|Submitted by jestin on Tue, 10/06/2009 - 01:23.|
Last weekend, my wife and I had a wedding in Chicago to attend, and we decided that traveling by train would be fun. My wife had taken a train to Iowa recently, and although it was not the ideal experience, I was able to convince her to try it again. This time was great.
A friend of Michelle's drove us to the station in enough time to pick up the tickets we purchased online weeks earlier. We waited for about fifteen minutes before boarding the train, and waited another fifteen before leaving the station. I have often drunkenly exclaimed to people how wonderful it would be if the United States ever truly embraced public transportation, but most of my arguments were based on numbers, not experience. I wasn't actually sure what interstate public transportation was really like, other than airlines. I was eager to gain a little experience for my rants.
It became immediately apparent that cities used to be built facing the railroad, but have literally turned their backs on the trains, and are now facing the major highways that run through them. We passed many buildings that showed the tell-tale signs of having been store fronts, but have since become the bricked up backs of warehouses. Any train station that was not still in use or had become a museum, had either fallen apart or been incorporated into a dilapidated storage facility. Riding the train, you are shown the ass-end of a city, where cargo palettes stack high next to seas of port-o-potty storage. Chain link fences separate the tracks from the dumpster-laden backsides of buildings in areas of town where nobody goes willingly. Although I find sights like these interesting, I couldn't help but feel a little sad.
The train tracks used to be the place to put the marquee for your business, along which towns would build happy suburban walking paths. It seems as America neglected it's rail system, the bright scenes travelers would see as they entered town, all shifted towards the interstates. I'm not sure if this constitutes "a shame", as times are bound to change, and there is no sense in lamenting it. I do, however, wonder how our lives would be different if train travel was the de facto way of getting around. I have scene artist's concept of what this would be like for light rail systems, but I'm not sure how cities would change for mass interstate rail acceptance. I suppose cities would just "turn around" again.
In any case, we have a long way to go if we ever want to fulfill this dream of trains taking us everywhere we need to go. Amtrak doesn't own enough tracks to have a high enough priority on passenger trains, and I completely dislike the idea of only one company selling train tickets anyways. The eastern seaboard has plenty of tracks and trains to choose from, but from the midwest to the pacific coast the tracks and passenger trains are far too sparse to be considered convenient. Nobody should be asked to wait 4 hours as the only transfer passenger at a station where rail employees only stop in once a month, as my wife had to on her previous rail journey.
In the end, we had a lovely trip to Chicago riding both light and heavy rail as we got around to where we needed to be. I wish Kansas City had voted to build a light rail at the last election, but there is always next time. Until that time, I will continue to drunkenly argue how trains will save us all from our own arrogance, and this time, I have limited experience to back up my claim. A dangerous combination.