Train of thought

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?

2 thoughts on “Train of thought”

  1. I recently read a story in the Wall Street Journal about a dramatic shift in the use of trains in the US. Most rail freight companies over the last ten years have invested heavily in railway infrastructure. It is in fact the the first time that railway capacity has increased since the 1930’s. Though is is being done primarily for freight service, it is at least a step in the right direction. Hopefully it will provide track capacity that Amtrak or another company can lease for human transportation as well as for the transport of goods, in addition to helping to reduce the carbon footprint of diesel transportation.

  2. Well, I guess it’s also easier to provide the infrastructure in central Europe. Everything’s so packed here..

    I do agree though, there’s something really great about travelling by train. It’s sort of stationary while it brings you from one place to another. In fact I wrote big parts of my thesis in trains: pupils and students can purchase a “Summer Ticket” during the summer holidays, which gives you two months of free train rides all around Austria. So I hopped on a train in the morning, went all through Austria, just to come back home in the evening. My improvised train office had a nice view all the way 😀

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