The Train

DSCN0008We had varied expectations about catching the train from Orlando to Savannah and then on to New York. Julia and I have travelled extensively on trains in Japan, used the train system somewhat in England, zipped along at high speed from France to the UK, risked our health on an Egyptian train, I have experience long distance train travel in Australia, and only I have frequented Amtrak in the good old US of A; this will be Julia’s first time.

DSCN0010I have only twice rode the Amtrak and my very first experience was skewed. A friend invited me on a journey to Reno from Oakland, on his own classic 1930’s and fully restored private carriage. It was towed by an Amtrak engine, but that was about all that connected us to America’s main train system. Okay I admit it wasn’t a normal modern American train experience to have your own private chef, on your own private carriage, as it wound its way through the snow covered Sierra Nevada Mountains.

DSCN0011My second experience with Amtrak was a trip from Oakland to San Simeon at the insistence of my dad. For some reason he wanted to take the train and not drive. It might have been a measure of his confidence in my driving skill. I’ve tried to convince myself that he wanted to experience America rather than avoid my driving. As you can imagine this second experience was nothing like my first, but it was: okay.

DSCN0013So why take the train up the Eastern Seaboard? Good question and I guess the only answer is once again the limitations of my meat-based memory system. Seeing all of my past train journeys were taken long ago it’s not surprising I was convinced this would be a good idea. On the positive side of this systemic failure in my memory is the far distant feeling and very faint positive recollections I have of traveling on the Japanese train system. In Japan trains are the main source of country-wide travel. And the Japanese place value on their trains and supporting infrastructure. Because of their pride in this most efficient of public transportation systems traveling on Japanese trains is a very pleasant experience indeed.

In England their once mighty train system has fallen into private ownership and, as to be expected, become overpriced and second rate. Today if you want a cost effective public transport in England I would recommend you take a bus. Of course buses are not efficient, but it seems the British place private ownership over environmental efficiencies.

The worst train trip I have ever taken was a ride from Cairo to Luxor. I’m not sure if Third-World has any meaning these days, but if it exists you’ll find it for sure on an Egyptian train. It wasn’t that the carriages were Spartan and lacking even basic amenities, or even the conspicuous absence of female passengers, but the restrooms. It’s difficult for me to describe to you the state these primitive closets started out in. But, the condition they were in at the end of our trip is just too horrifying to explain in a polite correspondence.

The second worst train trip I ever took was the over-night train from Melbourne to Adelaide in Australia. The problem with this journey was fumes. For some reason, I guess I will never understand, the giant diesel engine pulling the long collection of carriages and cars poured noxious fumes into our sleeper car all night long. This was so nauseating that I could not resist the urge to throw-up and eventually I felt the best thing for it was to hang myself. Fortunately for me the train arrived in Adelaide before I had time to execute my urge. I disembarked without sleep, sick as a dog, grumpy, and swearing never again to travel on a train.

So as you can imagine it is hard for me to understand why I sit on a train traveling to Savanah writing this note to you. Life is a twisty curving thing. But, today’s journey is not at all bad. As compared to some of my train journeys it falls somewhere in the middle. If we were to fly we’d get there faster, but we’d have to put up with airports and airplanes and all of their associated nuisances. If we were to drive we’d still get there faster, but I wouldn’t be able to write this blog, or read my book, or drink my tea in comfort. So the train is slow, but it’s efficient and I’ll take that over fast anytime.