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My View: Amtrak ride was wonderful, despite it all

By Peter Smith

The Indian man laughed out loud, and insisted on giving me a $20 bill for being his guide.

I had been out to the University at Buffalo and was coming back on the bus. He had just installed his son as a graduate student. We got chatting and I asked him if he would like me to give him a short tour of downtown Buffalo.

At the end of my selection of places he must see, he asked me if Buffalo had a railway station. I remembered from my boyhood in Britain that railway stations were major structures in India almost from the dawn of rail travel. So we walked all the way south on Washington, and at Exchange Street I pointed to our railway station. That was when he laughed out loud.

On a recent Saturday I felt like crying out loud. I was due to take the 1:05 p.m. train to Penn Station. It was bitterly cold. Exchange Street station does not open on Saturdays and Sundays, although the trains, of course, continue to run. There were about 10 of us, and at one point a cab driver shouted to us that we could wait in his cab for $5. Almost immediately he apologized for asking for money, and a woman with a small child took up his offer.

As usual in the United States one has to climb five stairs from the ground into the coach one is traveling in. In Europe (and I assume other countries, too) the platforms are built so that the coach comes in at the same level as its doors. On that snowy Saturday, the steps were hazardous, and the young conductor did us all a favor by offering to hand up our luggage; she was wonderful during a time of stress and anxiety.

The thing is that we were due to arrive in Syracuse at 3:28 p.m. but we actually arrived there at 5:56 p.m., 148 minutes behind schedule; and we still had six hours ahead of us.

The scene through the windows was worth the price of admission: the clichéd phrase "winter wonderland" was totally applicable. The woods between Rochester and Syracuse looked magical. And we had lots of time to enjoy the view. Because somehow we got stuck behind a CSX freight train. This is always a hazard on this route, but in my experience things are usually arranged so that that doesn't happen. But, to use Tennyson's words from "The Charge of the Light Brigade," on Jan. 13, 2018, "someone had blundered." The good thing is that the train took us through an enchanted landscape and not into a valley of death like the one where the Light Brigade was slaughtered in 1854.

I plan to send this essay to the joint CEOs of Amtrak. In their introduction to the latest issue of the house magazine, they tell us that 2018 will be a better year on Amtrak. Here's hoping.

Peter Smith will continue to use Amtrak until a better service comes to town.

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