What Happened to America's Trains?

In an age of rapid technological improvements in almost every aspect of life, it's difficult to understand how a technology like trains could actually be less advanced now than it was in the 1940s, writes Tom Vanderbilt.
May 16, 2009, 11am PDT | Michael Dudley
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"There is at least one technology in America...that is worse now than it was in the early 20th century: the train.

[Prewar train timetables show that] the Montreal Limited, circa 1942, would pull out of New York's Grand Central Station at 11:15 p.m., arriving at Montreal's (now defunct) Windsor Station at 8:25 a.m., a little more than nine hours later. To make that journey today, from New York's Penn Station on the Adirondack, requires a nearly 12-hour ride. The trip from Chicago to Minneapolis via the Olympian Hiawatha in the 1950s took about four and a half hours; today, via Amtrak's Empire Builder, the journey is more than eight hours. Going from Brattleboro, Vt., to New York City on the Boston and Maine Railroad's Washingtonian took less than five hours in 1938; today, Amtrak's Vermonter (the only option) takes six hours-if it's on time, which it isn't, nearly 75 percent of the time.

[President] Obama's bold vision [for high-speed rail] obscures a simple fact: 220 mph would be phenomenal, but we would also do well to simply get trains back up to the speeds they traveled during the Harding administration."

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Published on Friday, May 15, 2009 in Slate
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