Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Bullet Trains in America

For those of you who didn't already know, I may be the world's biggest advocate for train travel. I don't know if you could go so far as to call me anti-car, but I love the train. Traveling in Europe and living in Japan quickly taught me the value of train travel.

1- They are fast

The Shinkansen in Japan has hit speeds up to 275 mph. The French TGV has hit 320. Both Trains regularly top out around the 170-180 mph mark in regular travel, but that is still really freaking fast.

2- They are smooth

You can easily eat a meal, write a letter, read a book or do just about anything on a train. 50% of the people riding these trains are sleeping due to living in our sleep deprived world. The trains in Japan were so smooth, I was sometimes afraid to fall asleep for fear that I wouldn't feel it stop.

3- They are easy to use

Go to the station, find out what time the train is going to the city you want to go to. Get on the train at that time. Go. Not hard. You don't have to go through massive terminals (a la Intercontinental Houston or any other International Airport). You don't have to get there 6 hours before just to make sure they can check every orifice* of your body for sharp devices. You don't need a travel agent. You don't have to fill up with gas, check tire pressure, get an oil change, etc. Granted, in our post 9/11 continued security freak-out we would still find ways to check everyone before getting on a train. In Ueda where I lived, you had 30 seconds to get on the train, find your seat, and sit down. 30 seconds. It was awesome.

So my dream is to have a Houston-Dallas-Austin train. Most of our cities aren't set-up for travel without a car, but think about all the extra jobs that could be provided for cab drivers, construction workers (building public transportation), ticket-takers, etc. If you have ever driven I-45 from Houston to Dallas, I-35 from Dallas to Austin, or 290 from Austin to Houston, you know that these are three of the most boring drives ever. Totally flat in a straight line. On the weekends, the traffic getting out of any of these towns is brutal. Each trip takes at least 2 hours 30 minutes, if not up to 5 hours. (Just try to go to Dallas in under 5 hours from Houston on a Friday afternoon.) These drives are so boring that people routinely fall asleep and are seriously injured or killed in resulting accidents.

It is roughly 250 miles from Houston to Dallas. At an average of 150 mph, it would take 1 hour 40 mins to get to Dallas. Plus, you could sleep. Or read. Or have a cup of coffee or a beer and some nice conversation. You could leave Houston at 6 and be at dinner with a friend in Dallas at 8. Even if it cost you $60, I can't help but think that people would line up for it. The lack of stress, the lack of wear-and-tear on the car.... I mean c'mon!

We are ready for the renaissance of train travel in America. Struggling airlines could become Air-Train conglomerates. "I'm taking the 7:00 am Southwest Trainlines Bullet to Dallas for my 9:30 meeting." Imagine that. Granted, planes are always going to be the faster way to travel long distances. But for the 100-300 mile distance, the plane and the train are basically the same!

College students would buy rail passes to travel America during Spring Break, Christmas Break, or the Summer. Hostels and Hotels would spring up in small towns everywhere near the station. Tourism would increase in beautiful but unknown places like Arkansas, that people routinely fly over on their way to other destinations. The romanticism of train travel need not be underestimated.

Here is what we did in the 50's. Eisenhower was definitely a visionary in this respect. Here we are 50 years later, and we are in need of a new system. A high-speed rail system.

*First time orifice has been used on mikeandtimblog.blogspot.com


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