July 3, 2007

All aboard!

I’m the first to admit I have romantic notions about trains. I have sentimental attachments to them as my memories from them are all fun. Riding with my girl scout friends in elementary school (can’t remember where we went, but I know it involved giggling), riding with my mormor in Sweden, doing the Eurail thing with Laurel (We only got kicked off once, in Italy for accidentally getting on the bullet train when we’d only paid the regular train fare. Those Italian train conductors were a bit intense.), avoiding (this time on purpose by hiding in the bathroom) paying the fare to BĂ„stad with Daniel (during a year I spent in Lund, Sweden) and travelling to the Norwegian fjords in 2001 (as seen above and below – the only photos of mine from my train adventures that I could find).

Most recently I took the train from Emeryville, California to Auburn, California (riding the Zephyr). I had no idea it would be such a party. I left on a Friday, and the train was surprisingly populated. Commuter regulars were opening their mini-wines (bought in the dining car), and celebrating the end of the work week. Some staggered down the aisles with lemon-capped beers. On the way back to SF, the train was also quite populated, this time with Oakland A’s baseball game goers. A cute granddad and his decked out in Oakland A gear grandson quietly picnicked together.

My point is, I love trains. I do not understand why there aren’t bullet trains and regular train riding going on all over the US. It is so much more environmentally sound (and safer) than car driving en masse or riding the plane! And you can read, get work done, dine, have a party, play cards, draw, take photos, journal, walk around, craft, etc. on the train!

The SF Guardian recently had a good article about Schwarzenegger’s postponing the realization of a California bullet train. The California bullet train has been in the works since the 1980’s, and in planning for almost 10 years. Why is it taking so long? There are these folks who say a bullet train would cut into hundreds of parks and protected areas in California. This is obviously not good for the environment. But I wonder in the long run, which has a greater impact, cutting into some of these protected areas (I’m assuming not by huge amounts since the rail would run alongside existing rails), or continued degradation due to so much car driving (which will only increase as the population increases, and which will require wider and more roads, also cutting into land). The reason Schwarzenegger is not getting this train moving is not related to the land impact however. His reason is all about cost-effectiveness in the short term. When are politicians going to realize we need to think in the long term, especially if they’re claiming, as Schwarzenegger is, to be environmentally conscious?!

Honestly, I think it will be hard to persuade car-drivers to switch to the train. But with some good advertising, with growing awareness of how our car-centered lives are severely hurting our environment, and with a bullet train travelling much faster than a car, perhaps a slow transition to trainriding and public transport is possible....

In the Bay Area, you can get involved with the bullet-train supporters. And write to Schwarzenegger.

Some flickry train goodness:
waking up on the train at 6 am.
from driftwould
an old train car

It's all about the dining car:
dining car nap
dining car (check out those seats!)
dining car table
lunch on the train

If you’re looking for a train-related movie, Station Agent is one of my all-time favorites.


dandelion said...

I really like trains - I guess we are lucky in the UK because most places are getable (is that a word?) by train - there is something romantic about the journey, seeing the places as you go throught them and much greener than the plane! And the station agent is brilliant - I didn't think anyone else had seen it but me!

ms. pea said...

trains are wonderful. lately i've been longing to make one of my favorite train trips: raleigh to D.C. i love the freedom of traveling around the city without having to worry about a car.

Stef said...

I love the trains, too! I take the Capital Corridor from Davis every time I have to go to Berkeley. But surely you've noticed that the trains in NorCal have a few big problems that keep them from being the great alternative that they should be:

1. Even with the hugely inflated gas prices, taking the train is comparably expensive to taking a car. I find that if I take one passenger with me from Davis to Berkeley, it costs far less to drive. Say what you will about ecological imperative-- the train will never be a viable transportation alternative without instant economic incentive to the consumer.

2. The trains are fairly unreliable. My advisor commutes from Berkeley to Davis every day, and she can't take the train because she'd arrive late or not at all. Most people I know are only comfortable using the train for day-trips.

3. No train into San Francisco. WTF.

Interestingly, problems 1 and 2 could be solved if more people took the train-- more profits per trip would mean less money required per individual traveler, and more money and pressure to perform routine maintenance rather than emergency maintenance. If our current rail-based public transportation was better managed, then I think the governor would be more likely to build the bullet train. As is, the trains are nearly empty, and I agree that it would be a waste to build one more underutilized rail.

mati said...

i love trains too! i wish they were more common and affordable here. when i graduated college i took the train around the entire united states-- 17 days. it was mostly senior citizens, but a beautiful way to see the country!

Julie said...

Advise please? The kids (8 & 2.5) and I are traveling from Denver to Buffalo in August. I'm torn about taking the train. I'd really like to do so but there are a few things holding me up from purchasing tickets.

#1 The train travels to Buffalo via Chicago. We arrive in Chicago at 4:20pm and leave at 10pm. I don't know about your kids but mine are asleep at that time. This sounds like the night from hell.

#2 Price. At $300/person each way, it's more expensive than an airplane.

#3 Most of the travel is during the night. While I do understand that freight pays more to the RR - I want to see the country, not sleep through it!

I'd love to hear opinions!

shash said...

julie: i definitely know what you mean about the night trips. i wanted to go up to oregon by train, but didn't because i wouldn't have seen anything. sounds like it would be hard with kids too (but to me anything sounds hard with kids. ha!). good luck with your travels!

stef: yeah, our whole train system needs a revitalization/revamping. seems like a bit hoopla though over a bullet train might be just the thing. and at some point having all these people driving is just not going to work!

Kelly said...

Unfortunately, here in Canada the trains are expensive. I'm carless by choice, so I take the train frequently when traveling alone. But if there are two of us, it's actually cheaper to rent a car, even with the high cost of gas. On a student budget, that's often too hard to pass up, even though I'd rather be knitting on a train than fighting traffic!

Anonymous said...

just curious, has anyone ever heard/read anything about marin being the one bay area county that consistently votes down and prevents a high speed train that would run from Santa Rosa (or somewhere in that area) to LA?

I heard that somewhere years ago but now am not sure of the source or if it's even true!

s.j.simon said...

:) You know, the swiss were very late to lay rail tracks. check this out