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At 84, he has completed his goal of riding all 21,000 miles of the Amtrak network

Amtrak's California Zephyr passes a plateau during its 2,438-mile trip to Emeryville/San Francisco from Chicago.
Joe Raedle
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Getty Images
Amtrak's California Zephyr passes a plateau during its 2,438-mile trip to Emeryville/San Francisco from Chicago.

He says he's ridden every mile on the Amtrak rail network, and has never grown tired of looking at the country through a train window.

Who is he? Nat Read is a genuine traveler.

  • He has visited all seven continents and both the North and South Poles, but some of his best travel memories happened aboard U.S. passenger trains. 
  • He's 84 now, and as of his trip last month to Brunswick, Maine, he says he's now ridden every mile of the Amtrak map. That's about 21,000 miles.
  • Read said he didn't set out to do it, but about four years ago he was looking at a map and realized how close he was to completing the entire network. He took out a colored marker and noted each leg he hadn't yet finished.
  • On July 21, Read colored in the last of those spokes, from Boston to Brunswick, telling NPR: "Oh, I enjoyed every minute of it. In fact, after I finished it, I took trains all the way back to Los Angeles."

  • Want to listen to the full All Things Considered conversation with Nat Read? Tap the play button at the top of this page.


    What's the big deal? For Read, there is a magic to trains that cars and planes just can't capture.

  • He said one of his earliest memories of trains was traveling home after seeing his father off to WWII. From there, he was captivated by the adventure and opportunity they offered.
  • He also once worked in publicity for a high-speed rail project in the 1980s, which aimed to build a San Diego to L.A. corridor.
  • Read also says the sprawling network of train lines offer a comforting perspective on the United States: "To me, this is America with a flag that is equal parts blue and red. And I see the railroad tracks across America as the lace that ties us together," he said.
  • You just can't compete with a train, according to Read.
    Spencer Platt / Getty Images
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    Getty Images
    You just can't compete with a train, according to Read.

    What's he saying? Read spoke to NPR's Sacha Pfeiffer about his adventures. Here's what he said:

    On the magic of train travel:

    On a train, I sit on the top of a two-story magic carpet while watching a technicolor diorama scrolling beside me as I progress from the mountains to the prairie, from sea to shining sea. And that's unique to railroads. I never tire of coasting to a stop in another small town and watching a cluster of pickup trucks at the station and people coming together, friends and kin, to express their love and their bonding. 

    On how he felt pulling into the last station in Brunswick:

    Oh, I felt euphoria. The conductors on the train made an announcement — "We have on the train today a Mr. Nat Read, who has completed..." — you know, they made the whole announcement. It was actually a rather long announcement, so when we got to the station, people were lining up to have their picture taken with this famous person!

    Learn more:

  • Tips for planning the perfect long weekend trip
  • Wait, do you need a visa to go to Europe now? The new ETIAS requirements, explained
  • Planning a trip? Here's how to pack like a pro
  • Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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    Sacha Pfeiffer is a correspondent for NPR's Investigations team and an occasional guest host for some of NPR's national shows.