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Welcome. I am the author of Universal Time, a sci-fi urban comedy;
Beaufort 1849, an historical novel set in antebellum South Carolina;
and Pearl City Control Theory, a comedy of manners set in present-day San Francisco.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Train Trip! Part 3

Gorgeous Utah (an iphone camera can't do justice)
The train is now 3 hours and 26 minutes delayed. The electrical debacle of yesterday evening cost us 3 hrs or so, but we haven't made it up with shorter stops at the stations or faster speeds. Instead we've lost more time. Most of our journey is literally at speeds of 30 mph.

Why am I in a hurry? After all, this is Amtrak. Many people are on vacation, choosing to take an Amtrak tour of the US instead of, say, a cruise to Alaska. They have all the time in the world. (They are also in private sleeper cars and eat every meal in the dining room.) The poor slobs in coach, well, you should have known what you were in for.

The thing is, rail can be electrified. Airplanes cannot. Cars can be electrified for short distances, but for long distances, they will be expensive energy gobblers, and it will be a long time before both our electrical grid and average household finances can support large numbers of them. In the medium term, electrified rail is what we're going to have. I know most people can't imagine this. This is why we, as a nation, won't deal with the reality that is pretty much baked into the cake (via climate change and peak oil) until it slaps us in the face.

An achievement indeed in 1869
Europe, China and Japan have invested in train infrastructure, and as a result their trains go four to eight (yes, eight!) times faster than ours. It is possible to have trains that substitute for plane trips under a 1000 miles rather well, but with the exception of the northeast corridor from Boston to Washington DC, our trains poke along like the Civil War just ended and Ulysses S. Grant is on board smoking his cigar. Hey, I have nothing against nostalgia and I love Ulysses S. Grant. The problem is, nostalgia doesn't create viable transportation, and we will soon be wishing our train lines weren't quite such a relic of another age. Train travel at 100 mph would be a piece of cake if we weren't so placidly accepting of rail infrastructure that hasn't been updated since Eisenhower got the grand idea to create the interstate highway system.

More gorgeous scenery
The good news is that the scenery in Utah is phenomenal. Magnificent. Stunning. Didn't see much of Salt Lake City because it was still dark when we got there, but ever since the wide-sweeping views drenched in clear, golden sunlight have been glorious. And there's plenty of time to soak it in as we coast by at 30 mph. (Okay, we may be at 40mph right now.)

Sleeping in coach was by no means comfortable but slightly better than I'd anticipated. I brought a neck pillow. (Good.) I wish I'd brought a lightweight, easy-to-pack blanket. Pretty much everyone had two seats to sleep on, and it was interesting to observe different people's reclining strategies. For me it was one of those sleep for an hour, wake briefly to reposition, go back to sleep for an hour nights. Got six hours of sleep. Could've been worse. When I woke for good, it was still dark and there was a huge orangey full moon in the sky ready to set.

Place to take the kids
The young couple with the little kids got off in Salt Lake City. Though the kids slept well all night, I fear the earlier delay tried the patience of their parents beyond their reserves. Per hour spent, traveling with children on a train is easier than on an airplane (room to move, room for them to lie down and take a nap, stuff for them to see out the window, able to walk them around, go hang out in the lounge car) but having to get through so many more hours is challenging. Little kids are cute, little kids are wonderful, little kids are so much work! I have to say I'm glad I'm through with that part of my life.

Okay, I should give Amtrak its due. We've made up half an hour and now are only 2 hours and 50 behind schedule. And we may actually be going 45 mph at the moment. We're still on the flats of Utah. The long climb into the Rockies is ahead.

The adventure continues!  See Part 4 here.

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