Saturday, March 22, 2008
California Green 1: Transportation
Needing to visit my mother in San Luis Obispo after she had undergone a series of terrible surgeries, I hopped onto the Coast Starlight line of Amtrak in Oakland on Tuesday morning.
The train was on schedule for the very first time in my experience, and the reason turned out to be that instead of originating in Seattle, the line was starting in Sacramento because many of the tracks and tunnels in the Pacific Northwest have been destroyed by their rough winter this year, and have been out of commission since January.
So if you want to take Amtrak from Washington state or Oregon to Southern California, you need to take a series of feeder buses that will land in you Sacramento for the truncated Coast Starlight. When I asked an Amtrak worker when it would be fixed, he shrugged with sadness, and answered, "Three months, six months, a year...who knows?"
This hasn't exactly boosted ridership, and the train was half-empty. Plus, they had dispensed with the sleeper cars and its associated dining car so the only thing to eat on the train were microwaved hot dogs, hamburgers and pizzas in the crummy little snack area under the domed "lounge."
In a state and a country that needs to get off its addiction to oil fast, Amtrak's state of affairs is both stupid and shameful.
To add insult to injury, passenger trains have to wait out in open fields for long stretches at a time while waiting for freight trains to use the tracks which makes it impossible to adhere to any kind of a schedule.
It's also more than a little disconcerting to see one of the train's conductors wandering out in those fields to make a manual adjustment to the switching mechanisms. I haven't seen anything this antiquated since taking a train trip in the 1970s from Mexico City through the Yucatan jungle to Merida, and at least there were villagers hopping onboard to sell us food.
Since the Republican operative, Governor Schwarzenegger, seems to be doing everything in his power to keep a bullet train from north to south being built, how about just restoring slow and reliable train service instead? It would be a start.