I’m not sure what to expect from Siberia — pine and birch forests with an occasional gulag, perhaps — but I’ll soon be experiencing the real thing as my train rolls out of Moscow’s Kazan station and heads east, rattling through a series of switches and out onto the main line. It’s the start of a 12-day, 4000-mile rail journey that will take us across Siberia and to Mongolia before heading south into China and, eventually, to Beijing.
A rail excursion through the mountains of Western Canada aboard the Rocky Mountaineer has long been on my list of to-do train rides. And this morning, here I am: in Vancouver watching a quarter-mile-long train in stunning blue and gold livery ease to a gentle stop at the platform right in front of me.
I submitted a request to ride in an Amtrak locomotive, but that is such a rarely-approved privilege I had little hope it would ever actually happen. Imagine my delight when I was told arrangements had been made for me to ride in the “head end” of Amtrak’s daily Empire Builder during a Chicago-to-Seattle trip.
The Cardinal is not a big train – just one sleeping car, three coaches, and a diner – and it runs only three days a week over a meandering southerly route between New York and Chicago. But, in between those frenetic metropolitan centers, the Cardinal passes through some of the loveliest rural and wilderness areas in the entire eastern United States.