The Chicken, the Egg, and the Dining Car
Think of the last time you took a train.
Maybe it was during that fluke business trip leg from D.C. to New York a while back, or when you back-packed around Europe in college, or during that family vacation to Durango when you were nine.
No matter when it was, my guess is that you remember the trip fondly. You probably recall a sense of efficiency, an absence for urgency, and plenty of leg room. Perhaps, you had feelings of nostalgia for the olden days of steam engines and red cabooses or feelings of romance for all those movie scenes with train-platform reunions.
Here’s my question: If you liked taking the train so much, why haven’t you done it since?
In my opinion, train travel is glorious. You don’t have to pedal, you don’t have to steer, and you don’t have to arrive at the station two hours early to be strip-searched. The views from train windows can lend real truth to the expression “It’s not the destination but the journey that’s important,” and, pardon my quaintness, but the dining car—a mini-restaurant-in-motion with booths and table cloths and everything—just gives me the warm and cozies all over.
The problem, as you’ve probably already concluded, is that trains don’t go a lot of places in the U.S.
You can get around quite well on the East Coast with Amtrak. If you have a spare 48 hours, you can take one heck of a scenic trip from Chicago to San Francisco on the California Zephyr (which I did once and would love to do again). But, aside from that, the railway network in our country is fairly sparse.
So, what are you going to do about it?
You could opt for the more readily available (and increasingly more expensive) car and airplane options. Or you could put in a little extra planning and legwork to make sure to take the train. Maybe you could check the Amtrak options before calling Hertz right away. Maybe you could accept the extra hour or so an interregional train would add to your business trip (more reading time!). Maybe you could purposefully choose a trainable destination for your next vacation.
Maybe you’re thinking, “Why bother?” BECAUSE WE LOVE TRAINS, REMEMBER?
Trains are an energy-efficient, environmentally-sustainable, convenient, and comfortable alternative to cars. But it’s the chicken-or-the-egg question. What comes first: the trains or the passengers?
Do we need to start taking the train more frequently to create the demand that will give rise to supply or does the train market need to supply us with the proper options for us to climb aboard? Do we need to speak with our wallets, with our votes, with letters to the DOT? Do we need to ask Europe for advice?
What course of action will give rise to a national network of efficient, useful, romantic, and beautiful railways?