Friday, March 11, 2005


I have always loved traveling by train. The sightseeing is great, passing through the backyards and downtowns of America where you perceive more about the character of a place than by seeing its Stuckey's on the interstate. (No offense, Stuckey's, I love the logs). Trains traverse the most beautiful, unspoiled vistas in the nation, and newer models have comfy seats with lights and air and electrical outlets. You can often arrive as fast or faster than by car depending on the number of stops and train line congestion. Unlike the bus, the ride is smooth with bathrooms that don't reach odiferous overflow after two hours. You can carry your bags with you and bring whatever you want. There's no mile-long security line where granny's body-searched while we all watch with our shoes in our hands. A terrorism concern? Yes, but... I like the sense of anonymity and freedom that's still possible on the train. I will admit that the microwaved cheeseburger from the cafe car is an acquired taste, but if you've learned to love White Castle sliders, you're ready.

In my dreams, I occupy a sleeping car on the revamped Orient Express, a meander of pure luxury through Europe and the Near East that costs around $10,000. But for me, trains have typically been used when they're a direct, cost-effective way to travel. I want long-route train travel to survive for recreation and leisure, but it once was and still can be an effective system of mass transport. However, continuing to subsidize inefficiencies and financial shenanigans won't make it happen. Modern passenger travel by train will never do anything but limp without removal of Amtrak's unfair competitive advantages. No politician wants his constituency and its freight stranded in Nowheresville, but cars, trucking, bus services, and even regional airports provide cheaper options these days. I firmly believe that even if certain regional Amtrak lines closed, if allowed, somebody or a bunch of somebodies could take the existing infrastructure and run routes both profitable and pleasant. I say let the games begin!

Here's the op-ed piece about the current state of Amtrak which inspired my current rant.

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