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The Sunset Limited is descendent of the former Southern Pacific Railway's service of the same name. It is the oldest named train in continuous operation, with service dating to 1894.

Long-distance trains travel as far as 2,800 miles and pass through as many as 12 states.

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Traveltracks: My 30-Day Cross-Country USA Rail Pass Adventure

Episode 3 - Westward Ho on the Sunset Limited

Sean Lynch

Sean is a 23-year-old Bostonian who loves to travel, read and write.

Waiting to board Sunset Limited to San Antonio, I was thinking how sad I was to leave New Orleans. The city had shown me its wonderful culture and fed me obscene amounts of delicious cuisine. I was already planning my next visit, and hoped to clink glasses with NOLA again soon. But, as is the case when you are traveling the country by train, I took my seat on Train #1 and settled in for another 13-hour ride.

Sunset Limited to San Antone

As we crossed the Mississippi shortly after departure, I noticed a distinct change in the scenery passing by. Long, flat green fields gave way to isolated swamps seemingly planted there just to break up the homogeny of the landscape. It certainly kept me interested. Being from New England, swamps were not something I was used to seeing, and really only knew what a "bayou" was from Creedence Clearwater Revival songs. Nevertheless, the southern scenes were something new and different, and where others might be bored looking out the window, I was content, albeit very tired.

Just as I began dozing a bit, the Conductor came on the PA to make some introductions and go over a few (quite a few) regulations and announcements. A conductor has a lot of responsibility on a train. Most of the responsibility, in fact, is put directly on him; the safety of the train, the entire onboard staff, and even passenger safety falls on the conductor's shoulders. Making general announcements is also in the job description, and instead of droning on about times and stops, this one spiced it up by adding a little bit of his own commentary to the usual notices.

The man was no Steve Martin, but he did add a little something to my trip and I actually found myself taking out my headphones when he was making an announcement. And to be honest, besides the conductor, the ride to San Antonio was uneventful. Chatting with my neighbor helped but traveling into the night and arriving at 2 am got me a little worn down. I was excited to get to San Antone and explore the sights, and luckily my hotel was a short walk from the station. I do not recommend walking anywhere in a brand new city at 2 am but an Amtrak attendant pointed me in the right direction and I could literally see the lit sign for my hotel from the station. My ride on Sunset Limited Train #1 was just one enjoyable trip of many more to come.

Back on the Sunset to Tucson

After a great time roaming the Riverwalk and touring through the historical Alamo, once again I was waiting in line to take my seat for a 14-hour jaunt across Texas, New Mexico before finally arriving in Tucson. I picked up the Sunset Limited at 5:40 am in San Antonio and quickly fell asleep with the rest of the tired passengers. When traveling like this, hours, days, and especially holidays, go by seemingly unnoticed. When I awoke from what was a good sleep for being in a chair, I heard the Café Car Attendant announcing they had green beer. At first I was a bit confused. Had I been still half asleep? Did I misunderstand him? Then quickly realized — or perhaps my Irish ancestors brought me to my senses — that it was St. Patrick's Day. Not only did I forget the holiday, but I looked around and found that the majority of passengers were also wearing green to honor the day. It was a bit too early to celebrate so I cracked my book and read while looking out at the new desert hills rolling by.

As the Dining Car Attendant came by to take lunch reservations I requested one for noon in hopes of meeting some fellow passengers who might quell my guilt of forgetting St. Patty's Day. I was seated with a very nice family of two boys and their grandmother, who were traveling from San Antonio to Alpine, Texas, to see Fort Davis. The boys, one in third grade and one in eighth, were on their spring break and had never been to the fort before. I thought it was a great way to see that area of the country, and so convenient since the Sunset Limited stops directly in both Alpine and San Antonio. We shared stories about how to keep busy on trains, and the third grader, Harrison, quizzed me on my history - in which I failed miserably. Traveling with young kids can be tough, especially on planes, but these two young guys seemed content on enjoying the small towns rushing by and the cheese pizzas on their plates. It really was nice to see kids enjoying the train as much as their grandmother and I were.

After I parted ways with my lunch buddies I made my way into the Lounge Car and down the stairway to the Café Car where David, the attendant was waiting. Curious over his role on the train I chatted with him and got some good insight into the world of an Amtrak employee.

“I was in LA last week, worked to New Orleans, had three days off, now I’m heading back to LA.”

I wondered if he worked the same route, or got to see other parts of the country as well.

“Oh yeah, I go to Seattle, Chicago, through California — wherever they need me.” It really seemed like an amazing way to see different parts of the country, and sounded like he got some time to enjoy them as well. I'm sure he gets tired of riding the train, but like any job, there are pros and cons.

I then went back upstairs in the Lounge Car to look out through the enormous windows and I thought about all the great cities I had been to so far, and all of them ahead of me too. I had experienced rides where I did little talking and just absorbed myself in a good book or movie, and I had also gotten to know my fellow riders. That is what’s great about the train; it's really what you make of the ride.

Coming Up Next - Episode 4: Making My Way on the Coast Starlight