5 Kind-Of Reasons America Should Have More Trains

Clouds of smoke fill the dim train compartment and somewhere a person hawks a massive loogie and spits. In one corner, a group of people is speaking in loud volumes over a game of cards with their travel partners and mothers sit in silence trying to quiet their crying children. The floor is littered with glorious amounts of empty shells that once held sunflower seeds. It seems no one has bothered to sweep them up. Every now and again, the 60 mph train would give great big lurches like an old man trying to breathe properly but unable to. The brakes screech along the long metal treads and the people playing cards raise their voices to meet the noise. In the next compartment, un-made beds are stacked to the top of the car like bunks, and old men tanned from the countryside sun enjoy conversation over cigarettes and bare feet. With such a loud and unruly atmosphere, it’s unlikely to see a train attendant walk through what feels like a zoo and it’s a feeling some can’t get enough of. These trains are cheap and without many rules, but the perfect place to people-watch without breaking your wallet.

Once in a while, a fast train will speed by, its incredible momentum shaking your train uncomfortably. On that train, female attendants come more frequently, speaking in hushed tones and suited in pressed purple uniforms and red smiles. The floor is a spotless blue, the children are well-behaved, and the brightly lit interior only adds to the comfort of your spacious reclining seat. Fast trains speak tranquility and elegance. They say, ‘time goes quickly,’ so take a nap, read a book, listen to your favorite music. Relax. It’s when you glance at your watch and see the time that you think, ‘Wow, this 185 mph train is faster than I thought.’ On fast trains, never would one worry about the rush of finding their seat in the chaos of the crowd, their assigned bed being dirty, or of a countryside farmer trying to argue their way into your seat. As far as ease and efficiency, fast trains are the best option for the elegant traveler. No matter how fancy or chaotic, railway transportation was a gift to the life of a traveling Peace Corps Volunteer.

Trains are one of China’s most sought-after forms of transportation especially during the great migration around the Chinese Lunar New Year. Never will a person see larger groups of people traveling together at once like they would see in China. According to mashable.com, in February 2016, an estimated 2.9 billion trips are made during the Chinese Spring Festival, one of the most important celebrations of the year. This includes routes through bus, plane, and train. While many do use flight as a method of travel, a grand majority is also flooding the railway platforms each year. While trains are a fairly convenient route for transportation, they a more lengthy than flying. But in China time doesn’t always appear to be an issue. The majority of the Chinese population has enjoyed the slowed-down and less rushed lifestyles of living and traveling, and honestly, who doesn’t enjoy staring out of the train car window in pensive thought?

Regardless of a person’s preferences of transportation, the idea of trains is to get from one place to the other, and however long the travel time is is up to the traveler. And like Europe, who has also established great methods of transportation, China could debatably be one of the most convenient countries on this planet to travel in and with sixty percent of the trains being fast trains and combined 12,000 miles worth of fast train track, who wouldn’t choose railway? Many cities in China are blessed with train stations, new, old or both, and can transport anyone anywhere for as little as $4 depending on the type of train they choose. Why buy a plane ticket when a train ticket can take you there for half the price and you get to essential road trip without the hassle of driving yourself?

America does have one set of tracks though, Amtrak, a mode of transportation less commonly used to that of an average American’s more preferred transport of flying and even driving. And the platform is by far less crowded and popular to that of China’s. As I traveled through China, with an incredibly small wallet, I thought, ‘Trains in China are so convenient, why hasn’t America gotten on board with the railway option?’ In 2011, Amtrak stated that by 2040, fast trains will be a convenient mode of transportation for all those traveling in America. I guess that means we have to wait.

While we’re waiting, why should America have more trains?


1. Trains are Fun

More than anything, railway travel is just fun and you can relax while traveling and even sleep if need be. But not Amtrak trains, because sometimes they are so empty you hear crickets, however traveling with a few friends or heck, even making new friends with a compartment neighbor could very well be the highlight of your travel should you choose the railway option.

2. Convenient for the Carless

If the trains were anything like that of China’s, people without cars, and even with, could suddenly travel to all corners of the US whether for business or pleasure without the hassle of filling their car up every 300 miles. And need you not worry about placing too many miles on your car for the sake of adventure, all you’d require is a train ticket.

3. America the Beautiful

America really is gorgeous, and while road trips are amazing, so is being able to enjoy the scenery as you drive. Getting to be on a train frees up your hands and the pressure to pay attention to the road as you travel to your destination. Imagine you booked a glorious sleeper in the sleeper car and you are next to a window. The sun of the early sunrise shines through the foggy glass to lay a warm golden ray on your cheek and you wake to the gift of rolling green hills of America’s countryside. Imagine.

4. Cheaper than Driving and Flying

If America gets it right, it very well could be a cheaper and more efficient way of travel for those looking to get from one place to the other without breaking your pockets. Perhaps you are met with that big-shot interview in New York but you can’t get to it because the airline tickets cost fifty times more than what’s in your pocket. If the convenient, cheap, fast, and reliable railway transportation were available, you just might be lucky enough to take a seat on a train and go get that job.

5. Greener… Maybe?

There is still some debate as to whether or not trains are greener modes of transportation, but in an article written by Will Henley for The Guardian in 2013, 71% of CO2 emissions in America come from car emissions while a small 1.8% comes from railways. Who is to say the outcome of how it will affect our precious air? There is no harm in trying.
Perhaps there will come a time when we can learn from our Chinese counterparts and find a way to make trains a considered option of travel, but until then, all one can do is hope and dream for such a perfect platform for travel and go to China to live that dream.