Trains: An alternative to the torture of air travel

By Ken Schram, political commentary

  • Saturday, April 26, 2008 8:05am
  • Opinion

By Ken Schram, political commentary

I’m curious. What with all the lost luggage, the flight delays and the cancellations, are people falling out of love with air travel?

I read that 27 million people will be taking to the skies over the Thanksgiving holiday. They will trek out to the airport at least two or three hours before their flight is scheduled to leave in order to stand in a long and winding line to be scanned and searched.

Mulling around the departure area of the airport, they will partake of generally mediocre food, for which they will pay inflated prices. Or maybe they will wander in and out of stores looking at (insert city here) T-shirts before they are finally herded and packed into an aluminum tube, where they will side-step down a narrow aisle and squirm into their skinny seats.

I can’t help but wonder why so many people continue to endure the almost torturous experience that has become air travel. For those of you who are wondering the same thing, I have but one word for you: Trains.

I know, in this era of immediacy, in this time of deadlines and urgency, people want to get to where they’re going as quickly as possible. If they can fly from Seattle to Chicago in four hours, why would they ever consider spending two days to get there on the train?

Allow me to take a shot at answering that question: It’s more relaxing. It’s two days of easy conversation, card games and good books. It’s watching America out your window. It’s enjoying cocktails and ordering dinner from a menu before settling back to enjoy a movie. It’s the rhythmic rocking of the rail car as you fall asleep.

I bring this up because Congress is in the process of grappling with legislation that would begin to provide Amtrak with more stable funding and make the nation’s passenger rail network more efficient. That’s in contrast to what President Bush is pushing. He wants to eliminate Amtrak subsidies. I guess when you have your own private jet, there’s the tendency to discount how regular folks might want to travel.

It seems to me that in this time of ever-escalating oil prices, we’re overlooking a travel component that deserves more consideration. Maybe taking the train isn’t for everyone, but I can’t imagine that it isn’t for more of us.

A few years ago, my family and I took the train to San Fransisco. It was a 24-hour extension of a mini-vacation. This summer, my wife and I took the train up to Vancouver, B.C. As far as I’m concerned, I will never drive up there again.

I look at all the problems with air travel — all the discomfort and hassles — and it just makes me curious as to why people aren’t at least experimenting with taking the train.

Are we all in that much of a mad rush to get to where we’re going that we’ll sacrifice so much just to get there?

Ken Schram is a KOMO-TV and radio commentator whose radio feature with John Carlson, “The Commentators,” airs weekdays from 3 to 6 p.m. on AM 570 KVI. Schram can be reached at

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