Thursday, March 26, 2009

Nice Try

It's that time again...planning the summer vacation hoopla. This year thought it might be interesting to throw a wrench in just to monkey with the plan at hand. One of my finest epiphanies: take Amtrak to visit the in-laws in D.C. Think the antithesis of George Jetson...jetpacks give way to riding the rails..I suppose what I really miss is the train schedule board before electronic schedules erased the sound of all of those numbers physically flipping. God I LOVE that sound. Those flipping numbers represented the sound of places to be discovered. So yes, nostalgia still makes me want to travel by rail. So 1880's of me.

Washington DC is an amazingly fun place in the summer. The romantic notion of arriving in our capital, into the glorious Grand Central Station- well, what's not to like? Traveling early in the summer one can circumvent the crowd gridlock at places like the Smithsonian, Air and Space Museum. The hook could have been the visions of a relaxing book filled journey. Where these visions took a U-turn was when I assumed the cost would be on par with air travel. Wrong. The roughly three day trip is about what it costs to take a holiday break in Mexico, like a really nice ten day holiday. Did I mention I only researched a one-way journey? Round trip is what I would spend to stay in Barcelona-for a month. Serious dough.

After spending more than my fair share of time riding trains all over the planet, suffice to say I was saddened by the cost of a cross country Amtrak journey. I wasn't after all planning an excursion aboard the Orient Express (which by the way, mile for mile may be a better value.) Certainly better ambiance but I digress. Maybe another option could be my childhood notion of high adventure. Hobo travel ala sack tied stick and can of beans. Okay, no beans-pate, nice olives and maybe some brie. Sounds curiously like a skit from Yogi Bear and his little buddy booboo but with a gourmet picnic. I was so sure I could sell this concept of spending the first weeks of summer as stylized cartoon characters. Highly romanticized I agree, isn't that the point?

Remember a few years ago, a big bail out of Amtrak kept the nations railway alive? Subsidization is certainly acceptable in my book as long as the investment might be amortized to soften the blow of ridership. Interesting figures about federal funding for different modes of transportation in the USA: while the government funded highways to the tune of $35 billion last year, and air travel received $14.5 billion, Amtrak receives a measly $1.3 billion - the same as it got in 1980.

Slate has an interesting article from 2002. Our own VP Joe Biden is a big supporter of Amtrak so you think more stimulus money/grenntech porkbarrel/good juju would be in store for this essentially government owned service. Nope.

Bottom line is I couldn't sell it. The looks from everyone at the breakfast table was as if I had fallen and hit my head. The eight year old suggested Jetblue, no red-eye. Yeah...I'll get right on that.


TedRielly said...

It is expensive but really worth it. The experience may change your mind about the airplane torture-routine.Never to be a poor sport but if train travel received the same amount of money as the airlines the discussion about cost would be a very different one. Take the train, it will be a great adventure!

Maria R said...

I too am put off by the expense of train travel. As a high school student, I once took Amtrak from Chicago to New York City and back, loving the whole trip. My husband and I loved the train service in France, Italy and Switzerland several years ago. Then about a year ago I researched a family trip to southern CA on Amtrak and was stopped cold. We just couldn't afford the trip. Plus, with public transportation so lacking on So Cal, we'd likely need to rent a car when we got there. Too much, so we skipped it. Bummer!