Railway carriage charm: has high-speed rail’s moment arrived?

image of Acela Express

With very few exceptions, city-to-city travel in the US by rail is, if available at all, generally slow and inconvenient outside of the Northeast. Visitors from other countries are shocked, given the large number of trips that are within a 100-400-mile distance but for which travelers are generally forced to go by air or personal car. But president Obama is out to change that, and bring high-speed rail to more Americans.

This could not only reduce per-capita global warming emissions; it could also reduce travelers' stress.

Several days ago I made the trip from DC to New York and back via Amtrak's Acela Express, my mode of choice for this trip over the last decade or so. It's less expensive than the air shuttles, much more comfortable, much less stressful, and almost as time-efficient. Heck, it's more time-efficient if I'm working en route, since it's much easier to work on the train than on the plane or in the airport waiting lounge. Like the air shuttles, the express train leaves hourly (and there are also slightly slower trains leaving in between the Acela's departures).

I head straight for the train's "Quiet Car" to avoid the distraction of compulsive bozos yammering away on their cell phones, settle in with work or good reading material, and I'm in the heart of Manhattan in a little over two and a half hours. The refreshments on board are good, too.

Last weekend was for fun, not work, and it could not have been more convenient: I walked off the train, out of New York's Penn Station, across the street from Penn Station to my hotel, and then back across the street later for a concert at the WaMu Theatre in Madison Square Garden.

It's the way to go. But that sort of comfort, efficiency and convenience via rail travel has largely been available only on the East Coast, in the Washington-to-Boston Corridor.

President Obama proposes to change that, with $8 billion in stimulus funding, along with another $5 billion over the next five years in the federal budget, to jump-start high-speed rail programs across the US. Sign me up. For more, see my home blog on NRDC's Switchboard site.


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