Overnight Train Travel: the Civilized Way to Go

I have frequently noted in these posts that the Europeans have had transportation issues figured out for 30-plus years: they take trains.

Throughout Europe, most inter-city travelers make use of the extensive network of high-speed rail lines, with trains routinely running between most major cities at speeds of 186 miles per hour. Many of these travelers have figured out that taking the slower overnight trains can take much of the hassle out of travel and save serious money, too.

Let’s say you live in Paris and have a business appointment in Munich. You can leave Gare de l’Est (East Station) in Paris at 8:30 p.m., have a very good meal in the dining car, then a drink or two in the lounge car, sleep in a comfortable berth and arrive in Munich just after 7 o’clock the next morning. Sure, you could have flown, but by taking the train you have saved the cost of a hotel room and the jet flight.

Furthermore, you’ve also saved the expense and the hassle of getting from your office in Paris to the airport and from the outlying airport in Munich into the city center. The train, of course, departs from the center of Paris and delivers you to Munich’s Hofbahnhof, also in the middle of the city.

And believe it or not, it’s even possible to do that here in the U.S. You can hop Amtrak’s Capital Limited in Washington, DC at 4:05 in the afternoon and get to Chicago before 9:00 the next morning.

Or leave Washington at 7:30 p.m. on the Silver Meteor and be in Jacksonville, Florida the next morning by 9:30. Or leave Chicago at 2:00 this afternoon on the California Zephyr and be in Denver for breakfast bright and early tomorrow morning.

I know, I know … it’s a bit of a stretch, but it can be done! America could develop a national rail system that would take cars off the road, make both business and personal travel fast, safe and convenient, and have significant environmental benefits. But it would mean our politicians would have to summon up a little foresight, a little resolve, and enough humility to acknowledge that there’s a helluva lot we could learn from the Europeans. Unfortunately, that appears to be too much to expect from the current crop in charge.