Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Deep in the Heart of Texas

Last night Amtrak's double-decker Sunset Limited train whisked me the 573 miles from New Orleans to San Antonio in just under 15 hours. There were stops where passengers could get out to smoke or stretch their in Lafayette, Louisiana and Houston, Texas but, I must say, the highlight of the trip was the station stop in Beaumont, Texas.

That's a photo of the Beaumont Amtrak station between the pics from Lafayette and Houston. Not that anyone would know it since there is not only no station, there is not even a sign of any kind to alert anyone that the train stops at this spot.

Lest you think that Beaumont is a podunk outpost, I should mention that the city proper has a population of a little over 110,000 people, similar to that of Lafayette with it's quaint little train station. What's more, together with Port Arthur and Orange, Beaumont forms a metropolitan area with a population of about 385,000, and is a major industrial area of Texas.

The train conductor told me there used to be an actual station in Beaumont, but it "had been taken over by crack heads" and was bulldozed by the city. Why the city hasn't since constructed at least a few covered benches on the spot and hung a sign so travelers can find the spot is not clear.* But it is no doubt at least partly responsible for the low ridership at this stop (only 1769 boardings or aligtings in fiscal year 2009). Not to mention completely responsible for marring my photo collection of Amtrak station signs along my travel route.

In related travel news, I was hoping the train would be a few hours late to arrive in San Antonio, but unfortunately it was about 20 minutes early. Why would I want my train to be delayed, you might wonder. Well, because the scheduled arrival time was 3 o'clock in the morning. After not sleeping a wink on the train (because of a chat with fellow train travelers that extended into the wee hours), I ended up hanging out in the station until daybreak when I deemed it safe to venture out to the city proper. Fortunately San Antonio actually has a station in which to hang out.

* It seems economic recovery funds have been allocated to fix up the Beaumont Amtrak station but there is controversy over whether the stop should be moved entirely (to downtown Beaumont) or the current stop rehabbed.

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