I spent several hours today on a train – several blissful hours. I am struck by how different trains are from other modes of transportation. There is something soothing and meditative about train travel. The ride is smooth and graceful, there is plenty of room for each passenger, and you can get up and walk around if you like. If you’re hungry, just wander over to the diner car, and pick up a snack or a meal.
It’s as though trains are an alternate vision of the world, one where things have gone right. None of the huge carbon footprint of automobile and air travel, no going through security with your shoes off or needing to deal with road rage. Just a lovely Victorian idea of getting from one place to another, suitably updated for our twenty first century world.
One thing that always strikes me about the Europeans, as compared to us Americans, is how much they really appreciate the magic and beauty of train travel. To go from Paris to Marseilles in the TGV is to discover a nation that, at least in this one regard, genuinely likes itself. Our own AMTRAK, on the other hand, lives somewhat the life of an orphan, needing to get by on borrowed track, disparaged by those in power, Harry Potter and Cinderella rolled into one.
Perhaps, with the high price of oil, this might now change – after so many decades of neglect, our nation might once again embrace its locomotive self. I’m going to try not to get my hopes up, lest I be disappointed. But I can dream, can’t I?