Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Fashion of Trains

Long Distance Transit:
American Rail System

The much-maligned American passenger transportation provider, AMTRAK , lags behind many countries' high-speed transit systems not only in terms of speed, but other, more easily overlooked issues such as cost per ticket; passenger comfort; overall ride experience; flexibility (geography-wise), and reliability. Nevertheless, it plods onward. Federally subsidized and wholly dependent on private track, Amtrak trains drip across America with a relentless, but oft-forgotten glide. Exceptions abound: the Acela and Metroliner trains that run the D.C. to N.Y and the MetroNorth corridors keep a comfortable pace and actually represent Value in comparison to flying the same routes.
Of course, it's patently obvious that many other countries have rail infrastructure and technological developments that put America to shame. France's T.G.V. makes quick work of a journey from Nice to Le Havre. Japan's Shinkansen rockets earnest Japanese workers between Tokyo and Osaka to the tune of over 200 m.p.h. This is the passenger missile system of Asia.
The lumbering ease and untimely comfort that cross-country Amtrak trains provide is underutilized (to the extent that it's criminal) by the American populace. Much of the blame lies at the feet of federal lawmakers who refuse to let adequate and judicious funding get in the way of their greedy earmarking schemes. 
Another unfortunate by-product of this is the fact that the majority of Americans have never simply taken a journey across America by rail. With certainty we can say that it's not their fault. I, for one, can't think of the last time I heard someone talk about upcoming plans that included a trip on AMTRAK. It seems that mainly flying is the norm; you occasionally run across a person that drove--and might still be willing to drive--across the the country. 
Everybody should treat cross-continental journeys as undertakings, and afford them the accolades they desire. Our country should be taken at leisure in transit. 
Perhaps one day, we will travel on Mag-Lev trains. There could be rails between New York and L.A; Miami and Seattle; Boston and Phoenix. It will be exhilarating and cost-effective (post-build)--but, it will be fast.
In the meantime, we have Amtrak. I recommend enjoying it. Try the Empire Builder line, which takes you from Chicago and across the upper High Line of Montana, to Seattle or Portland.

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