Dinah, Blow Your Horn

April 3, 2007 § Leave a comment

How I long for the renaissance of the railroad.

The lion’s share of my railroad nostalgia comes from literature, of course, like most of my nostalgia. Rail travel figures prominently in some of my favorite books. The Hogwarts Express, of course, with its sweets cart. The train wreck in The Chronicles of Narnia. The “chance encounter” in The Wolves of Willoughby Chase. It was a favorite setting in Agatha Christie’s books— What Mrs. McGillicuddy Saw!, Murder on the Orient Express— the list goes on. But I also love what rail travel represents personally.

There is a romantic, old-fashioned aspect to watching wilderness and small towns zip by, however modern the train. Building a transcontinental traveling system captured the imagination of Americans and Canadians. It’s a tangible connection to the past.

But, wait! There’s even more to my sentimentality!: my grandfather worked on the railroad for thirty years. Richard’s father was a CN cop. I lived on Quinpool Road just in front of the tracks for a few years, and never got bored with watching the daily from Montreal skate past up on the hill.

I’ve only really traveled this way once— from Moncton, NB to Halifax— but the experience was peaceful and contemplative. Exponentially nicer than air travel. In fact, I’d love to take the train into the city every time we had to go— and I presume the thousands of people who are stuck in traffic for two or three hours every day would too. (In my fantasy there are streetcars waiting to whisk us to our destinations, if you’re wondering. Very fantastic is my fantasy.)

A clean, modern railway would do so much to lessen Nova Scotia’s environmental impact, and it would go a long way to making the province more attractive to people who’d consider living here. If a train stopped in most small towns two or three times every day, does anyone really think commuters would prefer to pay $150 per month for parking rather than $75 for a train pass? Who would prefer to suffer through the Armdale Rotary than relax and zone out on the commute home?

As it is in most small cities, public transportation in Halifax is terribly inefficient. The busses run late, they’re either packed or three-quarters empty. The routes don’t serve most people most of the time. And the system only serves the Halifax and Dartmouth. There’s no cheap way to get into the city if you live outside it, and no cheap way to get out if you’re in.

And so, a province-wide passenger rail system makes good sense. To me, it seems obvious that instead of constantly repairing roads for passenger cars to travel on, the province should pour money into an initiative to lessen their use. It works in Europe and Japan— so why not here?

Damn that Rails to Trails project. This whole thing would be a much easier sell if there were still train tracks.


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