Arrived in Washington last night.
I travelled to West Virginia by road but I've never been on a train in the United States so I thought I'd return by rail.
Checking various timetables I was aware Amtrak trains don't go very fast but nothing prepares you for the mind-numbing tedium of a train that trundles along, hour after hour, rarely if ever picking up speed.
The drive to White Sulphur Springs from Dulles Airport in Washington last Wednesday took four hours. The train – according to the timetable – takes six.
On the other hand it offers plenty of opportunity to enjoy the scenery and look into people's back yards. I also had an enjoyable book to read – Danny Bakers's Going Off Alarming – so it wasn't too bad although I could have flown the Atlantic in the time it took.
Getting on the train with a heavy suitcase wasn't easy. When the huge locomotive arrived – 30 minutes late – at White Sulphur Springs (above) only two doors opened to allow passengers aboard.
The platform was at ground level and the attendant had a plastic yellow stool she threw down so she could hop from there to the ground.
She then lowered some steps from the coach but they didn't reach the platform so it was quite difficult to clamber aboard with luggage.
While we were struggling to board there was no attempt by the attendant to help. She simply watched and directed us to numbered seats. ("Turn left, number 46.")
Tickets have to be purchased in advance – there was no ticket office, or staff, at White Sulphur Springs – but you can't reserve a seat. Instead the attendants (there appeared to be only two on the whole train) allocate you a seat according to availability at the time you board.
The seats were a good width and there was plenty of legroom which was just as well because I had to sit with the smaller of my two cases on the floor in front of me – the luggage rack above was completely full.
The coach was quite dark and when the heavy metal doors at the end of the coach closed it certainly felt bullet proof, if a little austere.
Refreshments were limited to crisps, popcorn plus room temperature beer and fizzy drinks.
I mentioned the train arrived 30 minutes' late. Well, by the time we arrived in Washington it was 90 minutes behind schedule and its final destination was New York.
To put this in perspective, the train I was on had begun its journey at 6.00am (not sure where), almost six hours before it was due in White Sulphur Springs, so by the time it reached New York last night it would have been travelling the best part of 17 hours.
Anyway I'm in Washington now and delighted to be here, even if the first person who spoke to me asked for money to pay for hospital treatment for his son.
"Sorry," I said, "I'm just a visitor."
"You don't have to live here to have some humanity," he replied.
Welcome to the good ole USA!
PS. I arrived early at the station in White Sulphur Springs – hence the deserted platform above – because I was concerned about missing the train.
As it transpired the train was late but I wasn't to know that. I did however know that if I missed it the next train to Washington is on Wednesday!
Oh, and there was no ticket office at White Sulphur Springs – merely this shop, Christmas at the Depot.