Friday, March 4, 2011

Train in Vain

I think this is only 100% correct. I couldn't get George Will's absurd piece about trains being unAmerican, but then again I am so confused on what exactly is unAmerican and what isn't anymore. To me, trains are not only a part of my everyday life, but are much more democratic than flying. Flying to me, feels like being contained in a giant, terrifying pre-school. It seems the exact opposite of freedom.

JR just built a new Shinkansen line direct from Kagoshima to Kansai. It opens next week. My wife's grandfather, a lifelong JR employee, has a ticket on the first run. It is a strangely emotional thing. Think about how wonderful this is though; when I go to Kagoshima for summer break, all I have to do is walk down the street for ten minutes. Get on the subway for Kyoto Station. Ride that for about ten minutes. Buy a $150 ticket for the next train available. Walk on, sit down, read a book, drink a beer, watch the world go by and walk off a few hours later on another island at the bottom of the country. No IDs. No metal detectors. No tiny seat. No terror. No delays (probably.) What is this conservative hang-up about trains? It seems arbitrary, like the whole vindictive styrofoam thing. It probably has bigger meaning though.

Trains. Make them. Build them. Ride them. Please. Florida, I am looking at you here.

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

David here:
Think of all the people who went to the west on trains, whink of the civil war and how central the train was, think of all the train songs in the American songbook, think of the Orange Blossom Special, the City of New Orleans, the Aztec Eagle, think of two fine spots on the monopoly board, of the old L&N bridge near my house. Think of HO and O scale trains running in circles in the basements of millions of 10 year old boys and 50 year old hobbyists (Thank you Lionel). Think of the first ever American action movie (The Great Train Robbery) and Butch and Sundance and all that money flying through the air.
Think of all those commuters in New York riding back out to Connecticut, of John Henry, of coolies, of the golden spike, of Proctor Knott delivering the funniest speech ever on the floor of congress about the pleasures and riches of Duluth (If you don't know it, you owe it to yourself to look it up.)
Personally, I think of my Uncle Woody who drove the engine on the Townsend railroad, his wife Aunt Flo who was Vice-president of the same railroad, and on the other side of the family, an Uncle who was killed at the crossing and a Great Grandfather who was a hostler. earning the bread my Granny grew up on by shoveling the clinkers out of the engines when they pulled into the roundhouse at circle park, now a bunch of administrators offices on the UT campus.
Calling trains un-American is just plain..... welll, un-American.

Anonymous said...

I would guess the usual arguments would be:
1) the US, unlike France, Germany, or Japan, is too big for high-speed intercity rail to be economical.
2) not only too big, but the US also has a too-widely-dispersed distribution of major metropolitan areas.

For example, if the only important American cities existed from Washington to Boston, that might be fine despite the largeness of the entire entity. Or even if there were two clusters of important cities (say, the northeast corridor and San Diego-LA-San Francisco). But there are also of course a few important cities in Texas, in the Pacific Northwest, and some isolated cities of importance (Chicago, Atlanta, Denver, Miami), with vast spaces of unimportant towns lying between all the above.

On a personal note, I am with you. I don't like flying. It creeps me out. But it seems there are a lot of reasons why Americans will always be a flying people.

tas wanita said...

Think of all those commuters in New York riding back out to Connecticut, of John Henry, of coolies, of the golden spike, of Proctor Knott delivering the funniest speech ever on the floor of congress about the pleasures and riches of Duluth (If you don't know it, you owe it to yourself to look it up.)

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attempting to silence the voices in my head.