Some years ago, when my oldest granddaughter was about six, I had the pleasure of taking her on her first train ride. It lasted a little over an hour, traveling from Fairfield, Connecticut, into Grand Central Station in Manhattan. As I watched my granddaughter glued to the window watching the scenery flash by, I thought of the countless train trips I had taken through the years, beginning when I was very small and my mother, brother, and I took the train from New York to Ohio to visit my grandparents. When I was working as an editor for a small publishing house in Westport, Connecticut, I would take the train into New York to oversee the printing at the publishing house on Varick Street. I visited my brother in California one year and took our three young children on a train ride along the coast from San Diego to Los Angeles to see my uncle. The scenery was spectacular!
I love those memories of train travel, but they don’t match the reality of today. A friend from church was telling me about someone she knew who took the train from Newport News to Washington D.C. recently, a trip that should have taken just four hours but ended up taking nine as the train sat on the tracks in the middle of nowhere for awhile when something went amiss. A couple of years ago, our sons decided to take a train trip from D.C. to Newport News to spend Christmas with us. We were expecting them to get in about 2:30 in the afternoon. They arrived at midnight. No, train travel is not what it used to be. What a pity.
In a country this large, in a society where families are scattered all over, we need to do a better job of helping people stay connected. Years ago, starting when I was a young teenager, my parents would put me on a plane in New York, usually the now defunct Eastern Airlines, and I would fly to Ohio to visit my mother’s parents and my cousins.
I would get dressed up for the flight, and everyone else who flew dressed in their Sunday best, too. The flight attendants were always pleasant and served us hot meals shortly after we reached cruising altitude. Planes were seldom delayed. It was a pleasant experience, not like today’s air travel. Last week on the CBS nightly news I heard Scott Pelley say that when taken as a whole over all the years of commercial air travel since the 1950’s, the airlines have never made a profit. Stunning!
I wish it were easier to travel long distances. I would gladly take the train from here to Boston or here to Detroit so I could see my kids more often, but I actually want to know I can get there in less than a day and not be left sitting on the tracks for hours. I’ve heard that train travel is well accomplished in Europe. I know the countries are smaller, so the distances are not so grand as here, but surely we can do a better job than we are doing now.
We drive up and back to Connecticut and Boston fairly often, a ride of nine and twelve hours respectively. I enjoy the ride because I’m not the one driving, and now that my husband has bought me an ipad with 3G, the drive will be even more pleasurable. But I wish it were possible for my husband to be as relaxed on the trip as I am as he sits in comfort on a fast train, watching the scenery rushing by.