Day 1: San Francisco- Reno, Nevada
So today I leave San Francisco for a year to go to grad school in Bristol, England. I am challenging myself to get all the way to London without getting in a car or on a plane. I left my apartment in San Francisco by foot, boarded a historic F-line streetcar down Market St, then I met my friends Rich and Cheryl who are traveling on the same train to Colorado. Together we rode the Amtrak bus to Emeryville, crossing the Bay Bridge, observing the new East Span Bike Path being constructed as I bid farewell to SF for a year. Goodbye everyone!! Sad to say goodbye, but exciting adventures are ahead.
Right now I am sitting on the Amtrak California Zephyr, about to depart the Emeryville station having just left San Francisco, on my way to the UK. At the Amtrak SF Ferry Building station, I checked in at the counter, and overheard that today’s Coast Starlight train that runs between Seattle and Los Angeles was 7 hours late. The Coast Star”late” has been experiencing chronic delays, due to precedence given to freight trains on the tracks owned by Union Pacific. Of course the root cause is that the Bush Administration has been trying to kill Amtrak so that Americans have to support Halliburton and Chevron by driving their cars more, but corrupt politicians haven’t managed to overcome popular support for the beleaguered rail system. The woman at the Amtrak counter and I agreed that the delays on the Coast Starlight and the general neglect of the nation’s passenger rail system is a disgrace for a supposedly civilized country.
4:30 pm Reno, Nevada
We are stopped at the Reno, Nevada train station, which is basically a concrete canyon surrounded by casinos. Unfortunately no wireless access here, so you’ll probably have to wait until Chicago to read this… The Sierras were beautiful, with wildflowers and a great view of Donner Lake. As we made our way up the mountain range at a leisurely 15mph, about bicycle speed, Rich, Cheryl, and I enjoyed frosty brews in the observation car with large panoramas across the mountains, and an historian from the California State Historic Rail Museum was giving a running commentary, letting us all know about the Chinese immigrants who built the rail line and the hydraulic mining that destroyed much of the natural landscape in the Sierra Foothills. The train is pretty full- many families- and it’s good to see that there is still a healthy interest in rail in these United States. We watched road cyclists cruising on the highways around Reno as we approached through its suburbs. Saw evidence of forest fires, which scientists say have increased massively over the past decade or so as a result of global warming. Many SUV’s and RV’s on I-80, and the pulse of the interstate highway organism continues spewing waste into our atmosphere… meanwhile I am speculating with another passenger (Maurice) about why our departure from Reno has been delayed and we’re still here in this concrete canyon…
4:56pm They just announced that we are waiting for a bus load of people coming to meet the train from the Coast Starlight which is predictably late– they’re probably stuck in traffic!
Train travel is such a pleasure. There’s room to walk around, socialize, get a bite to eat, and go about life while on the train. And because railroads share rights-of-way with rivers, roads, and trails, there is an interaction with other travelers, as we waved to people rafting on this hot summers day, or riding their bikes on the American River Trail through Sacramento.
Driving on the interstate you get this selfish feeling and the driving motivation is to get ahead of everyone else without getting killed yourself. Think about it. There are seldom friendly interactions between cars. When the threat of death and murder lurk over an incidental contact with a stranger, as they do constantly when driving, things can go south quick. The interstate highway system breeds enemies and alienation. Rail and bicycle networks give birth to friends, lovers, and ultimately community.
(Speaking of the symbiotic (fertile) nature of trains and bikes, human beings are really extremely lucky that the two least carbon intensive forms of transport, bikes and trains, are also the most enjoyable. One more reason why carbon cuts won’t be as painful as some people say… more on that later)
I love trains. On an airplane or a bus, you are crammed in there, and it’s basically about having to put up with it. Cramped quarters, air and traffic turbulence, strange noises coming from the engine…. riding the rails is elegant, peaceful, and lends itself to thinking…… maybe that’s one reason why the Bush administration is so opposed to it- can’t have the populace thinking for themselves….