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Can we have some nice things now?

Pete Buttigieg at Washington Union Station. Source: Wikipedia.

With “Amtrak Joe” in the White House, and the new U.S. secretary of transportation wanting to lead the world in high-speed rail (we’re now 19th) can we Americans now have some nice things?

To people like me, who have ridden thousands of miles on trains (President Biden has ridden 770,000 miles on trains), it amazes me how many people have never ridden a train. How could they not be curious? I admit that I love cars, too. But where is their spirit of adventure? Certain images inspire awe and imagination: A Concorde in flight (a sight not seen since 2003), a square-rigged sailing ship under full sail in a white-capped sea, a Saturn 5 rocket lifting off, a Boeing 747 descending above the Golden Gate Bridge, a steam train working its way across Scotland’s Glenfinnan Viaduct on its way to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Some of those things are not doable. But anyone, even an American, can ride a train.

We don’t have a lot of details so far, but we do know that the Biden administration and the new Congress will push for a major investment in high-speed rail. We also know that Republicans will fight tooth and claw to resist, though Republicans don’t seem to mind the billions of dollars that this country spends each year on roads and gasoline.

Why do conservatives hate trains? The pompous and dull-witted George Will is infamous for claiming to know why we progressives love trains: “[T]he real reason for progressives’ passion for trains is their goal of diminishing Americans’ individualism in order to make them more amenable to collectivism.” Does that make any sense at all when a few million Americans fly each day on packed airplanes, with about as much room left for their individualism as for their legs? I’m not the first to suspect that the real reason that conservatives hate trains is racism.

Trains for America — fast ones — make more sense now than ever. Our interstate highways are overloaded, dangerous, and miserable. To me, one of the most exciting things about this change in the American government is that trains are back on the agenda. New York City has made a nice start with the new train hall at Pennsylvania Station.

One more thing. The kind of people who hate trains also are the kind of people who would try to sabotage the U.S. Postal Service. The first order of business is to fire Louis DeJoy, a Trump appointee. Then we can start talking about new services, new revenues, and a new prosperity for the Postal Service.

I took this photo in Paddington Station in August 2019, on my way from London Heathrow to Edinburgh.

Catching the train from Uig to Inverness, August 2019

New York City’s new train hall. Source: Wikipedia, photo by Jim Henderson

The Jacobite steam train crossing the Glenfinnan Viaduct. Source: Wikipedia photo by Nicholas Benutzer.


  1. Jo wrote:

    I love riding on trains, and was an adult before had the opportunity. While visiting my brother in White Plains, it was easy to go into New York City on the train. My oldest grandson lived in Almagordo,NM and we rode Amtrak to El Paso, TX to visit. We were in a “sleeper car” on that trip and the service was excellent. Later, flew to Seattle, WA and traveled by car to San Francisco, CA and rode the train back.
    We boarded in Emeryville. We were delayed leaving and, as a result, were able to travel through the Cascade Mountains during daylight hours. Lucky us. While visiting France, we traveled from Paris to Colmar via train. I was very impressed with how much trains are utilized there. That mode of travel is so under-utilized in the U.S. Just writing this makes me want to take another trip via train soon.

    Tuesday, March 23, 2021 at 10:27 pm | Permalink
  2. daltoni wrote:

    Hi, Jo: Those trips sound excellent. In this part of the U.S., we are lucky to have the Crescent. My next train trip in the U.S., I think, will be to New York on the Crescent, boarding in Danville, Virginia. I’ve ridden the Crescent to New York many times over many years, going back to when it was still operated by Southern Railway. The train run that I will never get tired of, though, is London to Edinburgh. It’s a shame that most Americans can’t compare life in the U.S. to life in Europe and thus have no vision of how much better life in this country could be.

    Wednesday, March 24, 2021 at 8:47 am | Permalink

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