Last summer I traveled to England and Scotland, and my life—or at least my outlook on travel—changed.
Why? Because I experienced the magic that is traveling by train. From an overnight sleeper train between London and Glasgow, to the channel-crossing, high-speed Eurostar to Paris, to the scenic 4½ hour trip (which would take more than seven hours to drive!) from Edinburgh to London, my husband and I came home with one overriding question:
Why can’t America have trains like that??
My childhood memories are filled with family road trips. Freedom from school, seeing new places, visiting family and friends—these were the highlights. The downsides? Being stuck in the backseat with my two brothers for hours on end. No escape. No opportunity to stretch our legs or use the restroom until our parents agreed to pull over at a rest stop.
Although I no longer have to worry about my brothers crowding my personal space, adulthood has brought new downsides to road trips. Driving long distances gives me nearly unbearable neck and back pain. There are the monotonous stretches of highway that cause a drowsiness even a good playlist can’t cure. And of course, there’s the tension when one driver makes the third wrong turn and no, they are not lost, but if the person in the passenger seat would just be better at giving directions…
There’s a lot I love about road trips. It’s not just about the end destination,
Don’t get me wrong. There’s a lot I love about road trips. It’s not just about the end destination—getting to experience a new city or seeing an awe-inspiring national park or spending time with family.
It’s about the journey, too. While parts of a long drive may be boring, there’s a lot of beauty to see too. I love watching the scenery pass by—observing Florida’s flat, cypress- and palm-filled landscapes turn to Georgia’s pine trees and gentle hills, which transform into North Carolina’s majestic Blue Ridge Mountains—while listening to a new podcast and eating way too much junk food. I love long conversations with friends and road trip games.
For most of my life, there have only been two options when I wanted to travel: driving, with all its positives and negatives, or flying. Traveling by plane comes with its own list of pros and cons. Sure, you get to leave the navigation and work to a professional, you don’t have to pull over and delay your arrival even more each time you need to use the restroom, and you get where you’re going faster.
On the other hand, instead of being crammed into the back seat of a Camry with your siblings, you’re packed tightly into economy seating with a hundred other people. Airport security is a nightmare. And do you really want to use that airplane toilet?
And then there are trains. What I love about traveling by train:
- Someone else takes care of the business of getting you from Point A to Point B
- You still get to enjoy the passing scenery just like a road trip
- It’s cheaper than flying
- It’s faster than driving
- The entire train station experience is much less stressful than an airport (and less time-consuming)
- Passengers aren’t packed together like sardines
- Bring your own picnic lunch if you’d like!
- You can get up and stretch your legs whenever you want
Unfortunately, because there aren’t many direct passenger train routes across our country today, a trip to visit my in-laws in Louisiana (a nine-hour drive), would take 55 hours by Amtrak (with a very out-of-the-way stop in Washington, D.C.) and cost at least twice as much as a plane ticket.
Imagine an American high-speed train system with a wide availability of routes that allowed us to make that Louisiana trip directly in five hours.
Imagine a cross-country trip where you don’t have to worry about driving drowsy or getting distracted by bickering kids in the back seat.
Imagine arriving directly into New York’s Grand Central Station in the middle of Manhattan instead of the JFK Airport in Queens.
I know there are plenty of reasons—from the political and financial to the cultural and social—why America doesn’t have a train system like Britain’s or Europe’s. That doesn’t stop me from wishing that we would get serious and overcome those hurdles. It doesn’t stop me from dreaming.
But now every time I have to make a long drive or deal with the hassle of flying, a frustrated part of me will always think:
Why can’t America have a better passenger train system?
Emma Gisclair is a library technical assistant at the UCF Library’s Curriculum Materials Center. She can be reached at Emma.Gisclair@ucf.edu.
The UCF Forum is a weekly series of opinion columns from faculty, staff and students who serve on a panel for a year. A new column is posted each Wednesday on UCF Today and then broadcast on WUCF-FM (89.9) between 7:50 and 8 a.m. Sunday. Opinions expressed are those of the columnists, and are not necessarily shared by the University of Central Florida.