My question about the movie theme music was answered promptly, for which I am grateful. Now, let me ask another question that maybe some of y’all can answer: Why don’t we get the option of train travel in this country?
Yeah, I know there’s Amtrak (which I wrote about not long ago), and if I don’t mind going to the station in the wee hours of the morning, I will have the privilege of going one of a number of places along a corridor that runs along the Eastern seaboard. But I’d better want to go one of the few places the train goes, because outside of a few urban areas far to the north of us, there are no connecting locals to take us anywhere else.
In Europe, train travel is fast replacing airlines as the way to go. They even have supersleek, luxury bullet trains that go 200 miles per hour. Companies that provide service (remember when you got service from airlines) find they can make a competitive go of this, according to the piece in today’s Wall Street Journal headlined "Touring Europe at 200 Miles an Hour":
High-speed rail operators in Europe are ambitiously adding routes and cutting travel times, looking to snatch customers from the short-haul airline market. They are also adding perks, such as DVD and movie rentals and free newspapers. Plush high-speed trains are luring customers weary of the bare-bones service offered on the many discount airlines that have proliferated throughout Europe: Eurostar Group Ltd. trains (which run in the United Kingdom, France and Belgium) have 33 inches of leg room in coach, for example. Discount airline Ryanair has 30 inches of leg room — and the seats don’t recline.
Spain, which is at the forefront of the rail boom, got high-speed service connecting Madrid and Barcelona last month. The journey was slashed by two hours: Now it takes just two hours, 35 minutes. Switzerland in January saw the opening of a $3.5 billion, 22-mile tunnel that passes through the Alps, cutting travel time by 45 to 75 minutes within the country and between Switzerland and Italy.
I’m still wiped out from the trip I took over the weekend — driving all day Friday to central Pennsylvania in the rain, driving to northern New Jersey Saturday, driving back to central PA Sunday, driving back to Columbia on Monday. On Sunday, I did get to ride trains — from Isalen, NJ, on New Jersey Transit, then zipping around Manhattan on the subway. I dig that so much — just go down some steps, step on a train and find yourself in another world in minutes — that I go places I don’t have to go, just to ride the subway: We’ve got an hour! Let’s zip down to Little Italy and back! I’ll get you a cannoli!
Of course, the NJT and the subway are both ancient — I found myself at one point under New York looking at a off-painted girder and wondering just how long it had been holding up the skyscrapers above — and the scenery through the Newark area is even more grittily decayed looking in real life than it is in the opening credits of The Sopranos. But at least I get where I’m going without having to drive.
Several years ago, I would have flown this trip — the part to PA, at least. Nowadays, air travel can take more time, and more hassle, than driving. Literally.
If luxury train travel can be economically competitive over there, why not over here? Is it the regulatory environment, or what?