1:45 pm – Great Hall, Chicago Union
Back in the day, the Pennsy and the New York Central offered through Pullman service from coast to coast. But that was then – the golden era of rail travel. Today, pretty much any rail journey from one coast of the United States to the other, requires a change of train at Chicago’s Union Station. The impressive Beaux-Arts building dates from 1925, and although it has been expanded considerably since, one would be remiss not paying a visit to its magnificent Great Hall. Flanked by two grand staircases – one of which was the setting for the most memorable scene in The Untouchables – the sweeping marble-floored atrium, topped off by a vaulted skylight, continues to provide a befitting gateway to any transcontinental journey.
The station still operates an exclusive lounge for sleeper class passengers, and it is here that the four of us convene, from different corners of the country, to embark on a 2,206-mile (3,550-km) journey to Seattle, aboard the Empire Builder.