Long Train Comin'

Heading to Chicago this weekend.

For decades that meant pulling onto the Beltline, blasting south on 90 and making the mad dash across the border in reasonable time. That is, unless snow hits and you sit in your car for ten hours outside Janesville leaving the sedan only to use the median as a toilet while hoping that others have the decency to look the other way.

But other than that, no matter how well the cars might move in the Land of Cheddar, you are guaranteed to languish in the outskirts of Chicago in their perpetual two-way rush hour.

There should be a sign at Elgin: “FORGET YOUR MEETING. PREPARE TO PARK ON AMERICA’S INTERSTATE SYSTEM. OH, AND WELCOME TO ILLINOIS.”

But not this time. This trip will be different. Heading to Milwaukee. Boarding a train.

As driving and flying become more medieval, travel by train is almost blissful as I sit back in a remarkably large, comfortable seat on an amazingly quiet train and let some guy five cars up do the driving until he drops me at Union Station after an hour and fifteen minutes of reading, working or looking out the window at our beloved Midwest.

No drama. No screaming jet engines. No wild, will-writing turbulence over Iowa. No claustrophobia onset while packed elbow to elbow next to two South Dakota silo salesmen while you sit on the tarmac for three hours because Newark is getting hail even though you are heading to Tampa.

And no one gropes my ass.

As the owner of resurfaced hips, I get the full terrorist treatment with every flight I take. First, my titanium joints sound every alarm. Quickly nine government agents pull me from the line, remove half my clothing, wand me top to bottom and then perform a full-body search—usually by a retired high school wrestling coach wearing dirty surgical gloves.

This happens every time I fly. Every. Single. Time.

Nothing like that happens when I board a train. Imagine my delight.

Trains are in the headlines. The government has committed to modern rail, and is starting to lay tracks. Even in Wisconsin. Amazingly, the state known for getting little federal cash is getting some. Jim Doyle recently pronounced the Monona Terrace Convention Center as the location of Madison’s new depot.

Unless, of course, he is sued by Fred Mohs.

Soon Madison will be linked by quick rail to Milwaukee and Chicago.

I can’t wait.

The naysayers are going nuts with this initiative. They bellow “boondoggle” and demand to know who will pay for all of the tracks and cars. And fairly point to Amtrak as a post office on wheels, bleeding money at taxpayers’ expense, adding to an already bloated deficit.
Fine. But they are wrong. The smarter argument is that modern train travel is an investment in the interstate highway system of the new century.

I feel qualified to hold court on this issue. For thirteen years I drove to Chicago every single Monday morning. Now business takes me to Chicago and Milwaukee weekly. And if any of the rail critics ever bothered to look out the window of the McDonald’s during their three hours of morning coffee they would notice that Chicago, Milwaukee and Madison are becoming one large market. The sooner we make travel efficient and fast between our market centers, the more vital our region will be. Better yet, Madison stands to be the biggest winner as we are the smallest market.

But still folks have Train Anger. To be a helpful guy, I offer you some explanations to use with Rail Haters when they foam at the mouth. Best to speak slowly when doing this.

First, trains are energy-efficient. This means less oil ransom paid to Saudi sheiks, hence they have less money to train terrorists to kill us. Or purchase quality time with our innocent Vegas blondes.

Secondly, train travel is productive time. And a more productive America reduces the odds that we will be purchased by China. iPads, iPhones and laptops abound on trains. You can even plug them in to keep them charged. You cannot do this in a car without risking paraplegia.

The final argument to use in support of trains is the most powerful and effective: The French have a train that goes two hundred miles an hour! Imagine getting to a Brewer game in twenty minutes.

The French can do this. The FRENCH!

And we can’t.

That one gets them every time.

All aboard.

Madison-based television producer John Roach writes this column monthly. Comments? Questions? Write johneroach@mac.com.

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