Newsflash: Boise, Idaho has the worst rush hour in the nation and the fifth worst in the world according to an analysis conducted by Fleet Logging, a trucking industry website. I find this hard to believe considering I spent a day trying to get around Boston on Interstate 495 last year. It wasn’t a very “wicked smaaht” idea to drive in Boston. We crawled and creeped past Beantown. And don’t even get me started on the parking lot known as Highway 101 in Los Angeles. So, I’m all for President Biden’s infrastructure bill, especially whatever money can be thrown at Amtrak Rail service.
For the uninitiated, train travel is wonderful.
I began traveling by train years ago because I was afraid to fly. And, though my home is in the West, much of my extended family live in the East. If I wanted to see them, I needed to find a mode of transportation that didn’t require vodka martinis or Xanax pills. I was excited when I discovered the Zephyr train line goes back and forth between San Francisco and Chicago. Best of all, I could pick up the train in Elko, Nevada, just a few hours south of where I live. If you decide to use the Elko station though, don’t expect an airport lounge with cushy seats and Starbucks coffee. It’s an open-air, plastic shelter planted in a sagebrush patch south of town. Oh, and the return train stops in the middle of the night at 3:03 a.m.—that is, if it’s on time.
Despite those few downsides, I got hooked on train travel. When I was much younger I had to have a surgical procedure that left me feeling unwell and depressed for weeks. My husband finally suggested I get away for a while and take a train trip back east to visit family members.
I remember how restful and soothing the trip was for me.
Time seemed suspended the three days and nights I was on the train. I was so relaxed the rocking of the train kept lulling me to sleep. I tried to stay awake to see the beauty of Colorado’s Ruby Canyon whizzing past, or the mythic Mississippi River as we crossed over at the Iowa/Illinois state line. When I could keep my eyes open I read and knitted and chatted with other passengers. Every morning I woke up to the smell of fresh coffee coming from a coffee station in our car, and the rustle of a newspaper being slid under my sleeper door. Such luxury.
I’m not the only person with train on the brain. Two of the richest men in America, Warren Buffett and Bill Gates, believe in trains and train travel. Warren Buffet’s company owns the largest railroad in North America, BNSF, and Bill Gates is the biggest shareholder in Canadian National, the second largest railway. Many in the business community, as well as regular commuters, are hopeful that a high speed rail line can soon be built in the U. S. I rode a Bullet train myself, in France.
“Sir,” I asked the conductor. “Are we going more than 100 miles per hour?”
“Oui!” he said looking surprised. “We are going 320 kilometers! In America that’s about (he paused, thinking) 200 miles per hour.”
If trains are the future, they also have a colorful past. At the peak of rail service during World War II the snappy song “Chattanooga Choo Choo” became iconic for its description of train travel:
You leave the Pennsylvania Station ‘bout a quarter to four,
Read a magazine and then you’re in Baltimore,
Dinner in the diner, nothing could be finer,
Than to have your ham and eggs in Carolina…
President Biden “Amtrak Joe” didn’t leave a Pennsylvania Station but a Delaware one for over thirty years in his commute to Washington D. C. Biden makes a good case that train travel doesn’t just ease traffic congestion, it’s also good for the environment. According to Treehugger.com, a full train beats planes and cars for lower carbon emissions—hands-down. So train travel? Nothing could be finer.