Article written and contributed by Sally Gale, a Cincinnati native who discovered the convenience of trains & transit after relocating to the United Kingdom.
In 2013, the American Public Transport Association reported that a record 10.7 billion trips occurred on public transport. Nor does this trend look like it’s slowing down. While we’re still a nation obsessed with car ownership, and lag far behind most European nations when it comes to public transport usage, this surge in bus and train users may well indicate that times and attitudes are changing.
Particularly as this public transport rise occurred when the economy was on the upturn, and gas prices were low. This disproves the theory that use of public transport is driven by the state of one’s wallet, and would seem to indicate that people have other reasons for travelling by train. Indeed, what we could be looking at is a widespread shift in cultural and societal attitudes towards the railroads and other forms of public transport, which will ultimately benefit us all. Here are a few of the factors which may have influenced this change in attitude.
Americans – particularly the up and coming generations – are far more aware than we ever have been of the environmental consequences of our actions and lifestyles. Furthermore, we’re becoming much more inclined to take positive actions in order to avert or ameliorate such consequences. While previous generations may have either not known, not cared, or felt disinclined to
change their habits when it came to environmentally damaging activities, the generations currently coming to the fore are more aware, more concerned, and want a clean ecological conscience. As such, many of them are eschewing the car whenever possible for greener forms of transport.
Public transport is, of course, a far more environmentally-friendly travel solution than cars. 100 people travelling on one train produce substantially less pollution than 100 people travelling in separate cars. Trains are also less of a contributor to noise and light pollution than roads. All in all, those who wish to travel with a clean conscience – as many increasingly do – are well advised to head for the railroad station.
Trains do not, for Americans, hold the same emotional and cultural place that they do in the land of their birth – Britain. The British adore and revere trains, and frequently incorporate ‘heritage railways’ into their vacation plans. However, it seems that the railroad is beginning to find a place within America’s collective cultural heart. Following improvements in train comfort, safety, and convenience, and cultural influences from across the pond (a renewed interest in Agatha Christie, and the ubiquitous appeal of the ‘Hogwarts Express’, for example), people are beginning to take train rides purely for the fun of it. The ‘rail vacation’ is a growing phenomenon – travelling by train is a fantastic way in which to take in a diverse and widespread range of America’s stunning scenery, as well as being (as mentioned above) environmentally friendly. Furthermore, travel insurance costs are generally lower if one travels by train than by car, nicely icing the cake for those considering taking a vacation featuring the railroads.
The open, empty highway is a great piece of American cultural mythmaking. It’s a dream to cruise down long, straight stretches of road with the wind in your hair, while the country rolls out beside you. Unfortunately, however, in this modern age there are fewer open roads and more traffic jams. It is estimated that, on average, the American commuter wastes 38 hours per year sitting in traffic. If you happen to live in a big city like Cincinnati, Cleveland, or Columbus, it’s a hell of a lot longer – the big city average for time wasted per year in traffic is
over 50 hours.
Trains, however, are subject to no such traffic issues. They come and go without a major amount of unpredictable delays, getting you to your destination precisely when they said they would. One can plan one’s day around train rides, meaning that no time is wasted with the frustrations of inching in traffic during rush hour. Not having to drive also makes the experience nice and easy, and the whole thing is generally a lot less stressful. Little wonder, therefore, that more and more commuters are taking the trains to travel into the cities.
Sally Gale bio: “Before turning to writing, Sally worked in the travel industry – first on cruise ships, then later as a tour guide. She’s visited many far-flung destinations. When she became a mom, she decided to take a step back and stay at home to look after her children, but she turned to travel writing as a way to satisfy her itch to tour! She’s now hoping her children will become as interested in exploring the world as she is.”