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Quiet Car Noises

Amtrak and the future of conservatism. North by North Idaho to Stein country. Labour’s Guardian. Indicators of irreversible decline. And more.

6.4.04

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IN TRAINING
Re: R. Emmett Tyrrell, Jr.'s Choo-Choo Conservatism:

While I too use the train from DC to Philly and New York instead of air travel, it should be noted that the American taxpayer subsidy to Bob's and my travel is -- several times -- the Amtrak ticket price. I suppose we can view this situation as merely having some of our tax money returned as a government benefit, but this is not something a taxpayer in Bloomington, Indiana, would appreciate hearing.
-- Jameson Campaigne
Ottawa, Illinois

I am glad that Mr. Tyrrell does not recommend transatlantic rail travel, for that would certainly be a very damp trip. However, if he really meant to disavow transcontinental rail travel, this fellow ex-Hoosier must take issue with him.

Yes, transcontinental Amtrak rail service is "slow, old-fashioned, and stupid" for business travel, but that is precisely why I like it for family vacations. My wife and I agree that if you do not expect consistently good service from union-controlled Amtrak, it can be a most pleasurable form of family travel. No need to worry about traffic, bad drivers, or children with antsy bladders. We can spend quality time with our children, and enjoy long conversations with them with no car travel-related distractions. We can watch movies on the computer, take a trip to the snack car, and in the sight-seeing car, we can enjoy the view of the country side or slower travel through large and small towns, where real Americans live and work and seldom complain. I have no problem reading for about 30 minutes at a time, but I agree that the swaying motion of rail travel makes it difficult for a long read. However, many retired, budget conscious Americans travel by rail, and they always seem willing to engage in conversation, with us and our children. They appreciate well-behaved children, but also give an understanding look to parents dealing with an occasionally misbehaving child. Swapping stories with real Americans makes up for lost reading time, which is best done at home after the kids are in bed.

I suggest that Mr. Tyrrell take a two-week vacation this summer by rail to Glacier National Park. If he can move from work mode to vacation mode, enjoy the ride and the people, and the mountain hiking, then he may change his mind about transcontinental rail travel. You may not get any work done, but you will return home with your batteries fully charged.
-- Mike Spencer
Midland, Michigan

RET complains about the poor ride quality on passenger trains other than Acela Express.

The reason for this is the lack of investment in our mostly-private railroad infrastructure. A smooth ride for passenger trains requires that tracks be maintained to higher standards than are necessary for the safe passage of freight trains. This dichotomy grows as freight trains get heavier and heavier, and passenger trains get faster, but outside a few corridors, there is no money available for this level of maintenance.

As long as largely-unsubsidized* and tax-paying private-sector railroads have to compete with subsidized, tax-exempt highways, there isn't going to be sufficient capital invested in our rail network.

I agree the Quiet Cars are a godsend, but I've not experienced such pranksters or jackbooted conductors as RET has. People more or less take it upon themselves to make the system work -- a much higher level of society than you would find on the average airliner these days as people fight for prime spots for their oversized carry-on bags.
-- Matt Mitchell
Delaware Valley Association of Rail Passengers, Inc.
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

*Some railroads, particularly short lines, get funding for the purpose of maintaining connections to industrial shippers, because it keeps the industrial jobs from being moved elsewhere and because it reduces truck traffic on area roads.

R. Emmett Tyrrell, Jr., the libertarian-conservative-futurist, states, "I would not advocate the rails for transatlantic travel..."

Sorry, couldn't resist.
-- Mark Hessey
Belmar, New Jersey

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