I have been on a fair amount of trains now, and they are all quite different. Chicago’s El and subway, SeaTac’s commuter rail, the US’s Amtrak, the London Underground, Eurostar, Thalys, Belgian intercity rail and Japan’s bullet trains to name the ones I remember. They all provide differing, sometimes greatly so, experiences. Travel by train is a great way to get around, when it is done right.
In the US the public transit authorities of various large cities actually do a rather fine job. I have no complaints for Chicago (that I can remember, I was like 7) or SeaTac but Amtrak is a mess. Taking Amtrak is a guessing game and a lottery. A 0200 departure can turn into an 0800 or later departure (my experience is the Eastbound Empire Builder) and there is no way to really know ahead of time. Our national rail service leave a lot to be desired, especially when it provides no real economic value over air trave. Tickets for trains cost the same or more and take significantly longer to get anywhere. That said it can be a fun ride.
In Japan though, those trains are well organized sleek and quite quick. I can’t speak to the ticket prices as I didn’t book them but I assume they were reasonable especially for our transit between Tokyo and Yamaguchi prefecture. Those trains traveled upwards of 200km per hour and the ride was smooth as butter. Also, according to my friend that also visited Japan, if your train arrives late by even a minute or two, you are given an official excuse for arriving late to work. Talk about accountability.
In Europe I’ve been mostly impressed with the rail services I have taken advantage of thus far. The London Underground is one of the easiest and most efficient public transport systems I have ever used. I have yet to take advantage of the London DLR and Overgrounds but I should be on at least one later this week. I will continue to enjoy my experiences on the London public transportation I’m sure. I’ve also had the pleasure of experiencing international rail travel in Europe, including a passage through the Eurotunnel (Chunnel). Using the Eurostar was pleasant and they make sure to resolve issues very quickly. Thalys, my Paris to Brussels route, was also so very simple, and it only takes about 20 minutes to board and be underway so very fast. Another note on the international rail services is that they are very responsive and friendly on electronic media. I had some good Twitter exchanges with both companies.
My arrival in Belgium however brought a big headache. The train I was planning to take was departing from platform 17, but having arrived at track 17, no train was departing from there, turned out I was on platform 18, for all of 2 minutes before that train just disappeared. So instead of a direct train to Lier I hopped on a train to Antwerp so that I could take a connection to Lier but was instructed to detrain in Mechelen where I was greated by my friend (she was disappointed I didn’t jump up and hug her right away). The Belgian rail service is quite comfortable once on board, but it feels like roulette to find the correct train to board.
All in all I do quite enjoy train travel and I think it can be a wonderful method of travel, when properly executed. If you have the chance I do encourage you to take a train, yes even Amtrak, as, if nothing else, it is quite an experience. May the rails go where you like.
Martin “Mixy” McNichols
Until we meet again