|British London-Glasgow train|
at station in Carlisle.
One month from today, I fly to London in preparation for my eight-day hike through Westmorland. The hike begins in Appleby, in north central Westmorland, and ends 95 miles later in Arnside, Westmorland's one small exposure to the sea at the far southern end of the county.*
The hike will be fun -- an adventure -- but also fun will be my travel between London and the beginning and end points of the hike.
To get to Appleby, I will take a mainline train from London's King's Cross station to Leeds. At Leeds, I transfer to the storied Settle-Carlisle line -- a line barely saved from discontinuation in the 1980s -- and follow its scenic route (14 tunnels and 22 viaducts) to Appleby. I took this same route last summer as far as Kirkby Stephen, one stop before Appleby.
Returning from Arnside, I take the Furness line -- which skirts the Lake District along the coast of the Irish Sea -- to Lancaster, an 18 minute ride. Then from Lancaster, I connect with the Glasgow-London train to London's Euston Station.
In booking these trains, I was filled with envy. Virgin Trains alone -- operating the London to Glascow route -- has nine trains per hour leaving Euston, one of which each hour is bound for Glasgow. And Virgin is only one of a number of train companies operating within Britain.
Trains on the mainlines -- e.g., London-Edinburgh, London-Glascow -- operate at 125 mph.
Here, in the United States, Amtrak operates one train per day from Seattle to Los Angeles, one train per day from Seattle to Chicago. Admittedly, these routes involve longer distances than those between London and cities in Scotland. Because they operate on old track owned by private freight companies, Amtrak's passenger trains rarely operate above 70 mph. They are subject to delays when encountering freight trains competing for use of the same track.
Nevertheless, Amtrak provides train service that is pleasant and scenic, and provides very satisfactory sleeper and diner service on major routes. It does so despite being routinely underfunded by Congress. This underfunding is, in part, a reflection of tight budgets. It also, however, is a result of political opposition -- more ideological than rational -- by many Republican members of Congress to virtually all forms of rail travel (including rapid transit in cities). For some reason, neither air travel nor auto travel face this same visceral hatred.
We may not have to make comparisons between Europe's passenger trains and those of Amtrak much longer, however. President Trump's proposed budget kills all of Amtrak's routes except those traveling in the congested Boston-Washington corridor.
Instead of killing passenger train service, we should be developing a system that approaches the level of competence and convenience provided by Europe. But I guess we're committed to the belief that Europe has nothing that we Americans -- in our unique exceptionalism -- will ever want to emulate.