Strangers on the Train: A Story Told Through Instagram
Amtrak rider and West Coast based photographer Kelly, utilized her USA Rail Pass to travel on four different routes across the country. Traveling with her husband then on her own, Kelly met fellow riders, enjoyed the scenery and began Strangers on a Train – a photography project featured on Instagram. We caught up with Kelly to learn a little more about her experience aboard the train:
Amtrak: What inspired you to take a train ride across the country?
Kelly: Every year since 1999 my husband and I have driven across the country together. In 2003, we decided to take our first cross country train trip and fell in love with it.
What’s your favorite thing about taking the train?
Meeting and observing new people, seeing the country, and having the time to think of creative ideas in a small space. I feel the train really breeds creativity and is the perfect type of travel for those working in the creative fields.
What route did you travel on?
I originally bought a 15 day rail pass this past winter. I started out on the Southwest Chief from Los Angeles to Chicago, and then proceeded to Boston on the Lake Shore Limited for a photography conference. After I left Boston I took the Capitol Limited back to Chicago. Since I didn’t use all my legs from my trip due to inclement weather I decided to use my last leg this summer to take the Coast Starlight from Portland to Southern California.
What were some of the differences between traveling on your own and traveling with your husband?
On the solo portion of my journey I found myself speaking with more strangers and really getting to know the other passengers. During this portion of my trip I also found myself spending the majority of my time sitting in the observation car where I could just meet new characters, people watch and look at the beautiful scenery all at the same time! When I was traveling with my husband, he loved it! Since we drive across the country often, taking the train gave us both the opportunity to relax and be passengers instead of one of us always having to pay attention to the road.
Train travel has such a sense of community. Did you meet any interesting people on your train?
This is absolutely my favorite part about taking the train. On this last trip alone I met Gerald, an opera & art enthusiast who was a retired writer from the Los Angeles Times, Phil, who was on his way to visit his mother and long lost brother and a family from England who was touring the country.
Did people say anything funny or unique when you took their photos?
When I started taking photographs of the passengers no one really said anything, then I met John who had actually seen some of the photos I had taken on Instagram because I had hashtagged #Amtrak. By the end of the trip he was pointing out interesting people who might be fun to capture on camera. Gerald, the retired writer from the Los Angeles Times, actually took a photo of me!
What was the biggest takeaway you had from your trip?
In my day to day life I am introverted and shy, with the exception of when I have a camera in my hand. Before I boarded the train on my solo trip I made a promise to myself that I was going to speak to and photograph at least two strangers. For the first time during my 17 years of being a photographer I felt I was taking portraits that showed a real part of who these people really are. I personally thought the portraits were impactful, but then my friends on social media started commenting about how they were looking forward to seeing more “Strangers on a Train”. This confirmed my thought that the best portraits are not the ones on the holiday cards, but the ones that give glimpse into who the person is.
What is your favorite thing to photograph while on the train? Let us know in the comments section below!