Ryan Chartrand

When my mom left me standing at the corner of my new dorm at Cal Poly she bid farewell with the knowledge that I would soon be home to visit via the “comfortable and dependable” Amtrak services that run from San Luis Obispo to Orange County.

I soon learned that “comfortable and dependable” to the people at Amtrak is more of a guideline similar to the “pirates’ code” in Pirates of the Caribbean.

High gas prices, Los Angeles traffic and the lack of an automobile have continued to exile me to riding the train for the past two years; so I now consider myself somewhat of a veteran.

On my most recent train trip (seven hours instead of the scheduled six), I began to wonder what the real problem with the train system was. A little Internet research proved that the problem is that Amtrak services are way behind modern technology.

High-speed trains have been operating in Europe and Japan since the 1980s and provide considerably better service to customers. To qualify as “high speed” trains must reach 125 mph, although most high-speed trains travel between 150 and 185 mph.

Japan’s Bullet train currently runs at an average of 164 mph, France’s TGV runs at 186 mph with potential of 225 mph and Germany’s ICE train could reach speeds of 206 mph. Germany also has definite plans for magnetic levitation (maglev) trains, that run on a magnetic field and have cars moved by electromagnets, that could run at 310 mph.

The closest thing the United States has to a high-speed train is Amtrak’s Acela train that runs from Boston to Washington D.C. at top speeds of 150 mph. However, the trains have been shut down due to brake problems and have yet to be put back into circulation.

I’m still holding out for the California High-Speed Rail Authority’s proposed bullet train that would run from San Francisco to San Diego in less than two and half hours at speeds up to 220 mph.

The 2006-2007 state budget includes $14.3 million to start the project but an additional $10 billion high-speed rail bond measure still awaits a “yes” vote on the November 2008 ballot.

Until then I suppose I am destined to ride at mind-numbingly slow speeds in anxious anticipation of the day I could make the trip from home to San Luis Obispo in less than an hour. Or maybe I’ll just move to France.

Jennifer Hall is a journalism junior and managing editor.

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