We’re Not So Damn Smart.

Americans will drive to the airport, park the car for $25 a day, allow two hours to get through security, then catch a 45-minute flight to see relatives for a holiday weekend. Then they’ll do it all in reverse to get home. That’s how most Americans travel.

Europeans have had transportation issues figured out for a hundred 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 up to 186 miles per hour. 

The fact is, you can get almost anywhere in  Europe by train. Big cities and small towns. Several years ago, I spent a couple of days in the town of Azay-le-Rideau in France. As I recall, the population there is about 3500, but they have a railroad station and  six trains a day stop there.

Furthermore, European business travelers have figured out that taking the slower overnight trains can take much of the hassle out of travel and save money, too.

Believe it or not, it’s actually possible to do that here in the U.S. 

  • You can hop Amtrak’s Capitol Limited in Washington, DC, at 4:05 this afternoon and get to Chicago at 8:45 tomorrow morning in plenty of time for a 10:00 business meeting.
  • Or leave Washington at 6:50 p.m. on the Silver Meteor and be in Jacksonville, Florida tomorrow morning by 9:10. 
  • 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 system of both conventional and high-speed trains 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. And the likelihood of that is . . .

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