Planes, Trains and Automobiles - But Especially Trains

Several years ago, my family was fortunate enough to find ourselves on vacation in Croatia, debating how to best get around the country. Croatia is, for being so small, an incredibly diverse place, and we had our hearts set on seeing as much of it as the timing of our return tickets home allowed. With this in mind, my mother suggested that we rent a car.

What my dad pointed out, and has resonated on every vacation since, was that it then wouldn’t be a vacation for all of us. Either he or my mom would have to navigate and drive the entire, time leaving them never quite alert enough to enjoy the places we stopped and completely deprived of the amazing scenery that surrounded us on our journey there.

With that statement driving became a non-option, and what followed for the rest of the trip was pretty much every type of transportation but a hot air balloon. I have never had such an appreciation for the restorative effects of Dramamine, and to be perfectly honest I am not sure if I’d ever want to again. Looking back though, I wouldn’t have had it any other way.

That vacation, unlike so many others, I got both of my parents—for all the bad parts, but more importantly the many good ones. This is not in any way an attempt to suggest we give up the Coca-Cola ad dream of cross-country road trips, but to point out that public transportation—trains in particular—have a way of benefiting you in ways that aren’t immediately apparent.

One of those ways comes up with relative frequency in my family. My mom hates flying, absolutely cannot stand it. So for a long time, either she was miserable or we spent an unreasonable amount of time in a car if we wanted to go anywhere far. I don’t know it took us so long to come to train travel. The trip to Florida mentioned in my last entry was the first time we had the opportunity to travel domestically, yet still far enough away to make a train trip a necessity. My mother swears she is never going back. She, for the first time in ages, actually enjoyed getting somewhere and was upon arrival much more prepared to enjoy her time at our destination.

In a similar vein, there are many people who are unable to take planes because of physical limitations. My immediate thought in considering this is that cars would be more convenient—they are a private space, they are frequently able to get closer to a traveler’s final destination, and the infrastructure that supports them exists almost everywhere.

Upon closer examination, I realized that examples abounded that proved this to be false. Take my grandfather, who has had mobility issues for as long as I have known him. For him, flying in a plane is an incredibly uncomfortable, stressful process, and car travel is not much better. As a result, he has for many years only traveled by public transportation, trains in particular. The stress surrounding travel drops significantly if you are confident you aren’t going to have to remove your shoes, or drive through a snowstorm.

Now I am under no illusions about the degree to which people want to hear about my family’s little idiosyncrasies, but I did want to emphasize how important trains are for my family and I personally. It these stories that are so often lost in the dialogue about policy and funding and it is these that we have to remember when we talk about the future of passenger trains in America.

Elena Studier is a Transportation & Policy Intern at the National Association of Railroad Passengers. Currently, she is a second-year student at George Washington University, where she studies international affairs and human geography. Elena is a native of Funabashi, Japan, and grew up in Ithaca, New York.