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I do not deny either the charms of high speed rail, nor the economic and social/cultural case for it in a lot of markets. In the UK I am not sure about the routes being proposed — the ideas feel too London-centric and Scotland-tropic — and worried that pricing will be a pitfall. People fly Edinburgh to London not because they want to but because it is for the most part a lot cheaper; TGV works because of TGV pricing. (On the routes, since you ask: make Birmingham the high-speed hub to the greatest extent possible, with direct lines to Stratford and thus Chunnel, Leeds via Manchester, Bristol via Heathrow on an L-shaped line that eventually carries on to Cardiff over the top of the Severn Barrage. Birmingham to Glasgow/Edinburgh via Manchester (or Liverpool) later, maybe after direct Exeter-Bristol-Birmingham line.)
But that is all by the by. What I meant to post to say is that low speed rail has charms too. Last month I went from Denver to San Francisco with Amtrak, a journey that took a 34 hours: 08:00 from Denver and delivered by bus to the Caltrain depot at about 17:30. The train was rerouted North, up the front range and then across the very empty bottom of Wisconsin Wyoming [Doh! Why do I keep doing that? Thanks Kevin] before getting to Ogden and Salt Lake City; then through Utah and over the Donner Pass and down into California. Not as scenic as the route due West from Denver, but not too bad (and means I have the other route to look forward to some other time). I had time to read the best part of two good books (Patricia Nelson Limerick’s wonderful Something in the Soil, picked up at the equally wonderful Tattered Cover and much enjoyed, and Mike Hulme’s very stimulating Why We Disagree About Climate Change, which I should review here sometime), to listen to some podcasts and music, watch a good chunk of the second season of Friday Night Lights (Jesse Plemons, inter alia, is just terrific), get a moderately good night’s sleep and stare out of the window at deserts, bison, mountains, forests, coal trains, the moon, windfarms (a lot of windfarms), emptiness, America, and all that. All in all pretty terrific. Good for a road warrior on a tight schedule? No. Calming and enriching? Yes. Cheap, too.
And yet there is only one train a day and it is more than half empty. I’ve never done a trip of similar distance by road, so can’t say if that really has greater charms, but sort of doubt it. Why do not more people see the charms of this? Is everyone really that rushed? Or do other people find it easy to take time out in the normal run of things, and not have to spend 1000 miles or whatever in a metal can in order to calm down and chill out?
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