At the station my photos, my words

I like train stations.

To be specific, I like older train stations — the ones with classic design and character that harken back to the times when trains were the only way to travel conveniently from Point A to a distant Point B.

Visitors walk inside the giant atrium of the Oculus. The Oculus, a futuristic structure designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava to look like a dove in flight, is the centerpiece of the World Trade Center transportation hub in Lower Manhattan in New York City adjacent to the 1 World Trade Center building. The massive Oculus includes train and subway connections, retail space and restaurants.

I’ve photographed train stations in eight cities across four countries and have visited stations in at least six more cities and three more countries. The stations are interesting places to walk through. surrounded by people scurrying to catch departing trains mixed with others who have just arrived and are determining their next steps.

The stations, especially the larger ones in major cities, are always filled with a sense of excitement. And I enjoy that atmosphere.

The skylight in St. Pancras International Train Station, London.

For instance, Grand Central in New York City, completed in 1913, is massive, beautiful and busy. It hosts Amtrak trains serving the northeast United States as well as the Metro-North Railroad and Long Island Rail Road serving destinations in the New York City area. It’s also a major stop on the city’s subway system. I try to visit Grand Central on every trip to New York City.

Union Station in Washington, D.C., opened in 1907 and despite misguided efforts by decision makers to attempt to modify and modernize it through the years (who thought it was a good idea to stick a huge, dark, wooden structure housing dining and other shops in the middle of the beautiful main hall in 1988?) it has now been returned to its original beauty. Union Station is headquarters for Amtrak and is the railroad’s second-busiest station behind Grand Central.

The view of the towering arches of the main hall of Union Station, the historic train station in Washington, D.C.

St. Pancras in London, one of the city’s 330 (yes, 330) train stations, was built in the 1800s and connects the city to all of Europe. It’s busy and it’s fun. Same with Gare du Nord, the huge train station in Paris (one of seven in the city) that is served by trains that run to locations throughout Europe. My wife and I took the Eurostar, the high speed train, from Gare du Nord under the English Channel to St. Pancras in London. Fun trip.

Waiting for Amtrak in 30th Street Station, Philadelphia.

Even the Santa Fe Depot, the small train station in San Diego, retains the California character it had when it opened in 1915. It’s served by Amtrak but has only a fraction of the traffic of its east coast counterparts.

In Europe and many other areas of the world, regularly scheduled trains provide easy connections between cities and countries. Unfortunately, that option is missing in the United States. While London has 330 train stations, there may not be 330 active passenger train stations in the entire United States (I tried to research that fact but had difficulty finding sources).

Part of the San Diego skyline can be seen beyond the arched exit from Santa Fe Depot, the train station in San Diego.

My wife and I take trains between cities when we are traveling in the “Amtrak Corridor,” the area between Washington, D.C., and Boston served by Amtrak. Passenger train service is convenient and on time throughout that northern corridor. But other than areas in central Texas, California and the Chicago area, the remainder of the country has lost passenger train service through the years.

Arched walkway at Union Station, Washington, D.C.

Part of the problem is that the vast majority of tracks in the U.S. are owned by freight railroad companies. That means passenger trains must defer to freight trains using the tracks, which leads to long delays and uncertain schedules. Amtrak’s Cardinal, which operates three days a week between New York City and Chicago, includes a stop in Ashland, Ky. (my former hometown). Much of the route uses tracks owned by CSX, a freight company. So passengers never know if the train will arrive in Ashland around 10 p.m., it’s scheduled time, or the following morning. Amtrak’s web site shows the on-time performance of the Cardinal hovering around 50 percent.

The facade of Grand Central Terminal is well lit on a late November evening. in New York City. The Chrysler Building is in the background.

And the limited amount of high-speed train service in the U.S. — Amtrak’s Acela that serves the northeast corridor — isn’t truly high speed when compared with trains in other areas of the world. The Acela averages about 71 miles per hour and has a top speed of about 150 mph in two sections covering 28 miles between Boston and New York. The Eurostar averages 136 mph with a top speed of more than 200 mph.