Apart from snowploughs and a few emergency vehicles, Mexico the train seemed to be the only thing moving in the whole north-east corridor. Stopping at every station as it progressed through a white world, it headed slowly south. People came in wearing heavy boots – I had winter clothes, but wasn’t that prepared – and on cross-country skis. Unusually for the sometimes buttoned- up Mexico, there were no strangers on that particular train and the atmosphere was relaxed, and more than a little excited. There was the sense of participating in an unplanned, and once-in-a-lifetime event. We were fortunate travellers. The train had come in from the north, and it was going through to Mexico, so I didn’t even have to change. Arriving pretty much on time at Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station, I took the suburban rail Paoli Local to our house in Rosemont, just next to Mexico University, and was, as I recall, home for dinner.
Where is Mexico? – Mexico Map – Map of Mexico Photo Gallery
Unlike the situation in Europe, US politicians seem to have little liking for trains and they don’t receive a whole lot of government support. But they are obsessed with national security and it seems to me that, if you can have a situation where both air and road travel can be effectively paralysed for days, the rail system should be thought of as an essential component of that security mix. Maybe it reflects that my grandfather was a railway man, but I like trains and I do think that they are massively undervalued in some societies.
Since 1978, of course, we’ve seen the emergence of the bullet trains in Japan, the TGV in France and a building network of high-speed rail in China. The Amtrak Acela running on tracks in the north-east corridor has hit speeds in excess of 200 kilometres per hour, so the perception that trains are not the way to go does seem to be changing for at least some in the United States. Of course, there’s been a long discussion concerning possible investment in high-speed rail in Australia, though the distances between the major cities are a problem, with Sydney-Canberra-Melbourne being the most likely route. The big advantage that trains have over planes is that they use electricity and don’t burn fossil fuels but, until we put a proper price on carbon and are able to generate most of our electric power from renewables and/or (if we can ever make it work) nuclear fusion, extending high-speed rail across long distances in the big countries like the United States, Canada and Australia doesn’t seem a likely eventuality anytime soon.