As you know, trains have incredible power to connect people from every region and corner of this great continent. High Speed Rail Alliance community members are helping to tell that story by sharing their experiences.
We plan to continue collecting stories and photos from our community, and will share them here. Contact us if you would like to add your personal experience to this page.
HSRA Board Member Beth Coulson’s Railroad Advocacy
Beth Coulson’s love affair with trains stems from her early years, when her family regularly rode the Burlington’s silver bullets from Chicago to Hastings, Nebraska – where she detrained into a cornfield in the middle of the night to meet her Grandmother.
Beth has since ridden the rails on six continents. In the 1980s she ranked in the top two several years in a row on the 20th Century Railroad Club’s record of Amtrak’s mileage. She regularly travels by rail to Denver, Florida, Washington, New York, New England, and to the West Coast, sometimes on Private Varnish.
For 14 years she served as the elected State Representative for the Chicago North Shore suburbs. In Springfield she helped found the Passenger Rail Caucus and worked to establish commuter rail to Antioch and to increase frequencies on Amtrak runs to Milwaukee, Quincy, and St. Louis.
In 2007 the Cook County Board appointed her lawyer husband Bill to the RTA Board of directors, where he is now the senior member and Chair of the Audit committee. A few years ago, when Florida’s Brightline passenger rail project had few friends on the Treasure Coast, she helped Bill write several Guest Editorials in Florida newspapers supporting the project. Beth and Bill were invited to Brightline’s West Palm Beach shops to test drive the newly-arrived trainsets. The Government of Spain invited Beth and Bill to Madrid to sample and drive the high-speed rail line to Zaragoza.
Beth continues to serve passenger rail as a Board Member on the High Speed Rail Alliance. She combines her knowledge of rail travel with her practical Legislative skills and experience to support and expand the nation’s passenger network.
Beth at the controls of a Brightline train in Florida.
Beth in front of Iowa Pacific’s Hoosier State train, which operated four days a week, from Chicago to Indianapolis. The train stopped operating in 2019.
Beth and her husband William in front of the private train car named “Belleville”
Chris Ott, HSRA, Deputy Director
After starting at a college a few states away, I found out that I’d need to travel home for winter break by train because it was cheaper. I had teenage complaints about this: I wanted to fly! The train would take a whole day, each way!
To my surprise, though, I came to love the train.
I started taking trains whenever I could. In fact, just a few years after I graduated from school, I traveled by train all the way from the east coast to the Grand Canyon and back, on Amtrak. This trip included the whole route I’d traveled the first time, plus another third or so of the country on top of that.
Since then, I’ve taken trains all over the United States: up and down the North East Corridor, from Denver through the Rockies to San Francisco, from Atlanta to DC, and once, in a single trip, from Milwaukee to Seattle, Oakland, Santa Barbara, LA, Austin, and home again through Chicago (and all for a total of about $300).
America’s cross-country train routes are beautiful, but our infrastructure needs work, and these trains take their time.
Eventually, I got to ride modern trains in other countries. In Norway, trains give beautiful mountain views, as they do here, but Norway has more modern trains. On one fast train out of Oslo, the ride was so smooth that it felt like lying in bed. On a high-speed train in Italy, I glanced out the window at a highway and thought that I must be looking at a traffic jam—but then I remembered that our train was traveling so fast that it only looked like those cars and trucks were standing still. They were driving along as usual on the highway, but our train’s speed created the optical illusion that traffic had stopped.
I like traveling by train for lots of reasons—comfort, scenery, and affordability, to name a few—but speed makes them all better.
In 2014, I joined the Alliance as a member, and in 2021, I got the chance to work here. It’s such an exciting and promising time for better American trains. Thank you to everyone who has gotten involved and who helps make the Alliance’s work possible!
My husband David and I on board the Southwest Chief in 1995, on the way to the Grand Canyon.
Madeline Shepherd, HSRA Board Member
Madeline Shepherd, HSRA Board Member – I snapped this selfie in Italy in 2017 right as I was about to board my first true high speed train experience.
Johnny Kohlbeck, HSRA Ambassador’s Committee, Co-Chair
This was in London at Paddington Station. We were visiting friends who live over there and it was so easy taking the trains through England and the UK during our stay. We could hop over to a different city or country for a day while our friends were at work and be back by dinner time. There’s a sense of freedom and convenience that comes with this sort of mobility, and it’s one of the many things that makes me fall in love with trains…that and getting to see the beautiful English countryside!
Johnny walking to the train at Paddington Station in London.
Paul at 6 years old, taking the train with his dad on a grand journey.
In August 1997, my family took a great long train trip through the western United States. Our first leg was from Chicago to Whitefish, MT, where we spent a few days visiting Glacier National Park. The second leg was from Whitefish to Sacramento, CA, through Portland, OR. After visiting Sacramento, we headed east to Denver, where we visited with family, before returning to Chicago.
I was 6 years of age, and this grand trip left a big impression on me as a little boy. It was amazing to see the breadth of the country and to experience the wonders of train travel. That trip sparked a deep appreciation for train travel and how unique it is.
Paul Rubio’s Story Continues
It was fitting that 20 years later, in May 2017, I reconnected with that trip by riding the Empire Builder to the Pacific Northwest where I visited a friend. Similar to many other train trips, I was awestruck by the scenery, especially near Glacier National Park, in the central part of Washington, and then riding alongside Puget Sound as we neared Seattle. I was in a train car with a few other passengers who rode the long haul from Chicago to Seattle, and I enjoyed their company. One of them, Rebecca, took the attached photo of me at Havre.
I have appreciated the ways that riding Amtrak has helped connect me with the USA. I took my first trips to several states on Amtrak, including Texas, Arizona, and South Carolina. I can see this country in an amazing way as the train travels through scenic wonders, large cities, and small towns.
Paul taking the Empire Builder to the Pacific Northwest to visit a friend.
Larry Cole – This is the train museum in Grapevine, TX. What a nice city, very pedestrian friendly!
My wife and I take the Empire Builder every winter to visit our children and their families in Seattle. We often see wildlife from the train. My most memorable wildlife experience was seeing a small wolf pack crossing a frozen lake just south of Glacier National Park.
David Voigt – View from the Empire Builder, just south of Glacier National Park, near where I saw the wolf pack.
A group of High Speed Rail Alliance members on a trip to Japan in 2016.
Rick Harnish, HSRA Executive Director
Executive director Rick Harnish was able to ride on the world’s first high-speed line in November of 2022.