As I type this post, I periodically look to my left out the window at the beautiful New York urban “countryside.” The Amtrak 54 Vermonter I am riding is about five hours out from Amherst right now, five long hours during which I will be alternating between sleeping and furiously trying to finish all of the work I was assigned over Spring Break—due tomorrow.
I am an admitted hater of public transportation. Buses are crowded, subways are confusing as hell, and flying 30,000 through the air in a pressurized metal tube is expensive (don’t even get me started on security).
But trains… Trains are different. Growing up in the Midwest, I knew that they existed and were in commercial use, but I’d certainly never been on one. Until the summer before my senior year of high school, when I took the train from Chicago to the East Coast to look at colleges (including one in particular in the quaint town of Amherst, MA).
I’ll be honest, having never been on a train before, waiting in Union Station I expected the Amtrak to be basically on par with the Hogwarts Express: cute compartments, nice wood paneling and glass doors, a friendly witch pushing a trolley car full of candy… I was young and naïve, okay! That summer I learned a lot about trains. Trains can be crowded. Train schedules can be confusing as hell. Trains can be inconvenient and fairly expensive. But trains are still freaking awesome. Something about them is really endearing to me; they have a romantic aspect to them, reminiscent of a bygone time in history.
It seems funny to me that air travel is supposed to be the new, most efficient way to get from one place to another, and yet trains still seem to be superior (in my opinion). First of all, there is no TSA or trauma of airport security. Sometimes Amtrak security comes and randomly searches cars or brings in dogs and does drug sweeps, but for the most part you’re free to take care of your own bags don’t have to worry about an awkward pat-down. Next, trains are much more spacious than planes. I am a bit on the abnormally tall side, and whenever I step into a plane and have to duck my head down because of the low ceiling I get that nervous claustrophobicy feeling in my stomach. Not a problem on the train! Not only are trains taller and wider than planes, you get way more leg and reclining room. I’m pretty sure the seats are just bigger as well. And then there are the outlets! That’s right, as I type this my laptop is plugged in and happily charging away. Can you do that on airplane? Didn’t think so. This train also gets Wi-Fi, but I’ll concede that it’s pretty slow and inconsistent (but better than nothing). Moving on full speed ahead (pun intended), my Spring Break jaunt to Philadelphia comes in at a total cost of $154 round-trip (I did get 10% knocked off for a AAA membership). According to Travelocity.com, it would cost $361.20 at the cheapest to fly from Bradley to Philadelphia—and that’s just one way! Poor college student that I am, this is a major perk. To top it all off, trains are better for the environment. A train uses 70% less energy than a jet airplane and even adds 85% less air pollution. Not only can you help the environment by riding trains, but you can appreciate it as well. No longer fight with your neighbor for the tiny window that you have to push your face against to see the land far below—no, on a train the windows are large enough for all to admire the view. Lush forests, cute towns, and awesome graffiti pass right before your eyes and at your level.
It’s true that train trips are time consuming and much slower than planes—my trip to Philadelphia from Amherst was seven hours one-way, and peeing on the train is no picnic—and so I understand why an airplane is the better choice if you need to get somewhere fast. But I’d like to hope that our busy world could maybe slow down for a bit. Yes, seven hours is a long time, but it’s seven hours that I’ve really enjoyed. New England is beautiful in the spring, the rocking of the train is relaxing, and the trip as a whole has been a nice escape from the hectic rush of normal life. I have four more hours until we reach Amherst and I have to get off, and I can’t help but wish it could be a little longer.