Travel by train typically isn’t the first mode of transportation for people booking trips for the holidays, especially when airline industry experts estimate more than 3 million people will fly the skies during the week of Thanksgiving. But, in Michigan, the amount of people hopping on board a train might be surprising.
Last year, Amtrak carried 24, 542 people in Michigan alone during the Thanksgiving week. Those numbers are expected to be the same this year. To accommodate the influx of people traveling by rail this time of year, Amtrak added capacity on routes in Illinois, Michigan, Missouri and Wisconsin, as well as additional trains to downstate Illinois stations.
What is train travel like? Well, imagine roomy seats, outlets, bathrooms and perhaps one of the most welcome accommodations — less restrictions on luggage.
The train pulled into the East Lansing, Michigan, station at 8:45 a.m. Wednesday — Thanksgiving eve if you will — and nearly 300 people were lined up outside with their bags packed. Once the train came to a screeching halt, people stepped up and on board the train to find an open seat in one of the connected cars.
Steve and Michelle Brewer of Fowlerville sat near the front of a car with the rest of their family, including young Alex who sat on his mom’s lap.
“This is my third trip [on a train],” Steve Brewer said. “It’s a better mode of travel, you don’t have to drive in Chicago.”
The Brewer family was headed to the Windy City for the holiday and noted the ease of not having to worry about a car in the busy downtown streets.
A bonus of train travel, he said, “Look at all the room we have! The family can sit together.”
As the conductor came on the loud speaker to remind people to get their tickets ready, which are available to print as well as an e-ticket, he mentioned that the train was sold out.
Amtrak operates 10 state-supported trains through Michigan daily. In fiscal year 2018, Amtrak had 845,216 people use its stations.
There are three different lines running in the state: The Wolverine, running from Chicago to Detroit and Pontiac; The Blue Water which runs from Chicago to East Lansing and Port Huron; and The Pere Marquette, running from Chicago to Grand Rapids. The trains also make several stops along those routes, including Lapeer, Battle Creek, Kalamazoo or Dearborn.
Amtrak owns the 97-mile track segment between Porter, Indiana, and Kalamazoo, Michigan; the longest stretch of line Amtrak owns outside of the Northeast Corridor.
For some people, hopping on a train to head to Chicago for Thanksgiving was a last-minute decision. That includes Ruchika Joshi, a junior at Michigan State University, originally from Atlanta.
"I haven't ever taken an Amtrak train before, it's pretty cool,” Joshi said while sitting next to a few friends. “It's definitely more convenient and I feel like it's more comfortable as compared to taking a bus, definitely.”
Joshi said from her limited experience, she arrived at the conclusion that train travel is “a good mode of transportation” and would consider climbing aboard again.
Down a few rows sat Keith and Sandy Bailey of Haslett. This couple had a long journey ahead, taking the railway down to St. Louis to visit their daughter. Sandy Bailey said the train gives her more options than any other way of getting to her holiday destination.
"You can pack whatever you want; it's not like the airlines, you know, you don't have to worry about the size of things,” she said. “We can sit, we can read, we can eat, we can drink, we can sleep.”
These two are seasoned train riders. Keith Bailey said when his kids were younger, the Bailey family boarded the train to see the Grand Canyon, New Orleans, Washington, D.C., and more.
"Try it! It's fun. It's a little rustic, it's a train; but it's very relaxing,” he said.
From college students, to retired citizens, the train heading out of town Wednesday was full of all walks of life seeking an easy time getting to where they need to go.
“It's a great way to travel,” Keith Bailey said, with a smile.