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"Everyone's a rail fan. Some people are just quieter about it than others."

Nevada streamThat's what a gentleman said to me when I asked him if he was a railfan. Diehards are easily recognized by their casual identification of a location that is to the casual observer, nowhere.

But I loved the truth in it. Trains are special. A road trip, the classic American vacation is fine, but the train version is far better. A dining car, the chance to walk around, no sleepy drivers, easy bathroom access - all of the inconveniences of car travel are gone. Even a familiar path is different from the tracks.

He works for Burlington Northern, and he grew up in Wyoming. So, he comes by his knowledge from more than mere fandom. He tells me that the switch we've just passed is the path to Cheyenne.  We talk about Amtrak, and the perennial battle to keep it alive in Congress. The track we're on used to be on a regular route between Denver and Seattle, but it was dropped despite ample ridership because somebody in Washington had to make a budget cut. He tells me about the towns in Wyoming that used to rely on the train in winter, that are unaccessible by road when the train can still get through. Not many people can tough it out.

Amtrak doesn't suffer from lack of ridership. What vexes it is an upfront, obvious subsidy that has to be explicitly renewed each year. Highway funding does not require reauthorization, and the need for highways is obvious even to the dullest Congressman. Airlines are barely profitable even though they don't pay for their own airports or runways. Amtrak, forced to get by on crumbs, rents time on the tracks from the freight companies, which run their cargoes first, making Amtrak trains late and slow. The tracks are functional, but they're not the sleek, smooth tracks of Europe that permit bullet speeds. Even at 50 MPH, the train rolls and jerks from side to side as it travels.

Why are we the only industrialized country without a solid passenger rail system again?


Our detour through Wyoming is supposed to be the less pretty way, but the landscape is still dramatic. Though I've travelled all over the western United States, I've never been to Wyoming, so I'm looking forward to seeing what's out here.

We left YearlyKos via Amtrak, on the California Zephyr. What was once considered a grand building, Union Station, is now undersized and overcrowded for the amount of duty it does, in need of air conditioning and with every square foot within the terminal and food court areas in quite active use. Lines are long; their computer systems are clearly antiquated compared to what we've come to expect in an airport.

However, it is not long before we are boarding our full-to-the-brim train with a diverse assortment of other Americans.

We walk into the 'gate' and finally to our respective track, #12. It is an awesome sight to see these enormous engines up close. Our double-decker train towers beside us.

We've sprung for the sleeper car - not the most deluxe accomodations, but a tiny compartment, maybe 5' by 8'. This space can be made into two large facing seats (with optional tray table) or into two beds, one over the other. There is an impressively tiny closet (two hangers included), some bottled water, an electrical outlet, and a glorious picture window where we can watch America glide by.

We get a special treat - we're in the very last compartment on the train, so we also get the rear window view. This also puts us far from the whistle, which is probably good, because in the midwest there are quite a lot of crossings.

I am embarrassing us both by taking a gazillion pictures.

The sleeper car also includes all of our meals in the dining car. In fact, the sleeper counts as 'First Class', somewhat to my surprise, and later, amusement.  You make reservations for meals, because there's only about a dozen tables. And, as a party of two, we always are partnered with another party of one or two. This turns out to be one of my favorite aspects of the trip, because we get to have extended conversations with people from all walks of life, from all over America. We talk to a man who has made a short trip to run his grandson home to Chicago from Iowa, and we talk about water issues and farming and land prices. He's clearly a regular: the dining car attendant knows him by name. We meet a couple with a farm in Nebraska, tourists from England, a lovely elderly woman from Chicago travelling to visit her son in the Bay Area. We're all having a good time.

Although the midwest part is supposed to be "boring", I feel like a kid in a candy store (maybe it's all the corn-syrup-to-be), snapping pictures, my face pressed to the windows. I haven't been to this part of the midwest in any appreciable way, and everything is new to me. I drink in the green fields, the rivers, the towns, and try to record the memory they create with my camera.  Any question that Illinois is a corn state? No. Corn, and soy. Sometimes you see a stray corn plant trying to pop up among the soy. Near Chicago the farms are flat, but as we pass Princeton, the fields are pleasantly rolly. It's beautiful country.

Mmmm.... corn syrup

We cross the Mississippi River. It's maybe less dramatic than I expect (we're still in its northern section, after all), but there's still a fine bridge and an enormous rail yard on the Iowa side, in Burlington. I snap a picture of a rail car full of corn syrup for fellow Kossack OrangeClouds115. I know she'll appreciate it.

We stop in Ottumwa, Iowa - the home of MASH's fictional Radar O'Reilly - for a smoking break. There's no smoking on the train, so there's a list of towns  where the train stops for 15-20 minutes and passengers are allowed to disembark and mill about on the platform. I don't smoke, so I stretch my legs, take in the weather, and try to get pictures of our train. It's hard - too big and too close. I don't want to stray too far, stuck in an unfamiliar town with only my camera for company.

I fell asleep that night in Omaha, Nebraska.

I wake up at dawn the next morning, eager to see what's outside our window today. We're in Colorado, middle of nowhere, just our tracks and an occasional string of rail cars to keep us company. This is the flat, dry side of Colorado, where the plains are long and empty, covered with scrub.

We arrive in Denver. The train has to back in, and so a conductor comes and opens the rear door to our car so he can act as a spotter for the engineer. He is good-natured about the line of polite but eager tourists behind him, peering around him to take in the view. We take turns snapping pictures and everyone is having a good time. We're kind of sorry when we arrive and he has to close the door again.

This is easily the best station aside from Chicago. The station is near the stadium and several other big destinations. The signs are new and this is clearly a thriving place. We pull in next to a Ski Train, which in the winter takes skiiers straight to the resort. As part of servicing the train, men with absurdly long squeegees wash every window. I appreciate that.

At Denver, we start our detour. Instead of proceding west, through the heart of the Rockies, we skirt them to the north, through Wyoming. It's an easier, faster route (which is why it was the first one built, the Transcontinental Railroad route), and we'll arrive in Salt Lake City well ahead of schedule. I am happy and sad. I am excited about riding an unusual route that we'd otherwise never see, but I'm sad we won't go through the Rockies as planned. Oh well - we'll just have to come back and do the Zephyr again!

Wyoming curve Wyoming snow fence Wyoming red rocks

I enjoy watching a small river that is next to the tracks in Wyoming. It's carved a 10 foot bed for itself, and you can see the geology develop: it bends around to make an easier course, then ends up in a horseshoe shape, and as the channel gets deeper it finally breaks through the horseshoe and goes straight again. The marks of the previous bed are still apparent. Science is everywhere.

Devil's SlideThere is one remarkable rock formation as we travel across the north section of Utah, before rejoining the regular route in Salt Lake: the Devil's Slide. These parallel pinnacles of rock make a path from the top of the mountain to the bottom, right next to the tracks. The conductor announces this well in advance, and everyone is buzzing around the train looking for the best view. It's like a party. I exchange email addresses with a fellow passenger so I can send her the picture I took.

Dinner is in Salt Lake City. We're there for a couple of hours; one couple elects to get off and have dinner in the city. We are just a little too nervous about leaving all our worldly possessions on the train while it leaves our sight, so we stick with the dining car. The food isn't amazing, but it's better than I expected. The menu doesn't change but there are enough different choices that it works out OK.

We chug out of Salt Lake City, from the highly populated section near the dramatic mountain side, where you can get to snow and skiing in just 30 minutes, to the east side of the lake, where there is no vegetation and no population. Water is like that. In the midwest, water, and towns, are everywhere, at regular intervals. In the west, towns follow the water, and there won't be any more appreciable water along our journey until we get to Reno, on the far west side of Nevada.


Winnemucca StationWinnemucca, Nevada, is our next smoke break stop. We're also changing to a fresh crew. It seems an odd place to station people: why not Salt Lake or Reno, where there is actual population? We can get off here, but the conductor announces that the platform is short here, and so everyone needs to disembark through the coach cars at the front of the train.

When I get off, I laugh.

By "platform" they mean "patch of asphalt." And by "station" they mean "bench with a rain cover next to a dumpster."  While I walk around outside, I see the crew toss trash bags into the dumpster. Definitely the least impressive station on the trip - but, in its own way, perhaps the most memorable.

Truckee RiverWe reach the Truckee River, and now we're in familiar territory. I have been in the Sierras many times, and here, east of Reno, we parallel I-80 as well as the Truckee. I'm used to seeing the tracks from the road, not the road from the tracks. We climb the hill to Donner Summit, and go through the remarkable snowshed tunnels. This is amazing territory. I always marvel that people came through this route with wagons and oxen. Even today, with a superhighway making the path obvious and smooth, that would be a serious feat. The boulders and rough country to either side of the road used to be right in the way. The first travellers used winches to traverse this path. The hard labor of thousands of people, working with pickaxes and dynamite and shovels, still eases my way today. Thanks.

Once we pass Donner Summit, it's not long until we're back in urban California, which is extending its mighty tentacles into formerly remote and rural towns like Truckee and Auburn. And as we sit on the tracks on the north Bay, near Suisun, waiting for the drawbridge to close that will admit us to Martinez, I'm happy and sad. It's been a great trip, and I'm sorry it's over. But I'm happy, because train travel isn't as dead as I thought. Indeed, the station at Martinez is bustling with commuter trains connecting Sacramento and the Bay Area. Even in California, we are starting to have trains again.

We returned home from our trip relaxed and relatively ready to return to our lives after two days of quiet leisure, reading, writing, and generally having no obligations. In contrast, had we flown back on Sunday, we would've travelled all night to get home and been trying to work on Monday, exhausted and cranky. The train was the way to go home, for sure.

I will have to use them more often.

Crossposted from MotherTalkers.

Originally posted to elfling's Magical Mystery Tour on Mon Jan 28, 2008 at 08:21 AM PST.

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Comment Preferences

  •  I LOVE trains! (106+ / 0-)

    I try taking the train as much as I can. Last time was down to Sandy Eggo the other weekend.

    My favorite though was going up to Seattle. Nothing like waking up passing by a snow topped Shasta with the morning pink light highlighting the deer nibbling trees near the track.

    I'm not going anywhere. I'm standing up, which is how one speaks in opposition in a civilized world. - Ainsley Hayes

    by jillian on Mon Jan 28, 2008 at 08:24:44 AM PST

  •  I looked into Amtrak recently (24+ / 0-)

    I've got a mild phobia about airplanes now and in any case who wants to take N children on an airplane?  Holy crap is rail travel ever expensive!

    I'd love to do it if I ever strike it rich, though.

    Calling Atheism a religion is like calling bald a hair color.
    What am I working on today?

    by RequestedUsername on Mon Jan 28, 2008 at 08:24:49 AM PST

  •  tip jar (161+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    SME in Seattle, Pat K California, Spit, al Fubar, skiddie, Joe Bob, tmo, Zero, pine, Odysseus, eugene, decisivemoment, Bendygirl, Iddybud, Don Quixote, Detlef, Geenius at Wrok, Cali Scribe, badger, Nina Katarina, demnomore, Rolfyboy6, pHunbalanced, ScientistMom in NY, wu ming, meg, baffled, eeff, ThirstyGator, Woody, frisco, julatten, PanzerMensch, Gareth, geordie, INMINYMA, TheMomCat, raines, RandOR, 88kathy, smugbug, SlowNomad, stevetat, retrograde, javelina, JPhurst, luddite, jbdigriz, floundericiousMI, CocoaLove, Cardinal96, Oke, nicta, Red State Rebel, shirah, minorityusa, BleacherBum153, oldjohnbrown, mrkvica, Dr Colossus, Tracker, blueteam, susie dow, xanthe, TX Scotia, hazzcon, annetteboardman, riverlover, barbwires, cevad, JayBat, KateCrashes, peterj911, plymouth, d to the f, rapala, jabney, pattyp, BluejayRN, el dorado gal, JanetT in MD, Freakinout daily, vgranucci, sap, Simplify, terrypinder, dewtx, Brooke In Seattle, wildcat6, fireflynw, EastCoastShock, Morrigan, Mr X, SundayHighway, Rogneid, psyched, webranding, kathny, Sister Havana, maryru, Philpm, surferal, martini, und83, BachFan, RogueStage, Naranjadia, Starseer, Ellicatt, Loonesta, Magnifico, mango, arlene, Silent Lurker, zigeunerweisen, merrinc, tecampbell, Christopher Walker, LMK, CTLiberal, Aocreata, VoteHarder, frankzappatista, CharlieHipHop, coolsub, pseudopod, slksfca, FoundingFatherDAR, marykk, Gravedugger, adamschloss, LillithMc, Nespolo, kath25, Calvin Jones and the 13th Apostle, Tenn Wisc Dem, Casey Morris, sabershadow, jnhobbs, Puffin, keikekaze, sand805, MKinTN, FolsomBlues, JeffW, pepper mint, lineatus, LucyMO, shyQtechie, boatjones, noddem, kyril, Groucho Marxist, BYw, pelagicray, little liberal, dont think, Design the Future, Pris from LA, a wolf raised by boys, Small Town in Central PA

    I originally wrote most of this on the train, but never quite got around to going through the 1200 photos I took to pick only a few. It was an incredible trip, and  I look forward to doing more rail in the future. There's a lot of enthusiasm for train travel in America, more than I expected. Climate change makes rail's efficiency more valuable, and add in some wireless internet (and more routes), and the longer travel time will be a lot less of an issue. It's a great way to go.

    Fry, don't be a hero! It's not covered by our health plan!

    by elfling on Mon Jan 28, 2008 at 08:25:04 AM PST

    •  thank you - wonderful diary - (24+ / 0-)

      I love trains.  My family worked for the burlington and I used to take a train out of Chicago 6pm or so and arrived in NYC in morning.  Spent many happy hours in the club car and met so many great people.  I enjoyed the sleeping accommodations as well, and when I woke in am - was bright and chipper.  That train I don't think goes out anymore and as this was late 50's - early 60s - I know things have changed but this is what I remember.

      As to planes - there is a definite comedown on planes as well; someone handing me some plastic container with almost stale rolls as I walk into plane is not my idea of comfort either.    

      Democrats, Make it Work. You have until November to bring your electorate in.

      by xanthe on Mon Jan 28, 2008 at 08:51:12 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  It's a fantastic diary, elfling. (14+ / 0-)

      I'm a Eastern girl who fondly remembers taking the Texas Eagle through West Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona. I spent most of my time in the observation car watching the beautiful sights and sharing stories with others. I learned how to play the card game Hearts on one of those trips...taught to me by one of our most hard-working west-coast environmental activists who I met by chance on that particular trip. I've made the cross-country trip to Denver as well. One thing I can't forget on the trip I took on the Southwest Chief is the beauty of the mountains of New Mexico and going through the Raton Pass tunnel. I also remember "feeling" the width of the mighty Mississippi River while traveling across and just over it by train. The people I encounter (along with the stories they have to tell) is one of the great benefits for me when I take Amtrak (or Greyhound, for that matter.)

    •  You should submit this to AMTRAK (23+ / 0-)

      They have an organization for rail travlers, NARP (National Association of Rail Passengers), which publishes a monthly newsletter. They also print stories like yours on the AMTRAK Web site, and the fact that you have lots of photos taken from the train might make your story even more compelling to them.

      If their rates aren't any good (I've never checked them), try national travel magazines. Rail is becoming a more popular way to travel as the gas prices rise.

      Now if we could just get Congress to give AMTRAK more money -- or set it up so they don't have to beg every year for their very life -- maybe the trips by rail would be even better!

      I love riding the train!

    •  Travel time (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      oldjohnbrown, rapala, Pris from LA

      I do like riding trains, I've done it in Europe a lot, but that's like travelling in the US Northeast corridor -- distances of a few hundred miles, max.

      For longer distances, I just dont see it.  I can't imagine travelling Seattle to LA, or Boston to Denver, let alone NY to San Francisco at 50mph or even 100mph.  Maybe if I'm driving a U-Haul full of my belongings fora move, but other than that who possibly has a couple of days to waste?  Unless the price difference is in the thousands it's not worth it.

      Certainly not for a business trip, but even if for a vacation I want to spend my vacation time at my destination, not getting there and back.  And if I'm looking for a vacation where I'm travelling around enjoying the scenery -- something I do a lot actually -- I'd much rather have my own vehicle so I can control my route, stop when I want to explore something, etc.

      Again, I like trains a lot, think they're handy here in the Northeast and there are plenty of short haul scenic rail trips worth taking, but cross-country travel?  I don't see it.

      •  Having your own vehicle is a luxury (8+ / 0-)

        Especially in the era of peak oil.

        A LOT of people still drive long distances, even for vacations. Not everyone flies, otherwise the interstates would be for the trucks alone. And the long-distance Amtrak routes are extremely popular and carry lots of passengers.

        You personally may not see the purpose, nor do you have to. But a whole lot of us do. And even if you might never use it, surely you can see the value of helping us improve Amtrak services.

        Because, ultimately, it's not a luxury - it's a necessity.

        I'm not part of a redneck agenda - Green Day

        by eugene on Mon Jan 28, 2008 at 09:41:16 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Friends of ours took their two daughters (13+ / 0-)

          across to Washington DC via Amtrak for a summer trip a few years ago.  They wanted the girls to see just how big the country is - something that you don't really get a feel for on a plane ride - and they like the fact that you're seeing the "back side" of much of the country.  You see the working parts of the factories (or the old industrial buildings that have shut down in the rust belt), the grain elevators of hundreds of small towns, the fields and ranches, the mountains without the roadside attractions and chain restaurants every four miles... the real side of the country.  It's like a "Blue Highways" tour, but even further off the beaten path.

          Our friends went south going east, and north on the westbound trip.  Going to the capitol and seeing all of the national institutions was a great way to tie it all together as a way of seeing our nation.

          Now, go spread some peace, love and understanding. Use force if necessary. - Phil N DeBlanc

          by lineatus on Mon Jan 28, 2008 at 09:53:46 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

      •  It wasn't a waste (9+ / 0-)

        As it turned out - and this surprised me - we probably got way more rest and work done by doing this than if we had tried to fly home Sunday. If we had done that, we would've arrived late in Oakland, and gotten home around 2am, and then we would've tried to work Monday - and been dragging all week.

        Instead we had our laptops, and books, and we did a fair amount of work, plus lots of quiet leisure that we don't usually get, and were home Tuesday evening. Wednesday, we were rested and in great shape and so we got plenty done to make up for our missed time.

        Fry, don't be a hero! It's not covered by our health plan!

        by elfling on Mon Jan 28, 2008 at 10:15:53 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  I think an hour in an airport . . . (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          . . . is a hundred times more stressful than a week on the train.  So is an hour in a car, in California traffic.  I prefer the train for almost every travel purpose.

          "Do not forget that every people deserves the regime it is willing to endure." -- White Rose letter no. 1

          by keikekaze on Mon Jan 28, 2008 at 02:03:56 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

      •  Very few ride long distance the whole way (8+ / 0-)

        Most riders on the transcontinental routes only travel part way. Denver to Salt Lake City. New Orleans to Lafayette. El Paso to Tucson. Milwaukee to LaCrosse.  Minot to Williston (ND). But as witness testimony in this diary shows, some folks do travel long distances by train, and enjoy it.

        Maybe below someone will 'weigh in', but consider also that for obese people, air travel can be a humiliating experience. Other citizens suffer from phobias that keep them off the planes. And a glance at drivers in other lanes will convince you that not everyone should be driving!

        It's all about freedom of choice in means of travel. As usual, the Repubs talk about freedom, but vote against it. They have kept the AmTrak budget at about $1 billion for almost 30 years. If the federal subsidy had gone up in line with other government programs, train travel would be improving, instead of barely hanging on.

    •  Beautiful diary! n/t (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Woody, BachFan, keikekaze, Pris from LA

      Proud subscriber to the Mariachi Mama Candidate Bickering Moratorium! May peace begin with us.

      by BluejayRN on Mon Jan 28, 2008 at 09:36:14 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  We took the train for a holiday visit (4+ / 0-)

      when my brother lived in Colorado.  The only disappointment was that it was that there was very little snow in the Sierra that winter, so that portion of the trip was less scenic than expected.  The train was a little bit behind schedule, but it was a delightful trip.  We got a sleeper compartment, too, and really liked the convenience of it.  As others noted, we spent a lot of time in the observation car, too.

      We're hoping to take another train journey, probably this year.  My youngest brother is a civil engineer, specializing in railroad bridges, and a railfan to boot.  We'd like to take a trip with him and his family, because we think he'd have a lot of interesting info to add along the way.

      Thanks for this diary!

      Now, go spread some peace, love and understanding. Use force if necessary. - Phil N DeBlanc

      by lineatus on Mon Jan 28, 2008 at 09:44:53 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  So great... (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Sagittarius, keikekaze, Pris from LA

      jut so great.

      My relationship with my father was built in part by spending time on trains, both here and in Europe.

      I remember when we had enough money (in our later years) that my Dad and I could take a trip on train and have the elegant dining car on the way back from NYC opera.  Such a fantastic memory.

      Thanks for the reminder of my Dad and those train trips across Spain and France and the US.

      Civil behavior isn't about restraining from using insults or obscenities, it's about behaving like a fucking decent human being.

      by Casey Morris on Mon Jan 28, 2008 at 10:38:48 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  I love to travel by train, but was shocked at (6+ / 0-)

      how many routes are now gone.  Amtrack is a shell of what rail travel used to be. Some of the best scenery was through the Dakotas, Wyoming, Utah and all though Nevada.

      Spending three days in Las Vegas was always such a trill - this was during the Rat Pack days! It was magical.

      Rail is still the best way to travel.  Where else could to get a whole carfull of strangers to play MadLibs, charades, ande have singalongs?  I don't know if people still do that, but that trip is one of my favorite memories.

      I might repeat to myself slowly and soothingly, a list of quotations beautiful from minds profound - if I can remember any of the damn things. Dorothy Parker

      by Rogneid on Mon Jan 28, 2008 at 12:11:28 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  Love the diary (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Odysseus, SarahLee, Woody, keikekaze

      We went to Chicago a couple of years ago for our family vacation.  We were going to do Amtrak both ways, but when we got to the station here in KC the morning we were leaving, we found out that there had been a derailment out in Kansas that had torn the tracks from the ground, and that the train was not going anywhere.  We ended up having to book a flight last minute to salvage the first day of our vacation.  Of course, since we were only going one way, on a last-minute ticket, we got the full bomb-search routine at the airport.  THAT was fun (not).

      Anyway, we did get to do our return trip on the rails.  Being able to lay the seat back, relax, walk around was absolutely fantastic.  We got to have dinner with wonderful English gentleman who worked for the British government and had lived here for many years before being recalled to England.  He told us that he hated flying, so he would usually fly into Chicago and take the train from there to wherever his destination was.  We had a very nice, hour-long conversation over our dinner, and that was one of the highlights of our entire vacation.

      We have also done the run between KC and St. Louis, and ran into many of the same delays that some of you on the West Coast have.  Freight traffic has full priority in St. Louis, so the Amtrak often has to sit and wait for an hour or more before it can complete the route.  There has been some move to provide additional funds, but Skippy the Boy Gov (Matt Blunt) is opposed to anything that will take money away from highways and oil companies, so we probably will not see any action on this in the current year.  Hopefully that will change once we get Jay Nixon elected.

      We are looking at doing the trip up to Cedar Point amusement park on the train this year.  Hopefully I'll have the money to do so.

      The destination is known, and the mode of transportation is definitely a handbasket.

      by Philpm on Mon Jan 28, 2008 at 12:18:06 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  Thank you! Best diary here today! (0+ / 0-)

      It's on a great subject, railway travel, one that has an ever-brightening future in this country--and it's not about the primaries!

      "Do not forget that every people deserves the regime it is willing to endure." -- White Rose letter no. 1

      by keikekaze on Mon Jan 28, 2008 at 02:00:03 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  We had better get used to trains ... (26+ / 0-)

    Because they are obviously going to make a big time comeback. The stupidest thing in the world is flying jet planes any distance less than about 1000 miles.

    The best fortress is to be found in the love of the people - Niccolo Machiavelli

    by al Fubar on Mon Jan 28, 2008 at 08:28:23 AM PST

  •  In The Indstry HUGE Rail Fans (20+ / 0-)

    are called "Foamers," cause they foam at the mouth when a train goes by. I used to do a ton of work for Amtrak as a marketing consultant .... now I will go back and read all you wrote.

    Let us not forget New Orleans. Visit Project Katrina.

    by webranding on Mon Jan 28, 2008 at 08:29:03 AM PST

    •  I lived much of my life near railroad tracks. (9+ / 0-)

      I even wrote a story in elementary school about how, when we moved to a new house, I couldn't fall asleep until I heard a train whistle nearby.  I miss the sound of a train at night.

      The few trips I have taken by train have been great, BTW.

      To say my fate is not tied to your fate is like saying, "Your end of the boat is sinking."--Hugh Downs

      by Dar Nirron on Mon Jan 28, 2008 at 09:26:26 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Me Too (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        I watched the Peninsula 500 going back and forth between Milwaukee and Calumet MI.  It was discontinued in the 1950's and a lot of the old depots were razed.  My dad painted a few of them before they disappeared.  

    •  My brother is a foamer, but also works with RRs (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      oldjohnbrown, Pris from LA

      He feels about trains the way I feel about birds - we have a pretty easy time understanding each other's obsessions.

      Having a foot in both worlds is interesting for him.  A lot of the people who work for railroads find it amusing that railfans get so excited over what's just a job to the rail workers.  And his fellow foamers have a little tinge of envy that he gets paid to think about trains all day.

      Now, go spread some peace, love and understanding. Use force if necessary. - Phil N DeBlanc

      by lineatus on Mon Jan 28, 2008 at 10:03:02 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Interesting (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        terrypinder, Pris from LA

        how many rail/transit fans end up with jobs related to their avocations -- not just my spouse who's a bus driver for our local transit system, but his best friend who's a transit consultant in NYC (used to work for NYCTA) and another friend who is in the planning department at SF Muni.

        I mean, how many sports fans end up working for their favorite team?

        You're only as popular as the last diary/comment you posted. -- Zachpunk

        by Cali Scribe on Mon Jan 28, 2008 at 11:43:38 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

      •  I know a lot (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Pris from LA

        of "foamers" who are past or current railroad employees. I think it's pretty common for people who have a special interest in trains to make a career out of it.

        Never rely on any plan that requires a dozen or more Republicans to do the right thing

        by Goldfish on Mon Jan 28, 2008 at 11:48:05 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  Almost 10 years ago... (16+ / 0-)

    My partner and I took Amtrak from San Francisco to Boston.  We were moving there so he could attend grad school, so we thought it would be a great way to get there.

    It was to a certain extent.  While I loved all of the scenery and the overall experience, we didnt have the good luck you did with our fellow passengers in the dining car.

    We did have one lovely conversation with a couple who were going to Nevada to see their grandchildren, however most of the other people we sat with were a little strange.

    We sat with one man and who continued to belittle and demean his 12 year old son all throughout the meal.  Another man told us that during our 2 hour stop in Denver he bought a gun.  A young couple who didnt say one word to us but did find the time to engage in the longest lip locking session Ive ever seen off film.

    The scenery was wonderful though, I remember Iowa being the most stunning.

    Im not sure I would do it again, but Im so glad I did.

  •  I love trains, rarely have opportunity (13+ / 0-)

    to travel.   Usually as far as I travel from DC is Philadelphia metro area, which I could do by train but then I would have to rent a car when I got there, and Williamsburg, which is not really accessible by train.

    I know when in Europe (including Britain) almost all of my travel would be by train

    thanks for diary and pics

    Those who can, do. Those who can do more, TEACH! If impeachment is off the table, so is democracy

    by teacherken on Mon Jan 28, 2008 at 08:35:33 AM PST

    •  Some NE trains go to Richmond and Hampton Roads (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      (by NE I mean Northeast Corridor, generally called Regional)

      Those trains stop in Williamsburg. There should be a few every day from DC.

      (-7.25,-5.95) "We cannot defend freedom abroad by deserting it at home." -Edward R. Murrow

      by adamschloss on Mon Jan 28, 2008 at 09:30:12 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Not gonna be cheap (0+ / 0-)

        The venerable train tunnel under the Potomac from D.C. is just about filled up with train traffic already. To expand Amtrak regionals and VRE service -- much less to dream of extending Acela-type service to Richmond and Hampton Roads or down to Raleigh, Charlotte, and Atlanta -- will require a new, second tunnel. Figure about a billion dollars. Hey, they got money for more highway lanes, but can't seem to find it for rail.

        •  Tunnel? Under the Potomac? (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          There is no tunnel under the Potomac anywhere near D.C.

          The train crosses by bridge, a neglected, unpainted eyesore of a freight bridge. I've seen foreign tourists rush to snap photos of the thing when the tour boat passes underneath. "Hey! Look! A third world bridge right by the monuments!" is a good idea of what they--and I--think.

          The only foes that threaten America are the enemies at home, and those are ignorance, superstition, and incompetence. [Elbert Hubbard]

          by pelagicray on Mon Jan 28, 2008 at 11:06:38 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  Guess I'm confused (0+ / 0-)

            Then the problem must be the capacity of the tunnel under Capitol Hill from Union Station. In addition to its other limits, that is a security headache already.

            Anyway, I'm sure that the proposed solution is a tunnel, not another bridge, and the price tag was estimated at $1 billion. About the same for the next new tunnel under the Hudson River to open up capacity for more Amtrak and commuter trains into NYC, because the old tunnel is full up.

            •  Rotting rails, hazards and a free speech pit. (3+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              Woody, INMINYMA, NoMoreLies

              That may be the tunnel you were thinking about. I'm not sure on capacity problems there. The issue of freight, including hazardous cargo, passing almost in spitting distance of the Capitol and just outside the windows of many an agency is a real one. D.C. has attempted to bar things like tank cars full of chlorine from that "Capitol route" with the feds, naturally with strong lobbying by the RR, stepping in and saying it isn't a city matter.

              Want to see a good shot of that atrocity over the Potomac? Here it is! I enjoy boats and now and then ride the tour boats from Alexandria to Washington Harbor in Georgetown. The comments, particularly from some foreign tourists can be choice. It is a national shame as it crosses the river in the monumental area and is clearly visible from shore. Then again, all our stuff down there is rotting from neglect. What is the federal plan? Maybe pave the Mall? Destroy the reflecting pool? Has a free speech component too: Preservation Proposals Spark Debate Over Limits on Free Speech--how 'bout that, the reflecting pool a designated, government-approved free speech pit.

              The only foes that threaten America are the enemies at home, and those are ignorance, superstition, and incompetence. [Elbert Hubbard]

              by pelagicray on Mon Jan 28, 2008 at 12:21:06 PM PST

              [ Parent ]

          •  doesn't the metro (0+ / 0-)

            cross under the river? I don't remember, I've never ridden the metro over to Virginia.

            Central PA Kossacksfelicia, those are her whites in the dryer.

            by terrypinder on Mon Jan 28, 2008 at 12:46:41 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  Nope. Metro crosses on a bridge between the rail (0+ / 0-)

              and the Shirley Highway bridge. There are four there. They essentially lie south of the Jefferson Memorial and north of National Airport (I refuse to add the "R" word!)

              From upriver, more or less north, they are:

              The four lane I-395 bridge connecting to US 1 in the city and the Southwest Freeway.

              The old US 1 bridge that connects US 1 in Virginia to US 1 in the city and the Southwest Freeway. It is a bit complicated. That is the one you take if you are just running the US 1 route. I think it is also one way in or out during rush.

              The Metro bridge.

              The rusting mess of the RR bridge. It runs from the area of parking lots for the Jefferson and FDR memorials and crosses the GW Parkway by another eyesore to run along the back side of Roaches Run Waterfowl Sanctuary.

              The only foes that threaten America are the enemies at home, and those are ignorance, superstition, and incompetence. [Elbert Hubbard]

              by pelagicray on Mon Jan 28, 2008 at 01:27:06 PM PST

              [ Parent ]

              •  umm - not completely correct (1+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:

                blue and orange lines cross by tunnel leaving Rosslyn with the next stop in Foggy Bottom.

                Those who can, do. Those who can do more, TEACH! If impeachment is off the table, so is democracy

                by teacherken on Mon Jan 28, 2008 at 01:53:00 PM PST

                [ Parent ]

                •  Of course! I was concentrating on the RR crossing (0+ / 0-)

                  area so much I forgot my usual crossing point! Yes, Metro has two Potomac crossing points with that Orange/Blue tunnel being the fastest section on Metro according to announcements.

                  The only foes that threaten America are the enemies at home, and those are ignorance, superstition, and incompetence. [Elbert Hubbard]

                  by pelagicray on Mon Jan 28, 2008 at 02:28:13 PM PST

                  [ Parent ]

      •  timing rarely works (0+ / 0-)

        I've looked into it in the past

        Those who can, do. Those who can do more, TEACH! If impeachment is off the table, so is democracy

        by teacherken on Mon Jan 28, 2008 at 01:51:42 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

    •  Bingo! (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Pris from LA

      A major problem with our so called system is that we do not control the interfaces. It is not a transportation system, it is an ad hoc mess.

      In Japan and most of Europe, even when privately operated, there is planning and control to ensure the modes intersect. It is often a matter of a block or two to the bus, tram or subway to major national and international hubs for rail and air.

      Frankfort airport sits atop local and international rail nets and with bus connections adjacent. The beautiful Oriente station in Lisbon is described as:

      The Oriente station is an inter-modal terminal: Its facilities serve and interconnect several forms of transport. Passengers can change between metropolitan, long- and medium-haul regional and international trains. There are connections into the underground system, national and metropolitan buses or taxis. There is also an airport link and check-in facilities.

      That is not an unusual situation. Here, with a few exceptions, Union Station in D.C. being one, rail arrival means you are somewhere well away from good public transit of any sort. Even car rental can  be a problem.

      The only foes that threaten America are the enemies at home, and those are ignorance, superstition, and incompetence. [Elbert Hubbard]

      by pelagicray on Mon Jan 28, 2008 at 10:57:08 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Union Station, LA (The first LAX) (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        Union Station is also the hub of Metro Rail and Metrolink, the Los Angeles Metropolitan Transit Authority's light and heavy rail system. It is dead easy to go in many different directions using Metro from Union Station.

        The Gold Line will take you to Pasadena (and maybe eventually to Ontario Airport), the Red Line will take you to Hollywood and the Valley, the Purple Line will take you to Koreatown and eventually (Once the rest of it is built!) to the Westside, and either the Red or the Purple links up with the Blue Line going South all the way to Long Beach. Soon the Red and Purple will also link to the Expo Line to USC, Exposition Park, and west all the way to Culver City.

        Slowly but surely Metro is recreating the Pacific Electric system. It's not as wide reaching as the PE was at its peak, but it's getting there. The Metro Transit Authority is actually run well, a far cry from the dysfunction of its predecessor the LA Rapid (Ha!) Transit District.

        We still have slow-ass buses, most of which run on compressed natural gas. We have the Orange Line, which is a busway, but should have been light rail. I suppose this could eventually be remedied since the vast majority of it runs on dedicated busway, and laying track is not going to be as disruptive in the middle of something already dedicated to transit as it would be somewhere else. The Orange Line has proven to be extremely popular, for good reason. It's not as fast as light or heavy rail, but it's sorta fast. You can get from North Hollywood to Woodland Hills quicker than the 101 freeway.

        It's not great, and the buses still suck, but it's progress.

        Remember Nataline Sarkisyan! Fight for Health Care For All!

        by Pris from LA on Mon Jan 28, 2008 at 02:15:22 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  I traveled from Minnesota to New York (10+ / 0-)

    last summer on Amtrak.  I had never been on a train for a long distance trip before so I thought it would be fun.  They need some serious upgrades if they want to be competitive with the airlines.  They do need their own tracks so that they could go 100mph+.  All their locomotives are capable of it but the tracks are not in good enough shape and congress, at the behest of airlines and bus companies, limits their speed to 79mph except in certain corridors.  If they could do Minneapolis to Chicago in 3-4 hours rather than the 8 hours it takes now they would get a lot more riders.  They also need to get better seats.  They are not comfortable enough to sit in for hours in a row.  Also they need larger sleepers.  I was expecting rooms out of movies like North by Northwest but their sleepers are tiny.  Definitely not comfortable enough for 2 people.  They will never be able to offer the speed that airlines offer but they could offer much more comfort than the airlines ever could.  Your pictures are great but you would probably not enjoy the view in upstate New York.  Going through the worst parts of Buffalo isn't scenic.

    •  Nachtzug (9+ / 0-)

      As a point of comparison, these are the DeutscheBahnclasses for their sleeper cars.  They are (I think) the most modern and nicest in Europe.  Fantastic service-- as with everything (almost) DB does, it's well done and successful.

      The pictures aren't great (when you click through) but you can tell that they are designed with comfort as well as space in mind.    


      •  The sleeper I was in (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        was so small I think I would have preferred to ride coach.  The two seats were on opposite walls but so close together that you couldn't really get comfortable.  Even in the sleepers the seats were not any more comfortable than coach.  I know most of their cars are at least 20 years old so I am sure if they had some modern cars it would be much nicer.  Plus there was a toilet in the room.  And by in the room I mean right next to one of the seats.  So if you wanted to use it you either had to be on really good terms with the person you are traveling with or they have to excuse themselves from the room while you do your thing.  Not cool.  Nothing $10B can't fix.

      •  Another perspective on DB sleepers (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        What skiddie says about DB is usually right -- and I have had some great experiences riding European sleepers (does Cook Wagons-Lits still exist? -- I know, I'll Google). But on a trip to Germany in 2003 we had a DB first-class railpass. For our last night there we booked a sleeper from Dresden to Frankfurt, to catch our flight home.

        The extra price for a sleeper seemed remarkably low to me -- not to mention that I couldn't find "first class" anywhere on the ticket. At Dresden Neustadt I looked at the handy chart of where the various types of cars would be stopping -- and saw no first class anywhere. When our train was finally ready for boarding, we learned why it was so cheap. Quite different from the comfort I had been hoping for, this is what we got: a compartment with six hard shelves, which we two creaky American guys shared with a bewildered Swiss woman (train was bound for Zurich), who wondered, "Ist dies richtig?"

        Further, as a comment to pelagicray on the convenient interconnects in Europe as opposed to the U.S. -- the Dresden-Zurich train's stop in Frankfurt was not at the Hauptbahnhof, but at Frankfurt Sud -- where we arrived some two hours before the first connection to the Hauptbahnhof would run. It was a uniquely miserable episode in my European train experience.

        pelagicray's critique is well taken, for the most part, but some progress is being made here. Among other Amtrak stations that offer good connections to local transit are Philadelphia (teacherken, take notice!), with SEPTA right in the 30th Street Station, New York's Penn, Boston's South Street (and North Street, if you happen to be coming from Maine), and Cleveland. All of those need improvement (Philly needs more convenient access to the subway, for example). But the point I would make is this: along with lamenting the poor U.S. record of accomplishment in comparison with Europe -- and even Canada -- making use of what this country does have to offer can only help overcome the media/wingnut conspiracy of silence about the alternatives to car and plane that we do have available.

        •  Correction (0+ / 0-)

          Sorry -- I got "Internal Server Error" when I tried to Preview, so I just crossed my fingers. The right names for the Boston stations, of course, are South Station and North Station. Just ignore the "street" I stupidly typed.

    •  yes, some upgrades would be helpful (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Dr Colossus

      I thought the lavatories on most trains were thoroughly disgusting.

    •  American Trains have regressed.... (0+ / 0-)

      since the 1930s and 40s. The Chicago and Northwestern and Milwaukee Road railroads competed for the fastest trains from Chicago to Minneapolis, in the era of the streamliners. The Hiawathas (Milwaukee Road) and the 400s (Chicago and Northwestern) could make the trip in 400 minutes, (6 2/3 hours) or less, hence the 400 moniker. The fastest Hiawathas broke 110 mph during the run and made the trip in under 6 hours from Chicago to Minneapolis, 3/4 the time Amtrak takes today!

      Point of comparison - the TGV in France today takes just under 3 hours to complete the same trip length, from Paris to the south part of France, near Nice.
      With speeds like this, who needs air travel for segments under 800 miles in length.

      We have dissed rail travel in this country for way too long.

      "Without our playstations, we are a third world nation"-Ani DiFranco

      by NoMoreLies on Mon Jan 28, 2008 at 08:12:22 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  From the observation car (13+ / 0-)

    We were starting up the Rockies.  I was in the observation car.  The train passed a tree with 5 bald eagles.  I blurted out look at the eagles.  Just in time for the train to pass a tree filled with crows.  A man said, "Those are crows, ma'am".  I said "thanks"

    Sometimes I wonder "Why is that Frisbee getting Bigger?" and then it hits me.

    by 88kathy on Mon Jan 28, 2008 at 08:39:33 AM PST

  •  There Are Three Important Things To Know (41+ / 0-)

    about rail in the US.

    1. Amtrak doesn't own 95% of the tracks they operate on. Therefore they have little control (insert none) over upgrades. Much of the "bad" press you hear about a wreak are caused by a third part (CSX would be an example) infrastructure.
    1. Amtrak spending is "capped." Outside of the "Northern Corridor" (DC, NY, Boston, et al) where they turn a nice profit no upgrades are happening to the "cars" people ride anyplace else.  
    1. IMHO the biggest problem is not that spending is capped, but every time Amtrak attempts to cut routes, and a Congress-critter finds out their district is going to lose, Amtrak is forced to keep those routes routes running while maintaining the same budget.

    Amtrak IMHO is wonderful. Just wonderful. But in the near term they are not going to be around much longer (15-20 years) if things keep going as they are at this stage.

    Let us not forget New Orleans. Visit Project Katrina.

    by webranding on Mon Jan 28, 2008 at 08:40:54 AM PST

    •  The track thing is the big catch. (13+ / 0-)

      The one high speed design we have operating cannot reach design speed except on a very short segment because it has to travel over freight line rails.

      The "first world" high speed rail, the U.S. is most definitely not first there, travels track designed for the high speed trainsets. I first traveled one of those thirty years ago from Tokyo to Kyoto. At close to 200 mph there were no ripples in my tall beer glass in the lounge. Since I've  enjoyed the integrated rail in Europe where a short walk from a hotel to the nearest bus, tram or subway puts you into the continent wide rail system. Simple logic and planning makes for smooth interfaces in transport. It is generally a real pleasure and my complaint is usually that the enjoyable high speed ride is over too soon.

      A web place I enjoy is The European Railway Server. Use the flag to connect to the country file.

      The only foes that threaten America are the enemies at home, and those are ignorance, superstition, and incompetence. [Elbert Hubbard]

      by pelagicray on Mon Jan 28, 2008 at 09:07:45 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Exactly ... (6+ / 0-)

        Not to take anything away from the Japanese and the French, but it is not that hard to build a high speed train - you just need straight or very large radius track to run it on.

        The Brits get decent speed on 150 year old lines because the Victorian builders incredibly over-engineered the lines. Riding a train into London along a viaduct, all I could think was "Victorian freeways."

        The best fortress is to be found in the love of the people - Niccolo Machiavelli

        by al Fubar on Mon Jan 28, 2008 at 09:17:06 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Not entirely the case. (4+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          al Fubar, ohwilleke, elfling, RogueStage

          The really high speed European trains run on special track that has sometimes been laid in terrain that old type track and trains could not have used. This was made clear in an excellent TV piece on the TGV though I don't have an immediate reference. That program noted that the routes could use areas not previously considered for rail due to slope in particular. Trains with only slightly less speed operate on pretty normal track.

          The construction of the very high speed track is significantly different with welded rail and much more stable roadbed. High speed, though not in the TGV's dedicated runs' class, tilt trains have been using Alpine rail with tight curves for some time. Amtrak is looking at that Tilting train smooths out the curves. Even ordinary Eruopean trackbed appears much more robust than U.S. trackbed. I've watched repair and the ballast seems much more stable and the steel/concrete ties are generally "screwed" in place with a clamping screw like device. There is a comparison of the Nord-Europe line with others that has some interesting information.

          The total length of newly laid track is 1350 km (839 mi). The rail is standard UIC profile, with a mass of 60 kg/m (40 lb/ft); it was laid down in 288 m (945 ft) or 396 m (1300 ft) lengths, and welded using the usual thermite process. There are 1666 hybrid steel/concrete cross ties per kilometer (2680 ties/mi), for a total of 1.125 million ties. The ties rest on 3 million tons of rigorously selected volcanic rock.

          Apparently grade is much less restrictive in high speed than in old steam/diesel lines. The high speed trainsets (the train is a unit) has traction units at each end with some under cars as well.

          The only foes that threaten America are the enemies at home, and those are ignorance, superstition, and incompetence. [Elbert Hubbard]

          by pelagicray on Mon Jan 28, 2008 at 11:43:10 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

      •  Our Technology (11+ / 0-)

        The US DOT was doing a great deal of research on high speed rail systems prior to the start of the Reagan administration.  My dad was working on the electrical pickup system down in the basement of DOT in Cambridge.  Just outside of Phoenix a test track was built.  Needless to say that was all history shortly thereafter, luckily he retained his job, many more lost theirs.

        The Germans and Japanese took it from there and to this day the only way some fool would buy American technology is because of huge subsidies to buy and perpetually repair the crap.

      •  Is high-speed rail really necessary? (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        raines, oldjohnbrown

        The one high speed design we have operating cannot reach design speed except on a very short segment because it has to travel over freight line rails.

        Let me ask this: Is "high-speed" rail really necessary?

        The one thing I like about rail is the fact that it is relatively slow. It encourages a "Is this trip Really Necessary" mindset, which dovetails in nicely with the other "Slow" movements going on...

        •  Yes (6+ / 0-)

          Because there will still be a need for quick intercity travel.

          I'm not part of a redneck agenda - Green Day

          by eugene on Mon Jan 28, 2008 at 09:42:51 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

        •  Um. (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          It encourages a "Is this trip Really Necessary" mindset, which dovetails in nicely with the other "Slow" movements going on...

          That's nice to say -- when you have a car, or other means of transportation.

          What it means in practice is, my (say) five-day vacation suddenly becomes three days, and my Thanksgiving break is non-existent.

        •  Yes, it is (7+ / 0-)

          I'm with you in believing that the trip on the train is an integral part of the vacation, but so many more people just want to get from point A to point B. If somebody wants to get from, say, Columbus to Chicago, the choices are the bus, the car, or the plane. The plan takes about an hour from Port Columbus to either Midway or O'Hare, plus the standard waiting time. The bus and car take about six hours or so. The train isn't even an option, since passenger rail was ripped out of Columbus in the 70s. But if Amtrak DID offer service and it took about 8-9 hours (which is what it probably would take), then it would be the last choice.

          Offer high-speed rail and take 2 or 3 or even 4 hours, and suddenly it becomes much more viable--perhaps the first choice of travelers on that route. It would take as long as the plane, with all the waiting times figured in, and would be infinitely more pleasant.

          •  Thanks, Ah-nuld... (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Cali Scribe

            There has been talk of a high speed train between SF and San Diego using the Central California route, where track can be easily upgraded. (As opposed to the Coast Route where track upgrades would have heavy environmental impact, and likely would not be approved.) However, the current CA budget crisis has basically put the kibosh on this, and also the plan to build a spur off this route to Las Vegas.

            Thanks a lot Ah-nuld, for promoting the heck out of this, teasing us eight ways to Sunday, then cutting it off at the knees. Thanks a whole freaking lot.

            Remember Nataline Sarkisyan! Fight for Health Care For All!

            by Pris from LA on Mon Jan 28, 2008 at 10:58:30 AM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  Would I use this? (0+ / 0-)

              You betcha! I live in Olympia, Washington and have friends in SF. I'd love to be able to ride the train here to SF, pick up my friends and travel to San Diego to go to the Zoo and for hubby to relive his Navy days there.

              I rode the rails alot as a kid between Dallas and Denison, Texas. The bug bit me hard for trains. My grandfather and two uncles were Katy men.

              I rode the train from Fairbanks to Anchorage, and on those trains in the baggage car there were cages for passengers' dogs. Our dog rode all the way and enjoyed it. The baggage attendants usually kept the doors open so the dogs could see out.

              I was in England during the Paddington Station rail disaster and I rode BritRail the whole time. The question I asked myself at the time was - Am I safer renting a car from here on out or do I think the trains are safer? I thought the trains were safer. They are beautifully run, clean and besides the occassional drunks on a Saturday night chatting up the girls, it was great company.

              People should not be afraid of their Governments-Governments should be afraid of their people. - V

              by TX Scotia on Mon Jan 28, 2008 at 01:19:45 PM PST

              [ Parent ]

        •  Yes, high speed rail is necessary. (4+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Odysseus, nicta, RogueStage, Pris from LA

          Slow is good for tourism.  It is bad for people who actually want to get somewhere to do something.

          Speed is the primary reason that Amtrak is in economic difficulty.  Where it is fast enough to be competitive with air shuttle service, it does much better economically.

          "Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities" -- Voltaire

          by ohwilleke on Mon Jan 28, 2008 at 10:51:56 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

        •  The trip being so quickly over is one of my (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          elfling, NoMoreLies, RogueStage

          regrets on high speed trips. I'm on vacation though. To be competitive high speed is necessary. A business trip from Paris to the south isn't a matter of leisure. One reason we visitors often have to find space is that business travel does find the runs cost and time effective. It appears that business center to business center the TGV beats air in time used.

          A terrible flaw here in the U.S. and what puts the lie to the "free market" crap here is that special interest have stacked the deck against rail. Who builds the highways? Who builds the airports? Oh sure, you see the trucks with "We pay $$$ in taxes" on them. Do you really think the truck taxes and airport landing fees actually pay the cost of the infrastructure they depend upon?

          That is why Amtrak runs as a second class citizen on freight tracks and has to pull over and wait--destroying its schedule--for freights, even one off schedule.

          The only foes that threaten America are the enemies at home, and those are ignorance, superstition, and incompetence. [Elbert Hubbard]

          by pelagicray on Mon Jan 28, 2008 at 11:51:27 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

        •  High speed (0+ / 0-)

          would, among the other benefits touted, allow for more trains per day and better timing at destinations. One of the problems with some routes is that there's only one train per day and it goes through at, say, 2AM.

          High speed rail in California would be a dramatic alternative to flying. Already, with TSA delays, for some situations you'd find very little time difference. Imagine an AutoTrain as an alternative to I-5. Give it internet access, and it would be a great way to go.

          Fry, don't be a hero! It's not covered by our health plan!

          by elfling on Mon Jan 28, 2008 at 12:59:44 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

      •  In defense (0+ / 0-)

        of the US rail system, there are areas of freight rail lines where passanger trains are entitled to operate up to 90 MPH under normal conditions. However, congestion tends to restrict speeds a bit.

        Never rely on any plan that requires a dozen or more Republicans to do the right thing

        by Goldfish on Mon Jan 28, 2008 at 11:52:38 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

    •  Add to #1 ... (13+ / 0-)

      Not only doesn't Amtrack have control over track upgrades, it doesn't control operation. A lot of the late train problem is the railroads giving priority to freights.

      The best fortress is to be found in the love of the people - Niccolo Machiavelli

      by al Fubar on Mon Jan 28, 2008 at 09:07:47 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  Exactly right about the track (4+ / 0-)

      There was a time in the past when passenger traffic was the priority. The Pennsylvania Railroad and the New York Central knew that freight paid the bills but that passenger traffic was important as well in terms of both revenue and prestige. The PRR upgraded its trans-Pennsylvania mainline with FOUR tracks, splitting passenger traffic from freight traffic. They also embarked on a program to make curves less tight across the system, cutting down on the time needed to get passengers from New York to Chicago--competing with the NYC's Twentieth Century Limited. Now, the big four (NS, CSX, BNSF, UP) have cut as much track as possible from their systems, eliminating parallel routes and three- or four-track mainlines that would give passenger trains their own, dedicated lines. People bitch and moan about Amtrak always being late, but if a freight owned by the host railroad is hogging up the track in front, there's not much the little Amtrak train can do.

      •  A free ride? (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Pris from LA

        In life you rarely get a free ride.

        And I've heard that as part of its budget constraints,  Amtrak simply does not pay the freight railroads what they think the service costs them, especially if you figure that some freight (e.g., fresh fruit and veggies from the Central Valley) has a high time value as well.

        If Amtrak is underpaying, small wonder they get sidetracked. This would be thanks to the Repubs who hate Amtrak. (In the Senate, that would be John McCain, who loves subsidies to commuter air service to remote towns, planes that carry 10 or 15 business travelers. But he hates subsidies to Amtrak to carry hundreds of us undeserving citizens on every train.)

        •  maybe ... (0+ / 0-)

          But also remember that, without infusions of billions of federal dollars into the crumbling northeastern rail system (mainly the old Penn Central), Norfolk Southern and CSX would be without some of the best-maintained track in their systems.

          •  The worst offender (0+ / 0-)

            The freight railroad with the worst record on keeping Amtrak to schedule is the Union Pacific.

            One of the few routes in the US that has been losing passengers is St. Louis-Kansas City, a Missouri state subsidized service on UP tracks. And most of the mess out west is UP, the remnant Sunset Limited and the route from Seattle to Southern California. I believe that Amtrak's relations with Norfolk Southern (and BNSF) are good. The CSX barely passed its federal inspections recently, after derailments from Florida up to the Great Lakes. So I dunno how much to credit Conrail funding of 20 years ago.

        •  Biden is an Amtrak user and supporter. (6+ / 0-)

          He commutes by Amtrak from Delaware to Union Station.

          Amtrak is in a classic Catch-22. They can't pay their way because they aren't allowed to be really competitive in key ways. I once got stuck on a train with a 12 hour schedule for 23 hours due to freight messes. Amtrak cannot really control its schedule so passengers with hard schedules cannot depend on many Amtrak runs. It can't just jack up fares--people here are complaining--to build the infrastructure.

          What we've got here is a kid denied early food, now skinny and weak boned and now expected to compete in pro sports. We can as a society decide rail makes sense, particularly in high population corridors, and fix the problem. Or we can continue to gripe and muddle through and become more firmly left behind as a first world country.

          For another example of shortsighted crap see the bait and switch Bush's transportation did here: The Dulles Rail Death Knell--a wonderful case of not making our intermodal interfaces work.

          The only foes that threaten America are the enemies at home, and those are ignorance, superstition, and incompetence. [Elbert Hubbard]

          by pelagicray on Mon Jan 28, 2008 at 12:03:06 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  Oh, sorry (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:

            I missed the Bushies' kiss of death to the Dulles line. It would be hugely funny if it didn't matter. For a year or two they'd been toying with the state and local officials who wanted to put the thing in a tunnel through downtown Tyson's Corner to improve quality of life and development value for that area. But the administration said, NO, can't do that, it could delay the thing, cause it to lose its place in line, and so get no funding. Well, ha ha ha, they put the thing above ground the way they were told to do, and THEN were denied funding.

            What, are the Bushies punishing Virginia, for electing Kaine (D), for electing Webb (D), for John Warner (R) retiring after a century of service, for Mark Warner (D) cuz he's gonna rain whuppass on his Repub poor sap opponent, and for Rep Davis (R) giving up on the sorry lot of them and retiring along with his mentor?

            It should turn out OK. We can punish them in turn. Put the train in the tunnel where it belongs. Elect a Democratic President in November to go with a Democratic Congress. Elect more Democratic members of Congress from Virginia. Get the money needed to build this and other needed transit lines from the Democratic Congress and the Democratic President. Try to forget this eight-year nightmare and move on with life.

    •  I doubt it will be more than 5-10 years (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Blissing, Pris from LA

      It is all good and well to note that freight rail caused delays are a big part of the problem, but unless Amtrak works on a solution, fault doesn't matter.

      Incidentally, an investment in freight rail improvements (e.g. passing lanes and stations better adapted to multi-modal transfers of containers in more places) could save as much in terms of oil dependency and fuel efficiency as lots of higher technology new energy economy stuff.

      "Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities" -- Voltaire

      by ohwilleke on Mon Jan 28, 2008 at 10:50:17 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  What solutions could Amtrak provide? (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        elfling, Woody, Pris from LA

        At least, solutions that don't require legislation? Amtrak cannot build its own rights of way without money from Congress, and Amtrak cannot force the big four to move their freights out of the way without legislation that provides stiff penalties for delaying passenger traffic.

        I live in the middle of Ohio, and since I arrived here four years ago, I've marveled at the number of abandoned railroad rights of way. There are lots of former routes that connected towns all over the state--but there are even through routes that were abandoned outright. The PRR's New York-Chicago route was downgraded and is in sorry shape; that route could take trains quickly from Pittsburgh and points throughout Ohio to Chicago. (It did, in fact, host the famous Broadway Limited, but it now sits in bad shape, leased out to some shortline railroad.) The Erie's old New York-Chicago route was actually ripped out and now sits empty, grown over with weeds and brush. Think of the high-speed passenger trains that could go on these track.

        But Amtrak can't take over these routes and put down rail without an act of Congress.

        •  Amtrak is dead without major Congressional action (0+ / 0-)

          Hell, it takes an act of Congress simply to keep Amtrak running for each new year.

          Unless those acts of Congress deal with root problems like the inherent technical problems in having freight and passenger systems share rails on what are often essentially one way, one lane streets used by traffic in both directions, Amtrak can't manage.  Anything else is a band aid solution for a patient that is hemorraging from a multiple severed arteries.

          As much as I'm sympathetic to the cause of Amtrak supporters who complain that current leadership that doesn't believe in the system has been appointed, the fact of that matter is that unless someone in or on behalf of the Amtrak system steps up to the plate and proposes a profound reform Congress will tire of simply ratifying the failed status quo year after year.

          "Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities" -- Voltaire

          by ohwilleke on Mon Jan 28, 2008 at 11:10:24 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

        •  don't let them (0+ / 0-)

          rip those tracks up for trails.

          one reason there's no direct connection anymore between Harrisburg and the Baltimore/DC area outside of I-83---tracks were ripped up for a rail trail on both sides of the Mason-Dixon.

          there is trackage in use that does exist, but the route is circuitous.

          Central PA Kossacksfelicia, those are her whites in the dryer.

          by terrypinder on Mon Jan 28, 2008 at 12:43:08 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

    •  Amtrak doesn't seem to get priority on rail (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      I took the California Zephyr to visit a friend in Colorado a couple years ago for her wedding.  I was up for the adventure considering my friend lives near Aspen and only about 20 miles from the station.  My trip departed from CA and only involved one night in coach.

      The excitement of train travel soon wore off.  You think a few hours on a plane with crying and unruly children is bad?  Try 24+ hours!  I say "plus" because the train was six hours late getting to my destination.  We were often just sitting on the tracks while we waited for freight trains to pass.  Get a sleeper, you say?  Adding the sleeper round trip would have cost more than airfare.

      You also have very limited food fare on the train with little variation.  Meals also seemed to be mostly heat and eat.  Food was served within minutes of ordering so I suspect everything was nuked and very little of it ever actually got touched by the flame of a stove.

      I dreaded the thought of having to make the return trip.  Luckily, my friend hooked me up with a friend of hers with a private plane who was there for the wedding and flying back to travel origin.

      Though I didn't have to drive my car for two days and have the added expense of staying overnight in a hotel, I don't think I will be doing Amtrak again any time soon.

      I'm a blue drop in a red bucket.

      by blue drop on Mon Jan 28, 2008 at 11:10:13 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  the California Zephyr (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        blue drop

        Has a peculiar habit of being one of the worst long-haul Amtrak trains for on-time performance. It was at one time said it was quicker to take Amtrak's southwest chief to LA and then catch the train north to San Fransisco than to go from Chicago to SF directly via the Zephyr. Most trains average is at least someone better than that, though long delays due to congestion or weather are not uncommon.

        Never rely on any plan that requires a dozen or more Republicans to do the right thing

        by Goldfish on Mon Jan 28, 2008 at 11:55:46 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

      •  Nope, freight has the right of way. n/t (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Pris from LA

        The only foes that threaten America are the enemies at home, and those are ignorance, superstition, and incompetence. [Elbert Hubbard]

        by pelagicray on Mon Jan 28, 2008 at 12:23:42 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  Lakeshore Limited (17+ / 0-)

    Last time I did a long trip via Amtrak, I went from St Louis - Chicago - Syracuse New York on the Lake Shore Limited, which leaves Chicago in the evening with a planned New York arrival time in the late afternoon.  

    Everybody in my car was there for different reasons-- young European travelers with railpasses, families who didn't want to fly/ got a cheaper deal on the train, and people who just prefer riding trains.  The train was pretty much full, and we were all there, essentially because we wanted to be.  

    Unfortunately the train (as it usually is, according to Wikipedia) was hours late, which makes it very hard to recommend that as a a means of travel.  

    As soon as (and I don't think it would be difficult to make this happen) passenger trains get priority on the rails-- and thus there is a new round of infrastructure investment-- I think that Amtrak will be unbeatable.  Renting track is killing American train travel.  

    •  They've got it backwards (7+ / 0-)

      In the air business, the government owns the infrastructure and private business moves the passengers. With rail private business owns the infrastructure and the government moves the passengers. That's backwards. Wish our next presidency would make some mega-investment in rail travel. Maybe they could contract with some defense contractor and make everybody happy. Yeah, I'll keep dreaming.

      Buckle your handbaskets, America.

      by Soy Lechithin on Mon Jan 28, 2008 at 10:30:08 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  Maybe it is time we repossess the rights of way (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      skiddie, eugene, oldjohnbrown

      The railroads got HUGE land grants in the 19th century in exchange for the promise of providing freight and passenger service in perpetuity.

      Perhaps, since the railroads are only doing half their job (Amtrak doesn't count, since they keep trying to kill it) we should get half the land back, or equivalent compensation.

      Maybe if we threaten, they will give Amtrak the rights of way for dedicated track....

      •  Disagree. (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        skiddie, Woody, Pris from LA

        The land grants were made a century and a half ago, and the government would have to pay fair market value to repossess some of that very expensive and often already sold to third parties real estate.

        Anyway, as a society we need more freight rail and more passenger rail.  Freight rail is vital competition for trucks that will grow as oil prices rise and will need room to expand.

        Freight rail and passenger rail are an odd couple.  Due to chance and historical accident, they currently share the same rails in most of the country, but no matter how well behaved freight rail companies are, this is a bad business model for both.

        "Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities" -- Voltaire

        by ohwilleke on Mon Jan 28, 2008 at 10:56:14 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Britain (0+ / 0-)

          Freight and rail share rails in Britain, and throughout (I believe) most of continental Europe, with the exception of dedicated high-speed lines.  There's no problem with sharing lines as long as there are enough lines.  

          •  If you are building new lines (3+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            skiddie, Woody, Pris from LA

            why in the world wouldn't you build them as dedicated high speed rail lines that would be more competitive with air travel?  Maybe in a hypothetical world with a lot more rail lines freight and passenger rail could share, but we don't live in that world in the U.S.

            Building new lines in urban areas is wicked expensive.

            The one alternative to new dedicated high speed passenger rail lines that I could see is to build a lot of freight rail diversion lines in major metro areas and then have Amtrak use the old urban freight rail lines as dedicated passenger rail lines.  You would also build "passing lanes" outside the metro areas, where new lines are much cheaper, to reduce slow freight associated delays.

            You'd still need rail improvement to reduce the number of urban rail crossings and improve old urban lines (often lower quality than European ones), but without lots of right of way purchases that could be less expensive and would reduce the disruption to urban dwellers caused by long freight trains passing through at all hours of  the day and night.  

            "Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities" -- Voltaire

            by ohwilleke on Mon Jan 28, 2008 at 11:59:37 AM PST

            [ Parent ]

      •  Some of that has happened (0+ / 0-)

        I know ofrights of way through residential areas that have been rezoned as private property in upstate NY. Not sure what's been done elsewhere.

        I have some friends that have old rights of way through their back yards (in Iowa) and I think they still technically belong to the rails.

        No laws but Liberty. No king but Conscience.

        by oldjohnbrown on Mon Jan 28, 2008 at 11:16:37 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  I too went to Yearly Kos (10+ / 0-)

    on the train from Ann Arbor, Michigan where I left my car. The cost was less, I'll bet, than it would have cost me for gas and parking in Chicago. I loved the trip, way less stress than driving into a city where I'd not driven in many, many years and didn't really know where anything was outside of the loop.

    I'm fine with flying, but I hate the hassle of getting through security and all that in the airport and trains and buses is the most energy efficient option.

    We have only just begun and none too soon.

    by global citizen on Mon Jan 28, 2008 at 08:45:43 AM PST

    •  About security. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      One of the main time advantages of rail is that security waits are far smaller with minimal passenger checks, for example.

      But, if traffic increased making it a more vital part of the national transportation network, it is hard to say how long this would last.

      Rail is inherently much more vulnerable to terrorism than air travel.  In air travel one need only secure the immediate vicinity of a small number of airports (usually one or two per metro area) and the contents of the planes themselves.  In contrast, to really make rail secure vis terrorism, you need to secure the thousands of miles of rail track that the trains travel upon as well as trains to prevent rail sabatogue that can cause deadly derailments, attacks from ordinary legal firearms that can't be dodged, etc.  People forget what a problem train robbery was when rail was a vital link in our national transit system and train directed terrorism is even more of a risk.  The U.K. and Spain and Japan all show that terrorist do target rail traffic so this isn't a far fetched worry.

      Also, a single rail disaster can physically shut down large chunks of a network for all vehicles on that route, unlike a hijacking or bomb which just stops one trip.

      "Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities" -- Voltaire

      by ohwilleke on Mon Jan 28, 2008 at 11:03:49 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Wow! Great diary! (10+ / 0-)

    Thanks so much for sharing your trip.

    My son takes Amtrak from city to city in NC every other weekend to visit his dad. Ticket cost with a 10 ride pass is around $19 each way vs. his dad and I each driving 90 miles one way to drop him off/pick him up. And he claims the seating is much more comfortable than my Camry. :)

  •  From a railroader's kid (16+ / 0-)

    and a Midwesterner thanks for sharing this so the "coasters" can see what they are missing. I hear flyover country referred to so much as somewhat of a wasteland.  Your diary depicts the real picture. The variety of the inner agricultural transportation structure, along with some very beautiful countryside you encounter on rail line travel.  There is a lot of really wonderful scenery missed on that flyover, or even interstate driving.
    Our dad worked for UP for 30 years. He knew passenger service was dying out so in 69 he took us all out west from Iowa. Sharing your trip was enjoyable to read, and it brought back many pleasant memories.
    It was nice to see the picture of that grand old station. So many rail stations that were true historic gems have been razed.

    "Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter." Martin Luther King Jr."

    by Oke on Mon Jan 28, 2008 at 08:50:10 AM PST

  •  I Love the Train, Too (13+ / 0-)

    I liked it that you mentioned Ottumwa, IA.  It's my hometown, too, and often when we return for a visit we'll stop at the station in the evening and watch the Amtrak roll in.  I live in Minneapolis now, and we've taken the train from here to Chicago on several occasions.  It's such a nice way to travel!  My daughter lives in Milwaukee now and is able to take the train to and from there for not much money.

    I definitely agree that it's long past time for our country to step up and fund a rail system that serves the entire country.  I've traveled by rail in Europe (including the Eurostar through the Chunnel) and always wonder why the "richest" country in the world can't have something like that.

  •  one thought (16+ / 0-)

    Can you add info on the recent PEB and the unions?

    It'd be nice for nayone in this community that likes train travel to also know how far behind Amtrak is in pay, primarily because of Congressional (Bush and R) cuts.

    I had a couple on my own blogger with links to the articles

    amtrak agreement?
    I have Tickets on Amtrak, I'm an Idiot
    PEB Sides With Workers

    Or you can go directly to progressive railroading for more.

    •  Good information (6+ / 0-)

      Thank you.  I hadn't heard anything about labor problems with Amtrak-- thanks for cluing me in.  

      •  30% lower wages for years (5+ / 0-)

        than other railroaders is a national embarrassment.  It means that we value "stuff" delivered on other railroads rather than "people" carried by Amtrak.

        I'd also like to point out one more thing about Amtrak, you can bring more stuff.  I normally check my regular 2 bags that I'm permitted to check on an airline, however, I can usually also check a couple of boxes, too.  Makes travelling for the holidays nice especially since everyone gives me stuff.  I really wished they'd stop, I have too much STUFF!!

    •  Good new, bad news (3+ / 0-)

      The settlement came after Bush appointed a board to propose a mandatory solution to the deadlock between Amtrak management and the unions. Management had asked for some rules changes that it said would increase productivity. The unions had asked for a pretty fat settlement. Bush's board ruled 100% in favor of the unions, and didn't give Amtrak management anything it had sought from the bargaining.

      That's good news if the employees were behind their peers in pay. (That is certainly true in NYC, where Amtrak employees work side by side in Penn Station with LIRR and Jersey Transit employees making far more than the federal employees.)

      The bad news is that of course Bush does not intend to give Amtrak any more money to pay for the raises.

      The money will have to come from somewhere. So expect some of Amtrak's small planned improvements to be postponed, and its services cut again to pay for the big raise that Bush's appointees handed the employees.

      And the joke is on who?

      •  true (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Powered Grace, Woody, Pris from LA

        it's good news for workers who have been poorly paid, but also bad news for consumers in the end.  It will likely mean a rate hike, planned improvements not to take place, more station closures, etc...

        I wish we could put more into Amtrak.  The people I meet on the train are the most interesting people I meet.  

  •  I hope that Amtrak will provide more rail service (7+ / 0-)

    options in the future.  Last year I wanted to take the train from Phoenix to Salt Lake City but the Amtrak trip planning website had me going all the way to Illinois and then back to Salt Lake City.  Then I tried to plan the trip by going west into California first, but I couldn't find a continuous route.  

    Also, Amtrak does not have service to Phoenix.  We either have to drive north to Flagstaff, or south to Tucson or Maricopa.

    I would love to travel by rail, but the service is so spotty and not very convenient.  

    Proud subscriber to the Mariachi Mama Candidate Bickering Moratorium! May peace begin with us.

    by BluejayRN on Mon Jan 28, 2008 at 08:55:12 AM PST

  •  With bankrupt airlines and FAA crumbling. (11+ / 0-)

    you won't get me on a plane any more. As the fleets age and with outsourcing of maintainance, and with so many flight controllers retiring, the air system is about to burst at the seems. It's about like Greyhound with wings now, no thanks. I took the Cal Zephyr from Mt. Pleasant Iowa to Oakland, and back. We were right on time both ways until the POS tracks in Nevada. Went to be in Nevada, on time, and woke up 3 hours behind. Other than a really cool station in Western Colorado that had all kinds of vendors at the station, it was deserted at the rest of the stations. I expected to be able to get a nice breakfast in Denver, but nothing but vending machines. We sat for almost an hour outside of Sparks NEV because a freight was blocking the station where 1 person got on. It's the little stuff that adds up. Like in coach there was electrical outlet per side of car. And the old people who went to bed at 8PM, sushing the rest of us, and then get up at 4AM and start talking when the rest of us were trying to sleep.
    But I'm going to try Iowa to San Diego in March..

    I'm as Mad as Hell and I'm not gonna take it anymore!

    by UndercoverRxer on Mon Jan 28, 2008 at 08:58:15 AM PST

  •  Yeah, Amtrak's usually late -- (18+ / 0-)

    as if the airlines run spot-on schedule.

    I traveled Amtrak from Fresno to Seattle roundtrip several years back.  I was on vacation, so delays didn't bother me much; we're only talking a few hours, tops, and my buddy waiting for me at Seattle had expected as much, so it worked out fine.  Spent the next week trekking all around Washington state fishing and relaxing.  The ride back home went pretty much without a hitch.

    Read a great post the other day, pretty sure it was here on DKos, about how increasing and improving US rail travel would be a great way to provide real stimulus to the economy; jobs, jobs, jobs, and a smaller environmental footprint to boot.

    And when's the last time you had to take your shoes off before getting on a train?  I HATE HATE HATE HATE HATE airport security, and the TSA scares the sh*t outta me.

    •  Delays on Amtrak are 100x worse. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      Especially in the Midwest.  The train are usually hours and sometimes DAYS (yes, DAYS) late.  The stations, if not in refurbished old train stations (and they ususally aren't), rival Greyhound stations in terms of cleanliness and comfort.  Train can be fun, but for working people who can't devote 2 days to getting somewhere, they just really don't work if you don't live on the coasts.  

  •  Thanks (10+ / 0-)

    Why are we the only country?  

    I don't know.  Republicans?  

    "We are Healthy only to the extent that our ideas are humane." Kilgore Trout

    by otto on Mon Jan 28, 2008 at 09:00:36 AM PST

    •   The GOP Says (6+ / 0-)

      "we don't need no stinkin trains"

      DRIVE and spend, Fly and Spend some more will be tonights message during the snooze of the Union speech.

    •  Don't forget our unions & GM were very active in (6+ / 0-)

      the early 1900's in getting cities to remove their trollies, light rail, and other 'obstacles' so roads for automobiles and trucks could be pushed through.  

      This effort got underway as horse and buggy era was closing. Autos were actually viewed as more sanitary and far more modern than using beasts of burden that left their offal in the roadways and city streets.  So, I don't think we can really stick the blame for this to Republicans.  Becoming ever more 'modern' has been a American cultural emphasis since the late 1800's.

      When life gives you wingnuts, make wingnut butter!

      by antirove on Mon Jan 28, 2008 at 10:49:29 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Exactly.. blame to go around. (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        antirove, NoMoreLies

        I, too enjoy the freedom of travel by train, but don't get to do it often.  There are many who have added to the limitations currently with passenger rail in the U.S., but as long as key constituencies allow the existing infrastructure rot away, we have no hope.  

        I fear it may be too late.  And that is sad. Our society has bought into the concepts that travel must be near-instantaneous, and personally fit each travelers whims and wishes. And those whims and wishes have often been forged by generations of push from the auto and air industry devaluing rail travel.

        I remember after 9-11--it seemed like maybe a month after--that forces in Congress were calling for the end of AMTRAK!  That is right, lets eliminate options right at that moment of our history.  So I see criticisms for AMTRAK as largly legitimate (delays, cost, access to cities, etc.) but there are lots and lots of reasons for that, and as Pogo said, "We have met the enemy..."

        •  Non-sequitor to eliminate AMTRAK after 9/11 (0+ / 0-)

          Silly congress, what were they thinking? Trains don't bring down skyscrapers.  When was the last time we heard of a hijacking diverting an Amtrak train?  Well regulated and maintained trains would be far safer than planes, and not be as subject to the weather variables.

          And riding trains avoids that nasty No-Fly problem.  You do have to present ID to get a boarding pass for the train.  But they don't have check to see if you're hiding bombs in your thongs or socks.  And when was the last time you heard of baggage loss or folks having items removed from their bags on Amtrak?

          Imagine if we had good trains connecting our exurbs, suburbs and urban areas.  Big fuel savings, big savings on the production impact of unnecessary cars, better utilization of the urban cultural, shopping and entertainment options.  High speed passenger rail from Chicago's airport and downtown to other midwestern cities would attract a significant ridership from those tired of tollways, ten month construction seasons, traffic congestion and tie-ups, and the road-rager scofflaws who view laws as something other people should obey so they can zoom around or in front of them.

          When life gives you wingnuts, make wingnut butter!

          by antirove on Tue Jan 29, 2008 at 10:46:56 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

    •  Business travel (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Pris from LA

      When Repubs think of travel, they think of business travel. That used to be their core constituency before they found Jesus. Anyway, Repub never think of students, retirees, the obese, the phobic, or tourists domestic and foreign.

    •  We have a misrepresented reputation. (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      NoMoreLies, Justus, Pris from LA

      Our early industrial might and scientific progress and then the dominance after 1945 made us think and the rest of the world believe we were a logical engineering oriented nation.

      We are not. Engineering is planning and we hate planning. Just look at the spittle that flows with the very suggestion of "urban planning" or a dozen other efforts to think and plan our way to a better situation. Nope! Rugged individualism! No plans for us.

      In engineering large computer systems, most systems in fact, one can allow segments to reflect individual or different requirements as long as the interfaces are controlled. You can have a Mac user sharing a network with a PC user as long as the interfaces are controlled. We can have electrical devices of all sorts from all over the world operate rather simply as long as we control that interface of socket/plug, voltage and frequency. Imagine our world if "rugged individualism" in plugs and sockets had been allowed to continue from those early invention days!

      One reason we do not have a modern transportation system is that we as a  people seem to absolutely hate systems, planning and controlling interfaces.

      The only foes that threaten America are the enemies at home, and those are ignorance, superstition, and incompetence. [Elbert Hubbard]

      by pelagicray on Mon Jan 28, 2008 at 12:48:01 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Thanks for the diary (25+ / 0-)

    I briefly also used to work for Amtrak -- just over a year, in government relations.  Two things in particular struck me; one, how dramatically the quality of management varies from one division to the next; and two, how they politically seem to always have 50 percent on Capitol Hill and yet never the 60-plus they really need.

    Overall, we need to join up the dots on rail funding in this country.  Rail freight, as well as rail passenger, needs to be subsidized and funded in much the same way as roads, and rail passenger will not progress in this country without dramatic improvements to ostensibly "freight" infrastructure that passenger trains can also use.  In some cases, that will involve building new dedicated passenger routes; in others, a more realistic model is to double- and triple-track (or in a handful of cases even quadruple-track) existing routes so they actually have the capacity to support large-scale mixed traffic service at high speed.  

    Despite the degree to which rail freight is more efficient than road, they barely cover the long-term cost of their capitol, because deregulated trucking gets the roads laid on for them, freeloading altogether off local property taxes for local roads and paying no more than gas taxes and tolls on the highway, so they don't carry debt on their own infrastructure like rail is forced to.  Additionally, truckers can and do get a competitive edge by violating speed limits with impunity, while railroads are watched like hawks by the regulators on this.

    •  And taxed on their tracks (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      ohwilleke, NoMoreLies, Pris from LA

      The railroads pay steep property taxes on their tracks. They can save a lot of money by ripping out double-tracked sections of rail.

      On the other hand, the freight roads hate the idea of the government controlling their infrastructure, and can't say that I blame them.

      We have to find a way to share the costs and perhaps share the infrastructure. One way, as you suggest, is separate lines for passenger service. Perhaps it could be as simple as double-tracked lines where the freights own one track and Amtrak owns the other. But more of the same won't get it.

  •  Bravo! Great travelogue! (13+ / 0-)

    I wish I had taken photos of my trip in September across the country on Amtrak.  I took the Empire Builder out of Seattle all the way to Chicago and then changed there for the Capitol Limited all the way into DC and then did the whole trip in the opposite direction coming home.  Yeah, it took a lot of time, but it was a marvelous experience and it gives you a backdoor look at this country that you would totally miss on the Interstates or, especially, flying over.  And I did the whole thing in Coach class, sitting (and sleeping, sort of) in a chair.  Lots of interesting people to talk to with interesting stories.  If I were a writer I wouldn't travel this country any other way.  So, so many stories of the people in Coach on Amtrak on these long-haul trips.  

    I support Amtrak and wish to God we had a better rail system.  The Empire Builder was a good train, but that's because the rail company that owns those tracks does a good job of maintenance.  The Capitol Limited was scary as hell at times.  Over-Used and under-maintained.  Amtrak only rents the rails from the shipping companies.  It's a tragedy.  I've loved travelling all over Europe by rail and this country would be wonderful to really have a choice of rail, but, sadly, for most of us we don't.  It's not my number one issue by any stretch, but I would love it if our candidates would get on board the Amtrak and rail in America train, as it were.

    •  Heh (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Woody, NoMoreLies, Pris from LA

      The Capitol Limited was scary as hell at times.  Over-Used and under-maintained.  Amtrak only rents the rails from the shipping companies.  It's a tragedy.

      You haven't SEEN scary until you've taken a Greyhound bus from DC or Philly to Pittsburgh or points west. The Pennsylvania Turnpike was built mostly on railroad right-of-way and has more curves than sharp hills through the Alleghenies as a result; Greyhound drivers trained for roads actually built to interstate standards can make it a harrowing ride. Not to mention that the Greyhound bus from DC goes through Baltimore first before heading west (wtf?) and the train trip is often a better experience taking about the same time, unless there is a problem on the tracks (happens about 1/2 the time) which is, as you note, mostly CSX fault. CSX really doesn't seem to give a flying fuck about Amtrak, that's for sure.

      "People are people, and lobbyists are people. But lobbyist people are more people than people people." -- beltane on Hillary. Don't tase me Kos!!

      by cville townie on Mon Jan 28, 2008 at 12:05:49 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Thanks for the diary (10+ / 0-)

    It would be so great if we could traverse this beautiful country conveniently by train.  Even the trains in China are faster and more modern.  How sad is that?

    If you live according to nature, you never will be poor; if according to the world's caprice, you will never be rich - Publilius Syrus (42 BC)

    by CharlieHipHop on Mon Jan 28, 2008 at 09:05:35 AM PST

  •  I love traveling by train. (11+ / 0-)

    I recently went from Penn Station, in Manhattan, to Albany, NY with the mighty Hudson river on the right hand side the whole way.
     When I lived in Los Angeles we used to get a family compartment for the four of us and travel back and forth to SE Arizona to see the inlaws.
     There is no Amtrak service out of Nashville these days. I would love to be able to take the train up to Chicago now and then.

  •  Getting on one Wednesday (10+ / 0-)

    Fort Lauderdale to New York, and I'm eager for the ride, even if I'm not overly excited about the conference I'm attending. I took the California Zephyr last winter from Chicago to Denver and back--we got in between blizzards while the airport was shut down, and when the blizard delayed our return trip, Amtrak put us up in nice hotel in Chicago so we could catch the City of New Orleans the next day. Far better service than I've ever gotten from an airline.

    I want to die like my grandfather, peacefully in my sleep, not screaming in terror like his passengers.

    by incertus on Mon Jan 28, 2008 at 09:09:02 AM PST

  •  great diary (14+ / 0-)

    I took the train to and from Boston last year on vacation. People thought I was nuts. "Didn't it take forever? Wasn't it slow?"

    7 hours of my time really isn't bad. Considering that any flight I would have booked would have taken me through the black hole of calcutta Philadelphia Int'l and would have taken a similar amount of time, I think I got the better deal. Plus, the scenery along the CT shoreline east of Bridgeport is pretty darn nice. Runs right along the coast.

    (Amtrak COULD upgrade the tracks in CT, btw. That'd shave a good portion of time off for the Boston-NYC route.)

    Central PA Kossacksfelicia, those are her whites in the dryer.

    by terrypinder on Mon Jan 28, 2008 at 09:09:27 AM PST

    •  Not all their tracks (0+ / 0-)

      That section of track from New Rochelle, NY up to New Haven is NOT owned by Amtrak. It's owned by Metro North, or the states of NY and Conn., which own Metro North. They have been upgrading, but that's a commuter line. High speed rail is not their program and not their priority, and high speed it will never be.

      Another huge problem is that on all those lovely bays and estuaries, maritime traffic has the right of way. That is historic law, dating back 150 years or more. So if your yacht has a high mast, you do have a priority right to have the drawbridge raised to let you in or out of the bay.

      The Acela solution was to agree to have the drawbridges down for, what is it, 12 or 15 passings a day, BUT NO MORE! So no half-hour service NY-Boston, not in our lifetimes. Now Acela trains are limited in number, and the fare has been pushed up to what the market will bear. Regional trains using less fancy equipment actually can go almost as fast as the Acela trains, except that they are constrained in number by the same daily drawbridge quota.

      By the time they solve that problem, global heating and climate change could  present a new problem on that seacoast route. Maybe we should be looking at a completely new high-speed route through western Conn and Mass.

    •  Amtrak could upgrade the tracks in CT (0+ / 0-)

      All we have to do is upgrade their budget and, well, the circumstances under which they operate. The fact that neither they nor the public own the tracks they run on is mind-boggling.

      No laws but Liberty. No king but Conscience.

      by oldjohnbrown on Mon Jan 28, 2008 at 01:21:24 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  AMTRAK needs our support now more than ever! (11+ / 0-)

    The stretch in the northeast, outside the northeast corridor, is a disaster. Maybe when oil settles above $100 we will start seriously re-investing in our rail service.

    Support democracy at home and abroad, join the ACLU and Amnesty International Your voice is needed!

    by tnichlsn on Mon Jan 28, 2008 at 09:10:07 AM PST

  •  If we really wanted economic stimulus ... (26+ / 0-)

    We would have a huge public works project building superslick high-speed capable reails, or better yet magnet tracks across the nation. Create jobs with a massive multiplier effect naitonwide. Create an infrastructure to help us move in a post carbon-basevfuel era.

    Not to mention, zipping along on a 120 mph train seems like quite a thrill.

    Of course I love riding trains and wish I had the opportunity more often at any speed. Other than bicycles, kayaks, canoes and small sailboats, they are my favorite form of transportation.

  •  The right hates Amtrack (21+ / 0-)

    They love riding subsidized roads in their SUVs.

    Rail is needed now more than ever with peak oil.

    "It's the planet, stupid."

    by FishOutofWater on Mon Jan 28, 2008 at 09:12:45 AM PST

    •  Put rail-riding wheels on the SUVs :) (0+ / 0-)

      give them a tax-break for using it, and perhaps we'll see a big rise in demand for rail suitable for high-speed use.  To demonstrate my tangential mental associations, I'm recalling a scene in the Back To The Future series where the Doc and his bride arrive in to the 1980's in a splendid time traveling steam engine.  Ok, so it also had antigravity drive.

      When life gives you wingnuts, make wingnut butter!

      by antirove on Mon Jan 28, 2008 at 10:53:25 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  The right loves Amtrak (3+ / 0-)

      They want Amtrak to be the symbol of the failure of government to provide service worth your tax money. They don't want to kill it, they need it as Exhibit A in their hate-the-government argument. So they keep it starved and barely functioning. From their point of view that works perfectly.

  •  I live on trains (17+ / 0-)

    I'm a musician, living in Queens, haven't owned a car since 1994.  I take trains to all my gigs:  NYC subway, Metro North to upper Westchester and Connecticut, NJ Transit trains to New Jersey.  It's a fast, classy way to get around.  

    And when I go out to New Jersey, most of the crossings are "at-grade" (meaning the rails are on the same level as the road for cars), so the trains have to slow down.  As we glide by, I look at all those cars, backed up, waiting in traffic...and I say "thank God I'm not like them!"

  •  This is a really nice diary (6+ / 0-)

    Descriptive and relaxing. We need more diaries like this one around here - especially these days!

  •  Best way to travel (6+ / 0-)

    I have always loved train travel, but it is ridiculously expensive these days. Most of the travel I've done has been on the east coast and in Europe.  I don't understand why the US is so train averse.  Living in the Midwest most of my life, I am used to long drives to get anywhere, and am way too dependent on my car.  I'd gladly use any type of rail available for commuting, but it just doesn't seem likely.  

    Of course, the real fun of train travel is the long, leisurely vacation trip.  I dream of taking a train trip across Canada to the Pacific, everyone I've known who has taken that route raves about it.

  •  I wish the train (5+ / 0-)

    still came to my NH town.  I'd be able to walk down the street and access the whole country...

    bush/clinton/clinton/bush/bush let's turn the record over

    by SMucci on Mon Jan 28, 2008 at 09:17:52 AM PST

  •  Excellent diary (11+ / 0-)

    Rail is our future. We will not be able to fly around anywhere we want to on jet plans for much longer, and driving will soon become impractical as well, both thanks to peak oil. Trains are already a practical alternative, where the routes exist.

    And even though Amtrak does brilliantly with what pittance it is given, MUCH more funding is needed. There is a desperate need for new train cars, for rehabbed tracks, for more routes and more service. We need to invest in and expand long-distance trains, instead of constantly putting them on the chopping block. It's a matter of national need and national effort.

    I'm not part of a redneck agenda - Green Day

    by eugene on Mon Jan 28, 2008 at 09:20:54 AM PST

  •  awesome (5+ / 0-)

    thanks for this. I'm a big rail proponent.

  •  Took the Empire Builder to Spokane and back (10+ / 0-)

    and loved it.

    I liked the idea of getting on at Glenview IL and getting off at my destination.

    I also liked the idea of not being "sardined" into a middle seat on a plane and having a bag of peanuts thrown at me.  Coach seats on Amtrak are bigger than first class on a plane.

    I too took the deluxe accommodations, met great people, ate good food.  I liked the employees (except one), who are the salt of the Earth.

    You can get off at Glacier National Park at two places, and you can get off at Whitefish, so you don't really need a car. You can go all the way to Portland or Seattle, with the train splitting at Spokane.

    I stopped at East Glacier, which is on the Blackfoot reservation.  There are no phones, or TV, just the newspaper and the train.

    If you are not happy with the service, you can call Amtrak customer service, and they will send you a coupon for future train travel.

    It really is a shame and embarrassment that we don't have a first class rail line in the US, but I'm looking forward to trying some of the other lines.

    What is essential is invisible.

    by bebimbob on Mon Jan 28, 2008 at 09:22:34 AM PST

    •  That is a beautiful route (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      I've done it several times from Spokane to Chicago. If not for Amtrack I'd have never known how beautiful northern Montana really was. I also like the swamp country in Minnesota that the train travels through. It's the nearest thing I've seen to Louisiana bayou country.

      I've always wanted to make a comment that ends with the word Mayonnaise

      by frankzappatista on Mon Jan 28, 2008 at 09:26:30 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Well... (0+ / 0-)

        You'll just have to watch the movie "The Horse Whisperer" with Robert Redford.

        Scenery to die for.  Great story too.

        Next time you're up Spokane way, try to take the day long "jet boat" ride out of Lewistown, ID.  


        We took the Beamer's boat, very professional. It goes up and down the Snake River through Hell's Canyon, and it is an absolute fricking blast, especially if you sit in the back of the boat. You will be exhilarated and drenched!

        What is essential is invisible.

        by bebimbob on Mon Jan 28, 2008 at 10:33:31 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  I've taken the Beamers boat tour twice - (0+ / 0-)

          Great call. Saw my first rattlesnake and Indian petroglyphs on that tour when I was six. I grew up 30 miles from Lewiston (in Moscow) so yeah I spent a lot of time on the Snake. Glad you got to experience it.

          I've always wanted to make a comment that ends with the word Mayonnaise

          by frankzappatista on Mon Jan 28, 2008 at 12:01:39 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

  •  Trains can be great except (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    rapala, Pris from LA

    some Amtrak lines are routinely as much as 1-2 hours late due to the need to pull over for freight trains.  I sometimes take AMTRAK on the line that runs from Chicago to Washington DC.  In over 10 trips my best experience was train arriving 30 minutes late.  Last time it was 2 hours late.  As I explained to the couple from Australia, it is either take the train or rent a car.  Bus service is even worse.

    •  We were only 30 minutes late on the whole Zephyr (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Cali Scribe, Pris from LA

      run from Chicago to Martinez. The only reason we were late was because we had to sit and wait 30 minutes for a tanker to  go under the drawbridge before we could cross.

      I had been prepared that we might be hours and hours late.

      That was a concern for us in the logistics of the trip, because we had to figure out where we could leave our car, fly out, and then get back. It turns out that the Amtrak bus and the Airport Express both share a stop in Petaluma, where there's plenty of long-term parking, so we used that. We knew the Amtrak bus would have to wait for us, so once we had that connection, we didn't have to worry so much.

      Fry, don't be a hero! It's not covered by our health plan!

      by elfling on Mon Jan 28, 2008 at 09:45:20 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  Alas often bus service is better. (0+ / 0-)

      While Amtrak usually has a slight edge over bus service if it is on time, once you account for typical delays, bus service is often faster and cheaper on trips with comparable numbers of stops.  Yes, it is not as roomy and comfortable on Greyhound, but travel by charter bus is competitive on those terms as well.

      "Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities" -- Voltaire

      by ohwilleke on Mon Jan 28, 2008 at 11:35:41 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  I remember taking the Zephyr (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    raines, hoolia, rapala, BluejayRN, Loonesta

    from Colorado to Massachusetts back when I was an undergraduate at CSU in 1993 (wow - I'm feeling old!) It was a wonderful experience that I didn't truly appreciate at the time. Now that I have a son who is obsessed with trains, I'll definitely be planning a train trip soon - I just wish the rails had more support from the gv't; they're a great asset to our nation! Thanks for the trip down memory lane, and for inspiration for the future!

    My relationship with God is defined not by religion and ritual, but by attitude and action.

    by World Citizen on Mon Jan 28, 2008 at 09:26:30 AM PST

  •  Amtrak kept 2 long distance relationships alive (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    elfling, raines, martini, Loonesta

    for me. I owe them a mint.

    My guess is that the Clinton campaign will come up with a plan to deal with spontaneity. -Charlie Cook

    by waitingforvizzini on Mon Jan 28, 2008 at 09:28:52 AM PST

  •  New York to Richmond (4+ / 0-)

    riding through Civil War battlegrounds, bald eagles along the Potomac, and then a two hour wait in the dark  while the train switched engines in DC.   Fifty fifty, I'd say.

    Be outrageous, ridicule the fraidy-cats, rejoice in all the oddities that freedom can produce. --Molly Ivins

    by sap on Mon Jan 28, 2008 at 09:30:55 AM PST

  •  wow i would love to take that trip (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    raines, hoolia, vgranucci, Gravedugger

    If this was Japan that whole trip would have been at 300km an hr.  NY to LA in a day and some change

    •  Compare with the airlines... (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      hoolia, vgranucci

      Leave in the morning, spend the day and night on the train, hit LA by mid-morning...

      Hell, given the 12 hours door to door it takes to fly southwest from the east coast to LA (with a stop in Phoenix), spending a night on the train sounds good to me. Arrive rested, showered and ready to work, or play.

  •  Excellent diary (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    hoolia, vgranucci, potownman, Loonesta

    I'd recommend it ten times if I could. It's great to see somebody praising the trains and writing reverently about this varied land.

  •  I rode Amtrak once... (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    ohwilleke, minorityusa, RyoCokey, rapala

    ONCE.  I decided to take it once from Cleveland to South Bend, IN.  The schedule had it coming through the town just outside Cleveland at 4:30 am or some other ungodly hour.  I wake up, get dropped off in a ghetto I wouldn't travel in at sunset, much less 4am and wait in what seemed to be an abandoned single wide mobile home that served as the "station".  The heat didn't even have a chance at trying to keep up with the Cleveland winter temps, so I sat in there freezing the entire time.

    3 and 1/2 hours later, the train finally arrived.  As I was getting on, I asked the conductor "Running a little late this morning?"

    He replied, "Nah, we're making pretty good time so far!"

    That was the first and last time I took the train.  Accomodations were fine onboard, but waiting in that station for the train to show up hours late and having the conductor act as if it was normal cured me of any romance regarding riding the rails.


  •  In a former career I was a train operator (8+ / 0-)

    in a mine in N. Minn. Fun job and trying to get trains in and out of some shovel locations in the pits made it like the 4-wheel drive skills course of train operating. The train was operated via remote backpack and I could be outside the train running it remotely.
    Because of my passion for trains many years ago I took Amtrak from Mpls. to Albq. and it was OK but the cost vs. time made it a one time deal. Speed was OK till we hit the Colorado mountains.
    I do want to do the train trip through Mexico's Copper canyon sometime though. That looks like a thriller.

    Liberalism is trust of the people tempered by prudence. Conservatism is distrust of the people tempered by fear. ~William E. Gladstone, 1866

    by rapala on Mon Jan 28, 2008 at 09:36:36 AM PST

  •  Invest (4+ / 0-)

    in Transportation if you can. The railroad's time will come again.


  •  The trip from Denver to Salt Lake is (6+ / 0-)

    incredibly beautiful, and does not follow the highway through much of the Wasatch. I had a seat (too cheap for a sleeper) so spent my time in the observation car, where I learned the one bottle of wine per day rule.

    Great diary elfling.

  •  Wonderful diary. Thank you so much! (4+ / 0-)

    I've always loved trains.

    Wish our country had a sane transportation policy!

  •  I love overnight train travel... (7+ / 0-)

    ...I've done three overnight trips.  One from Newark, NJ to Newport News (on the now discontinued "Twilight Shoreliner"), one across country on the Lake Shore Limited and California Zephyr, and one from Savannah, GA to Newark, NJ on the Silver Meteor.

    The journey through the Rockies on the Zephyr is one of the most amazing rail journeys you can take anywhere in the world.

    I've always had a good time, despite occasional inconveniences and sometimes less than stellar service.  It really is a unique way to see America and its people.

    Highly recommended (the diary, and train travel generally).

  •  Exceptional diary... (6+ / 0-)

    I completely agree with your assessment. Train is a great way to travel - its safer, better for the environment, and much less stressful. With a bit of investment and some dedicated tracks, we could make this a real option for those outside the east coast corridor.

    I have just been casually reading the site, but this diary was so unique and spot on that I wanted to log in and rec. Thank you!

  •  Wow (21+ / 0-)

    I can't believe this hit the Recommended list.

    I guess we need to start asking the Presidential contenders and other elected officials more about rail travel. If they think people care, it will come up higher on their list.

    A few more pictures:

    Mendota, IL (I was pleasantly surprised by how many beautiful small stations we passed; even in California many of the old stations are still standing)

    Illinois farm:

    I think this is Burlington, Iowa:

    A BN engine in Burlington:

    There are many beautiful old buildings still along the tracks, some in better repair than others.

    Fry, don't be a hero! It's not covered by our health plan!

    by elfling on Mon Jan 28, 2008 at 09:40:36 AM PST

  •  Train song subthread (7+ / 0-)

    City of New Orleans, Arlo Guthrie (of course)
    I Like Trains, Fred Eaglesmith
    Last Thing Smokin, Tom Russel

    •  When our daughter was a baby (4+ / 0-)

      she fell asleep to a tape of train songs and train sounds. Seems a steam train sounds the same as inside the womb. Probably why everyone's a train fan.

    •  Something 'Bout Trains (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Pris from LA

      by Jane Siberry.

      "We all get our dreams stomped on from time to time, right? And if it didn't hurt, what kind of second-rate dreams would they be?" --Richard K. Morgan

      by Crashing Vor on Mon Jan 28, 2008 at 10:15:03 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  Train videos (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Pris from LA
      Jimi - Hear my Train a Comin'

      Da Clash - Train in Vain

      Cat Stevens - Peace Train

      Tom Waits - Downtown Train

      Blackfoot - Train Train

      ELO (a guilty pleasure of mine from the late 70s- Last Train to London

      (Skipping the obvious Ozzy song)

      i am jack's complete lack of surprise -- fight club

      by bustacap on Mon Jan 28, 2008 at 10:16:56 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  "Wouldn't that be a riot" (0+ / 0-)

      From the album "Living Room"
      by Richard X Heyman.

      Wouldn't That Be A Riot?
      R. X. Heyman

      You smack of limitations
      You act out reservations
      The queen of the evasion
      Now add up this equation

      And take a train ride to Cameroon
      With a Chinese junkie and a sheik tycoon
      Take a train ride, can't leave too soon
      Now wouldn't that be a riot?
      Now wouldn't you like to try it?

      Somewhere in our travels
      We started to unravel
      Diamonds turned to gravel
      Don?t trust the judge's gavel

      And take a train ride to Istanbul
      With the Dalai Lama in his three-piece wool
      Take a train ride, this car's all full
      Now wouldn't that be a riot?
      Wouldn't you like to try it?

      Chemical explosion
      Relationship corrosion
      Personal commotion
      I can't stop this compulsion

      So take a train ride to Katmandu
      With the English Army all following you
      Take a train ride, can't leave too soon
      Now wouldn't that be a riot?
      Wouldn't you like to try it?

      Now take a train ride to Timbuktu
      Ride between an Arab and a davening Jew
      Take a train ride, can't leave too soon
      Now wouldn't that be a riot?
      Wouldn't you like to try it?

      ©1988 Arrex Aitch Music/ Chrysalis Music

      Link to Rich's site

      Yeah, this song always plays in my head when I'm on a train.

      Remember Nataline Sarkisyan! Fight for Health Care For All!

      by Pris from LA on Mon Jan 28, 2008 at 11:12:54 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  RIP the world´s only transcontinental train? (9+ / 0-)

    Fantastic diary!
    A few years ago I took the Sunset Limited from Tallahassee to Los Angeles.  This train used to start in Orlando, pass through Jacksonville, then run across the entire southern United States. That would make it the only truly transcontinental train, unless you count some trains in Austrailia (which some people don't count as a real contintent anyway).

    I was looking forward to the experience again last year but discovered that the Sunset runs no more.  Or as only a truncated version between San Antonio and LA. What happened was Katrina.  Or, the excuse is Katrina. The storm did extensive damage to the tracks used by the Limited. But strange to relate, transcontinental freight trains have flowed through Tallahassee for some time, while the Amtrak station still has a suspended service notice.

    I suspect CSX, which never had any love for Amtrak using "their" lines, took the opportunity for some dirty work at the crossroads to make the temporary suspension permanent.

    Until the railroads are compelled to provide Amtrak with dependable rights-of-way, transportation in the US will continue to be a wasteful subsidy to the petroleum lobby.  

    •  CSX track is AWFUL (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      raines, terrypinder, Pris from LA

      one of the reasons the Sunset discontinued service east of New Orleans is that it was considered to be very unsafe.  I'm no railroad expert, but a lot of the guys i work with on street rail preservation are, and they weren't surprised at all when Amtrak dropped the eastern leg.

      Now, if you want a trip, do the Sunset from Los Angeles to New Orleans, then the Crescent from here to NYC, then an Acela or whatever up to Boston.  :-)

      funkify your life...

      by YatPundit on Mon Jan 28, 2008 at 09:56:43 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  CSX is a piss-poor operation (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      NoMoreLies, Justus, Pris from LA

      Thanks in large part to Republican hack John Snow, the former CEO, who started out in the DOT working like hell to deregulate the railroads. Snow didn't believe in upgrading the physical plant--rails were yesterday's technology! I'm just so thankful that, after the breakup of Conrail, the old PRR mainline in central Pennsylvania went to Norfolk Southern and not CSX.

    •  There's always the Trans-Siberia Express. (0+ / 0-)

      "Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities" -- Voltaire

      by ohwilleke on Mon Jan 28, 2008 at 11:37:36 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  fond memories of the overnight sleeper car (5+ / 0-)

    between Boston and DC when I was doing long-distance eldercare for my mom.

    it cost more than the plane but I'm scared to fly.

    i loved being rocked to sleep by the train and lying down looking at the night sky through the window.

    my grandfather worked on the B&O railroad and I have a fondness for trains because of that too.

    Politics is like driving. To go backward, put it in R. To go forward, put it in D.

    by TrueBlueMajority on Mon Jan 28, 2008 at 09:44:20 AM PST

  •  Would love to do this. (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    ohwilleke, hyperstation, raines, Loonesta

    At least once in my life - but we've found the prices too prohibitive.

  •  I took Amtrak last night (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    raines, hoolia, rapala, Pris from LA

    from Philadelphia to Washington and tomorrow will take it back to Princeton.  So convenient and comfortable - but jeez, overpriced at a peak time like sunday evening.  Oh well - I have a car, I decided it was worth it.

    •  The whole Northeast corridor is expensive (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      ohwilleke, elfling, hoolia, Pris from LA

      I love Amtrak, I always have. But they're pricing themselves out of the feasible range.

      We've got a kid going to school in Providence, RI, we live in the Philly area and we frequently travel around between NYC, Philly, and DC. Amtrak is rarely a cost-effective solution, even though I hate driving. And for Providence I keep finding that flying is a better deal than the train.

      Fares have increased rapidly in the last few years. I a few years ago considering a Philly-DC commute that would have cost a little over $500 for a monthly pass. That fare has doubled in price.

      Of course, I recognize the reason for Amtrak's fare struggles is that they've been under Republican attack for decades. What we need, as other people in this thread have suggested, is to push for better subsidizing of rail travel, comparable to the way other modes are subsidized. Amtrak gets the short end of the federal stick, and it's amazing they manage to provide the service they do. We could have a truly first-class passenger rail system in this country if we wanted to.

      About sleepers: I love Amtrak sleepers. And much as European trains are held up as the gold standard, I took a first-class European sleeper a couple of years ago. Never again. Outrageous price, ridiculously tiny space, zero service. As it was a French train I was at least hoping for the promised cup of good French coffee in the morning. Nope.

  •  Wonderful! (7+ / 0-)

    we have an abundance of Amtrak here in New Orleans, with the City, Crescent, and Sunset all originating/terminating here.  It's wonderful!

    funkify your life...

    by YatPundit on Mon Jan 28, 2008 at 09:45:34 AM PST

  •  My husband is a major train fanatic (8+ / 0-)

    He has a huge series of websites, tens of thousands of slide from the last fifty-plus years, and has published a bit. Given where our family lives--New Orleans, Memphis, Madison, WI--we're on the City of New Orleans a lot. We don't see much beauty, since Memphis to Chicago and back is over night, but just listening to the rails is heaven.

    One advantage you didn't note is that Amtrak allows a virtually unlimited amount of baby gear to come on the train with you. I was amazed at what our kids were able to bring.

    •  Where does he have old train photos? (0+ / 0-)

      Looking for old train photos to put together a series/diary on the death and potential rebirth of passenger rail in Wisconsin and Northern Illinois. Interested in old station photos, rolling stock, etc...train schedules, and perhaps some anecdotes.

      I sadly look at the lost opportunities to our communities when the Chicago and Northwestern left town, ripping up  the rails behind them, and losing a beautiful historic train station in Lake Geneva, WI. Now the tourists clog roads with cars. If the old suburban service to Lake Geneva still ran, thousands, if not millions of dollars would flow into our local economy from the cost savings of coming by train, not to mention less pollution, and less dollars flowing out of the region and out of the country into the bloodied sands of the Middle East.

      "Without our playstations, we are a third world nation"-Ani DiFranco

      by NoMoreLies on Mon Jan 28, 2008 at 08:57:38 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  I'll ask him, but later (0+ / 0-)

        Right now he's in the hospital. Are you doing this because you love trains, or as part of your local work?  Most of the pictures at our house aren't from Wisconsin, but we know people from Wisconsin who have pictures. If you don't do trains, you may not be aware that a major railroad magazine publisher, Kalmbach Publishing, is located in Milwaukee. They may be of some help.

        •  Both... (0+ / 0-)

          interested in trains, interested in local history, and interested in working to bring awareness to the public and bringing back trains to help mitigate the effects of peak oil.

          Sorry to hear your husband is in the hospital. Best wishes to see him get better.

          I have learned a lot about the history of Metra and its commuter service precursors in this area on the Internet, including some striking images, and by perusing resources in our local library, including an entire book on the Chicago and Northwestern line that used to terminate in our town, Williams Bay. Many people are not even aware that 80 years ago, there were count em, 4 full-service train stations that offered service to Chicago, all within 10 miles of my house (and that was despite population numbers less than 1/3 of today's in our local area). Only one train station building still exists, and that has been converted to a storage facility for  the small light industrial facility nearby (the rail line is still in use for freight).

          Eventually, I'd like to see local train service restored, and am interested in the history, and the why and how trains worked here and why they went away - perhaps some insight into how we might bring them back.

          "Without our playstations, we are a third world nation"-Ani DiFranco

          by NoMoreLies on Mon Jan 28, 2008 at 10:18:46 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

  •  Paul Simon Sez: (5+ / 0-)

    "Everybody loves the sound of a train in the distance
    Everybody thinks its true"

    "Train in the Distance" by Paul Simon

    She was beautiful as southern skies
    The night he met her
    She was married to someone
    He was doggedly determined that he would get her
    He was old, he was young
    From time to time hed tip his heart
    But each time she withdrew
    Everybody loves the sound of a train in the distance
    Everybody thinks its true
    Well eventually the boy and the girl get married
    Sure enough they have a son
    And though they both were occupied
    With the child she carried
    Disagreements had begun
    And in a while they fell apart
    It wasnt hard to do
    Everybody loves the sound of a train in the distance
    Everybody thinks its true
    Two disappointed believers
    Two people playing the game
    Negotiations and love songs
    Are often mistaken for one and the same
    Now the man and the woman
    Remain in contact
    Let us say its for the child
    With disagreements about the meaning
    Of a marriage contract
    Conversations hard and wild
    But from time to time
    He makes her laugh
    She cooks a meal or two
    Everybody loves the sound of a train in the distance
    Everybody thinks its true
    Everybody loves the sound of a train in the distance
    Everybody thinks its true
    What is the point of this story
    What information pertains
    The thought that life could be better
    Is woven indelibly
    Into our hearts
    And our brains

    "When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro." - HST

    by DocGonzo on Mon Jan 28, 2008 at 09:49:47 AM PST

  •  Awesome diary (6+ / 0-)

    Thanks so much. Train travel is so much more civilized than flying. I've only taken two significant train trips: one, when I was twelve years old, from NYC to Miami and back (by myself, traveling coach, to visit my grandparents over spring break), the other, a few years ago, on the Coast Starlight from LA to Oakland. Even forty-plus years ago, before Amtrak, my train was hours late in at least one direction. I didn't really care because I was a kid who loved trains and the delay simply meant more time to spend on one.

    Coming back to the Bay Area from LA on the Starlight thrilled me nearly as much. I was quite fortunate as the train was only an hour late getting as far as Oakland (I was informed that this was unusual).

    We so need to have a decent alternative to driving.

  •  I got addicted after 9-11 (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    raines, hoolia, rapala, Loonesta, Pris from LA

    After 9-11, my company had an air-travel ban for a few weeks.  I had been scheduled to attend a conference in Florida (I live in NJ).  They offered to put me on an overnight train (with a sleeper) to Orlando.  


    I love the process of being forced to take a day to rest in between "leaving" and "arriving".  It's a whole day of forced relaxation.  I've now done it 6 or seven times.

    You gotta get a sleeper though.  But it's not for everyone.  The rugs are worn out, and the curtains are a little grimy.  The food is passable (almost) microwave dinners...but closing the door, and knowing that you are going to get un-interupted relaxation...priceless!

  •  There Was a Time When Trains Were Wonderful (5+ / 0-)

    But that time has long passed.

    When I was five, we took the train from Penn Station to Florida. The train was incredibly late leaving New York and we travelled coach, but it was a wonderful adventure for a five-year-old. My memory of it is still as vivid today, as it was then.

    So, when my mom suggested taking the train from New York to New Orleans as my high school graduation gift -- and this time in a suite -- I was psyched. Boy what a difference eleven years made!

    I was prepared for there being delays; that's normal for Amtrak. Almost every car smelled of mildew. We couldn't get a suite, because we were told they were booked; so, we ended up with two little closets that had a fold-down bed that took up the entire room. On the train, the suites weren't booked, they were empty. The observation car reeked of cigarette smoke. The dining car made airline food seem gourmet.

    There will have to be a real upgrade in service to make long train trips a viable alternative to flying and driving. Right now, they're a step up from Greyhound, and that's not saying much.

  •  Great story! (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    raines, hoolia, rapala

    I took the train in October 2006, from NY to Chicago, Dallas to New Orleans and then back to NYC. It was amazing to see the countryside go by, I loved it, even though some trains were delayed several hours. I definitely identify with the "platforms." Some places in Texas and Louisiana didn't even have a bench. Houston didn't even have a building.

  •  Oh this is such an inspiration! (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    raines, hoolia, rapala

    I haven't ridden Amtrak in years - not since I took it from Boston to Stamford, CT to visit my boyfriend over summer break in college. This prompted me to look up the national map and realize I can take a train from Oakland to Salt Lake City to visit my sister! I shall so be doing that this spring sometime.

    conscietious objector in the battle of the sexes

    by plymouth on Mon Jan 28, 2008 at 09:55:26 AM PST

  •  fabulous diary... I am looking forward to taking (5+ / 0-)

    my grandchildren on train trips someday
    just like my grandparents took my sister
    and I.

    thanks so much for sharing!

    "It is horrifying that we have to fight our own government to save the environment." Ansel Adams -6.5 -6.75

    by Statusquomustgo on Mon Jan 28, 2008 at 09:55:54 AM PST

  •  This is beautiful, elfling. (4+ / 0-)

    Thank you for this extended love letter to Amtrak. I took Amtrak to Chicago for YearlyKos and I was impressed, and I remember thinking that Amtrak should be expanded and modernized.

    "To the world you may only be one person, but to one person you may be the world."--Source Unknown

    by PerfectStormer on Mon Jan 28, 2008 at 09:56:40 AM PST

  •  Amtrak is now tourism more than transportation (6+ / 0-)

    As you note, Amtrak in most of the country is perennially late and slow.  It also captures a small percentage of intercity ground transportation, and as a result schedules are often inconvenient.

    For example, for shits and grins, I looked at an itinerary to go from Denver to Cincinnati on my trip East this past Christmas via Amtrak as well as road and air.  In addition to being far slower, a similar in cost, the only stops in Cincinnati arriving and departing, we in the wee hours of the morning.

    The problem is more than a subsidy, although the structure of the subsidy doesn't help.  The highway system and air travel system do have subsidies as well, but not nearly of the same magnitude as those of Amtrak outside the Northeast Corridor.

    Amtrak is fundamentally a legacy of the pre-interstate highway system passenger rail system that was in financial turmoil when the system was consolidated and brought into the public sector.  Outside the Northeast Corridor it lacks both the dedicated high speed rail lines and the high population densities that are important to passenger rail success in Europe and Japan.  

    It also has routes that don't track current population centers.  For example, most of the passenger traffic in Colorado and the Rocky Mountain states generally runs North to South in the I-25 corridor, but Amtrak in Colorado runs only East to West (more or less tracking I-70) and across the extremely rural Southeast corner of the state with very little passenger traffic, no doubt with the goal is tagging another Congressional district.

    Our country would benefit from a much improved passenger rail system, but pretty much, we need to start over from scratch outside the Northeast Corridor, and we also, pretty much, need to focus on medium length trips (say 50-500 miles) rather than long trips like the one in this post, where air travel has such an edge, or very short ones (where separate intracity rail or city streets have an edge due to the inability to have too many stops on fixed routes).  Our money would be better spent on these kinds of projects which would be actually competitive in speed with other modes of transportation.

    There is a place for old style Amtrak, but it is one akin to cruise ships -- the experience of traveling and not the trip from point A to point B needs to be the main purpose.

    "Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities" -- Voltaire

    by ohwilleke on Mon Jan 28, 2008 at 09:58:14 AM PST

    •  hmm (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      The highway system and air travel system do have subsidies as well, but not nearly of the same magnitude as those of Amtrak outside the Northeast Corridor.

      I don't necessarily agree with this statement, especially the highway system part. SAFETEA-LU, which did not include Amtrak (or most mass transit), will cost the taxpayers 286 billion over 5 years...they seem to have issues coming up for the billion needed to run Amtrak.

      Unless you're referring to the almost broke Highway Trust Fund...

      Central PA Kossacksfelicia, those are her whites in the dryer.

      by terrypinder on Mon Jan 28, 2008 at 12:36:55 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  I'm thinking general fund $ per passenger mile (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Pris from LA

        Yes, Amtrak has only had about $26 billion of subsidy give or take a few billion since its inception (plus of course ample subsidies mostly in the form of land grants to build the rail lines in the first place long ago).

        But, Amtrak has far less traffic than highways or commercial airlines, and a healthy share of federal money for each comes from taxes crudely related to useage (gas taxes and ticket taxes e.g.) which are essentially user fees.  Also, using property taxes to fund local roads, while not quite a users fee also has a fairly close nexus between incidence of tax and useage.

        Operating subsidies on some Amtrak longer routes outside the NE corridor per passenger mile do approach air fare on the same routes -- and the passengers have to pay fares comparable to bus fare on top of that.

        "Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities" -- Voltaire

        by ohwilleke on Mon Jan 28, 2008 at 01:23:41 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

    •  Well, define start from scratch? (0+ / 0-)

      Amtrak Cascades certainly isn't something to be gotten rid of - just upgrade it according to the Cascades long term plan's recommendations. The same goes for most of the short-haul services. They're already in place, just give them infrastructure money!

      by Bensch on Mon Jan 28, 2008 at 04:49:08 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  I mean ditch it all. (0+ / 0-)

        Improving current routes in non-Amtrak, non-Northeast Corridor routes is mostly hopeless.

        It isn't as if there is lots of infrastructure to be foregone.  Most of it is owned by freight lines that will keep using it.  The train stations could be sold for other purposes as valueable real estate.  The locomotives and passenger cars can mostly be shifted to remaining routes, reducing maintenance burdens on remaining lines.

        Private parties could be allowed to buy excess cars and locomotives and set up their own tourism oriented lines on freight rail with similar rights to Amtrak now.

        "Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities" -- Voltaire

        by ohwilleke on Mon Jan 28, 2008 at 05:04:46 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  i grew up taking the coast starlight (7+ / 0-)

    and southwest chief from davis CA to my grandparents' place in flagstaff, every couple of christmases. did it again this year with my 15 month old daughter.

    of all the trips i have taken, though, the california zephyr from denver to davis was about the most beautiful line i've ever ridden.

    the whole time i was in japan, riding the shinkansen, i was dreaming about how fantastic it would be to soar over the landscape of the american west. what a pity, how small our dreams are in this country.

    even regular old slow train amtrack with smooth well-maintained rails, new rolling stock, priority over freight, more trips per line (so that coordination was easier), decent food in the dining car and enough dining cars so that everyone could eat without overloading the rail staff, would be a dream come true.

    i love trains, but the desire for world-class trains doesn't match with the reality of decades of deliberate underfunding.

    surf putah, your friendly neighborhood central valley samizdat

    by wu ming on Mon Jan 28, 2008 at 09:58:53 AM PST

  •  I'm gonna miss it when it's gone .. (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    rapala, martini, condoleaser, Pris from LA

    hoping to make a cross-country trip before that happens. We've done the NY/DC/Chicago loop, and the Crescent between DC and NO, but haven't had the extra time to dedicate to the whole thing. Unfortunately, you end up with a yucky 16 hour sit-around in Chicago :(

    Hmm .. wonder what routing would be like to Austin?

    It's all about the appearance of security, stupid!

    by zeke7237 on Mon Jan 28, 2008 at 09:59:13 AM PST

  •  When I was 12 (5+ / 0-)

    My family sent me from Chicago to see relatives in Oakland on the train.  It was an amazing trip, and the first time I ever saw the Mississippi, the Great Plains, the Rockies, the Sierra Nevadas, you name it. I take the train now, whenever I can.

    In fact, tomorrow, I'm off to NYC from Baltimore BWI on the Acela, coming back on Thursday night.  LaGuardia or Penn Station?  No contest.

    "Cultist" is an empty argument. It's the new Godwin. If you invoke it, you've already lost.

    by nightsweat on Mon Jan 28, 2008 at 10:00:55 AM PST

  •  Empire Builder, Chicago-Seattle, May 2002 (7+ / 0-)

    My first long-distance Amtrak trip. A 2-1/2 day land cruise.  The lounge/observation car is great for making short-term pals: a college prof from NYC "getting away from the concrete," who left us in mid-Montana, took a bus up to Canada to catch a VIA train for the back east leg; an Amish machine-shop owner; a Montana cattle rancher; breakfast with the stone-mason who laid up the fireplaces in Bill Gates' spread in WA. East Glacier, six inches of snow on the platform, four feet in the mountains, in May! Cascades are amazing. Saw bald eagles along Puget Sound north of Seattle. Food was okay, staff nice but a bit distant. The upper-level roomettes offer a better view, but more swaying ride. Overall, would do it again, particularly in September. All aboard!

    •  The lounge cars are the best thing about Amtrak (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      Just take a seat, bust out a deck of cards and wait. A recipe for making friends.

      "The great lie of democracy, its essential paradox, is that democracy is first to be sacrificed when its security is at risk." --Ian McDonald

      by Geenius at Wrok on Mon Jan 28, 2008 at 02:35:20 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  I support Amtrak also, and rode them to yKos 2007 (6+ / 0-)

    ...and advocated that others consider a train trip also, which I diaried about here.  As things turned out, the northbound train arrived almost 5 hours late.  We were on time going southbound, but weren't impressed with the cleanliness of some of the coaches.

    I do think expanding train travel is something our nation should do, but it will take political will--and right now, working on the trains is probably very low on the priority lists for Congress and the President.


    The Alton Weekly Inquirer! News roundup with snark, every Friday morning on Daily Kos.

    by AAbshier on Mon Jan 28, 2008 at 10:12:06 AM PST

  •  Any Paul Theroux fans out there? (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    hoolia, vgranucci, wildcat6

    I've read and re-read "The Great Railway Bazaar", "The Old Patagonian Express", and "Riding the Iron Rooster".

    One word of advice: Don't get duffilled.

    "What if we could have an election that was not a referendum on either the Clinton or Bush presidencies?"--Frank Rich.

    by Dump Terry McAuliffe on Mon Jan 28, 2008 at 10:13:27 AM PST

    •  Asia by Rail (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      elfling, hoolia, vgranucci

      I read The Great Railway Bazaar while traveling throughout India. Second class overnight sleeper is the only way to see India. I've also done the section in Burma from Rangoon to Mandalay. You will never understand the color green until you have sat in the door of a train with your legs dangling out in order to catch a breeze in the stifling humidity while the paddy fields of Asia are rolling by.

      -- You are all individuals! -- I'm not! -- Shut up! Be quiet!

      by Skjellifetti on Mon Jan 28, 2008 at 11:31:23 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Beautiful diary. The last passenger rail I used (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    hoolia, rapala, NoMoreLies, wildcat6

    is now closed. The only passenger rail services considered economic enough to keep open are the tourist lines. I doubt the closure saved much - just another example of typical "anything to save another dollar" corporate greed.

    So the only public transit for that 200 mile trip is now bus or a flight. (At least it's a relatively fuel-efficient flight, in a ATR-72 turboprop, but that may change - Boeing 737s are being considered to replace them.)

    Urban commuter rail is also nonexistent where I live. The diesel and hybrid electric buses share the suburban roads with an increasing number of SUVs. I wrote a Daily Kos photodiary on public transport in my city last year.

  •  Canada has a great train ride fromVancouver ..... (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Agathena, hoolia, rapala, wildcat6, Loonesta

    to Toronto.  I took it a few years ago and enjoyed the trip.  I had my own cabin, dining car was great, views fantastic, I loved the ride.

  •  Canada's VIA Rail (7+ / 0-)

    Last summer I took VIA Rail (Canada's national rail line) from Montreal to Quebec and loved it. It was inexpensive (~$60 CAN one way), convenient, and the economy class was more comfortable than what you could expect from business class on a plane.

    One of the nice things about train stations is that, at least in urban areas, they tend to be right in the middle of town. In both of the places I stayed I was no more than a 10-minute cab ride from the station. Compare that to going from downtown Chicago to Midway, or Wash., DC to Dulles and there's an hour right there.

    Also, speaking as someone who lived in the so-called '65 decibel zone' for six years (even though I was 3 miles away from the nearest runway), airports are a tremendous public nuisance. Site an airport somewhere it doesn't take 45 minutes for anyone to drive to and for 1000s of people things like quiet backyard barbecues and sleeping with your windows open in the summer become distant memories. I would rather live three blocks from some train tracks than three miles from an airport.

    Outside of a dog, a book is man's best friend. Inside of a dog, it's too dark to read. - Groucho Marx

    by Joe Bob on Mon Jan 28, 2008 at 10:15:24 AM PST

    •  We took VIA to a beer festival in Montreal (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Joe Bob, rapala, wildcat6

      It took about 9 hours to get from Windsor (across the river from Detroit) to Montreal. The hotel where we stayed was directly above the Gare de Montreal which was connected to the city's Metro system. We paid about $240 apiece for tickets, but could have gotten them much cheaper had we bought tickets farther in advance.

      "What if we could have an election that was not a referendum on either the Clinton or Bush presidencies?"--Frank Rich.

      by Dump Terry McAuliffe on Mon Jan 28, 2008 at 10:24:46 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Gare de Montreal (0+ / 0-)

        While the station itself is not much to speak of; I would go back to the Gare de Montreal just to look at some of the bakery cases. Those were some of the best looking pastries I have seen in my entire life.

        Outside of a dog, a book is man's best friend. Inside of a dog, it's too dark to read. - Groucho Marx

        by Joe Bob on Mon Jan 28, 2008 at 01:39:58 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  I've Made This Trip (10+ / 0-)

    by train several times and I do believe it is the very best way to see America's varied landscape. Unlike driving you and companions get to relax and sit back together watching as the mountains, valleys, rivers, and deserts go by.


    Even with Amtrak's currently decrepit condition (it really is a miracle that they can keep it going) it's a most civilized way to travel. I've taken the California Zephyr from Emeryville, CA to Boston, MA and from Emeryville, CA to Montreal, Canada. On that route the Zephyr always goes straight across the country to Chicago where you catch a connector train (or more than one.) I think the most dramatic scenery is the incredible red rock formations in the foothills leading up to the Rocky Mountains on the Western side. The trail travels along the river at the base of a deep gully, the towers of red rock (the same color as in Sedona, AZ) almost scrape the observation car's windows. You can crane your neck up and see the highway about a hundred feet above. Then it's into the mile-long-tunnel, dark and smelly, for twenty minutes of high speed. You burst through the Rocky Mountains and before you spreads the vast plains of Colorado. It's almost a spiritual experience.

    I've also made the trip up the West Coast on the Coast Starlight which is a bit fancier than the Zephyr. The sleeper car passengers also get use of a private observation "club" car where they have afternoon wine and cheese and a small movie theater downstairs. The theater shows historic films about trains (very cool) and cartoons for the kids (keeps 'em quiet.)

    I wish I could share my photos of these trips but heartbreakingly we lost them all in a hard drive crash. Now, of course we back them up (sigh.)

    Thanks again for this great diary which has stirred memories of wonderful past travels.

    I should mention that Senator John McCain has been a longtime enemy of Amtrak:


    His Quotes:

    "I want to commend the conferees for their attempts to help protect the investment that the American taxpayers continue to provide to Amtrak, which since 1971, has received federal subsidies totaling $26 billion–an enormous sum for a system that serves less than one percent of the traveling public.

    "The conference report, which provides Amtrak $1.05 billion for FY 2003, includes conditions that require the funding to be appropriated on a quarterly basis through formal grant agreements with the Department of Transportation (DOT). Amtrak also will be required to spend its appropriated funds only on items identified in its business plan and approved by DOT. And, such funds may only be spent on existing plant and services, not on grandiose or far-fetched expansion plans. These controls are a step in the right direction.

    "The conferees also worked to ensure that Amtrak reserves sufficient funds to meet its contractual obligations with state and local subdivisions for commuter and intercity corridor services. Amtrak should not be in a position to shut down commuter operations, as it threatened last summer, because it does not have sufficient funds to operate its entire network. Commuter operations, such as those on the Northeast Corridor, are funded by state and local governments and clearly should continue to operate even if other Amtrak operations should cease. Further, Corridor trains that the states are helping subsidize also should also receive priority. Continuing to operate Northeast Corridor services, off-Corridor commuter service, and those trains financed in part by the states would preserve service for 93% of Amtrak's combined intercity and commuter ridership.

    "While the conference committee has slightly reduced Amtrak's appropriation from that provided in the Senate-passed measure, from $1.2 billion to $1.05 billion, it also has postponed repayment of Amtrak's $100 million dollar loan from DOT, effectively providing Amtrak $1.15 billion, or only $50 million less than the $1.2 billion Amtrak requested. Although Amtrak may end the year with less than its targeted $75 million in working capital, it should be able to continue operating while Congress considers the long-term future for intercity passenger rail service. I look forward to a full and open debate on this issue. - 2/13/03 Source

    -Mr. President, it is unconscionable that while Congress was under intense negotiations to reach agreement on reform legislation, which was required to release the $2.3 billion so-called "tax credit" to Amtrak, the Amtrak Board was doing anything it could to appease the labor unions. Of course, it is no secret who the democratic party is beholden to. While Amtrak's financial situation is in dire straights-looming on the brink of bankruptcy-its democratic Board members agreed to raise union salaries, increasing Amtrak's opperating-and I stress operating-costs by millions of dollars annually. By adopting these wage increases, the current Board failed to fulfill its fiduciary responsibilities not only to Amtrak, but to the American taxpayer as well. Is it any wonder the Congress decided that the Board has to go - 6/25/98 (read entire diatribe)

    And there's even more HERE.

    When good people of conscience give up the fight for justice, all is lost. Therefore you must not give up.

    by EmilyD on Mon Jan 28, 2008 at 10:23:22 AM PST

    •  Back in the old days (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Pris from LA

      Used to be the train from Vancouver, BC to Montreal was the cheapest way to get from the Northwest to the East Coast.  I never did it, but it was a legendary trip.  The scenery is probably still terrific, too, and trains probably still run the route.

    •  Apparently Mr McCain... (0+ / 0-)

      thinks 2.5 billion a year on Amtrak is a waste, but 650 billion on the military (more than the entire rest of the globe combined) is not.

      If all of the true expenses of a gallon of gasoline were added up, including the cost of securing the supplies (military), all of the external environmental effects, the accidents, road carnage, and property damage, and the gross throughput of non-renewable materials, the true cost would be somewhere north of $12.50 a gallon at current crude oil prices.

      Republican wet dream: internalize benefits, externalize costs, and ensure you have to return again and again to repurchase something that either is used up or wears out quickly. Rail rolling stock and head end power (locomotives) consistently outlasts cars and trucks by a factor of three or more.

      "Without our playstations, we are a third world nation"-Ani DiFranco

      by NoMoreLies on Mon Jan 28, 2008 at 09:08:15 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  It's sad that (7+ / 0-)

    our government is allowing rail travel to deteriorate and not investing in it. My husband does not fly never has since in college. We have crossed the country many times via Amtrak and this summer I noticed what an ordeal it was compared to in the past. A lot of the routes are closed and the tracks are often in bad repair.

    It seems to me that investment in trains nationally is a important part of becoming less dependent on oil, helping reduce global warming. It is so much less stressful then plane travel because it does not twist space and time. Great Diary thanks for sharing.

    My favorite thing about the train is you see America and experience it's vastness and get a real feel for the regions and the cultures not to mention the awesome natural beauty. This land is your land.    

    "And if my thought-dreams could be seen They'd probably put my head in a guillotine" Bob Dylan

    by shaharazade on Mon Jan 28, 2008 at 10:27:31 AM PST

    •  I like that you can... (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Woody, hoolia

      ... spend some time getting to know someone, but then go off and do something else.  Like take a walk!  But the old days with dining cars was nice.

      Train is still a good way to get around in Europe, so long as you mainly want to go to the cities.  But I went to Switzerland while back (my consolation prize for being 2nd on Jeopardy! - and great fun).  Had a rail pass for part of the prize.  Those trains go to a lot of little villages - you can really get a lot of places that way.

  •  Thank you so much for this diary (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    hoolia, rapala, Loonesta

    Our son, who is almost 5, is obsessed with trains, especially steam locomotives.  Last summer, we stopped in Strasburg, PA (near Lancaster) and rode one of the oldest steam trains in the country.  The scenery was absolutely beautiful, with the surrounding farm country, and the horses and buggies used by the many Amish families who live there.

    Now our son wants to vacation out west and ride the Durango Silverton Narrow Gauge railroad.  Looks like a bit of a scary ride, but exhilerating!

    A foolish consistency (staying the course in Iraq) is the hobgoblin of George W. Bush.

    by wildcat6 on Mon Jan 28, 2008 at 10:29:31 AM PST

    •  As oil becomes more scarce and expensive, (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      EmilyD, wildcat6, Pris from LA

      the coal burning steam locomotive may make a comeback.  Planes cannot burn coal and fuel costs may force an upgrade of rail transport as peak oil becomes a reality.

      And it feels like I'm livin'in the wasteland of the free ~ Iris DeMent, 1996

      by MrJersey on Mon Jan 28, 2008 at 10:37:40 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  I would hope that we electrify instead. (0+ / 0-)

        by Bensch on Mon Jan 28, 2008 at 04:44:23 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Electrification would work for short runs and (0+ / 0-)

          commuter type operations and high volume areas like the NE corridor, LA to SF, perhaps even NY to Chicago, but for the vast expanses of the Midwest, Far West, etc, the infrastructure for an electrified rail system would just be too costly.  Those vast expanses need something with much less infrastructure cost because electricity just doesn't travel that far efficiently with today's technology.

          And it feels like I'm livin'in the wasteland of the free ~ Iris DeMent, 1996

          by MrJersey on Mon Jan 28, 2008 at 06:39:06 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  Actually, running high speed... (0+ / 0-)

            360kph (like new lines in France and Japan are, and the California project) would result in enough use in the long-term to make the investment worth it.

            Anyway, it's a really cheap way to decrease our oil needs. It's VERY cheap compared to the other options.


            by Bensch on Tue Jan 29, 2008 at 10:13:36 AM PST

            [ Parent ]

    •  If you go to Colorado, also consider (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      rapala, wildcat6

      the Cumbres and Toltec line. Not as famous, but goes to a higher elevation, and is quite spectacular.

      Fry, don't be a hero! It's not covered by our health plan!

      by elfling on Mon Jan 28, 2008 at 10:38:27 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Whoops, we just posted the same thing! (0+ / 0-)

        Oh well, perhaps the echo will strengthen the recommendation.

        And to calm the adrenalin from the exciting ride, one can visit Pagosa Springs, on the road between Durango and Antonito and/or Chama.  Excellent little hot springs town, including at a little public park in the middle of town.

      •  Beautiful ride (0+ / 0-)

        My husband and I rode this in October, 2003 on our honeymoon. The aspens were a beautiful shade of yellow gold and the scenery is special.

        The train stops in the middle of the route at a cafeteria in the middle of nowhere for lunch. Good food and fun people.

        Lots of signposts along the way about the history of the building of this rail line and the elevations. It is really special.

        People should not be afraid of their Governments-Governments should be afraid of their people. - V

        by TX Scotia on Mon Jan 28, 2008 at 02:45:43 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

    •  I've never been on the Cumbres and Toltec... (0+ / 0-)

      It's an old narrow gauge that runs over the mountains between Antonio, Colorado and Chama, New Mexico.  Reputedly gorgeous during aspen fall foliage, for one thing.  Your son would probably love it, so check it out.

      You could cover it on the same trip as the Durgango-Silverton link.

  •  Someone told me they have double-deckers... (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    EmilyD, Dr Colossus, Bensch, wildcat6, Loonesta

    ...going west, south and north of Chicago, but single deckers going east, because the tunnels in the east aren't high enough to accommodate them.

    Just thought I'd throw that in.

    •  That is correct (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Bensch, Bush Bites

      and as a passenger those single decker cars are a lot newer and nicer. Sleeper car passenger's get their own toilet and sink in the East of Chicago cars (like the Lakeshore Limited.)

      When good people of conscience give up the fight for justice, all is lost. Therefore you must not give up.

      by EmilyD on Mon Jan 28, 2008 at 11:22:55 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  I'm on Amtrak once a month or so (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Woody, hoolia, rapala, Bensch, vgranucci

    Love it; wish it could be better.

  •  Love the part about Union Station in Great Gatsby (6+ / 0-)

    One of my most vivid memories is of coming back West from prep school and later from college at Christmas time. Those who went farther than Chicago would gather in the old dim Union Station at six o’clock of a December evening, with a few Chicago friends, already caught up into their own holiday gayeties, to bid them a hasty good-by. I remember the fur coats of the girls returning from Miss This-or-that’s and the chatter of frozen breath and the hands waving overhead as we caught sight of old acquaintances, and the matchings of invitations: "Are you going to the Ordways’? the Herseys’? the Schultzes’?" and the long green tickets clasped tight in our gloved hands. And last the murky yellow cars of the Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul railroad looking cheerful as Christmas itself on the tracks beside the gate.

    When we pulled out into the winter night and the real snow, our snow, began to stretch out beside us and twinkle against the windows, and the dim lights of small Wisconsin stations moved by, a sharp wild brace came suddenly into the air. We drew in deep breaths of it as we walked back from dinner through the cold vestibules, unutterably aware of our identity with this country for one strange hour, before we melted indistinguishably into it again.

  •  I love Amtrak (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Woody, hoolia, rapala, Loonesta

    Thanks for this diary. It's a nice change of pace for this site.

    I love Amtrak and usually take 1 rail trip per year (most frequently in the Northeast). My most memorable trip, however, was in January 2006. I traveled cross-country from Flagstaff, Arizona to Washington D.C. with a connection through Chicago. It's those longer trips that are the most beautiful terms of scenery and that feature the most interesting fellow passengers.

    I don't know if I could an overnight trip again unless I had a spot in a sleeper car. Sleeping upright in coach class was a bit too uncomfortable for me.

  •  CA Zephyr (5+ / 0-)

    My wife and I took the Zephyr back from Truckee, CA (The Donners held a party near there one time) to Chicago one year. The train is great scenery, decent food, and tight accommodations for a reasonable price. As a bonus, we found ourselves on the receiving end of a time-honored passenger rail custom observed by kids everywhere when we were mooned by a bunch of white-water rafters in one of the Colorado canyons.

    -- You are all individuals! -- I'm not! -- Shut up! Be quiet!

    by Skjellifetti on Mon Jan 28, 2008 at 10:40:49 AM PST

    •  My first long distance trip was May 1967 (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      hoolia, Pris from LA

      On my way back home from Vietnam (and looked like it because a uniform back then got you half price ticket.)  I was in coach and was always asked to join someone for a meal in dinner.  This was before Amtrak and the Zephyr was in pretty good shape and the service was not too bad considering where I just came from.  Transferred to the Empire Builder and it took me right to my home town.  I remember every bit of that trip but can't remember the 45 days of leave I had.  I took another train to Ft. Dix after leave on my way to Germany.    

      David Brooks IS the Queen of Sheba.

      by namnick on Mon Jan 28, 2008 at 12:05:55 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  there's a chance that the Pioneer (6+ / 0-)

    may be returning. It ran between SLC and Portland, but we lost it a decade or so ago. Sen. Mike Crapo - the less controversial Idaho senator! - has been working to revive it and successfully included an amendment to that end in the Amtrak bill that passed the Senate.

    Thanks for the diary. I look forward to a day when Amtrak comes back to Boise.

  •  Who can AFFORD IT!!!??? (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    ohwilleke, vgranucci

    I used to wait for the great sales. We took a family car-free vacation to Chicago one year and to DC another. But it's way too expensive now! Few sales for those of us in the midwest and still a crappy schedule that often leaves you with an overnight stay in an expensive city to catch a connection. I love trains, too, but they are too expensive.

    •  It depends where you are and where you're going (0+ / 0-)

      For midrange hops of 100 to 1,000 miles, it's a good deal. Longer than 1,000 miles, not so much -- in either time or money. Less than 100 miles, not worth the hassle.

      "The great lie of democracy, its essential paradox, is that democracy is first to be sacrificed when its security is at risk." --Ian McDonald

      by Geenius at Wrok on Mon Jan 28, 2008 at 02:37:28 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Frequent Acela rider here (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    ohwilleke, hoolia, rapala

    Spend too much of my life in that damn tube. But having said that it really is a nice ride when compared to the normal (old) regional train that runs the northeast corridor.

    There are a lot of problems facing Amtrak, most of all not owning the tracks outside of the northeast corridor. Simply put the freight rails are bulging with cargo recently and if Amtrak starts adding serivce or faster trains then it screws with the slow freight train schedules.

    Amtrak is supposed to have the right of way on all tracks... but that doesn't exactly happen a lot of the time.

    Anyways bumping up the subsidy a few times over is a no brainer, but the deeper fixes needed are going to take money... lots of money, highway budget sized money.

    As much as I love the Acela and wish they offered the same type service to Chicago and states farther west, I just don't see it happening.

    Grunge is still in... right?

    by Windowdog on Mon Jan 28, 2008 at 10:43:30 AM PST

    •  I think they're more likely to do that regionally (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      ohwilleke, hoolia

      There's been talk of a high-speed corridor from the Twin Cities to St. Louis.

      I imagine other regions have talked about high speed corridors too.

      I think those would have to get under way, then eventually it would just be a matter of linking them up.

      •  Yes. (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Woody, hoolia, Bush Bites

        The way to go in the medium term with rail is to stop trying to get a universal network and build piecemeal in places where the demand is there, ideally with state or local financial support rather than primary federal general funds, so that there isn't political pressure to hit every state and Congressional district whether or not it makes economic sense.

        In my view the best place to start is with intrastate high speed lines in places like Florida, Texas, Ohio and California, and with small numbers of states (e.g. perhaps Wasington and Oregon and California) in small interestate compacts.

        Perhaps there is a place for standardizing rail gauge so that some day some of the piecemeal routes could be integrated.  But, for now, each new segment of rail line needs to be economically feasible on its own.

        "Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities" -- Voltaire

        by ohwilleke on Mon Jan 28, 2008 at 11:19:05 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Rail gauge was standardized (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          nicta, Bensch, pelagicray

          ages ago.

          What are you talking about?

          Dana Curtis Kincaid Ad Astra per Aspera! The enemy is not man, the enemy is stupidity.

          by angrytoyrobot on Mon Jan 28, 2008 at 12:02:26 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  In a new high speed rail system (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Bush Bites, Pris from LA

            there are several options which aren't necessarily compatable with legacy systems.  To use the most obvious example, a system that uses Mag Lev in California wouldn't be compatable with the Acela system used in the NE Corridor.

            Similarly, if you are going to do an electrified train, there are several different incompatable systems you can use to deliver electricity to the train (e.g. third rail v. pantograph).

            Likewise, different light rail systems have different requirements in terms of turning angles and grades, etc.

            I probably misspoke when I used the narrow term "rail gauage".  The point I was getting at is that there is a risk that if you have new high speed rail systems developed piece meal, some of them might be incompatable with each other, preventing their eventual integration.

            "Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities" -- Voltaire

            by ohwilleke on Mon Jan 28, 2008 at 12:22:50 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  Got it, thanks! (0+ / 0-)

              I thought you meant narrow or standard gauge.

              Dana Curtis Kincaid Ad Astra per Aspera! The enemy is not man, the enemy is stupidity.

              by angrytoyrobot on Mon Jan 28, 2008 at 01:04:54 PM PST

              [ Parent ]

            •  Now I get it. Yes settling on a standard for new (2+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              Bush Bites, Pris from LA

              high speed is important.

              At the same time one of the amazing features of traveling in Europe is the integration of service over sometimes differing infrastructure. One example is useful. The TGV from Paris Lyon to Geneva pulls into an SNCF "France" platform in Geneva. Remember, Switzerland isn't EU. From "France" one goes down starirs and through Swiss immigration and up to a Swiss platform if continuing. Now, the "France" of the platforms in Geneva and Basel are well inside the Swiss border but are administratively France. French RR police were on the French platform. Aside from the interesting administrative aspect what is going on here with a  French platform?

              There are apparently differences in voltage and other factors between the TGV and the Swiss system. The solution to that is not to force the systems to change. It is to put a French rail terminal into Swiss stations at key points. The same applies to German systems at Basel in another station.

              The only foes that threaten America are the enemies at home, and those are ignorance, superstition, and incompetence. [Elbert Hubbard]

              by pelagicray on Mon Jan 28, 2008 at 01:15:16 PM PST

              [ Parent ]

              •  Ha! (0+ / 0-)

                So simple it's brilliant.

              •  Voltage diffs are no big deal compared to gauge (0+ / 0-)

                Modern power electronics make handling various electrical power sources (AC vs DC, various voltages ...)  quite easy. It's not a big deal. In fact IIRC (but I could be wrong on this one) various TGV lines in France have differing voltages (or at least used to), because in the early 1980s power electronic wasn't so advanced, and DC current was used. Today synchronous motors (modulated AC) powered by AC mains are more efficient. High voltage AC is delivered to the train through the catenary, which is then rectified to DC, and then finally modulated as necessary to AC to drive synchronous motors. New trains can go on old tracks and make use of DC, the converse not being true of course.

                As for rail compatibility, again, same principle, TGVs can make use of old lines, while normal trains are not meant to go on high speed lines. There is a host of reasons for this; signalling is one: it takes a whole different approach at 350km/h.

                A "centrist" is someone who's neither on the left, nor on the left.

                by nicta on Mon Jan 28, 2008 at 04:19:06 PM PST

                [ Parent ]

                •  There was a more fundamental electrical issue (0+ / 0-)

                  I believe. Here is some indication. Somewhere I found more detailed specs and the reasons for the arrangement. Here is the pertinent part of that page:

                  (Bellegarde -) Pougny-Chancy SNCF - La Plaine CFF (- Genève): (E*)SNCF works to Genève and the line is electrified at 1500 V dc and signalled to SNCF standards from the border to both the passenger station and La Praille goods depot. CFF operates a local service between Genève and La Plaine, using specially-built 1500 V dc rolling stock. Separate tracks, parallel with the 1500 V dc tracks, are used by CFF trains to and from Genève Aéroport. SNCF trains use their own platform at Genève, and passengers pass through frontier controls to access these. Most passenger trains from France terminate at Genève, though there a small number of through night trains. At Genève Cornavin station the electrification arrangements appear to be as follows. Platform 6 - at least - is switchable, and has been observed in use in quick succession by trains using SNCF and CFF voltages. Platforms 7 and 8 (the French side) are probably solely SNCF voltage - and also bay platform 5, used by CFF's La Plaine (- Bellegarde) shuttle. Platforms 1 to 3 will presumably be solely CFF voltage.

                  More is at Border lines Switzerland - France. I expect new EMU generations will get entirely away from these work arounds that were a very sane fix for a considerable time. Apparently some newer trainsets can already navigate both systems.

                  The Railfaneurope Geneve station page has some nice photos of "France"   if you scroll down and find " Ge-Cornavin-SNCF_1.jpg (43361 bytes)". Photos there show the entry to the restricted Platform 4, Tracks 7-8. See this photo of the doors into Gare de Bâle SNCF area in Basel SBB. When I was there a few years ago the decor changed to old France.

                  The only foes that threaten America are the enemies at home, and those are ignorance, superstition, and incompetence. [Elbert Hubbard]

                  by pelagicray on Mon Jan 28, 2008 at 07:15:01 PM PST

                  [ Parent ]

          •  Incidentally (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:

            it is also worth noting that rail gauge was not standardized until a while after the Civil War during Reconstruction, only long after rail service was well established regionally.

            "Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities" -- Voltaire

            by ohwilleke on Mon Jan 28, 2008 at 02:16:53 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  Very true (0+ / 0-)

              Maybe passenger trains will make a comeback big time, and maybe the tracks will be used for something besides coal cars and corn oil too...

              One can hope.

              Dana Curtis Kincaid Ad Astra per Aspera! The enemy is not man, the enemy is stupidity.

              by angrytoyrobot on Mon Jan 28, 2008 at 03:49:08 PM PST

              [ Parent ]

        •  One more concrete example. (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          One proposal for the stretch from Denver to the mountain ski resorts of Vail/Aspen is to build a monorail in the I-70 corridor in order to reduce the number of new highway lanes needed in that overwhelmed stretch of interstate highway.  This might be the best system for that stretch standing alone, as it might be cheaper than a wider standard gauge rail in a mountainous area where major excavation is necessary to build new rail.  But, monorail couldn't be easily integrated with other new rail if built (e.g. in the I-25 corridor), ever.

          "Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities" -- Voltaire

          by ohwilleke on Mon Jan 28, 2008 at 12:27:38 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  Generally, freeway-centric is very bad. (0+ / 0-)

            One of the big benefits of rail is that you're carrying people - not cars - meaning that density can go sky-high perfectly reasonably around stations. You end up with a self-supporting cycle of development that creates more ridership.

            You lose a good third of that walkable area when your stations are in the middle of a highway.


            by Bensch on Mon Jan 28, 2008 at 04:42:40 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  The issue is not station location it is right of (0+ / 0-)

              way.  This is particularly a big issue in the mountains where right of way is not so much as issue of purchasing land as it is blasting a level path out of a mountain.

              "Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities" -- Voltaire

              by ohwilleke on Mon Jan 28, 2008 at 05:00:28 PM PST

              [ Parent ]

              •  I don't know what you mean. (0+ / 0-)

                I'm talking about why it's bad to put rail in the middle of existing highways.


                by Bensch on Tue Jan 29, 2008 at 10:14:11 AM PST

                [ Parent ]

                •  On the other hand (0+ / 0-)

                  You get lots of free advertising - all those commuters know just where the station is - and there are ways to move the people to the side of the road where you can still have development.

                  ohwilleke's point is that there are many places in the US where there's no other cost-effective place to put tracks. The pass is the pass. You have to move a lot of rock otherwise.

                  Fry, don't be a hero! It's not covered by our health plan!

                  by elfling on Tue Jan 29, 2008 at 11:23:43 AM PST

                  [ Parent ]

                  •  Passes aren't exactly the first priority. (0+ / 0-)

                    We already have rail right of way in all the long-haul corridors. It's just as easy to modify that than to modify the highway right of way.

                    The issue I'm talking about is in cities, which we need to worry about first - you can't build intercity without having a reliable way to get to the main station! There isn't some magic bullet - there isn't just some "way" to make the highway magically disappear. You shouldn't be trying to build your pedestrian-oriented infrastructure right next to a highway anyway.


                    by Bensch on Tue Jan 29, 2008 at 04:56:03 PM PST

                    [ Parent ]

  •  I love reading these kind of diaries (6+ / 0-)

    Couldn't stop and had to read the comments as well...

    For rail travel in the U.S. to be successful it needs to be practical and it needs to meet the needs of today's travelers.

    1. Frequent runs and convenient scheduling. One departure (or worse) per day just won't cut it. I need to get somewhere, I can't wait until 11pm to depart. Also, a 3am departure won't work, since I don't live anywhere close to the station.
    1. Be on time. People count on the schedule. Delays do happen, but they should not happen routinely.
    1. Convenience for travelers. There need to be convenient facilities (think airports). Business lounges, 24hour food facilities, shops, travel services. On-site local connections (buses, regional rail, light rail, car rental). Your customers will come if you give them the options to get to the station. Ample affordable parking or access to parking via another convenient connection. The stations described by some writers here sound horrid. Even the stations in major cities look like relics from the early 20th century.
    1. Choices for travelers. Long distance travel needs to be not only convenient but comfortable. Some people are willing to pay a premium for premium food and lodging. Create a true first class, an affordable second class and a bare-bones but clean third class.

    Bottom line is: rail will have to cater to all users, tourists on vacation, families going for a long weekend to the coast, and business travelers. There have to be options for leisurely travel (can be frugal or luxurious or in between) as well fast (and I mean FAST) travel for those of us who may have a couple weeks of vacation a year and need to be back at work at 8am Monday. Presidential candidates, what's your strategy for passenger rail transport in America?

  •  Ohio grassroots (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    SarahLee, Woody, hoolia, Pris from LA

    activity.  Hope the link comes through.  If anyone else has posted this, I apologize.  I'm a marginal activist and an all-out supporter of expanding rail.  'Course as the spouse of a railroader, daughter, grand-daughter, great-grand-daughter and daughter-in-law and grand-daughter-in-law of railroaders I'm biased.

    Had your chimney checked lately? January is National Cervical Cancer Prevention Month.

    by Powered Grace on Mon Jan 28, 2008 at 10:46:08 AM PST

  •  recently rode Amtrak from central PA to NYC (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    SarahLee, hoolia, rapala, BluejayRN

    It was an affordable alternative with many advantages.
    Some of the cost advantages comes in the form of things you DON't have to pay for, like the cost of parking a car in your destination city, or the cost of an airport shuttle.

    If you have a laptop with decent battery capacity, it can be productive time, while traveling.  My travel companion has long legs, and while he complained about the amount of time the trip took, he did admit that the extra leg room was very welcome.

    A Republican is a person who says we need to rebuild Iraq but not New Orleans. - Temple Stark

    by Christopher Walker on Mon Jan 28, 2008 at 10:47:03 AM PST

  •  Travelling by train is awesome (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    It takes a lot longer, but getting there is so much fun. You get to go through areas that are otherwise impossible to get to or see. Someday I dream of going coast to coast on the train. We got a sleeper car once, but actually found coach to be more comfortable and a whole lot cheaper!

  •  Right there with ya (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    I might quibble about train travel beating a road trip, but I'll take it over flying anyday. Of course it does take longer on long trips, and often costs more as well, so it's not always a feasible option, but I find it much more peasant.
    On short trips , say up to about 200 miles it's often just as quick as a flight because you don't spend so much time in the station at each end compared to the iterminable delays at airports. You can show up for a train 5 min before boarding time.

  •  I've crossed the continent 5 times by train (6+ / 0-)

    From Montreal, Quebec to Vancouver, BC. There is nothing like it. Everyday looking out the window was like a movie - it was never boring. That alone set me above noticing any inconvenience inside the train. We were late leaving a little prairie town because the engineer was outside picking blueberries. I loved being able to leave the train and spend a few minutes in different towns. Loved being rocked to sleep in my berth every night.

    Next year, we are taking the train and then we are taking a ship to Europe.

    This above all: to thine own self be true...-WS

    by Agathena on Mon Jan 28, 2008 at 10:59:56 AM PST

  •  neat, thanks (0+ / 0-)

    I took this exact route in the summer of 1975; Amtrak was bad then; I'm sure it's better now.  I remember that through Iowa at dusk, the crossings were marked with smoldering piles of ... corn husks?  And the train shook so violently for 100 miles at high speed I thought sure we were going over.

    Hillary: the GOP's Only Hope

    by Tuffie on Mon Jan 28, 2008 at 11:10:07 AM PST

  •  Early in our relationship (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    the gentleman who eventually became the spouse and I did a big cross-country trip -- the Zephyr to Chicago, then the Internationale (no longer running) to Toronto. We then flew from Toronto to Boston -- to take the train would've required an overnight in Albany and by then time was at a premium (I had to get back to work, he went from Boston to Washington DC then drove to West Virginia for the Cass Railfan Weekend).

    It was a great trip -- especially waiting in Salt Lake City for the train from Los Angeles to catch up with us (at that time those cars coupled onto the back of the Zephyr). We were also in a sleeper compartment, and it was fun having him come down from the upper bunk and the two of us cuddled up to watch the snow (this was in early/mid May and there were still a few flurries).

    Thanks for this diary -- brought back some memories. :)

    You're only as popular as the last diary/comment you posted. -- Zachpunk

    by Cali Scribe on Mon Jan 28, 2008 at 11:10:41 AM PST

  •  Wonderful Diary! (0+ / 0-)


    It is amazing how much can be accomplished when you don't care who gets the credit - Harry Truman
    PoliticalCompass Scale: -2.13, -2.97

    by floundericiousMI on Mon Jan 28, 2008 at 11:12:47 AM PST

  •  Thanks for this. I blogged about a trip last year (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    on my blog:
    We went down a familiar path, as you say, but saw a whole different part of Texas.

  •  Well, that settles it! (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    My wife & I are planning to visit family in NYC in April.  We were debating whether to fly or take the train from our home in NC.  After reading this, it's definitely going to be the train!  

    Thanks for posting this!  Great read!

    I beg to dream & differ from the hollow lies / This is the dawning of the rest of our lives.

    by Captain Slack on Mon Jan 28, 2008 at 11:21:25 AM PST

  •  Thanks so much for writing this (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    "Be yourself; everyone else is already taken." - Oscar Wilde

    by greendem on Mon Jan 28, 2008 at 11:21:37 AM PST

  •  I've done the cross-country trip (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    from Philadelphia to Oakland.  Would love to do it again some day.

    Ancora Impara--Michelangelo

    by aravir on Mon Jan 28, 2008 at 11:23:45 AM PST

  •  I'm slowly convincing parents to train rather (0+ / 0-)

    than drive to Chi area.  It's much more civilized, less dangerous (for them and others), convenient.

    [Obama endorser X] is a naive childish Reagan worshipper that has no experience with the right wing attack machine.

    by Inland on Mon Jan 28, 2008 at 11:25:49 AM PST

  •  I like what Spalding Gray (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    had to say about Amtrack:

    It's like a big, rolling confessional

    Gentlemen, you can't fight in here! This is the War Room! - President Merkin Muffley

    by AlyoshaKaramazov on Mon Jan 28, 2008 at 11:32:26 AM PST

  •  Well.... (0+ / 0-)

    ....maybe, you know, not quite correct?

    Highway funding does not require reauthorization, and the need for highways is obvious even to the dullest Congressman. Airlines are barely profitable even though they don't pay for their own airports or runways.

    •  Still per passenger mile Amtrak is more heavily (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      SarahLee, pHunbalanced

      subsidized in the outside the Northeast Corridor region compared to either highways or air travel by a large margin.

      Also, while some of the government subsidies for highways and air travel do come from general funds, a big chunk comes from earmarked "user fees-like" ticket taxes and gas taxes.

      To some extent Amtrak is a you get what you pay for problem.  Very little is spent on non-Northeast Corridor infrastructure; the bulk of the Amtrak spending outside the NE is to subsidize operating costs.

      The current plan keeps rail infrastructure spending very low, but produces a crappy product that few want to buy.

      "Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities" -- Voltaire

      by ohwilleke on Mon Jan 28, 2008 at 11:46:51 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Amtrak is wonderful (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    SarahLee, Woody

    I used the Pacific Surfliner to get back and forth from school for 4 years. invaluable public transportation. and what a view!

  •  In November (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    we travelled from L. A. to Reno by train, travelling the Western end of the California Zephyr route from Emeryville to Reno, through the Sierras. We took the Coast Starlight from Los Angeles to Emeryville. Had a wonderful time in spite of a few glitches, and as you pointed out, no tired drivers.

  •  Wonderful diary! (0+ / 0-)

    I once took the train (had a sleeper) from Chicago to Denver - it was overnight, and not particularly scenic, but I loved it.  And I am deathly afraid of heights, so driving through most of the West is not an option for me (when I moved from Vermont to Seattle, I drove to  Missoula, going about 10MPH over the continental divide on the 6 lane highway with people cursing at me, and then a friend drove me through the Idaho mountains to Spokane - I have no memory of what that looked like because my eyes were closed the entire time.).  

    So I've never been to any of the great parks out there, and I've decided that if there are specialized train trips that go into, say, Yellowstone or Glacier National Parks, I'm going to do them that way.  I've seen wonderful documentaries on such trips, but of course you never know if they're still operating.  Still, for me travelling by myself, it seems like a great vacation - and the expense is a bit more justified if the travel is itself the vacation.

    Thanks so much for this diary - I loved reading it.  And I love trains too!

  •  Great diary! (0+ / 0-)

    Makes me want to take a train trip!

    I am going to Memphis in March for a convention. I really, really wanted to take the train there. Chicago to Memphis - on the City Of New Orleans? Could it be more romantic? The song plays in my head when I think about it!

    Alas, there's only one trip, and the times don't work for me. (I'm a female traveling alone - sure, I really want to be at the train station in a new-to-me city at 10:40pm.) Boo!

    Proud to live in a Blue State!

    by Sister Havana on Mon Jan 28, 2008 at 11:50:07 AM PST

  •  I really want to say thanks for the (0+ / 0-)


    I'm thinking of taking a train from Chicago to CA this year or next.

    I love flying, but not in 500 passenger flying boxcars.

    Dana Curtis Kincaid Ad Astra per Aspera! The enemy is not man, the enemy is stupidity.

    by angrytoyrobot on Mon Jan 28, 2008 at 11:56:13 AM PST

  •  I'm a train lover too and am glad to see (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    SarahLee, hoolia, Pris from LA

    improvement in the national train system.  I wish we had trains such as those I've ridden on in Europe and Japan.  My most recent train ride was a simple trip from Boston to NYC and was just delightful and scenic.
    To the best of my knowledge, one can still NOT travel from Southern California to San Francisco solely by train, too bad.  I love the space afforded the traveler on the train as compared the 17.5 inches of seat space on an airplane. Thanks for the enjoyable diary!

    In youth we learn, in age we understand.

    by Jbeaudill on Mon Jan 28, 2008 at 11:56:35 AM PST

  •  I've been traveling on Amtrak (6+ / 0-)

    for about a year-and-a-half.  I've noticed over the past year that the ridership is way, way up.
    If I hear another Republican throw out his chest and say he's going to eliminate Amtrak, I'm going to hit the ceiling.
    Amtrak should be funded, and then its funding should be increased.
    It should have separate rails of its own for high speed travel.
    Like it or not, time is on the side of the train.
    It is less expensive than automobiles, it is superior in safety and comfort.
    So increase funding for Amtrak . . . NOW!

  •  My brother is a huge train fan. (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Woody, Sandia Blanca, hoolia, Pris from LA

    Has been ever since he was a little kid.  He came to visit last fall, taking the train from Michigan to Austin, TX.  We picked him up at the train station in Austin, spent a couple of days in the Hill Country, then headed home to Houston.  For his return trip, I took him to the bus station so he could catch the bus to Longview, where he caught up with the train home.  He always has good train stories, and writes travel articles for his local newspaper (wish I could link, but their website doesn't have archived stories.)

    Another thing about train fans:  while driving back to Houston, we had to stop at Flatonia, TX, where there is a train viewing platform.  (Who knew?)  Flatonia, a very small town, happens to be at the convergence of three rail lines, and there is actually a viewing platform where train fans go to watch trains go by.  Hmmmmm.  Not my idea of fun, but he really enjoyed it.

    Many years ago he took a trip across Canada, down the West Coast, and from there through the Southwest and back home.  I lived in Albuquerque at the time, and he called me one day to say that the train would be stopping in ABQ for about 15 minutes that afternoon, so if I wanted to see him I should meet the train when it got in.  Luckily I worked downtown, and so I took a late lunch and waited for the train.  It arrived pretty much on time, and shortly thereafter he got off.  We talked for a few minutes; then I got on long enough to see his little sleeper car, and then it was time to go!  So we had a nice fifteen minute visit, and off he went again.

  •  Great diary! (4+ / 0-)

    One I've been meaning to write in years as I've ridden quite a bit of Amtrak myself. So far, aside from the NE corridor from NYC to DC/Baltimore in coach (sister used to go to school there), a trip in coach From NYC to Niagara Falls when I was a kid, and a short trip up the Hudson to Hyde Park to pick up my new car (which I then proceeded to drive cross-country three days later for 2.5 months and 15k miles), I've taken the following trains, mostly end to end and in a sleeping compartment:

    Empire Builder (Chicago-Seattle/Portland) - twice
    California Zephyr (Chicago-Oakland) - once
    Coast Starlight (LA-Seattle) - twice
    Lakeshore Limited (NYC-Chicago via NY) - once
    Broadway Limited (NYC-Chicago via PA, no longer in service) - once
    Cardinal (NYC-Chicago via WV) - once
    Cascades (Portland-Vancouver) - once, in coach

    It's a tragedy that our passenger rail system is in such disregard. Not only is this an insult to the country's great rail heritage and to the people who work for and depend on it, but it's just plain stupid, because intercity passenger rail makes so much sense in so many ways EVEN IF it's run at a net loss and needs government subsidies to run--as it does in every country in the world that I know of. Like social security, universal health insurance, highways and airports, passenger rail is something that you look at in terms of its net benefits, not net costs.

    And as such, it's invariably a winner, as anyone who's ever travelled by rail in Europe and elsewhere can attest to. It's not only beneficial to individuals and families for its convenience factor when travelling on business, for pleasure, or for other reasons, but it's good for business. And it's just plain more enjoyable than air travel--especially today's air travel in those flying sardine cans we call airplanes.

    Imagine, no check-in, no boarding or disboarding, no baggage claim, no taxiing, no getting to and from the airport 20-30 miles out of town, no connecting flights, no having to sit and eat in your tight seat for 2-6 hours, no engine drone, no poor air quality, no fear of flying, no seat belts, no airline food, no expensive last-minute fares or fares that make no sense, etc.

    Instead you get wider seats, huge windows, nice scenery, room to walk around, a dining car, a cafe and lounge car, better food, nicer and friendlier fellow passengers, quieter cars, better air quality, stops to get out and stretch, self-check in, sleeping accomodations (with access to a shower--sometimes in your room!), powered outlets for your laptops and other electronics, cellular internet access (a huge factor for business travellers), and, often, faster net point to point travel (once you factor in getting to/from the airport, parking, check-in, baggage, security, boarding, etc.). It's a winner anyway you look at it for all but the longest flights.

    What are we waiting for?!?

    I just changed my sig line because some bozo asked me to.

    by kovie on Mon Jan 28, 2008 at 12:46:41 PM PST

  •  Loves me some trains (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    SarahLee, Sandia Blanca

    Great diary.
    I always used to take the train from Altoona, PA to Dallas, TX. The I'd take the bus to the airport and go out to West Texas. I loved it. There was always a long enough layover in Chicago to go to the MFA and catch the shows. I also used to win a lot of money playing whist in the club car. It's a great way to meet some very interesting people.

  •  Ooh. Trains are evil and subsidized!! (8+ / 0-)

    After this BusinessWeek article on how many taxpayer dollars are going to be spent on air traffic control systems, I wrote this following letter to the editor which, of course, didn't get published:

    It's a popular canard that the primary reason train service does not work in the US as compared to Europe is that the US is too sparsely populated, with overly long distances between city pairs.  It is fascinating that the two city pairs mentioned in your article as being problematic are Atlanta - Charlotte (240 miles) and Atlanta - Chattanooga (120 miles).  Both are short haul pairs that would be perfectly served by rapid trains like France's TGV.  Travel times between these cities would be about 1 1/2 hours and 50 minutes respectively, at the 150 - 160 miles per hour these type of trains normally travel.  Unlike air planes, trains travel between city centers which is usually faster and more convenient.  In the 50 years since the advent of the argument against train travel in the US, the sparse population point is no longer valid.

    If you factor in the lost productivity of all the stranded and delayed passengers, in addition to the general inflicted misery, it seems that  more than just Mr. Coorsh (who will be taking Amtrak for his future New York - Washington trips) is realizing that using airlines for short haul travel is foolish.  

    The 2005 federal budget for the FAA, counting the $3.5 billion Airport Improvement Program, is $11.5 billion.  Your article states that the proposed system to upgrade the air traffic control system will cost $44 billion -- $22 billion directly from taxpayers and $22 billion from the airlines, who will surely pass this on to the passengers in higher airfares.  In light of this, the theatrics from our elected officials on the "handouts" to Amtrak of about $1.4 billion annually are pathetically lacking in vision.

    With the weather delays common to air travel and the number of passengers approaching 1 billion annually, perhaps a national discussion is needed about a system of electrified rapid train routes between short haul city pairs.  Then we could save air travel, with its weather delays and fossil fuel consumption, for long haul and transcontinental routes.  We also seem to have some failing domestic automakers who could use the work making the trains.

    Note that energy efficiency, CO2 emissions, and the ability to use energy that is not in liquid form (usually dead dinosaurs from countries who are basket cases) is not touched on but that is a whole other area.  Sigh.

    •  My fiancee lives in Strasbourg (0+ / 0-)

      The new Paris-Strasbourg line tops out at 320kph, or about 200mph. In another few years, they'll bump it up to its designed speed of 350kph. All French lines built in the future are designed for 360kph.

      All that on conventional rail, too.

      by Bensch on Mon Jan 28, 2008 at 04:35:53 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  I love trains (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    NoMoreLies, Pris from LA

    I went to the Illinois Railway Museum with some frequency when I was growing up. When I was ten, my family moved from Houston TX to Naperville IL, and our house was right next to the Metra/Burlington Northern line running into Chicago. So I grew up around passenger trains (commuter and travel) and freight trains, and we got to go to the IRM to see old trains, steam locomotives, old trams and streetcars, the works. We even got the chance to ride in old train cars pulled by steam locomotives, or to go on a loop in electric trolleys. I highly recommend the place for railway fans.

    "The significant problems we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them." -Einstein

    by jabbausaf on Mon Jan 28, 2008 at 01:05:50 PM PST

  •  Ive taken amtrak to Chicago (from Detroit) twice (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    SarahLee, Woody, hoolia, Bensch, Pris from LA

    in the past year and really enjoyed both trips. It's so much less stressful than driving and if you are by yourself, you can meet interesting people. Spent one trip having a lovely conversation with a college student from Western Michigan.

  •  Missing the boat on trains.. (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Woody, nicta, Pris from LA

    We all love them, they are fuel efficient, we are ecouraged to save energy, so why aren't corporations investing in passenger trains in North America instead of war machines.

    Europe and China are so far ahead of us on this.

    Think Tank. "A place where people are paid to think by the makers of tanks" Naomi Klein.

    by ohcanada on Mon Jan 28, 2008 at 01:20:22 PM PST

    •  Europe and Japan. China is moving. Japan (5+ / 0-)

      had high speed in the late 1960s. Velvet smooth runs from Tokyo to Kyoto on Shinkansen. My first ride was a bit of a puzzle. The train wasn't moving (people had shades down) and Japan's trains ran to the minute. Oh, we were half way to Yokohama! There was no sense of acceleration as the things were computer controlled with an acceleration curve to minimize effect.

      How about this? Fancy this ride Swiss Metro: Travel below the alps in a Subway-Torpedo? I haven't seen recent status.

      The only foes that threaten America are the enemies at home, and those are ignorance, superstition, and incompetence. [Elbert Hubbard]

      by pelagicray on Mon Jan 28, 2008 at 01:55:06 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  Buses are also remarkably fuel efficient. (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      elfling, ohcanada

      Although hardly as flashy.  A Greyhound or charter bus anywhere near full is more fuel efficient per passenger-mile than a Toyota Prius, and come close to the levels of an Amtrak train (or better if the bus allows a more direct route than the train).

      "Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities" -- Voltaire

      by ohwilleke on Mon Jan 28, 2008 at 02:01:03 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Trains on magnetic rails (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Pris from LA

        I had thought they were more efficient than carbon , (although not without risk), not producing C02. I love trains , steam ones to the new bullets.

        Think Tank. "A place where people are paid to think by the makers of tanks" Naomi Klein.

        by ohcanada on Mon Jan 28, 2008 at 02:06:42 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Depends on the power source for CO2 (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          ohcanada, Pris from LA

          if you use nuclear power or renewables to make your electricity, it is CO2 free.

          And, there is no doubt that mag lev is very efficient to operate since the friction is low.

          But, they are also damnably expensive to build.  Nobody is going to build a mag lev from Little Rock to Witchita.

          The point is not that a bus is the most efficient possible way to move people, but that a bus is far more efficient than a car.  Many people assume that because a typical diesel bus has lots of exhaust compared to a car (since it carries a lot more people) that it is a non-fuel efficient and air pollution dirty way to travel.  But, that isn't true.

          In lots of corridors, a natural proof of concept for rail is to start with a comfortable bus line (similar to the one that goes from Colorado Springs to points North of Denver, called FREX).

          "Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities" -- Voltaire

          by ohwilleke on Mon Jan 28, 2008 at 02:12:26 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

        •  Well, magnets don't have anything to do with it. (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          Trains have a lot less rolling friction than a bus - an order of magnitude less. And energy generation for electrics generally does offgas CO2, but we can fix that. We can't fix it for buses.

          by Bensch on Mon Jan 28, 2008 at 04:33:58 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  Thanks both.. (0+ / 0-)

            good information..I was thinking in terms of more of the eastern seaboard long haul routes..thats where most of the population is.

            Think Tank. "A place where people are paid to think by the makers of tanks" Naomi Klein.

            by ohcanada on Mon Jan 28, 2008 at 04:46:19 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  But not where most Amtrak routes are. (0+ / 0-)

              The Eastern seaboard high population density areas are where Amtrak is working rather well, something most critics and supporters would agree.

              "Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities" -- Voltaire

              by ohwilleke on Mon Jan 28, 2008 at 04:54:27 PM PST

              [ Parent ]

      •  Yeah, a thirty year old American Amtrak train... (0+ / 0-)

        That's because Amtrak trains are fuel-inefficient, not because Greyhound is efficient. Electric systems are five to ten times as efficient in energy use.

        by Bensch on Mon Jan 28, 2008 at 04:32:51 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Both Amtrak and Greyhound are very efficient (0+ / 0-)

          compared to either a car or an airplane, particularly in the car/truck occupancies typical for business travel.

          "Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities" -- Voltaire

          by ohwilleke on Mon Jan 28, 2008 at 04:56:40 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

    •  Simple reason: (0+ / 0-)

      Transport, period, isn't profitable without subsidization.

      by Bensch on Mon Jan 28, 2008 at 04:31:46 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  I'd really like to take a train ride one day (0+ / 0-)

    But they're often more expensive than the plane ticket. It's ludicrous.

    I don't know why we allow this bass-ackwards system of having a government run train carrier riding on privately owned tracks to continue. Since when does the private sector furnish the infrastructure for a government provided service?

  •  Actually, Amtrac trains have priority, (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    by law, over cargo trains.  Cargo carriers are required to give priority access to passenger service and are limited in what they can charge Amtrak.  In return, cargo carriers have been exempted from much of the anti-monopoly regulation, allowing them to reduce the amount of tracks and to limit rail access to larger cargo centers.

  •  Raise Amtrak to Third World standards? (11+ / 0-)

    Trying to compare US passenger rail with that of Europe is hopeless. We will never catch up.

    But are we ready to passed up by Brazil and Argentina? The consortium to build a new high-speed line between Buenos Aires and the second most populous city of Cordoba has been selected. And in Brazil, train service between Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo will take 1 hour and 15 minutes if the current construction schedule is kept (admittedly a big IF in any country).

    The only thing we have close to such efforts is in California. Alas, there the Governator is able to find more funds for highways, but for rail, not so much. If we could get high-speed rail in California, that could start a me-too movement around the country. So long as this modern technology is only found in places like Argentina, China, and France, we don't seem to feel a need to keep up with that sort of Joneses.

    More realistically we should probably be campaigning for better conventional service. As pointed out in comments above, what Ohio needs most urgently is trains that serve its largest cities during daylight hours.

    In recent years (since getting Acela up and running) Amtrak's emphasis has been on building rail corridors, in part because some states will help to pay for it. But that strategy depends all too much on cooperation from the states.

    Wonder why service from Cincinnati to Chicago is lousy? Ask the Gov of Indiana if he can name anything that state has done to improve rail service, and expect "No" for an answer. Where states have stepped up to help pay the bills, like North Carolina's Charlotte-Raleigh service, Cali's Sacramento-Oakland-San Jose route,  and Illinois's subsidy for added trains Chicago-Normal-Springfield-St. Louis, passenger numbers have markedly increased. On these routes, the states not only pay operating subsidies, but put money into infrastructure improvements that often benefits freight traffic as well.

    Above someone worries about the lost Sunset Limited line. Reportedly Amtrak is looking at the eastern portion of that line as more of a series of short corridors, like Mobile-Biloxi-New Orleans. Hold your breath for Louisiana to get the money to support service to the Mississippi Gulf Coast and Mobile. Yeah, that'll be the day.

    If Amtrak had more funds for capital investment, it has a wish-list of projects to shave time from schedules and improve reliability on routes all across the country.

    The one place where Amtrak owns a good stretch of rail outside the NE Corridor is in SW Michigan, from Kalamazoo into northern Indiana. Starting later this year, it should have trains making 110 mph on that 100 mile route. That's great for Kalamazoo. But the rest of the route east, Grand Rapids-Jackson-Ann Arbor-Dearborn-Detroit, is still gonna be slow go. Chicago and Detroit are the two biggest/closest major metros outside the NE Corridor. Getting that part of the tracks up to 110 mph would allow a 3-hour trip between those big cities and generate huge numbers of passengers.

    But who will pay?  Michigan is depressed and broke. Amtrak has $50 or $100 million to invest in capital improvements total. Put it all in Michigan for the next 10 years and we could see that 3 hour timetable -- and see hell to pay in Congress for not spreading the stuff around.

    Part of the political problem has been framing the issue. It does not help to appeal to the public to "increase the Amtrak budget by $200 million" because the comeback question is, "So what do we get for it?" The answer is not crisp.

    A presidential candidate could frame the question differently: "I will double the number of passengers carried by Amtrak by the end of my second term! Why so long? Because Amtrak has only about 100 passenger cars, and they are usually full. To double the number of passengers we will need twice the number of cars, or more."

    Then look for a contract for two new cars per month, that is 24 per year, for four years that is another 96 cars. We will need more, because some old cars need to be replaced.  But figure 100 cars at $2 to $3 each, we'll need say $300 million for cars.

    When we get more cars we can have more trains, freight schedules permitting. On the long distance routes, simply double the number of trains per day. Places like Ohio where the train stops only in the dark should get some daylight service, and vice versa. Two trains a day would allow some day-tripping, like from Minneapolis to Fargo, avoiding that motel room cost from the visit to Aunt Millie in the rest home.

    Then look for shorter corridors that could support more frequency, like Chicago-Detroit (now three a day) and Charlotte-Atlanta, and start service Cincinnati-Columbus-Cleveland.

    Last, add a few new long distance lines. Las Vegas-L.A. is long overdue. And rail fans have been urging restored service Cheyenne-Fort Collins-Denver-Colorado Springs-Pueblo-Raton-Albuquerque-Las Cruces-El Paso. Or Atlanta-Birmingham-Jackson-Shreveport-Dallas-Ft. Worth-El Paso-Tucson-L.A. Notice that there are short distance corridors within these longer routes, such as El Paso-Las Cruces-Albuquerque.

    Meanwhile, start pouring a billion a year or more every year into added tracks, double tracking or more. The head of Amtrak said you could get Chicago-Normal-Springfield-St. Louis down to 3 hours at 110 mph for about $2 billion. Well, that's a start, but this is a big country.

    •  Don't get me started about ($)#(&% Indiana (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Woody, djMikulec, Sharon in MD, Justus

      Louisville would probably still have passenger rail if Indiana--and especially K&I Rail--could have been arsed to actually upgrade the line between Jeffersonville, IN and Indianapolis to something over 25 mph.  (They had a junction so old that the conductor had to exit the train and turn it manually.)

      Unfortunately, K&I hasn't done so (because Indiana won't fund it), and we lost the Kentucky Cardinal as a result.

      Which is a goddamned shame, because I LIKE taking the train.  Now I literally have to either drive to Indianapolis or Cincinnati to have a hope of doing so (or Greyhound it to Indy or Cinci). :P

      Which really, really sucks...because I prefer hitting Chicago by train of all the various options out there. :3  (Went Chi-Town to Baltimore and back again via coach shortly after 11 September.  Love trains.  LOVE 'em.  And not just because my dad-in-law works for CSX. :D)

      •  I'm hoping for a comeback (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        dogemperor, Sharon in MD
        I was just about set to take a weekend trip to Chicago from Louisville when I read that the Cardinal had been canceled. Although, having seen the condition of the tracks in person, I'm surprised it lasted as long as it did.

        Any hope for a return of sanity in Indiana? I'd still like to make that trip to Chicago. Just once.

    •  This comment would be a good diary! n/t (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      Fry, don't be a hero! It's not covered by our health plan!

      by elfling on Tue Jan 29, 2008 at 11:29:04 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Thnaks (0+ / 0-)

    I loved your diary. I have never traveled Amtrak, but plan to this summer from Seattle to Vancouver.

  •  Has anyone else noticed... (0+ / 0-)

    that the fastest way to the rec list is to write a train diary?

    I'm too lazy to look, but I wonder what the % is on the number rec'd v. the number written?

    To think is easy. To act is difficult. To act as one thinks is the most difficult of all -Goethe

    by commonscribe on Mon Jan 28, 2008 at 02:01:42 PM PST

  •  Passenger Rail Revolution (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    hoolia, dogemperor, Sharon in MD, Justus

    Thanks for the travelogue, elfling.  I did the reverse route on the California Zephyr coming back from the first YearlyKos in Las Vegas.  I took the bus to Green River, Utah, and caught the Zephyr there.  What is the occasion for the Wyoming detour?

    I'm hoping we're seeing the gradual rumblings of a passenger rail revolution in this country.  Amtrak is experiencing higher ridership levels on some routes, there are many calls to make our transportation system more multi-modal, airfares are increasing along with gas prices, plans are in the works for high-speed rail from Washington, DC to Raleigh, Charlotte, and I think Atlanta, Amtrak is finally getting a little bit more capital funding (though not nearly enough), and, in part due to diaries like yours, people are realizing that rail is the most wholesome and enjoyable form of long-distance travel.

    My fear is not that people will stop talking about climate change. My fear is that they will talk us to Kingdom Come. - George Monbiot

    by Brudaimonia on Mon Jan 28, 2008 at 02:24:58 PM PST

  •  Why Winnemucca? (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Hours of service.

    Train crews cannot move a train after having been on duty for 12 hours.  I do not know Amtrak's policy on crew calling, but it is likely they are on duty at least an hour before the train is anticipated to arrive at the station.  Then, with changeover time, waiting to leave the station, etc., you could have maybe 10 hours to make it to the next crew change point.

    The distance between Salt Lake City and Reno is 520 miles.  With any station stops and/or equipment delays (such as inspecting at a hot box/hot wheel/dragging equipment detector), track maintenance delays, and/or signal delays, etc., they wouldn't reliably make it in under 10 hours.  If it were to happen that the crew ran out of time, the train would sit until a relief crew arrived.

    Better to change crews in Winnemucca and be sure the crew doesn't run out of time to get to the next crew change point.

    Reference: Hours of Service Regulation (.pdf)

    •  Crew change in Utah (0+ / 0-)

      I did a cross-country roundtrip (Boston-San Francisco - Los Angeles - Boston) once as a single woman, with only a coach ticket.  No sleeper.

      A train afficiando I met gave me a few tips, such as sleeping in the snack bar after it closed at night.  It had benches at the tables and you could stretch out.

      Imagine my surprise when the train stopped in the middle of the night somewhere in Utah (I thought it was Elko?) to pick up a new crew.  The guys getting off duty came into the snack car, turned on the lights, and starting playing cards.

      No one said anything, but I got uncomfortable and went back to my seat!

  •  Ah, train travel (0+ / 0-)

    When I was maybe 12 years old, I took a train trip from Elwood IN to Chicago with my mother and sister. The Good old Pensy line. We did a round trip.

    Next train trip was in Britain, from London to Dover, many years later. That was also wonderful, to see the backside of southern Britain, although the tiolet was a tad scary.

    Somewhere between those trips, I looked into taking my children on a trip from upstate NY to Louisville KY. When I was growing up, it was possible to take the car-train from Louisville to somewhere in Florida. At the time I investigated, I could get a train from Syracuse to Indianapolis and then would have to take the bus to Louisville. No thanks, not with two children.

    I would still like to do ViaRail in Canada to Vancouver.

  •  Congratulations on your very successful diary. (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Sandia Blanca, Sharon in MD, Justus

    You seem to have hit a nerve, judging by the hundreds of recommenders!

    You write so well and insert your beautiful photos so expertly, this feels like a travelogue.

    I'm a big train fan but hadn't taken a trip since '67.

    Twice recently, I've traveled from Minneapolis/St. Paul to a Detroit suburb. It's relaxing, cheap, scenic, and the food is good and fresh. I rented a sleeper for half the journey.

    On my two trips I saw that people left their books and blankets in their seats and maybe more as their bags were so big, without a worry, and spent the afternoon in the scenic car.

    I'm going again. It's so easy.


  •  Such a shame (0+ / 0-)

    that Phoenix has no train lines that pass through it. We are the 5th largest city in the country (Or 6th is you believe the folks in Philly) and we got nothing.  

    Isn't Time the Terrorists Feared America?

    by EMKennedyLucio on Mon Jan 28, 2008 at 04:36:10 PM PST

  •  Winnemucca! (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

       "The City of Paved Streets"

       I love that town, the people know which end is up.

    Now look what those barbarians are making us do! Gavin M.(-8.75,-8.36)

    by alain2112 on Mon Jan 28, 2008 at 04:43:40 PM PST

  •  Jeff City, MO to Chicago (0+ / 0-)

    We did that a few years ago and it was great for the most part.  We were about 3 hours late getting into Chicago due to several unscheduled stops - one for cows - along the way.  On the return trip the A/C failed on one of the cars but fortunately they had enough room to move everyone to another car.

    But for just over $100 for two people round trip, I'd do it again in a heartbeat!

    The Rapture is not an exit strategy. (-6.5/-7.33)

    by pidge not midge on Mon Jan 28, 2008 at 04:49:16 PM PST

  •  This reminds me of a trip (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    I took from Emeryville (near Berkeley, where I live) to Sacramento before dawn. Watching dawn come up blood red near the delta (around the sugar plant) was one of the more spectacular views I've had travelling in awhile.

    And it was there, all along. It just took a train to see it. Next time, I would make a fabulous breakfast or lunch and bring it on board.

    To say I am a Democrat is an understatement. I'm all too well a Democrat.

    by Fe Bongolan on Mon Jan 28, 2008 at 04:51:55 PM PST

  •  When I moved back to Los Angeles 03/2002 (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Sandia Blanca, Justus

    I took Amtrak from Birmingham, Alabama to Union Station Los Angeles, with an overnight stop in New Orleans.  The train was packed with young people traveling home for spring vacation, old people, children, and vacationers.

    I had a blast!  Much of my household goods traveled with me via rail and it was much cheaper than hiring a moving company.  I ate well and generally had a very relaxing trip.

    The only thing I'd do differently is to spring for a sleeper car.

    It's unfortunate that our government isn't funding rail as well as they should.  

    Be not deceived: evil communications corrupt good manners. ~~ I Corinthians 15:33

    by 99 Percent Pure on Mon Jan 28, 2008 at 05:01:07 PM PST

  •  I added the 'teaching' tag (0+ / 0-)

    and will include this in my weekly roundup "what have you got to learn?".

    A link will appear in my sig when it goes up in about an hour.

    If you write (or see) more diaries that fit there, could you add the teaching tag?


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