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Peak Direction

A blog about transit in Pittsburgh and around the world

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Amtrak in Pittsburgh and The Amazing Chris Guenzler

If you live in Pittsburgh, you might never think about taking a train. Yes, there still are Amtrak trains that serve Pittsburgh. Two departures and two arrivals daily:

Pennsylvanian to Philadelphia and New York Capitol Limited to Chicago or Washington D.C.

Sounds pretty useful, right? Maybe not. The Pennsylvanian leaves once a day at 7:20am to get to Philadelphia by 3:25pm and NYC by 4:54pm. And that's if it's on time. The railroad from Pittsburgh to Harrisburg is not owned by Amtrak, so freight trains hundreds of cars long can slow down the route. And going to D.C.? Train leaves at 5:45am to get there at 1:30pm. Going the other way to Chicago means an 11:55pm departure to get there at 8:40am. According to Amtrak, last night's train departed at 1:03am. and arrived 25 minutes late, probably due to the same concerns over freight.

But even with its delays and longer travel times, there's something alluring about rail. Maybe its the history. Maybe it's the enormity. Maybe it's a link between old and new. Whatever it is, railfans make a hobby out of spotting, photographing, and collecting everything there is to know about trains.

Chris Guenzler takes it one step further. He has ridden every mile of Amtrak at least twice. Including historic trains and commuter rail, he has totaled over 1,000,000 miles. He rides one train by his home out and back nightly. He has kept track of every train he rides and keeps a box in his room of timetables and tickets from his travels. His website includes pictures and stories of every trip he's made. What cars were on the train, what he ate, what he listened to, everything.

The stories also tell of Chris's other obsession. A story from 1993 tells of Chris being thrown off of the train in New Orleans due to drunkenness. Experiences like that one led Chris to go sober in 1995 and use his train riding as a way to stay on the wagon.

It's really an amazing story for those who love alternative transportation, and his travelogues are concise but interesting journeys of America and beyond. His stories might even make you get up early to catch that 5:45am train to D.C.

Here's to the railfans! [raises a Coca-Cola in the air]

Posted by Brent at 4:14 PM