Two of my closest friends are world travelers. Their passports look like a bulletin board at Tri-C — stickers plastered everywhere.
Now, I’ve lapped my friends in the number of countries visited, but they remain ahead of me in miles logged on trains. I plan to catch them. When I do, it won’t be because I rode the rails in the United States; it will be because I started to take trains more often on my sojourns abroad.
All of us agree that train travel in America smells like roadkill.
The three of us had a recent conversation about trains — a bitter subject to many in Ohio these days — and what Europe is doing with trains.
Did you know France outlawed commuter flights shorter than a two-hour train ride? What the French did is simple stuff. They wanted to steer travelers to trains, a vastly more efficient use of resources.
The French story went unnoticed, which often is the case. What would have been a big story was had the French shown the fortitude to do what some lawmakers wanted done, which was make it a four-hour train ride.
From Cleveland, it would have been like taking a train to Cincinnati — maybe. It certainly wouldn’t mean a train ride to Chicago, a trip that takes longer than sitting through a doubleheader in baseball under the old rules.
Give this some consideration: A train trip from Seattle to Las Vegas checks in at a leg-numbing 35 hours, if you’re lucky. You have to first take the train to Los Angeles — let’s not mention the transfers in Sacramento and Stockton — jump on a coach there and ride to a train despot south of Vegas.
From there, you take a connector bus to cover the last 100 miles.
As we bounced our frustrations about train travel around, we knew a 35-hour trip on a U.S. train would be fraught with delays. Plus, I’m sure we hardly touched the topic of cost. Let’s kick it around hard now.
Take a random date a month ago: June 24, not quite two weeks from Independence Day. Amtrak sold out coach seats on the route, but I could have booked First Class for $1,300.
Unless you’re taking either the Orient Express or the Blue Train in Johannesburg, South Africa, no train ride should cost $1,300. For roughly $100, I rode the bullet train with a friend from Beijing to Shanghai, roughly 700 miles. We were on and off the train before we realized it.
What Europe and China have done is commit to trains. What the United States has done is talk about trains but has refused to do anything to lessen our use of cars, which are a big tax ticket.
We are slaves to cars, regardless of their damage to our infrastructure and to our environment. I would suggest let’s lean on the bus, but buses in America are no better than trains.
I guess I can’t do a thing about our slow-motion trains, so I won’t complain about them. Well, I won’t complain much …
That’s what my two traveling friends and I do. We don’t complain for the sake of just complaining but to remind other friends that trains shouldn’t be the past; they should take us today wherever we must go.