Taking the Train

Rock formation in New Mexico.

As my train rolled across New Mexico, I was reminded of how much I love this part of the world. Despite being someone who has spent most of my life close to the various huge bodies of water that set major boundaries of North America (the Pacific, Atlantic, and Gulf of Mexico), I remain enamored of semi-arid and high desert places.

I have lived in cities since I left home (and the childhood home I left was already becoming a suburb). I love walkable cities with all the options they offer, not to mention the fact that those of us who hear different drummers can usually find a place in the city, while in small towns and the country, we are often out of step.

But all that open sky and space is glorious. It is easy to see why this was and is a special place to a lot of the indigenous people on this continent. It’s easy to want to be here.

I didn’t really mind the slowness of the train. I like the feeling of being in a neutral place, looking at beauty from my window. But it is absurd that we do not have the kind of train service we could and should have, with high speed trains going across the country and service to many more places.

To get to Kansas City from Oakland, I had to take a train to Bakersfield and then a bus from there to Los Angeles. Only in the city of angels could I get a cross country train to Kansas City. That’s the fastest route.

(For those who don’t live on the West Coast: San Francisco and Los Angeles are about 400 miles apart. California’s not as big as Texas, but it is damn big and has a bunch of mountains to boot.)

And the trains are so often late. They are not practical if your schedule is tight. Plus the sleepers are expensive and coach is not comfortable enough for long trips. (Also, the ventilation is OK and the filtration on my train seemed good, but I would not ride unmasked in coach.)

The automobile came along in the early 20th century just as the rails were getting solidly established. In the first half of the 20th century, when the U.S. had many fewer people, perhaps encouraging the development of highways and cars (not to mention huge trailers hauling things) rather than keeping up railroads seemed reasonable. Though by the 1960s, when I was learning to drive, heavy traffic and the ubiquitous radio traffic report were already well-established.

These days most of us need a car, even if we live in cities. The trains and subways and even the buses don’t go to all the places we need to get to and even with the boom in electric bikes, it’s not practical to bike everywhere.

Getting out of the city is the worst part of living in a major metropolitan area. It always involves some highway and there are always way too many other cars on it.

I live less than two miles from the train station. I can even get there on the city bus. And the train doesn’t hit all that traffic trying to get out of town.

I just wish there were more trains going more places at a faster rate of speed.

Taking the train across the country gives you time to reflect on bad decisions. We’ve certainly made a lot of them in our effort to become civilized.

Taking the train also gives you the opportunity to see a rainbow. When I’m driving I only get brief glimpses of the scenery, but on the train that’s most of what you get to do, unless you are better than I am at doing some work.

Maybe this one I saw as we got close to Raton on the New Mexico/Colorado border bodes well for our future. It is certainly an improvement over the news.

Rainbow over trees in a gray sky.

2 thoughts on “Taking the Train

  1. Thanks, Nancy. I enjoyed reading your post. I also wish we had more fast trains. A private company has built a passenger train from Orlando to Miami, which finally started running on Sept 22. Ridership has been strong. Our train is only the second high-speed rail line in the country; it travels at 120 mph. It will be extended to Tampa if the sales continue to be good. Someone who regularly travels between Tampa and Orlando told me a few days ago that it often takes three hours to make that trip, which is a distance of 90 miles. I’d say a Tampa-Orlando train is called for!

    I have just been seriously thinking about blowing a lot of money on an Roads Scholar train tour of the mountains of Western Canada.

  2. Go for the train tour! I’ve always wanted to take the train across Canada. I hear that’s a wonderful trip, too.

    I’m even willing to put up with slow trains if there were more of them that went more places and if they would come up with more reasonably priced sleeper options. (I am too old to sleep in coach anymore, even though the seats are comfortable.)

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