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Sunday, March 07, 2004

An AMTRAK Eye to the Future

I took the train down to Portland, Oregon on Thursday. I left Seattle’s King Street Station at 10:00 a.m. on a train ultimately bound for Los Angeles. When we boarded there was a woman in our spot. She wasn’t given a window seat and wasn’t too happy about it. The car was rather full so I suggested that she move up to the cool observation car and just sit there for the entire trip. I saw her later and she thanked me profusely for my advice. We sat down in our extremely roomy seats and looked out the window like we were watching a movie.

This is just an incredibly beautiful ride as the track hugs the Puget Sound with the water framed by the Olympic Mountains to the west. Driving this way by car isn’t nearly as much fun. The train takes four hours and to go by car takes at least three hours. I would opt for the train every time. It’s just more civilized.

Portland is a great looking town although it seems a little sleepy. I would imagine that Seattle seems a little sleepy for visitors coming from bigger cities. The downtown area is as clean as a whistle. The street cars seem to be a truly civilized mode of public transportation and I like the fact that you can ride them with your bicycle. I haven’t heard much about how Portlanders feel about the system. I can’t believe thAT Seattle has yet to implement a rail network. The Seattle monorail project is mired in controversy even before a single rail of track has been laid.

I spent some time in Powel Books in Portland. This is an enormous new and used bookstore. I found an excellent copy of Richard Price’s Clockers which I read when it came out in 1992. Now that I have reread almost the whole thing I have to say that it is a masterpiece. Perhaps I’ll write more about this novel when I’m finished.

The train back on Friday afternoon was almost completely full. It made me happy to see that so many people are choosing to use this more responsible form of transportation. People need to get on board, so to speak. I think that a high speed rail down the entire west coast would be a great alternative to flying. I think a high speed line like I took in Spain could crank out the 961 miles from Seattle to San Francisco in about five hours—maybe six. When you consider that it takes you over an hour to get to the airport and clear security, a two hour flight, and then another 45 minutes getting from the airport to the center of town (Train stations are almost always in the heart of the city) I think a train would be a very viable and safer alternative. Fuck going to Mars; let’s start building a better railroad.

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