I’m not sure if everyone reading this is aware of it, but we travel to all of our cover stories in-person. That means a lot of travel. I’ve seen most of the major airports in the United States, not to mention several other countries.
So, it was a nice change of pace to be able to visit a transit agency and not have to take a plane to get there. For this month’s cover story I was able to take Amtrak’s Hiawatha Line from Milwaukee to Chicago to visit the CTA. And let me tell you, it was an eye-opening experience.
Sure, I’ve ridden on rail systems before, but I’d forgotten how much easier it was than air travel. The TSA agents were friendly as they looked through my bag. I didn’t have to remove everything I was carrying or wearing — I got to keep my belt and shoes on! And there was no “Recombobulation Area” as in the nearby General Mitchell Airport.
Standing on the train platform waiting for the train to pull up has a lot more going for it than sitting in an airport waiting to herd into a plane. It was outside. Sunny. And I didn’t have to wait for my row to be called.
Not only did I not have an assigned seat, I didn’t even have an assigned car. I chose the ‘quiet car’ behind the locomotive. The seat I was in was probably the same width as two plane seats — and there was another empty one next to it! I had legroom and didn’t have claustrophobia set in fearing the person in front of me was going to lean back their seat at any minute.
Sure, when I got off the train in Chicago, I wasn’t at my destination, but when has a plane ever left you off at the place you wanted to go? And the six or so block walk through downtown Chicago from Union Station to CTA headquarters was exilherating.
The president has made it clear that intercity rail connections like this one are a priority for his administration. I’ve spoken about this before and I’ve heard from several people how it will never work. How this will never get people out of their cars or out of airplanes. The thing I think they are all missing is that it’s not about replacing highways or airlines with rail, it’s about offering another option in getting there.
Will taking a train from Milwaukee to Seattle ever be an option over taking an airplane? Doubtful. But taking a train from Milwaukee to La Crosse or Minneapolis is definitely something I am waiting for. The same could be said for any of the president’s proposed routes. San Diego to Los Angeles? Austin to Dallas? Orlando to Miami? All of these options and more aren’t just viable, they’re desirable.
Just ask my dad, getting there isn’t about the trip, it’s about how fast can you make it in. Can you beat your last time? Your best time? Getting there needs to change from choosing the mode of transportation that gets you to your location in the least amount of time to the mode that is the best choice to take.
Could I have driven to Chicago to visit CTA? Sure. Would I have spent less time on the trip if I had driven? Definitely. But it wasn’t the best choice. It would have probably cost me the same and had the added stress of finding a place to park on top of it.
No, for me, I can’t wait to have more options for getting there.
One last thing. In our April/May issue we accidentally listed Nigel Lindsey as the author of our CBT article instead of Nigel Lindsey-King.