The illustrious bard Jaquandor gripes:
What IS it with this country’s refusal to adopt rail as a serious method of transportation?
There’s a sign, less than two blocks from my house, that commemorates the Mohawk and Hudson Railroad that ran between Albany and Schenectady, one of the first in the nation. It’s clear that the transcontinental railroad created cohesion for the United States.
I’ve made it quite clear that I find passenger rail travel to be the only really civilized form of transportation. So why doesn’t the US embrace it more?
1) Freedom. The freedom of the open road, the myth sold by the car dealers decades ago, and now a part of the fabric of the self-definition of the country. EUROPEANS use trains and the metric system and socialized medicine, but that’s not what WE do. And it IS a big country.
2) Liberals. Most of the greatest concentration of potential train use, because of population patterns, is in the Northeast corridor from Boston to DC, and California. And do you know who lives there? LIBERALS, those arrogant prigs who fuss about energy conservation and don’t REALLY share American values. So screw ’em. We have the fix for the problems of some of the recent rail crashes, but we’re not going to spend money for THAT.
OK, that was exaggerated, but only slightly. There are also pockets of density in the eastern Midwest, and in parts of Texas suitable for rail transportation. Still, fixing the rails, usually shared by freight, and needing to defer to cargo, is considered “subsidizing” Amtrak. Fixing the roads is… oh, never mind, we don’t do that either.
And trains have inspired some of the finest music in the world. Here’s a list of 1000 songs. It’s MISSING at least two songs, both of which I own. One is Northern Bound Train by Pete Droge, which I’ve seen him perform. The other is Ridin’ the Rails by k.d. lang and Take 6, from the soundtrack to the movie Dick Tracy, a movie I’ve never seen.
Here are just a handful of my favorite train songs. Links to all.
500 Miles – Peter, Paul, and Mary
8:05 – Moby Grape
Big Train (from Memphis) – Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison and Carl Perkins
Casey Jones -Grateful Dead
Chattanooga Choo Choo – Glenn Miller
City of New Orleans – Steve Goodman
Engine Engine #9 – Roger Miller
Friendship Train – The Temptations
Hobo’s Lullabye – Emmylou Harris
Love Train -The O’Jays
Midnight Train to Georgia – Gladys Knight & The Pips
Northern Bound Train – Pete Droge
Ridin’ the Rails – k.d. lang and Take 6
Rock Island Line – Lead Belly
4 thoughts on “US: adopt rail transportation”
I travel on Amtrak a lot, because it’s convenient for me to visit family that way, and because airports and flying give me the fantods.
I like Amtrak with a few reservations:
1. The Long Distance trains, in the center of the country (where I live) are subject to serious delays: they share the tracks with the freights, and the freights pay to maintain the tracks, so the freights get precedence. Also some of the freight dispatchers, I have heard, kind of “build in” delays to hurt Amtrak.
2. I always travel in a sleeper because I’m an extreme introvert who dislikes noise. The coach cars can vary tremendously in their atmosphere – back when I still traveled coach a lot, some times it was lovely and quiet and I got two seats to myself. Other times, there were people yelling and cursing and the conductors did little to try to improve the atmosphere. It’s like going out in public anywhere these days: you get a few angry/”overserved”/rude/unpleasant people and it ruins the experience for everyone else.
3. You have to be willing to live by Amtrak’s schedule. There is one train daily to the destination I usually travel to. (Granted, if I could bring myself to drive to Dallas to the airport and get on a plane, there’d be one direct flight to where I wanted to go daily, and it would cost as much as a night in the sleeper on the train).
I think the NE corridor probably is the best working part of Amtrak; lots of stuff can go wrong out here in the heartland and if you’re an impatient person or have tight connections, look out – I was once on a train that was 12 hours late. (Granted, that was an unusual circumstance, but still: Amtrak is usually between a half hour and 2 hours late)
I hope in the “new normal” we all seem to be facing that Amtrak isn’t cut out, because I really, truly hate flying, and the 700+ miles is too far for me to drive alone to see my parents….I’d probably have to get someone to drive me to the airport and then drug myself so I could get on a plane, or make the long, long drive over 2-3 days.
I miss the Chicago transit system. 🙁 I don’t miss commuting 1.5 hours each way, though.
Europe, particularly Denmark and Germany, had amazing trains and transit. It was expensive, but it was so fast, clean and safe.
I agree with most of these points. The only hope I had was that the Trump administration was possibly serious about fixing infrastructure. That’s kinda gone out the window in the last (looks at watch)… Holy crap, it’s only been two and a half weeks in a 208 week administration.
What great answers! Maybe I need to move to Europe. I think we should use the metric system, we need socialized medicine, and though I love to drive, I do not like the work commute and would rather be a passenger.
The reason we have lousy trains is because the vast majority of government transportation subsidies are spent to prop up the fossil fuel corporations by maintaining the auto infrastructure. Nevermind that most auto manufacturing is done in other countries and nevermind that almost half of petroleum is imported. The mostly foreign based corporations must be subsidized by US taxpayers.