Alhough it’s often mentioned as a possible solution to our energy problems, rail travel is never quite taken seriously. There are too few trains and too many people needing to go places that trains don’t go. it’s possible, though, that an improved train system might solve individual struggles with travel costs, congestion and exhaustion.
Early this week I had a meeting in Richmond, a meeting in Washington, and a family gathering back in Richmond. Reluctant to face I-95 between Richmond and DC during rush hour, I parked my car at the Staple Mills station and for $22, headed north. We chugged along through swampland and forest and, two hours later, I was there. What did I do with my extra two hours? I read a book, drank coffee, and, during a flat stretch, worked on my computer. On the way back, I took a nap, drank a beer and held a baby while his mother went to the dining car. I also saved $40 because I didn’t have to park.
Traveling this way uses half the energy consumed by airplane travel and just a fraction of the energy used by the hundred or so Amtrak passengers who might have driven their own cars. It also addresses the harder-to-measure aspects of commuting: massive traffic tie-ups, high-speed accidents and personal anxiety. The trains between central Virginia and Washington have been especially popular, and Amtrak is looking into a daily commuter train between Lynchburg and the nation’s capitol.
Sure, it’s not the whole answer, and there are many drawbacks. Amtrak is often late and often overbooked, and its usefulness is limited by the quality of public transportation at the other end. Think of it as an alternative sometime when you have to go to New York, Chicago, Cincinnatti, Charleston, Philadelphia or Baltimore as well as DC, and try it out: www.amtrak.com.
Go to AGratefulSeason.com on the World Wide Web.