Friday, October 23, 2015

An American train

Trains in America aren't very good. People don't use them much so the government subsidizes the passenger train system. The subsidies guarantee that the trains will run, but they don't assure quality. Freight trains get priority and if anything goes wrong anywhere in the system, the passenger trains get delayed. And once a train  gets delayed, the whole rhythm of the tracks gets out of whack and the delays keep adding up.

Years ago, I used to take trains often between Boston and New York because nobody in his right mind wants to park a car in Manhattan. Most of the time any given train would be late, but the amount of lateness varied. The government poured money over the problem, fixing up the tracks and starting a deluxe fast train called Acela. The Acela trains tend to run on time, but the rest of the passenger trains still run late to very late. I don't ride those trains any more because there's plenty of bus service and the buses almost always run on schedule, cost less, and get there sooner.

We got onto a train today, however. We're not going to New York -- we're going to Portland, Maine. There's a nice train called The Downeaster, which pretty much gets the track to itself. We could have taken a bus with shorter expected travel time, but Alla really wanted the train. She thought the route might be prettier and we'd save a couple of dollars.

It's pretty and we did save a little money, but it's still Amtrak. We left Boston on schedule and passed the first few towns uneventfully. Then, near the New Hampshire border, we stopped. The conductor told us that we had a stop signal alongside the tracks and we'd have to wait for the light to turn green. Later he announced that he was still waiting to hear from the dispatcher to learn what's going on. I took a nap.

I felt like Rip Van Winkle. When the train started moving, I woke up and checked my watch. We'd entered a new epoch. Well, anyway, I'd slept for forty minutes. This didn't mean that we were just forty minutes late, however. Now we had to stall around so that some other train could go around us.

I'm glad we bought one-easy tickets. This means we can go home on a bus.

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