Thursday, May 13, 2010

How about just not slow speed rail

From Austin to Dallas the train and the bus are the same price, about $31. But the bus is 3 hours 45 minutes while the train is 5 hours 50 minutes. I prefer the accomodations of the train, but for half-again as long the trip? Extend the trip out, say Austin to Boston and the fare goes way up and the duration is more than double that of the bus. At that point, it's cheaper to fly than take rail. The bus is still cheap but, whew, we all know why.

I round-tripped it on Greyhound from Dallas to Tampa when I was in high school to attend a cross-country camp. On the way out I sat in the worst seat on the bus, the middle of the three-seater next to the toilets, way in the back where everyone shares food. The guy to my right bobbed to the tunes from his walkman non-stop for 35 hours without turning the tape over or changing the batteries. The sewer angel on my left was tired and asked to lay her head in my lap. When I refused, she took a nap on the floor--next to the Greyhound bus toilet door! On the return trip I managed to secure a seat with only one neighbor, a man named, I swear this is true, "Hammer." He regaled me with stories of Vietnam and falling asleep on his motorcycle. I was too terrified not to believe every word he said.

As cramped and creepy and olfactorily-undefined as it is to go Greyhound, I don't think it's worth spending 50-100% more time for a trip to go by train. The company's certainly better, but it's not wonderful. No, wonderful would be a train car full of people just slightly less attractive and slightly less accomplished than I, that all wanted to talk about me for the entire trip, except when I'm sleepy and then they all sing an a capella lullaby, while two of them stand guard to prevent passengers from walking down the aisle and bumping my outstretched legs. That would justify the extended duration.

Because it's not just the duration, it's why it takes so much longer. It's because passenger rail has to wait for freight. On a New England to Cow Town trip aboard Amtrak, somewhere around hour 40, our train stopped to wait for some north-bound cargo to clear the rails. I fell asleep for a few hours and imagined how great it would be to wake up in Texas. When I did open my eyes again we were in... the same damn spot! We hadn't moved an inch. Foolish me, I'd only packed one giant biography to read on the trip.

So, while our President does us all a favor and pushes for a network of high speed rail, I'd be more than happy, happier, in fact, than a sewer angel snuggled up to a bus line toilet door, if we could just get a network of not so slow rail. I'm not looking for a train that builds a foundation for future growth; or for a vehicle to prosperity, and opportunity to put Americans back to work and eliminate federal gridlock while increasing transparency and accountability. I'm really only looking for a train that's faster than a bus. All the promises of high speed rail and how it will create jobs and save lives sounds a lot like Super Grover trying to help me get home: