Visitors riding the rails into the Rocky Mountains |

Visitors riding the rails into the Rocky Mountains

Stina Steig
Glenwood Springs Correspondet
Vail, CO Colorado
Kelley Cox/Post IndependentPassengers board an eastbound Amtrak at the Glenwood Springs train station Tuesday afternoon.

GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado ” When considering travel this summer, more people traveling to the region west of Vail appear to be choosing trains over planes and automobiles.

With gas prices hitting all-time highs and the air industry struggling, travelers are increasingly taking to the rails.

Nationally, ridership at Amtrak was up 10.9 percent in May from October. The California Zephyr route, which rolls through Glenwood Springs, is up 10.1 percent.

For the last five years, Amtrak media relations manager Marc Magliari has noted steady increases in passenger numbers. This year, however, the jump has been dramatic.

“We think about half of it is due to the higher prices of driving their cars,” he said.

Another part of the reason, he explained, is a change in philosophy of the company. Amtrak is no longer just banking on the nostalgia and ambiance of rail travel to sell tickets.

“We’ve also changed how we’ve marketed the trains,” he said. “Beyond talking about the experience, we’ve talked about the schedules and fares.”

While the price of gas and plane tickets continue to rise, train fares have remained fairly steady. Though sleeper cars recently went through a price increase, regularly seated passengers coming from Glenwood can pay as little as $96 to travel all the way to Emeryville, Calif. or $116 to Chicago. Students, seniors and members of the military or AAA receive discounted prices.

But rail travel does have some downsides.

A trip to the end of the line in Illinois or California will take upwards of 30 hours. An “on-time” arrival can be as much as 45 minutes late ” and the Zephyr’s on-time rate is less than 20 percent.

Yet, those traveling logistics didn’t seem to bother the passengers boarding and disembarking at the Glenwood station one recent afternoon.

“We averaged it out, it was going to be way cheaper,” said Ashley Pate. The Canon City resident was just coming off a short Glenwood vacation with her three small children, husband and mother. For them, the idea of dealing with renting a van, paying for gas and driving to the valley seemed too much of a hassle. Plus, they wanted to see a little bit of the country they were passing through.

“Another reason, we did it for the scenic route,” Pate said. “When you get to have a bigger family, it’s almost easier.”

Stepping off the train from California, James Martin, 32, was carrying a cooler and water bottle.

The San Francisco resident said he’d decided to take the trip by train after finishing work on WALL-E, a Pixar film with a slight environmental message. For him, this form of group transit seemed like a green way to start his vacation.

“I thought ‘how can I be a little more conscious?'” he said.

However, watching the black diesel smoke puff out of the engine’s top throughout the journey, he had started to doubt how much cleaner rail travel really is.

Linda Chagnon, 67, was on her way home to the Front Range with her husband. Though they had received the trip as a gift, she said she felt she could really utilize this mode of transport more ” if only it was a little bit more accessible. She loved seeing the scenery, watching everything go by slowly, and she was taken aback by how many others felt the same.

“Personally, I was surprised that the train was as full as it was,” she said, estimating about 60 percent capacity.

Glenwood ticket agent Warren Watson, 58, echoed her feelings, confirming he’d seen a substantial increase in ticket sales recently. What really impresses him, though, is how many different types of people take the train, from foreign tourists to students, senior citizens and big families.

“They’re from all walks of life,” he said.

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