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Starting in 2026, Amtrak passengers will be able to travel most routes throughout the country on these sleek, new Airo trains, which promise to be more fuel efficient and produce 90% fewer particulate emissions. Courtesy photo
ColumnsHit the Road

Amtrak changes coming down track

The end of the year is both a time to look forward and look back.

As to the latter, 2022 was definitely an improvement in the travel arena compared to 2020 and 2021. The freedom to travel has much improved, but the World of Viruses is probably not done with us.

Family and friends are still contracting COVID, but thanks to vaccinations and a few wonder drugs, the virus is not life-threatening for most of us.

My husband and I fell to COVID in February after a trip to Taos, New Mexico, despite spending most of the time outdoors in sub-freezing temperatures.

But we continued to follow up with boosters and continued to travel — north through California and Oregon; west to Catalina and the Channel Islands; east to Arizona, Ohio and South Carolina; and waaaay east to Norway and Denmark.

Looking forward, we hope 2023 takes us to the Midwest, North Carolina, Washington and Oregon, and someplace on another continent. We’ll make shorter trips in between, as well as some local ventures.

Speaking of the local, the holidays will last a bit longer at the San Diego Botanic Garden with the unexpected addition of dates for Lightscape, an exhibition that features 1 million holiday lights, tunnels, fire, sculptures and artistic installations set along a one-mile walking trail.

Added dates are Jan. 2, and Jan. 6 through Jan 8.

“The response for Lightscape … has exceeded all our expectations,” said garden president and CEO Ari Novy.

Tickets start at $29 for adults, $18 for ages 3-12 (free for children 2 and under). 

Amtrak’s new Airo passenger cars, which will start running in 2026, will have roomy interiors, wider windows and more spacious restrooms. Courtesy photo

Looking to the future — as in 2026 — train buffs will be happy to learn that Amtrak is promising travel that includes sleek, new Airo trains.

The cars, Amtrak says, will have a progressive design with world-class amenities, roomy interiors, more spacious restrooms, and larger windows for watching the world pass by.

The engines, which will run at up to 125 mph, will be more fuel efficient, produce 90% fewer particulate emissions and operate under a system that allows for a more streamlined change of engines.

This makeover will affect all but our Pacific Surfliner, currently busy repairing tracks in the San Clemente area damaged by a September storm.

When service resumes, though, hopefully in February, consider a day trip or longer north to California cities where there are plenty of things to do within a short distance of the Amtrak stations:

• San Juan Capistrano — the mission of the same name; downtown with restaurants and shops; the colorful, verdant and historic Los Rios, the oldest neighborhood in the state.

• San Luis Obispo — the mission of the same name; downtown; a small-but-unique art museum; an intriguing history center; historic adobe and gardens; and an eclectic mix of restaurants, shops and galleries.

• Santa Barbara — the mission of the same name; downtown’s shops and restaurants; one of the most beautiful beaches in the country; and the historic Stearns Wharf, offering restaurants with both good seafood and  views.

Scenes like this along the San Diego Harbor are within walking distance of San Diego’s Santa Fe Amtrak Station. Photo by E’Louise Ondash

• Anaheim — Disneyland Resort. Free shuttle for Amtrak riders from the Anaheim Resort Transit to Disneyland Main Transportation Center. Drop-off at the Disneyland Main Transportation Center.

• San Diego — The hourlong-or-less ride from Oceanside, Carlsbad, Encinitas or Solana Beach to San Diego or Old Town stations will put you within walking distance of Little Italy; San Diego Harbor Embarcadero; the Children’s Museum; Gaslamp District; USS Midway Museum; Embarcadero Marina parks, North and South; and Museum of Contemporary Art.

An additional, short trolley or bus ride takes you to Liberty Station, Petco Park and Chicano Park Murals.

Happy New Year!

For more travel talk, visit and Instagram @elouiseondash.