Monday, March 2, 2009

Heads or Tails - "Getting There" - 3/2/09

This week’s Heads or Tails prompt is “Getting There.” This presents a perfect opportunity for me to vent my disappointment in the rail system of the United States.

During the twelve years I lived in Europe, I used British Rail and Eurail extensively. They were economical, on time, and fast. They directly linked all of the major cities. One would expect to find a similar service from the country that drove the golden spike, linking both coasts, in 1869.

During my entire adult life. each time I have crossed the United States it has been by air or with me behind the wheel of various automobiles. Neither afforded me the opportunity to relax and enjoy the scenery. So I thought it would be pleasurable to take a trip late this summer on AMTRAK. I could use the time to unwind and write.

I was planning to travel from the nearest station to my home, in Myrtle Beach, SC, which I found to be Florence, SC. My destination is the Pacific Northwest and could be flexible; Spokane, Washington or Eugene, Oregon, as I have friends to visit in both cities. If you are not familiar with the Geography of the United States, I am in the extreme southeast and would be traveling to the extreme northwest (see map). I am blessed with a lot of foreign readers. If you draw a line along the projected path of my journey it takes me roughly through St Louis, Kansas City, and Denver (red line). I realize that due to the terrain, distance, and location of major cities, that AMTRAK cannot follow a totally direct route.

What I didn’t expect to find was that in order to travel to the Pacific Northwest, I have to route through New York City and Chicago (black line). What should have been a trip of less than 3,000 miles suddenly became a 4,000 mile excursion. And to go to Eugene, I have to take a bus from Portland, over 100 miles. The round trip cost = about $2,000, and that only gives me sleeping capabilities on the long leg, from Chicago heading west and to Chicago from the west.

As you can probably assume, if I do make this trip, it will be by air. I will see the scenery, once again, from 35,000 feet and saving about $1,500.

When stationed in Taiwan in 1974, I once rode a train from Taichung to Taipei, about 80 miles. Though I shared my rail car on the rickety old train with livestock and produce, it was reliable and direct. They have since introduced a 186 MPH train.

In those 35 years, the US has made no rail improvements. For a country that considers itself a major player, we are third world when it comes to public transportation. While most of the rest of the world embraces the train, we have fallen out of love with it. That is a real shame. Many of us might not clog our highways with gas-guzzling, carbon monoxide spewing, automobiles if we had any viable options.

I just checked with Eurail and I can travel unlimited in 21 countries for 3 months for less than $1200. That is their global pass. I could limit my travel for much less money. Maybe next year I will go back to Europe. Anyone want to come along?

11 comments:

Simone said...

Great post. I really enjoyed reading it.

silverneurotic said...

I really dislike using public transportation here-with the exception of short trips such as taking the train into Manhattan.

Skittles said...

I see your point here. Unless you had a lot of time to spare and pockets overflowing with money going by air makes a lot more sense.

35 years is a long time for anything to remain stagnant.

Lisa - Life is Like a Box of Legos said...

All I can say is "Amen" regarding the disappointing rail system ...

Redheels said...

I have always wanted to go somewhere by rail, but never could get it worked out. It never works with my schedule. Maybe I'll go with you to Europe.....lol and see if things go better there.

Tricia said...

Sad to see that our national passenger rail system is almost a dead duck. Ridiculous when I think of all the rail lines that sit unused 90% of each day.

Tumblewords: said...

I loved traveling by train in Europe...and the one time I used Amtrak (a long time back) in the US. Hope we look more seriously at this mode of travel - Congrats on being the HOT blog of the month!

Misty Dawn said...

The train is available from Ohio (where we used to live) to Missouri (where we live now). I actually enjoy riding the train and being able to relax. What I don't understand is the lay-over in Chicago. On one way, there is about a 4 hour lay-over and coming the other way, the layover is over 6 hours!

It's the plane for me! If I get a non-stop flight, I can be hugging my dad in around two-hours after take off!

myrtle beached whale said...

Misty Dawn:

Wow, I don't think I would enjoy a train trip that consisted of 10 hours in layovers. You have more patience than I.
You are fortunate that you are just flying a short hop with no connections or you would not enjoy missed connections, lost luggage, and eternal waiting at airports for delayed and canceled flights. Air travel has gotten so bad that it is not a very good good option either.

Robyn Jones said...

I have only taken the train once in my life..and I was only 13...but I don't think that our trains our a much better mode of transportation than yours are in the States.

Anonymous said...

Oooh, Oooh! I want to go. How fun! Sorry the coast to coast US trip doesn't look great. We went to Disney for less.