Tuesday, October 26, 2010

American trains

America is massive. The more you spend time here the more that becomes apparent.

So why are trains so little used? I understand the American cult of the car, but even so, if ever there was a place designed for trains it has to be America. And, let's be honest, trains do have a long and somewhat inglorious history in the country. So why are they so little used now?

This is Austin's Amtrak station. Austin - population 600,000+. It has one line, and it doesn't seem to serve more than one passenger train a day. Tiny little branches serving populations of a few thousand have bigger stations than this in the UK.


Georgia said...

I've wondered about this question off and on since you posted it.

I've always loved the *idea* of trains. But seeing the country from the highway or the train track is not my idea of a vacation. It takes time. Too long on a train looks really uncomfortable. I'd rather go straight to a location and use that time getting to know the community and culture of a group of people.

Maybe Americans haven't used trains like other countries *because* it's so massive. We got used to the much faster plane rides, although I'm not used to that expense. To fly from San Francisco to Jackson, Mississippi at Christmas once cost our family of 5 $3,600. If you could get me a cheaper ticket on the Wes Anderson train in Darjeeling Limited, that one I'd take, with someone offering me tea and a colorful, foreign culture, sans the cobra....

Tom Conoboy said...

Hi Georgia, thanks for commenting.

I know what you mean about wanting to get straight to a location and start experiencing it. I have much the same feeling, and it may be a symptom of our modern, immediate world. Certainly, in the UK, where travel is so fraught because of overcrowding, there is no joy at all to be taken in the journey and the arrival is all.

And I think you're also right about the size of the US, and your use of planes, which is much more casual than over here, where we still think of a plane journey as an 'event'.

My experience of American trains, though, was very pleasant. They are much bigger and much more comfortable than the horrible, cramped things we have do endure. They're higher up, so you get a good view of the countryside outside. I loved my train ride and would have been happy to stay on it for hours.