Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Train stopping

The Monk and Monkette went to Japan last May and traveled more than 900 miles by train all over the country. We rode "national" Japan Rail trains every day except one. We had one delay of about 10-12 minutes. And no, it wasn't on the super-fast Shinkansen bullet train. Those average a schedule deviation of 36 seconds per year!

So The Monk thought it'd be interesting on his trip to DC last weekend to ride the rails a bit. Because a flight to BWI was less expensive than a trip to Reagan National, I chose the BWI flight and would hop a train to DC from there.

Not doing that again.

Amtrak is a mess, pure and simple. The first train I wanted to catch was listed at 25 minutes late when I arrived at the station, it came 40 minutes past its schedule. On the way back to BWI from DC, the early train I hoped to catch was 20 minutes late. Unlike the clean and bright Japanese stations, BWI's lounge was ill-lit and the bridge to the southbound tracks smelled of urine. And the Amtrak coach seat I had from DC to BWI on Sunday was in a poorly lit, dank and musty coach car -- also opposite the intercity trains I rode in Japan.

This is a bad situation. Trains COULD be convenient and inexpensive if they were even mildly reliable. Long haul distances in the US are not for train travelers, but high speed rail could be beneficial for certain areas: Chicago-Milwaukee-Detroit-St. Louis, the Texas Triangle, and the Pacific Coast. If the Greens and the liberals really want to cut carbon emissions, they should strive for public-private partnerships for rail travel in these areas.

And don't let Amtrak run the trains.

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