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Friday, January 25, 2008

What He Said

posted by on January 25 at 9:13 AM

Will at HorsesAss:

Who takes a train from Seattle to LA? Iíd rather fly some shitty cattle-call airline like Southwest for $49 and be subjected to screaming infants and douchebags in cutoffs reading Joel Osteen books out loud to themselves.

Amtrak sucks, and itís not because itís government run. Railway networks in Europe awesome, and theyíre all government run. Why? Infrastructure investment: they invest in theirs, and we donít invest in ours.

RSS icon Comments

1

But but but, U of W has cool contact lenses!! (and I am sure federal money went to fund those b.t.w.)

Come one, where do you want our focus, trains (BORING!) or cool contact lenses that will make our gaming experience more fun?!!

Posted by Cato the Younger Younger | January 25, 2008 9:21 AM
2

dan, come one, you wouldnt take any publicly funded transportation. you already don't even on a local level, do you?

Posted by Bellevue Ave | January 25, 2008 9:21 AM
3

You know, the one place Amtrak has invested wisely - in the northeast corridor's Acela line - has worked out really well. Taking the Acela is sooooo much better than driving or flying into the major east coast cities. You west coasters need to seriously lobby for an Acela-like service between Seattle and San Diego.

Posted by Providence | January 25, 2008 9:22 AM
4

The Meet the Spartans ads on Slog are really disgusting me.

Posted by Mr. Poe | January 25, 2008 9:22 AM
5

Take the whiptail to mamas funeral and then cry to me, whitey.

Posted by Fuck Outta Here | January 25, 2008 9:28 AM
6

I sadly have to agree with this. I love traveling by train, but all my trips on the West Coast thus far have resulted in delays (sometimes severe enough that they put me on a Greyhound, since the train is still hours away at its schedule departure time). I'm from the East Coast, where things usually tend to run more smoothly, but still not as good as Europe. I think a big part of this -- as I understand it -- is that while Amtrak itself is government-run, different sections of the West Coast's physical rails are owned by private companies (this may be true for the rest of the country as well), all of whom tend to favor freight trains over passenger trains, leading to the conclusion/assumptions that there is more money in moving freight than passengers. Until something is done to address this, nothing will change.

Posted by bookworm | January 25, 2008 9:29 AM
7

You know, Seattle to LA is also about as far as, say, Munich to Madrid, and not that many people take that train ride either. And European journeys of a thousand miles generally pass through dozens and dozens of capitals and other important cities, while Seattle to LA passes through three, in a thousand miles.

More boring facts: the fastest growth in air traffic anywhere in the world is in . . . Europe, where a dozen discount airlines are now ferrying people back and forth from Manchester to Bratislava, Lisbon to Lyon, Malmo to Frankfurt all day long. Most of those journeys are popular and convenient train rides, too, but the growth in air traffic is immense.

So maybe transit lovers in the US could stop idealizing this thing they like to call "Europe", which only peripherally resembles Europe.

Posted by Fnarf | January 25, 2008 9:31 AM
8

Mr. Poe, considering that it's a sequel to what gets my vote for worst movie of the year, Epic Movie, you shouldn't be too surprised.
Oh, yeah. Trains. All for 'em. Never gonna happen, though.

Posted by Fifty-Two-Eighty | January 25, 2008 9:31 AM
9
Posted by tsm | January 25, 2008 9:33 AM
10

Trains suck for long distance travel. Why ride a train for days when you can fly to the same destination in four hours at roughly the same price? Unless trains provide some sort of additional service at equivalent or lower cost, those of us who don't have days to waste trapped on a slow moving train will fly instead.

Posted by Chris | January 25, 2008 9:34 AM
11

I'm not thrilled with Acela; there is no way to get a seat assignment on it. You have to herd in a just grab a seat as best you can. As for European trains; I wouldn't take them a long distance. But the advantage they have over Amtrak is the service trolley they bring round so you don't have to go to the clubcar unless you just want to. The clubcars themselves tend to also be pretty nice with plenty of room (at least in Germany), whereas with Amtrak, the line can stretch from the bar down through two cars. I have to admit though that some of the Interregio trains in Germany are older and not all that great.

Posted by Johnny | January 25, 2008 9:42 AM
12

Seattle to Portland, however, the train is the only way to go. As Fnarf points out, our geography and density is very different than Europe's. Trains (updated trains like the Accela and the Cascades) for relatively short trips are a pleasure.

Posted by Anthony Hecht | January 25, 2008 9:43 AM
13

Trains, at least here on the West Coast, are fine for intermediate-length trips. Seattle-to-Portland is generally a delightful ride, doesn't take much longer than driving (assuming there are no pesky wash-outs or you don't get stuck for 40 minutes while higher-priority freight traffic gets shunted down the line), it's far less stressful (you can watch a movie, read, work, get up and walk around, have a snack), and some of the scenery is even worth looking at as you pass by (although I also enjoy the glimpse into white-trash backyards that rail travel affords - people, we can SEE your piles of shit rusting away outside the kitchen door - clean it up!), but one does have to know the system at bit.

Going North-to-South is seldom a problem, except for the aforementioned delays. Going in the opposite direction, one has to make certain NEVER to book on the Coast Starlight out of L.A. It's almost never on-time, and frequently hours behind schedule, particularly in the winter when snow storms in N. CA & S. OR totally screw things up.

That being said, if you take the Coast Starlight from southbound from Seattle, you get the added bonus of being able to enjoy a not-too-bad full-service meal in the dining car.

Posted by COMTE | January 25, 2008 9:44 AM
14

The Coastal Starlight is not a means of basic travel. It's a recreational form of travel.

Goldy may be arguing that it could be a functional means of travel, but until we build a lot more big cities along the West Coast corridor, there's a pretty obvious reason why the investment for Amtrack on the West Coast is barely anything.

Also, if the Coastal Starlight were a viable alternative to flying, it would cost about 10 times more.

I like my $30 trips to Portland or Vancouver, even with delays. Better than being in a shuttle buse or car stuck at the Peace Arch, in the latter case.

Posted by mackro mackro | January 25, 2008 9:45 AM
15

$49 to LA? Dream on, buddy.

Posted by DOUG. | January 25, 2008 9:58 AM
16

I agree w/ @10. Traveling amtrack takes 26 hrs to get to l.a. from seattle, and you cant sleep because every few hrs it stops and the jolting wakes you up. Plus, it costs almost as much as a plane trip.

Posted by yearning | January 25, 2008 10:00 AM
17

The Europeans built train lines to move people and freight. In America the train lines were built to Rape the land, decimate the Native peoples, Wipe out the Bison, and build commerce. That model still stands with a few removed items.

Posted by Sargon Bighorn | January 25, 2008 10:03 AM
18

So maybe transit lovers in the US could stop idealizing this thing they like to call "Europe", which only peripherally resembles Europe.

"XYZ is much better in Europe" is the second-most popular claim to make here, righ after "XYZ is much better in Portland."

Posted by JMR | January 25, 2008 10:06 AM
19

Al Runte will be pleased, Dan.

Posted by K | January 25, 2008 10:07 AM
20

@7, 10:

No one said people in Europe don't fly from Munich to Malaga. No one is saying if we have trains, you shouldn't or couldn't fly from Seattle to LA.

Because no one is saying "let's have trains alone -- let's build trains and remove airports, so that after we have trains, you can't fly from Seattle to LA."

What folks are suggesting in this post are that "as in Europe, we should have a well developed system of roads, a well developed system of air travel and a well developed system of trains."

The existence and continuation of the road and air travel systems are presumed.

Posted by Cleve | January 25, 2008 10:10 AM
21

What folks are suggesting in this post are that "as in Europe, we should have a well developed system of roads, a well developed system of air travel and a well developed system of trains."

What if the road system and air system are adequate for our travel needs, especially here on the West Coast? Why make a massive train investment? Vanity? So we can pacify the fraction of a percent of the population that wishes we were more like Europe?

Posted by JMR | January 25, 2008 10:14 AM
22

East Coast trains rock, seat assignments or no.

I'll second the motion on European trains. I took an overnight train from Italy to Paris a couple years back, and besides the other amenities, the best part was the fact that everybody--everybody--in my sleeping car spent the night loudly fucking. Including me.

Posted by Boomer in NYC | January 25, 2008 10:23 AM
23

@4, 8 - What are these ads you speak of? You mean you haven't blocked them?

Posted by Seriously | January 25, 2008 10:33 AM
24

I live in Germany -- of course Europe does have great trains, but like Fnarf said, most people take planes for longer trips (comparable to Seattle-LA). And plane tickets are much of time 5-10x cheaper than longer distance ICE train trips.

Posted by Judith | January 25, 2008 10:45 AM
25

I would much prefer to take a train (I tend to go between Boston and New York a couple of times a year); save for the fact that every time I've looked at Acela, it costs as much as, or more, than flying. Sometimes it costs twice as much. Hmmm...45 minute flight or 3 hour train that costs more? Which one would you choose? I think more people would take trains if they were cheaper.

It's similar to people who say we should not build rail (anywhere) because people won't use it. That's technically true, because we never get public transportation right in this country. If public transportation was able to get you from point A to B in similar time as driving, and was cheaper, people would do it. It just never works that way, because we do everything half-assed in this country. Except the tax breaks for the rich. Those we do all the way.

ps-I'm talking about Mass and Hawaii, so please don't y'all jump on me, because the only idea I have of what it's like in Seattle is from reading comment threads like this!

Posted by Dianna | January 25, 2008 10:47 AM
26

Lawd, don't it be true!

Amtrak horror stories. I agree that the short runs aren't so bad. I like the Seattle-to-Vancouver train even if it does take and hour or so longer than the drive up. The Seattle-to-Portland, hmmmmm not so much. The train literally crawls until you get south of Tacoma. It's unnerving to see people riding bikes passing you by.

I made a huge mistake trying the Coast Starlight to LA once several years back. The engine blew up and had to be replace in Oakland and the track got washed away south of Santa Barbara. We were bussed the rest of the way. And I was under the foolish impression that the route traveled the coastline and would be picturesque. Ha! You don't see water until Ventura County. It turns inland at Portland and goes through places like Klamath Falls and Grant's Pass. There's nothing to do but sleep if you can, and drink $7 cocktails and $3 soft drinks. The smart people bring a cooler.

I always thought it'd be better with a sleeping compartment, but that's another $600 each way! You can fly first class for that and be there in under 3 hours.

If Amtak served the West Coast with something like the TGV, something that hauls your ass at 300 miles per hour, that would be another matter. Imagine LA in 5 to 6 hours by train! But could a TGV handle the different terrains between here and LA?

Posted by Bauhaus | January 25, 2008 11:01 AM
27

Cleve, if there was a 300 MPH train between Seattle and LA, no one would take it. It's NOT PRACTICAL. Let transit solve the problems it is capable of solving, not EVERY PROBLEM.

Here's a hint: getting to LA is not, in actual fact, any kind of a problem at all. THAT'S why there no investment or interest in "solving" it.

Posted by Fnarf | January 25, 2008 11:17 AM
28

My two cents on the issue are:
1)45 minutes flights take a lot more time than 45 minutes because you have to factor in security and/or baggage check. On the East coast taking the train from NYC to Philly makes a lot of sense because while it is a longer train ride than flight you have to take into acount all the bullshit you have to go through at the airport as oppose to buying a ticket and hopping on a train.

2)Trains dont make a lot of sense for low density areas a train from Portland to Seattle is far different than from Seattle to LA in terms of travel time.

That being said trains on the East Coast tend to get a lot more travel because of the infrastructure-- they make a lot of local stops and go to most of the towns people would want to go to. If I had the option of taking a train from Seattle to Bellingham,Vancouver, etc. I would and I tend to think a lot of other people would as well because trains tend to be faster than buses. Take greyhound sometime to see how many people tend to take local (3-5 hour) trips I tend to think this number would improve if travel times improved.

Posted by Rachel in NJ | January 25, 2008 11:18 AM
29

You know, the reason Europe (and Canada, for that matter) invests in their infrastructure is because they don't spend any money on their military. The reason they don't spend any money on their military is because we do it for them. (I wrote a little blurb about this a while back at http://www.suoxi.net/pettyblog/2007/10/the_role_of_empire.html).

There are reasons the United States works like it does. It's not just all down to Americans being somehow inferior to Europeans.

Posted by Judah | January 25, 2008 11:19 AM
30

The reason they [Europe] don't spend any money on their military is because we do it for them.

Perhaps we can ask Europe to send over a few rail cars?

Posted by JMR | January 25, 2008 11:38 AM
31

Seattle to LA doesn't make much sense, but Seattle to Portland or Vancouver does, and a train up the Willamette Valley to at least Eugene does. Similarly, a train from SF to Sacramento makes sense.

Regional train systems make sense, we just need better infrastructure. Acela-style high-speed lines make sense for short trips between neighboring cities in the same region. That's competitive with the short-haul airlines in terms of time, and with similar subsidies as the airlines the prices would be competitive too.

Once you have regional systems, there's some logic in connecting the regional systems into a national network. It makes less sense for us in the Northwest because even our smaller cities are so far from other regions (there's not much between Sacramento and Eugene, and even less between Spokane and Minneapolis), and high-speed connections across the Rockies to either the Northwest or California are hard to justify compared to the existing cross-country air service, but it would make sense to integrate Northeast, Midwest, Atlantic, and Gulf Coast high-speed train systems.

California even has its high-speed rail plan in place and ready to be submitted to voters, but it is currently being held up by Schwarzenegger.

Posted by Cascadian | January 25, 2008 12:19 PM
32

Wikipedia has a good map that includes actually proposed high-speed lines in the US. It demonstrates how the PNW and California systems would be isolated, though:

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/e/e0/High-Speed_Rail_Corridor_Designations.png

Posted by Cascadian | January 25, 2008 12:25 PM
33

As a college student with an unreliable car, I've taken the Coast Starlight between Eugene and Klamath Falls (where my parents live) numerous times. Once or twice, I've taken it between Portland and Eugene and I even took it all the way to San Diego once. It's true that it's always late and it's true that everyone has a horror story about the time the train broke down (Mine involves being put on a bus from Bakersfield to LA, but then the bus broke down), but it's not a method of travel to use when you're in a hurry. I enjoy it because it forces me to take some time to sit down, relax, and read a good book. I'm the type who will sit in the sightseer car and chat with other passengers. I have a great time.

Another reason I take it? On the northbound trip from Klamath Falls to Eugene, the train passes through Salt Creek Canyon, way up in the Cascades in a spot you can only see from a train (hence the difficulty in getting to the place where the mudslides closed the rails), and I really think that area is one of the prettiest places on earth. The view is just incredible. Knowing that's there is part of what makes me love the Pacific Northwest, and Oregon specifically.

Posted by Jo | January 25, 2008 12:45 PM
34

I once took the train from Paris to Munich: It took all day. The aircon could not cope with 85 degree heat. There was no direct route, so it took 50% longer than it should. The scenery was not. Flying a low budget airline would have saved a lot of money. Never again.

The Coast Starlight would be nice if it could keep to a schedule, and if it stopped in the Bay Area at a reasonable hour. Extra bonus points if you could bring your pet along.

Posted by the day of the train is over | January 25, 2008 1:05 PM
35

Teen reportedly tried to hijack Southwest plane(not train)

Posted by fornumbernine | January 25, 2008 2:40 PM
36

27:
Some bowls of porridge are too hot. Some are too cold. Some are just right.
Just because some are too hot, that does not mean, "no porridge at all, ever, and don't even talk about it you fool!"

I didn't say we need to invest in high-speed train lines for Seattle to LA right now. So, if that is your point, we actually agree to an extent. I didn't say trains solve every problem. If that is your point, we agree to an extent. What I said was folks are suggesting that "as in Europe, we should have a well developed system of roads, a well developed system of air travel and a well developed system of trains." I frankly don't read you as disagreeing with that, either.

I didn't say how that would work out in practice. It needs study. Off the cuff, I think it's pretty obvious that the Richmond-Portland ME corridor, the NY-Chicago-Minneapolis corridor, Miami-Atlanta, and the SD-SF corridor are more likely candidates for cost effective rail investment than Seattle-SF or Seattle-LA.

But I also think you need to start looking at the whole west coast corridor, instead of assuming that over the next 100 years we can keep up simply by building more freeways and more airports. A fast and frequent train to Vancouver and Portland obviously comes first. Maybe just purchasing a right of first refusal to get a right of way all the way to SF is in order, too; maybe not. It depends on projections going forward for 50-100 years and including the alternative, which is more freeways and airports. Right now it's handy to fly to LA. Will it be so handy when we have 2x more people who want to fly that route in 30 years? I donít think so. I think a lack of new airports means we will be sitting on the tarmac for 1.5 hours at each end on a routine basis. Perhaps one of the benefits of better rail to Vancouver and Portland is that it opens up airline slots to get down to LA.

I think my overall point is that emotional, vitriolic, denigrating, knee jerky reactions for or against any transportation investment are not wise. And in particular, the reaction that because we don't already have something here, it is a bad idea, and we shouldnít consider it, despite the evidence that it works pretty much everywhere else. Frankly, that seems like parochial ignorance.

Down in California I believe they are pursuing high speed trains for SD to SF. Good on 'em. I agree with you -- there's a lot of empty real estate between Portland and SF and sure, it seems like building a high speed train for that segment right now would not be the move to make. But using that to suggest we should not do ANY investing in ANY rail and we should IMMEDIATELY DISMISS any suggestion that we look at it, is, IMHO, quite fundamentally wrong. And more this attitude is holding back our region and our nation.

It's fairly obvious that we have crumbling infrastructure everywhere, we have a growing population, and just doing what we've been doing (building roads and airports, or more accurately, not building more of them) isn't working.

Posted by cleve | January 25, 2008 3:02 PM
37

if you like trains so much, come live in kent. There is a train that comes through every 10 minutes. 300 am you will be woken up by CHUGGA CHUGGA CHUGGA CHUGGA WHOOOO WHOOO! as the sadistic train conductors use their loudest whistle for kicks. Plus there is the sounder here. Its expensive and useless and nobody rides it.

Posted by ----- | January 25, 2008 4:15 PM
38

@37 - you're on crack if you think no one rides the Sounder or it's useless. If you work in Seattle, it gets you from Auburn to Seattle in about 28 minutes. I've never been late taking the Sounder, ever. And every time I've taken it, it's been nearly or completely full.

As to the Coast Starlight - I've taken it roundtrip Seattle-LA a few times. I coughed up the extra money for a compartment, which makes it kind of fun. My complaints are that the food doesn't vary from day to day, so you get the same two choices every day for dinner and breakfast, and the damned freights have priority, so the passenger trains have to continually stop and sit for hours waiting for a freight that's late. Also, the inevitable breakdowns because we haven't adequately funded Amtrak for years - the worst part being that the breakdowns invariably incapacitate all the toilets. Other than that, I really enjoy the train. Maybe I'm the only one. I used to take the Empire Builder quite regularly to Montana when I had family there, and I much preferred taking that train to driving. My complaint there was the timing of the daily trips; the eastbound one leaves Seattle about 4:30 and gets in as a red-eye about 4 the next morning, and it's just as bad coming back westbound. It's probably a beautiful trip in summer, but I always took it in winter to avoid that horrible drive through eastern Washington in winter.

I love trains. And I live only less than a mile from the tracks in Auburn, so I hear the train whistles and the train sounds all day and night - but I happen to like them. Each to his own, I guess.

Now flying, I HATE flying in big commercial jets. I love flying in small planes, the four- and eight-seaters, but I HATE the big jets. Misery!

What I really want is my goddam jet pack. Science fiction's been promising me a jet pack in this century for the last hundred years. Where the hell is my jet pack?!

Posted by Geni | January 25, 2008 4:45 PM
39

Once again Slog readers and Seattleites in general prove they have no clue what the phrase "peak oil" means. If you think you can fly to California whenever you want for the rest of your natural life, you are deeply deluded. I give it about another 10 years, tops. Within a generation most of us will be using trains like the Coast Starlight to visit CA and other parts of the country.

Others have mentioned HSR from Seattle to LA. This maybe, possibly could happen some far-off day, but it should not be the first HSR line or even a high priority. First, CA should build its line, and the Amtrak Cascades should be upgraded to true HSR. (Little known fact: the current Cascades trainsets are capable of 125mph. But they can't reach that because the tracks are in sorry shape.) Only later do you tackle the much tougher engineering and financial challenge of HSR between Eugene and Sacramento.

Posted by eugene | January 25, 2008 5:20 PM
40

What eugene said.

bauhaus wrote about the Coast Starlight:

And I was under the foolish impression that the route traveled the coastline and would be picturesque. Ha! You don't see water until Ventura County.


Maybe you were asleep, bauhaus. The train runs along the coast starting around Point Conception south of San Luis Obispo, miles north of Santa Barbara, which is many miles north of Ventura County.

Posted by greg | January 25, 2008 5:52 PM
41

Darlings, I should preface this by saying that I am a *huge* Amtrak fan, and have been since college, when I would ride my bike from Iowa City to Mt. Pleasant to board the California Zephyr home (rather than take Greyhound). Also, The Colonel has been with Amtrak since 1907 or thereabouts, so I suppose I have a bias there as well.

But you are all missing the point.

The Coast Starlight - or any Amtrak long-distance train - is not intended to take people from endpoint to endpoint. You're certainly welcome to do that, of course, and I do it all the time. (I find it relaxing, and a pleasant way to travel.) But their main purpose is to serve underserved areas. That's why they make so many stops in little towns.

If you were to actually look at the boarding statistics (a novel idea, I know) you'd see that the population of these trains is constantly changing as people get on and off in the various towns along the route. People going from Eugene to Redding for instance, or from Oakland to Salinas.

This is where their efficiency, and their popularity, lies. And they are popular: Amtrak boardings keep increasing, both inside the NE corridor, and on the long-distance routes.

Could these routes be improved? Definitely. The Coast Starlight especially is a victim of the shoddily run and poorly maintained Union Pacific Railroad. But if you were to look at the Empire Builder (Chicago to Seattle/Portland) or Southwest Chief (Chicago to LA) you'd see that the Burlington Northern Santa Fe makes on-time performance a priority - and that these trains are regularly packed.

Part of the trouble is that Amtrak was started as corporate welfare, and has never been adequately funded - and the host railroads who forced this on the government have been spotty in honoring their agreement to give passenger traffic precedent.

In addition, Amtrak keeps receiving mixed messages from Congress: One year, it will be about "self-sufficiency" (something the airlines and highways never have to worry about) the next year it will be about "customer service". That, and the fluctuating funding, make for bad long-range planning.

But the long distance routes are not intended to be high-speed. Maybe they should be, or maybe there should be high-speed trains mixed with locals (as you see on the east coast) but as it stands now, it's strictly utilitarian - and more important as rural areas lose both bus and air service.

Posted by catalina vel-duray | January 25, 2008 11:09 PM
42

And by the way - it's not so much that Amtrak has "invested wisely" in the Northeast: Those tracks, and that service, were forced on them with the collapse of the Penn Central railroad. Amtrak was handed a fresh corpse, and expected to bring it back to life - with little funding of course - only because no one else wanted that stinker. but the service needed to be preserved.

OK, I'll shut up now.

Posted by catalina vel-duray | January 25, 2008 11:12 PM
43

Never again. My "starlight" trip went from 36 hours turned into 50 hours! My Amtrak max is Eugene. Pretty Cascades route- though!

Posted by Cascadian | January 27, 2008 2:05 AM

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