I have a confession. I have never ridden a high speed train. In 2014 I was on a train in Germany from Frankfurt to Amsterdam that seemed to be going pretty fast but I don’t know if it technically qualified as “high speed.” Even if it did, we were unexpectedly delayed for hours and everyone on the train looked very mad as if they expected better. The train could have gone 300 mph but the fact people expected to be on time was the real novelty of European rail travel. Deutsche Bahn refunded half of our ticket prices and even that seemed not good enough to most people.
My only other memorable non-Northeast Corridor intercity train experience was from Seattle to Los Angeles on Amtrak. My dad and I thought it would be fun. We were wrong. The train was 18 hours late. Everyone was estatic when we arrived as if we had just survived an interstellar journey. It was the only time before or since I was happy to be in Los Angeles.
It is, perhaps, with these experiences in mind I decided to explore if the U.S. is ready to build lots of high speed rail as part of a massive infrstructure plan, or if we should instead focus on making our regular passenger rail better than it was in the 19th Century, which it currently is not. I concluded the U.S. is not ready to be building HSR. My editor told me lots of people seem mad at me online for this. A few of them may even have clicked on the article.
One of the things I don’t love about writing on the internet is we often have to pretend we are extremely sure of every conclusion we reach because that’s how one gets attention, by being very sure of everything you say, and attention is really the only currency in media and online discourse that matters. The more people argue with you, the more you have to double down, because it’s working.
But I reject that. I am not sure about this article. Partly, it’s because I do love the idea of the U.S. having good HSR and want to see it happen. But, more broadly, I understand and acknowledge the very reasonable arguments for HSR in the U.S.
To be clear, this isn’t a troll article. I believe what I wrote. But I am not sure. There’s a big difference, one that I feel barely exists in most American discourse, in particular that which occurs online. I can’t shake the nagging feeling we should focus on making conventional rail better over the next decade or so, then make the leap to HSR. Maybe I’m wrong. I’m not sure.
I’m trying to be less sure of everything these days. It may not get me hundreds of thousands of Twitter followers or a seven-figure Substack advance, but I find it rewarding to change my mind about things. It means I’m learning something. To me, that’s the whole point.
Birding seems to be the new breadmaking in terms of pandemic hobbies people have gotten into. I like birding because it is the exact opposite of being online. However I don’t get the Pokemon aspect of it where people log all the birds they saw. That bit’s not for me. I just like looking at the pretty birds in quiet woods, especially when it’s raining. There have been lots of wood ducks in Prospect Park lately and I am partial to birds with mullet situations. I don’t have a camera lens that cost many thousands of dollars so I don’t have any photos to share with you, sorry. But if you would like to talk about birds let me know.
Until next time,