I have never traveled by freight train but it must be faster than the Coast Starlight. On the Coast Starlight hours are spent waiting for the freight trains to pass, then rolling forward, gently creaking, before rolling slowly backwards for ten or fifteen minutes more. Inside the train it is like the Empire Builder but older, decorated in dark earth tones that say we weren’t thinking about how hard this might be to keep clean. In the lounge car they show two movies, starting The Pink Panther an hour before the sun sets. By 10pm the train is hopelessly delayed, and the smokers gather in the stairwell to complain. In the lounge car on two small television sets a college basketball team fights racism.
Our mistake was asking to be picked up at the time the train was scheduled to stop in Dunsmuir. It is 5am when we arrive. Desperate passengers crowd the exit stairwell until the door opens, and then stand still while the woman in front of the line has trouble squeezing her luggage out of the train’s refrigerator-sized doorway. Collin and Leanne are in the parking lot, where they have spent the last four and a half hours. We get in Leanne’s car and head toward McKinleyville. It is a four hour drive.
We stop for coffee.
AMTRAK’S COAST STARLIGHT
ONE WAY TICKET COACH CLASS $42
DEPARTS PORTLAND, OR DAILY 2:25PM
ARRIVES DUNSMUIR, CA NEXT DAY 12:35AM (SCHEDULED) OR 5:00AM (OUR ARRIVAL TIME)
SUGGESTED ACTIVITY: Traveling very slowly through large expanses of night, and of nothing.