtrak's Texas Eagle. In those 16 hours, I would traverse the massive state on tracks that have shouldered trains for more than a century, reaching the Arkansas border in the evening and Little Rock at midnight. ...
A year before, I flew up to Chicago, the northernmost point of the Texas Eagle route, then took it to Little Rock, a 13-hour ride. But since the one daily train leaves Chicago at 3:20 in the afternoon, I got to enjoy only about two hours of daylight. ...
Leonard and Linda Smith, seated across the table from us, boarded the train in Austin, en route to visit his brother in Memphis. It would be a very long trip. While Memphis is just 135 miles east of my stop in Little Rock, it would take the Smiths another 28 hours to get there - 14 hours from Little Rock to Chicago, a 6-hour layover, then 10 hours on the City of New Orleans, headed back south.