Orion's picture

    Homage to Amtrak


    Amtrak started out as a last ditch subsidization of a dying industry but, after 50 years of service, it's the closest thing America has to be a beloved heritage institution. You don't see people tearing it down like all the various statues that were supposed to symbolize something for us, and there's now actually an effort to finally improve it.

    Beyond that, whenever I have been on Amtrak, I have met people who appreciate a slower lifestyle. They don't mind that the train service is way shorter than a plane ride. They're willing to talk to strangers, are polite and compliment others. Meanwhile, as opposed to being "flyover country," Amtrak takes you right through rural America and you will see the various farming, exurban and suburban communities up close and intimately before you finally arrive at your urban destination.

    An Amtrak ride gives you a sampling of America that, by all extent of personal experience in it on a regular basis, shouldn't really exist, but it's there.

    Observations About People Riding Amtrak

    An observation I made - there were a lot of conservative people on Amtrak. When I walked past the sleeper car, there was an older guy in a Trump hat. I saw people reading Jordan Peterson's book. The guy who ran the snack bar started talking about society fell apart once "they let women run things." The guy seated adjacent to me had a shirt from "Grunt Style," a conservative T-shirt company. One guy who talked to my family talked about how "the Left argues with themselves with pre-formulated arguments." I saw more than a few older white guys in veteran baseball hats, which doesn't necessarily mean they are conservative but usually does.

    Is this policy hypocrisy? After all, it's only now under Joe Biden's administration that funding finally seems to be accelerated toward one of America's best institutions. I don't think so.

    I looked at a map of Amtrak destinations and made the disappointing observation that travel is basically cut off in the Midwest and only touches down on a few destinations in the south, largely high traffic areas like El Paso, Atlanta, New Orleans, etc. See for yourself: 

    There used to be destinations in Idaho but they were closed down in 1997. There is discussion of renewing them but it appears to not be taking off. This is almost certainly the result of free market economics, with big city progressives being alone in funding and protecting the Amtrak system. 

    The populism of Trumpism complicates this and shows that there was some priorities and needs within rural, conservative communities that were largely ignored by conservatives. I think it's very wise for the Biden administration to place priority in upgrading Amtrak and our infrastructure system writ large, as it is something that serves everyone in our society.


    I took a cross-country trip 1969, half on train - pretty amazing experience. If course didn't realize these routes were on their last legs, end of an era. Yes, got to see a lot of America without hitchhiking. Stations seemed a lot safer in that age as well.

    The Amtrak system almost doesn't cross in to the Midwest or the South at all. The latter just a little bit more than the former. That's free market economics for you.

    Romantic Amtrak embellishment: Foucault might ask "where's the harm?" wink

    People be bored. Remember how much they tried to catch Al Gore in some minor discrepancy - FEMA visit, DC hotels, Love Canal... Screw 'em.

    Speaking of bored: Fox News is covering Bill Cosby being released from prison like it is O.J. Simpson 2.0, complete with alleged victims saying they will take a civil suit up with him and an aerial video of him driving off. I remember when the Right actually loved him: https://www.businessinsider.com/giuliani-obama-can-learn-from-bill-cosby-2015-3

    Yglesias, train enthusiast, has some thoughts. They are not nostalgic:

    The soft bigotry of lowered expectations. Is your children levitating yet?

    Cato Institute tears it down - it's just not very affordable, with a ton of upkeep, and the speeds wouldn't ever get there unless the infrastructure costs ballooned (which they will anyway)


    Ugh, Cato Institute. Here is the thing. The interstate highway system is actually the big government solution. Before it existed, there were massive private rail enterprises. Amtrak only came to be as all those enterprises went suddenly bankrupt. There are indications of such things rising again. We should dismantle the highway system and then watch as such systems rejuvenate.

    That would be the real libertarian solution.

    Telegram was efficient before government got involved with subsidizing phone and internet. We should reverrt to those more pristine Adam Smith times.

    It would mean less social media, so maybe. :P

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