Dreaming Of Train Travel

Sitting in a window seat, watching the countryside glide by, landscape after landscape sliding one into the other to make a complete picture of here, then there, then here, then there again. The mind constructs a landscape movie that would never be captured in the same way on film. The blinking of an eye, the blur of a field, the passing through a town …

Many of my travel memories have been made this way. Fields of sunflowers gliding into rolling hills topped with medieval villages sliding by modern nuclear power plants … On and on it goes. Old trains, new trains, milk trains, commuter trains.

I dream of a time when I can travel this way, throughout the United States by rail.

Sit back, relax, and ride.

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It’s very sad really, that the United States does not have an embedded and efficient rail system for people to travel on. Instead we rely on outdated automobiles, or antiquated bus systems, or some of us walk.

Just for curiosity’s sake, I researched how to get to the Grand Canyon, just to see if it is possible to travel by a rail system (Amtrak) to get there. The Grand Canyon is one of America’s most splendid landscapes, so one would think that, if no where else in the US, getting people there would be a priority, for someone. I remember the one time that I got to visit the canyon was on a cross-country road trip. It was just a short diversion from Flagstaff by road.

But if you want to take public transportation to get to The Grand Canyon, it gets a little complicated. Here are the choices:

  • Fly into Las Vegas or Phoenix and rent a car and drive. Which is only a partial public transportation solution.
  • Fly into Las Vegas or Phoenix and rent a car and drive to Williams where you can then take a steam train the rest of the way to the canyon. There is only one train per day, so make sure you are on time. Still, only a partial public transportation solution.
  • You can take Amtrak to Flagstaff. Then what?
  • You can take Amtrak or Greyhound to Williams and then catch the The Grand Canyon Railway

From Emeryville, in the Bay Area where I am, it is no less than five connections to get from here to The Grand Canyon. Train, Bus, Train, Bus, Train.

Shouldn’t it be easier than any one of these choices?

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One of my favorite train experiences happened in Italy. I’m not a fan of rail passes, but in Italy I found a “3,000 Kilometre Pass”. For one price – much less expensive than the many individual rides – I got a little paper folder. Every time I got on a train I handed it to the conductor, told him where I wanted to go, and he noted in the folder and subtracted the miles. No questions asked, no hassle. It was a wonderful way to travel.

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I’m an advocate for upgraded rail systems. Bigger, faster, cleaner, more. They should be going everywhere, they should be running around the clock, they should be inexpensive so everyone will use them. Think of the job creation building the rails and stations and running the trains, creative work opportunities (imagine food trucks in the station parking lots), travel opportunities, stimulating economy …

What say you?

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