As I dropped my wife off at the Stamford station to see her off on a business trip, I was reminded again of why I so prefer rail travel to air. It’s not just that the TSA has yet to lay its bony fingers on passenger rail, so you can still bring full-sized toiletries and a bottle of Coke on board with you. Or still less because Amtrak, which operates the Acela that leaves the Pennsylvania Station ‘bout a quarter to four, is a “government-owned corporation” that stays on the rails thanks to political pull and subsidy, not customer service, its sometimes postal levels of efficiency, or plain ol' economic viability.
What attracts me to rail travel is the question of scale. Air travel is afflicted with gigantism, a reflection perhaps of the enormous distances we rely on flight to cover. Mechanical rocs roll up to monstrous buildings on huge patches of land. High above the earth, towns become shiny dots and landscape as flat as ink on paper: I once saw the entire island of Crete framed in my coach-class window.
On a train, as your eyes soar, what?, twelve feet above ground, you remain part of the human landscape. You see neighborhoods, peer into people’s back yards, read the signs on their stores and the names of their schools. It can be depressing, like the blighted neighborhoods around Philadelphia, or uplifting, like the Coast Starlight’s run along the Pacific coast. But it’s a scale the human mind can understand and spirit can embrace.
Plus, you can get up and use the restroom within half an hour of your destination without risking federal time. Keep your big ol’ jet airliner. I’m waiting for a train.