When you work in a school where students are either English Language Learners, or students who live in a certain amount of isolation. They do not always relate to the context of word problems such as the ones dealing with trains. There is one big train route in Alaska but its nowhere near here.
I've rewritten problems to use local names and snow machines instead of cars but to encourage reading, I've gone to various news outlets.
I look at yahoo news, major newspapers, and online news to find articles which might catch student interest. I read the article and design mathematical questions which use the material.
One time I found an article about a teenager who ended up owing $35,000 in texting costs because she had too much fun texting and went over her data amount. This story took place a few years ago. I had the students figure out the cost per text since they had total cost and number of texts. In addition, I asked them to calculate the cost of texts if the plan had had unlimited texts. We used a cost from the local cell phone provider.
Another article was one of the overcharging taxi's. The ones who charge way more than the going rate to visitors. I used one to calculate the percentage of overcharging for the taxi based on the normal cost of the trip.
One of the best articles I've ever used talked about the amount of tax the city of New York lost in a month due to people buying cigarettes elsewhere and selling them below cost illegally. This was wonderful because many of my students are smokers. They had to calculate the amount lost per pack, amount lost per month, and per year. It turned out to be in the millions. The students were shocked at the amount of tax New York City lost every year.
One day, I found an article on a dog who resembled a lion was sold for a million dollars in China. Rather than writing the questions myself, I had students come up with several mathematical problems which could be answered using the information in the article. They came up with questions like "What was the cost per pound of dog?" , "What was the cost per cubit ounce of the dog?" and others.
Yahoo News has some really great problems in their odd news section. If you do a web search for "odd" or "strange" news, you'll find lots of places to look. Give it a shot. Make your problems more interesting while incorporating reading.
Let me know what you think. I'd love to hear.