Amtrak’s daily Blue Water train carries passengers departing Chicago’s Union station at 4:00pm through to Port Huron, Michigan near the Canadian border arriving at 11:38pm. Seniors, people with disabilities, families traveling with young children, military personnel and business class passengers are called first to board. The seniors are talking about their previous train trips and the weather. A winter storm is wreaking havoc on the East Coast. A middle-aged woman with long, yellow hair joins them. She slips her hands into the pockets of her jacket. Across its front in black and orange lettering are the words Harley Davidson. She has no visible characteristic for being in the priority boarding line.
On the Blue Water we are not given seat numbers. Passengers sit wherever they want. The Coach cars are old with worn blue upholstery and no foot rests. However, there is something special about this Midwest train. The Federal Railroad Administration designated a 97-mile stretch of its route as a high-speed rail corridor.
Half of the seats are facing one way and the others are facing in the opposite direction. It isn’t until we begin moving I realize I am facing backwards. The woman with the yellow hair wearing the Harley jacket is seated behind me.
“I’ve never ridden a passenger train facing backwards,” I say.
“It doesn’t matter. It will be dark in an hour or so,” she says. Her words are slowly drawn. The accent is a hybrid of different regions. I want to hear more of it.Continue reading