Scenes from a Train

The inside track on life aboard Amtrak’s new service from Norfolk

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The train is speeding along at 79 miles per hour, passing small town after small town. Before Reed leaves to continue checking in passengers, he mentions that it would be nice to begin to service more stops between Norfolk and Petersburg. “If we ever stop in Wakefield, I’d love to stop long enough to go to the Virginia Diner and get some pie.”

Back in my passenger car, I meet Yelena Kogan, a resident at Sentara Norfolk General and graduate of Eastern Virginia Medical School. She’s taking the train to New York, where she’s apartment hunting—she’s moving there for her first job out of residency.

She’s a native of Russia and a veteran train traveler. “I love taking trains,” she says. “I know it’s early, but the time we arrive in New York is awesome. Riding the train is so peaceful. You can do work, you can read, you can use the computer. I love falling asleep to the scenery as it goes by outside my window. It’s much more comfortable than a plane.”

Even though she’s embarking on her career in another state, Kogan is already sold on the train as a way to come back to Norfolk. “I’ll use this train to visit friends. The station in Norfolk is only a couple of Tide stops from where most of my friends live near the hospital.”

As dawn starts to break on the horizon, passengers begin to stir. Dave Jennings took the train from Massachusetts to visit relatives in Hampton Roads and is headed home with his wife. “This is my first trip on a train,” he says. “We choose it because it was something different. It’s much more comfortable than other ways of travelling. We’ve driven in before, and I like the train better. We’ll definitely do it again. It’s a lot less pressure.”

After we stop in Petersburg and Richmond, the sun’s shining brightly, and the train’s getting lively. Mike and I head to the cafe car, where the conversations are cooking and passengers are enjoying sandwiches, snacks and drinks.

Brian Beachum, Gary Cordon and Elizabeth Mather, who work for Norfolk Public Schools, are heading to Baltimore for a conference.

“The traffic from Norfolk to Baltimore is horrendous,” says Beachum. “As soon as someone tries riding the train versus driving in all that traffic, it makes sense [to them] to travel this way. And for anyone who’s gone through TSA and the mess that airports are—with delays and baggage getting lost—they’ll all start riding trains. Trains have ambiance. Airports have nuisances.”

It’s Cordon’s first time on the train, and he’s impressed. “I was expecting a much rougher ride, but it’s been very smooth.”

Mather has been traveling by rail since she was a child. “When I was a little girl, we took the train from Norfolk to Florida. It’s so nice to have it back. It’s more comfortable than I even remember it as a child.” She especially likes how convenient train travel is. “The terminal in Norfolk is in a great spot; there’s plenty of parking, and you don’t have to be here as early as when you’re flying.”

When we make a stop at the Quantico station, the conductor mentions that the station has an HO-scale model railroad layout inside. And as we continue north through the quaint towns alongside the Potomac River, I’m struck by the beauty of Virginia that you can’t see from a car on I-95.