Tracks across the Midwest

Ever since I started looking for work in Detroit, I’ve alternated my means of travel to and from the city between the train and the bus. Whether I book my tickets with Amtrak or Megabus depends on several factors, including ticket prices, the weather, the length of layovers in Chicago (because unfortunately neither company offers nonstop service between Milwaukee and Detroit), and scheduled arrivals and departures, which must coincide with the availability of those taking me to and from the stations. If I didn’t have to take into account all of these factors in my decision to ride the train or bus to Detroit, it would be the locomotive every time. Hands down.

I was first introduced to trains when I was studying abroad in Spain and since then I’ve been a rail enthusiast. It all started with an overnight train from Madrid to Paris. Pulling into the Gare du Nord in the early morning hours—bleary-eyed and achy from a second-class good night sleep—I was hooked. Since then I’ve relied on trains to tour Scandinavia, reach postcard-worthy beaches along Thailand’s peninsula, and cross the great geographical expanse of the United States between Los Angeles and Milwaukee. For me there is no better way to see countryside, enter a metropolis, or most accurately experience the local vibe of a region. Trains also afford a more comfortable ride than buses with bigger seats, ample space for luggage, and a snack car! One trade-off? Time. As it turns out, riding from Milwaukee to Detroit by train or bus should be about the same time, and in practice, I have found that the Megabus more often makes its arrival times than the train. Another trade-off to a more comfortable ride is cost. However, when demand for the Megabus is high, prices for the train and bus are about equal.

As you may imagine, I was thoroughly disheartened at the loss of federal funding for a new train route in Wisconsin between Milwaukee and Madison. This line was a step towards an eventual link between Chicago and Minneapolis, and a step in the right direction to provide Midwesterners with more public transportation options. Opponents of the federal rail funds argued that it was a bad deal for taxpayers, that it wouldn’t be sustainable, and that the current Badger Bus already provides such a public transportation service. Now I’m not above riding buses; anyone who knows me also knows I’ve spent my fair share of time on buses (and after traveling Southeast Asia primarily by bus, a seven and a half hour trip between Milwaukee and Detroit, with a comfortable layover, is a breeze—trust me). But given the option, I will always opt for the train. I don’t think there is anything wrong with providing public transportation-goers with options. In fact, I think it is a state’s responsibility to provide its citizens with a variety of choice when it comes to transportation. The Midwest is a long way from an environment in which living car-light or car-free is a viable option, but beginning to build up the railways infrastructure is a necessary step in creating such an environment.

Yesterday’s train ride east across Southern Michigan was beautiful. For the first five and a half hours at least. It had been snowing steadily since I boarded in Chicago and there was a light dusting across the landscape. It wasn’t until a combination of inspections, traffic interferences, and poor weather conditions, putting us nearly two hours behind our scheduled arrival, did I consider re-evaluating my love affair with trains.

So will I be booking my next trip by train? You bet.


2 responses to “Tracks across the Midwest

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