I have taken three long train rides in my life. I define “long” as being “overnight.” The first long train ride was from Los Angeles to Salt Lake City. The second was from Salt Lake City to Los Angeles. The third, many years later, was from Oxnard, California to Seattle, Washington. None of these train rides involved any particularly luxury: no berth in a sleeper car, for instance. I have taken the train many times between Washington, D.C. and New York City. I have also taken the train from Washington, D.C. to Boston. Those were not what I would consider “long” train rides.
Of all of the modes of travel we have at our disposal, I think trains have the potential of being the best. The coach cars that I sat in on the long train rides were more luxurious than First Class on airlines I’ve flown on. The train to Seattle had a dining car which I took advantage of (I was traveling alone) and which was more comfortable and had better service than any flight I have ever taken. This alone makes trains, for me, at least, a more comfortable means of travel than airplanes.
Trains haven’t done too well, but I think it is because everyone is in such a hurry to get where they are going. Trains force you to slow down a bit. They can travel fast, but not as fast as airplanes. They are better for seeing places, whether it is towns, cities, or open country. Airplanes pass miles overhead and the land below is nothing more than an abstraction, often obscured by clouds. Plane rides feel long because there is often no feeling of forward motion. On a train, you can always tell how quickly you are moving just by looking out the window.
Trains would be a good way of getting people to slow the pace of life a bit. What’s the big hurry anyway?
The main problem with trains, it seems to me, is their infrastructure is outdated. If the infrastructure could be improved, if the technology could be upgraded, if the computing power we had could be put to use normalizing scheduled and making train travel more predictable and reliable, I think they’d give the airlines a run for their money. I don’t think the airlines would like this one bit.
I would love to see a network of high-speed trains that crisscross the country. I would much rather hop on a high-speed train to Los Angeles if I had to travel for work. I could work on the train more comfortably than I could on a plane. I could see more of the country along the way. There is something soothing about the rhythmic clack-clack, clack-clack of the train rolling along the track.
Trains also have great names. At least they used to. Airplanes are anonymously bland in comparison. At best, when listening to air traffic control, you get something like “Cactus 519,” Trains have names like the “Afternoon Twin Cities Zephyr”, the “Katy Flyer”, the “Lone Star”, and the “Meteor”. “I’m taking the Meteor to San Francisco,” sounds so much better than, “I’m flying Southwest to the Bay Area.”
The names alone should put the airlines out of business.