My twenty-five-mile commute to work runs parallel to a railroad track, used both by freight trans and an Amtrak route (for my readers outside the USA, that means a passenger train) that runs twice per day in each direction. A few miles down the highway, I cross the track, and sometimes, if the timing works out just right, I can see the Amtrak train, and I end up following it for about another 15 miles until my exit. Then, shortly after my exit, I cross under the railroad track again, and if the timing is still just right, I see the train one last time above me. Last Thursday, I saw the train following me along my drive, but by the time I got to the underpass, I had gotten stuck waiting at a stop sign, and the train had already passed.
I am discovering more and more that I enjoy traveling by train. I’ve often used BART, the regional electric commuter trains in and around San Francisco and Oakland, to get to Giants games or other occasional events in San Francisco for which I don’t want to deal with traffic or finding an overpriced place to park. I went to a concert in the city a few weeks ago, and I took BART and then connected to a local bus, and I didn’t even miss the bus or get on the wrong bus or anything like that. Me 1, San Francisco 0. The local light rail in Sacramento is my usual method of transportation to get to Kings games when I don’t have to pick up someone who doesn’t have a way to get to games or won’t use public transportation. I have also used light rail and buses many times to get home from long one-way bike rides. And in June, I rode Amtrak for the first time, going to visit my family.
I think I would use public transportation more often, except that it usually does not go where I’m going when I need to be there. When I say this to many people, they proceed to criticize the public transportation system in this region compared to others, or public transportation in the USA compared to other countries. But this is not the issue. The issue is that my commute is not along a common commuting corridor. It is theoretically possible for me to get to work using three buses, run by three different agencies that do not issue transfers, with inconvenient layovers in between. I could also just do the long bus route, getting to and from the stops by bike instead of two other buses. However, that would still be about three and a half miles on my bike each way, which I do not like to do in work clothes or without being able to shower afterward, especially on hot days. (I am thinking, however, that it might be useful to try this, just to see how it works. I could be sure to arrive early enough to clean up a little and/or change clothes before the students arrive. Even if this does not become my daily commute, this may come in handy in a pinch if I am ever without a car for any reason.) As for using public transportation for trips that are not work, my social life usually involves doing things late at night, leaving me with no way to get home on public transportation. Either that, or I am rushing from one place to another and do not have time to wait for a bus or train.
I’ve already reserved my ticket on Amtrak to visit my family for Christmas. It’s longer and more expensive than driving, but to me, not unreasonably so. And I’ve come to realize that maybe I don’t like driving as much as I thought I did, or as much as I used to. As a roadgeek, driving is fun. But sometimes it’s also fun to just sit back and stare out the window at the scenery going by. And I’m definitely looking forward to doing that on the way home for Christmas. It’ll be dark on the way back; the city where my parents live only gets one train per day in each direction, and the one taking me home leaves around 6:30pm, long after sunset in December. But I’ll be bringing my Christmas presents home, so I’ll probably have some new movies to watch on my laptop for when it’s too dark to see outside.