Travel Smart: America’s Romance with the Rails

For speeding along at 200 m.p.h., there’s the TGV. For everything else there’s Amtrak.

Dear Amtrak, We’ve loved you ever since you took over from the dying private railroads back in 1970. But, like any long-running affair, things haven’t always gone smoothly. Why were you late all those times I went to visit my friend in New Haven? How do you explain that unruly crowd in the bar car on the Sunset Limited from Miami to Mobile? Not exactly my fantasy of cocktails on the old 20th Century. Still, you’ve kept the dream of railroading alive, from the New York islands to the Gulf Stream waters, and across the Rockies all the way to the Promised Land of California.

Anyway, I can’t blame you for everything. While lots of Senators and Representatives love you, too, especially if you go through their states, not all of them are willing to keep you in proper style. I think of that as I try to build my own burger in the “dining car.” But I forgive.

Your best days may be ahead, Amtrak. President Obama has designated ten parts of the country as potential high-speed rail corridors, something to make us transportation-proud. Imagine America with a Bullet Train to call its own. Just think of whizzing from San Francisco to L.A. in under three hours, or popping down to Orlando the way the French go to Lyon for a gourmet meal. All we need is the money behind a thousand stimulus packages, the political will of Alexander the Great, and enough patience to outlast environmental-impact studies that would stretch into the next Ice Age. But we’re headed down the right track. Let’s hope the new experiment with regional food—jambalaya on the City of New Orleans; BBQ on the Texas Eagle—takes off system-wide. Amtrak, you were there for us in the tough times. You’ll be there for us when we finally arrive. Meanwhile, we aren’t going anywhere soon without you.

Yours truly, America

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