The Demise of Travel by Rail makes me sad

I have very fond memories of traveling from LA to Seattle by train with my mom and sister as a kid. It was part of our summer vacation, visiting friends and family. It was great. Watching the landscape fly by from the glass walled observation car. Grabbing snacks at the snack bar. Being able to get up and walk the length of the train whenever I wanted. And, watching some crappy 4 year old movie at night in the obs. car with everyone else (well a small subset of ‘everyone’).

It was great. It was slow yes, but that wasn’t the point.

It’s less the point now. With 3/4G networks and Mifi devices, time on a train can be (if you want) time spent working.

Rail travel’s worst enemy is amtrak.

I saw this article last night and it made me think of the few times in the last few years I’ve said, “Screw it, I’m taking the train, the TSA and airlines have gone too far!” Then I look up the price of traveling by train, and buy my ticket on Frontier. :(

Amtrak clearly doesn’t get their place in 2011. They’re slow. Sometimes slower than walking if you count the multi-hour delays that are all too common. When you’re the slowest option, you can’t be the most expensive. Unless of course trains are gold plated, and staffed by super-models and VC’s with money to burn, but they’re not.

Want power on your ride? you’re looking at far more money. It’s a shame. Realistically, even with it taking hours or even days longer than air travel, so long as you can work and be productive, it’s not time lost. I can’t use my laptop on airlines. I’m not short, and I almost always have that dick head who needs to be as close to horizontal as possible, no matter what time of day the flight is, right in front of me. Air travel is reading and watching videos time. I’d work on a train, even if just some of the time.

The article i linked to also points out lack of high speed rail, and I agree completely. Having traveled Italy by train when we went, it was amazing. Every stop was in the city center, near the local metro or taxis. Each train was fast or high speed. Even the rickety kinda scary train we had on one leg, zipped along and we were there in no time. It’s a shame our society can’t see past “immediate profits” and “instant gratification” to be more supportive of rail. More over though, it’s a shame Amtrak makes us not like them, and encourages us to not support them. I’m as guilty as the next person, I’d train it, but factoring in delays, and 2-3x the price of an airline ticket… it’s hard to take a stand and support something so broken.

During President Obama’s state of the union, he talked about high speed rail. I hope that becomes a reality. I really think fast reliable rail service would ease the burden on airlines and possibly help them be more profitable, and would make travel more enjoyable.

By John Wilker

I'm a science fiction writer and conference organizer. In 2017 I published my first book, 'Space Rogues', a fun Sci-Fi adventure with a fun cast of characters. I'm also the co-founder of 360|Conferences, a conference and event logistics consulting company.

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