Writing the Rails
Mar 10, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 25 • By THE SCRAPBOOK
There’s long been a certain romance associated with train travel. Think of the trains of the 1920s, replete with well-appointed compartments and dining cars featuring white tablecloths and five-star cuisine. And one need not necessarily go back in time to find examples of impressive trains: Even in the present day, France’s lightning-fast TGV and Japan’s famous bullet trains retain a certain cachet.
Amtrak, America’s government subsidized passenger rail service, is decidedly less glamorous, it’s probably needless to say. With its endemic delays, prison-style cafeteria food on plastic trays (though unlike the clink, there’s at least beer—for $7 a bottle), all-too-often-filthy lavatories, and slow speeds, Amtrak is more like a Greyhound bus on rails than a luxurious conveyance. There’s a reasonable case that Amtrak provides a necessary service—particularly in the crowded corridor between Washington and Boston—but the Orient Express it ain’t.
Amtrak may be aware of this, as it’s decided to start simply giving away its product in pursuit of “buzz.” As the Los Angeles Times explained last week,
Bizarrely, other writers seemed to share Chee’s sentiment, and uttered words never before heard in the English language: “I want to spend several days on Amtrak!” And so, the Times continues, Amtrak decided to accomodate them:
This would all be well and good, and hardly The Scrapbook’s concern, were Amtrak simply throwing away its own money. But it’s not: The rail company that feels so flush as to give free rides to writers requires more than $1 billion in taxpayer subsidies each year just to keep the “trains running on time.” Or, er, not on time, as the case too often is.
Recent Blog Posts