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Rural Missouri Magazine

Ride the rails
Consider Amtrak for your next adventure

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by Kyle Spradley and Chelsey Simpson

Just before sunset, a westbound Amtrak train on the Missouri River Runner route crosses the Osage River at Osage City as it approaches the Jefferson City station. Two trains run the route, twice daily, from Kansas City to St. Louis. It is one of three routes that Amtrak offers in Missouri. Buy a print of this photo.

In Missouri, as across much of America, train travel occupies a place in many people’s hearts, but not in their daily lives. Passenger trains are the stuff of folk songs and Western legends — cars and planes are the way we get around. When it comes to travel planning, however, trains shouldn’t be overlooked. They can be a cheaper, faster and less stressful way to get from point A to point B, but most train enthusiasts will tell you it’s the journey in between that really matters.

“I think every reason you would be going down the interstate highway is a reason you should be riding Amtrak,” says Marc Magliari, media relations manager for the nation’s primary passenger-rail provider. “In a lot of places and in a lot of ways, we make more sense than driving.”

Amtrak operates 21,000 route miles in 46 states, with three routes in the Show-Me State.

For many riders, reaching one of Amtrak’s 500 destinations is the main goal, while others are simply along for the ride and the scenery. Last year, more than a half-million riders took to the rails for travel in Missouri alone.

Michael Gleason owns and edits TrainTraveling.com, which offers a wealth of information about passenger-rail travel, including Amtrak.

“There are destinations you can get to faster on a train, by the time you wait at the airport, get your luggage and make your way into the city,” says Gleason. “Some people have never liked flying, and some feel flying is just getting worse and worse.”

Planes allow you to cross the continent in a matter of hours, but if your trip isn’t that far or you aren’t in a hurry, taking a train could be a good alternative and a focal point for your next vacation.

Unlike the long waits with air travel, it isn’t necessary to arrive more than 30 minutes ahead of your scheduled train departure time. While airports are usually on the outskirts of cities, train stations are often in the heart of downtown, such as Kansas City’s Union Station, which is next to the popular Crown Center.

Amtrak is an especially good alternative to flying and might be a real timesaver if you plan to visit multiple cities on your trip. For example, if you live in Warrensburg, you can take the train to St. Louis and catch the Texas Eagle line all the way to San Antonio.

Assistant Conductor Troy Brown collects a ticket from passenger JuDee Wilson. Wilson and her mother, Faye Boyd, both from Woodson Terrace, were taking the Missouri River Runner route from St. Louis to Lee’s Summit to visit their niece.

Similar to air travel’s first-class sections, Amtrak offers business class cars with larger seats, more legroom and a quieter atmosphere where you can get some work done.

“I recommend taking the train to anybody,” says the Rev. Mark Weber of St. Louis, whose job involves visiting churches across the state. “It’s a challenge to work in such a widespread area, but Amtrak makes it easy for me. Plus, I get work done as I travel and can enjoy myself rather than being stressed.”

Besides convenience, another advantage of train travel is the scenery. “If you want to truly see the beauty of Missouri, ride Amtrak,” says passenger Charles Ault of Brentwood. “Get off the highway, sit back, relax and enjoy the view.”

A favorite for most passengers on the Missouri River Runner route — which runs twice daily between St. Louis and Kansas City — is the stretch near Hermann where the line hugs the bluffs above the Missouri River and passes through two tunnels.

The real bargain of rail travel is that longer, cross-country trips can serve as your transportation, entertainment and lodging all in one. Sleeping cars are an especially good deal for couples and families because Amtrak charges by the room, not by the person, for sleepers.

Amtrak does limit passengers to only two carry-on items each, but not included in that limit are purses, briefcases, laptop computers or strollers. On overnight trips, passengers may check up to an additional three bags. Food and beverages also are allowed as carry-ons.

Trains are an experience. Many Amtrak routes offer a real departure from billboard-lined interstates, charting a course instead through the backyards, small towns and wild spaces of Missouri.

Food and restroom breaks, and general leg-stretching, also are easier and more entertaining on a train than in an airplane or car. While taking a stroll, don’t be surprised if a fellow passenger strikes up a conversation.

Dining car attendant Robert Bondi serves Sulta Batcheller and her son, Caleb Kilgore, a round of sodas. The mother and son, both from Lawrence, Kan., picked up the train from Kansas City and were headed to St. Louis for a vacation. “We have always heard about it, and one day we saw an ad for a cheap fare,” says Batcheller. “We’re glad we decided to take the train. We are impressed how comfortable and roomy it is.”

Amtrak’s Magliari says the dining car is often a hotspot for community building. “Everyone’s favorite first question is, ‘Where are you going?’” he says. “And their second favorite question will be, ‘Is this your first trip?’”

When it comes to planning a trip — whether across Missouri or across the country — MoRail.org and TrainTraveling.com are both great resources. Amtrak.com also offers an interactive route atlas and a space to order free planning publications. The site helps new travelers visualize their experience with information about stations and services, and it offers a virtual tour of each sleeping cabin option.

Details about deals and discounts also is available at Amtrak.com and MoRail.org. Booking in advance is a good way to snag the best fares.

TrainTraveling.com allows you to browse routes by region or state, and each listing includes a short description and a link for more information.

If you’re taking a longer trip, research public transportation options in your destination city or make plans to rent a car. Or instead of one big destination, chart a path that includes several stops. For example, board in Kansas City and stop in Hermann for a winery visit; continue east to St. Louis to catch a ballgame; then head north to Chicago for some deep-dish pizza. But don’t overlook the value of small towns such as Lee’s Summit, Sedalia and Washington where restaurants, shops and attractions are just steps away from the station.

Be aware, however, that there isn’t regular service in some smaller communities, and you might have to get on or off the train at inconvenient times. For example, the Texas Eagle route that runs from Chicago to San Antonio makes a stop in Poplar Bluff, but it departs around midnight.

Train trips are full of quiet, relaxing moments when the soft hum and sway of the cars is the only thing of interest. But if you don’t mind getting lost in scenery, climb aboard, settle in and enjoy the journey.

Where can I ride in the Show-Me State?

Amtrak currently has three routes that pass through Missouri

 

Missouri River Runner

Kansas City to St. Louis - 10 stops - 4 hours 40 minutes
Two trains leave from each station twice daily, one in the morning and another in the evening. Offers views of the Missouri River bluffs, rolling pastures, two tunnels and historic rural towns.
Services and amenities: Reserved Coach and Business Classes, Cafe and Dining Car

Southwest Chief
Chicago to Los Angeles - 33 stops - 55 hours 30 minutes
Runs daily and passes through northeast Missouri with stops in La Plata and Kansas City. See the American West as you travel past wheat fields and ranches, missions and pueblos, mountains and deserts. You’ll see spectacular landscapes and pristine vistas not visible from interstate highways. Stops at stations near the Grand Canyon and in historic Sante Fe. Services and amenities: Reserved Coach and Superliner Sleeper Classes, Sightseer Lounge, Cafe Car and Dining Car, First Class Metropolitan Lounge, Trails & Rails program

Texas Eagle
Chicago to San Antonio - 28 stops - Southbound: 32 hours 25 minutes - Northbound: 65 hours 20 minutes
Daily departures that wind through the plains of Illinois, across the Mississippi River and through the Ozarks to the piney woods of East Texas. Onward to colorful Dallas and Austin and finally to San Antonio, home of the legendary Alamo and famous Riverwalk. Connecting service from San Antonio to Los Angeles and New Orleans is available three times a week via the Sunset Limited route.
Services and amenities: Reserved Coach and Superliner Sleeper Classes, Sightseer Lounge, Cafe Car and Dining Car; First Class Metropolitan Lounge in Chicago; Trails & Rails program

First time on the train? Here is some advice

 

• Check out Amtrak’s interactive route atlas on Amtrak.com to help map out your trip.

• Don’t forget your ID. Amtrak requires passengers to show identification to check tickets and purchase onboard fares.

• Pack a lunch! Amtrak allows passengers to bring their own food and beverages.

• Visit the dining car for a snack or strike up a conversation with a fellow train traveler.

• Bring a deck of cards or board games for the family.

• Pack the laptop to watch a movie or get some work done. Most trains have electrical outlets to charge up your electronics.

• Ride the Katy Trail and Amtrak! The Missouri River Runner route has spots on board for passengers with bicycles and several stops near access points to the trail.

• Visit MoRail.org to find out about recent news and changes to routes.
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