Of course travelling by train is great. You can enjoy the scenery, you are not polluting the environment, you are more relaxed, and you can enjoy a snooze without killing anybody in the process!
But there are a lot of myths and misconceptions about train travel that you no doubt have heard about. There are some wonderful aspects about train travel but also some challenges. As a dedicated train traveller, you will have no problems in relating to these.
1. You are generating more greenhouse gases than automobiles.
Back in 2008, Randal O’Toole of the Cato Institute claimed that trains were contributing more to greenhouse gases than people thought. Amtrak (the US rail network) came back and stated that trains are more energy efficient than cars by about 30%. They are also more efficient than planes by about 14%. You don’t even need to mention the fact about not littering downtown parking lots with parked automobiles with all the pollution and congestion they bring.
2. Your fellow passengers are always polite and quiet.
In an ideal world, this would certainly be the case. But let’s do a reality check. I find that people shouting on their cell phones is almost intolerable. You dream about Japan where passengers actually adhere to the notice to keep their mobiles on silent mode. It is also good to note that Amtrak have introduced quiet cars on their network.
Back in Europe, some passengers dump their bags on seats and you have to ask them to remove them so that you can actually get a place to sit. Now, if you had taken the car, you could have avoided all that hassle.
3. You are not producing any clean energy.
All the critics say that trains are not so eco friendly as people think. Let me tell you about Greenrail which will help trains to generate cleaner energy as they pass over the new type of sleepers (also called “ties”). Up until now, sleepers were either made from wood or pre-stressed concrete and they needed a lot of maintenance.
Italian engineers have developed Greenrail which will use old tires and plastic to make the sleepers. The wonderful thing is that through a piezoelectric system, the trains produce electricity as they pass over the sleepers. Engineers estimate that Greenrail sleepers on a 100 km stretch of railway could produce up to 1.25MWh an hour. This system has already been patented in 148 countries. Where there are no ways of recycling old tires and plastic, this will transform trains into a new source of green power.
4. You know that trains are always reliable and on time.
Unfortunately, even if you are the most ardent train fan, you cannot get away from the fact that delays, breakdowns, weather conditions, and strikes are all going to put a gremlin in the works sooner or later. The Italians say that delay times are always displayed in minutes, so that you can while away the time calculating how many hours that really amounts to. The Japanese, on the other hand will go to extreme lengths to apologize to their 22 million clients when their trains are a few minutes late. Even if a train is five minutes late, passengers are entitled to a “delay certificate” to show their employers when they arrive a little late for work!
5. You are destroying farmland by using high-speed trains.
Let’s take California as an example. The population is set to grow to over 60 million by the year 2050. If modern rail road connections are not made, there will be an urban sprawl, new freeways to cover 3,000 miles and five airport runways. All this would cost in the region of $100 billion. Just think of the impact that would have on the environment. Building high-speed rail corridors is a much better solution for everybody.
6. You are not really saving any money by travelling by train.
This is not true at all. Let us take Italy, where I live, as an example here. Lots of high-speed trains connecting all the major cities, downtown to downtown. The service is fast and unbelievably cheap, if you book in advance. Just think that you can cover Rome to Florence in one and a half hours for $21. Think about not having to get to the airport, the awful check-in and security procedures, and you need never worry about parking your car. You save an incredible amount of time, as well.
You can’t beat the train. It is still the cheapest and most relaxing form of transport available. Amtrak allows you to carry on 200 lbs of luggage free. Now try getting that amount checked in on a flight!
Featured photo credit: Local train (for local people)/hairyeggg via flickr.com