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What I learned from taking a train across the US

Reviving America's Railways: A Journey of Rediscovery and Redemption

By Med KarimPublished 5 months ago 3 min read
What I learned from taking a train across the US
Photo by Josh Nezon on Unsplash

Perhaps this journey was a misstep, a leap into an antiquated mode of transportation that once defined the very essence of American progress. The United States, a nation whose veins were once coursing with the lifeblood of railroads, finds itself in a tumultuous relationship with train travel. It's a tale of glory faded, of grandeur lost amidst the march of time.

In the annals of history, the US stood as a colossus upon the global stage of rail networks, its sprawling tracks weaving a tapestry of connectivity from coast to coast. But, alas, if you were to inquire of those who have ventured aboard the Amtrak, they would regale you with tales of a bygone era. The reality is starkly different now; the US has lagged far behind the rest of the world in the realm of train travel. How did such a mighty empire of rails fall so grievously from grace? Is there any hope of redemption, of reclaiming its former glory?

To seek answers to these pressing questions, I embark on a pilgrimage from the sun-drenched shores of Los Angeles to the bustling streets of New York City aboard the Amtrak. A journey spanning an arduous 70 hours, during which I shall ponder the mysteries of America's train travails. The duration of my odyssey, four days in entirety, stretches out before me like an infinite expanse of railroad tracks, each mile a testament to the nation's past and present.

As I settle into my humble abode for the next leg of the journey, devoid of the opulence of sleeper cars, I am reminded of the stark contrast between the train travel of yore and its modern incarnation. Once, the elite luxuriated in palatial carriages adorned with chandeliers and feasted on gourmet fare fit for royalty. Today, I content myself with microwave noodles and makeshift accommodations, a far cry from the splendor of yesteryears.

The monotony of the journey is punctuated by the occasional announcement from the conductor, marking the passage of time in hours and minutes akin to the duration of a transcontinental flight. Yet, there is no respite from the darkness outside, nor the cacophony of unruly passengers disrupting the peace of the night. Sleep, elusive as ever, evades me amidst the cramped confines of my berth, prompting a retreat to the observation car in search of solace.

As dawn breaks over the horizon, casting its golden rays upon the sprawling landscape outside, I find myself reflecting on the tumultuous history of American railroads. From the era of the robber barons, whose iron grip on the industry shaped its destiny, to the advent of government regulation and the birth of Amtrak, the trajectory of train travel in the US is a testament to the vicissitudes of fortune.

Yet, for all its trials and tribulations, there remains a glimmer of hope on the horizon. Despite being perennially underfunded and plagued by inefficiency, Amtrak endures as a beacon of possibility, offering a glimpse into a future where train travel once again reigns supreme. It is a vision of connectivity and sustainability, a testament to the enduring spirit of innovation that defines the American experience.

As I disembark in Chicago, weary yet resolute, I am struck by the grandeur of Union Station and the vibrancy of the city beyond. Amidst the hustle and bustle of urban life, I find a moment of reprieve, a chance to savor the simple pleasures of clean clothes and leisurely strolls through Millennium Park.

The final leg of my journey unfolds with a sense of anticipation, as I settle into my private room aboard the train, relishing the comforts it affords. With each passing mile, I am reminded of the myriad reasons why train travel endures as a timeless mode of transportation. From its environmental benefits to its inherent safety and serenity, the allure of the rails is undeniable.

As I bid farewell to the Amtrak and prepare for my return to the skies, I am filled with a sense of gratitude for the experience. Despite its imperfections, the journey has been a revelation, a testament to the enduring legacy of American railroads. In the words of former Amtrak President Graham Claytor, the fate of our railways lies not in the hands of bureaucrats or businessmen, but in the hearts of the American people. It is a call to action, a rallying cry for a renaissance of train travel in the land of the free.

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Med Karim

"When you have a dream, you've got to grab it and never let go."

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    Med KarimWritten by Med Karim

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