by Jeff Smith
What's it like to travel on the longest daily-running train service in the US
Over two days aboard the California Zephyr, the longest daily-running train service in the US, unlikely bonds form between passengers as mountain passes and river valleys slip past the window.
“If you need to update Facebook, do it now,” the conductor announces over the tannoy. The passengers chuckle but dutifully pull out their phones. As we trundle into the snow-capped Sierra Nevada mountains, we’re about to enter another mobile dead zone.
I’m sitting in the observation car on Amtrak’s California Zephyr, a train that trundles cross-country for 2,438 miles, making it the longest daily-running rail service in the US. From its starting point near San Francisco to its final destination in Chicago, this expansive journey slicing through the middle of the US takes 51 hours and 20 minutes — more than two full days of riding the rails, assuming you arrive on time, which you likely won’t. In 2022, just 25% of the journeys made by the California Zephyr ran to schedule.