Monday, September 26, 2005

This is Not the Train System You Are Looking For
Last night, I went to the Amtrak station in Raleigh to pick up my aunt and uncle when they were coming back from the protest in DC. This was my first experience with anything related to Amtrak, aside from the one time I considered taking the train from Michigan to Chicago, decided it was too inconvenient, slow, and expensive, and ended up just driving instead, which sort of defeated the purpose. As it turns out, my earlier estimation of Amtrak was pretty accurate.

I was originally supposed to pick them up at about 9pm. At around 5 that afternoon, I got a call saying the train was going to be 3 hours late, and they were still sitting around in Alexandria. My first thought was, if that had happened in Japan, it would have made the national news, the train officials would have been apologizing left and right, an investigation into what had gone wrong would have been launched, and it would have caused scheduling issues for the whole country. I only had one train be late in my whole year in Japan, and that 20 minute delay elicited many apologies from the conductor for the whole ride.

In addition, in thinking about comparative distances, it seems to me that the trip from Tokyo to Sendai in Japan was maybe a little longer by car than the one from Raleigh to DC, about 6 hours. The shinkansen ride, on the other hand, was only 2 hours. The train ride on Amtrak from DC to Raleigh must have taken longer than it would have taken to drive, and it looks like from the Amtrak website that in the best circumstances, it's about the same amount of time. And that's only if any of the departure times are convenient for you. Is it any wonder the US has no viable form of national public transportation?

The other thing that struck me, when we got to the station, is that we could just walk right up to the train. There is no security whatsoever. This is certainly a contrast with the ridiculousness that exists in US airports now, but even in Japan, you had to have a ticket to get onto the train platform. (They did have this cool thing where you could buy a "companion" ticket to just go wait with the person on the plaform, but you still had to have a ticket of some kind.) Of course, my uncle pointed out that, if you hijacked a train in the US, where would you go? And even if you did stop a train in the US, no one would really care, because it wouldn't cause any kind of national crisis.

So once again, I am faced with the fact that, much as I would like to sit on a train and read instead of having to drive myself to other cities in the US, this is unlikely to ever happen. Unless I move to another country, I am unlikely to have a satisfactory public transportation experience ever again. *sigh*

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