by Michael Daniel
Greensboro, North Carolina
Anyone who drives the interstates in North Carolina will notice the blue "NC Train Service" signs along the roadside. One day I decided to check into it. I called the 800 number on the sign and spoke to a very helpful woman who guided me to the state website (bytrain.org), and of course Amtrak.com. There I learned of the many trains that criss-cross the state and of one that just goes between Charlotte and the capitol of North Carolina, Raleigh.
The Greensboro, North Carolina Amtrak station.
We decided a day trip was in order, so we booked tickets for two adults and three children on Train #80, the Carolinian from Greensboro to Raleigh, with return tickets the same day. Upon arriving in Raleigh, our plans were to walk over the the North Carolina Museum of Natural Science.
After mapquesting the station in Greensboro, we also learned the the station had moved into its original 1920s location downtown instead of its old location adjacent to the freight yard further away. The new restored Greensboro station is totally awesome. As soon as you walk in, the first thing you notice is the very tall ceilings and a mural of the old Southern Railway System Map. After getting our tickets from the window, we sat down on the wooden benches that kind of reminded us of church pews. Soon the announcement was made that our train was in the vicinity and we were instructed to walk down the tunnel underneath the tracks and up the brand new escalators up to the boarding platform. Wow — who would have thought that Greensboro would have such a nice train station. You have to see it to believe it.
With all the excitement built up, my daughter yelled out "its coming!" as she spotted the train's headlights getting closer and closer. Then, as it crossed Elm Street it blew its horn for the crossing with lights flashing and bells ringing as if announcing "I'm here." We climbed up in the coach and quickly found our seats. Each one of the kids had their tickets in hand to give to the conductor. As he came through, my daughter noticed that he wasn't a he at all — our conductor was a woman. After she collected our tickets and welcomed us onboard she pointed us in the direction of the Cafe Car. My daughter turned to me after that and told me that she wants to be a conductor when she grows up. It was really sweet.
Once we departed Greensboro, we decided to take the kids to the Cafe Car for a snack. I was impressed with the selection of food and beverages, especially for the small space the attendant had to work in. They had everything from breakfast sandwiches to pizza and from bottled water to beer. We each had a snack and a drink and the price was reasonable. It was definitely cheaper than snacks from a movie concession, that's for sure. The Cafe Car had booth-style table seating with lots of people eating, playing cards or just socializing. It was a very comfortable atmosphere, even with three kids whose eyes were glued to the windows.
My eight year old nephew was impressed by the speed of the train and wanted to know just how fast we were going. After making a few estimates, one of the train hosts overheard us and told us that our train traveled up to 79 mph. And as we came through the little town of Mebane, it felt even faster as we blew our horn over several crossings close together. In just a few seconds we were traveling through the woods again.
After we were through snacking, we returned to our seats back in the Coach Car. The kids all wanted to push the button that opened the doors between the cars. Our particular coach was enough cars back from the Cafe Car that all three kids got to open a set of doors. Before we knew it we were stopping in Durham.
The difference between Durham's station and Greensboro's is night and day. The Durham station is nothing more than a double-wide trailer adjacent to the tracks. However, there are plans to build a new station in Durham in the future, as I was told by one of the train hosts.
Then we made a station stop in Cary. It looked like it was newly built and was in the middle of where two tracks come together. We soon passed the North Carolina State Fairgrounds where the State Fair is held in October, then right through the campus of NC State University and finally Raleigh. It only took a little over an hour and a half. Pretty impressive when you count the stops along the way.
The Amtrak station at Cary, North Carolina.
The Raleigh station was nice. It looked like they added a glass sunroom-type enclosure to add capacity for travelers, along with a private waiting room for first class passengers. After checking out the station, we started our walk over to the museum. It was a nice walk and the museum was only a few blocks away. We took our time as we had a little over five hours to spend in Raleigh before returning home on #79. The museum was fun — the kids had a blast, but they seemed more concerted about getting back on the train again. The layover in Raleigh seemed to fly by. We ate dinner at a local restaurant downtown and soon it was time to get back on the train.
Train #79 was right on time. We boarded the train found our seats and since we just ate dinner prior to boarding there was no need to walk over the the Cafe Car. Before we even made the first stop at Cary, all the children fell asleep in their seats. The gentle rocking made it easy. I sat in my seat looking out the window and soon I too fell asleep. It was very relaxing after a day of fun and activity.
All in all we had a very good time. It was a great experience and we are planning a trip in the other direction to Charlotte very soon. We are also looking into taking Amtrak to Disney World this summer and booking a Deluxe Bedroom.
Thank you Amtrak for providing a fun means to get around. This family is now hooked on train travel.