Monday, August 18, 2008

Amtrak, Part 1

The boys and I traveled down to Virginia on Amtrak last Monday, returning Saturday over the same route with major stops in Richmond, Washington, Baltimore, and Philadelphia (with a host of smaller, shorter stops as well). I was struck by several things during these eight-hour journeys. First, Amtrak was a perfectly pleasant experience. I didn't have to drive, making periodic stops for snacks and bathroom breaks. Second, the cost was reasonable - and far, far cheaper than flying. And third, the scenery was interesting, offering up a view of the country one wouldn't see on a highway or from the air. (In the year 20 years following World War II, the railroads trumpeted this very asset - scenery - in their attempts to combat decreasing ridership and compete with the legions of new car owners who were taking advantage of cheap gas and interstate highways.) Our route took us through bits of the old industrial heart of the northeast corridor and upper South. Richmond and Baltimore in particular presented poignant images of blighted industry and decaying residential sections far removed from the auto-fed suburbs. I've never seen so many empty warehouses, rusting, grass-filled rail spurs, and quiet factories. Seeing the back side of Washington's southeast section, with the Capitol dome and other government buildings rising in the background, reminded me of the city's older, more southern qualities, while giving those of us on the train a picture of the stark poverty missed by the armies of tourists. Of course, most people on the train were probably less enamored with the industrial scenery and more appreciative of the nice views around the Rappahanock, Potomac, and Delaware Rivers. But for a historian long interested in the contrast between rural and urban, pastoral and industrial, the trip offered views well worth the ticket price.

I'm breaking these photos into several groups, from these sepia-toned images, to color in later posts, for example.

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