Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Riding the Rails

I had to go to Jefferson City, my old place of residence, for some unpleasant and totally ludicrous family business. As gas prices are sky high and the Queen Mary is not reliable, I decided to take advantage of some wonderful fares ($40 round trip) on our rail system Amtrak. I had not taken the rails for a while and the prospect of a pleasant Sunday PM trek along the river in the train seemed a great idea. I could do my crap in JC and have plenty of time to be at the station and back here in KC around 10:30PM.

The whole sorry state of affairs with the US passenger rail system made this more of a nightmare than a pleasant journey.

You see a different world by rail, you see the back side and the back lots of the city... trash piles, broken machines, junk cars, abandoned and tattooed with graffiti. The seldom seen underbelly of the city is in full view as we glide below the well lit and clean streets and highways. You also see the full vista of the countryside, the fields, rivers and trees at eye level.

We were a varied lot on Amtrak 314 the "Ann Rutledge" (Ann Rutledge was Abraham Lincoln's true love...or so it is said), white, black, rich, poor, young, old. A couple and their young son were on his first train ride in from suburban Lee's Summit. Some were going home, some on business, some pleasure. Ann was a comfortable train, the seats wide, the leg room generous. Not being full, one could spread out, unlike the flying tubes in the air.

We left right on time from the huge stone edifice that is KC Union Station. Once seeing many trains a day, only two or three come by now. Our progress was measured in fits and starts due to the wretched policy of the US rail system. Amtrak is a bastard, no one wants him, but they can't get rid of him. So he is tolerated, but certainly not given a prominent place at the table. So the big boys, the freight, get the right of way and the priority. Passengers wait. And wait. To bad as the comfortable, friendly and definitely less stressful train is a good way to travel.

Recent rain made the fields and forests green and lush. The rivers and streams running full. The corn will definitely be knee high by the 4th of July, my Grandma's cue that the growing season was progressing well.

Around Tipton MO, we ran into our biggest road block. 3 trains west bound and us east bound trying to use a single track. We pulled off and let them by. We sat and sat and sat. One of the westbound trains pulled along side, and I got to examine Union Pacific Locomotive # 7002 close up for a long time, especially the MU jumper panel whatever that is. Finally moving, the setting sun cast a red/gold glow on the new California, MO high school building, familiar from all my trips up and down Highway 50. Getting closer, we were about 20 miles away..but creeping along at maybe 25-30 MPH. The 7:33PM arrival time was now 9PM. We arrived and I walked the couple blocks to the hotel. Damn. There is nothing deader than downtown Jefferson City on a Sunday.

The trip back was much the same. A similar delay. The 10:30PM arrival slipped to past midnight. On Sun, the buses stop at midnight so I had to take a cab home.

Will I ride the rails again soon> Not if I can help it. Despite the roomy seats, pleasant staff, clean trains, and the ability to see at eye level, the delays are pandemic. If it is not reliable, it is not worth it. The trip would have taken me 5 hours total round trip at most by car. I could have left at 10AM Monday did my hour of business at 1;30 and been back home by supper.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It wasn't long ago that Renee went home to Arkansas by rail from St. Louis. A six-hour ride turned into more than twelve down, and almost as long on the way back. Problem was, the train was supposed to arrive on a Sunday night at 7p. Midnight came and I was still sitting in a hot car in the parking lot of downtown St. Louis, and I was damn exhausted. Waiting for anyone seems twice and long and the little Amtrak station desk knew nothing of what was going on down the line. Anyhoo, Renee finally pulled in at daybreak on Monday morning.

Never. Again.

PS: When I traveled with my computer job, I used to take trains into the Philly,NYC, and Boston, but you're right: the rides gave a disgusting view of the sheer trash of our society and infrastructure. Quite depressing, indeed.