Day 66:39Go Slow: A Railroad Enthusiast’s Argument for Taking the Scenic Route
Flight delays, cancellations and lost luggage, as many Canadians have faced while traveling this summer, are not the best way to start a vacation.
But there are alternatives – it may take a bit longer to get where you’re going.
“Slow travel can mean a lot of things to a lot of different people. For some it could mean, for example, visiting a destination and spending a lot of time there rather than moving from place to place,” said said Vincent Gragnani, master’s student. at the City University of New York, said Day 6.
“And for some people that might mean using slower transportation. Like taking a train ride, which I really like.”
Gragnani examines slow travel, particularly train travel in the United States and Canada, through an environmental justice and psychology lens on his blog Slow train.
It also has the mileage to back it up.
He estimates that he has traveled more than 32,000 km by train in the United States and Canada, including 14,600 km traveled during the pandemic alone.
“My first trip during the pandemic, I took Amtrak’s Cardinal, which is the longest route between New York and Chicago, over 24 hours,” he said.
“There are stretches where you go through canyons that you can only see by train or raft. There are no roads, and that also means no Wi-Fi, no phone service, no way to really connect with the outside world. You’re kind of in this moment. And for me, that was invaluable.
After halting several routes and reducing train frequency on others during the pandemic, VIA Rail has restored many, but not all, of its services.
In a statement, VIA told CBC Radio it is seeing an increase in travel demand, but did not say whether current air travel issues could be a factor in the increase.
“After two years of the pandemic, people are eager to travel again this summer, and we are ready to welcome customers aboard our trains and do our part to encourage Canadians and tourists to get out and explore this beautiful country,” the statement said. .
The “Magic Zone”
Singer and musician Orit Shimoni walked the slow path for years until the COVID-19 pandemic brought most roads to a halt.
“It’s just its own magic zone. It’s unlike anything else. You’re on the move with other people and you’re all in this shared collective experience that’s disengaged from everyday life,” he said. she declared.
She regularly performed in front of passengers on VIA’s cross-country train, Le Canadien, a 4,466 km journey that takes four days and four nights to cover.
WATCH | Orit Shimoni performs songs inspired by her years of train travel:
She also relied on bus routes like those previously offered by the now-defunct Greyhound to travel to concerts around the country. She is currently based in Winnipeg and hopes to get back on the road soon.
Traveling on The Canadian, in particular, gave him ample time to get to know people from all walks of life in a level of detail that an airplane flight could never achieve.
“I always joked that there were these layers of getting to know people. Like day one would just be superficial questions. Day two you’d have a bit of backstory. And then on the third or fourth day you would have long philosophical conversations.”
Psychology of train travel
Gragnani’s writings and research have focused on the psychology of how travel affects the mind and alters experience.
“There is a growing field of psychology called environmental psychology that considers the impact the natural and built environment has on us,” he explained.
This also takes into account respect for the environment.
Commercial air travel contributes massive amounts of carbon emissions – up to 2% of total human-produced carbon dioxide, according to 2019 figures from the airline industry itself.
This led to a phenomenon known to some as flight shaming. Perhaps best known through its popularization by environmentalist Greta Thunberg, its proponents advocate for more sustainable forms of travel, including trains, rather than flying.
It should be noted that while VIA advertises itself as “the greenest mode of intercity transportation”, this may not always be the case depending on your origin and destination.
Not so slow after all
For others, massive airport delays mean that so-called slow travel is actually no slower than trying to fly – and can be more comfortable or even faster.
Comedian and Twitch streamer Blayne Smith found himself stuck in Chicago with an eight-hour delay thanks to a connecting flight from Austin, Texas to Toronto.
For his next planned trip to Montreal in the fall, he booked a train ticket instead.
“It’s funny, a lot of people call it a slow trip when in total it looks like about the same amount of time when all the hullabaloo is over.”
Not for everybody
This is not to say that taking the train would eliminate all possible travel problems.
Earlier this month, VIA Rail reached a tentative agreement with the union representing 2,400 of its employees, averting a possible strike.
Transit advocates have criticized North America’s lack of modern high-speed rail networks, pointing to similar systems in Europe and Asia that can send passengers hundreds of miles in hours.
Gragnani admits that train travel is slow in the United States and Canada because they are underdeveloped.
On its website, it notes that the high-speed rail line between Beijing and Shanghai in China takes about four and a half hours to cover 1,319 km, with more than 30 trips per day.
Amtrak, comparatively, takes about 20 hours to cover the 1,540 km between New York and Chicago, at a frequency of 17 trips per week.
Overall, Americans don’t understand how transformative high-speed rail would be. There is a direct train from Barcelona, Spain to Paris, France. It takes 6 hours, tops out at nearly 200 mph, and costs $40.
Not $400. $40.
It’s like NYC in Columbus for the price of a meal.
With this schedule, Gragnani notes that many Americans simply don’t have enough vacation days to fully enjoy a rail vacation across the country. And of course overseas plans are out of the question.
“So it’s not for everyone. But train travel provides such a unique window – and not just the scenery but the people,” he said.
While the bullet train provides a more efficient service, Shimoni said it loses a lot of the magic in the process.
“There’s nothing phenomenal about being on a train in Europe… It’s like riding the metro for two hours. It’s not remarkable in the same way as those long journeys,” he said. she stated.
Interview with Vincent Gragnani directed by McKenna Hadley Burke.