Apr 29

Amtrak: Taking the Scenic Route

by Kelsey Dayton

Flying can be stressful. You have to arrive long before your flight leaves, navigate sometimes-long security lines. Sit in cramped seats. That’s why some travelers prefer by train, said Lisa Overlie, owner and travel consultant at Lelok Travel in Havre.

For those travelers who pick the train, it is often because they find it more relaxing, Overlie said. Plus people can get up and walk around stretching their legs, she said.

Amtrak vacations aren’t new or on the rise, but demand has held steady, especially with older travelers, she said.

One perk of traveling by train is Amtrak offers a senior discount for those 62 and older, Overlie said.

Amtrak use is on the rise nationwide, said Marcus Magliari, a spokesman with Amtrak. There’s been record travel in ten of the past eleven years and most recently Amtrak reports 32 million riders a year.

Long-distance driving can be exhausting and plane travel cramped, he said. Amtrak’s seats are wider than any on an airplane.

“Domestically, there’s no one who can touch us in terms of seats,” he said.

People also have the option to travel in compartments allowing for comfortable sleeping and privacy – some have their own bathrooms. There are also accessible compartments for those with disabilities and with a low employee-passenger ratio those that need extra assistance have plenty of help.

Amtrak’s “Empire Builder,” which runs from Oregon and Washington, through northern Montana to Chicago, is one of the most popular overnight trips, he said. It’s scenic. The views are like driving along U.S. Highway 2, but people can sit back and watch instead of focusing on the road.

“We like to tell people their trip begins as soon as they get on the train,” Magliari said.

In Montana, people can board Amtrak at 12 different statins across the northern portion of the state. Most people in Montana that use the train live near the stations, travel agents said.

In Whitefish most people who take the train are using it for ski trips said Micki Nonemacher, part-owner of Flathead Travel. People love to come into Whitefish via train for ski vacations, she said. It becomes part of their Montana adventure.

Residents also visit the travel agency asking to travel by train, she said.

Lately, the trains have had some reliability issues due to increased rail traffic from energy development, Nonemacher said. Amtrak is changing its schedule to help deal with it and hopefully will be more reliable, she said. It’s one of the quirks of train travel that makes it more appealing to those who are retired and have more flexibility with their time.

“You don’t set your watch by Amtrak,” she said.

Still, Nonemacher has clients request traveling by train. It’s great for traveling with kids because of the child rates. And there’s the perks of bigger seats, being able to walk around and accessibility. But for most it’s the experience. Traveling by train is about slowing down and watching the scenery, “land cruising” Nonemacher said. It’s a step back in time away from the hustle and stresses of daily life. It’s a chance to connect with fellow traveling companions, providing time to play games or just sit and talk.

“It’s a memory of a lifetime” she said.

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