James McCommons is the author of the award-winning book, Waiting on a Train; The Embattled Future of Passenger Rail Service, which chronicled a year spent riding Amtrak across the United States.
In a recent piece for the Los Angeles Times, he shares his experience of effortless connections, convenient stations, and gorgeous routes as he traveled by rail in Europe with his son. There’s more than a touch of lament in his words for the way passenger rail works back here in the States. As Waiting on a Train illustrates, Amtrak is hampered by ineffective subsidies and decaying infrastructure, making rail travel difficult where it’s possible at all.
McCommons is not alone in hoping that we can follow in Europe’s footsteps to create viable rail transit in this country. The fuel efficiency of rail, when compared to cars and trucks makes it a favorite for those looking to trim carbon dioxide emissions. We won’t be holding our breath for a change, however. Subsidies for less efficient travel methods have been strong for ages, and even the recent oil disaster doesn’t look to be changing that anytime soon.