Thursday, December 8, 2016

Slow Trains

Add to Google Reader or HomepageYears ago, I asked my secretary to do something that was either redundant or not needed which she pointed out to me. I still asked her to do it – whatever it was, only to realize that she was right. When she brought me the results, I apologized and admitted that I was wrong. She looked at me over the top of her big 1970s glasses and said: “When God was handing out brains, you thought he said trains and said ‘I’ll take the slow one.’”

Taking the Amtrak train to Chicago last week, I was thinking that I have still not learned my lesson. I still take the slow one. Taking the train to Chicago requires as much time as driving. If we had been able to take a French fast train, we would have arrived in Chicago in less than two hours. Instead, we were on the train for almost four hours.

It is so different from taking a train in France. The French trains are called “TGV” (Train à Grande Vitesse) and they roll at 130 miles an hour.

The big difference is that French trains can roll without interruption. They never have to cross a road or street. Every rail/road intersection is either an overpass or an underpass. The Amtrak train to Chicago crossed a street or road about every four or five minutes until the train got past Niles, MI and then completed the route on Chicago train tracks (no street crossings).

Amtrak does not own the rails on which its trains operate. They have had to rent rail line time from freight lines and, as renters, Amtrak gets lower right of way priority. (Our trip to Chicago was slowed by 15-20 minutes because of a rail use conflict. Our delay was small in comparison to horror stories that we have heard.)

Europe made train travel a priority and as a result has an amazing network of rail lines. A person can leave London in the morning and have dinner in the south of France the same day. The trains are electric and controlled by a computer network. They are as clean as they are fast. Newer rail beds and electric motors make for a very smooth ride on trains in France. The Amtrak ride was not nearly as smooth. Walking to the café car on the way to Chicago, I looked like a little boy who had filled his pants with my wide stride so as not to fall on someone as the cars jostled back and forth. Needless to say, I held my beverage rather than setting it on the tray.

Not everyone likes the fast trains. We have an ex-pat friend who laments the loss of slow trains in Europe. He claims that one can no longer get a proper meal on a train. No more dinner jacket dining for the James Bond types of the world.

I may have chosen the slow one before but now I prefer the fast trains of France.