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Saturday, March 23, 2019

Trains - Editorial, The Week in Review

Analysis, Commentary, Opinion


I took the Am Track yesterday.

Jennifer and I rode it to Chicago; the Empire Builder, they call it. It was a pleasant ride.

We sat in coach on the lower level of the train, it was an hour late, and we were not able to make up any time, but we were not delayed any further. We left the Twin Cities at 9:15 am, and arrived in Chicago at 5:00 pm. I could have driven there faster, but then I would have had to drive, which I will on the way home because the train schedule for the round trip is not conducive to a weekend getaway. So we will rent a car and take the interstate back.

The Empire Builder is a testimony to the fact that the American Empire is in deep decline. The train was dirty…not filthy, but dirty; un-swept, un-vacuumed, un-washed. There was a griminess to it that made me want a shower as soon as I got into the hotel room.

The bathrooms were not much better than what you can find on an airplane, and once inside I did not want to touch anything. Even the faucet of the sink looked dubious. And before you get the idea that I might just have a problem in public spaces, I don’t. I’m just telling it like it is.

The terminal was nice, Union Depot in Saint Paul. It was elegant, stately, it had the charm that so many public buildings have that were built in the early 20th Century, from the period when the Empire Builder was an aspirational appellation and the railroad was invested in living up to the name.

Despite these complaints it was a pleasant experience. I enjoyed sitting in a comfortable chair, roomy, with Jennifer at my side reading. I spent the day writing, each of occasionally taking time to look out the dingy-filmy-hazy window, to take in the country side. We rolled along the Mississippi, down past the bluffs by Lake Peppin, crossed over at La Crosse and went through the Wisconsin country side to Milwaukee, before turn south to Chicago.

I told my friend John that I was taking the trip by train, he said “trains are such a civilized way to travel.” He is right about that, it is for the civilized proletariat. It was inexpensive, economical, catering to the working class, to people not in a hurry.

Jennifer noted how much the whole system operates on trust. There were no magnetometers, no showing ID before boarding, people just took their seats, in couch it is open seating. Unchecked luggage was stowed in open compartments, the people on the train simply trusted that their belongings would not be disturbed.

I am sure that people occasionally get burned, but not enough so that the system of openness has had to be changed.

That was nice.

I would take the trip again.

My experience has me asking the question again, one that has puzzled me for decades. Why don’t we have a better more reliable rail system in America, fast new high speed trains? If we did, I would take them all the time.

Trains facilitate travel, tourism, commerce. Our railways are the saddest in the modern world.

The new America.

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