Last Tuesday, after three years of planning, two years of construction, and months of delays, Raleigh finally opened its much-hyped Union Station, a sleek, state-of-the-art, $111 million, multimodal (eventuallybuses will begin stopping there in a few years), twenty-six-thousand-square-foot transit facility in a former Dillon Supply Co. warehouse. The project, pitched as a catalyst for economic development in the resurgent Warehouse District, promises to serve as “a front door to the city,” in the words of Mayor Nancy McFarlane, and “the centerpiece of transportation, not only for Raleigh but also for North Carolina,” in the words of former governor Pat McCrory.
In other words, it’s a big damn deal.
To mark the occasion, we dedicated our summer Travel Guide to rail adventures. The rules were simple: Pick a place. Find a train to take you there. Go. Do stuff. Write about it.
For the five writers we dispatched hither and yonto the Triad, Charlotte, Southern Pines, Philadelphia, and all the way from Durham to, um, Raleighthe reality proved a bit more complicated than we envisioned. Trains run late. Their schedules are often less than ideal. They don’t always get you where you want to go as quickly as you could by flying or even driving. And once you arrive at your destination, you’re without transportation, forced to make do with Uber or your own two legs, which can curtail your entertainment options, especially when you’re cramming a bunch of things into a limited period of time.
So trains may not be the most convenient way to get around. But still, there’s something romantic about them, no? Something about watching the world go by from your window, something about contemplating the changing landscapes and small towns and big cities you pass along the way, something about drinking a beer and reading a book in air-conditioned comfort instead of road-raging at the dude who just cut you off on the interstate.
And though trains may be inconvenientor at least require more planningour writers found lots of ways to enjoy themselves on relatively meager budgets: They explored small towns and ate their way across big cities, hit up museums and plunged into the history of a state industry, found new adventures in their own backyard and vaped with strangers on a stalled train in the middle of nowhere.
As we discovered while we were planning this issue, you can get to lots of places from here by train, both in the Southeast and all over the country (poke around ncbytrain.org to get started). You may have to leave late at night or return before the sun rises, you’ll definitely have to figure out how to get around after your train drops you off, and you should probably plan on your trip taking an hour or two (at least) longer than the itinerary says, but you may just find yourself on a relaxing, unforgettable escape.