Last night Gina and I hit the streets of downtown Los Angeles at 1:30am. Precisely we rolled out onto Alameda Street , between the jail and Skid Row, on our bikes, half an hour before the bars closed, letting out a burst of drunken drivers. And why did we indulge in this peculiar fancy? Because the Coast Starlight pulled into the station a full four hours late.
And why did the showcase train of Amtrak's western routes pull in so late?
Because Amtrak cannot afford to build its own tracks, and must rent them from a grudging Union Pacific railroad, which makes far more money running its freights past the Starlight while the latter idles on a lost siding somewhere in the dark of America than it gets from the track rental.
There's a profound and irrational antipathy to rail travel in Washington, expressed in regular diatribes, mostly by hardshell conservatives, against the $500 million or so subsidy the government dribbles out to Amtrak every year.
That the same government doles out $60 billion to subsidize cars and trucks, and some $30 billion to subsidize airlines, doesn't seem to bother these champions of free enterprise. That, in this era of global warming, rail is the most environmentally gentle of all motorized transport modes by far is of no apparent consequence. That encouraging development of a competent passenger rail network would reduce pollution, minimize sprawl, and waste far less land than our bloated and inefficient highway system is something they don't want to hear.
So the US sufferes a third-world quality rail system that must make the Japanese, the French, the Germans, and other civilized nations laugh out loud.
But it just makes me want to cry.