Shinkansen vs Amtrak…no comparison

Good morning. There’s only three more days before we can kiss 2009 good-bye for good. For me, for the most part it has been an ordinary year, except for my trip to Japan and trying to sell my house. I can’t really think of too many  other events that truly stand out in my life this past year.

There was one thing about Japan that I will have to say truly impressed me. That was during my train rides on the Shinkansen, or Japanese bullet train. I had the privilege to ride on the Shinkansen a couple of times during my trip. It was more expensive than the slower trains, but when you only have six days of travel time those extra hours meant we could see more.

The first thing I noticed, after seeing the post-space age design of the engine that reminded me of something out of Star Wars,  was how clean and shiny the train was. There was no way to tell how old the train actually was. It still looked brand new.

The next thing I noticed inside was how much space there was between seats. The coaches were definitely built for comfort of the riders over the profit of the company. By doing that, I’m sure that their profits are even higher than trying to cram everyone into a sardine can.

The next thing that caught my attention once we were on our way was how quiet and smooth the ride actually was. We were going more than 200 mph but there was no trouble walking up and down the aisle. The only time I found I had to really hold on was when I was squatting in the lavatory using an Eastern style women’s toilet. That was a memory I won’t soon forget.

I have traveled on Amtrak enough times to know how rough a ride it really is. The last time I rode up to Illinois, I  treated myself to a roomette. I awoke after fits and starts of sleep with a bad backache from trying to brace myself during the night in order to keep from what I perceived as an eminent danger of falling out due to the swaying of the cars. On the shinkansen, I don’t remember being aware of any swaying whatsoever. There was the absence also of the clackety-clack  of the train on the track or the sound of whistles at train crossings. In all, even though we spent several hours on the train, it was almost as comfortable as sitting in an upholstered chair in a family room.

The average speed of the current shinkansen reaches over 200 mph. By 2025 a new train will be on-line that will travel 227 mph.

If we were to get with modern travel here in the United States, instead of driving  from Fort Worth to San Antonio in five hours or more, depending on traffic, we could be there, probably in the center of the city in a little more than 1 1/2 hours (266 miles.)

I may be entirely wrong about my attitude, but I can’t find any evidence to the contrary. I believe the United States is still being held hostage by the powerful oil industries. I would love to be proven wrong. Early in the twentieth century, most large cities had much better transportation systems then they do now, ninety years later. In most places we are still enslaved to our automobiles.

It is no secret that Firestone, General Motors, and Standard Oil, among a few others, banded together to rid the nation of streetcars in favor of buses. When cars became less expensive and more average people could afford them, even the buses in many cities became obsolete. Yes, there is mass transit in Chicago, New York City, and Washington, DC, but the rest of the country is woefully lacking.

Every time someone presents the idea of mass transit, someone in the crowd starts shouting, “No new taxes!” and the idea usually gets voted down. Many powerful lobbyists are behind those shouts.

Granted we would not have bullet trains for use within cities, but modern local trains would go a long way to provide more access to transportation. The city of Arlington which sits between Dallas and Fort Worth just got a limited bus service to the Fort Worth intermodal train station last year. They still have no local service. If you look in the yellow pages for public transit in Arlington, you will find limosine services listed. Those that lose their jobs and their cars in that city are in dire straits.

 Most of the bus transportation in Fort Worth is now limited to the areas of the city which mostly serves the low-income population. There are some exceptions, but the bus service does not serve very many local neighborhoods. Dallas began a more modern rail service in 1988. It now has 45 miles of track and is planning on doubling that. They are the largest city rail service in Texas.

With the second decade of the 2000s , US cities have got to start thinking about more mass transit, especially if gas prices should start rising again as they did a few years ago. Right now Fort Worth and the metroplex’s answer to traffic problems is building more toll roads and even turning HOV current lanes into toll lanes. It’s time, I think, to get real.

I heard from a long time friend over the holidays that her cousin is now working with the Japanese in Illinois to establish modern passenger train service to select cities in that state. I applaud their effort. It’s a beginning but it’s about time other large cities started catching up with most of the major large cities in the world.
It is time to stop using freight train lines which slows transportation by Amtrak, the only game in the US, to  complete lengthy stops during the route. It is time to take air pollution seriously. It is time to break the chains that bind us to the antiquated oil companies. What do you think? Do you agree? Namaste Attic Annie



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